IGNOU MEG 06 American Literature Solved Assignment 2023-2024

 IGNOU MEG 06 American Literature Solved Assignment 2023-24 | MA ENGLISH Assignment

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IGNOU MEG 06 American Literature Assignment PDF

Attempt all questions. All questions carry equal marks.

Q1. Discuss the material conditions and circumstances which made The American Enlightenment possible.

The American Enlightenment was a period of intellectual and philosophical fervor in the thirteen American colonies in the 18th to 19th century, which led to the American Revolution and the creation of the United States. The American Enlightenment was influenced by the 17th- and 18th-century Age of Enlightenment in Europe and native American philosophy. According to James MacGregor Burns, the spirit of the American Enlightenment was to give Enlightenment ideals a practical, useful form in the life of the nation and its people

 A non-denominational moral philosophy replaced theology in many college curricula. Some colleges reformed their curricula to include natural philosophy (science), modern astronomy, and mathematics, and "new-model" American-style colleges were founded. Politically, the age is distinguished by an emphasis upon equality under the law, economic liberty, republicanism and religious tolerance, as clearly expressed in the United States Declaration of Independence.

Among the foremost representatives of the American Enlightenment were presidents of colleges, including Puritan religious leaders Jonathan Edwards, Thomas Clap, and Ezra Stiles, Presbyterian minister and college president John Witherspoon, and Anglican moral philosophers Samuel Johnson and William Smith. Leading political thinkers were John Adams, James Madison, Thomas Paine, George Mason, James Wilson, Ethan Allen, and Alexander Hamilton, and polymaths Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson. The term "American Enlightenment" was coined in the post-World War II era and was not used in the 18th century when English speakers commonly referred to a process of becoming "enlightened."

Various dates for the American Enlightenment have been proposed, including 1750–1820, 1765–1815, and 1688–1815.[6] One more precise start date proposed is 1714, when a collection of Enlightenment books by Jeremiah Dummer were donated to the library of the college of Yale University in Connecticut. They were received by a post-graduate student Samuel Johnson, who studied them. He found that they contradicted his Puritan learning.

 He wrote that, "All this was like a flood of day to his low state of mind"and that he found himself as if "emerging out of the glimmer of twilight into the full sunshine of open day". Two years later in 1716 as a tutor, Johnson introduced a new curriculum into Yale using Dummer's donated Enlightenment books. Johnson offered what he called "The New Learning",

which included the works and ideas of Francis Bacon, John Locke, Isaac Newton, Robert Boyle, Copernicus, and literary works by Shakespeare, John Milton, and Joseph Addison. Enlightenment ideas were introduced to the colonists and diffused through Dissenter educational and religious networks in America.

Enlightened Founding Fathers, especially Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and George Washington, fought for and eventually attained religious freedom for minority denominations. According to the Founding Fathers, the United States should be a country where peoples of all faiths could live in peace and mutual benefit. Madison summed up this ideal in 1792 saying, "Conscience is the most sacred of all property."

A switch away from established religion to religious tolerance was one of the distinguishing features of the era from 1775 to 1818. The ratification of the Connecticut Constitution in 1818 has been proposed as a date for the triumph if not the end of the American Enlightenment.

That new constitution overturned the 180-year-old "Standing Order" and The Connecticut Charter of 1662, whose provisions dated back to the founding of the state in 1638 and the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut. The new constitution guaranteed freedom of religion and disestablished the Congregational church. The American Enlightenment on the one hand grew from works of European political thinkers such as Locke, Michel de Montaigne, and Jean Jacques Rousseau, who derived ideas about democracy from admiring accounts of American Indian governmental structures brought back from European travelers to the New World in the 16th century. Concepts of freedom and modern democratic ideals were born in "Native American wigwams” and found permanence in Voltaire's Huron.

