Thursday, April 8, 2010

SlaughterHouse Five

The more I think about this novel, the more I find myself separating this question into three main sections. Similar to Beloved, this is an incredibly fragmented story. Though I believe that the time line is much more intentionally broken up than in Beloved; I believe Vonnegut is trying to make more of a statement with his time-traveling. But I'm digressing. I separated the terms of happiness into three sections. The first being Billy Pilgrim's happiness, the second being the readers, and the third finally being Vonnegut's. I feel like with this novel, the character, the reader, and the author are all experiencing very different reactions and emotions with the same text.

For our "hero" Billy Pilgrim, I don't think he ever finds true happiness. The closest he comes is at the very end of the novel in the midst of all the wreckage shortly after the war ends in Dresden. That is really the only time he is described to be happy, yet I'm not entirely convinced that this character is capable of achieving true happiness. For the majority of the novel, he floats in and out of his life experiences. Though he does witness some tragic events, he is not an overly depressed character. I do think there are times when Billy is content with himself and with his life. When he communicates with the aliens, he is perhaps more at ease or content than at other points, say, when he is in WWII. That small sliver of happiness at the end of the novel is deceiving. I don't think he achieved anything other than relief in that moment. The war was over, and despite the claims this is a war novel, I think that the major event Vonnegut targets is the bombing of Dresden. So for Billy, I'm not sure he ever finds that happiness.

In terms of the reader, I think we are meant to experience happiness at all the times Billy is faced with a challenge, hardship, or otherwise difficult moment in his life. One of the fundamental points Vonnegut believes in is that the hero or the main character in a novel must be put through the ringer; he must be beaten down and thrown into bad situations. I think, in the mind of Vonnegut, we the reader experience happiness when Billy is struggling. It's mere entertainment. It wouldn't be much of a story if everything went according to plan. Billy's non-linear pattern of life combined with his exceptionally difficult experiences combine to form the character we can not only be thankful we're not, but also find happiness in reading about.

Finally, I think Vonnegut's happiness exists in his ability to create a novel so utterly confusing and complex, that we all can't help but wonder what it's truly about. His pleasure of writing, to me, is not clean cut or straight forward by any means. Though the text itself isn't in difficult language or elaborately composed, his ideas are as twisted and circular as Billy's life lines. The intentions of the story are that there shouldn't be any concrete conclusions. I do believe that this is a book ultimately about the war, but I'm not sure what to make of that. Vonnegut doesn't reveal his true emotions anywhere in plain sight. But I think that's the joy of his novel. That's the fun of it.


I think this novel was perhaps the easiest for me to relate to my big question. As complex and detail orientated as the text is, I found it relatively simple to understand the concept, or my perception of it at least, of happiness within the novel. I think the strongest aspect I took away from Morrison's text was how fragmented everything was. The characters, the story line, the way it was told, all of the components were shards of the story that were pieced together.

That is exactly the way happiness was found within the novel as well for me. I was able to see it incredibly purely in some places, noticeably absent in others, and slivers of it hiding behind a character in rare occasions. There was a never a solid line of happiness, however. For me, it existed in moments, quick flashes of it before it vanished. There were moments when Denver could find happiness within the eyes of Beloved. Her desire for a sister and for someone similar to herself was so deep that her happiness manifested through the presence of her ghostly sister. But it would never stay long. Something would inevitably get in the way; something like fear, disbelief, or even jealousy.

I found that Sethe sometimes saw happiness in Paul D. He was her representation of the future, of the possibility that there could be something more in Sethe's life. I don't think Paul D was a happy character necessarily, I really don't think any of the characters are, but to Sethe, he was able to bring her those fragmented pieces from time to time. Moreover, for Sethe, happiness was her future of any kind. She was so broken from the past, so tired of running from what had occurred, that anything in her future was exciting and hopeful. I think Paul D found happiness in the character of 124. As Sethe clung on to the prospect of the future, Paul D saw 124 as being his new life. He had suffered incredibly hardships as well as Sethe, but I don't think he was as haunted by them as Sethe found herself to be. The house for Paul D was the physical manifestation of a proper life for himself. In those walls, he was finally able to be the man he had dreamed he should have been all his life. He felt he was entitled to have such a life, and his happiness resulted in the presence of 124 along with Sethe and Denver.

