Analysis of a major character in “A Streetcar Named Desire”

Harold Mitchell (Mitch), one of the prominent characters in Tennessee Williams’ “A Streetcar Named Desire”, provides the reader with insight into larger themes of the play through his actions and dialogue with other characters. The first real introduction that the reader has with Mitch is during the infamous poker scene. Four men, including Stanley Kawolski and Mitch, gather for a masculine game of cards. As the night draws to an end, Mitch decides that he needs to leave early in order to care for his dying mother. Uncharacteristic of the predominantly held conceptions of masculinity, Mitch shows a very sensitive side to his character. This blatantly contrasts the “alpha male” characteristic that Stanley constantly portrays throughout the play. The theme of gender roles in “A Streetcar Named Desire” is one that gets brought to the surface numerous times. Mitch serves as the opposite male to Stanley, which is a very important role. Mitch being kind and gentlemanly helps to bring to light that different types of men do exist and not just those who are the “alpha males” prevail in the world.

Mitch’s character is also significant within the larger context of the play because of his relationship with Blanche. A major theme of the play is relationships. The reader is subject to the abusive and animalistic relationship between Stanley and Stella, which is then contrasted with the developing relationship between Mitch and Blanche. Mitch is described as lacking intelligence and being sensitive and clumsy. These characteristics are the complete opposite of the type of man who Blanche dreams of. However, both Blanche and Mitch are brought together by their mutual need for a companion. Even though they might not be physically and emotionally attached or drawn to one another, the stages of their lives is what brings them together. Blanche is getting old and is constantly concerned that she will not find love after a previously failed marriage, while Mitch hopes to find a woman to marry in order to bring home to his dying mother. By portraying the character of Mitch this way, Williams is able to form a relationship between Mitch and Blanche that is completely opposite to that of Stanley and Stella. Blanche and Mitch’s relationship is based on companionship, while Stanley and Stella’s is based on compassion.

Another major theme of Tennessee Williams’ play is madness. Blanche’s character is the driving force of this theme. However, Mitch plays a very supportive role to her as their relationship grows. The characteristics that have been described about his gentlemanliness and sensitivity ring true in this case as well. Mitch seems to be the only character that truly understands Blanche and treats her with respect. Although he makes it clear that he really would like to sleep with Blanche, he does not make any attempts to abuse or rape her. These sorts of interactions with Blanche greatly contrast how Stanley treats his sister-in-law. At the beginning of the play, Stanley questions Blanche about losing Belle Reve and does so in his typical “alpha male” and disrespectful ways. He alludes to her instability and does not think that he can trust her. Mitch’s character seems to help counteract the disrespectful treatment of Blanche and helps to provide substance to the theme of madness.

The character Harold Mitchell seems to provide the contrasting character for many themes of the novel. He is the sensitive, compassionate, and understanding male. Without his counter view points, some of the major themes of the play would not have as much substance as they do.

(word count 592)

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Analysis of a passage from Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein”

The external form of Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” provides the reader with insight into more general themes of the novel. By providing the story with a narrative framing structure, the reader is then forced to question the reliability of the narrator and thus question language as a whole. Focusing on a specific passage from the novel and examining its formal devices, one can accomplish the same analysis of major themes in the novel. The passage below is a description by the creature in regards to his first interaction with fire.

“One day, when I was oppressed by cold, I found a fire which had been left by some wandering beggars, and was overcome with delight at the warmth I experienced from it. In my joy I thrust my hand into the live embers, but quickly drew it out again with a cry of pain. How strange, I thought, that the same cause should produce such opposite effects!” (p.81)

