Where does poetry come from?

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I come from haunts of coot and hern, 

I make a sudden sally, 

And sparkle out among the fern, 

To bicker down a valley. 

Even before Freud, people would have observed that dreams are the result of our unfulfilled desires. This is plain common sense. Freud made this idea systematic without bothering to make it scientific. He resorted to speculations. 

Art and literature, especially poetry, seem to have the same origin as dreams when we considers the similarities in their form and content. We all have our instincts, mostly biological in nature. But our sense of self, the ego and our sensitivity to the world, the super ego, suppresses our instincts.

Finding no way to materialize, our instincts go for the second options, they ideate as dreams in our sleep when our guard is down,  and when we are watchful as daydreams  or art or poetry, good poetry that is. In dreams art and poetry our instincts go for two kind of disguises, condensation in which several instincts are all fused into one and displacement in which instead of hitting the bull’s eye we hit something else. 

Translated into poetry these disguises become metaphor and metonymy, two basic ways of symbolism. Metaphor which we also seen in homonyms and other figures of speech and metonymy as we see in sublimation. These are only convenient examples.  

Freud calls this wish fulfillment which is not the same as materializing our real instinctual desire. Needless to say it is not as good as the real, second best. So, when it comes to poetry, like a child who over decorates a toy house, we embellish the second best to more satisfactory for us and more enjoyable for others.  

For example, one may wish to have children but has only Dorothy as a companion. No chance there. The sexual instinct is here suppressed by the ego and super ego, and rightly so. This leads to an ideation of the instinct into an incestuous dream about the sister (more direct) day dream about a solitary reaper (less direct) or a poem on daffodils (symbol of fertility, disguised or indirect) 

We don’t have access to Wordsworth’s dream but his two poems are there for us. In Solitary Reaper we see several of the instincts fused into the form of a reaping girl, enjoyment, fertility, (“Reaping and singing by herself”) Thus the girl becomes a metaphor or the poet’s (and everyone else’s) biological instincts. 

In Daffodils, it is not only that the flowers being symbol of fertility is again a metaphor, it is also a sight the poet has often enjoyed watching with his sister as they went for long walks in Lake District. Perhaps, more than the symbolism, it is their association with his sister which prompted the poet.  The lines,
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

say a lot.

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The Stoat by John MacGahern

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Autobiographical to a large extent, The Stoat by John MacGahern, an Irish writer, is also a study of impulses and instincts. The story is bracketed off literarally by a display of animal insticts and aggression. This story was rewritten several times and revised more than once.

The story pivots on different themes. Apart from human relationships and the animal insticts in all living beings, the story is also about values, persoal refinement and opportunism. The first paragraph and the last paragraph are mostly about how, a rabbit is killed but not eaten by a stoat. The reference to a stoat appears three more times in the story. Thus inhuman aggression can be considered the main theme of the story.

All night the rabbit must have raced from warren to warren, he thought, the stoat on his trail. Plumper rabbits had crossed the stoat’s path but it would not be deflected ; it had marked down this one rabbit to kill”

This sentence in the second paragraph of the story repeated at the end of the story raises the story from the level of mundane allegory to that of subtle parallelism. However, there is no sin of generalisation here as there are different kinds of characters in the story. Contraty to this parallelism, it is a dying lady who stalks a robust widower.

Miss Mcabe was the real name of a lady with whom the authors father was in love. So, the author himself can be considered as the narrator of the story. The story which has been a puzzle for several critics, is different from its true life version only in its details. It being not so different from real life is one reason why the author gave up working on it any further and avoided it from his major collections.

The story has a very simple plot. A father rents a cottage where he spends a month every August. He, a widower, plans to remarry and puts up an advertisement. After testing and trying about a fifty responses, he settles for Miss McCabe, a school teacher. One day, the son brings home a rabbit which a stoat attacked and left half dead. The son had ended its life. The son cooks it and enjoys it with his father and Miss McCabe who was staying at a hotel near the beach close to them. That night, back in the hotel, the lady shows signs of heart failure. On hearing this the father decides to leave her. In the end, the boy feels more than a little irritated about the father’s ways. In between we hear also about the boy’s uncle with whom the boy is in very good terms.

The key point appears right in the middle of the storry. The uncle and the boy are in a bar where he tells the boy that he likes his company and hopes to see more of him if his father remarries.