As much as this novel is a ghost story, and to some extent, the elements of fantasy that go along with it, I think this is by far the most humanistic and relatable novel we've read thus far. Happiness within the story mimics that of real life. I don't think we are all naturally happy all of the time. Our lives, composed of moments, take different tones based on the movements of our existences. Like Beloved, we experience an array of emotions at any given point, and it's not impossible for happiness to coincide with another element. This is a human story, afterall.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Stranger

I must admit that I feel I didn't fully understand this book. I was cynical about Camus' writing style at the beginning of the novel and never really gave it a chance. Then I began to discover his brilliance in his writing. Yet I still couldn't shake a certain cynicism I held within me as I was reading it. And cynicism certainly doesn't lend itself very well to the exploration of happiness.

With that being said, I also must degree that this book made me this the most about what true happiness is. Not only in the context of this particular novel, but in how it applies to my life as well. I left this book with the question still looming in my head that I was thinking about all throughout the text, is happiness an emotion or a state of being? I found it so fascinating that the more I read of Meursault's actions and lack of "rational" thought, the more I found myself thinking like him. I don't think I'd classify myself as an absurdist in everyday life, but it truly amazed me how I almost began to think that one, or think like Meursault at any rate, throughout the novel. The idea that there is no rhyme, reason, or meaning to anything in life or life as a whole for that matter struck me very deeply.

I'm still pretty clueless how to answer this question as it applies to my life. But for the book, I think I've concluded that it is neither an emotion or a state of being. It simply doesn't exist. Yet just because there isn't happiness, doesn't mean that it's a constant depression. There's just a void of anything besides the stark facts and actions of reality the happen to the characters. There are no dreams, there are no real thinkings of the future. There is not a tone of happiness or depression. Even at the end of the novel when Meursault is very aware of his impending death and he becomes angry towards the guard and starts to feel some of passion for the yelling crowd outside, it didn't strike me as an emotional scene. It almost had an animalistic quality about it. Nothing about this book is emotional or well thought out in the eyes of the characters.

So, I really don't think happiness is anything in The Stranger. It's not filled with sadness either. I simply believe it's void of any emotion or state of being altogether. Events just happens, consequences follow, and the stone is perpetually pushed up the hill.

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Metamorphosis

As we explore the worlds of characters in different novels and plays, I think this topic of happiness proves to be increasingly more difficult to classify. I think in some of the books we've read, it radiates off the page and holds the book together. In others, I think it's almost non-existent and hides behind the text. In Kafka's The Metamorphosis, I think it walks in between those two lines. I think happiness is present, but not within the time period of the text.

In Kafka's novella, happiness is synonymous with the ability to function. The thought of making it through another day successfully, with money, and with all the family members generates true happiness for the Samsas. I think this period of time occurs before the novella begins; and before Gregor transforms into a bug. Even though it describes his mundane profession and the burden of getting up every day to work, there is a relief and comfort in such a routine. Gregor's ability to provide for his family in the form of his daily job provides stability. I don't think that any of the characters would label their lives as happiness. But I think that in the time period they find themselves in, it's the closet definition that they have.

Once Gregor transforms into a bug, the family's stability and ability to function is immediately taken from them. They are left with chaos in their house; they're left wondering how the will find the stability that Gregor previously took care of. Most of the novella discusses Gregor and dealing with the life of a bug. Though it is never proposed how he is transformed back, Gregor struggles with his new life. Yet there are moments when he begins to lose his humanity, that he enjoys his bug state. He claims how it is enjoyable for him to climb along the walls and to eat rotted food. Though he finds it enjoyable, I don't think he ever regains his happiness. I think in the case of this novella, happiness and pleasure or enjoyable are not synonymous of each other. He find pleasure in his bug life at certain points, but it is not the stability of a routine that he longs for in his old life.

