Thomas C. Foster, in “How to Read Literature Like a Professor,” stated that “there is only one book.” This book, he argued, is the collection of all the works of writing that have ever been composed over all of human existence. This is because, according to Foster, each author was somehow influenced in their writing by some author or group of authors before them. Therefore, like a concise and effective plot line, each work of literature contains within itself little traces of some prior work, and the influences of some later one. While I agree with Foster on this claim, I do not think that we all read like professors.
It is true that anyone can likely learn how, but for many people, a book is a book. To myself and many others, a book is a fun and thrilling story, or account, that is simply enjoyable to read. I read books for the characters and the adventures they go on even more so that I do for the philosophy and hidden meanings embedded within them (although, this would not be the case for purely-philosophical works of literature, but we’ll make an exception in this case). Writing is, for many individuals, simply an adventure on its own, even without acknowledgment to the deeper meaning and connections throughout and within every work of literature (though, I will admit, those are fun to decode, as well).
So why me? Why did I say to myself, “I shall write a book about other authors and what I think of them?” There are mountains of books that have been written simply for the purpose of interpreting past authors and works of literature. There are people with full doctorates in literature of many types that have written books like this. So who did I, an amateur writer who has only a few books on the market, without even a doctorate degree in literature, decide to write this book? Well, as I stated before, I am not one to typically begin reading a book with the intention of uncovering its every secret: I primarily read for the story.
And, for most readers, I am assuming that that is the case for you as well. Therefore, whether you reading this book right now see yourself as merely a basic reader, or the most profound writer to have ever walked the Earth, I hope that you enjoy reading my nonprofessional take on many of our favorite (and lesser-known) writers, novelists, and poets. (This is the reason for the crude cover of this book - the fact that this is merely a brief and simplistic overview). And for the rest of you, who are simply seeking out a good read and are on the fence about any of these individuals whom I am about to write, I hope that I shall provide some simple insight into their writing enough for you to decide if you would rather read “War and Peace” or “All Quiet on the Western Front.”
But, as I stated before, I do believe, as Thomas C. Foster stated, that every book is but a chapter in a larger book, always being written before us. This book that you are reading now more directly reflects the works of the past, as I am writing directly of them and their authors. This is not a book that you should take too seriously: I am not a literary professor, and these are merely my perceptions on many of our authors throughout history. However, I do hope that my words will provide some insight into some of the most famous (and not so famous) adventures that one could pick up, sit down on their couch with, and explore.
And lastly, let no word of mind thrust you forth or hinder you from your reading or writing endeavors. Only treat this book as a guide that you may choose to observe if you wish, and if you do not, then let me rot on your shelf! So, without further ado, I present to you interpretations of our authors.
What I find the most interesting about Ernest Hemingway’s writing is the way in which he writes dialogue. Any work of literature, the fine rules will tell you, should involve complex and comprehensive dialogue. I can recall from nearly every single English literature class I have ever taken such statements as: “never leave a line of spoken dialogue unexplained, and, by gosh, don’t just say, ‘so and so said,’ because there are more words that exist to signify that and how someone has spoken than simply using ‘said.’” Apparently, it would seem that Hemingway did not attend my English classes.
But this makes perfect sense, as Hemingway was not the wealthiest or most privileged of individuals, to say the least. He would not have learned much of the connectors of spoken dialogue in writing, and whether that is the cause of it or not, the word “said” constitutes much of his use of signal words following lines of dialogue. The essence of his stories seem more natural, almost, albeit rapidly progressing and sometimes mundane.
Personally, when I write, I very much try to avoid the word “said” after a line of dialogue. I will use “exclaimed,” “stated,” “affirmed,” “asserted,” “asked,” “inquired,” “questioned,” “reasoned,” “moaned,” “screamed,” “shouted,” “yelled,” “hollered,” “laughed,” “smiled,” “pleaded,” “begged…” But by gosh, I will avoid the word “said” like it is the plague. “Ah, I used the word ‘said’ here, what an unfortunate word choice.” Hemingway, however, either proves to us that it is not such a vulgar word after all, or that he is clever enough to avoid the criticizing eyes of publishers when he uses it.
