Character analysis of Emma and Mrs. Elton

In Emma ((Page Numbers are for the Riverside Edition edited by Lionel Trilling)), Jane Austen presents characters who are uniquely human: each has their own rich personality and storied background. Through these characters, Austen is able to intimately explore the human condition, as she saw it, and highlight some of the issues of society and class in her world. To achieve this, Austen creates a world into which a reader can insert themselves through the gossip and unique perspective that the narrator and Emma provides; the reader’s perspective is not that of an all-seeing observer, but almost a character in its own right who may judge the characters as an equal participant and member of the community. From this perspective the reader is able to see characters as rich and complex individuals with whom the reader can acquaint themselves. In doing so, one can pass judgment on the characters not from the outside, but from the inside.

The characters of Mrs. Elton and Emma are extremely similar: they both are overly concerned with outward appearances, place too much value on social status, tend to treat others as their play things, and are quick to judge. They think very highly of themselves and hold themselves as pinnacles of their societies. The two women are so similar one could argue that if their positions were reversed, they would hold the same positions in the story. However, for all their negative similarities, it is the small differences that makes one superior to the other””not only as a person, but as a friend.

Although Mrs. Elton tends to believe herself to a member of genteel society, her manners and mannerisms are a cheap limitation: she has a tendency to place herself on an equal footing with others who are social superior to herself. Although a biased source, quickly Emma judges her to be a vain and self-satisfied who attempted to be superior, but “with manners which had been formed in a bad school [and] drawn from one set of people” (213). Further evidencing the low origin of Mrs. Elton’s manners is how impressed she is by Mrs. Weston’s and Mr. Knightley’s manners: Emma takes their manners for granted and to her, it seems obvious that their manners would be impeccable because of the society of which they are members (218). Mrs. Elton also oversteps herself by referring to people by their given or Christian names without honorifics—even when they are of a superior social class like Mr. Knightley—while Emma would never even consider this even though the families are long-term friends and nearly equal (218).

Emma, unlike Mrs Elton, is aware that her family’s status in society is that of “the younger branch of a very ancient family” whose landed property is relatively small (108). Although she has a tendency to be snobbish and exclusive, she is able to put these feelings aside when pressured by her friends to do what is right. When the middle-class Coles were in a position to invite Emma to a dinner party, she almost gleefully prepared to rebuke them for being so presumptuous, but when the invitation actually came, she allowed the Westons to convince her to attend without argument (163). Even though she believes in the exclusivity of her class, she realizes that it is not practical to insulate herself from the other classes when she should be accepting of them. However, her egalitarian views do not extend beyond casual relations: she was very quick to refuse Mr. Elton’s advances on social status alone, and even though she was correct to do so, she did not see that the relationship she tried to create between Mr. Elton and Miss Smith was similar to Mr. Elton marrying herself. According to Emma, Mr. Elton only proposed to “aggrandize and enrich himself,” and although he “understood the graduations of rank below him [he was] blind to what rose above” (107). This evidences Emma’s flaw in oversimplifying the lives of others through her habit of lumping the middle-class into one rather than seeing it as stratified.

Mrs. Elton is very insecure about her background and tends to speak frequently of her brother-in-law’s estate comparing every aspect of it to Hartfield and claiming as its equal; however, as Emma points out, those with wealth are not impressed with people who are equally wealthy, so Mrs. Elton’s comparison serves more to show how little societal standing she has. She also judges others of similar backgrounds harshly: mentioning a family that lives near Maple Grove who are an annoyance “from the airs they give themselves” without realizing it is the same way others view her (244).

Emma is very blind to the thoughts and the feelings of the people around her to the point that she projects all of her own feelings onto people and then expresses shock when she is wrong. Events like her blindness regarding Mr Elton’s advances, her insistence that Miss Fairfax is in love with the happily married Mr. Dixon, or her belief that Miss Smith was superior to the Martins show just how little she understands the core personalities of the people around her. However, although she can be strong-headed, she does accept correction””mostly by Mr. Knightley””when she is wrong, so her weakness is less glaring than it could be.

