literary

From East to Six Feet Deep: An Elegy.

Written as an imitation of the elegic genre, in the style of Thomas Gray’s “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard.”

***

A requiem bell tolls again to start a mourning day,
Another long cavalcade winds slowly to the doors,
Some with sighs, and some with cries, for a girl—fifteen—to lay
To rest; but no body is there here to mourn, no box of sweet grandeur,

Now fades my sight from colour to grey,
As death removes all but death, how ever one may plea,
And all is now a memory; all that’s left to do is pray
That perhaps someday a body may find what’s left of me.

Millions of tiny hands push against a glass rib cage
While void violet veins think sometimes still to move, filled with worms
That writhe and so mock my people’s right and just outrage,
This rage, this grief, that begs my thief to shake and see him squirm.

My mother might weep to know of that worm that calls my eye
Its home, and my father might moan to see my heart pulse,
Alive again maggots; there is here too a gadfly,
That roils in my gut—from him my family recoils, so utterly repulsed.

While my sister—well, my sister has been gone these five years
And my mother’s eyes have not since been dried
And my father’s heart still pounds and suffers unanswered fears
As to the washroom floor my brother’s tainted liver him chides.

But everything is quiet here, serene and subtle calm,
The music of the great-horned owl wafting from her lofty tower
To harmonize with the fox’s howl, one distant and sad psalm,
Accompany the mouse’s bustles, welcoming the evening hour.

It is with these belov’d ancestors I can consider
Tangled in my hair, black like Raven’s feathers, yarrow,
Those feathery leaves that brush my cheeks, sending up fragrance bitter,
Flowers, I know grow white and yellow, blossom out of my bone marrow.

Under the shade of tall evergreens I lay here so still, where
Downy sprigs of ivy twine between my vertebrae,
Here cervical, and there caudal, now the nursery of hares
Who amongst my bleach-white spires play in the bless’d month of May.

Untamed thyme and feral rosemary sprout beneath my orbits,
Empty as they are, void, to take the place of common,
Better-lov’d blossoms; though the perfume of the moor be morbid
You will not find it in a rosy parlour, waiting to be forgotten.

Forget me? Never—my mother will dance until she dies
As long as she believes it may bring me home.
The bells will chime against her hips and ankles, in her hair
And against her chest, ringing in the ears of all my people.

They scream for justice—for me, for my sisters, the lost
And the enraged, we who do not rest, who never shall,
Immortal in the graceful doe, and in the soaring eagle,
In the river’s silver minnows, in the autumn leaves that fall.

We are the daughters of the stars, the angels of the deep,
The flighty forest nymphs who dance unseen amongst the trees,
Our bodies and bones are gone, with only our names to keep,
We join the wisps of cloud and storm, carried by the breeze.

May we well wander now until the end of all your days
The shades that hide amongst the wild thorny brush
And haunt those thieves amongst the haze, with empty eyes ablaze,
That they may always hear our screams at morning with the waking of the thrush.

Here and there, we angels lie,
The backbone of this country’s earth,
Who didn’t think to say goodbye
And never dreamed the trees to birth,

Our spark survives, that essence of we phantoms’ lives, the prized
Leg’cy of our ancestor’s cries, that unforgotten past,
And unforgiven yet, be now our descendant’s demands—
Find us. Find the stolen children of this underlov’d caste.

Until the powers hear us, honour us, their lost daughters,
Their used, abused, abducted, sacrificed; we martyrs
And love us like their foreign children, find our slaughterers,
And write our names forever in their new and lofty charters.

And as they lay us down to sleep, perhaps they’ll deign to say,
“Oft have we heard your cries for recompense, though we were all but deaf,
But now we hear and share your animosity; we beg
Thee now, allow us to your side and trust in our defense,
Pray receive us now, and forgive us the unforgiven then,
Our failures of the past, ye loved children of the fall,
The spring, the summer and all, hardy as the flighty wren,
Teach this nation justice’ name; deliver sweet mercy all.”

THE EPITAPH

Our images will haunt the Hill forever
Until the status “missing” might endeavor
To change to “found,” but never
Will “murdered” not be ours; however,

Though those killers may think themselves clever,
True judgment passes when the soul from body severs
To come meet us, or God, whomever
Happens to come first; but who instills more terror?

