English Literature

English Literature

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Postmodern Poetry: The Sea in the poems of Adrienne Rich and Derek Walcott

Comparison of the treatment of the sea in Diving into the Wreck by Rich and The Sea is History by Walcott.

Derek Walcott is a Saint Lucian poet and playwright. Besides having won the Nobel Prize in Literature, he has won numerous literary awards over the course of his career. Methodism and spirituality have played a significant role from the beginning in Walcott's work. He commented, "I have never separated the writing of poetry from prayer. I have grown up believing it is a vocation, a religious vocation”.
Adrienne Rich was an American poet, essayist and feminist. She was credited with brining the oppression of women into the poetic discourse. Rich’s work has explored issues of identity, sexuality and politics; her formally ambitious poetics have reflected her continued search for social justice, her role in the anti-war movement, and her radical feminism. Utilizing speech cadences, enjambment and irregular line and stanza lengths, Rich’s open forms have sought to include ostensibly “non-poetic” language into poetry.


Water is a universal symbol of change and is often present at turning points in a story. Since water is often a sign of life, many times water represents life. Water can also be up into two categories: fresh water and bad/polluted water. Fresh water can represent good health, and bad water symbolizes bad health. Water can also mean purity and cleansing. It also represents thirst, which can be interpreted as a thirst for something specific, such as knowledge or enlightenment.

The ocean is a sign of power and strength, dominating all other symbols of water--due to its immensity. All life was ocean-born and life still exists in the ocean; therefore the ocean represents life. Also, the ocean represents mystery. The ocean is known for being unpredictable and uncontrollable, hard to navigate in time of storm and sometimes known for being beautifully calm. Sometimes, the ocean is referred to as being a tear of God or the sorrow; a place where you leave your bad memories and sadness. The ocean is also known to symbolize hope, truth, and in some cases, mystery and magic. The ocean's salt can also symbolize being well grounded, or stabilized.

The sea is a wonderful and powerful image that often appears in dreams. Water is linked with the feminine and in a dream may represent the feminine aspect of one's personality. The sea figures predominantly in many creation stories as the bearer of all life. It is stormy, chaotic, and life-giving. Water often symbolizes the unconscious or the soul. Look to see if it is calm or what might be lurking under the surface.

The ocean may contain what one perceives as danger, such as lurking monsters, sharks or whales, storms, or tidal waves. These "dangers" may represent powerful and unpredictable feelings, a repressed aspect of one's personality, or an issue dwelling under the surface. The seas figure predominantly in creation myths as the bearer of all life.
The poet Walt Whitman, uses the sea as a metaphor for immortality in a cluster of nine poems which are part of his 1881 Leaves of Grass. In context he uses a ship as a metaphor for man’s passage through life beginning with birth and ending with death. Henry Thoreau used the sea as a metaphor for the enrichment of man’s mind and the limitlessness of his abilities. Another significance in the use of the sea as a metaphor for the voyage through personal growth, like we saw with Whitman, is the insight that it provides the reader about the writer.


The poem entitled “The Sea is History” connects Walcott’s present environment to its initial condition by situating the Caribbean’s genesis in the middle passage, describing the creation of the New World as imagined by European colonists, and chronicling the islands’ fight for independence. The interrogative beginning, “Where are your monuments, your battles, your martyrs? / Where is your tribal memory?” immediately draws our attention to the lack of these things – items that typically compose a cultural history. The answer, “Sirs, / in that grey vault. The sea. The sea / has locked them up. The sea is History” introduces an element of forlornness, especially with the word “sea” repeated four times.

Several historians have felt the need to defend the sea from the accusation that it is “history-less,” claiming that the best defense comes from poet Derek Walcott, in his poem “The Sea is History”: Maeve Tynan examines this view of the history-filled sea as “medium for the passage operates as an interstitial site that both conjoins and separates colonizer and colonized.” She sees the trope of the voyage encapsulating “the uprooting effect of Imperialism” particularly in the poetry of Derek Walcott. As she puts it, “Walcott’s Odyssean travellers opt to voyage through history, a dynamic quest into the future that repudiates the past and grounds his poetics in the here and now.” Tom Leskiw’s paper also addresses the topic of untold history, by examining the mutualism between humans and sea creatures, and the ways in which natural and human histories have intertwined. Noting that seas have been a “barrier to travel since time immemorial and crossing them has often entailed the crossing of a frontier,” his essay examines how Polynesian mariners’ “intimacy with the sea” gave them the ability to use “subtle clues for navigation,” clues provided by not only the colour, taste and patterns of the sea but by fish, plants and seabirds as well.

It is important to note Walcott's acknowledgement of the sea as an entity, an element in history. Walcott asks of the peoples' "monuments, battles, and martyrs, tribal memories", to which the response lies "in the sea". But there is a profound biblical allusion to the historical significance entailed. From chaos emerged light, like "the lantern of a caravel, and that was Genesis". With these words, the poet is referring to the many children that were birthed overseas, amidst the struggle of sailing between the islands in flight from oppression. Then as soon as they are born, the children face "Exodus", "the packed cries, the shit, the moaning", an exile from a peaceful life, from their own homeland. Walcott is giving a perspective and an ethnic identity to the Caribbean collective through the description of the sea as personified by Biblical allusion.

As he compares slavery to “Babylonian bondage” and describes the deaths of men and women aboard slave ships, he explains that these tragedies only caused the ocean to “turn blank pages / looking for History”. These horrific events that are locked in the sea” are the antithesis of the great monuments and triumphant battles described in the introduction to the poem. The irony present in the references to biblical stories of creation and redemption reminds us that the Caribbean’s history will never be one of triumph or deliverance but instead one of anguish and struggle.

Within the declaration, “the sea is History,” also exists a dramatic pun on the word, “history.” One could interpret this phrase as the sea holding the answers to history, or “the sea is History” could be interpreted colloquially as, the sea is gone.” The former meaning provides some hope in recovering history, but the latter is completely despondent. It is clear that Walcott intended this double meaning, for the search for history spans the entirety of the poem and at one point a real feeling of hopelessness occurs as he writes, “and that was Lamentations/ that was just Lamentations,/ it was not history”.