Emma and Mrs. Elton play off each other well: they both have similar personalities and levels of intelligence, but where Emma is born rich and gentile, Mrs. Elton’s only claim to high society is a sizable dowry and a wealthy brother-in-law. Emma and Mrs. Elton are both flawed individuals, but Mrs. Elton has all of Emma’s flaws but few of her good qualities, and Mrs Elton’s one-dimensional nature is such that she seems incapable of growing as a person; however, Emma does learn from the lessons she receives, albeit slowly, and respects the opinions of others; therefore, although both individuals have their flaws, Emma would make a far better friend.

Religion in “Silas Marner” by George Eliot

In Silas Marner George Eliot doesn’t specifically state that religion is bad or dangerous nor does she say that one shouldn’t be religious. Instead, she presents certain aspects of religion that she believes are prone to creating uncertainty and confusion. She then allows readers to make up their own mind. One of her major concerns is the way people believe in God; she doesn’t deny the existence of God, but she says that even if he does exist, he does not interfere, so focusing on signs and symbols from God is dangerous because it detracts from the human aspects of life. Silas Marner states that how one treats others is more important than the religion one follows or if one believes in God.

Eliot directly questions the purpose of organized religion, but is less emphatic in questioning God, and tends to not refer directly to God (both literally and figuratively as the word “God” appears twenty-four times throughout the entire book, and most of these are general expressions.) Thus, the book is an impartial observer of the way religion is practiced and the way God is evidenced in the popular beliefs rather than a direct attack on the validity of religion and the concept of God. Eliot is very careful to never attack the existence of God, so even when Silas feels betrayed, he keeps his faith in the existence of God, but he believes that “there is no just God that governs the earth righteously, but a God of lies.” Silas gains a “shaken trust in God” which quickly assures that the existence of God is never questioned by Marner or any other inhabitant of Raveloe or Lantern Yard. This allows Eliot to focus on the way characters believe in God through the practice of religion rather than the deeper theological issue of the existence of God.

Eliot observes that even within Christianity the interpretations of God are very different. She states that Marner “was quite unable, by means of anything he heard or saw, to identify the Raveloe religion with his old faith,” but even within Raveloe, Eliot illustrates different modes of belief: one a God of precise laws and moral absolutes and another impersonal, parental God. These beliefs coexist within Raveloe because the focus of the community is not on how religious one is — “to go to church every Sunday in the calendar would have shown a greedy desire to stand well with Heaven” — but on how one behaves.

Within Raveloe, the popular interpretation of God is of the impersonal yet parental God — an interpretation very different from Lantern Yard’s belief in an active God. Alongside their belief in a Christian God, Raveloe’s beliefs incorporate some elements of paganism such as the belief in and desire for charms. Even with a faith in God, these people want a little extra assurance that things will be better for them, and they are willing to look away from Christianity and God to find it. Eliot uses these folk beliefs to demonstrate that the inhabitants of Raveloe are not entirely convinced of God’s manipulation of events and they do not share Lantern Yard’s belief that God is active in their lives, so even though the inhabitants of Raveloe trust in charms, they would never have drawn lots to determine a person’s guilt because Raveloe’s God as an almost deistic god who creates and judges, but one who is not actively involved in day-to-day matters. God to Dolly is not entirely Deistic because she allows that he may have guided Marner to Raveloe to care for Eppie, but she and the other lay members of the community are not concerned with God or religion beyond a secondary experience.

Eliot seems to suggest that this view is the correct view of religion because she warns against placing too much faith in God as do the inhabitants of Lantern Yard. She argues that once one places too much faith in God, God is in a position to be blamed for any negative event in one’s life rather than focusing on human causes. Silas Marner was betrayed by his friend; however, the lots and God decided for the community that he was guilty, so Marner believes he was betrayed by both his God and his friend because he was assured that God would reveal the truth (he even declares “God will clear me” three times.) Had the lots turned the other way, his faith would have remained, but Marner is placed in a position where his faith in God is destroyed because of the Lantern Yard belief that God is responsible for all actions. Marner eventually regains his faith in God saying to Eppie that he believes that “God was good to me” in delivering her to him, but he never fully regains a personal belief and faith in God. God remains on the outside of his life because Marner can never fully trust in him again.

Eliot warns that focusing too much on God can retard a person’s life and places one at a disadvantage in this world. The negative effects of this are demonstrated by the inhabitants of Lantern Yard’s quick belief in Marner’s guilt and their inability to see that William Dane had manipulated events. The negative traits of this are contrasted with the positive aspects of life in Raveloe where the community gathers at the Rainbow and interacts with each other rather than just with God.