No, however quaint it may seem, I do not think that Hemingway possesses a keen wisdom for dialogue. He simply writes in a way that no other writer could ever dare to bring themselves to. Descriptive dialogue connectors: “terminate them!” Excessive detail: “toss it out the window!” Cannon-fodder statements: “off with their heads!” And in many other ways, Hemingway has created his writing platform (one which, in the eyes of the traditional forms of literature, should be riddled with holes and crevices, ready to topple over at the slightest gust of wind).
And yet, it is because of this that Hemingway is such a profound author. He was one of the only ones of his time (as, people will do similar things in their own times, past and future) to neglect the “rules” of literature, and to travel where no one had been in a very long time, if there were tracks in the sand already at all. As if his writing journey were on a zeppelin sinking from the sky, he tossed “unnecessary” filler paragraphs from the vessel as if it may spare him the excessive weight of this misfortune, and avoid the unforgiving crash to the ground.
I have learned a lot from Hemingway’s use of detailing imagery alone. This is because he uses almost none of it, and what little bit he does use you better pay attention to, because it’s most likely a carrier of some hidden importance. When I write, at least as of a few years ago, I should seek to describe everything from the color of the ceiling of a room to the exact size and color of every single book on an bookshelf that has no significance to the story at all. After reading “A Farewell to Arms,” however, this largely changed.
“A Farewell to Arms” is, in my opinion, the single greatest book ever composed by Earnest Hemingway, and a profound work of literature on its own (to this day, it is the only book which has made me feel so much as a tinge of sadness, and I’ve read “The Jungle” and “The Awakening”). But how was this work so magnificent, despite the fact that there was not much imagery, or well-structured dialogue (at least compared to what I was used to reading and writing)?
Hemingway shows us, it would seem, that “good writers” do not need to conform to the traditional structures of plot and prose. I will admit, it is easy to get lost when reading Hemingway, and I always have to backtrack a few times whenever I read one of his works in moments of lengthy conversation between characters, but his writing style simply has something special to it that is not present in those of Fitzgerald, Tolstoy, or Chopin.
So the final question: if someone else had smashed the walls of traditional literature before Hemingway had, would they have been more prominent than the now-respected author? Honestly, I cannot say whether or not that would have been the case. However, I do believe that there is something about Hemingway that is special to himself and on its own. Perhaps it is because he is so intentional: if something is mentioned in his books, it likely has a deeper meaning than it seems to project. I truly do believe that, in one file, there is breaking the rules of literature in the 1920s, and then, in a separate category, there is Hemingway.
Even his resting place seems to break traditions. He is buried in a quiet cemetery in Idaho, and there are always half-empty bottles of wine and beer about his tombstone, left by those paying their respects to him. It would almost appear, as with his writing, that Hemingway had his whole life embraced something which many generally despised...Hemingway is easily my favorite author of the 1920s.
I cannot think of an author more unlike Hemingway than Sinclair. Upton Sinclair is, in my experience, the stark opposite of Hemingway. Where Hemingway is very sparing with his visual details, and is very intentional in much of what is present, Sinclair packs every big, fat paragraph with imagery. I honestly must say that I prefer Sinclair to Hemingway, and purely for this reason. There was never a setting in “The Jungle,” not so much as a single room, in which I felt that I did not know the exact placement of every single physical object, down to the very inch. And it is not simply the physical appearance of the rooms and settings that Sinclair describes, but the actions of the people and characters in them, and the functions of the machines whenever one was present in the story, and really everything that one could wish to know about a setting. The story of Jurgis and the poor immigrant family is one that is splendidly detailed.