The final stanza of “The Sea Is History” Here, the mention of the “salt chuckle of rocks” returns a sense of ease to the poem as a whole, and the final line, “of History, really beginning,” also possesses a hopeful tone. History begins at the end of the poem, yet the images here of the sea are reminiscent of the lines, “The sea / has locked them up. The sea is History.”

For Walcott, the sea is a reference to the change that comes with the passage of time. The sea is a symbol of those portions of the African history that are unknown and hidden from the human eyes. The sea envelops in itself the events and happenings of the African history that have become taboo and are no longer discussed by people, but are rather repressed in the 'depths of the sea' of consciousness; “The sea/has locked them up.”

The “Genesis” or the beginning of the crucial part of African history was when the colonizers traveled by way of sea towards Africa and brought with them a tide of change. The sea acted as a bridge to connect the colonizers with the African indigenous people. The “Exodus” came when the colonization resulted in “soldered” bones of the natives and their “packed cries”. The sea, then, is as vast and deep as history and contains in it the cruelties and horrors of the past. The sea is the witness to the arriving colonizers and the shipping of the natives to America and Europe for slavery. Walcott describes the colonizers in the poem as “the men with eyes as heavy as anchors” and describes that they were like the rabid jaws “of the tidal wave swallowing Port Royal”. Throughout the poem Walcott uses nautical terms to describe the incidents that have occurred throughout the African history.

But where is your Renaissance?

Sir, it is locked in them sea sands
out there past the reef's moiling shelf
where the men-o'-war floated down; (33-36)

The sea has locked many things in its enormous belly. It not only contains the secrets, the horrors and the tales of the natives, but also guards the wealth of rare jewels and marine life. Walcott highlights the enormity and majesty of the sea. The ocean is presented as magnanimous and of immeasurable depth. The sea is the place where the history of the Caribbean people is often located. The slaves and servants were brought to other lands by the sea route, they died on the sea and the sea-bed became their grave, the colonials traveled by sea as well. All these are an important part of the history, and the sea by default becomes the main chapter of the history and cannot be separated from it. The sea has witnessed many things and is therefore a great vault of all that has happened across it.

History and the sea have a very intimate relationship as they both are always moving and changing and are virtually uncontrollable. Walcott uses an interesting combination of strong visual imagery and historical references. He has used the flow of the water to describe the flow of time. His personification of the sea effectively demonstrates it's and history’s, power and control. The sea can “lock them up,” it can cause drowning, sinking, struggles; But it can dry up too – even the sea, despite its undeniable power, has its weaknesses.

Diving into the Wreck” is Adrienne Rich's most celebrated poem that is often called as the epic of modern times. The poet in this poem gives a description of the sea and her dive into the sea, the various things observed and particular experiences underwent are all beautifully narrated. The poem is adventurous and descriptive of the experience of diving into the sea in order to search for a wreck. As the seawater is deep and mysterious, so are the meanings of the poem. The poem is representative of Rich's feminist ideals and the changing conditions of America. Rich is the diver that wishes to observe the damage done to the female race, and the wreck of their treasures.

Although it is not named, the Atlantic Ocean is probably the sea that houses the wreck that the speaker of the poem explores. The sea represents uncovered female history. The image of the sea is a metaphor of life as sea is full of wreckages; the world too is full of ruins. One glance around will bring back countless pictures of destruction. Diving into the Wreck provides the angle of perception about the wreck from both the male and the female side. Deborah Pope in finding the meaning of the wreck states that the wreck represents the battered hulk of sexual definitions of the past, which Rich, as an underwater explorer, must search for evidence of what can be salvaged.

The diver's act of diving into the sea is like undertaking a voyage into a new territory. Rich's poetry continually testifies to her need to work out possible modes of human existence verbally, to achieve imaginatively what cannot yet be achieved in actual relationships. The poem chronicles one woman’s quest for discovery as she journeys alone to seek the truth of “omitted” and “misrepresented” ideas. Adrienne Rich enables the reader to understand the journey that the speaker undertakes as one of not only self-discovery, but also as a mission to understand the universality of humanity.

The body of water isn't always mentioned directly in the poem, but it's definitely ever-present. The ocean is huge, deeply powerful, magical and somewhat frightening. It swallowed the ship and it surrounds the diver. It's about as wild and as natural as possible. Line 32 is where the ocean is mentioned directly. The ocean hits the diver as a surprise, as the diver cannot see as she moves down the ladder to descend into the water. This surprise makes the ocean seem frightening, as it harbours unknown, unseen entities.

And there is no one
to tell me when the ocean
will begin. (31-33)

As the poem progresses, the diver is learning to move underwater, to get used to the feeling of actually being "inside" the ocean. The ocean is completely in control though, and the diver cannot fight it or use his or her power. Rich calls the ocean as a 'deep element' in which the diver has to learn to adapt: “you breathe differently down here.” The speaker describes a log as being "water-eaten." It seems like an ordinary thing to say, but it gives an image of the ocean as a kind of animal. It gnaws and chews and slowly devours all the human things that fall into it. It has a slow, inescapable power that makes it a scary force in this poem.

The poem narrates the speaker’s quest as she explores a sunken ship to discover the cause of the disaster and to salvage whatever treasures remain. The sea is a traditional literary symbol of the unconscious. To dive is to probe beneath the surface for hidden meanings, to learn about one’s submerged desires and emotions. In this poem, the diver is exploring a wreck—a ship that has failed to survive.
The poem is an extended metaphor in which the dive comes to signify the diver’s quest for knowledge and power. Her descent into the primal depths of the sea of life, of consciousness, transforms her: She becomes a creature of a different world. The "awkward mask" and crippling flippers are inappropriate for the land-based world but essential for the underwater journey. She apparently has become the drowned vessel as well, the boat and its figurehead:

whose drowned face sleeps with open eyes
whose breasts still bear the stress
whose silver, copper, vermeil cargo lies
obscurely inside barrels. (80-83)