Perhaps with death we birth a revolution
Demand both prosecution and resolution
Though there be few means of reconciliation,
Perhaps there is peace in newfound retribution

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Literary Analysis Essay: “The Spaces Between Stars”–Geeta Kothari

Self-doubt is a very potent thing that can penetrate a person’s mind and instill deep-set fears. These fears eat away at an individual’s sense of security and confidence, thus leading them to question decisions they have made. Chosen courses of action can seem like a good idea at the time they are made, but upon further reflection flaws and drawbacks can be revealed—especially so when self-doubt and everything that comes along with it becomes a factor in the reflection process. In Geeta Kothari’s short story “The Spaces Between Stars,” the effect self-doubt has on a person is reflected through Maya’s ruminations on her life in America and marriage to Evan. Through use of symbolism and juxtaposition, Kothari illustrates Maya’s discomfort in her own skin and in her life as a whole, lending to the idea that one’s image of oneself greatly impacts their thoughts on decisions they have made.

Symbols often can reflect how a character feels—such is the case for Maya in “The Spaces Between Stars.” A recurring thought troubles her throughout the story, symbolizing how she feels smothered and suffocated in her life and marriage. Maya can be likened to the sunfish she has a hand in killing in the beginning of the story—Kothari makes a point of illustrating the fish’s suffering before its death. Maya feels “guilty” at the fish’s death, and this guilt constantly weighs her down as she sees part of herself in the fish. The fish had been ensnared in a trap it could not escape from, and when it was freed its freedom was short lived. This is symbolic of Maya’s leaving her past life in India and desiring to be detached from it—but she is uncertain she has made the best decision in forsaking her heritage for a life of comfort and American ideals. It is stated that “the inside of her skin itched, and she wanted to jump out of it.” This is a direct statement that she desires a life she doesn’t have to work to fit into, and is accompanied by the symbolic likeness of her to the sunfish. The memory of the death of the fish haunts Maya, causing the doubt she feels towards herself. She believes she can smell it around her every day, and it begins to integrate itself into her thoughts constantly, thereby affecting her emotions. She becomes short tempered with her husband as she begins to wonder whether or not she made the right decision in marrying him—she admits that “life with Evan was too tempting, an easy guarantee that she would not end up like Shyamma.” Her desire to “be like everyone else and not like her aunt” had played the largest role in Maya’s marriage to Evan, but with her identification with the dying sunfish she cannot help but wonder if she had made the right choice in marrying into a family that accepted her far too easily.

Maya’s discomfort in her own skin is most apparent through use of juxtaposition between her and her husband, Evan. There are notes of contempt in her thoughts when she evaluates herself in comparison to him, whom she sees as “long, lean and graceful. Next to him, she felt like a clumsy baby elephant—small, dark, and always in his shadow.” It is established that Evan’s character is more like what Maya longs to be, yet isn’t. This lends to her self-doubt because they are polar opposites; where she is tormented by the death of a simple animal at her hands, Evan is unphased. While Maya is idealistic and more creative, her husband is practical and straight forward. Her feelings of inadequacy are rooted in her comparison between herself and Evan. Due to the fact that she feels so inadequate, the doubt she feels inside begins to make her wonder if she married into a life that “fits” her—one of the messages of the story is presented in the line “she wanted out of this skin and into another, one that fit her, not one she had to fit.” This reinforces the idea that her questioning her marriage and her lifestyle is a result of her self-judgement.

Geeta Kothari’s presentation of the idea that self-doubt results in an individual’s questioning of their chosen courses of action is obvious through symbolism and juxtaposition in relation to the character of Maya, who feels she doesn’t “fit” in the life she has fashioned for herself. “The Spaces Between Stars” offers the idea that inadequacy is a state of mind, and while Maya finds her resolution, we must keep in mind that what we think of ourselves changes how we perceive our choices, and that that state of mind is not always easy to change.