He’d like that too. With his uncle everything seemed open: ‘Life seems to have no purpose other than to reproduce itself. Life comes of matter and goes back into matter. We inherit it and pass it on. We might as well take as decent a care of it as we can. You can’t go against love and not be in error.’ Nothing was closed. This freedom was gaiety, even though it seemed that it caused him to seem most lonely.

Eventually, we see how much the son is influenced by his uncle and how much he resents his father’s behaviour and how he chooses to stand alone and be strong. For his uncle, nothing was closed. For the father, nothing was open and he could not even reveal to his girlfriend how his son came by a rabbit he cooked for her.

The interactions between the boy and the uncle on one end, between the rabbit and the stoat on the other end and between the father and his girls somewhere in the middle, this story gives a spectrum of relationships, from co-existence to parasitism to agression and dominance.

When the boy brings the dead rabbit, the father teases the boy’s and his uncle’s humane side,

“No doubt, it can be another specimen for youself and your uncle to mull over”
To this the boy has a proper reply hinting at the father’s narrowminded politics,

“Well, it is as good as what you find in The Independent

This defines the difference between the uncle and the father since the political magazines generally care only about the lives of humans and this is only a natural outcome of the misled quest for survival. The uncle and the son have soared over what is natural and refined themselves to have better values and principles in life. When he comes to know the father’s joke about getting grant to improve the look of women who responded to the ad, the uncle coments that,

“…the man must finally have gone off his rocker.”

and says to the son that,

“At least, if he does get married, it’ll get him off your back.”

Finally it is the son who tries to make the father see that he is being too selfish. But the father fails to see the point. The insight and objectivity help the son see deep into situations and people. He sees ‘with terrifying clarity that it was the stoat the father had glimpsed in Miss. McCabe’s hotel toom’ where she was recuperating after a heart attack.

Even though the story is ridden with details, everything is carefully chosen to make meaning. Miss McCabe and the father revels in the dinner and looks forward to more while the son feels bad about having been part of what he sees as buffoonery. The uncle later contrasts a driving licence with a marriage licence. Another example is the opportunism shown by the people at he post office when they see so many responses to the marriage ad. All this obviously support the theme.

Stabat Mater by Sam Hunt

Stabat Mater by Sam Hunt is obtrusive by design since it is supposed to convey different levels of meaning and interpretation to the reader. To avoid making it sound simple the poet has used a peculiar structure, title and expressions. Autobiographical in meaning, it has a universal appeal beyond its subjectivity. Using a title which refers to Christian mythology, the poet gives the poem a philosophic overtone also.

His father was much older than his mother, in fact older than her own father. This made her seem to be so small to herself. It also made her continue to address him as Mr. Hunt (his surname) even after they were married. Their son, the poet, finding tit written in a book, probably her gift,

‘To dear Mr. Hunt, from his loving wife.”

questioned his mother why she addressed him thus. First ‘she was embarrassed’ to discuss it but later she explained to how hard it had been for her to call him anything else since he was even elder than her own father. She confesses that this had made her seem so small. Relatively, it would have made him look so big to her. It is hard to say whether there was a physical difference between them in reality or whether it was only what she felt.

Later in life, as the poet’s father grew older and weak, his mother ‘still like a girl’ addressed him by all sort of names and takes care of him as if he is just a child. Shakespeare calls old age second childhood. But she gives the poet signals that all this is nothing but a game.

In the last lines the poet is trying to figure out what game his mother seemed to be playing. She seems to be trying to tell him that when he matures he should learn to leave thing behind and move along. Walking away refers to journey and is a symbol of growing up. Childhood and youth are phases of our life we walk away from and long to go back to. His mother married too early in her life to an old man and then missed her youth much. In her old age she tries to act like a young girl

‘She calls my father every sort of name;’

but the presence of her ages husband doesn’t allow her to forget her situation. She is trying to reverse the clock by doing so. She makes a game of it to show her son that there is no going back in life.

She has come to the sad realization that she missed all the fun in her life. She doesn’t want her son to repeat her mistake.

This is similar to what happens in our relationship with God too. Earlier in our life we are made to revere god like a much higher being and later in life as we realize the true meaning of God and his love we continue to have the same image of Him in our mind. We try to conceive him in different ways (love for one) but we never lose the fear of God. Virgin Mary’s changing relationship with her son should be able to tell us what our own relationship with God has to be. Once we walk away or distance ourselves from God, it is hard to return.