Interpretations of a slave in “The Heroic Slave” and “Benito Cereno”

There are three major interpretations of the slave in literature: the good human being who is forced to live their live as a slave, the slave who’s mind, body and soul are broken because of slavery, and the slave who’s mind is twisted and becomes a monster because of the institution of slavery. These views of slavery are prevalent in abolitionist literature because they focus on the evils of slavery rather than the evils of the men who support slavery. In Fredrick Douglas’s “The Heroic Slave”, Douglas presents the reader with Madison Washington: a good man and a loving father and husband. In Herman Melville’s Benito Cereno one is presented with the figure of Babo: a demented and twisted individual who is willing to do anything to regain his freedom. These two images of slavery are used because a writer can show both that slaves are human and legitimize their “evil” deeds as being forced by the institutions of slavery.

Madison Washington represents the human face of a slave: his every attribute reflects the fear abolitionists felt when faced with the images of Nat Turner. Washington is presented as being “[t]all, symmetrical, round, and strong [with an] appearance betokened Herculean strength; yet there was nothing savage or forbidding in his aspect [and a voice] full and melodious” (28). Later, he is shown to be a good Christan man who, after attaining his freedom, risks his own life to free his family from captivity. He is always presented as being in command of himself, eloquent, and a leader of men. This melodramatic point-of-view leaves the reader with no choice but to sympathize with Madison Washington and by extension all good people who happened to have been ill-fortuned enough to be born both black and into slavery.

While one can feel pity for Madison, slave characters like Babo illicit no sympathy for themselves, but they raise philosophical questions about the effects of slavery on the individual. Melville never suggests that Babo was ill-treated or abused as a slave, and only describes him as a “small Negro Senegal [who spent] some years among the Spaniards” (93). It is obvious from the story that Babo is vastly intelligent which begs the question: why should someone as intelligent as Babo be confined to an institution of slavery and what happens to such an individual? Melville answers both parts of the question by stating resolutely that such a mind would not be held within an cage no matter how gilded, and that one such as Babo, while being moral to a point, would quickly leave his morals behind to achieve his freedom.

Babo does have some good qualities aside from his intelligence. If we can accept the word of Delano even when he was a captive Babo was instrumental in “pacifying his more ignorant brethren, when at intervals tempted to murmurings” (46). This interpretation of Babo is further illustrated when during the deposition it is revealed that the “Negresses of age” had to be restrained so they could not have “tortured to death, instead of simply killing, the Spaniards slain by the command of the Negro Babo” and that Babo “with his own hand, committed no murder” (102). Babo was twisted enough by slavery that he had the bones of Don Alexandro mounted on the ship’s bow, but he was not so far gone that he would treat the whites as they treated slaves.

While Babo is not entirely corrupted by slavery, he is twisted enough that he, personally, is beyond pity; however, with his actions he shows how the institution of slavery can twist even the most intelligent mind and force it into doing brutish things. Madison Washington represents an attempt by abolitionists to avoid the Nat Turner stereotype of the slave, but the character of Babo embraces this stereotype and Melville simultaneously condemns the actions taken while he shows that individuals such as Nat Turner are heavily influenced and corrupted by slavery itself, so that only by withdrawing individuals with such proclivities from the institutions of slavery, can one be safe from their innate internal rage on a widespread basis.

Superficially, Cereno is sick with a fever, but one can also read between the lines “only the sour heart that sour sickness breeds made [Cereno] serve Babo so; cutting Babo with the razor “ (77). Quite obviously the cut is self inflicted by Babo; however, had Babo been a normal slave the same incident would have caused a similar reaction from his master. The “sour sickness” that Babo speaks of is not entirely Cereno’s illness, but the institution of slavery that demands one exert his control over the entirety of another’s being. This interpretation of Cereno’s supposed action is illustrated by Captain Delano’s remark that, “this slavery breeds ugly passions in man!” This comment can be expanded to encompass both Babo’s “punishment” and Babo’s actual actions aboard the ship.

Abolitionist literature used characters such as Madison Washington and Babo to question the political and philosophical effects of slavery. While the former is a respectable individual who the reader can feel sympathy for, the latter is vile and demented, but forces the reader to question the aspects of slavery that would twist such an individual.

