English 258 notes

9 December 2004

Notes from my English 258 class, Literature of the Western Civilization. Personal stuff full of misspellings. Note to self: see if we can integrate the Apple spell checker (like Mail has) into my notes. Maybe switch to a different editor?

Dust jacket for "Literature of the Western World Volume II" (via Prentice Hall)

4 November 2004

A Doll House - Henrik Ibsen (1828-1906) p.1326

  • Comic in the sense that it has a happy ending. Comedy or trageedy is very often constructed on the pattern of a rising and falling action. The midpoint is often called the turning point (climax); a turn is taken and we can’t go back.
  • What is turning point for Nora? When we get to Act II, where can’t she go back?
  • The first act sets the stage, but it’s also a period of complication. We’re introduced to all the secondary characters who have stories to tell and are related to Nora in some way.
  • Act III: The complications of the plot are unraveled, and we get to the final slamming of the door. This is the end of our falling action.
  • Checkov’s “The Cherry Orchard” is different since it has four acts.
  • Notice the claustraphobia of the room in terms of the people in it an its furnishings.
  • Heating a room with a wood stove can cause it to get hot, but what’s it mean when the characters actually say, “My, it’s hot in here.”? The character’s feeling nervous, stressed, the heat’s turned up, etc.
    • p.1363 Helmer: “Phew, it’s hot in here.”
    • p.1345 Nora: “How hot it is here!” - Helmer chastizes Nora for lying, and then goes off about Krogstad’s lying. We begin to put the pressure on the mother. The mother is the moral paragon here, the one who never lies. Nora has been deceiving her husband for all these years, thus the whole notion of lying weighs very heavily on her.

Side note: We went off on a tangent here about presidential debates, blinking, and how to tell when a person’s nervous.

  • Helmer and Krogstad were friends in childhood. Krogstad tries to keep up that familiarity, and Helmer doesn’t like that. In fact, Helmer thinks Krogstad is an immoral individual.
  • Helmer is very much concerned with appearances and what people will say about him.
    • p.1348 Helmer: “Good-because you give in to your husband’s judgment?” This is the expectation, that Nora will always give in to his judgment. She’s not to be credited, ever, with obeying the rules, since that’s something that should always be done.
    • p.1349 Nora: “Yes, yes, you’ve got to give in to me.” Nora is making demands that she has now power to make.
    • p.1350 Helmer: “Nora dear, I can forgive you this panic, even though basically you’re insulting me…this shows so beautifully how much you love me…I have strength and courage enough as a man.”
  • Helmer is saying absolutly not to accepting Krogstad into the bank. When he says that, the whole action turns. What is Nora’s way out? One of her remaining ways out is with Dr. Rank.
    • p.1353 Nora: “…there’s something you can help me prevent…he’d [Torvald] never hesitate a second to give up his life for me.” Rank: “Nora—do you think he’s the only one—”
  • Nora can’t stand the idea of being indebted to Dr. Rank, so the moment passes and she can’t let him pay off the debt. If she agrees to this love / gift she’d have obligations, and she wants to be free of her obligations.
  • Now Nora has no options left to her. Here is the turning point, and we get to watch how all the threads play out from here.
  • p.1359 Helmer: “But Nora darling, you dance as if your life were at stake.”
  • p.1362 Mrs. Linde knows this is a hopeful household, and the only way to salvage it is to let the secret out. The poison (that of the Teratula) has to released.
  • p.1368 Helmer: “In all these eight years—she who was my pride and joy—a hypocrite, a liar—worse, worse—a criminal!…Can you see now what you’ve done to me?…it’s got to seem like everything between us is just as it was…all that matters is saving the bits and pieces, the appearance—”
  • p.1369: Helmer: “You loved me the way a life aught to love her husband…For a man there’s something indescribably sweet and satisfying in forgiving his wife—”
  • p. 1372: Helmer: “But there’s no one who gives up honor for love.” Nora: “Millions of women have done just that.”
  • Nora has grown up a lot in this play, and in the end she simple gets up and walks out.
  • Drama is a wonderful way of getting some of these major social issues in front of a public.