The Siege: Who is WHo

 

Anna Mikhailovna Levin Protagonist, Kolya’s mother, Vera’s and Mikhail’s father, nursery assistant at the local nursery school and works under Elizaveta Antonova, falls into a relationship with Andrei, her childhood friend, befriends Maria Petrovna, her father’s lover later in life, works hard at the dacha and saves her own and her brother’s life, very practical and hopeful, strong and aware of her own feelings and emotions and limitations, determined and persevering. She is 18 when her mother dies and 23 when the blockade happens.
Andrei A dedicated doctor, talks medical science all the time, Romantic and falls in love with Anna. He comes from Siberia and stays with the Levins during the worst part of their life. He is very romantic and has great respect for Anna’s father and his work. One day on his way to hospital he almost gets lost in the snow storm. He is much loved by Kolya too.
Maria Petrovna An actress, fall in love with her long time friend Mikhail after her gets married, tried to befriend Vera, her lover’s wife and fails, befriends her lover’s daughter Anna, lives with them during the siege and dies before it is all over. We are introduced to her through Anna’s memories of her childhood and then when Anna really goes to her dacha to draw her portrait as directed by her father. It is also interesting that Marina forces Anna to draw the portrait of her father as he lies dead. She was pregnant from her relationship with Mikhail before Anna was born, it was a boy but she opted for abortion. She was seeing a doctor who fell for her and she told Mikhail that she had had an abortion and he was upset and wrote some poems of grief and Vera found the poems insincere. She is not a supporter of Stalin and lives in her past glory. She is suspected to be a rebel and it is true. She later sort of sacrificed her life for Anna’s family by saving two bottles of jam for her and she couldn’t use them. A very interesting character, very much like Andrei and when Andrei hears that she sat near Mikhail’s dead body for days, he asks Anna whether she also would do the same. Anna refuses first and then yields.
Mikhail Ilyich Levin A passionate writer, he speaks good German and French apart from Russian. The time he spent in two European countries as early as 1912 has enriched him and also made him a suspect. The government can always label him as man with suspicious foreign connections. He writes stories and lives on his translation and editing work. The writers’ committee has put a ban on his works. They found that his work is not as optimistic as Stalin expects it to be. It is full of gloom and doom. So, he keeps on writing and keeps them to himself. He is a lover of Pushkin’s poems and can recite most of them. When he dies Marina places a book in his hands and it is a book of poems by Pushkin. Marina sits near his dead body for days and when she dies, Anna and Andrei place their dead bodies together on the same bed and they are buried close together in a mass grave. They could never unite like this while they were alive. Anna says that Marina loved him but he only loved the fact that Marina loved him. He was very devoted to his wife and admired Marina for her artistic qualities and he is happy to see those qualities inherited by his daughter. His second child Kolya is very affectionate towards him as if he is his grandfather and not his father but we don’t see him showing much affection to his son Kolya. He dies after getting wounded in bombing. Andrei brings him home and the whole family takes care of him till he dies. His body is left like that for more than ten days since there is not one strong enough to drag it to the cemetery.

 

 