Chopin’s “The Story of an Hour” and Achebe’s “Civil Peace” as a Call for Succinct Writing

Chopin’s story expertly takes the average book and succinctly boils it down to two pages of rapid emotions and events. While the average writer would have felt a need to develop events prior to the story to allow the reader a full and developed sense of the personalities of the characters, Chopin instead says this is what you need to know, and you know what to do with it. The reader is given a short snapshot of a person: (wife, weak heart, young, pretty, unhappy, in most likely a semi-arranged marriage) and a range of emotions: (shock, surprise, grief, realization, elation, and triumph). The reader then has to assign each of these emotions and snapshots to Mrs. Mallard to gleam a small insight into her being. Overall this style leaves the reader with a powerful sense of the emotions and felling that went through Mrs. Mallard’s mind from her perspective rather than allowing the reader to develop their own perspective on events, and in turn pass judgment on Mrs. Mallard.
Achebe’s story similarly gives the reader a deep look into the mind of the main character but in a succinct manner. Jonathan is portrayed as a hardworking and modest man who knows what is really important in life. He is also a man who is extremely lucky (or blessed if you prefer) to retain so much after so much strife in the war. Aside from the characters strength of spirit Achebe’s story also portrays the average person not as average but worthy of praise because rather than being crushed by unfortunate events Jonathan treats them as events of the past rather than events that define the future. Although I have not read any of his other works Achebe seems to believe in a way similar to Horatio Alger that hard work brings happiness rather than discontentment.
Together the two stories serve as a reminder that succinctly does not mean powerless and that verbose writing is not preferable to succinct writing. Most of us are guilty of trying to expand a paper to reach a minimum word count when it should have ended 100+ words ago. But these two stories show that it is not length that matters but content. More specifically that just because a paper or a story is 100 pages long does not mean by definition that it says anything more than a paper four pages long.

Comparison of Cold Mountain and the Odyssey

“Cold Mountain” is the story of a confederate soldier named Inman and his journey back to his homeland after years of fighting in the civil war, along the way he meets many interesting personalities some benign some malevolent. The second focus of the story is on Inman’s lover Ada and her struggle to learn how to live without her father, Inman and servants. “The Odyssey” is the story of an Ithacan king named Odysseus and his journey back to his homeland after years of fighting in the Trojan War, along the way he meets many interesting personalities some benign and some malevolent. The second focus of the story is on Odysseus’s wife Penelope and her struggle to live without her husband. The two stories sound very similar on the surface, but how similar are they really after the two line synopsis? “Cold Mountain” has frequently been called a modern “Odyssey” but is this an accurate description?

The first important information is how the wars end for our protagonists. In Inman’s case he deserted to return home because he had gotten too weary of the fighting and killing. However Odysseus returned home after a successful campaign against the City of Troy after 12 years, although long since wearied of the war he had nevertheless staid until the end. The difference here though can be attributed to cultural differences between the time “Odyssey” was written and “Cold Mountain” was. Although the differences are cultural they are also important to the story as it gives the main antagonist force their reason(s) for pursuing the Protagonist. In Odysseus’s case the main antagonist is Poseidon God of the sea Poseidon causes Odysseus to become lost at see in retribution for his vanity. However in Inman’s case he is chased and finally killed by the Home Guard for deserting the army.

Another large difference is in the personalities of Penelope and Ada, Ada was rather weak when she had no one to lean on but Penelope was able to keep everything together even as it fell apart around her until her husband returned. Without her husband Penelope was able to prevent major damage to her family by the suitors and in the process keep herself from falling into melancholy or being forced to choose a new husband. Ada on the other hand was unable to keep the house and farm or even herself in good condition, she fell far into melancholy to the point of neglecting her own physical needs. It was not until Ruby came into Ada’s life that she was able to overcome her melancholy and start functioning as a person again. The valiant wife bravely awaiting her husbands return is far from what “Cold Mountain” has to offer, yet even still the longing for the return of loved ones is a main theme of both stories.