When reading “The Jungle,” I felt so confident in my perception of the stockyards of Chicago, that I felt that if I could be transported back in time to the city as it was around 1906, I could easily make my way around the sludge and filth of the more unfortunate parts city, to every tavern and across every sidewalk. To most readers and writers whom I have had the opportunity to talk with regarding the use of imagery in stories, excessive detail is nothing but a bore. I, however, often admire the visual imagery of a setting more than I do the plot line and its conflicts itself. Sinclair is a true genius when it comes to detail, and thus, it is shocking that I had misunderstood his purpose for writing “The Jungle.”
I, like most people I know who have read the impressive work of literature, at first assumed that it was merely to expose the disgusting processes by which the meat-packing industry went about its business. The filth and grime and scum of the food that was produced at “Brown’s” and “Durham’s,” as stated in the book, one “wouldn’t feed to their dog.” Indeed, it would seem that many of the others who have read this book assumed so. The work arguably led to the passage of the Meat Inspection Act and the Pure Food and Drug Act in the United States of America, shortly after its later printings. Yet, upon further inspection of the book, this becomes merely a secondary (or even tertiary) takeaway, at least the way it was intended.
Admittedly, I did not find this out until about three months until I had finished reading “The Jungle,” when a family member of mine was giving a lecture and brought up the famous work by Sinclair. She told me that a student had come up to her after the lecture, and had conversed with her concerning the unfortunate fact that Sinclair was, apparently, unsatisfied with how the public interpreted his book. I, of course, had to conduct some research into this myself, and also flipped back through some of the book’s pages while I was at it.
Indeed, upon further inspection, it appears that the main point that Sinclair was trying to force upon the reader is much more timeless than the quality of meat production and packaging at the time: it was a work largely meant to expose the harsh, brutal, and completely unfair treatment and exploitation of immigrants in the lower levels of the United States workforce. It seems that every country, no matter how old and no matter in what state of its development, tends to bounce back and forth about its immigration policies, and Sinclair sought to address it in “The Jungle.”
What the public perceived, however, was not that there needed to be reforms made to protect immigrants, but that there needed to be reforms to the meat-packing industry (which, there did, but this was not as immediate, it would seem, as lending aid to the poor immigrant workers of America). Upon comprehending that his readers were missing the main point of his work, Sinclair famously stated, “I aimed at the public’s heart, and by accident I hit it in the stomach.”
After I had read this quote, I felt a little bit of shame - I am not prone to feeling emotion from literature, but I should have at least felt some tinge of sadness for the poor, abused immigrant family simply trying to make ends meet in Chicago. Then there is the socialist aspect of the story. Sinclair was indeed a socialist, and as much as a capitalist as I am, he did an excellent (I cannot emphasize the word “excellent” enough, here) job at making socialism seem well-reasoned and, dare I say it, feasible. In fact, many of the royalties he gained from his book, Sinclair used to create a small utopian colony in New Jersey (that would burn down in 1907).
In the end, ever since reading “The Jungle,” I have seen Sinclair as a writer of many intentions, all of them good-hearted at the very least. In addition to his intentions in writing, whatever they may be, he will always be, in my eyes, an expert at mastering imagery and detail. He wielded a pen as if he were born to do so, and he holds a special place among my favorite authors (the fact that he is in this book alone should represent that). It seems that, though “The Jungle” brought change in its time, the main message that Sinclair was attempting to convey is, unfortunately, as timeless as death itself, it would seem. For truly, when will we stop comprehending our fellow humans based on political borders and simply accept them as fellow creatures of life?
If reincarnation is, in fact, real, and I were a writer in some past life…I believe that that writer would have been Erich Maria Remarque. I do not say this to promote myself, and I am not saying that I am as good at or worse at writing than Remarque, but, by reading “All Quiet on the Western Front,” in particular, I see that our writing styles are strikingly similar.