By delving into the mystery, looking beneath the surface, the diver learns the secret of her own submerged power. The diver is not only the boat and its cargo, a figurehead, an observer, an explorer. She/he is also a participant in the disaster: "we are the half-destroyed instruments/ that once held to a course."
The theme of descent and return is a traditional one in Western literature and this is employed by Adrienne Rich in a modern setting. Perhaps the diver represents all humans, submerging into the depths of personal histories to find out who they really are. In 1971, Rich wrote an essay entitled "When We Dead Awaken: Writing as Re-Vision." In the article, she wrote about an awakening of women’s consciousness, their "drive to self-knowledge." She wrote, "language has trapped as well as liberated us." She urged women to reexamine their history, to learn "to see—and therefore live—afresh."
If the history books do not tell women’s stories, they must search the past (dive into the ocean) and find the evidence so that they can retell the old stories. The journey to discover one’s identity is like a dive to discover a shipwreck, dangerous, mysterious but fascinating. So many threats await down the deep level of the sea, yet the charming adventure raises the irresistible invitation into the unknown world where the woman may find her hidden self. She is afraid, she is uncertain about what lays ahead, therefore she prepares and arm herself, with knowledge, with weapons, with the brave expectation of new, great change she may go through. The wreck she is diving into is the patriarchal society where she is living in, her community, her family, her belief.
As noted, Rich stated that this poem “is” an experience rather than about an experience, is the idea of searching our memories, our past. And that is a journey that can only be done alone, subjectively. So using the symbolism of the dive, and the shipwreck, it appears that she wants to go back and figure out what happened in her life (her journey, or course) that left her damaged. To do this, she has to dive deep in the water, which is not pretty but black and dark, symbolizing that the journey is fearful. Rather than jump right into the water as some divers do, she has to use the ladder to slowly descend into the water, indicating hesitancy. The repetition of the phrase "I go down" in the third stanza show that this is a slow and gradual process. So as she retreats into her memories, she’s not exactly sure at what point she’ll find clues or meaning. Also, because the water creates buoyancy, she really has to hold onto it to “go down”, so it’s not an easy task to go into the unknown (the sea of memories).

Diving into the Wreck” contains Rich's fullest, most dramatic reference to the sea. In this poem, the speaker gives up her old notions of power because they don't seem to apply where the sea is the controlling element. Attempts to gain power over the sea appear useless to Rich's diver, who has to move differently in the sea and adjust. The sea provides a valuable context for a developing consciousness. In one of her poems, Rich uses the sea chiefly as a metaphor of change. The ocean represents all that is vast and unknowable. In another poem, she finds the sea lacking as an instructor about how to live one's life. Ultimately, for Rich, the sea is its own entity, often violent and mainly separate from human concerns. The setting of the ocean can be seen as a symbolic metaphor for the real world and society as a whole.


In conclusion, the sea represents the unknown, the hidden and the secret for both Walcott and Rich. The sea is powerful and cannot be controlled by mere humans. It is deep and full of remnants of history such as the traces of the colonizers crossing it to get to Africa, or the painful past of the women of the world. Going into the sea results in some sort of discovery, or unlocking of mysteries; ultimately, the sea is a symbol of the past lives of humans.

  • http://symbolism.wikia.com/wiki/Water
  • http://www.nyu.edu/classes/keefer/nature/nlgonz.htm
  • http://www.academia.edu/1145933/The_Multitudinous_Seas_Matter_and_Metaphor
  • Tung C. , J (2006). “The Sea Is History”: Reading Derek Walcott Through a Melancholic Lens. Massachusetts.
  • http://www.shmoop.com/diving-into-wreck/ocean-symbol.html
  • http://studies.tripod.com/ENGL2328/diving_into_the_wreck.htm
  • Gidmark, B. J. (2001). Encyclopedia of American Literature of the Sea and Great Lakes. Greenwood Press, Westport. p.375.
-Credit Moneeza Rafiq

Introduction to Novel: On Henry Fielding's "Joseph Andrews"

Fielding claimed that his subject was not Men but Manners; not an individual, but a Species” (Bk. III Ch. 1). For the eighteenth century, manners meant the strategies and rules that govern all social interactions, not just rules for politeness. Choose a typical episode and discuss how Fielding portrays manners and not men.
Henry Fielding is considered one of the greatest and significant contributors to the development of the English novel. His novel Joseph Andrews is called a novel of 'manners'.  The novel, in its entirety, is an impassioned satire on the moral and social ills that beset the 18th century English society. In this novel we are confronted with a chameleon-like society that frequently changes its appearance to gratify personal lusts of various kinds. The novel depicts human beings camouflaged in various shades of vanity, hypocrisy and narcissism. Fielding's exploration begins with his survey on the nature and temperament of women of his time. Women of all classes were snobbish and amorous to some extent. 
One such episode where Fielding discusses manners, not men is the behavior of both Mrs. Slipslop and Lady Booby and their passion for Joseph Andrews, a mere footman. Lady Booby begins to show her affections for Joseph Andrews soon after Sir Thomas Booby's death, and Mrs. Slipslop indulges in providing various items of food to Joesph in order to show her feelings towards him. Although, there is a difference in the passions of both the ladies, yet both keep up appearances so as to not give away their true intentions regarding Joseph. Being involved in an affair with a footman is not the kind of scandal Lady Booby wishes to have popularized about herself. After allowing Joseph to sit on her bed, Lady Booby attempts to tempt Joseph but being naive and free of impure thoughts, Joseph fails to understand the intentions of his mistress. The discourse between the two is heard by Mrs. Slipslop, and afraid to lose her reputation Lady Booby has no choice but to adopt a softer attitude with Mrs. Slipslop. When both Mrs. Slipslop and Lady Booby discover each other's feelings for Joseph, both attempt to hide it.
She had the utmost tenderness for her reputation, as she knew on that depended many of the most valuable blessings of life; particularly cards, making curtsies in public places, and, above all, the pleasure of demolishing the reputations of others, in which innocent amusement she had an extraordinary delight. She therefore determined to submit to any insult from a servant, rather than run a risque of losing the title to so many great privileges.” (Book I, ch. IX)
Both the ladies represent the class of people who are corrupt to the core, rotten in their heart and yet both appear to be respectable women on the outside. Lady Booby is no different than many other ladies of the eighteenth century, belonging to households with respectable names and reputations, and yet their furtive actions and intentions prove otherwise. As Hamilton Macallister observes, Lady Booby may do almost anything she wants -- except marry Joseph, because to do so would be beneath her. Henry Fielding satirically uncovers the truth in the character of Lady Booby. She exemplifies the traditional flaws of the upper class, namely snobbery, egotism, and lack of restraint. So, she represents a typical “species” of that time period in her true self; a species that gives supreme importance to reputation and wealth but all the while indulges in immodest and hypocritical practices.
Fielding presents two paragons of hypocrisy in Lady Booby and her servant and imitator Mrs. Slipslop. Lady Booby dissembles her motives continually, for example in walking out with Joseph: supposedly, she sees “the Effects which Town-Air hath on the soberest Constitutions,” so she heads to Hyde Park with her handsome footman. More serious is her conduct following the death of her husband. The reader understands “disconsolate” in a sarcastic sense even before learning that Lady Booby’s visitors consoled the bereaved widow with card games and before witnessing the ease with which she rebounds and attempts to acquire a new bed-mate.
Mrs. Sliplsop takes after her mistress both in her passion for Joseph and in her attempts to appear other than she is. She embodies the traits which Fielding abhors about about the society. Her inappropriate use of language and her uncontrolled sexual impulses when combined with her undeniably misguided devotion to those of status make her the ideal comic example of society's wrongdoings. Mrs. Slipslop can be best described as pretentious. Fielding has exaggerated Slipslop's behaviour to draw attention to the sexual hypocrisy of the society's value systems. To further exaggerate the situation, Fielding makes use of the irony of women being unvirtuous. Fielding also mocks Mrs. Slipslop's misguided devotion to the class structure. The conversation between Mrs. Slipslop and Lady Booby demonstrates that Mrs. Slipslop is a person who wishes to seem educated and worthy of the acquaintance of Lady Booby.
As Fielding says through the dialogue of Lady Booby in Book III chapter VI :“And yet these we must condemn ourselves to, in order to avoid the censure of the world; to shun the contempt of others, we must ally ourselves to those we despise; we must prefer birth, title, and fortune, to real merit. It is a tyranny of custom, a tyranny we must comply with; for we people of fashion are the slaves of custom.” It clearly states that Lady Booby was keeping up an appearance of good virtue and solid reputation solely because being a person of fashon meant abiding by the customs and rules of the society.
Fielding demonstrates the underlying truth that society as a whole functions but, with a few moral changes, it would have a superior functionality. Slipslop is the perfect character in which to accomplish this great and tedious task. Her status as a waiting gentlewoman, and her closeness to her mistress make this parody seem all the more laden with ridicule and hypocrisy. Fielding's preface sums up the fact that this novel was to show the “manners” and failings of the society.