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 While between 1714 and 1818, an intellectual change took place that seemed to change the British Colonies of America from a distant backwater into a leader in various fields—moral philosophy, educational reform, religious revival, industrial technology, science, and, most notably, political philosophy, the roots of this change were home grown.America saw a consensus on a "pursuit of happiness" based political structure based in large part on Native sources, however misunderstood. Attempts to reconcile science and religion sometimes resulted in a rejection of prophecy, miracle, and revealed religion, resulting in an inclination toward deism among some major political leaders of the age.[citation needed] A non-denominational moral philosophy replaced theology in many college curricula. Yale College and the College of William & Mary were reformed. The Presbyterian College of New Jersey (now Princeton University) and Puritan Harvard University reformed their curricula to include natural philosophy (science), modern astronomy, and mathematics. Additionally, "new-model" American-style colleges were founded, such as King's College New York (now Columbia University), and the College of Philadelphia (now University of Pennsylvania).

Q2. Discuss the use of human as a tool of social criticism in Huckleberry Finn.

Mark Twain's classic The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884) is told from the point of view of Huck Finn, a barely literate teen who fakes his own death to escape his abusive, drunken father. He encounters a runaway slave named Jim, and the two embark on a raft journey down the Mississippi River. Through satire, Twain skewers the somewhat unusual definitions of “right” and “wrong” in the antebellum (pre–Civil War) South, noting among other things that the “right” thing to do when a slave runs away is to turn him in, not help him escape. Twain also paints a rich portrait of the slave Jim, a character unequaled in American literature: he is guileless, rebellious, genuine, superstitious, warmhearted, ignorant, and astute all at the same time.

The book is a sequel to another of the author's successful adventure novels, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, originally published in 1876. Although The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is very much a “boys' novel”—humorous, suspenseful, and intended purely as entertainment—The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn also addresses weighty issues such as slavery, prejudice, hypocrisy, and morality.

After Twain finished writing the first half of the novel, he expressed doubts about the book's potential success. In a letter to his friend William Dean Howells in 1877 (quoted by biographer Ron Powers in Mark Twain: A Life), Twain confessed: “I like it only tolerably well, as far as I have got, & may possibly pigeonhole or burn the MS [manuscript] when it is done.” Fortunately, Twain did not burn the manuscript; when it was published in England in 1884 (U.S. publication 1885), it quickly became the most successful book Twain had yet written.

Soon after it was published, the public library in Concord, Massachusetts, refused to carry The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn because of its perceived crudeness. This ban turned into a publicity coup for Twain and his book. In a letter published in the Hartford Courant, the author responds gratefully, noting that “one book in a public library prevents the sale of a sure ten and a possible hundred of its mates.” Twain also notes that the library's newsworthy action

will cause the purchasers of the book to read it, out of curiosity, instead of merely intending to do so ... and then they will discover, to my great advantage and their own indignant disappointment, that there is nothing objectionable in the book after all.

Despite Twain's assurances, the book continues to spark controversy over its subject matter even today. Some modern critics argue that the book is inherently racist in its depiction of Jim and its frequent use of the term “n-----.” Other critics, speaking in support of the book, point out that the terms used in the book are authentic to the story's setting; they also point out that Jim is by far the most heroic character in the novel, and is the only major character to demonstrate kindness and self-sacrifice without hesitation. The book has generated so much critical material that a special edition containing both the novel and several important essays was published by Bedford Books in 1995 under the title Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: A Case Study in Critical Controversy, edited by Gerald Graff and James Phelan.

Despite the controversy surrounding the book, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is widely recognized as Twain's masterpiece, and is often identified as “the Great American Novel.” Respected writers such as William Faulkner and T. S. Eliot have written of the book's importance to American literature. And although critics have been divided on the book's merits since its first publication, Pulitzer and Nobel Prize–winning author Ernest Hemingway, in Green Hills of Africa, offers The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn its most well-known and enduring compliment:

All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn.... All American writing comes from that. There was nothing before. There has been nothing as good since.

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The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which takes place along the Mississippi River sometime in the 1830s or 1840s, begins with two brief statements to the reader that appear before Chapter 1; both of these display Twain's trademark sense of humor. In the first, under the heading “Notice,” Twain warns readers against attempting to find any sort of deep meaning in the book. He lists different punishments for readers who seek motive, moral, or plot within the narrative. The second, called “Explanatory,” assures readers that the dialects used by different characters in the book are based on real regional dialects, and have been researched thoroughly. As Twain notes, “I make this explanation for the reason that without it many readers would suppose that all these characters were trying to talk alike and not succeeding.”

