Sunday, March 20, 2011

Event Blog #4, Life before Death

Ernest Hemingway’s, The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber, is a coming of age short story and focuses on the importance of living life for yourself, having self-confidence, and dying honorably. Until Macomber’s buffalo kills, he is weak, timid, white-faced, young, and has a 5-lettered wife. Due to his lack of confidence and bravery he is taken advantage of, humiliated, and his wife cheats on him; he is unhappy even though he seemingly has obtained the American dream (wife, money, job, trophies). Upon killing the buffalo, however, he gains a sense of himself; he finds that he is powerful, happy, and confident. This confidence gives him the ability to live without his unfaithful wife, as Wilson notes that he would leave her, and as he is killed by an “accidental” shot by his wife, his life is complete, having ending in happiness. It is truly more important to have a strong sense of self, and to live without fear than it is to have the fake recipe for happiness prescribed in the American dream.

The Bride of Frankenstein is a video produced in 1935 based on Mary Shelley’s classic book, Frankenstein. This depiction of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is both humorous and slightly inaccurate. Although the movie has many aspects that are similar to the book, like the cottage scene, even these similarities have their faults. I find it very interesting how such a horrific and frightening tale of a monster was made into a very funny movie. It is still astonishing that Mary Shelley was able to think so ahead of her time; even this 1935 movie doesn’t have the technological capabilities of creating life, nor do we now have the ability to produce it. Mary Shelley’s work was truly inspiring and revolutionary, as can be seen by how many movie versions of her, Frankenstein there are, some more accurate than others.

In Emily Dickinson’s poem, “Success is counted sweetest”, the speaker is saying that those who go without (in this case, victory) understand and appreciate the things they miss more than those people who have the sought-after things. At the opening of the poem, it is evident that those who don’t have success, hold it in higher esteem, “Success is counted sweetest / By those who ne’er succeed.” (Dickinson, 1-2) and in the last stanza, Dickinson goes further to say that only those who have lost the battle can appreciate the sweetness of victory. This theme is very prevalent throughout the poem and Dickinson is attempting to teach the reader to appreciate and enjoy the success and blessings that they have, but acknowledges that it takes a loss to appreciate what you can win. This is similar to the Joni Mitchell lyric, “You don’t know what you got till its gone” from her song, Big Yellow Taxi.

“I heard a Fly buzz – when I died-” is a poem by Emily Dickinson that shows the skepticism of the heavenly afterlife, suggesting that there is nothing more to death than dying. According to traditions of the 19th century, one was supposed to see Jesus on their deathbed, a heavenly sign of the coming eternal afterlife. In this poem, however, the speaker sees only a fly, a crude, gross, and very earthly symbol; there is nothing heavenly or hopeful about a fly. This atheistic notion of the afterlife is culminated in the last two lines of the poem, “And then the Windows failed – and then / I could not see to see-”, as the speaker describes how her eyesight fails her, and as she falls to the darkness of death, there is only darkness; her eyes are not opened to a heavenly afterlife.

“Because I could not stop for Death-”, by Emily Dickinson, describes the transition from life into the afterlife as an impending carriage ride to the destination of supposed eternity. As the speaker passes on to the afterlife, she rides in a carriage, passing children, recess, fields, and sunsets. This passage of childhood and memory signifies the common idea that your life flashes before your eyes right before you die. Death is personified in this poem and is seen to be inescapable and impending, moving slowly but surely in the carriage towards the house of the afterlife.

In Dickinson’s poem, “Tell all the Truth but tell it slant-”, she suggests that the truth of the world is too horrific and awe-inspiring to be told bluntly and raw, especially to children and the less educated. Although the truth is important, especially the truth of God, we are not strong enough, nor could we handle it. She goes on to make an analogy using lightning, something that frightens children, and shows how we give them an explanation of lightning to ease their fear, avoiding the truth that it is powerful and dangerous. This relates to her last two lines, and by keeping “Truth” ambiguous I believe she is speaking about the truth of life, and of God. This can be seen as she uses an allusion to Moses and the burning bush, as even he was too weak to see the true truth, allowed only the see the dazzling trail that God left behind as he walked past. Had he been allowed to see God, the Truth, he would have been blinded, “The Truth must dazzle gradually / Or every man be blind-”.

Each of these poems, the movie, and the short story, focus on the theme of "death". Death is imminent and universal; no one can escape the carriage ride of death. What we make of our lives, however, is under our control. It can be seen in Hemingway’s short story that it is important to live life in confidence and with authority, for yourself, and for true happiness. Frankenstein poses an interesting contrast to the meaning of life, suggesting that true life comes from relationships, inter-personal relations, family, and friends, and that the lack of these creates a monster inside of us. Dickinson’s approach to the afterlife shows her skepticism, yet her fear of death suggests that an afterlife must be hoped for. All of these authors do an excellent job at using fear and emotion to describe death, prompting the reader to live life and not wait for the afterlife, because you cannot stop for death.

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