The Crucible

When first starting The Crucible the thing I was fairly unnerved. Almost immediately I noticed the concept of the ‘private life’ of a citizen becoming entwined with the affairs of the state. Salem being a theocracy relied on the same source for moral guidelines as it did for laws: The Bible. This makes the private affairs of the citizen the business of the system of government as sinning was considered a crime. Private life seems almost demonized as an individual’s sins and soul are deemed public concerns for a sinner would be a threat to the state. Even being associated with deviance from the strict adherence to the Bible could result in destruction of reputation as seen with Reverend Parris and his ties to Betty and Abigail. These girls are alleged to have practiced witchcraft in the forest and because of his association to Betty and Abigail,  Reverend Parris fears his enemies will drive him out of ministerial office. State officials patrol the town asking people to list their activities making it nearly impossible to obtain privacy. As well as the patrols, the citizens of Salem themselves act as spies (of sorts), spreading rumors of potential transgressions of their neighbours. The whole foundation of civilian life in Salem seems to be based off paranoia and intolerance of others. It becomes apparent early on in the Crucible that to disagree with the state is to disagree with God, and through this a sense of paranoia grows for one never knows if one is being watched or what activity might be considered sinful to someone else.

Heart of Darkness

Heart of Darkness was one of the most interesting books I had to read in high school. My English teacher brought in her friend, who had taught/studied the book for many years, to go through the book chapter by chapter. He explained a lot about the book and Conrad’s life, information that was all briefly covered in lecture this week. Listening to Monday’s lecture really brought back my interest in this novella and its ambiguities. The thing that struck me the most was the paradox of human progress. The fact that what we saw as immense industrial progress came at the cost hundreds of thousands of lives shows a sort of moral regression. Even today for the mass production of all the revolutionary technology being created, millions of people are being mistreated and forced to work for next-to-nothing in deplorable conditions. Many consider people today as morally or intellectually greater than people from centuries past, but we fall into the same patterns and pitfalls. We are morally no different than the colonizers of the past, only now we exploit poorer countries with sweatshops, the sex trade…etc. The same lack of morality applies as we are still taking advantage of resources and the labour of those who have no other choice. Like what was said in lecture, the heart or darkness is not necessarily found in a foreign, unknown land but in those who exploit people less fortune then themselves, and those who stand idly by and let them do it. Can we be worse then the era of European colonization?

Black Skin, White Masks

Black Skin, White Masks is definitely one of the more challenging books we’ve read this year (for me anyway).  The complexity of the themes discussed as well as the psychoanalytic aspects of the text made it quite difficult for me to really grasp what was being said. I understood the text in small portions but I often found myself getting lost in the greater scheme of the book.

One thing I found especially interesting, which was mentioned in lecture, was the discussion of the title. At first glance I would have never found anything exceptionally intriguing about the title, but after lecture the significance of the title became apparent. When reading it initially, I saw the “white masks” as the sort of false appearance and the “black skin” as what lay underneath. But after it was explained in lecture, it became apparent that both the “white masks” and “black skin” were aesthetic objects. The black skin stands as yet another surface beneath the white masks: another thing to conceal what is truly at the center of a person. I found this quite interesting for I want to know what people really think is at the center of a person…is there anything? Is a person simply made up of a series of masks and surfaces? Is there anyway to tell? This may however be a complete misinterpretation of the concepts outlined in Fanon’s book. I’m going to go out on a limb and compare characters from Northanger Abbey to this concept of masks and surfaces… It seemed to me that characters like Isabella Thorpe and Mrs. Allen seem to be people made up exclusively of surfaces, having nothing of real value at their cores. Do they have anything underneath all their social platitudes? Or are they an endless series of masks and labels?

Northanger Abbey

I found the frequent appearance of Gothic novels in Northanger Abbey an interesting theme. Catherine’s fascination with them as well as Henry’s parody (when they are on the way to Northanger Abbey) allow for Northanger Abbey to become a sort of ideal for Catherine. Northanger is expected by Catherine, to be an old decaying mansion filled with mystery and intrigue, a true representation of the Gothic novel. When she arrives of course, it is more dull than anything else, lacking all mysterious qualities, ones which Catherine must invent using her imagination. The novels provide an important insight into the character of Catherine as they become a key in her imaginings. Imagination stands as one of the most important qualities of Catherine’s personality, one which is heightened if not created by her reading Gothic Novels. Perhaps the appearance of such novels is a commentary made by Austen about the Gothic novels and their authors of the time. The extent to which Catherine imagines the events of these novels in her daily life and the influence they seem to have in her mind seem to poke fun at the genre.