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is written as a first-person narrative from the point of view of the title character, Huckleberry (or Huck) Finn. Huck addresses the reader directly throughout the work, and occasionally refers to events that occurred in one of Twain's previous works, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, in which Huck was a supporting character. Of the previous book, Huck notes, “That book was made by Mr. Mark Twain, and he told the truth, mainly.”

Huck picks up his story where it left off in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer: he and Tom, two boys who live on the Mississippi River in the Missouri town of St. Petersburg, found a large amount of gold left by robbers in a cave. The money—amounting to six thousand dollars each—has been put in the care of Judge Thatcher, who gives the boys interest earnings in the amount of one dollar each day. Huck has been unofficially adopted by the Widow Douglas (to the apparent dismay of her sister Miss Watson), who hopes to transform the rough-edged boy into a forthright young man. For Huck, such a life is too restrictive; as he puts it, “All I wanted was to go somewheres; all I wanted was a change.”

One night Tom Sawyer shows up to take Huck to a secret meeting with some other boys; as they sneak away from the house, one of Miss Watson's slaves—Jim—hears the boys, who carefully evade him. Tom takes the group of boys to a cave along the river. He plans to start a gang of highway robbers to terrorize the local roadways, killing and ransoming the men travelers and kidnapping the women—who, according to the plan, would eventually fall in love with them. The group discusses the logistics of such an operation, including what a “ransom” is and what happens when the robbers' cave becomes overfilled with kidnapped women and men waiting to be ransomed. Soon enough, Huck realizes that Tom's gang of robbers is only meant to engage in pretend robberies; this disappoints him, though he still plays along. Tom also tells Huck how to summon a genie from a tin lamp; Huck later tries this without success, and decides “all that stuff was only just one of Tom Sawyer's lies.”

Over the next several months, Huck becomes accustomed to his life with Widow Douglas and Miss Watson. He even starts growing fond of school. One morning, Huck finds tracks in the snow outside the widow's house; he is certain they belong to his father, called Pap, an abusive drunk whom Huck has not seen for over a year. Huck immediately visits Judge Thatcher and gives up his fortune to keep his father from getting hold of it, selling it to the judge for a single dollar.

Huck returns to his room one night to find Pap waiting for him. Pap threatens to beat Huck if he continues going to school. Pap tells him, “You've put on considerable many frills since I been away. I'll take you down a peg before I get done with you.” Then Pap takes Huck's only dollar to buy whisky.

Pap visits Judge Thatcher in an attempt to get at Huck's money. Thatcher and Widow Douglas try to secure legal guardianship of Huck, but the judge who hears the case is not willing to “interfere” and officially break up Huck's “family.” Later, the same judge takes Pap into his home in an attempt to help him straighten his life out. Pap promises to reform, but he continues to drink and gets kicked out of the judge's house.

Pap persists in his legal fight for Huck's money, and occasionally beats his son for continuing to attend school. As Huck states, “I didn't want to go to school much, before, but I reckoned I'd go now to spite pap.” Eventually, Pap snatches Huck and takes him to a secluded log cabin on the Illinois side of the Mississippi River, where he keeps the boy against his will. Kept away from the widow, Huck soon returns to his comfortable old ways, wearing rags for clothes, smoking, and swearing. Pap beats him regularly, however, and Huck waits for a chance to escape.

One morning, while checking some fishing lines, Huck spots an empty canoe drifting down the river. He hides the canoe to help when he makes his escape. Later that day, Pap leaves for town, and Huck sees his chance. He stages the cabin so it appears that someone has broken in and killed him, and that his body is somewhere in the river. This, he believes, will keep Pap and Widow Douglas from trying to track him down. He takes the canoe, stocked with some food and tools, to a heavily wooded island in the middle of the river called Jackson's Island.

The next morning, Huck wakes to the sound of cannon fire; he sees smoke near the ferryboat upriver, and figures out what is happening. “You see, they was firing cannon over the water, trying to make my carcass come to the top.” The ferry draws closer to the island, and Huck sees many people he knows aboard it, including Pap, Judge Thatcher, and Tom Sawyer. Once the ferry departs, Huck knows they will not return.