Gooseberries - Anton Checkhov (1860-1904) p.1378

  • The core of his brother’s happiness, his goal, his dream, total and uncomprimised bliss is a bowl of goosberries. Hence the title. He doesn’t know they’re unripe and sour.
  • We have a dream, and if we get to the realization of that dream, that is happiness.
  • Happiness at the expense of what? Nikolay was a beauracrat before he became a landlowner. He had this dream that grew more and more elaborate and complex. He wants to go back to the country. He wants his estate. He wants gooseberries.
  • The estate is not what Nikolay dreamed of, but he’s got his gooseberry bushes.
  • Everyone on this wonderful estate is a pig! They eat a lot; they’re comfortable; they’re happy. But they’re happy at the expense of a lot of other things that make up a life.
  • Protect yourself from other people’s unhappiness by living a hermit’s existance. Is that real happiness? The narrator says that eventually the unhappy world will come crowding in.
  • This really isn’t Nikolay’s story; it’s Ivan’s. The Checkhov is telling a frome story about Ivan. Ivan’s story frames Nikolay’s. Why does Checkhov use a frame story? Ivan is a thinking person, and we get some reflection on what Nikolay represents that we wouldn’t have gotten if the story was solely Nikolay’s.
  • We can reflect on Alehin and his farm as well.
  • What kind of person is Ivan himself? He’s concerned about the poor, hungry, unhappy people in the world. We have to keep focused on the principle virtue of doing good. That’s what will make you happy.
  • Ivan is a vet surgeon. We see him doing various things in the frame story. Ivan enjoys some of the simple things in life, like gooseberries? He splashes in the pond like it’s the best place he’s ever been.

9 November 2004

  • Pay attention to page 1445. What were modern artists trying to do?
  • Gibson is concerned with social issues, city beauroctracy, etc. When we reach the French symbolists, we’re going to be looking at something very different. It’s kind of counter culture. The poets were concerned not with shaking up the middle class; they were disgusted with it and its values.
  • The poets wanted to shock people, to show humanity in all its ugliest values. They talk about unpleasentness, but they aren’t depressing. There is shock here.

Gooseberries - Anton Checkhov (1860-1904) p.1378

  • p.1384 - You do good, ‘cause I’m just a dottering old man. Hence, I can’t do good. Chekhov’s characters are convoluted. They may be able to see the good, but they can’t necessarily do it.
  • Does the author like or dislike Ivan? You can’t really label people as bad or good, ‘cause we’re all really conflicted.