This passage utilizes multiple formal devices to describe large themes of the novel. Upon first examination of the passage, one can examine a few words that stick out. The diction used by Mary Shelley helps to further convey certain underlying themes of the novel. In the first sentence, Shelley uses the word “oppressed” to describe the creatures feeling of cold. This initially seems like an interesting word choice due to the fact that not many times does someone describe themselves as being oppressed by cold. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word oppressed means: to overcome, put down, or subdue; to suppress; to check or put an end to. The last part of the definition is particularly interesting. The fact that Shelley decided to say that the creature felt as if he was put to an end by the cold plays into the theme of life and death; creation and destruction. In the creature’s eyes, cold is death and warmth is life. This subtle interaction of the creature with fire relates to the larger theme of the novel which is the creation of life. Victor Frankenstein finds the solution to the creation of life and in turn creates the creature, who then in turn describes warm and cold as life and death. The last part of this passage also features interesting diction by Mary Shelley. She writes, “…the same cause should produce such opposite effects!” Here Shelley uses the words “cause” and “effects” in close proximity to each other. This choice to use these words close to each other provokes in the reader the thought of the common idea of cause and effect. In this passage, the creature says that the cause, which is the warmth of the fire that fills him with joy and the effect is the pain that is felt when he touches the hot embers. This idea of cause and effect relates to a larger theme in the novel, again having to do with the creation of the monster. An effect is what happens as a result of the cause. Victor Frankenstein creates the creature in hopes of producing an ideal form of life. This brings him much joy. However, the effect that is seen is that the creature is harmful and Frankenstein feels a great need to stop him from further terrorizing society.

Another formal device that is used throughout this passage is the extensive use of “I”. By doing this, Shelley accomplishes two things. First, she is simplifying the sentence structure. This allows the reader to focus more on the images that are being presented and how those images relate to deeper themes in the novel. Secondly, the numerous uses of “I” relates to the larger theme of language in the rest of the novel. Here Shelley portrays the creature as being short and simple with his language. However, he is also seen using very extensive language with much depth. What this does for the novel is that it further emphasizes the idea of language failing. The inability to classify how the monster actually utilizes language further progresses the theme of the unreliable narrator and the failing language of the novel.

Whether you examine the large external form of “Frankenstein” or you analyze a small passage from the novel, one can see the formal devices that Mary Shelley uses to further discuss major themes of the book.

(Word Count 731)

“oppress, v.”. OED Online. March 2011. Oxford University Press. 9 May 2011 <http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/132001&gt;.

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Mary Shelley’s use of formal devices in relation to a larger theme in “Frankenstein”

Throughout Mary Shelly’s “Frankenstein,” the use of formal devices help to depict larger themes of the novel. Nature is a topic that is addressed multiple times during “Frankenstein” and for various reasons. Specifically, in one case, Mary Shelley uses diction and setting to contrast the beautiful season being described to Victor Frankenstein being considered as transformed into an. Mary Shelley writes, “The summer months passed while I was thus engaged, heart and soul, in one pursuit. It was a most beautiful season; never did the fields bestow a more plentiful harvest, or the vines yield a more luxuriant vintage: but my eyes were insensible to the charms of nature”(p.37).
First, examining the diction of this passage, Mary Shelley uses words such as “plentiful” and “luxuriant” to describe the beautiful summer setting. Not only do these words dictate a season that is considered to be gorgeous, but they also are words that are used to describe how well something has grown. In this case, both a harvest and vines are said to have grown in copious amounts. This serves to complement the work that Victor Frankenstein is doing in the creation of his monster. He is physically growing another human being from various parts just as someone has to grow plants from seeds, water, and sunlight. This correlation between the description of nature and Victor Frankenstein’s pursuit of creation sets up the contrast between the beauty of natures creations and the ugliness of what Frankenstein will soon create.
The quote goes on to describe Victor Frankenstein’s eyes and how they are “insensible.” Eyes are not usually denoted as being something capable of acting insensible. But, this idea of Frankenstein’s eyes being numb and without feeling plays into the concept of the juxtaposition of nature and his creation of the monster. On one side, Mary Shelley has depicted a beautiful setting of the summer season by describing a harvest and vineyard as plentiful in their yield. On the other side, Shelley has contrasted this idea to Victor Frankenstein not being able to see beauty in nature or anything anymore other than his creation. Despite the ideal summer setting being describe, Frankenstein is now so entrenched in his pursuit for this creation, that he not only disregards nature, but he has also begun to disregard his family and all that is close to him.
Shelley has used the creation of a setting within the novel as well as various diction in order to portray the theme of nature as a contrast to Victor Frankenstein’s transformation as a character. Nature is something that has been created and in Mary Shelley’s description of nature in this setting, she portrays it as beautiful and bountiful in its growth. She contrasts this with Victor Frankenstein’s transformation from someone who cares for those close to him, to someone who only has one passion: the creation of his creature. This has turned him into someone who is “insensible” to the world around him and does not care for nature itself. 
This image shows the comparison between healthy and unhealthy plants. In relation to the quote from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, one can say that the healthy plant signifies the description of nature that Shelley is trying to portray in the current setting. The unhealthy plant can signify the type of nature that Victor Frankenstein is seeing due to his complete devotion to his creation. He not only doesn’t see the beauty in nature, but he sees the ugliness and that is portrayed into the creation of the monster.
Taking this close reading of Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” a step further, one can argue that this idea of man becoming insensible to the beautiful world around them is comparable to modern-day and the disregard for the destruction of nature for the sole purpose of consumption. The more that modern civilization strives to produce and consume, the more sacrifice nature must endure. The creation of everyday goods are all taken from elements of nature and sooner or later society is going to run out of resources.
Image 1: ars.usda.gov
Image 2: xenophilius.wordpress.com
(Word Count 675)

