Cover Letter

December 19, 2011

Dear Reader,

This blog is devoted to analyzing and providing information on George Cary Eggleston’s short story ‘The Canoe Fight’. It was created for my Introduction to Literary Study (ENG170W) course, and as a result there are quite a few posts unrelated to the story underneath this one.

Many of the pages have been edited from various assignments throughout the semester, while others are completely new. Throughout this process, I found that I wrote quite a bit on the background information and the setting of Eggleston’s story, which I feel is necessary due to the central conflict. I also found more significance in the relationship between the Native American and white characters as opposed to the more physical battle the story centers on.

I believe that I have become more knowledgeable in the field of literary criticism due to this course and the process of creating this blog. I am now able to find meaning in a work and able to back up my theory with others. While I once might have said that ‘The Canoe Fight’ was about a battle, I can now make a more educated statement (which you will find under ‘Analysis’).

I am still limited, however. I’m not an expert on literary theory, so my statements are somewhat amateurish. This blog was not created by an expert, so please take everything I say with a grain of salt!

That being said, thank you for taking the time to take a look around, and I hope you enjoy what you see!

Revising My Site

December 7, 2011

Web Wednesday 11/30

November 30, 2011

Excerpt from page ten of The Marriage Plot:

‘Madeleine had been trying to beat Alton [in tennis] her entire life without success. This was even more infuriating because she was better than he was, at this point. But whenever she took a set from Alton he started intimidating her, acting mean, disputing calls, and her game fell apart. Madeleine was worried that there was something paradigmatic in this, that she was destined to go through life being cowed by less capable men. As a result, Madeleine’s tennis matches against Alton had assumed such outsize personal significance for her that she got tight whenever she played him, with predictable results.’

Madeleine’s relationship with her father when it comes to tennis is a great metaphor for the theme of mania that appears so often throughout the novel. Mania is something that is not easily beat, and we see Madeleine struggling without success to beat her father at tennis. Even though she’s better than Alton, he always wins– this further represents the struggle with something that threatens to consume someone, even if the person is theoretically ‘stronger’ than the mania. Eugenides even goes so far as to say that Madeleine ‘fell apart’, which is certainly applicable to mania as well as a tennis game.

Alton’s taunting may represent personal insecurities– even though Madeleine is stronger than the ‘mania’ her inner thoughts turn ‘intimidating’ and disparaging toward herself, and due to the drop in confidence she cannot win. She fears that this is the standard, and that this is destined to happen forever. This causes her to both lose hope and to tense up, and as a result she cannot defeat her father/the mania.

How did the white majority in America not only aggressively but, more importantly, subconsciously assert their dominance over Native Americans during the nineteenth century through media and day to day life?

To do this, I would need to find articles written in or about this time period that concern Native Americans. My short story is perfect for this thesis, as the language is very loaded. I could find articles that describe government campaigns at portraying Native Americans as savages as well.

(Click for larger image)

Column A: Deception
Column B: Imprisonment
Column C: Emotional Reaction
Column D: Bartering
Column E: Rejoicing/Greed
Column F: Demands
Column G: Protagonist taking proactive route

Myth tends to repeat its ‘mythemes’ over and over. Lévi-Strauss suggests that this is to render the structure of the myth apparent. He goes on to describe how when different versions of one myth are put together they create a kind of slated effect. There are many different versions of Rumpelstiltskin floating around, but through repeating the same basic points over and over the basic structure of the story remains the same. The daughter may not be a miller’s daughter in the next iteration of the myth, but she will always be locked into a room several times by the king. It repeats so much to preserve the story even through repeated tellings.

Dreams

November 2, 2011

“A dream-thought is unusable so long as it is expressed in an abstract form; but when once it has been transformed into pictorial language, contrasts and identifications of the kind which the dream-work requires, and which it creates if they are not already present,can be established more easily than before between the new form of expression and the remainder of the material underlying the dream. This is so because in every language concrete terms, in consequence of the history of their development, are richer in associations than conceptual ones. We may suppose that a good part of the intermediate work done during the formation of a dream, which seeks to reduce the dispersed dream-thoughts to the most succinct and unified expression possible, proceeds along the line of finding appropriate verbal transformations for the individual thoughts.”