After a few days of camping and fishing, Huck finds evidence of others nearby. He leaves for a different part of the island, and is surprised when he sees Miss Watson's slave Jim camped alone in the woods. Huck approaches, but Jim—thinking Huck has died—is terrified by what he assumes to be Huck's ghost. Huck explains how he escaped from Pap's cabin, and asks why Jim is out in the woods. Jim tells Huck that he ran off when he heard Miss Watson was planning to sell him to a slave trader from New Orleans. Huck promises not to tell Jim's secret to anybody.

Huck and Jim find a large cavern in the center of the island, and decide it would make a suitable camp protected from the elements. One night, they see a frame house drifting down along the river; they row the canoe out to it and climb inside, where they find a dead man who has been shot in the back. Jim covers the dead man's face and tells Huck not to look at it. The two also find some supplies in the house, including some knives, candles, and a hatchet, which they gather up and take with them.

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Q3. Comment on the theme of Wallace Steven’s poem ‘The Emperor of Ice-cream’.

The Emperor of Ice-Cream" is one of the most well-known poems by American Modernist poet Wallace Stevens. The poem appears in Stevens's widely influential debut collection, Harmonium, which was published in 1923. The meaning of the poem is notoriously ambiguous, but its two equal-length stanzas present clear enough scenarios. An old woman has died, and in the first stanza the speaker issues instructions to others for the funeral or wake. In the second stanza, the speaker appears to be in a quieter room with the woman's cold, dead body. Here, the speaker seems to issue a mysterious plea for reality to be stripped of illusory appearances. Readers have often interpreted the poem as showing the ultimate triumph of life over the silence of death. This isn't necessarily some heroic victory, but rather a wider point about the nature of experience.

Bring in the big strong man who makes cigars, and tell him to get to work making ice cream from lusty curds of milk. Tell the women they can wear whatever they normally wear, and tell the boys to bring flowers wrapped up in old newspaper. Let reality triumph over illusion. There's only one real emperor: the emperor of ice cream.

Inside a drawer of the pine dresser (which is missing three of its glass knobs) you'll find a bedsheet belonging to the dead woman, one which she herself stitched with elaborate patterns. Lay it over her body and make sure her face is covered. If her feet (with their bunions and toes like horns) stick out at the bottom, it's just to remind us that she's cold and dead. Fix the lamplight on her in full glare. There's only one real emperor—the emperor of ice cream.

The Emperor of Ice Cream” is one of Wallace Stevens’s most famous and most notoriously ambiguous poems. It’s hard to pin down the poem’s themes precisely—indeed, that’s probably deliberate on Stevens’s part—but the poem definitely presents a juxtaposition between the way things appear to be and the way things actually are. The mysterious speaker of the poem seems to construct an argument in favor of acknowledging reality—including the finality of death—over being deceived by illusory appearances.

The poem takes place at a wake or funeral, with preparations taking place in what appears to be someone's home. The first stanza is about making these ritualistic preparations for the ceremony, while the second stanza discusses how to handle the dead body (revealed to be that of an old woman). In both sections, the speaker fixates on the contrast between “being” and “seeming”—between reality and appearances.

For example, the speaker tells the “wenches” to put on the “dress […] they are used to wear.” The word “wenches” might refer female servants, prostitutes, or simply girls; in any case, these are implied to be working-class women whose typical “dress” wouldn't be fancy. Flowers, meanwhile, should be brought wrapped in “last month’s newspapers.”

These two instructions perhaps reflect the speaker’s wish to strip any illusory appearances from reality. That is, the women shouldn’t dress in a way that is somehow different, and the flowers similarly don’t require fancy ribbons or wrapping paper. In fact, the flowers’ covering might even be thought of as actually capturing reality, as the newspapers report actual events. The poem suggests that there’s no real benefit to dressing things up to seem better than they are—especially in the face of death (again, this all takes place at a wake or funeral of some sort).

This idea is strengthened by the last two lines of the first stanza: “Let be be finale of seem. / The only emperor is the emperor of ice cream.” The first of these two lines addresses this theme head on: let “be” (how things actually are) “be" the "finale” (the ending) of “seem” (false appearances). In other words, let reality dispel the magic of illusions. Perhaps this relates to death, with the speaker expressing the way that death, as life’s only real certainty, strips away any world of appearances that people might construct for themselves during their earthly lives.