Kolya He is only five or six and is unhealthy in several ways. He considers his sister like his mother and his father like his grandfather. His mother died at his birth. He is a typical child with his interest in war games, stubborn nature, hunger, insensitivity to the harsh realities of life. Anna says he is a typical Levin because of his studious nature. It is by pure luck and the care shown by the adults around him that he survives the blockade. When he is hungry, there are three things that Anna is able to provide him with during the blockade; a root of liquorice, her own fingers or a piece of his old leather school bag which was already used for soup a few days before!
Vera Vera is a radiologist and she is totally aware of health issues but she relents to her husband’s need for a full fledged family and opts to get pregnant and dies delivering a child. Probably, when Mikhail heard that the foetus Marina aborted was male, it would have promoted Vera to try her luck at giving him a male child. A very amiable person, scholarly, unrelenting in personal matters, not so much of an artist, Vera is always upset about Marina and refuses to have anything to do with her. Paradoxically, it is Marina who gets to be with Mikhail on his eternal sleep. Anna has some sweet memories of her two-week life with her mother at the dacha during a vacation.
Olya A student Vera was very fond of. After Vera’s death she lost her job and was suspected as a rebel and faced much hardship in life.
Elizaveta Antonova Anna’s boss at the childcare centre; a typical bureaucrat who is not at all creative or sensitive and ironically she is in charge of very small children; she is a stern administrator as she throws her weight around; being a turncoat she manages to get to Moscow when the blockade gets worse and lives there safe and secure
General Hunger and General Winter Though these are made to sound like the fantasy names of two kinds of hardships, later we find that the word general is used literally. Hunger and Winter affects everyone in general and they prove to be lacking in several humane qualities. They are the characters in a story written by Mikhail and it becomes a prophesy in his own life.
Darya Alexandrovna She is Anna’s neighbour and she is the first one to inform Anna of the coming catastrophe. She demonstrates how people are going to behave from then onwards by refusing to giver  Anna  jar of honey she had promised.
Vasya Sokolov Vasya Sokolov is one of the Sokolovs in Leningrad. He played building a dam with Anna when he was young. They had built it across a stream fed by melting snow. Anna’s hair grip falls into the dam and it disappears as their tiny dam breaks letting the water flow through. Later in life as Vasya is driving a government truck loaded with food for the starving village, his truck breaks down and all he needs is a hair grip to lengthen a circuit. He can’t find it and he dies in the snow with a small girl wail about a lost hair grip still ringing in  his ears.
Katya She is a little 15 year old absent minded girl who dies in the trenches dug by the volunteers when a wall collapses on them. Being slow in movement, she is not able to move out of harm’s way. She was digging with Anna for more than a week and used to be very nice to her. They wrap her body in a some rag and throw it on the roadside.
Katinka This is another young woman who is digging with Anna.
Evgenia Evgenia another young woman used to be very optimistic about herself. She become a prostitute later on and comes to Anna’s help whenever she has some trouble in the market place or in the street.
Pavlov He is in charge of the food supply or the rations during the blockade. His position is far from being a covetable one in that he is the one to take decisions about how much they are allowed to eat each day. He is the one has to prevent people from dying and at the same time hope that more people die to leave their rations for the living.
Zina She is Anna’s neighbour and her husband who works at a factory in Leningrad has convinced her that the Levins are rebels and that they should have nothing to do with them. When her baby is weak, Anna decides to share Kolya’s ration with her though Mariana objects to this. A few days later she brings her baby who has been dead for three days to Anna and asks her to draw a portrait of her baby.
Fedya Feyda, once against the Levins, is later moved by Anna’s selfish act of giving Kolya’s ration of sugar to his and Zina’s baby later patches up with her. He contacts kidney disease but he survives the blockade more dead than alive. His wife adores him.

 

 