11 November 2004

The Cherry Orchard - Anton Checkhov (1860-1904) p.1385

  • What’s Checkhov up to? Is this social literature? Is he commenting on something?
  • If you look at each of the characters in the play, all of them have suffereed, either imediately, or in the past. Will these people survive their imediate hardship? Somehow, their lives continue. But what will happen to Firs? He’s locked in the house. We make an inference that he’s there to die. All the other characters leave the estate and go on to other fascets of thier lives. This is the way life is. It’s true for the characters in the play; it’s true for us as well. Human nature is resilient. We bounce back.
  • These are people who are dreamers. They are foced to make adjustments, which they think about and then finally make work.
  • The play starts and ends in the nursery. It’s a place of memories. Place for children, place you cling to in your store of memories as you go through life. Now at the end, everying is shut up. This is a closed sterile darkening room, pictures off the wall. Not an attractive place at all. Memories have been washed away as the characters move on with their lives.
  • What about the settings of the other two acts? Why do we get the characters away from the house? We get away from the house, where we’re trapped in memory, and we move to the open country where we’re not limited.
  • Any signs of a Russia of the future in the Act II (p.1307) description? A big town, telegraph poles. We’re going modern here. What do we explore in this act? Begin with Charlotta, and we learn a lot about her life. “I know nothing at all. One wants to talk and has no one to talk to…I have nobody.” (p.1307) We’re asking the question of all the others, what do we do with our furture?
  • Epihodov is singing loves songs for Dunyasha. Here we have a character who’s everything and nothing.
  • All the other characters enter the scene as well. Why might this be relevant to this particular setting? Do we discover anting new about Lyubov that we didn’t know before? She’s very free with her money. She’s a generous and giving spirit. It’s also the reason why they’re losing the cherry orchard, and why they can’t save it.
  • Trofimov comes in at the end of the act, and has stuff to say about how to save the cherry orchard as well. He goes off on their cherry orchard, as being representative of the decadence of the past. It’s a bad memory. He’s a the new order of thinker; he’s s student. We have to get rid of the aristocracy. This leads ultimately to the revolution. “All Russia is our garden.” (p.1405) This is the great and glorious future.
  • Is Checkov, in Act II, writing a piece of social commentary? Is this Checkov speaking? Could the point be embodied in this particular Act? yes, Trofimov is different. He’s what we’re left with at the end. He’s serious, articulate. Embedded in fiction, you will often find a character whose a spokesperson for the author. Is Trofimov Checkov in disguise?
  • In Act III (p.1405), we find that the other characters don’t take Trofimov seriously, except for Anya, since they’re an item. Work is the big term here. Trofimov says you must suffer a lot if you’re going to join the movement. No more sitting around shooting billiards, waxing poetic to bookcases, etc. But Trofimov has never lifted a finger in his life. He is the mangy character in a lot of different ways. Here is a character who never grew up. Trofimov is just as conflicted as the rest of them. He’s part of the action; he’s part of all of us. (p.1408) Trofimov: “For once in your life you must face the truth.” Lyubov: “What truth?…life is still hidden from your young eyes.” For him it is black and white; for her it is hidden in shades of grey.
  • As we get through the crisis and beyond it, we now have characters who are actually listening to each other. Anya ends up being much more focused and hands on than Trofimov is, even though she’s assimilated some of his language, manners, ideals, etc. (p.1417) Lyubov: “In ten minutes we must get into the carriage.” Anya: “A new life is beginning mama.” Gaev: “…afterwards…we all felt calm and even cheerful.” Their lives have been redirected, and they’ve all found a measure of peace.

French Symbolist and Modern Poetry (1840-1920) p.1453

  • These poets would argue that the middle class is all driven towards being rich. They’re closing out emotion, intellect, and the refinements of life. They see middle class households as being cold, uninteresting, boring, etc. No paintings on the wall, no bookcase to preach to. It’s a sanitized life.

The Art of Poetry - Paul Verlaine (1844-1896) p.1472

  • “Epigram’s an assassin! Keep / away from him, fierce Wit, and vicious / laughter that makes the Azure weep, / and from all that garlic of vulgar dishes!” The problem with epigrams is that they’re too clean and will kill your poetry. Don’t get into high moral preaching; don’t preach at all. Don’t be to direct in your satire. Don’t be grotesque in your feelings. It’s all about delicacy and refinement. Keep away from what the middle class likes to eat.
  • “Take Eloquence and wring his neck! / You would do well, by force and care, / wisely to hold Rhyme in check, or she’s off—if you don’t watch—God knows where!” Let’s get ride of the rules. We need to feel freer in our modes of expression. Don’t over do it with rhyme.
  • We’re dealing with refinements of tastes were you don’t have primary colors. Instead you’ve got nuance and shades. We’re going to set up a world of our own as poets. We’re not going to respond to these baser and gross instincts that poets in the past have responded to. We’re going to be free to do our own thing.

16 November 2004

  • What are these poets trying to do? What are they reacting to?
  • The growing middle class, the growing Bougwase. Creates social issues to which this group takes a particular stance. Artists react to this stance.
  • Ibsen reacts to this in “A Doll House”. He’s reacting to the standards of marriage, men and women. Everyone loses because of this wrong social fabric we have created.
  • The Symbolists don’t just want to change the system, they want to do something all together different. Shock the middle class. Treat horrible things, ugly things, talk about dying, using images of people / things dying. Life is also death. There’s an effort to cover the whole spectrum of our experience on Earth. People might be shocked into realizing that this is something that has to be accepted.
  • Create images of the unpleasant that are pleasant enough your eyes are still focused on what is unpleasant. The real problem in the middle class is a sanitized environment. There are things we don’t look at, what’s happening on the street below. We move into a mode of denial.
  • The poets want to draw yo in. Look at the whole picture. Look at what’s pleasant as well as what’s unpleasant. The whole universe is a subject for poetry. The old style literature tends to be a preaching literature. You read a story or work and try to find the author’s moral lesson. With the symbolist poets, there’s no lesson. If these poets do anything, it’s to create a mood or a feeling. A freely presented collection of images to suggest tones. Don’t carry moral weight, but suggest feelings of refinement and taste.