Literary Analysis Essay: “Lather And Nothing Else”–Hernando Tellez

The act of wearing a mask can be both physical and figurative—but while both require a dash of deception, only one requires a true form of art. This is that of the latter, of wearing a mask in a figurative sense. As human beings we have the option to create for ourselves the image we wish to project to the outside world; we choose what aspects of our true selves to integrate in this outward reflection, but we also can choose what faker aspects of ourselves and what we wish to be to project.  This can result in a mask that doesn’t speak to our true character and nature, but is readily accepted by outside parties. In the short story “Lather and Nothing Else,” by Hernando Tellez, this idea is mainly conveyed through the character revelations of not the narrator, but of the other character, Captain Torres. Tellez utilizes juxtaposition and repetition to establish the type of outside reflections that we can project and to remind the reader that, while outside one may appear calm and collected, inner turmoil is an inevitable consequence for those who have created an elaborate mask for themselves—all this leads up to the ultimate end reveal of what lies behind the mask of Captain Torres. In the unmasking of his controversial and misunderstood character, Tellez offers the idea to the reader that judgement based on personal outward reflection is not always as accurate as it seems to be.

It is a commonly accepted fact that certain people are better at concealing inner turmoil than others. It can be argued that maintaining a calm demeanour is key to keeping one’s mask intact—by remaining calm and collected, the strength of the mask is reinforced. Tellez utilizes juxtaposition throughout his story to illustrate this point. Captain Torres is made to appear calm and uncaring in a sense, as if he is completely unconcerned and/or content with the image the general public holds of him. Put next to the narrator, it is easy to see how the nature and exterior image of a person affects the strength of their mask. The narrator is depicted as nervous, as “certainly flustered” and “tremble[ing],” having to “cover his nervousness.” The reader has a distinct advantage in understanding the narrator’s true character over Torres’ character due to the simple fact that the former’s thoughts are what are offered throughout the story. All we are given of Torres’ character is his mask, his outside appearance—that of a calm and casual man. The mask the narrator wears is not necessarily very well communicated to the reader, but the swaying to and fro between the nature of his thoughts and his perceived panicked demeanour puts a perfect juxtaposition next to Captain Torres’ indifference and cool collection. It is implied that Torres is aware of the narrator’s panic and internal strife and is yet indifferent to it, lending to the idea that there are perhaps notes of sympathy behind the seemingly uncaring nature. With this being the case, it is also implied that there is more to Captain Torres than meets the eye. Tellez also puts both weapons in a side-by-side comparison, making the razor blade seem far more elegant and delicate than the pistol, which appears brash and raw—this juxtaposition lends to each character’s traits. As the narrator is unable to hide his thoughts, he appears to the reader as more sensitive in his struggles whereas Torres is like to his pistol; harsh and powerful and in control. There are elements of each character that identify with each weapon, though, which lends to the idea that the mask each wears is not entirely accurate to who they are. The narrator’s thoughts reveal to the reader that he is capable of evil and brash thoughts of cruelty, while the reveal of Torres’ character at the end of the story shows that he has sensitivity like to that of the narrator’s. Due to the fact that both characters hold pieces of each form of nature, it can be gathered by the reader that the outside image of each is not necessarily true to them. Torres’s last line, “but it is not easy to kill,” is not only reflective of his true beliefs but of how there is more to him than the reader is aware.

When an individual deals with inner turmoil, the route to self-assurance is uncertain and often times repetitive in thought and action. Tellez utilizes repetition in the narrator’s thoughts to further speak to his nature and to the image he wishes to project to the outside world. Throughout the story, he continually assures himself that he’s “a good barber” and does “honorably” in his work. This is a regular thought worth taking notice of because it comes off across as weak within the narrator’s mind, but it speaks volumes as to what he wants to be and how he wants others to see him. This thought process is integrated in his mind in such a way that it is clear that this is the image he wishes to project to others—that he is an honourable man doing honourable work and keeping out of trouble. He expresses a sort of admiration towards Captain Torres in the way that there is continual referral to his calm and collected exterior demeanour—this not only reinforces Torres’ mask, but is juxtaposed with the narrator’s nervous behaviour in a way that (due to its continual mention) also speaks to the narrator’s desire to modify his outward projection. Both lend to the idea that the creation of an “acceptable” outward mask is not only painstaking, but comes with the consequence of inner turmoil. The story itself presides over the narrator’s thoughts, and it is therefore very obvious that he is very anxious in nature and in the situation, but it is only implied that his character counterpart is as well—due to the fact that Torres’ character is very composed throughout the story, and that this fact is of continual mention, the reader can safely assume that he is actually not as calm as he appears. Especially when his final lines are taken into consideration (“they told me you would kill me…”), the reader is offered more concrete evidence that Torres’ outward nature is just an act—he speaks continually of killing people, and thinking of it as “a good time,” but later reveals he knows that “it’s not easy to kill” before taking his leave. This throws a curve ball into what Tellez had decided to continuously repeat about the character, but through this offers up the evidence that inner disturbance is a consequence of wearing an outward mask that all, even the most confident of people, must deal with.