Another thing I found interesting was mentioned in lecture which was how Austen refused to have her novels published in the quarto form. The accessibility of the octavo and the duodecimo to the public both for their price and size greatly increased the  number of people both reading and owning books. Even today, novels tend to be roughly the same sizes as either the octavo or the duodecimo which goes to show how the reduction of size from the quarto has remained popular for 200 years.

Rewriting the Soul

One of the things I found most interesting in the discussion of multiples throughout Rewriting the Soul and in lecture was how the disorder in reality is most commonly found in women, whereas in fiction men tend to be the ones who have alternate personalities. The examples mentioned were Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde, Bruce Banner/The Hulk and Smeagol/Gollum. I found this interesting for (as said in lecture) most of the examples are men and they seldom have more than one alternate personality. I found it interesting that the popular fictitious characters run exactly opposite to the trends in reality, where as I’ve said women tend to be the ones who have multiple personalities and the average number of alters held by them in roughly 16. Perhaps these facts are ignored in fiction because for the public, multiple personality in its reality is too alarming. In the popularized fictional examples, the disorder remains a hindrance to the character’s societal integration but it (in at least the first two cases mentioned above) provides strength that the original host personality lacked. In the original story of Dr. Jekyll, Mr. Hyde was more an evil counterpart then the modern depiction as more Hulk-esque (as seen in Van Helsing). This might go to show that a story depicting the alter as an evil, deformed person without any redeeming or marketable qualities is not as popular as say one that has the potential to become a superhero. Smeagol/Gollum, though physically frail act as a sort of villain, though one acting for his own benefit. He still serves as a sort of antagonist to both Bilbo and Frodo in turn and even then he is more aesthetically monstrous than human (hobbit). The fact that today we tend to make the alters of these characters into monsters rather than people, perhaps serves as a way of integrating it into the public eye while removing the severity of the disorder? Perhaps it is a sign of rejection of those with the disorder? Perhaps it is too upsetting for the public to see a regular person with multiple personalities so we turn them into monstrous superheroes or just plain monsters?  Who knows! Maybe this ties in with the fact that the characters with the disorder are men, for maybe it is more acceptable for men to have a monstrous alter-ego than it is for a woman to have one.


In reading Hobbes many of the concepts and ideas introduced went over my head for the first 3 times I laboured over the paragraphs. Eventually some of the ideas stuck (definitely not all) and I found myself, regardless of the labour needed to understand Leviathan, liking it, at least more than Plato. The sections I found most interesting were those in the very beginning regarding imagination,  understanding and speech (2,3). What I found really interesting was the reoccurrence of an idea that I was introduced to in high school being the falsehood that arises with speech. The fact that “… true and false are attributes of speech, not of things” (11, p. 18)  is extremely interesting to me as I never would have thought that there was a source for such concepts. Something else I found interesting was Hobbes apparent distain for the wordiness of some other academic texts: “Seeing then that truth consisteth in the right ordering of names in our affirmations, a man that seeketh precise truth had need to remember what every name he uses stands for, to place it accordingly, or else he will find himself entangled in words.” (12, p. 19). I found this to not only be interesting in the sense that it is common in academic writing today (we seem to value clear, concise writing), but it seems to me to be Hobbes’ direct justification for his excessive defining. Leviathan is an interesting read, just one that takes me a great deal of time to get through.

The Tempest

I found the first scene in the Tempest quite reflective of several of the themes that appear later on in he play. The main theme I noticed was the master and slave relationship between the characters. Aboard the ship in the middle of the tempest, the boatswain is tasked with (essentially) a captain’s duties which result in him ordering around the noble passengers on the ship.  The reaction of the nobles is outrage that a commoner order them around, threatening him and refusing to comply. Where many normally would apologize for such transgressions, the boatswain doesn’t care and continues to insist to nobles proceed below deck. However, the nobles reappear after grudgingly obeying the boatswain’s orders, still extremely irritated at having been spoken to in such a manner by a commoner. I saw this as the introduction of the motif of the very prominent master-servant motif. Seen later with Prospero and Caliban, Stephano and Trinculo and their later relationship with Caliban and again with Prospero and Ariel. Like Robert Crawford said in lecture, this motif (especially when examining Caliban) can be seen as reflective of colonialism. I found the first scene very interesting in that it immediately introduced such a key motif in the play. This phenomenon seems fairly common in Shakespeare’s works, as many of the primary themes are introduced in the first couple scenes (King Lear, Othello, Hamlet…etc)