The Destructors

The Destructors by Graham Greene is an interesting short story which has allegorical touches. The story tells us how some unruly boys, vying with one another for leadership in their gang, go beyond all levels of evil and redefine it as a motiveless act.
There are three levels of characters in the story: Old Misery who owns the house, the gang of unruly boys and a truck driver. People at the church are also mentioned. The story happens near a car park overlooked by buildings which have been partly destroyed by ‘the last bomb of the first blitz’. The house owner Mr. Thomas whose nick name is Old Misery is actually nice to the children. But that doesn’t prevent Trevor, one of the boys,  from proposing to the gang that they should destroy Old Misery’s house completely when he is away. This proposal impresses the others and Trevor is voted up as the next leader and the old leader Blackie has to step down. None could come up with a worse mischief they could enjoy during the week. The story reminds us of Lord of the Flies by William Golding.
Houses have always been symbols of security and refuge. Hence they also stand for human institutions. Even the parliament is referred to as a house. House as a symbol appears in several parables in the Bible. Old Misery’s house stands for the established religions which were attacked more than a little by the two World Wars. People who had always been living in misery (old misery from the first sin?) had sought refuge in religions. But the religions lost their strength when the atrocities of war eroded many people’s trust in humanity and human kindness. This made e.e.cummings, a famous poet,  coin the phrase ‘human unkind’ in place of human kind.  The unruly gang is worse in its evil than those who steal or murder. They have no motive. It is motiveless malignity. They think there is no point in being vengefully evil.  Insisting that nothing should be stolen from the house they are destroying, the hero of the story Trevor says about the house owner, “There’d be no fun if I hated him.”
The truck driver who sees Old Misery’s house being pulled down bay unseen hands laughs at it, not realizing that they might destroy his house the next day. At another level, those who passively watch the age-long institutions like religion and family disintegrate or made to disintegrate do not realize that the society and its institutions came into being to protect people and if they vanish we are again defenseless against evil.
More than the descriptions, it is in the dialogues that we find suggestions about the hidden meanings of the story.
“Wren built that house, father says.”
“Who’s Wren?”
“The man who built St. Paul’s”
“Who cares?” Blackie said. “It’s only Old Misery’s.”
In these lines we hear the echo of Satan addressing the other fallen angels in the pandemonium. Through the name of Wren, the man who built St.Paul’s Church, we are reminded of the people who organized the religions. However, now the religions belong to the miserable masses.
Again,
“What do you mean a beautiful house?” asked Blackie. They all hate beauty and culture.  They are things that flow along with the flow of life down the ages. It is interesting to see that they also consider the flow of things as a power against them. The pipes through which water flows are broken, the wires through which current flows are clipped and currency (that which moves around) is burned.
In very few words we are shown what we stand to lose when social institutions symbolized by Old Misery’s house are taken away from us. Old Misery’s helplessness is revealed when he wails over his disappeared house:
“He gave a sobbing cry. “My house,” he said, “Where is my house?”  The truck driver is passive but still makes fun of him. “Search me,” the driver said.
Thus, it is easy to see that The Destructors has more to it than meets the eye. As we read the story, we also want to see the children being successful. If the destruction was checked at some point, most of the readers would be disappointed. Thus it makes the additional point that we are not free of aggression and destruction. The popular movies and novels are all about destruction though they uphold constructive values at some point towards the end. There is a basic instinct in man to revel in his own aggression and it is through culture, art, religion and other similar activities that we overcome such tendencies.

Summer Farm

Summer Farm by Norman MacCaig is a very philosophical poem. Like Frost’s poems, it has a deceptive simplicity about it. In the beginning the poet observes simple things around him but ends up in introspection. He realizes his own place in the universe. He looks at an ordinary pastoral scene. Living and non-living things attract his attention. He does not find them especially beautiful or attractive. Each image is self-contained and there are no similes or metaphors. It is rather a factual recording like,

 

Nine ducks go wobbling by in two straight lines

 

The poet is observing it all but he is not thinking. He says he is afraid where a thought might take him. Then he strikes a comparison between himself and a grasshopper. He thinks that like a grasshopper which,

 

Unfolds his legs and finds himself in space

 

He might also discover himself and go into another level of perception. The next moment he is at another level thinking about himself as a multi-layered entity, with all those selves threaded on time. Then he realizes that he is the center of his existence and that there are layers of farms around him. He says that with a metaphysical hand he has lifted the farm like a lid.

 

This poem is remarkable for its thought content and the subtle ways in which the poet conveys his thoughts.

There are several simple words that the poet has strewn all over the poem with a view to give the poem a different level of meaning. A wisp of straw is made to look like tame lightning. This is to show that a different perspective can change the very nature of things. The comparison is between two things which are entirely different from each other. Water and glass which usually have no colour of their own are presented as colourful. Along with this the poet gives factual descriptions to show that he doesn’t see any difference between reality and appearance.

There is indeed a reference to perception when he talks about the eye of a hen.

 

A hen stares at nothing with one eye

 

Except owls, the birds see two different things with their eyes and then choose between them. Even such a simple phrase like ‘then picks it up’ is loaded with meanings. The hen has picked up nothing. Or whatever it has picked up is nothing. This idea of void is repeated in the following lines when he says ‘empty sky’ ‘dizzy blue’  ‘not thinking’ and ‘finds himself in space’.

 

So the poet ponders on nothing and everything. He does not think they are different. He looks at the face of a grasshopper and thinks it is made of several plates like an armour. The face of a grasshopper indeed has this look. The poet uses this image to suggest the idea that there are layers of existence.

 

The next moment the poet goes into introspection and thinks of his own existence as multi-layered. He thinks he is also a pile of selves which are revealed to him one at a time (threaded on time). He now explores it in depth.
To explore himself in depth, he has to assume a different perspective. He does this by adopting a metaphysical point of view (with metaphysic hand). He removes the veil of illusion that one is different from the other. Metaphysics say that the world is one and the difference is due to our senses. They believe that there is a higher reality which is hidden by our senses. It is when these senses do not operate that we can have a vision of the higher reality. Usually, this happens only in our deep sleep.