The Art of Poetry - Paul Verlaine (1844-1896) p.1472

  • Many of these poets lead horrible lives, and writing for them was often a very painful activity. But the other side is that they’re playing with us, and having fun.
    • p.1473 “…let your lines / disheveled run… / and all the rest is literature.”

Sentimental Conversation - Paul Verlaine (1844-1896) p.1470

  • The dashes are the indicator that we have two people talking here. No longer the standard quotes. One is nostalgic, the other cynical. One is drawn back to something glorious in the past. The other says it wasn’t so great. You can assume these people are old lovers. What else do we know?
  • They seem like ghostly figures. This is a Casper poem; a poem about ghosts. At the end it says they’re dead. We’re not dealing with living human beings here. We’re dealing with ghosts reminiscing about their past.
    • “Their lips were soft and slack, their eyes were dead, / and one could scarcely hear the words they said. / In the old lonely park nipped by the frost, / two specters have called back the past they lost.”
  • The azure is such a big subject of these poets. They come back to it again and again. It suggest hope, almost eternal happiness. It’s what they aspire to.
    • “—How blue the sky was then, and hope beat high! / —But hope fled, vanquished, down the gloomy sky.”
  • For every up we have a down.
  • “Even so they walked through the wild oats…” They’re breaking the rules once again. Both of them are joined together in doing something entirely acceptable before they have to go back to their life as the middle class.
  • What’s Verlaine trying to do? There’s no moral lesson here. What we get is a representation of the way many, many people live their lives. They have basic fundamental disagreements, but they’re still an item. All we know about is this little conversation they have as they walk through the park. Are you depressed by this poem? Not really. It’s every relationship. It’s Verlaine following his own heart of poetry. It has a remarkably light touch to it. Don’t wring your hands and get depressed about it. We more or less accept what they are. We come away saying is is okay; after all, they’re still sowing their wild oats.
  • There is a kind of playfulness here you’ll find in writers of this group.

Song of the Ingenues - Paul Verlaine (1844-1896) p.1469

  • ingenues - simple, unsophisticated girls; innocent young women; inexperienced girls; they haven’t been around the block, but that’s a good thing, as they live a happy care free life as innocents; they haven’t been soured by experience
  • Wonderful images. “we walk; pure as sunbeams / is our subconscious mind, / and we have azure dreams;” The first four stanzas are wonderful, then we have the Richelieus and rakes. These are drunken troublemakers. Not a happy word. The cavaliers are better, yet they make “sheep’s eyes”. They all have one thing on their mind. The men have no luck.
    • “they get their noses hurt, / on the ironic tucks / of the evasive skirt.”
    • The women know what they’re doing. The tucks in the skirt might be an attraction to the male, but the women have other things on their mind. Don’t come any closer. Again, Verlaine’s having fun here.
  • “Ingenuously we rail” We’re genuine and innocent. “of these climbers of the wall” What wall are they climbing? Where do we have walls? Walls sometimes are… The image here is the image of a fortress. All of these things protecting the innocent, and these men are trying to break through and win these young women.
  • “wild thumpings of our hearts, / inform our secret dreams / that we’re the future tarts / of these same libertines.” The girls want to be freed from their innocence. Tarts as prostitutes, a promiscuous woman. The libertines are free of all moral constraint; they’ll take advantage of women who freely give their favors. Here we get these innocents suddenly changing. Forced to change by biology. Is this a sad ending? Something distant and awful that they might become because of these thumpings.
  • What is the overall mood? Is this tragic? No. The women don’t seem to think this way. That’s just kind of how it is. This is the way things are. They seem to roll with it. We don’t get the lesson. Creates a sense of those turning points in life, those experiences we have. We as readers will have the experience and be richer for it. This empowers and fires our own imagination.
  • It’s a new way of thinking. Is the author condoning this? Not at all. It’s simply the experience. It’s not something you can celebrate. It’s just in the nature of things. Becomes problematic in the choice of terms at the end. Is he saying that all women have to be tarts and all men have to be libertines? How best to convey the fear and anxiety; it’s something so frightening to them that they become tarts.
  • Anything that is new and unknown can be terribly frightening. It’s like a nightmare almost. They haven’t adjusted to it.

