Poem Title: The Nest
Global Issue Focus: Children provide joy towards a community by giving them the purpose of parenthood
In the poem The Nest from the Green Rice poem collection, Lam Thi My Da utilises structure and symbolism to emphasise the global issue of how children provide joy towards a community by giving them the purpose of parenthood. The first piece of evidence that can be taken from the text is through the structure itself: a sonnet. Sonnet forms–multiple quatrains + rhyming couplet– are generally used to convey a form of love or appreciation for its topic. In the case of Shakespearean sonnets, they were utilised to discuss his warping love. But for The Nest, the sonnet form highlights the appreciation of the effect that children have on the community.
Having said that, the effects of the children are elaborated within the poem by the symbolism of eggs and dry straw. In lines 13-14, it is described that the “Strands of straw and grass” (13) are “Woven without soul” (14). Once the context of community is valued, it can be interpreted that although the community–made up of individuals of straw and grass–may be exist, there is no real purpose or culture. Later on in the poem, when the egg is introduced to the nest made up of straw and grass, the strands “Become musical strings//When they touch the egg” (15-16). In other words, if the egg were to represent the children and the youth of society, the community only becomes lively once they are introduced to the egg. Musical strings have purpose, that being bringing music and sound into the world, which contrasts greatly against the previous line that stated that such individuals are “woven together without soul”.
This idea of ‘sound versus silence’ is not only shown in the previous example, but also through the description of the egg: “A single ivory egg//Like life’s chanting voice” (5-6). The chanting voice of the egg gives connotations of a lively, invigorating crowd, which overpowers the “Mysterious silence” (1) that mentioned in line 1. The silence references the muteness, possibly referring the concept that although society may be made up of the collection of individuals, there is no culture that brings joy or purpose. However, the egg, being the youth that it is, gives the gift and job of parenthood to the community, allowing such individuals to pour their soul into such development. From there, the community is able to build their identity around, which is referenced in lines 17-18: “Then the egg seems//To give the nest a heart”. It’s through the “heart” that the egg(the youth) pumps both life and soul through the community.
Article Link: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/books/authors/rc-sherriff-writer-couldnt-escape-horror-trenches/
This article details about the difficulties that RC Sherriff had encountered, not only in his WWI years, but during the production process of Journey’s End. At the time of its conception, the entertainment climate was mostly bright, energetic, and optimistic. Journey’s End contrasted this with its grim, realistic portrayal of war. This article does mention however that the play was received with warm regards in the naturalistic acting aspect. The main argument here is that most critic reviews miss the big picture that Sherriff is trying to display; instead of calling for a pacifist society, Sherriff is highlighting both the heroism of soldiers as well as the harsh environment that no human being should experience, further pushing the idea of heroism.
I would have to agree with both the columnist and Sherriff on this one, as the play itself holds non-exaggerated, realistic character archetypes. Despite their understandable fear and anxiety, the soldiers within Journey’s End are able to enter the battlefield again and again, knowing that their lives would eventually be taken in the battlefield. These are portrayal of acts of heroism, rather than the lives of heroes. I find this to be especially important as in reality, everybody has their own flaws. Alcoholism, cowardice, all these things are a part of some of us, but that does not take away from the certain moments that define our greatest moments.
As I re-read and analyse the play after this article about RC Sherriff, I’m sure to focus emotional flaws that create the realistic portrayals of the characters. From Stanhope’s alcoholism, to the naivety of Raleigh, I’m sure that Sherriff twists such characters in a way that their sacrifices are great regardless. Just as the article details, “war is loathsome and yet it leads to perhaps the most inspiring feats of heroism”.
Looking at the introductory text towards the Green Rice poem collection, I can clearly see that these poems are not just a reflection of the poet Lâm Thị Mỹ Dạ’s history, but also commentary on the limited social standing that women have within society. Lâm Thị Mỹ Dạ also mentions specifically the “traditionally Confucian culture”(xiii) as to blame for this gender imbalance of right; however, having said that it seems that she doesn’t question the validity of such beliefs. Instead, she establishes that women can be more capable than given credit for, all thanks towards their “cultural base” (xiii). I find this particularly interesting as this distances her from other feminist poets, but this could all stem from her specific upbringing as a young Vietnamese girl growing up in the Vietnam war.
The introduction also specifically mentions the motif of passing time, which most certainly is prevalent–especially after reading through the poem collection myself. Taking into consideration of the examples given in the introduction and the poems themselves, Lâm Thị Mỹ Dạ flitters through different perspectives of women, being both young and old at certain times. I like to think that Lâm Thị Mỹ Dạ does this to represent not only women of her age and stature, but also the young girls and old women that also contributed towards the war. In class, we also read certain articles on the different roles that Vietnamese women had during the Vietnam War, and I noticed that across different historical recounts, the role that Vietnamese women had are unfortunately underrated. To me, it seems very likely that Lâm Thị Mỹ Dạ is not only writing these poems to reflect upon her life, but also the thousands of women during the Vietnam War.