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The repeated line about the “emperor of ice cream” also seems to strengthen this reading. An “emperor of ice-cream” is a kind of oxymoron: emperors are supposed to be mighty, powerful figures, meaning that being an emperor of ice-cream sounds like a kind of joke title. This might be similar to the fable of the emperor’s new clothes, suggesting that power is itself a kind of illusion (and therefore an appearance that needs to be replaced by reality).

The speaker’s instructions for the handling of the dead body also contribute to this implicit argument against illusory appearances. Though the speaker wants the body to be covered with “embroidered fantails” (a decorative sheet) as a kind of tribute to the woman, it doesn’t matter whether it fully covers her. If her feet poke out, then so be it; they are simply a reflection of the stark reality that this woman is “cold,” dead, and “dumb.”

Accordingly, the “lamp” should “affix its beam”—it should cast an unflinching light on reality for all to see. And as if to underscore this point, the poem then repeats its key line: “The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.” People shouldn’t put so much emphasis on appearances, the poem suggests, and should instead embrace the reality of life, death, and who they are.

Though it’s not spelled out explicitly, “The Emperor of Ice Cream” appears to suggest that life is fleeting and, because of that, precious. The poem often focuses on life's sensuality—the experience and pleasure of the world as known through the senses, such as taste. It opposes that sensuality to the “cold” and numbness of death. In doing so, it gently nudges its readers to contemplate this opposition. That is, the poem seems to argue for the importance of living life to its fullest, because death is inevitable. Savoring joy and pleasure—eating that delicious “ice-cream”—is thus all that really matters.

The poem takes place at a wake (an obvious representation of death) but everything about the speaker’s instructions for the wake celebrates the sensuous pleasures of being alive. In particular, the poem’s focus on ice cream foregrounds the importance of sensory enjoyment. Indeed, the first instruction issued by the speaker is to fetch a strong cigar-maker—“the muscular one.” The mention of the man's muscles has sexual undertones, which is likewise supported by the presence of “wenches,” a sexually loaded and archaic term for women. In this way, then, the kitchen scene of the poem is subtly governed by the presence of sensual and sexual pleasure.

Yet this pleasure won't last forever. After all, cigars burn out, ice cream melts. Like sex, these suggest a fleeting, precious kind of enjoyment. Ironically, the dead body in the poem does the opposite of ice cream, easily becoming cold. Ice cream, then, is a complicated symbol. On one hand, it speaks to life's sensual pleasure. On the other hand, in linking with the "cold" dead body, it represents the knowledge of inevitable death, which creates the need to embrace sensuality in the first place.

The speaker’s other instructions also link sensuality with the vividness of life. The image of “flowers in last month’s newspapers” contrasts symbols of life's briefness and beauty—flowers—with the discarded waste of the past: newspapers. Again, this can be read as a subtle argument in favor of valuing life through the enjoyment of the senses. In other words, it’s worth stopping to smell the flowers, since time inevitably marches forward and everything will eventually become old news.

This idea also applies to the use of the specific bedsheet for covering the body. The dead woman, when she was alive, once engaged in a kind of sensory pleasure: the embroidery of beautiful patterning (“fantails”). This embroidery was an aesthetic pursuit not necessary to the cloth itself. Mentioning the embroidery acknowledges the worth of this kind of human activity, which is motivated by beauty rather than just survival.

Additionally, one of the most engaging aspects of the poem is its beautiful use of sound patterning through consonance, assonance, and alliteration. This is established right from the beginning, as the mysterious speaker begins the instructions for the servants. The /l/ consonance in the first line, the /i/ assonance in lines 2-3, and many other examples throughout the poem are in themselves sensuous events, pleasing to the reader’s ear. These sounds help build a vivid picture of a scene alive with sensuality.