-Credit Moneeza Rafiq

Ibsen's "A Doll's House": Critial Opinion

Critical Opinion:
In his preliminary notes to A Doll's House (1879) titled “Notes for the Tragedy of Modern Times” Ibsen wrote that: “There are two kinds of moral law, two kinds of conscience, one in man and a completely different one in woman. They do not understand each other; but in matters of practical living the woman is judged by man's law, as if she were not a woman but a man.” Ibsen does not weigh the value of one law over the other, but rather sees injustice in the fact that only one is prized while the other is devalued. Consequently, “A woman cannot be herself in contemporary society, it is an exclusively male society with laws drafted by men, and with counsel and judges who judge feminine conduct from the male point of view.” At the time the play was written, Ibsen had strong opinions on the subject of women’s rights. In February 1979, when his proposal to the Scandinavian Club in Rome that its female members be granted equal voting rights was narrowly defeated, he made a blistering attack on the male majority, daring them to assert that women were in any way inferior to men in culture, intelligence, knowledge or artistic talent.

Nora has committed a crime, and she is proud of it; because she did it for love of her husband and to save his life. But the husband, with his conventional views of honour, stands on the side of the law and looks at the affair with male eyes. Therefore, the conflict arises when there is a clash between Torvald's sense of justice and that of Nora's. For Nora, the kind of laws that prevent a woman from doing anything she can to save her husband and her home are senseless. In my opinion, Torvald should not have judged Nora's action solely on them being right or wrong in the eyes of the society, rather, the circumstances under which Nora acted are equally important. In a sense, when Torvald tells Nora that she is a foolish woman who should not have committed the illegal act of forgery, he is telling her she should have let him die. Nora had no choice but to borrow money from Krogstad to send Torvald abroad for his medical recovery. During the days of Torvald's terrible sickness, the burden of responsibility and decision-making fell completely on Nora's shoulders and given the circumstances and the limitations, she did the best she could to steer the ship of her home out of the storm.

Nora is presented as the beloved, adored wife of Torvald Helmer. He is an admirable man, rigidly honest, of high moral ideals, and passionately devoted to his wife and children. In short, a good man and an enviable husband. Almost every mother would be proud of such a match for her daughter, and the latter would consider herself fortunate to become the wife of such a man. Nora, too, considers herself fortunate. Indeed, she worships her husband, believes in him implicitly, and is sure that if ever her safety should be menaced, Torvald, her idol, her god, would perform the miracle. Her purpose in life is to be happy for her husband's sake, for the sake of the children; to sing, dance, and play with them. When a woman loves as Nora does, nothing else matters; least of all, social, legal or moral considerations. Therefore, when her husband's life is threatened, it is no effort, it is joy for Nora to forge her father's name to a note and borrow 800 Kroner on it, in order to take her sick husband to Italy. In her eagerness to serve her husband, and in perfect innocence of the legal aspect of her act, she does not give the matter much thought, except for her anxiety to shield him from any emergency that may call upon him to perform the miracle in her behalf.
In the play we see Torvald undermining Nora's role when he treats her like a delicate doll. He doesn't want Nora to think too much. She should just be his little bird”, “little squirrel,” who is held captive in a cage. It shows that Helmer had the desire to control Nora. He even says: “And I wouldn’t want my pretty little song-bird to be the least bit different from what she is now.” How lovely she is, Rank. Look at the delicate bending of her neck. What grace in her movements, and she is unaware of it’. Torvald takes aesthetic pride in this beauty of his wife, displaying Nora as his art object. When Nora referred to her own opinion, Helmer would correct her in a way of a father. Nora didn’t want to be considered good for nothing. She felt like depending on her own strength to do the whole thing. In fact, she was proud that she saved Helmer’s life; she got out of her debts by herself little by little. It made her feel that she was worthwhile. Even Mrs. Linde believes that Nora is a child, she has not grown up and has not witnessed the troubles of the world. Hearing this makes Nora angry. “You are just like the others. They all think that I am incapable of anything really serious.” It is to Mrs. Linde that Nora first reveals the reality to and expresses her feelings. “I too have something to be proud and glad of. It was I who saved Torvald's life.” She even expresses how she felt when she was burdened with the responsibility of sustaining her family.
Nora: …Last winter I was lucky enough to get quite a bit of copying to do. So I shut myself up every night and sat and wrote through to the small hours of the morning. Oh, sometimes I was so tired, so tired. But it was tremendous fun all the same, sitting there working and earning money like that. It was almost like being a man.