Firstly, there is the ironic title. Any reader glancing across bookshelves who sees the words “All Quiet on the Western Front” could easily assume that the Western Front was anything but quiet. Then there is the way in which Remarque treats his characters. I will admit, in my stories, I write as if I were a bloodthirsty maniac. I build my characters up, and I try to get my readers to take a liking to them, and then I mercilessly squash them between my fingers and rub the blood into my palm. Remarque is not as dramatic, I’ll admit, but he professed a similar tendency in “All Quiet on the Western Front.”
He would introduce a character that we perhaps may find ourself journeying alongside throughout the progression of the story, and then…Gone. Some of the earliest chapters of the book allude to the hardships which shall befall Remarque’s poor characters - death, humor in the face of constant danger, a more or less concession of civilian values to the practicality of military living…
Remarque, however, unlike myself, was unfortunately drafted into the German Military, and was wounded on the Western Front in 1917. The wartime experiences that Remarque underwent are largely regarded as the inspiration for his most famous work, which is, of course, “All Quiet on the Western Front.”
As splendid as a writer Remarque was, however, I feel as if he perhaps was not as much of a master of dialogue as Hemingway, nor as profound at creating imagery as Sinclair. No, I often found parts of “All Quiet on the Western Front” confusing, excessive, or requiring a quick backtrack in the reading. But, who am I to discern what should and what should not be? I was not alive in the early 1900s, I could merely attempt to read this book within the context of the time as best I could. But that is the purpose of this book you are reading right now - to convey what I, a more or less average reader, thought of a profound work of literature.
It cannot be denied that, shortly after the publication of “All Quiet on the Western Front,” it took the world by storm. Even today, when seeking recommendations for Great War reads, fact or fiction, I am often met with that splendid and classic work by Remarque. And it is in that work that Remarque expressed what I believe to be his main strength - character development. His outright explanation of who every character is and a little bit about their backgrounds within the first few pages of the book is a little cliche (though I also tend to do the same thing in writing), but a short way through the story, I felt like I almost had a real connection with these characters. Although, at the same time, I did not, nor could I ever have, because, to state it frankly, I was a civilian, and they were soldiers.
Even such, I felt more for a character’s death in “All Quiet on the Western Front” than I have felt for a character in almost any other work of fiction (save in “A Farewell to Arms,” as I have formerly stated). And then, of course, the ending of the book - an ending so small and seemingly insignificant that I nearly flipped right past the page on which it was printed - was the final shock. I will not give away this ending out of respect for anyone who may be reading this who does not already know what it is, but to those of you who have taken the time to read “All Quiet on the Western Front,” you know that it is short, simple, and above all, tragic (and, in my case, somehow unexpected). Remarque had, in my opinion, the ability to turn a character, into a companion, not merely within the context of the stories he wrote, but in the eyes of the reader, as well.
Unless one is as into Great War literature as much as myself, I doubt that they have ever heard so much as the name A. D. Gristwood. Yet, he was, in my opinion, an even better war-story author than Remarque and Hemingway. All of these gentlemen were Great War writers, and yet, I think that Gristwood trumps the other two greatly. Like Hemingway and Remarque, Gristwood’s tales are believed to stem from his own experiences in the Great War. Gristwood was in the British military, wounded twice over the course of his service,
He is quite unsung, however, because he faced a problem that many other authors have faced: where to seek publication? Finally, sometime after the Great War had ended, Gristwood landed his first book, “The Somme” (and later, “The Coward”) in the hands of H. G. Wells, a popular author and publisher at the time. It is likely the case that the only reason why these two books ever even made it to the shelves of a public bookstore was because Wells forwarded it. And I agree with Well’s claim about the works: the dead do not write books, and so the only stories that a civilian can read to understand war are the ones written by the survivors. But Gristwood’s books, he continued, came close to a book by the dead.
Indeed, Gristwood does not focus on dialogue, imagery, or even character development, so much as he stresses the internal fear, anxiety, and dread felt by his main characters. The emotion his poor soldier’s suffered, and the challenges they faced, and the actions which they took to evade and survive them…These are not stories of bravery, they are stories of realistic and logical fear and cowardice.