I quite liked Antigone, it served as a nice break after The Republic. In reading the play I found a couple of things I found interesting, the main point being the role of the prophet, Tiresias. I found it amusing that when Haimon told Kreon what he was doing was wrong he was met with a swift “Don’t ‘father’ me. You’re no man. You’re a slave. Property of a woman” (914-915) but when Tiresias gave similar advice (albeit more theatrical) it was met eventually by a ” I must not fight wrongly, only to be defeated, against fate” (1282-1283)”. It appears, to me anyway, that in order to be taken seriously by Kreon, one must be a blind old prophet. Even when Koryphiaos agrees with what Haimon is saying Kreon dismisses it. He ignores the word of his son and the leader of the chorus (and seemingly his chief advisor) only to eventually accept the advice of an old blind man talking about oozing altars. I understand that respect in such matters comes with age but there is no way Tiresias could have witnessed any of the events he is describing, so essentially Kreon changes his mind on the testimonials of a boy and the grandiose words of a blind old man (backed by Koryphiaos, of course at lines 1268-1270). Those who are close and claim to be close to the gods hold an immense power in Greek culture, one that perhaps surpasses reason in certain cases.

The second thing I found interesting was not in the play itself but a comparison. I though it might be interesting to compare Virginia Woolfe’s essay “The Patriarchy” to Antigone. Although it is a 20th century piece, I think a lot of the themes and ideas found in the essay could relate to Antigone. It might be cool.

Plato’s Republic: Book I (revised)

My apologies to anyone reading this blog but I have made an error in my previous post regarding the history of Socrates. He was not executed by the 30 tyrants but the reinstated democracy after the fall of the 30. He was tried and executed for impiety and corrupting the youths. He was still executed for being dangerous to the state… Just a different one. Sorry for any confusion! Thanks for the correction Christina

Plato’s Republic: Book I

In Book I of Plato’s Republic sets the stage for the course the rest of the Books as it introduces the main themes, mainly, what is justice? Upon Socrates’ returning from a religious festival he is greeted by Adeimantus (a brother of Plato) and Polemarchus (a young nobleman) who insist he make a detour to the home of Polemarchus. There Polemarchus’ father, Cephalus, is introduced and the philosophical debate ensues. Cephalus is the first to attempt to define justice, which is in his eyes a very honorable concept as he describes it as: telling the truth and paying one’s debts. Shortly after Socrates’ rebuttal, Cephalus resigns from the debate leaving it to his son to carry on the argument. Polemarchus defines justice as being good to one’s friends and doing harm to one’s enemies. Socrates goes on to point out the flaws in this definition as we are not necessarily friends with just and moral people nor are we necessarily enemies with the unjust.  Polemarchus eventually succumbs to Socrates’ argument and agrees with his denouncing of the definition. It is then when Thrasymachus jumps into the conversation stating that justice is what is advantageous to the stronger. The real debate begins here, following the Socratic method, as Socrates attempts to defend justice and show that injustice cannot be a virtue. Thrasymachus uses rulers as an example of his view as he says that the strongest and most just rulers act in accordance to what is beneficial to them as individuals. Socrates counters this point in saying that the most just rulers are those who act in the interests of their subjects.

Much discussion ensues but I want to focus on Socrates’ image of a just ruler for (as is described in the later books) they are in essence philosophers. I found this interesting for Plato chose Socrates as his protagonist, a man who was tried and found guilty essentially for spreading philosophic ideas (corrupting the youth).  After Athens’ defeat in the Pelopponesian war, democracy fell and 30 tyrants were placed in power (as discussed in lecture). Socrates refused the will of the 30 (as he wouldn’t arrest and innocent man), which was the beginning of his image as dangerous to the rule of the tyrants. In addition philosophy was deemed a dangerous practice for it allowed for the spread of radical ideas, ones which had the potential to work against the rule of the 30. Socrates, a vocal philosopher, was thusly executed for he was too dangerous to let live. I see Plato’s description of the ideal ruler as tribute to the importance and influence of philosophy for only through the reason and wisdom of such a ruler, kallipolis (the perfect city) is theoretically able to exist. In addition Thrasymachus’ idea of a just ruler is precisely the form of governance seen with the 30 tyrants. One can see perhaps that Plato’s (in the book Socrates’) description of a just ruler as paying tribute to Socrates and his refuting of Thrasymachus’ view is criticizing the practices of the tyrants.