Ibsen attacks headlong the nineteenth-century convention of women as incompetent, emotionally-laden, “feeling” creatures incapable of “action”- the supposed domain of men. Nora's backstage manipulation of her father's finances demonstrates her capacity for action, her alacrity for calculation, and her rational understanding of multiple consequences. Her surface appearance as the ditzy, tarantella-dancing, macaroon-eating trophy wife veils her comprehension of her social conditions; she is enveloped in the theatrical mask of the role she no longer wishes to play. For Ibsen, there is a correlative between Nora's emancipation and her abandonment of her children. Freedom will be an uncompromising, modernist motif for Ibsen; even children must be sacrificed to the deity of liberation. Nora realizes that she was merely a ritualistic pawn, passed down as she was from her father to her husband, and that she is unworthy of motherhood until she grasps her identity without anyone's aid. The duty of the individual toward himself, the task of self-realization, the enforcement of one's own nature against the narrow-minded and out-of-date conventions of bourgeois society is Ibsen's social message.
In support of such ideas, following are the words of Bernard Shaw from Out Theatres in the Nineties: “The woman’s eyes are opened; and instantly her doll’s dress is thrown off and her husband is left staring at her, helpless, bound thenceforth either to do without her or else treat her as a human being like himself, fully recognizing that he is not a creature of one superior species, Man, living with a creature of another and inferior species, Woman, but that Mankind is male and female, like other kinds, and that the inequality of the sexes is literally a cock and bull story, certain to end in such unbearable humiliation as that which our suburban King Arthurs suffer at the hands of Ibsen.”
Torvald’s shock over the revelations in Krogstad’s first letter is severe. He is in the hands of a blackmailer who can do what he likes with him. Furthermore, his pure doll wife is a criminal. His collapse reveals to Nora the fantasy world she has inhabited. She realizes that she knows neither reality nor herself, and she certainly does not know Torvald. She has lived an inauthentic doll existence, bearing three children to a stranger. Nora's epiphany causes her to take the decision of leaving Torvald and her children in order to take a journey of self-discovery. Nora manages to break free from the roll she has been playing throughout. When Nora closes behind her the door of her doll's house, she opens wide the gate of life for woman, and proclaims the revolutionary message that only perfect freedom and communion make a true bond between man and woman, meeting in the open, without lies, without shame, free from the bondage of duty.
When Nora buys gifts for her children, she purchases a sword for Ivor, a horse and trumpet for Bob and a doll and doll's bed for Emmy. These gifts are convention bound, and imply a mindset elaborated into the culture. In a way Nora is passing on the same ideals of feminine roll to her daughter that she herself were given by her father. Torvald, being a determinist, believes such patterns cannot, must not be broken. “It’s deep in your blood. Yes, these things are hereditary, Nora.” However, Nora learns that if this pattern brings about an intolerable situation (“I've lived by doing tricks for you, Torvald”, says Nora), then this pattern can and must be broken.
I think that before all else I am a human being, just as much as you are--or, at least, I will try to become one. I know that most people agree with you, Torvald, and that they say so in books. But henceforth I can't be satisfied with what most people say, and what is in books. I must think things out for myself and try to get clear about them. . . . I had been living here these eight years with a strange man, and had borne him three children--Oh! I can't bear to think of it--I could tear myself to pieces!. . . . I can't spend the night in a strange man's house.” -Nora Helmer (Act III)
Helmer's rage over Nora's crime subsides the moment the danger of publicity is averted--proving that Helmer, like many a moralist, is not so much incensed at Nora's offense as by the fear of being found out. Not for Nora: finding out is her salvation. It is then that she realizes how much she has been wronged, that she is only a plaything, a doll to Helmer. In her disillusionment she says, "You have never loved me. You only thought it amusing to be in love with me."
The other female character is Mrs. Linde, who after losing her husband and having no children, feels as if her life is empty and she has nothing to live for. In my opinion she is unable to define herself and justify her existence without a family to live and care for. While talking to Nora in Act 1 she expresses herself: “I only feel my life unspeakably empty. No one to live for anymore.” She wished to start a family again and immerse herself in the role of motherhood with Krogstad. She has no higher aims about her life or any sort of individual aspirations that need fulfilling besides busying herself in family life once more. She has spent her life taking care of family members such as her mother, brothers and her husband who later died. This is what she knows and is best at. Therefore, she does not deviate from this path and continues to walk on it, unlike Nora.
Torvald Helmer is a man who believes that he is the one responsible for his household and he must make all decisions. He is immersed in the typical patriarchal role. In Act II Torvald tells Nora that if some sort of harm comes to them from Krogstad's meddling he will act as a man should. “Come what will, you may be sure I shall have both courage and strength if they be needed. You will see I am man enough to take everything upon myself.” In Act III Helmer tells Mrs. Linde that instead of working in a bank she should take up embroidery, which will be more befitting her. This shows that he has the stereotypical ideals of the different roles of men and women. According to him women should just sing, dance, please their husbands and take care of the children. However, the real face of Torvald comes to light when the conflict hit him with full force and he comes to know the secret that Nora has been hiding from him. As soon as he sees the light of truth, he starts speaking foully about his wife for whom he has been using nothing but honey-coated praises and compliments throughout the play. What a horrible awakening! All these eight years--she who was my joy and pride--a hypocrite, a liar--worse, worse--a criminal! The unutterable ugliness of it all!--For shame! For shame! I ought to have suspected that something of the sort would happen. I ought to have foreseen it.” His whole attitude towards his wife suddenly changes and his mask of being a protective husband slips off. “Now you have destroyed all my happiness. You have ruined all my future. It is horrible to think of! And I must sink to such miserable depths because of a thoughtless woman! He becomes obsessed with his own being and gives no thought to what Nora is going through. All he cares about is what is going to happen to him and his life. His demeanor once again changes when he gets the letter from Krogstad saying that he has sent Nora's bond back. “I am saved! Nora, I am saved!” At this point Nora, too realizes that Torvald was solely concerned about himself and his reputation, and this instinctive exclamation proves it.
In my opinion, Torvald is a man who has immense pride of himself and his superior knowledge. Throughout the play he keeps asserting that he knows better, and that all Nora should do is engage in frivolous activities such as dancing and singing. Even at the end of the play he believes that his forgiveness will restore everything to the way it was, and that his forgiveness is such a rare, shining golden object that Nora is having a hard time believing she has earned it. His sense of superiority is inflated when he starts to believe that he must teach Nora and act as her guide. He loves the idea that she relies on him, and even when she practices her Tarantella dance, he acts as her teacher and says that she has much to learn and needs a lot of practice. After the truth is revealed and he realizes that he is saved, he once again turns to Nora in order to instruct and teach her. Only you had not sufficient knowledge to judge of the means you used. But do you suppose you are any the less dear to me, because you don't understand how to act on your own responsibility? No, no; only lean on me; I will advise you and direct you.” He feels he must guide his helpless wife through the perils of the world. It's almost as if Torvald has cast himself as the hero in his own melodramatic play. However, his selfish and self-centered dialogues make him less than a hero. He is a narrow-minded person who refuses to accept that a woman, his wife Nora, could be anything more than a beautiful doll to embellish his home.
All in all, the play 'A Doll's House' by Ibsen is realist in the sense that it explores and presents the characters according to the way people of the society in those days acted or thought. Ibsen's characters are unique and distinct from those in the plays written previously and urge the reader to think and ponder upon the issues that surround the society and familial ties.
  1. Johnston, B. (2004) "Ibsen's Selected Plays"; A Norton Critical Edition, W.W. Norton & Company, New York, U.S.A. pp. 471-476.
  2. Krasner, D. (2012); A Hisory of Modern Drama Vol.1; Wiley-Blackwell, West Sussex, U.K.