In fact, Gristwood’s own life seems morbidly poetic in its own right. It is largely believed that Gristwood had self-inflicted a wound to evade combat the second time he was wounded, and that is presumed to be the inspiration behind “The Coward.” In fact, Gristwood’s work holds the best quote I have ever read in literature: “Fortune favours the coward.” For truly, it would seem that the main character in “The Coward” only survived because of his cowardly action, an action that was prompted by pure fear and utter terror of death. And, in life, the coward, though not often the winner, tends to come out of any given dilemma the least scarred.
Although, perhaps Gristwood was wrong, however, because, in 1933, at the age of thirty nine, he committed suicide. He had been diagnosed sometime earlier with post traumatic stress disorder (then termed “shell shock”). A few years prior to his untimely demise, his books had been taken out of print after a few unsuccessful years. The only way I was even able to read his two short books was because they were reprinted within the last two decades by a Great War library, and I happened to be in loose acquaintance with the designer of the new cover. Gristwood’s tales do not make war seem romantic for even an instant: they show how truly awful the practice is, and how far its victims will go to evade it.
I believe that even Gristwood pales in comparison to George Grabenhorst. To put it simply, “Zero Hour” is, in my opinion, the finest piece of Great War literature ever produced. It is amazing to me that such a profound work of literature should be so unsung. Grabenhorst was also a veteran of the Great War - a member of the German military, who was left with a touch of “shell shock.” His command of his story, “Zero Hour” (originally titled “Fahnenjunker Volkenborn,” as published in Germany), combines imagery, dialogue, and emotion to a perfect touch.
The characters of “Zero Hour” are very well developed, and, unlike in “All Quiet on the Western Front,” by Remarque, Grabenhorst shows a little more mercy to their fates. But that does not mean that the ones who suffer are to be disregarded. To the contrary, these deaths are more shocking than were nearly all of those from that famous work by Remarque.
What is interesting about Grabenhorst’s story, however, is that the war is at first presented as a regular, perhaps even desirable thing, at least in the main character’s eyes. Like all of the Great War pieces I have read, the situation, of course, grows progressively worse, and more solemn, and more hopeless for our protagonists.
In fact, the notion of insanity - the terrifying “violet sphere” that plagues the protagonist’s vision in his phases of night blindness - is more horrifying to me than any regular flesh wound. The sphere is described as dancing up and down in the darkness, appearing so innocent, and yet obstructing so much of the world. It were as if Salvador Dali had somehow managed to project his paintings into a book.
I could recommend no greater work of Great War literature than “Zero Hour,” by George Grabenhorst. Granted, it was only translated into English once, nearly one hundred years ago, and thus it still carries many translation errors that have been left uncorrected (such as the excessive use of the word “mine” when the word “shell” or “mortar” is obviously the accurate term). Nevertheless, I have never read, and doubt I ever will read, a better work of literature stemming from the Great War. Grabenhorst did it all: he created a thrilling and entertaining story with an excellent plot line, and at the same time showed what a truly despicable thing human-on-human warfare is.
Interpreting Steinbeck (A Guest Essay)
The authorship of this chapter is credited to “Prose.” user Mfrobs, who generously contributed it to this series.
“When I was very young and the urge to be someplace else was on me, I was assured by mature people that maturity would cure this itch,” opens John Steinbeck’s "Travels with Charley," a book that accounts for America in its entirety, much like Kerouac’s "On The Road," except Steinbeck was about sixty years old when he began this expedition and project and was moments away from accepting the Nobel Prize in Literature. He goes on, in "Travels with Charley," that for him, maturity never did take. That one of the most important minds to shape the landscape of America and impact the world never graduated from the phase of immaturity is greatly encouraging.
In a country and society where one is made to be significantly and materialistically successful and fiercely responsible and respectable, John Steinbeck refused this notion, exercising freedom and liberty and the principles of America by celebrating the lazy, the pitiful, drunks and convicts, the lost souls and the bums of civilization. Yet this only means something because his talent for the written word is mesmerizing and poetic.