It amazes me how quickly the family is able to pick up and move on when Gregor dies. The morning of his passing, I feel a great weight lifted off the page that the family is no longer burdened with. Now that the other members of the family are working, they have regained their ability to function sans Gregor. Once he finally dies, they can officially forget about his life all together. The parents and the sister are free to find stability in their new life, wherein they will eventually find happiness. I think happiness book-ends the main action of the story. As much as it is life for interpretation before and after Gregor's transformation, I think there is a stark and intentional absence of happiness throughout the majority of Kafka's novella.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

By far, I thought A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man was the most complex book we read this semester; and perhaps one of the most complex books I've ever read. Consequently, I have thought a great deal about this blog post. James Joyce weaves such a layered and intricate character throughout a number of life experiences, it's incredibly difficult to pull apart individual aspects of his composition. Even though my question deceivingly appears broad and fairly simple to answer, I feel like especially with novel, it's near impossible. Stephen Dedalus is one of the most multifaceted characters I've ever discovered. I couldn’t possibly sum up his attributes in one blog, but I’m sure going to try.

As the novel begins, we find Stephen just beginning to come into his own world. It is oddly childlike, but lacking that childlike wonder and innocence. Young Stephen is pushed around at school (but never stands up for himself, I might add), immediately deals with family issues, and is unable to make a connection with many people in his world. In the first part of the novel, happiness is found in fantasy, in his imagination. Stephen becomes entranced with becoming someone else. He pretends to be Edmund Dantes of the Count of Monte Cristo and fully accepts such a role even in public. Happiness isn’t in reality. It’s not that he feels utter sadness in his own life; it’s that he feels most comfortable in such a make-believe land. And with comfort, comes happiness.

When Stephen begins to grow into his teenage years (I’m assuming since we are never really sure of his age), he begins to experiment with a multitude of different ways for happiness in his life. He experiments with prostitutes, being extremely pious, and slamming his emotions one way or another throughout his schooling and university days. He experiences such vigorous emotions all throughout the text, but I sincerely don’t think happiness is one of them. But now that I’m thinking about it, I can’t think of a point in the novel where there is one main emotion that is being portrayed through any character. There is anger, sadness, potential humor, fear, and possibly happiness thrown in somewhere, but it’s never one sole emotion. But on the same token, it’s not like some of the other works we’ve read this semester where there is just tragedy after tragedy. It’s not like Oedipus Rex or Kind Lear where all we tend to feel is remorse and devastation.

I’d say if I had to pinpoint a happy moment for our hero, it’s when he is listening to no one but himself, such a time that essentially doesn’t exist until the very end of the novel. It’s when he has the knowledge to block out all other perspectives and opinions and focuses on himself. I think this occurs most at the very end, when Joyce is writes again in first person. He takes on a journalistic form, and I feel that it’s the first time we see Stephen authentically expressing himself and feeling satisfied with his life. And I truly think that’s as close as he’s going to get. I think Joyce, through this entire novel, is proving that Stephen Dedalus is not capable to achieving utter happiness. He will forever be molding and changing into different emotions and creations. He’s so unconventional, and it’s fitting that his emotions would not be either.

In fact, nothing in this novel is conventional, including the existence of happiness within its pages. It's fragmented and often times impossible to see.

But that does not mean it's not there.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The Playboy of the Western World

Out of all the works we have read in class thus far, The Playboy of the Western World is the one that presents the clearest form of happiness in its text. I found this play to be juxtaposed with humor and misery. Happiness is coupled with despair throughout the three acts as they walk hand-in-hand down the Irish village lane. Synge displays a fantastic amount of humor and wit that only an Irish author could possess. Humor spills out of the ditzy village girls, from ridiculous and random events like the donkey race at the top of the third act, and even from the love triangle that is created between Christy, Widow Quin, and Pegeen. From that humor stems happiness and an air of lightheartedness that provides the reader with a sense amusement.