In this reading, then, the "emperor" of the poem’s title doesn't necessarily have anything to do with power and authority in the usual sense. This isn't a real emperor, perhaps, but a personification of the love of sensuous beauty and pleasure, of celebrating life in all its fleeting glory. The speaker states emphatically that all other emperors pale in comparison to the "emperor of ice cream." No amount of power, the poem suggests, can c

"The Emperor of Ice Cream" opens by immediately establishing its imperative voice—the speaker's instructions using present-tense verbs like "Call," "bid," "Let," and so on. This gives the poem a ceremonial atmosphere right from the start, the speaker taking on the role of organizer for some kind of ritual (which gradually reveals itself to be a funeral or wake). The first instruction, then, is issued in lines 1-3. Here, the speaker summons the "roller of big cigars" (a "muscular" man). He then says that the man should be instructed ("bid him") to start making ice cream ("concupiscent curds") for the funeral/wake.

Even just in the space of three lines, the poem introduces a number of its key features, in addition to the imperative voice. One of the poem's major themes is finding a kind of aesthetic pleasure in everyday experience, and the poem's language is tuned precisely to make the poem itself, in its way, delicious. So the first line goes straight in with prominent consonance and a little assonance, while lines 2 and 3 add alliteration and much more consonance and assonance too. This involves /l/, /g/, /r/, /k/, /p/, /n/, /s/, and short /i/ sounds

Call the roller of big cigars,
The muscular one, and bid him whip
In kitchen cups concupiscent curds.

Stevens's poetry often delights in the sound of language, and the poem is just as concerned with this kind of pursuit as it is with any literal meaning. This amounts to a performance of sensuality—after all, even a funeral is a kind of show.

"[C]oncupiscent curds" is Stevens's deliberately gaudy way of saying ice cream, which is one of the poem's main symbols. The word "concupiscent" relates to sexual desire, which also ties in with the innuendo of "big cigars" (hinting at male genitalia). And "curds" are coagulated bits of milk used in cheesemaking. Here, they're meant to poetically suggest the thick sensuousness of ice cream. Additionally, while ice cream is cold to the touch—like the dead woman's body—it also symbolizes a kind of revelry in the senses, with its sweet and thrillingly cold taste. It also—like life—doesn't tend to last that long!

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Q4. Discuss on the appropriateness of the title Toni Morrison’s novel The Bluest Eye.

The Bluest Eye provides an extended depiction of the ways in which internalized white beauty standards deform the lives of Black girls and women. Implicit messages that whiteness is superior are everywhere, including the white baby doll given to Claudia, the idealization of Shirley Temple, the consensus that light-skinned Maureen is cuter than the other Black girls, the idealization of white beauty in the movies, and Pauline Breedlove’s preference for the little white girl she works for over her daughter. Adult women, having learned to hate the Blackness of their own bodies, take this hatred out on their children—Mrs. Breedlove shares the conviction that Pecola is ugly, and lighter-skinned Geraldine curses Pecola’s Blackness. Claudia remains free from this worship of whiteness, imagining Pecola’s unborn baby as beautiful in its Blackness. But it is hinted that once Claudia reaches adolescence, she too will learn to hate herself, as if racial self-loathing were a necessary part of maturation.

The person who suffers most from white beauty standards is, of course, Pecola. She connects beauty with being loved and believes that if she possesses blue eyes, the cruelty in her life will be replaced by affection and respect. This hopeless desire leads ultimately to madness, suggesting that the fulfillment of the wish for white beauty may be even more tragic than the wish impulse itself.

Seeing versus Being Seen

Pecola’s desire for blue eyes, while highly unrealistic, is based on one correct insight into her world: she believes that the cruelty she witnesses and experiences is connected to how she is seen. If she had beautiful blue eyes, Pecola imagines, people would not want to do ugly things in front of her or to her. The accuracy of this insight is affirmed by her experience of being teased by the boys—when Maureen comes to her rescue, it seems that they no longer want to behave badly under Maureen’s attractive gaze. In a more basic sense, Pecola and her family are mistreated in part because they happen to have black skin. By wishing for blue eyes rather than lighter skin, Pecola indicates that she wishes to see things differently as much as she wishes to be seen differently. She can only receive this wish, in effect, by blinding herself. Pecola is then able to see herself as beautiful, but only at the cost of her ability to see accurately both herself and the world around her. The connection between how one is seen and what one sees has a uniquely tragic outcome for her.