Probably his greatest contribution to American letters is "The Grapes of Wrath." The opening sentence offers a wealth of interpretation and sets the pace for a beautifully scribed epic close to the realm of Homer’s "Odyssey" and Whitman’s "Leaves of Grass," “To the red country and part of the gray country of Oklahoma, the last rains came gently and did not cut the scarred earth.” The title comes from the "Battle Hymn of the Republic," a poem written during the [American] Civil War which uses biblical imagery to tell the story of an America being baptized, a new country where indeed all men are free and made equal, and the novel itself is occupied by forgiveness and redemption in a cruel world: tracing a family during the devastation of the Great Depression on their way to California, an ex-prisoner who was convicted for killing a man during a knife fight and has a revelation that all men are a part of a singular and greater soul, a former preacher and alcoholic who has only given up on the church because he cannot help himself in earthly desires, sexual activity in particular, becoming a character--almost representing the reader of the novel--of spirituality and of the material world simultaneously and a young pregnant woman who is abandoned by her husband and even in the wake of the realities in the ways of this world still offers herself fully to all those who need her warmth. Wedded to Steinbeck’s contribution is his absolute devotion to one simple concept often forgotten or overlooked or not recognized at all by the American public: complete and uncompromising compassion for humanity.
Earlier today, I went looking for my copy of "Tortilla Flats" which I read and annotated simply out of pleasure about seven years ago. Sadly I cannot find it and this is sad because it is a book that I remember becoming a very part of me. It is a wonderful and hilarious story and one of the few great novels that has a relaxed tone and essence and makes one chuckle all the way through. If I recall correctly, Steinbeck was adapting one of his favorite myths and legends in "King Arthur’s Knights," and the story follows three friends who have little money and almost no ambition and spend their days mostly laughing and drinking and sharing wine as though it were a holy kind of existence, and in many ways, it is a parody of commercial prosperity.
To put it plain, he can do it all. From the epic to a type of satire to very short novels that dig into every emotion. If a brief experience of his stuff is what you seek, then "Of Mice and Men" is recommended. It has got to be one of the earliest and finest ‘bromances’ of all time, chronicling two friends working with the dream of one day owning an acre of land for themselves and they really bust it trying to achieve this, before finally understanding, even as simple as this dream is, that it will never be accomplished. "Of Mice and Men" also explores a United States that overwhelmingly rejects minorities, basically out of tradition, and the consequences of this inherited and genealogical hatred and prejudices. In all his talent and poetic command of the sentence, Steinbeck is ultimately interested in equality for all people, classes, gender and races, which has always been considered unreasonable and juvenile in America. His effort for social justice on earth through his fiction would cost him his legacy and reputation as a very serious and important writer.
In an interview with the "Paris Interview" he admitted when he can’t write fiction, as is the case sometimes with anybody who tries at the art, he delves into poetry, even though he’s an amateur at the craft. It relieves him from the pressures of perfection and opens up the empty page for him, the spirit within, the child-like curiosity and freedom of expression, undoubtedly vital to creativity. And he commented on genius, saying that it is a young boy chasing a butterfly up a mountain. He’s unafraid and unashamed to recognize his own and forever youth and whether or not he’ll have me, I’m proud to call him one of my literary fathers.
As we take a break from more-recent authors, allow me to touch on philosophy and satire. In the introduction of this book, I stated that I love to read books for the stories within their pages much more than I do than for the hidden meanings within the works. While this is largely true, in many instances, the hidden meaning is the reason behind my incentive to read the work. Of course, in “Candide” (or, “The Optimist”), the meanings are not so hidden; rather, they are almost screamed out at the reader in the best way possible. And naturally, if I am discussing philosophers, I must talk about Voltaire.