The point of wearing a mask for the general public is, of course, to hide who we truly are. Our true nature can, therefore, come as a shock to people once it is revealed. Tellez utilizes an end reveal, or plot twist, with Torres’ character to illustrate to his audience that people are not always what they seem. He brings together both his use of juxtaposition and repetition in his plot twist to depict his collected and composed character as more human and like to the narrator, whom he already fashioned in a way that the audience can identify with. Torres’s first line, “they told me you would kill me,” reinforces his character as having the ability to remain calm and confident in dire situations which thereby strengthens his outward mask, but also offers the idea that the narrator’s desire to remain under the radar as an honest man has not been achieved, as it implies his stance as a revolutionary is better known than he anticipated and therefore his mask is not as soundly constructed as Torres’s. Captain Torres then states that he “came to find out if it was true,”—further speaking to his calm nature. It is the final two lines that follow, however, that drive the idea that people are not always outwardly reflective of who they are internally. Offering a dramatic change to Torres’ character, he states that “it is not easy to kill” and that he “knows what [he is] talking about.” This shows the character’s more sensitive and humane nature, effectively dismantling the mask he appears to wear to its foundations and exposing him to the narrator and to the reader. These lines take the juxtaposition and repetition Tellez utilized to establish his character as a calm and cold-blooded killer whom differed so vastly from the nervous and panicked narrator and essentially throws them out the window. In doing so, not only does Tellez liken Torres to the narrator and to the reader, but he effectively implicitly and, to a certain extent, explicitly implies that we do not know people as they really are and we have to be aware that sometimes what is obvious and plain to us is not entirely reflective of a person’s nature at all.

Hernando Tellez’s short story, “Lather and Nothing Else,” was meant to make a point to the audience. Through juxtaposition and repetition, he purposely created two very different characters—one with whom the audience would identify (humane, kind, loyal, desiring to be honest) and one with whom they would feel detached and to a certain extent would loathe. The establishment of these characters was then used to perfectly illustrate his point through the dramatic end reveal that Captain Torres was far more human than we were lead to believe—that, fundamentally, we as people and as human beings create for ourselves an outward mask we wear, and that it is sometimes not overly accurate in reflecting our true nature. Tellez offers us a lesson through this—and that lesson is to not, as the saying goes, “judge a book by its cover.”

Literary Analysis Essay: “The Yellow Wallpaper”–Charlotte Gilman

Conventional restraints have, throughout history, governed ideologies and lifestyles in different places around the world, and continue to do so today. They dictate how people think about, react to, and regard things in their everyday lives. Without them, to some extent, bits and pieces of the order humans have put in place for themselves may fall apart—sometimes even dangerously so. When taken too far, these “conventional restraints” turn into something of great power and influence. This “thing” can be defined in one simple word, and that word is “oppression.” The ideals and ideas of convention don’t always sit well with certain people, and in retrospect others are far too comfortable with them; this leaves two demographics of people that don’t end up getting along. The latter demographic desires to maintain the order convention has set, pushing the ideas onto others and forcing them to conform to them. They are those who are oppressive—they see one set way, and that is all. The former demographic, however, are those who long for salvation—deliverance from the restraints that tie them down and the people who force them into submission. The idea of salvation is deemed rebellious, noble, and inspiring—where arguably it may be better to dub it as dangerous. The pursuit of salvation is one that often comes with high cost, and what people so often forget is that there is a very fine line between salvation and its counterpart. When people fight for salvation, they occasionally take it too far and effectively turn their deliverance into a whole new form of self-inflicted oppression. In the short story “The Yellow Wallpaper,” by Charlotte Gilman, the parallels and similarities between oppression and salvation are drawn through insight into the main character presented to the reader through elements of irony, foreshadowing, and imagery. Through the main character’s descent into madness, Gilman illustrates how when we fight against perceived oppression, we create for ourselves a fantastical illusion of freedom once we’ve achieve what we think is salvation—but it remains as only that. An illusion.