The Power of Stories

The Bluest Eye is not one story, but multiple, sometimes contradictory, interlocking stories. Characters tell stories to make sense of their lives, and these stories have tremendous power for both good and evil. Claudia’s stories, in particular, stand out for their affirmative power. First and foremost, she tells Pecola’s story, and though she questions the accuracy and meaning of her version, to some degree her attention and care redeem the ugliness of Pecola’s life. Furthermore, when the adults describe Pecola’s pregnancy and hope that the baby dies, Claudia and Frieda attempt to rewrite this story as a hopeful one, casting themselves as saviors. Finally, Claudia resists the premise of white superiority, writing her own story about the beauty of Blackness. Stories by other characters are often destructive to themselves and others. The story Pauline Breedlove tells herself about her own ugliness reinforces her self-hatred, and the story she tells herself about her own martyrdom reinforces her cruelty toward her family. Soaphead Church’s personal narratives about his good intentions and his special relationship with God are pure hypocrisy. Stories are as likely to distort the truth as they are to reveal it. While Morrison apparently believes that stories can be redeeming, she is no blind optimist and refuses to let us rest comfortably in any one version of what happens.

Sexual Initiation and Abuse

To a large degree, The Bluest Eye is about both the pleasures and the perils of sexual initiation. Early in the novel, Pecola has her first menstrual period, and toward the novel’s end she has her first sexual experience, which is violent. Frieda knows about and anticipates menstruating, and she is initiated into sexual experience when she is fondled by Henry Washington. We are told the story of Cholly’s first sexual experience, which ends when two white men force him to finish having sex while they watch. The fact that all of these experiences are humiliating and hurtful indicates that sexual coming-of-age is fraught with peril, especially in an abusive environment.

In the novel, parents carry much of the blame for their children’s often traumatic sexual coming-of-age. The most blatant case is Cholly’s rape of his own daughter, Pecola, which is, in a sense, a repetition of the sexual humiliation Cholly experienced under the gaze of two racist whites. Frieda’s experience is less painful than Pecola’s because her parents immediately come to her rescue, playing the appropriate protector and underlining, by way of contrast, the extent of Cholly’s crime against his daughter.

But Frieda is not given information that lets her understand what has happened to her. Instead, she lives with a vague fear of being “ruined” like the local prostitutes. The prevalence of sexual violence in the novel suggests that racism is not the only thing that distorts Black girlhoods. There is also a pervasive assumption that women’s bodies are available for abuse. The refusal on the part of parents to teach their girls about sexuality makes the girls’ transition into sexual maturity difficult.

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Q5. Attempt a critical reading of A Clean Well Lighted Place

Late in the early morning hours, in a Spanish cafe, an old man drinks brandy. A young waiter is angry; he wishes that the old man would leave so that he and an older waiter could close the cafe and go home. He insults the deaf old man and is painfully indifferent to the older waiter's feelings when he states that "an old man is a nasty thing." The older waiter, however, realizes that the old man drinking brandy after brandy is not nasty; he is only lonely. No doubt, that's the reason why the old man tried to hang himself last week.

When the old man leaves, the waiters close the cafe. The young waiter leaves for home, and the older waiter walks to an all-night cafe where, thinking about the terrible emptiness of the old man's life which he keenly identifies with, he orders a cup of nada from the waiter. A cup of nothing. The man who takes the order thinks that the old waiter is just another crazy old man; he brings him coffee.

Finishing the coffee, the older waiter begins his trudge homeward. Sleep is hours away. Until then, he must try to cope bravely with the dark nothingness of the night.


What happens in this story? Nothing. What do the characters stand for? Nothing. What is the plot? Nothing. In fact, because there is no plot, Hemingway enables us to focus absolutely on the story's meaning — that is, in a world characterized by nothingness, what possible action could take place? Likewise, that no character has a name and that there is no characterization emphasize the sterility of this world.

What then is the theme of this story? Nothing, or nothingness. This is exactly what the story is about: nothingness and the steps we take against it. When confronting a world that is meaningless, how is someone who has rejected all of the old values, someone who is now completely alone — how is that person supposed to face this barren world? How is that person able to avoid the darkness of nada, or nothingness?