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The Relationship Between Form and Content in Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado”

Edgar Allan Poe’s use of form and content allows him to portray Montresor’s personality in multiple ways. However, the carnival and catacomb settings of the story and the colors and types of clothing the characters wear portray Montresor as a cold-blooded killer who shows no remorse throughout the course of the murder of Fortunato. There are two specific settings within “The Cask of Amontillado” that Poe utilizes to convey the personality of Montresor. The two major characters, Montresor and Fortunato, first interact with each other at a carnival. Carnivals are known as joyful and socially interactive places. Families and friends usually gather for a night of fun and games at carnivals. The fact that Montresor begins coaxing Fortunato to come with him at the carnival indicates that Montresor has no respect or regards for the family environment of the carnival. Montresor utilizes the vulnerability of Fortunato that is presented to him by the carnival environment in order to take him to the second setting of the catacomb.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word catacomb means: A subterranean place for the burial of the dead, consisting of galleries or passages with recesses excavated in their sides for tombs. The use of this setting by Poe establishes a metaphor for Montresor and Fortunato traveling into the depths of hell. Continuing with this metaphor, if the catacomb is a family heirloom of Montresor, then he can be seen as Satan. The bones that are scattered throughout the catacomb and the general description of how dark and damp the underground tunnel is, serves as a representation for Montresor’s cold-blooded personality.

Some of the content in Poe’s, “The Cask of Amontillado”, correlates with the previous discussion of the two settings in order to further show that Montresor has no regrets or hesitations during the cold-blooded murder of Fortunato. Poe writes, “Putting on a mask of black silk, and drawing a roquelaure closely about my person, I suffered him to hurry me to my palazzo.” The black mask covering Montresor’s face can be seen as being very Gothic and relating to death. In contrast, Fortunato is wearing something completely opposite. “The man wore motley. He had on a tight-fitting parti-striped dress, and his head was surmounted by the conical cap and bells.” Fortunato’s colorful and playful outfit represents his vulnerability and weakness. The fact that Montresor wears the colors of death and Fortunator wears the colors of innocence is consistent with the idea that Montresor is a cold-blooded murderer.

The above image shows the two different colored outfits that are worn by Montresor and Fortunato. The dark and gloomy catacomb can is also depicted in this image. This provides a good pictorial sense of what Poe wrote and what has been discussed in this post.

Together, both the form and content of Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado” work together to provide meaning. In the case of showing that Montresor is in fact a cold-blooded murderer and not a hesitant killer, Poe uses the formal device of two separate settings and the content of his story to persuade this idea to the reader.