  3. Credit -Moneeza Rafiq

The Sea is History by Derek Walcott -Literary and Biblical References Explained

The words Middle Passage are a reference to the trade in which millions of Africans were shipped to the New World (Europe/America/Australia) as a part of the slave trade.
In line 8 the caraval is a historical reference to the Portuguese ships of the 15th century (Age of Discovery) that were used to explore the West Africa and Atlantic Ocean. It was through these ships that the Europeans arrived at Africa.
In line 9 Genesis is a Biblical reference to The Book of Genesis which is the first book of Christian Old Testament or the Old Bible (Torah). The Genesis contains the story of the Origin or the beginning of the world where God created the world and man. The word genesis in itself means beginning. In the poem this means that the history of the African natives began when the European colonizers arrived.
In line 12 Exodus is a reference to the Book of Exodus, the second book of Christian Old Testament or the Old Bible (Torah). This book contains the story of the children of Israel leaving the slavery in Egypt, in the guidance of Moses. The word Exodus also means ending or closure. In the poem, the Exodus means that the story of the native Africans ends when they were taken aboard the ships as slaves and had to leave their homeland, this is in contrast to the Biblical reference mentioned above, where the slaves were freed when they left their homeland Egypt.
Throughout the poem, the poet connects the sufferings and historical moments of Jews and Christians with the African sufferings. He begins by stating that the history is in the sea, and then tells how the boats of the colonizers came from sea, and when they departed they took the African slaves with them who were moaning and crying from being beaten and harassed. These slaves died in the sea and their bones melted and became one with the corals of the sea, that is reinforcing the idea that the sea holds the history of the black African men. The corals and bones combined to make colourful mosaics under the sea that were covered by the so-called 'blessings' of the shark; here shark is a reference to the colonizers who were hungry like shark for power and domination. The poet is saying that the colonizers claimed that they are a blessing to the illiterate people of Africa but actually this blessing is a shark-like danger that will swallow everything out of hunger and greed. This is the Exodus, or Chapter 2 for the African book of history.
In line 16 the Art of the Covenant also known as the Ark of Testimony is a chest (described in the Book of Exodus) that contains the stone tablets on which the Ten Commandments are written. This chest also contains Moses' Rod and a jar of manna (mann-o-salva). This chest (Ark) was kept in the Temple of Solomon for a long time and became lost when the Temple was destroyed. In the poem, the poet is saying that the bones of the slaves that rest under the sea make mosaics and they are the African version of Ark of the Covenant, meaning that they are the prized historical items for the Africans the same way the Ark contains the prized historical and religious items for the Christians.
In line 19 the plangent word means loud echoing and sorrowful sound. Therefore the plangent harp means the sorrowful songs of the Black tradition that speak of their sufferings.
In line 19 the Babylonian bondage is a historical reference to the Babylonian Exile or Babylonian Captivity which is the greatest pivotal event in Jewish history. This was the event in which the Jews were held captive in Babylonia (present-day Iraq). The word bondage means slavery. In the poem, the poet is trying to say that the sorrowful songs of the African people talk about the African version of the Babylonian bondage, to put in simple terms, it means those songs talk about the African native captives instead of Jewish captives. These sad songs are coming from the sea floor, which means the sea contains this moment of African history. In line 20 the white cowries is a nautical reference to the large white sea shells shaped like an egg. These shells are especially used as jewelry and for decorative purposes. These shells were used as currency in Africa for many centuries.
In line 21 the drowned women is a literary reference to the fact that suicide became a very popular subject in arts and literature of the Victorian society. The literary and visual representations or icons of drowned women reached all strata of the Victorian society. In London, although the rate of female suicide was not higher than of men, it was rumored that due to the rising economic needs of women and the need to marry a rich man, the women of Victorian society fell into prostitution out of despair and heartbreaks, and eventually attempted suicide by jumping off a bridge (mostly over River Thames). The women chose to die honorably rather than live in dishonor (because the Victorians cared a lot about their reputation). In the poem, the poet is saying that next in history came the story of these women who when drowned and dropped to the floor of the sea became covered by the sea-shells/ cowries that formed chains around them. In line 22 the ivory bracelets is the reference to this same, as ivory means white color and the cowries were white in color that formed chains and bracelets around the women.
In line 23 the Song of Solomon is a reference to a series of lyrical poems in the form of a dialogue between a young woman and her lover. The poems praised the greatness of Solomon as well that is why the title includes this name. This book of poems was included in the Old Testament of Bible. Possibly in the poem the poet is saying that the women who drowned were chained with the songs of their failed love stories (since they committed suicide when their love failed).
The poet says that the ocean keeps looking for history, meaning that this is still not the real history of the blacks, and that we have to go deeper into the ocean to locate more secrets, more memories in order to understand the real history of Africa. The men came with 'eyes as heavy as anchors that sank without tombs' is a reference to the colonizers the British and Europeans whose eyes were full of merciless expressions. The idea of 'Heavy eyes' creates a very unpleasant feeling. This can also be a reference to the facts that when the colonizers arrived at the African coasts they dropped the anchors of their ships so they could land and stay at Africa.