The setting is a clean Spanish cafe, where two unnamed waiters — one old and one young — are discussing an old man (also unnamed) who comes every night, sits alone, and drinks brandy until past closing time. The young waiter mentions that the old man tried to commit suicide last week. When the old waiter asks why the old man tried to commit suicide, the young waiter tells him that the old man was consumed by despair. "Why?" asks the old waiter. "Nothing," answers the young waiter.

The young waiter reveals that there is absolutely no reason to commit suicide if one has money — which he's heard the old man has. For the young waiter, money solves all problems. For an old, rich man to try to commit suicide over the despair of confronting nothingness is beyond the young waiter's understanding. However, nothingness is the reason that the old man comes to the cafe every night and drinks until he is drunk.

In contrast, the old waiter knows all about despair, for he remains for some time after the lights have gone off at the clean, earlier well-lighted cafe. The old waiter also knows fear. "It was not fear or dread," Hemingway says of the old waiter, "it was a nothing that he knew too well. It was a nothing and a man was nothing too." After stopping for a drink at a cheap, all-night bar, the old waiter knows that he will not sleep until morning, when it is light.

The story emphasizes lateness — late not only in terms of the hour of the morning (it's almost 3 A.M.), but also in terms of the old man's and the old waiter's lives. Most important, however, is the emphasis on religious traditions — specifically, on the Spanish Catholic tradition, because faith in the promises of Catholicism can no longer support or console these old men. Thus, suicide is inviting.

The old man who drinks brandy at the clean, well-lighted cafe is literally deaf, just as he is metaphorically deaf to the outmoded traditions of Christianity and Christian promises: He cannot hear them any more. He is alone, he is isolated, sitting in the shadow left by nature in the modern, artificial world. Additionally, all of the light remaining is artificial light — in this clean, "well-lighted" cafe.

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What is important in the story is not only the condition of nothingness in the world but the way that the old man and the old waiter feel and respond to this nothingness. Thus, Hemingway's real subject matter is the feeling of man's condition of nothingness — and not the nothingness itself. Note, though, that neither of the old men is a passive victim. The old man has his dignity. And when the young waiter says that old men are nasty, the old waiter does not deny the general truth of this statement, but he does come to the defense of the old man by pointing out that this particular old man is clean and that he likes to drink brandy in a clean, well-lighted place. And the old man does leave with dignity. This is not much — this aged scrap of human dignity — in the face of the human condition of nothingness, but, Hemingway is saying, sometimes it is all that we have.

The young waiter wants the old man to go to one of the all-night cafes, but the old waiter objects because he believes in the importance of cleanliness and light. Here, in this well-lighted cafe, the light is a manmade symbol of man's attempt to hold off the darkness — not permanently, but as late as possible. The old man's essential loneliness is less intolerable in light, where there is dignity. The danger of being alone, in darkness, in nothingness, is suicide.

At this point, we can clearly see differences between the old waiter and the young waiter — especially in their antithetical attitudes toward the old man. Initially, however, the comments of both waiters concerning a passing soldier and a young girl seem very much alike; they both seem to be cynical. Yet when the young waiter says of the old man, "I wouldn't want to be that old. An old man is a nasty thing," then we see a clear difference between the two waiters because the old waiter defends the old man: "This old man is clean. He drinks without spilling. Even now, drunk."

The young waiter refuses to serve the old man another drink because he wants to get home to his wife, and, in contrast, the old waiter is resentful of the young waiter's behavior. The old waiter knows what it is like to have to go home in the dark; he himself will not go home to sleep until daybreak — when he will not have to fall asleep in the nothingness of darkness.

Thus, in a sense, the old waiter is partially Hemingway's spokesperson because he points out that the old man leaves the cafe walking with dignity; he affirms the cleanliness of the old man. Unlike the young waiter, who is impetuous and has a wife to go home to, the old waiter is unhurried because he has no one waiting for him; he has no place to go except to his empty room. The old waiter is wiser, more tolerant, and more sensitive than the young waiter.

What Hemingway is saying is this: In order to hold nothingness, darkness, nada at bay, we must have light, cleanliness, order (or discipline), and dignity. If everything else has failed, man must have something to resort to or else the only option is suicide — and that is the ultimate end of everything: "It is all nothing that he knew too well. It was all nothing and a man was nothing. It was only that and light . . . and a certain cleanness and order."

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