Correspondences - Charles Boudelaire (1821-1867) p.1458

  • “Here man wonders through forests of symbols / Which seem to observe him with familiar eyes.” There is a kind of vitality in the universe. Images of things projected into us that we try to capture in our poetry.
  • “Like long-draw echos afar converging” Everything is connected. That’s important for the symbolist poet. All embracing. We feel we’re dealing with the everlasting.
  • A very positive poem on how everything relates to everything else.

Vowels - Arthur Rimbaud (1854-1891) p.1476

  • He equates vowels to colors. You will sometimes see this poem printed out in color. Is there a necessary correspondence between the letter and the color? Do you sense it? Has he proved the point in the poem? It’s just an odd poem.
  • It’s an attempt to connect things that we don’t typically think of being connected. Okay, letters on a page evoke certain responses.
  • The letters are out of order: A, E, I, U, O. Creates a sense of Alpha and Omega. A sense of order on the comprehensive, the beginning and the end. “Someday I’ll tell your latent birth O vowels:” Really a poem about DNA. What you are will come out, emerge at the end.
  • What’s the connection of the colors? Black contrasts with white. Red contrasts with green. Blue is the end. We’re bringing together the positive and negative experiences in our lives.
  • Where does U take us? Offsets the red, the springboard for the final stanza.

18 November 2004

The Albatross - Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867) p.1458

  • Albatrosses are a seabird, and generally known as the protectors of seamen.
  • Here, the albatross is cruelly treated. They chain and mock it. Its huge wings are rendered useless.
  • There’s a commentary here about how poets are treated. People who don’t get poetry treat the poets as people they have rejected, the outcasts of society. Quite effectively, the poets are destroyed when they get pulled into society and removed from their element.
  • The trick is to stay detached enough that they don’t fall in the range of the marksman who will shoot them down.
  • Poets are the embodiment of imagination. They’re free spirits who will do what they need to do.

Paris by Night - Tristan Corbiere (1845-1875) p.1466

  • Paris is a wonderful, imaginative, exotic place we’d love to spend some time in.

“It’s not a city, it’s a world.”

  • How do you organize your reading of a poem like this? Start at the beginning and go to the end. Is there anything that creates a sense of structure? The rhymes, a series of locations both physical and abstract: sea, dried Styx, fields, death, life. We’re dealing here with contrasting images, almost like we did in “Vowels”.
  • This is not a happy poem. “…the scratching of nocturnal crabs.”
  • We get philosophers and poets. The standard picture of Diogenes looking for one wise man, but here he’s a ragpicker looking for the best that he can. “The perverse poets by the hollow river, / with their hollow skulls for bait-cans, fish forever.”
  • Always watch out for the upper rooms. It’s a whore house, a brothel. “…love sucks the flesh of a heavy arm / where the slaked kisses leave their rouge in smudges.”
  • In the last stanza, it’s revealed that this is life. Not so bad after all.