In line 28 the word brigands means the members of gangs that robbed people living in forests and mountains. It is possible that the poet is showing how those people who were robbing the country of Africa were enjoying themselves by hunting and killing the animals of Africa and making barbecues. This also shows they had a lack of conscience and guilt, for they continue to eat at their ease. Note that cattle are usually the animals kept by humans for their meat, milk etc. and are a source of business for the local people.
In line 31 tidal wave swallowing Port Royal is a historical reference to the most important city of Jamaica. Port Royal, Jamaica, commonly referred to as "the wickedest city on earth" conjures images of pirates, conquests, looting, riches, destruction and devastation. It rapidly grew to become the most important trading post in the New World. At the height of its glittering wealth, in 1692, Port Royal was consumed by an earthquake and two thirds of the town sank into the sea. A series of fires and hurricanes followed and the town was never restored to its former glory.
In line 32 Jonah is a Biblical reference to Younas the prophet of Israel who is famous for being swallowed by a giant fish or whale. In the poem, the poet is connecting the Biblical reference to the historical, and saying that the way the waves swallowed Port Royal, the hub of Caribbean coastal business, is similar to the way Jonah was swallowed by the giant fish.
In line 33 the poet asks where is the Caribbean version of Renaissance? We already know the European version of Renaissance, which was an important period in the English History. But where is 'your' i.e. the natives' Renaissance? The answer is that it is locked in the sea where the men of war floated down. The poet asks the reader to put on goggles so he can be guided safely to the bottom of the sea. The sea-bed is like a city in itself, it has colonnades of corals and it has Gothic windows in the form of sea fans. Note that both pillars or columns evoke the image of prestigious and old buildings like those of the Greek and Roman origin, and the Gothic windows remind us of the Gothic style architecture that was very common in the past. This again shows that the sea has its own forms of historical imagery under the water. In this underwater place a grouper (a large, heavy and ugly fish with rough scales) with onyx eyes (eyes shining and glittering like a precious stone called onyx) lives and its scales glimmer like jewels. The fish is being called as a bald queen, because although the fish has no crown on its head (it is therefore bald), it is still majestic in its own way. The fishes and the corals are the wealth of the sea that the sea protected from the hands of humans. Bald queen may also be a reference to Queen Elizabeth I who after suffering from small pox became half bald and dependent on wigs and cosmetics.
The underwater caves with a lot of ridges and creases are full of barnacles and these are our cathedrals.
In line 47 Gomorrah is a Biblical reference to the city mentioned in the Book of Genesis as well as in Quran. This city, among with five others, was called the 'cities of the plain' ; the plain (are north of modern day Red Sea) was compared to the garden of Eden, as being a land well-watered and green, suitable for grazing livestock. Judgement by God was passed down on these cities and Gomorrah was completely consumed by fire. Since then, Gomorrah is known as a symbol of unforgivable sin, and a manifestation of God's wrath. The poet is trying to say that there has been fires and destruction in Africa too, just like Gomorrah.
In line 53 brown reeds of villages means that the houses that had their roofs constructed from reeds, the thin tall, straw-like plants that grow in wet areas and used in construction. The villages of the natives were soon concealed and converted into towns. This is a reference to the reconstruction of the villages into towns in Africa as the colonizers brought with them better city plans for Africa.
In line 56 spires are conical or pyramidal structures on top of a building, particularly a church tower. Symbolically, spires have two functions. The first is to proclaim a war-like power. A spire, with its reminiscence of the spear point, gives the impression of strength. The second is to reach up toward the skies. A spire on a church or cathedral is not just a symbol of piety, but is often seen as a symbol of the wealth and prestige.
In line 57 lancing is a reference to the act of piercing. Perhaps the poet is trying to say that the churches that the colonizers have erected in Africa, their spires are so high and pointy that they are literally piercing God. This means the poet may be saying that the 'pious' acts of the colonizers are even hurting God and His son.
In line 61 Emancipation is a reference to the Historical event in English History in which the Blacks living in America were 'emancipated' or freed from slavery. The poet is saying that for the natives the religion of Christianity was supposed to bring freedom from paganism, from illiteracy and heathen rituals but this jubilation or celebration vanished swiftly the same way the sea lace dries quickly in the sun. It was a fleeting moment of joy that soon disappeared. But this is not what the African history is made of, it is not centered on religion.
Each rock breaking into its own nation can symbolize the segregation in which Africa was divided by the colonizers into smaller states that could be controlled easily by the French and English colonizers. After this came the church councils (synod) buzzing like flies, and the official clerks (secretaries) are like herons, the large fish-eating birds, the politicians are like frogs who came asking for votes, and there were intellectuals who lit up like fireflies with bright ideas for the betterment of the country, and then the ambassadors of other countries swooped in like bats, and the police and judges arrived as well and the whole Western System was brought into Africa. The poet is saying that this is where the history really began, when the political system began, because after this the Africans started to think about creating their own political parties in order to revolt against the imposing system of colonizers.
In the last three stanzas of the poem, the poet refers to various insects and animals like 'flies', 'bullfrogs' and 'mantis' which recall the Biblical story of the Ten Plagues that were sent by God on Egypt as punishment to Pharaoh for not freeing the Israeli people. The Ten Plagues included the plague of sending swarms of flies down on Egypt, swarms of frogs and swarms of locusts which are similar to grasshoppers and close relatives of the Praying Mantis. Basically, the poet is saying that the Bureaucratic posts in the democratic institutions brought by the colonizers are nothing but plagues and animals. 