François-Marie Arouet, otherwise known by his ‘nom de plume,’ Voltaire, is easily my favorite philosopher. Throughout the Enlightenment, this irreligious Frenchman was a powerful and influential speaker through the early to late eighteenth century. Among his very progressive views were that people of all races are equals, people of both genders are equals, religion is a fallacy (but should still be respected by everyone), slavery is bad, the indigenous peoples of the New World (Americas) deserved to be left alone by their European conquers…Keep in mind, Voltaire was making all of these affirmations back in the 1700s, which was not the most progressive time period to say the least. Therefore, it makes sense that he felt that he required a pen name.
From a historical perspective, one of the reasons for why Voltaire was so influential during his time was because of his writing - it was supposedly very easy to read. I have read “Candide,” and that is about as far as my experience with Voltaire goes, but what a book that is! The entire book is a satire, and it criticizes pretty much everything Voltaire was against, from slavery, to racial and gender inequality, to religion…I will say, however, that the book would be quite difficult to read for those who are not familiar with the time period.
Times change, and though the book may have been easy for the masses to read way back in the 1760s, I doubt I would have been able to read it with nearly as much ease as I had if I had not known much of the history of the time period. For instance, anyone who wishes to read “Candide” better know a good deal about the Protestant Reformation, the Age of Exploration, the political geography of Europe and upper Asia during the mid-1700s, and many of the important people and events that go along with these. If you know all of this, then, yes, “Candide” is quite easy to read (also, the jokes make a lot more sense).
The book is a satire and, in my opinion, the greatest satire ever written. Not only was it incredibly progressive for its time, but it is written like a clever story. The challenges that the characters face are humorously unrealistic and the gore is in most places highly exaggerated…it all makes for a very risible display.
And, of course, the characters are arguably the best part. Voltaire somehow managed to make each one of his main characters a stark opposite of each of the other ones, and the challenges they face exemplify this. For instance, Candide, the main character, who was taught to believe that everything happens for the best, faces a vast amount of terrible misfortunes. Of course, he would simply shrug them off and state: “my, if this was the best outcome, then I’d hate to see the worst!” Of course, then we have Martin, who, conversely to Candide, believes that everything happened for the worst. Then there is the German baron, who is serious and stern; and Cunégonde, who is loving and carefree. Pangloss, the wise old philosopher who preaches good omens; and the old lady, the wise old woman who preaches bad omens. There is also Cacambo, who faithfully accompanies Candide and the gang to the end of the book and is happily a believer in mysticism; as well as Friar Giroflée, who similarly accompanies Candide and the gang to the end of the book, but was forced into religion by his parents.
The entire set of characters are so humorously diverged in their beliefs, yet somehow manage to get along well (except for the German baron, who they finally sell into slavery to get rid of). The plot line is also in many ways very intricate: like a dancer, Voltaire circles around the story line and then finally closes everything together in the ending. There is no unity of place, either, as the story goes from Romania, to Bulgaria, to Spain, to South America, to France, to the Ottoman Empire, and so forth.
The reactions of the characters to their situations alone encompass much of the humor. For instance, when Candide hears from Cunégonde that a Romanian castle was invaded by Bulgarians during the war between the two countries, and the people within it were raped and tortured and killed, and all of their things stolen, Candide is naturally upset. But, not to worry! Because Cunégonde assures him that the Romanian soldiers stormed a Bulgarian castle, and raped and tortured and killed and stole from their inhabitants, so it all balanced out in the end. And, of course, our precious little Candide states: “oh my, it is a good thing that this happened for the best, because I would not want to witness the worst!”
And, finally, to cap off this wonderful satire, our band of characters encounter all sorts of hardships, from warfare, to storms at sea, to theft, to betrayal, to persecution, and even an earthquake…And yet they all still retain the exact same views and beliefs at the end of the book as they did at the very beginning. Because, no matter what happens, it would seem that people are so to stick to their own interpretations of the universe. To anyone who loves the history of the Enlightenment as much as I do, I could recommend no greater reading than that wondrous “Candide” that Voltaire published in 1759.