Paris by Day - Tristan Corbiere (1845-1875) p.1467

  • This is a God poem and a food poem. The issue during the day is food. Here we have God as the chef in the sky, distributing food to those who most need it. God peppers food with love, sweats by the hot oven (Sol), etc.
  • How is this image compromised? Everything is a casserole. The Sun overcooks the food. Fat drips off it.
  • Sacrilegious poem. He’s trying to get people to bristle, to be shocked by what they’re reading. We’re all in this poem on the dole. We’re all there to receive goods.
  • What of the last stanza? He’d rather have what he does now, in the shadows with the dregs, than live a life of honey-pot lies. “Bah! I’d as lief have that as the honey-pot!”
  • Look at connections between this and “To the Reader” by Baudelaire, p.1456

Carrion - Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867) p.1460

  • About death and the squalor of the human body decaying. Is there framework here?
  • He’s on a walk with a lover, and they come across some carrion. So what this does is defy all those Valentine cards you buy at Hallmark. This is a love poem.
  • In what sense is this a love poem? Those last three stanzas. He’s saying that when she’s dead there will be disgusting things crawling through her, but he’ll love her anyway.

Disorder and Early Sorrow - Thomas Mann (1875-1955) p.1629

  • Set at the time of the Weimar Republic (1919-1933). Then Hitler came into power in Germany.
  • If this history professor where a dean of a medical school, or a football coach things would be different. He’s making 1,000,000 marks a month, but at 6,000 marks per egg, that doesn’t stretch very far. Food is scarce. Money is cheap and valueless. They live in a falling apart upper middle class villa. Still it’s a very happy family.
  • An interesting perspective on how history professors think. They love the past, because it’s over and fixed and done. It’s beautiful and order; something there that can never repeat itself. The historian doesn’t like what’s going on now, since it’s all change.
  • Disorder could represent things that are happening in the outside world, and the things that come into the story. Everything is getting confused.
  • Disorder in the house that reflects the society at large. The oldest members are the grandparents (Ancients), the parents are next (Old Folk), the older children are the teenagers in high school (Big Folk), and the two young children, Ellie and Snapper. We also have staff folk.
  • What are some noteworthy things about the friends? What do they want to be when they grow up? They don’t want to be upper class. They all have an aspiration to be performers or waiters. Why are they drawn to this? Life in this particular culture is very loose and free and up in the air. One of the things they take joy in is play acting. It’s a way of liberating yourself from all this change that’s going on. They do things just to disrupt the society.
  • The other thing is that there is a kind of sexual ambivalence in the characters. They use makeup and props and whatnot to change their outer appearance to reflect what they want their inner appearance to be. The children are testing the lines (their own and their father’s) about the difference between male and female.
  • Will Ellie end up jilted and scared? That’s the early sorrow in one sense, but what is it in another sense? Try to figure that out as you read.

7 December 2004

Take home exam for final!

  • Have to turn it in to Brink 200 by 10:00 am on the day of the final.
  • Will be three essays contained within four pages total (double spaced, normal margins, etc.) - Don’t summarize, repeat the question, pack it with as much stuff as possible in a page and a third.
  • Push for at least a page on each of the questions.
  • Will get the assignment sheets next time.

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock - T.S. Eliot (1888-1965) p.1758

  • How is this poem organized? Almost a story with a plot. Have a main character and his alter ego (who never talks back). They are leaving for a great moment in Prufrock’s life, but the moment passes, and then we see why it was that Prufrock didn’t seize the moment. p.1760 - “I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker, / …And in short I was afraid. / And would it have been worth it, after all,”
  • Try to get inside Prufrock’s head. Why didn’t he do it? He’s got a lack of self esteem, evidenced in his metaphor as a crab, losing his hair, fear of rejection. p.1761 - “That is not it at all, / That is not what I meant, at all.” “It is impossible to say just what I mean.”
  • He says he’s just an advisor, not someone who acts. What he wants is anonymity. Once again, he’s cowering. In a trance like state, he’s going through the motions. p.1758 - “Like a patient etherised upon a table;” Numb to the world.
  • Mentions of the red light district. He’s going to approach a woman and ask her to marry him, and she’s probably upper-middle class. He feels that he’s selling himself out. Anybody read Freud? What’ the Id all about? The desires, the hidden / dark things you can’t talk about and may not even recognize you have. It’s just percolating beneath the surface all the time. This desire of his, to profess his love to a woman, is dark and evil, at least in his mind.
  • One side of him is a person totally under control, the outer side he shows to the world. The other side is his hidden, lecherous nature. Well, at least he feels like it’s a lecherous desire.
  • p.1759 - “The yellow smoke that rubs its back against the window-panes,” is being compared to a cat. For Prufrock, there will be time to put on his other face. He wants to turn around and run home. He’s got time to collect himself over the course of this walk. p.1759 - “And indeed there will be time / To wonder, ‘Do I dare?’ and, ‘Do I dare?’ / Time to turn back and descend the stair,”
  • p.1759 - “Do I dare / Disturb the universe?”
  • What’s all the mermaid stuff at the end? He’s not worthy of their song. p.1761 - “We have lingered in the chambers of the sea / By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown / Till human voices wake us, and we drown.” It’s a work of fantasy. This is a dream. We’re constantly reawakened by human voices that destroy our desire.