The differences between oppression and salvation are initially presented to the reader. The character speaks of being at the mercy of her husband, who has taken it upon himself to dictate what she can and cannot do, thus introducing the conventional idea of gender roles and the nature of her perceived oppression. She says she “personally,[I] disagree[s] with their ideas,” so as to directly state the conflict she has with John’s reign over her. Yet she chooses to conform to his desires for a while, all the while ruing how she feels oppressed and controlled. Slowly over the course of the story she begins to lose patience and longs for the freedom to choose what to do for herself. She pursues her salvation from the constraints put on her by her husband by defying him, lying to him, and neglecting his wishes. Effectively by the end she becomes a slave to her own mind, subject to “creeping” through her liberation because she feels like she has to—but furthermore, she feels like, without question, it’s what she’s supposed to do. In the entries leading up to her “salvation,” she becomes obsessed with the wallpaper and what she thinks she sees in it. The situation is an example of what can happen when the pursuit of salvation is taken too far and becomes an oppressive factor itself in a person’s life. The irony of it lies in the idea of coming full circle: an individual in a situation they perceive to be oppressive fights for their deliverance from it and, in the process, puts themselves under constraints and, essentially, back at square one. “I’ve got out at last…in spite of you and Jennie,” she says in the end, announcing her liberation to her husband. She questions why he fainted at the sight of her, an act which is representative of the breaking of gender roles and her former oppression. She believes herself free at last, but she’s become caught up in an illusion—while she may not be at John’s mercy anymore, she is now a slave to the house and to her own mind.

Throughout the story, the main character has a fixation on the wallpaper of her room that slowly and slowly grows into an obsession governed by hysteria and hallucinations. At first she talks a lot about how she hates the wallpaper—naturally the reader assumes that her opinion of it will change some where during the story. The foreshadowing runs deeper, however, than this. She begins to see figures inside the paper. Once it is established these figures are women attempting to free themselves from the paper, and considering the established mental state of the character, it is only logical to assume that the character will begin to identify with the woman in the paper at some point. She says she can see them “creeping” through areas of the room and grounds of the house; since she identifies with the woman in the wallpaper, this foreshadows her act of creeping around the perimeter of the room at the end of the story. The evolution of the woman in the wallpaper and her actions as a whole both indicates and foreshadows the main character’s descent into madness. Because of the oppressive nature of the state of being mad, the idea is raised that breaking free of the conventional restraints holding one back opens the door to becoming self-oppressive—the connotation of “creeping” in the story is oppressive itself, but she is happy to creep along the wall. It is her choice to do so, so in essence the reader sees that self-oppression is very real and can be a product of the fight for salvation. Gilman warned the reader all along that this was to be her character’s fate.

Throughout the story, the parallels between the main character and the woman in the wallpaper are striking and undeniable. The woman in the wallpaper is the representation of the character’s oppression—she is stuck behind the patterns, fighting to get out. She describes the woman and the wallpaper in detail throughout the story, showing her changing opinions on each and how she grows fonder of them. While many aspects of each can within themselves depict irony and foreshadowing as well, the main purpose of the imagery is to show how the idea of self-salvation can become more and more appealing when one feels oppressed. As she begins to believe she is the woman trapped in the wallpaper, getting out of it becomes a primary goal for the character—in essence, she becomes more and more concerned with gaining her independence from John and his oppressive ways and becoming free. The subliminal fear she expresses towards the woman in the wallpaper resonates with the reader and offers a discrepancy between their feelings and the character’s feelings; where the readers fear the image of the woman they see shaking the wallpaper because they view her as a threatening creature that will ultimately harm the character (in essence they see, from the outside perspective, how becoming obsessed with gaining salvation can result in further oppression), the main character fears what restrains the woman from gaining freedom—she fears further oppression. She can’t see the woman the same way the reader can, and because this is the case she sets herself onto the course to self-oppression.

The story “The Yellow Wallpaper,” by Charlotte Gilman, offers a unique form of insight into the idea of gaining self-oppression through seeking salvation from conventional restraints. Through extensive use of irony, foreshadowing, and imagery, Gilman depicts to the reader how both oppression and salvation are frames of mind—and how obsession with gaining freedom can put constraints on oneself. She presents the idea that freedom is an illusion once we have let the pursuit of it govern our lives, raising the question: if the nature of our salvation is an illusion, is the nature of oppression not the same? And if it is, what consequences will we have to face if we let ourselves become obsessed with chasing an illusion?