“catacomb, n.”. OED Online. March 2011. Oxford University Press. 19 April 2011 <http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/28680?redirectedFrom=catacomb&gt;.

(word count 532)

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The Relationship Between Form and Content, “Sonnet 130” by William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare is known for his masterful plays and famous poetic pieces. “Sonnet 130” is known for its realistic portrayal of women and its mockery of previously written sonnets where women were idealized. Further analysis of this poems’ form and content reveals Shakespeare’s personal view as to what makes a woman attractive.

“Sonnet 130” was written in the form of an English Sonnet. These types of poems are structured so that 3 quatrains are followed by a couplet. There is also a specific rhyming scheme: ababcdcdefefgg. Lastly, a key part of the English Sonnet is its scansion, which is iambic pentameter. All of these aspects of the English Sonnet help to convey part of Shakespeare’s overall meaning of the realistic view of women. However, one specific part of the form of the English Sonnet, the couplet, provides additional evidence for how Shakespeare conveys to the reader his personal view of the ideal woman. The couplet serves as the turning point in the poem where Shakespeare goes from describing things that he dislikes about his woman, to telling the reader that he loves her despite these flaws. Also, by seeing how the sonnet was broken up into 3 quatrains, the reader can see the progressive change from physical to personal parts of the woman who Shakespeare describes. By understanding that he loved the woman he was describing throughout the poem, the reader can  analyze the content of “Sonnet 130” to pick out what Shakespeare does and does not like in a woman.

The content of the sonnet describes many attributes of a woman. The first two quatrains of the poem negatively compare the woman’s eyes, lips, breasts, hairs, cheeks, and her breath with physical objects in nature that are much more appealing than what is seen in this woman. For example, Shakespeare writes “My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun; Coral is far more red, than her lips red…” Here, Shakespeare compares his mistress’ eyes to the sun and says that they are nothing like it. Her eyes do not come close to resemblance of the sun, which would be used to describe a pair of beautiful eyes. He also says in this quote that coral is more red than his woman’s lips. Coral is considered to obtain a very dark and defined red color, which would also be used to describe gorgeous lips, but here Shakespeare says that coral is much more red than his mistress’ lips. Looking at the content of the third quatrain offers a slightly different look into Shakespeare’s view of a woman. In this quatrain he says, “I love to hear her speak, yet well I know That music hath far more pleasing sound…” Although he states again that something else is better than what his woman has, he begins this quatrain with saying that he still loves to hear her speak even though it might not be as good as music. All previous comparisons were taking place with a physical part of the woman he was describing. Now, however, he compares the woman’s voice and says that he loves to hear her speak. This is no longer examining the physical parts of a woman, but instead the personality of the woman. The last quatrain finishes by describing the way that the woman walks, but never compares it negatively. The way that a woman walks can also be seen as the way that a woman carries herself and further signifies Shakespeare’s appeal to the woman’s personality and character.

The form and content work together to show William Shakespeare’s ideal woman. The English Sonnet breaks down into 3 quatrains that progressively can help to show shift from describing physical parts of a woman to the personal qualities of a woman. The couplet of the poem also serves to conclude Shakespeare’s thoughts that he loves this woman regardless of her physical features and instead for her personal qualities.

Shakespeare described a woman as not having all the best physical attributes in the world and still being in love with her. This has been a current issue in modern magazines for many years. Society seems to be conformed to seeing women as having to have specific physical qualities and not matter about what is on the inside. Below is an image of re-touching that is done on a celebrity after a photo shoot. She is portrayed to the public not in a way that she normally appears.

Shakespeare conveys to the reader in Sonnet 130 that he does not care for what the woman looks like on the outside, but instead only cares about what she is like on the inside. He was far ahead of his time in terms of his writing ability, but also in his view of what should be idealized in a woman, which is her personality.

