Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Life, Death and the Human Condition

          Sometimes with these blog posts I have to really stretch to find a way in which all of the pieces are connected, if at all. Thus was the case this week. From Hemmingway’s “The Short and Happy Life of Francis Macomber” to the poems of Emily Dickinson, I can only speculate that because these works are incredibly existential, they are describing what it means to be part of the human condition. They explore humanity from many angles, illuminating both the positive and negative attributes prevalent in us all.
            As a literary medium, I am unabashedly partial to the short story, and was therefore very excited to delve into “The Short and Happy Life of Francis Macomber”. I am not sure why, but my favourite aspect of the story was Margot’s part as the villain. Perhaps it is because Hemmingway was among the first writers to depict women in such a way: actually capable of being devious, underhanded and truly just mean as opposed to those who came before him who illustrated women as opinion-less delicate flowers. One of the more obvious themes of the story is that of courage, and I think the way in which Hemmingway chose to write about that subject shows how highly skilled he was. I loved the scene in which Wilson and Macomber are discussing what happened with the lion, and Margot, out of a combination of frustration and embarrassment, begins crying and retreats to her tent. She so clearly thought her husband was completely devoid of a spine, and I think it was only fitting that she be the one who eventually killed him. It is clear that she thought so little of him that no matter what he accomplished she would always be there to diminish it nonetheless.
            Ordinarily, I am not the biggest Emily Dickinson fan, but I really loved the poem “Success is counted sweetest”. I loved the idea that in order to fully appreciate the “nectar” of success, one must really thirst for it and have been without it for a long time, and that is an incredibly true sentiment. I wasn’t sure if she was using the idea battle metaphorically or literally, but either way the notion that the defeated understand victory better than the victorious was very effective. Conversely, the next poem, “I heard a Fly buzz – when I died – ” was full of the Dickinsonian ambiguity, melancholy and irrelevance for which I always carried ire. The descriptions were well done, but I did not understand what prompted her to write the piece or why it is significant enough to be housed in this anthology.
            “Because I could not stop for Death – ” was interesting in that as I was reading it, time seemed to slow. The imagery of the speaker and Death in the carriage slowly driving throughout this town as she prepares to leave forever was definitely effective. This is the second poem in a row by Dickinson about death and dying, which only enhances my view of her as a melodramatic writer. Although I loved the lines, “We paused before a House that seemed / A swelling of the Ground,” I hated how she used the word “Ground” again two lines later. With the flow of the poem, that was very off-putting. 
           “Tell all the Truth but tell it slant – ” is an intriguing piece because Dickinson expresses a worldview probably not held by many who would be willing to admit it in such a public forum, especially not in 1868. The truth, she argues, has to be in a way tempered in order to cushion the blow so that people would be more willing to accept it. In some ways, she is doing this herself by telling the truth about telling the truth through the form of a rhyming poem. One would think that if something was in fact the truth, people would be happy to learn of it and accept it, but unfortunately that is not always how human beings operate. To soften the “harshness” of the truth, one sometimes has to add a little bit of fluff. I believe it was the great philosopher Mary Poppins who said “A spoon full of sugar helps the medicine go down.”

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