Regarding form, this introduction also talks about how the English translation was adapted from the original collection of poems written in Vietnamese. I’m surprised that the translator had such in-depth conversations with Lâm Thị Mỹ Dạ, meaning that the English version wasn’t just a simple literal translation. Instead, different literary devices such as the poems’ flow, were “translated” as well through the lack of punctuation in separate lines. I think that although the emotional connection of the Vietnamese language is clearly disregarded in the English translation, the emotional weight of such translations allow Martha Collin’s version of Green Rice to be just as valuable as an insight into the perspective of Vietnamese women in the Vietnam War and its aftermath.
In John Gardner’s novel Grendel, Gardner provides critique and commentary on many contemporary issues through not only the complex characterization of Grendel, but also the actions of characters within the ever-changing environment. In Chapter 3 specifically, Gardner focuses on the global issues of Culture and Power by utilizing Grendel, an outsider of society, to criticize the modern culture of idolization and how power is more often than not just an empty, meaningless title.
Evidence of this can be found in page 52, where the Shaper is described to have been “thinking up formulas for what to say next”. Here, Gardner is suggesting the fact that the tales of the heroes are merely manufactured for a certain purpose; in this case, to entertain and inspire other warriors/heroes. However, because these tales are fictional, the validity of said heroes’ actions are put into question. Therefore, if all the stories of heroes are all fables, what *really* constitutes a hero in Grendel’s world? It is later on in page 54, where Grendel comes to the realization that not only are humans lying to themselves about their own heroic deeds, but are actually indeed just as monstrous as he is. All this time Grendel had been looking for a connection to human characteristics, but all he found was that the humans were not the perfect image he sought to become. Instead, they were violent, erratic, and absolutely wasteful.
Taking Grendel’s critique on the falsehood of heroism, we can apply this towards the modern day issue of idolization in modern media and society. It seems that with the rise of modern technology and social media, even the most remote and extreme individuals are able to garner a platform to support their views. It was commonplace and still is that “social idols” often obtain their celebrity and idol status rather infamously, and still despite that, thousands–if not millions–still perceive them as a role model. As Gardner puts it within his novel, the question that is directly quite pointedly to our culture is that “if these are the types of people that our society values, how does that reflect the core principles of our community?”
The expression of contrasting emotions found within “Grendel” is what makes internal conflict such an integral part of the story. Focusing on the ‘contrasting emotions’ aspect, Grendel’s situation closely mirrors the modern day issue of mental health and the stigma that surrounds it. Like many today, Grendel struggles with his identity as his subconscious is torn between two realities, whether he likes it or not. Specific examples that are often overlooked nowadays are those struggling with bipolar disorder, a mental disorder that is commonly linked with depression and anxiety. Earlier in the novel, Grendel acts erratically and irrationally, first screaming at the world before sarcastically crying in a pool of his own pity. These are the obstacles that those with bipolar disorder must face on a daily basis (as Grendel does): switching from periods of intensified high to periods of crippling depression. Unfortunately, as these individuals are unable to control their emotions, they lose their identity and ultimately shutting them outside of society, hence the stigma around mental health. Grendel is also a victim of such ostracism, as evident from the isolation that Grendel experiences and the angst that emerges from such.
Why do we study literature? Well, I tend to think that we study literature in order to understand the message behind the superficial text. Words don’t always mean what they literally mean; perhaps they imply a completely different message, whether it be optimistic or something more sinister. If all texts meant what they literally read as, what’s the difference between exploring a book’s world versus walking outside? Hidden meanings provide writers and authors a method of emphasizing a certain message that readers often find more satisfying once they discover the secret. A personal example of mine can be found in my previous analysis of Philip K. Dick’s “The Man in the High Castle”, where I discovered that the author was providing a form of console for his readers –this book was published during the peak of the Cold War. Evidence of this was found from the espionage plot-line, where the conclusion left readers with the message of “you have done everything you can, all you can do is pray and hope”. Although it may sound very bleak, Dick provides a realistic, down-to-earth–yet still hopeful–expectation that doesn’t fill his readers with false hope. Again, I dug out this message through analyzing brief dialogue sprinkled across the entire novel, taking out certain quotes and characterizations of certain protagonists.
But then the question arises: how do we study literature? Because each author has their own writing style and personality, there is no direct formula that allows the reader to force out the deeper meaning of the text. Based on my personal experience, I tend to first read the superficial text, and understand the literal meaning. This allows me to understand what the author knows contextually, as they must at least know what they’re writing about in the first place. Secondly, I try to decipher a certain tone towards the piece itself. Is it positive? Negative? Neutral? Once I determine one of these three, I then try to pick a certain adjective that captures the essence of the literary piece. Sometimes, it may be more than one, or just be too complex to be described by adjectives, but a usual example could be “frustrated” or “confused”. Once that is determined, I keep this author’s tone and mindset as I reread the text, feeling around if certain phrases sound differently with this new context. This may come in the form of certain comparisons, motifs, or even literary devices such as alliteration. More often than not, I am able to connect multiple dots (collected from reading with a different perspective) to create a general idea of what the author is trying to convey. In order to solidify this new message that I’ve garnered from the text, I would delve deeper in to the piece and find more evidence that would support my hypothesis. Through this method, I am able to not only understand the literal story that is often used to entertain the reader, but also grasp the deeper message that the author is trying to portray subtly though their work.