Category Archives: literature

Metamorphosis by Kafka

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When I heard the end of Metamorphosis on audio books, I was sure I was missing a CD. The ending left me hanging. Did the man never get turned back into a man? Did his family rightly move on and past him, forgetting him, burning the bridges?

I got the book. And the ending was the ending.

It disturbed me. But the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. The brother’s metamorphosis — never explained — into a bug brought about a positive transformation in his father, mother and sister. He died, and it brought them back to life. Just like the metamorphosis of a bug. The worm must die for the butterfly to come alive.

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Only when her brother dies can the sister start her own grown-up life.

The novela, filled with angst of rejection, ultimately explores the need of sacrifice for others to succeed. It is not a Christian parable, but there are elements of Christian narrative in it. Christ had to die to bring out the best in all of us.

For Christmas, I want your forgiveness

havisham estella

The altercation between Estella and her adopted mother.

The fact that I’m 48 doesn’t make me any smarter or wiser than my high school students. It makes me more experienced, particularly in the area of mistakes. I’ve committed more errors than these kids by simple abundance of years.

Of all my sins and guilt, the thing I regret the most are the sins (errors) I committed against my children. I offended my parents rather nonchalantly. I offended my brother and my spouse. But what hurts the most is the conscience of wrongs done against my kids.

GREAT EXPECTATIONS

GREAT EXPECTATIONS

Can my children forgive me?

Miss Havisham moans as she wanders aimlessly around her estate in Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations. She has lost her only love, the love of her adopted daughter, whom she sought to protect against jilting love by making her incapable of love. Call it karma, but the girl who cannot love turned the lack of love against her adopted mother.

So she moans. Her life is now meaningless. Can we forgive ourselves for the wrongs done against our children? Can they forgive us? The cycle of victim-victimizer can only be broken by forgiveness.

Rebellion is fun, right? Lord Byron provocateur extraordinaire

prometheusThere is a certain attraction to being a provocateur. Lord Byron intrigues with his idea of the Satanic Savior in his poem Prometheus, in which he describes the human condition as suffering.

To his own peril, Prometheus violates Zeus’ command and gives fire to humanity to help him on Earth. The parallels are obvious: It is the Serpent who gifted mankind with what God, the Great Party-Pooper, selfishly denied to humanity (in the Biblical account, knowledge of good and evil).

lord-byronBut the comparison breaks down. First, Prometheus truly wanted to benefit mankind; Satan wanted to destroy mankind. Second, Prometheus wanted to give mankind what was beneficial; Satan, what was harmful. Third, Zeus feared an uprising of mankind much like he led against the Titans and thus wished to deprive man of fire as a weapon; God, only loved mankind and wished for voluntary corresponding love.

Students go giddy as they drink the intoxicating idea that rebellion is not only fun but right. However, it might be good to 1) consider the dissimilarities and 2) examine Byron’s life and fruits to meditate on the wisdom of following his life philosophy.

Teasing you to re-think your stereotypes

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Who is Twyla and who is Roberta? Your guess is still only an assumption, that Morrison has pulled you into to making to expose your stereotypes.

Toni Morrison’s only short story, Recitatif, invites you to guess the race of the two main characters, Twyla and Roberta, because Morrison carefully avoids stating it.

I always ask my U.S. Lit students at my Christian school in Santa Monica who is black and who is white. Results are always divided. Then my students begin to argue and pick out pieces of evidence from the story. This is a useful learning dynamic because it forces students to think, to use evidence to support their conjecture, but ultimately it is futile. Morrison’s genius is such that, being a African American writer, she writes about race with grace and gentleness.

Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison

The story is completely void of bitterness. As a matter of fact, she doesn’t even accept the conventional wisdom about racism. Both girls (all we ever learn conclusively is that one is white and the other is black, and your best guess is only conjecture) attack a mute, bow-legged “tan”-colored cook at St. Bonaventure’s, where they are housed as quasi-orphans. The picture of racism is simple: there is an almost irresistible urge in all mankind to hurt the powerless.

It is a haunting picture. It is a picture of sin. Left unchecked, sin will drive us to evil. Nobody escapes its clutches alone.

Morrison invites us to reflect about racism. It is nothing innate to whites or to blacks. In fact, it has very little to do with skin color. It has to do with the wicked, very human, innate heart condition to flaunt power over another. And in exercising that power, we humans harm.

Wow, this story explains much more than just racism! It explains why there is war.

But it comes up short in terms of finding a solution. In fact, the ending can seem anti-climatic. Roberta agonizes over the memory. She cannot fix for certain whether she and Twyla actually kicked the cook or did they just want to do it in their hearts.

Photo source: I don’t own the rights to the picture, and I’m not making any money on it.

John Donne: from rake to Christian

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from wikipedia

My Norton Anthology can’t comprehend a true conversion, so it tends to explain John Donne’s experience with Christ in purely economic terms. He was born Catholic and as such was ill-favored in the new, Protestant England. In order for him to land some well-paying jobs, he needed to convert.

There is probably some truth to this. But on the main, it duffs the most dramatic shift in literature. Donne goes from erotic seduction poetry to striking poems about a passionate love for Christ. The dramatic turn-around in subject matter cannot simply be explained by the ludicrous fishing-for-better-employment theory. An insincere poet could not write so feelingly.

This is what the world does. Because they don’t understand a religious experience, they spin it off as some other sort of phenomenon.

Teaching poetry in Christian schools

I teach English at a Christian high school, but I loathe the Christian books because they cudgel the poor kids over the head with boorish didactic works which make kids’ eyes glaze over. But with the Norton Anthology, I had to encourage students to employ their analyzing capabilities and to “read between the lines.”

Do you understand conversion?