-Credit -Moneeza Rafiq

Analysis of Text for Racial/Ethnic Discrimination

As we took our seats for the meal, he lifted a bottle of red wine and said to me, “You drink?” “He's twenty-two,” Erica's mother said on my behalf, in a tone that suggested, So of course he drinks. “I had a Pakistani working for me once,” Erica's father said. “Never drank.” “I do, sir,” I assured him, “Thank you.”
Erica's father had asked me how things were back home, and I had replied that they were quite good, thank you, when he said, “Economy's falling apart though, no? Corruption, dictatorship, the rich living like princes while everyone else suffers. Solid people, don't get me wrong. I like Pakistanis. But the elite has raped that place well and good, right? And fundamentalism. You guys have some serious problems with fundamentalism.” (Ch 4, pg 53-55 The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid.)
In the above extract the main focuses is on the two speakers, first, Erica's father and second, Changez, the Pakistani young man living and working in America. In the first part of the extract, there is a reference to wine and there are hidden meanings and stereotypes involved with drinking wine. Erica's father, who is a genuine American, asks Changez if he drinks. The question implies that he thinks Changez would abhor drinking and be against it, since he has had a past experience with a Pakistani who never drank. A racist stereotype is being highlighted here through the national identity i.e. “Pakistani” and the act of “drinking”. If we consider Erica's father to be a representation or a personification of the Americans, it can be said that the popular belief held among the Americans is that all Pakistanis do not drink wine as their religion forbids them. The religion that is associated with all Pakistanis, by default is then Islam. Pakistan is an Islamic state but to consider every Pakistani a Muslim, and then to assume every Pakistani to adhere to the codes and conducts of the religion is what gives rise to a stereotype which works in negative connotations against the Pakistanis. It is clear from the tone of Erica's father that he does not think avoiding alcohol is a good quality, because it makes a Pakistani a 'fundamentalist'.
Since Changez is a Pakistani and a Muslim, and yet he drinks, is a living proof of the kind of diversity and individuality that all Pakistanis hold and that should be respected and recognized. Erica's father's assumption shows that he holds the Pakistanis and Muslims as a unit, and that he believes that they are all the same. This kind of attitude gives rise to racism against both the Muslims and Pakistanis. To Erica's father, or general Americans, it can be said that being a Pakistani directly equates to being a Muslim, and being a Muslim is synonymous to being a fundamentalist.
The second half of the extract reveals more racist ideals against the general Pakistani populace and assumptions and stereotypes that the world generally associates with Pakistanis. A set of nouns that are being used need to be analyzed: Economy, corruption, dictatorship, the rich, the elite, fundamentalism. These nouns are accompanied with predicates and adjectives that determine the connotations of these words as negative or positive. Economy is 'falling apart', according to Erica's father. This statement comes right after Changez's assurance that his 'home' (which is a metaphor or a positive connotation for the homeland Pakistan) and the circumstances there are quite good. The bluntness of the statement then presents a sharp contrasts and gives it negative colouring. 'Falling apart' can mean crumbling or disintegrating. It can also show a certain hopelessness of the situation, as if nothing can be done, or perhaps that the efforts the Pakistani government is doing to sustain economy are futile. Corruption and dictatorship are negative terms which are frowned upon in all nations and government setups. However, it is noteworthy that these are being associated with not only the Pakistani nation but all Pakistanis as those living in the country. The irony is that America itself is buried neck-deep in a myriad of economic failures and issues, and corruption and dictatorship is a major issue among all nations. It is therefore, a prejudice and a derogatory stereotype to list these issues as if they exist solely in Pakistan. 'The rich living like princes' is a phrase placed in juxtaposition to another, 'while everyone else suffers'. It is being said that the Pakistanis who are rich live like princes and have 'raped' the country good. The elite can also be an indirect reference to those in power, naturally those who form the government are taken to be as rich people who are 'corrupt'. The connotations of 'raped' here are extreme, they present the image of the country being stripped of all its valuables, its national treasury, its taxes and generally all the money that Pakistanis have has been taken from them by force. The whole speech of Erica's father can be said to be a backgrounding of everything that is good about the Pakistanis, and a foregrounding of every negative aspect of the nation and blowing it up to an extreme proportion.
The connotation of fundamentalism once again refers to the religion Islam, since it is a general idea in the world that all Muslims are fundamentals. The word 'fundamentalism' in itself does have positive connotations, it means to stick to the basics of something, a maintenance of beliefs in old traditions, and ironically, this word is found to be in connection with Christian beliefs and doctrines. But this word is now associated with Muslims, as the general representation of Muslims is that they are extreme about their religious beliefs, with the creation of words such as 'terrorism' and a distortion of the word 'jihad', fundamentalism has taken a negative meaning and is a stereotype reserved for Muslims of the world. Since the novel revolves around the events of 9/11 and its aftermath, 'serious problems with fundamentalism' can taken to be an indirect reference to 'terrorism'. Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan are believed to be infested with terrorists who are Muslim extremists. When Erica's father says 'you people', he is once again stereotyping and generalizing Changez's existence to be a representation of all Muslims and all Pakistanis. The little praise that Pakistanis or Changez does get is that Erica's father likes Pakistanis, and the rest of the discourse is dedicated entirely to the demeaning of the national identity of Changez and the whole Pakistani nation in general. Irony here is that the novel shows how Americans themselves are fundamentalists, and that they have many problems in their own country to which they choose to turn a blind eye. The dialogue is focused on the foregrounding of all the negative issues, problems and national crisis of Pakistan, and backgrounding of facts such as all Pakistanis are not fundamentalists or terrorists, and that the problems that are listed exists in every country, not just in Pakistan. The image being created is extremely insulting and negative in its interpretation.
In conclusion, the above extract highlights the stereotypical attitudes associated with Muslims and Pakistanis, and the kind of racial prejudice they are subject to, not just by an individual like Erica's father, but by all Americans and the whole world in general. Racism against Pakistanis and Muslims has become common in the world, especially in America, particularly after the incident of 9/11.
Hamid, M. (2007) The Reluctant Fundamentalist. Penguin Books Ltd. India. pp. 53-55.

-Credit : Moneeza Rafiq