-Sigmund Freud

Using the above quotation, we can find two concrete tasks for the purpose of interpreting literary texts from the point of view of Freud’s Dream-work:

1.) Metaphors can be represented in many different ways. Freud mentions ‘pictorial language’, an example of which might be the usage of a mockingbird to represent innocence. We must analyze the imagery described and see if there’s a deeper meaning in it.

2.) Metaphors are useless unless they can be identified. If we are unfamiliar with the images being put forth, we will not be able to understand their meaning, and as such we must understand what exactly a mockingbird is before we can conclude that it represents innocence.

In short, we must search for meaning in imagery and we must be able to understand what said imagery is.

Step One: Look at the signs making up the first word. Identify what each individual sign is based on which signs they aren’t. Acknowledge the order these signs are written in, and then take in the whole word.

Step Two: Identify the language the word is written in, and find the image in your mind that that particular word correlates to in said language. This will be explained in more detail in Step Three.

Step Three: Identify the meaning of the word based on comparison and contrast. Let’s pretend the word is ‘baseball’. A ball is a round spherical object. A baseball is not a basketball because it is not called a basketball, so it must be another kind of ball. This will be done quickly and automatically for most words.

Step Four: Continue to read through the poem. You must be aware that the letters and sounds forming the words mean nothing– it is only through analyzing in the above fashion that you will find any coherent meaning.

Step Five: Note the order the words are written in, and base a conclusion on the understanding of these words and what they mean when put together. Continue to read the poem this way so that it creates a coherent total.

Going by these steps, I imagine that a Semiotician would be somewhat annoyed by Shakespeare’s Sonnet 65. Once he/she completed the initial basic steps he/she would find that Shakespeare does not use words based on the meanings one derives via comparing and contrasting similar words. For example, he uses the term ‘summer’s honey breath’ at one point. Based on the above steps, one would find ‘breath’ to mean the air pushed out through the mouth by one’s lungs. It would not mean ‘breeze’ to them because the word ‘breeze’ was not used. Language is extremely technical in this regard, and using the above steps the reader would come to believe that Shakespeare is talking about the season of summer breathing through its mouth breath that smells like honey.

This continues on with other phrases. For example, ‘That in black ink my love may still shine bright’ would result in the analysis that the speaker’s love is actually emitting light from black ink. The problem with these steps is that they are far too literal and do not allow for the connotation of words.

Hovering Example

October 19, 2011

“That in black ink my love may still shine bright.”

-William Shakespeare, Sonnet 65

Going by this analysis, a New Critic would be very pleased. It breaks down the poem line by line and bases its analysis on what is actually in the poem as opposed to the life and times of William Shakespeare. There is a heavy focus on connotation, which may cause some protest, but otherwise the poem would make no sense. After all, one would need to assume that the poet didn’t actually mean that the summer possesses honey breath. The only truly major issue I could find when attempting to think like a New Critic was the author’s assumption that Shakespeare misused a term (‘SB thinks it is a misapplied term, the precise meaning being ‘”to try an action” – i.e. to have jurisdiction, to be judge’). A New Critic would reject this analysis, instead saying that the poem was written exactly the way it was meant to, and that regardless of what the poet meant the meaning is what is already there.

Technology Map

October 12, 2011

Richter’s map still applies even with digital technologies, but it’s much more heavily slanted toward rhetoric and the ‘audience’ side. Most of what is on the internet is meant to be seen and understood by an audience– for example, this blog. Perhaps we could expand on the different subcategories– are we focusing on getting an audience to agree with us or are we simply trying to entertain? Writing for an audience is a very broad description, and seeing as the internet connects so many people together we must work on defining it further. One end of the spectrum could be pure entertainment, the other end pure education, and there could also be branches for the sort of audience to be reached– for example, young? Old? Many? Few?

An example:

Whew, today’s class was really hectic, and I normally like hectic.

I think that Wordle and Ngram are useful Digital Humanities tools. In some ways they are new ways of doing old things, but by they save so much time. If we’d tracked word usage over time and/or made Wordle-like pictures based on finding frequently used words it would take up several classes. Instead we were able to do it quickly and still have time to analyze what we found. These technological advances may not be entirely new, but they allow us to do more with what we have.