from Italian Folktales - Italo Calvino (1923-1985) p.1962

  • There’s a formula here. These are folktales. Always put into the place and context of a world we don’t know. While this is a literature that grows up through oral tradition, Calvino sees more here than a way to pass the time ‘round a fire telling stories. We do get a story perhaps with a moral attached at the end, but how is this serious stuff? What deeper issue is Calvino wresting with?
  • Lots of images about marriage. Repeatedly, the stories end with a marriage, and there are obstacles on the way to that finale. One of the things that gets collapsed her is social hierarchy. The poor young woman proves herself better than the king she ultimately marries. Likewise for the poor boy who marries a queen.
  • Story telling gives the people who create it a fixed order for their aspirations. What do we want out of life? How can we discover happiness when we’re oppressed? How do we retain our dignity?
  • These stories are brilliant in articulating the aspirations of the people who recite them. We are destined to be this and that. The icon at the end is marriage. It’s the image we’re moving towards, but what other virtues are there? Humility. Courage. Cleverness. Tenacity.
  • What do you think about these women? They’re subservient to their fathers because they have no other position to be in. However, it’s the women who show all the character and have fire, focus, energy, resolve to move above their status in life. They’re always stretching the boundaries even though they must obey their fathers.
  • Does this make the social structure collapse? Yes. Even the poor can go to great lengths and achieve success.
  • You end up with people in a story describing a story or even self-referencing. “Wormwood” p.1983 Ask the question, what is going on here? We bring all the threads together at the end by the most unusual means. Stories about storytelling. Storytelling is what keeps people alive and keeps them sensible.

9 December 2004

from Italian Folktales - Italo Calvino (1923-1985) p.1962

  • Calvino is more of a creative artist than a scholar. He captures the spirit of the story not just the facts. Unlike, say, the Brother’s Grimm.
  • Very often, these stories end with a wedding. They begin with villainy or a loss of an important item. By the end, you have to find the item or defeat the villain. Therefore, the end result is either a wedding or a rescue.
  • How they get there becomes the focal point of the story.
  • p.1969 - “Now word of all this also reached a certain country village. You know how people sit around at night talking about all sorts of things…” It’s the world of gossip, and as stories get told they get embellished. You also get eavesdroppers who want to become part of the story.
  • We get all sorts of metaphors about dream killing step-mothers.
  • Escape from tall towers and such is driven by reason and a sense of urgency.
  • Repetitions within stories are a common device. Let’s drive home the message.
  • The girl within the parrot’s story avoids marriage, thus the story continues, and the girl outside the story doesn’t open the door. Ergo, the parrot-prince eventually wins the girl.
  • The dynamic of the storyteller. Wouldn’t it be nice if I was lucky like the people in my story?
  • We learn something about our nature, who we are as people. We are our stories. The stories we hear and live and read and tell are who we are. Calvino is trying to convey that to us.
  • Take away our stories and we become nothing.
  • Usually, the stories that we tell are shaped in a way that gives us completeness, closure, food for the imagination, hope to deal with the hard stuff in our lives.
  • This is something that originates with the people. This is maybe where we need to turn for a new source of energy and vitality in who we are and how we look at our culture.