If I am being frank, my experience with Mark Twain stands with his satire alone. Long have I wanted to read “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” yet, every time I conduct a quick internet search, or propose a brief inquiry to someone who has read the work, I am almost always met with the same reply: something along the lines of, “it’s an overrated book that is merely a second-class work compared to Twain’s other stuff.” I, of course, do not hold an opinion on this, because I have not read the book, and that is because the assertions and advice of most others keep repelling me away from it.
But what experience I do have with Twain has proven to me that he is an exceptional author. His satire, for which he was the most widely known at his time, is quite cleverly-written. Contrary to Voltaire, whose “Candide” utilized a story-like structure, Twain’s satire is much closer to the satirical styles of the present day. There is the sarcastic way of speaking, the exaggerated statistics, the occasioned false praise of what is being criticized…
I will admit, though, Twain’s satires are not as timeless as those of Voltaire, which covered far broader themes. Yet, I would recommend anyone who has any interest in satire at all to read some of Twain’s satirical works. They are simply too good to pass up. Not only are they easy-reading, but they are simply humorous and very well written. “The Danger of Lying in Bed”, especially, I admire. Twain claims that, why should one purchase railroad insurance every time they travel? The chances of dying in a railroad incident are so incredibly slim, especially when compared to dying while asleep in bed. So, for logical reasons, one should purchase bed insurance!
And, as I have already mentioned, Twain’s style of satire is quite close to the manner which is commonly accepted today. Therefore, I would recommend that anyone seeking to venture into the literary world of satire read a few of Twain’s more notable pieces (I did, and I have been met with occasional success as a result). Styles of writing tend to change with time, but Twain: his satirical style still resembles much of that which is used today.
Perhaps someday I shall read “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” or “The Mysterious Stranger,” but, in my mind, Twain has been and will always be associated with the title of a master satirical mind. In a sense, while only a few people can create an entirely new world through the realms of fiction, even fewer can comment on the world that already exists in such a profound manner. Twain is easily one of those few.
The satires of Twain, however, do not even compare to the criticisms of those of Kate Chopin. Both of these authors had a fair amount to say about their time, to say the least, but if Twain and Chopin were to face each other…I think Twain gets it between the eyes. My experience with Chopin is one of intrigue and comprehension. However, what is most incredible to me is that Chopin, among countless other progressive authors of the time, managed to stand out. Was it simply by luck that she managed to do so, or was her writing really that good? I would like to believe that her writing was really that good, in fact.
“The Story of an Hour” was my first encounter with Chopin. (Admittedly, the first time I read it, I believed that the protagonist really had, in fact, died of joy from seeing her husband. A closer look, however, and I perceived the real interpretation). Chopin is unlike Sinclair very much; although both were progressive writers from around the same time period, Chopin is very sparing of visual imagery in her writing (whereas Sinclair went quite over the top with it).
Then there is “The Awakening.” As I understand it, it was Chopin’s intention that the reader know the ending of the book from its very first pages (it is quite difficult to avoid interpreting the implications and foreshadowing in the earlier pages of the text). For anyone who has not read “The Awakening,” however, and as of yet wishes to read it, do be warned, for I am about to address the ending.
I do not think that there are many books that I have delved deeper into than “The Awakening.” I spent much of the time I was reading it trying to decode the hidden meanings and less-discernible connections encrypted throughout the text. Of course, as was the custom with progressive works of literature around the Victorian Era, the main character does indeed die, by suicide, at the ending. And, as I stated, this was by no means a change in the style of literature at the time (conduct a quick internet search of “female suicides in Victorian literature,” and you will see what I mean).
So, I do not concede that Chopin’s work was very original for its time. However, it is because of that, that I believe that she was a very talented writer, for how else could she have stood out in her time when so many other writers sought to conform to the same styles as she? Chopin was not the inventor of a new form of literature, no, but something far better: the most distinguished and profound wielder of the writing styles of her time. Anyone can invent a style, but few can master them. Chopin managed to master it.