Both stories go into great details of the challenges each protagonist faces, yet these are not important to the overall picture. No one would think about adding a Cyclops to the American south east just as no ancient Greek would create a hero out of a deserter. Although the details of the events are different they have the same effect of portraying the great obstacles the protagonists had to face before returning home. These obstacles allow the reader to see just what the protagonists are made of and get a look deep into their psyches.

Unlike Inman who died after returning home, but not before impregnating Ada, Odysseus survived and was happily reunited with his wife and son. Again the difference here could be construed as differences in literary styles between the two times, by the time “Cold Mountain” the “triumphant return and all is okay” ending was long since a clich” of literature and the contemporary audience doesn”t really believe the endings anymore. Instead “Cold Mountain” ends with the triumphant return and untimely death of Inman, followed by all is okay. For the readers of the “Odyssey” Odysseus was a hero of mythical proportions to have him end in anything but a triumphant ending would have been demoralizing to the audience. Yet Inman’s death did not prevent a happy ending, in fact if anything it adds even more happiness to the story because it allowed Ada to continue her life as she had grown accustomed and instead of losing a fianc” she gained a daughter.

Upon Odysseus’s return he had to battle the suitors to be able to be reunited with his wife. In Odysseus’s case Penelope had no attachment to the suitors who tried for her attention, so was quite happy when they were removed from her life. Inman in a situation similar to Odysseus had to figuratively battle with Ruby for Ada’s attention. In Inman’s case he could never have won the battle for Ada’s attention without driving a wedge between him and Ada. Ada had begun to so heavily lean on Ruby for support that without her Ada would probably have been unable to live without the emotional support she provided and not resent Inman for coming between them.

Although the ending and beginning are different the story in form is the same so at least in this way “Cold Mountain” and “The Odyssey” are literary cousins. The lessons they teach are also similar but the characters themselves could not hardly be anymore different. The characters of “The Odyssey” show strength in all things before, during and after tragedy, yet in “Cold Mountain” the characters are rather weak, having to fall to the bottom before picking themselves back up. Although it is possible to excuse all differences in the way the characters behaved on the differences of the ancient Greek and American culture, it shows just how far our society has come in terms of role models. Deciding modern culture is the sole reason for the differences portrays modern society as distancing itself from heroic portrayals of historical characters and instead of glorifying them they are portrayed as people with failings and character flaws but in the end being able to overcome them. This leaves us with only one option, first to realize that our society has progressed to the point where heroes are not all that one needs to see in life and thus modern society has realized that even normal people can do admirable things and secondly to decide that “Cold Mountain” is indeed a modern reincarnation of “The Odyssey” but that no longer are god-like men the only ones capable of being heroic.

Esquivel’s “Like Water For Chocolate”

To tell the truth this was one of the few books that I entirely disliked the style they were written in. It was not the magical qualities of the story that made it bad, the story was nice, but the style was distracting and scatter-brained. It felt like I was reading a normal book and every other paragraph I looked at a line from a cookbook. In most areas the recipes were not even seamlessly brought into the story, instead they were just stuck in a few sentences here and there. Overall I think the book’s style reflects the way a person with severe attention deficit disorder thinks. The story itself was nice but parts made no sense at all, and if anybody handed in a paper with the same lack of coherency it would receive a nice big red F. However the lack of a coherent style does not make the feelings it tries to portray any less pronounced, it just makes it a little harder to read.

In several belief systems (voodoo in particular) the idea that the feelings of an individual can be transmitted through objects are prevalent. In Tia’s case the emotions range from sadness, to joy, to anger to desire, and food is used as the median. The idea that her emotions can have such a large effect on the people around them is by realist ideals silly at best, however the exaggeration does give the book its place in literature. It is not important that Tia’s tears could not have made the guests cry it is rather the idea that Tia’s emotions were so powerful as to affect the people around her. The same idea can be said of the quail dinner scene, the enormous blanket or the volcano at the end of the story.

This idea that realistic elements can have a magical, spiritual and fanciful elements is what makes magical realism different than other literary forms. The story is not all fantasy but at the same time it is not all realistic. Instead the story finds a happy medium between the two and as a result becomes a story ala Paul Bunyan or Davy Crockett. While it would be hard to argue that the events in any of these three stories are all true they have just the right balance of fantasy and reality to make the supreme decision rather difficult. This inability to define what is “real” and what is fantasy is what makes the genre enjoyable. Although I still think the book is scatter-brained.