(Word count 796)

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The Relationship Between Form and Content, “My Papa’s Waltz”

Theodore Roethke’s “My Papa’s Waltz” utilizes both content and form in order to convey its underlying meaning. The Oxford English Dictionary defines content as: that which is contained in anything. After reading through the poem for the first time, one can generally understand the scene being carried out by the father and son. The first stanza introduces the reader to the dance between the son and his intoxicated father. The son smells the whisky on his father’s breath, which is so strong it “could make a small boy dizzy.”  The second stanza provides content for two different points of view. First, readers might interpret at first glance that the second stanza describes the father abusing his son. The diction of the author, such as using the word “romped” as the second word of the second stanza, leads the reader down the path of fighting. The view of abuse is further magnified by the pans sliding from the kitchen shelf, showing that the fight is out of control. However, a different point of view for some readers could be that the playful waltz between father and son has just gotten a little out of hand. Romped has an alternate meaning of simply energetic play. These two different points of view for the second stanza of “My Papa’s Waltz” lead the readers down two different paths for the ultimate meaning of the poem. The last two stanzas continue to describe the abuse or dance that is taking place between the father and son. The poem ends by the father taking the son off to bed. Depending on the readers point of view by this point, the connotation of the second to last line “then waltzed me off to bed” could have two different interpretations. If the reader thought that the poem described an abusive father, they might see this line as meaning that the father knocked the son unconscious by beating him. However, if the reader thought that the poem was simply a playful dance between the father and son, this line could just be thought of as the father dancing his son down the hall and off to bed. By understanding the content of the poem, one can apply the form of the poem to ultimately understand the meaning.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines form as: shape, arrangement of parts; the visible aspect of a thing. Examining the structure of “My Papa’s Waltz”, one can see that there are four stanzas, each with four lines. A waltz has very similar aspects. The dance revolves around what is called the box step. As the dancer performs the moves of the waltz, his/her feet outline the shape of a four-cornered box. This motion is simple and repetitive throughout the course of the waltz, just as the poem itself is simple and repetitive in form. (Follow this link to see an instructional video of a waltz. Fast forward to :45 seconds to see the box step.)  

Further analysis of the form of “My Papa’s Waltz” begins to touch on the content of the poem, and ultimately its meaning. The rhyming scheme of the poem is classified as a half rhyme or slant rhyme. The last word of the first and third lines of each stanza, as well as the second and fourth lines of each stanza, sometimes perfectly rhyme and sometimes the vowels or consonants of the stressed syllables are identical. This observation correlates with the relationship between the father and son in the poem. Sometimes their relationship might be going well and can “perfectly rhyme. While other times, their relationship could be questionable and only the “stressed syllables rhyme”. After examining the form of this poem, the content can be added into the analysis and a deeper meaning can be inferred.

As was discussed by looking at the content of “My Papa’s Waltz”, there were two different view points that could be taken by the reader. This was based on the certain diction and meaning of words, as well as the connotation of lines throughout the poem. The first view was that this poem described an abusive father and his son. The other point of view was that the waltz being described was simply a playful dance between the father and son. By analyzing the form of the poem, similar conclusions were drawn. The rhyming scheme was a little bit “off”. This could correlate to the relationship between the father and son being “off”, or it could correlate to the idea that there are two different view-points of the poem. The four line, four stanza format of the poem touches on the repetitive nature of the relationship between the father and son. It could mean that the abuse is a recurring event, or it could mean that it simply describes the dance that the father and son are performing. Ultimately, the poem is up to interpretation by the reader. However, analyzing both the content and form of Theodore Roethke’s writing of “My Papa’s Waltz” allows a deeper understanding of the meaning behind the poem itself.

“form, n.”. OED Online. March 2011. Oxford University Press. 5 April 2011 <http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/73421?rskey=50u9Nx&result=1&isAdvanced=false&gt;.

“content, n.1”. OED Online. March 2011. Oxford University Press. 5 April 2011 <http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/40144?rskey=EzPrw8&result=1&isAdvanced=false&gt;.

(Word Count 844)

 

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