I think that the villagers also find happiness in creating a frenzy when the new meat comes to town. Once Christy arrives, there is a sudden break from the daily lull of the country village as new thoughts and rumors begin to swirl around the foreigner. As he quickly becomes.. involved.. with many of the characters, I think each individual is secretly celebrating. Although some may deny their enjoyment, I think they're finding happiness in Christy simply because he is new and exciting and he gives them something to discuss. Through the eyes of Christy, they embellish the outside world, and they find pleasure in creating this almost inhuman portrayal of Christy and all that he represents to the villagers. And as the frenzy picks up pace as the play progresses, I think that their excitement and happiness rolls along with it.

But just when the humor seems to overthrow the plot line, reality rears its ugly head and we are subtly grounded back down to the harsh realities of the arid land. Beneath the fast paced humor and excitement that seemingly spirals out of control to the point of no earthly return lies a much darker aspect of small town life. Synge is writing about an extremely impoverished population at this point in history. They are being severely oppressed by their friends to the east. And under their light hearts lurks a harsh reality of struggle and their fight for survival. As Christy often spouts phrases that mention God and how they have been treated unfairly, I begin to get the impression that a deeper anguish rests in all of them. The characters must deal with murders, betrayals, and poverty amidst a multitude of other daily struggles. Yet somehow I found this play to be extremely upbeat and oddly optimistic. It combines such extremes and somehow they are able to coincide in the same place. Yet I think happiness ultimately prevails because that is the emotion these characters are choosing to hold onto. I think they have to. If they let go of that humor and that enjoyment, they would have nothing else to live for. For them, happiness is their reason to live. So they bribe people to love them, and drink unimaginable amounts, and hold arbitrary donkey races.

It must be an Irish thing.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

King Lear

As difficult as I thought it was to find some sense of happiness in Oedipus Rex, I think I was almost more lost when I first started thinking about King Lear. Being a Shakespearean tragedy, the story does not lend itself very easily to happiness and positive feelings. There's not a great deal of places throughout the play where the audience or the characters experience a sense of euphoria or elation. As complex as the story is, there just doesn't seem to be a bunch of places where we can close our book and feel super happy for the characters, or ourselves. But as I started looking a little more closely at the text, I found Shakespeare doesn't necessarily hand out happiness openly, but rather sneakily tosses in some opportunities for happiness to occur. He places the "Fool" with the King for a majority of the text, proposing that if he would only listen to the wisdom how Fool has to offer, he could seek happiness. All the while the Fool himself seems to be aware that happiness is obtainable, especially since he knows how to attain it, but it simply cannot for this is Lear’s journey, not his. He appears to be one of the few who has the capacity to acknowledge happiness, but I feel he holds himself back because he feels the King needs to figure things out for himself. There are also places in the text where Shakespeare strategically shows the potential for happiness, especially towards the end of the play. When Cordelia returns to Lear, they share a brief encounter with joyfulness and the hope that the future is promising. But then she is hanged, and he subsequently dies because of it. All throughout the plot there are multiple letters, hopefully bearing peaceful news. But alas, it never comes. When Edgar heroically saves his father after his attempted suicide, we believe that maybe, just maybe, there is happiness around the corner, waiting for the characters. But, Gloucester dies anyway. I don’t believe happiness is absent from the play. I just believe that Shakespeare does a fantastic job of placing it just out of arm’s reach.

With that being said, I feel like Shakespeare tries to hint at the fact that life, or this story at least, has potential for happiness but if offset by one wrong decision or bad choice. It will then have a domino effect to become a tragic plot. If Lear had simply thought about his actions before rashly diving power to Regan and Goneril, none of this would have happened.

Or, maybe it would have. It’s just a theory.