 

But the poet has adopted that view point deliberately and sees his existence as a farm which produces or presents the back ground for an illusion. He sees farm after farm around himself. We should think of a matrix when he says this. The mind is such a matrix which generates images. The world is another one which produces things. By lifting the lid on one of them, we get a clear idea about the next one. When we understand our mind we see the world more clearly.

 

The poet ends with the words ‘and in the centre, me’. He establishes his own existence as primary. The ‘farms’ around him produces visions for him just like the farm he is on. Since he is able to see the farms too, they are also part of his illusion. They too come and go as in deep sleep and wakefulness. The real self, ‘me’ is the only permanent entity.

 

Thus, though this poem sounds like a nature poem, it actually explores our real nature.

At Hiruharama (analysis)

At Hiruharama

by Penelope Fitzgerald

At Hiruharama is a well crafted story which sustains the reader’s attention through its sympathetic treatment of life. Though there is no winding plot, the story catches our attention and maintains tension and suspense because of the realistic portrayal of adorable characters.

The story is about Mr. Tanner and his wife Kitty who end up in New Zealand and make the best out of the worst. Through farming, they manage to live in an almost barren land with not many neighbours. They live away from the city and so when Kitty gets pregnant, her husband is very worried about the medical help that she may need. He visits a doctor in the city and buys two pigeons which he hopes to use to communicate with the doctor through the man who sells them. He sees to it that nothing is overlooked. But he makes the worst foolishness when he mistakes one of the babies for the afterbirth and dumps it in the dustbin. It is this girl who becomes a lawyer and raises the family’s hopes for a better living.

The story seems to be part of a longer novel because of its abrupt opening. This is very effective since it sounds like the writer is taking the reader into his confidence with such ease and frankness.  The writer amazes us with his story telling techniques and informal style.

The land Mr. Tanner and Kitty selected to settle down in had only one good thing about it. There was a standpipe and constant clear water from an underground well. This source of water later turns out to be the symbol of the limitless love and affection Mr. Tanner possesses. Human relationships and the need to love and be loved loom large in the story.

Though the story is written like a chronicle, the writer is able to provide it with interesting moods and subtle tones. Along with the barrenness of the land we are also told about an insensitive neighbor who comes to dine with the couple twice a year. His name is Brinkman. He doesn’t have much to do with the plot of the story but he serves an important purpose. We find that there is a kind of softness deep in him too. He has no family since he couldn’t persuade a woman to live with him in that godforsaken land.

He arrives for his half-yearly dinner when Kitty is about to have labour pains. This disappoints him and he talks endlessly about his last dinner with them. He is not bothered about the trouble the family is going through. Still, it touches us deeply when he says why he comes to visit the Tanners. He insists he doesn’t come for dinner or to enjoy the scenic beauty. He says,

“No, I’ve come today, as I came formerly, for the sake of hearing a woman’s voice.”

This touch is important for the story since the story is feminist in its content and treatment. It is a celebration of femininity. This is brought forth through the character of Kitty and how the other treat Kitty. It is Kitty who inspires Mr. Tanner to learn to read and write and he manages to accomplish it before he marries her. Her mildest suggestion to him that he should write to his sister “how it is between us” inspires him to live up to her expectations. Since she asks him to ‘write’ to his sister, Tanner knew she expected him to be literate.

Unlike Mr. Tanner, Kitty was educated even before she came to New Zealand. She came as a governess                                                                                                                                  and ended up as a servant. It is with her help that Mr. Tanner is able to run a farm.

Tanner might be finding Kitty so committed since she has chosen to live with him and share his hardships. He tells the doctor the reason why his neighbor is not married.

“You couldn’t ask a woman to live out there.”

To this the doctor says,

“You can ask a woman to live anywhere.”

Against the doctor’s and Brinkman’s apparent insensitivity, Mr. Tanner comes out as man with such a good heart.

When Mr. Tanner visits the doctor, we see him very anxious about his wife’s condition. He wants to know how many women die in childbirth. He has no questions about the baby, even though the doctor  makes a prophetic statement,

“Well don’t ask me if it’s going to be twins. Nature didn’t intend us to know that.”

Mr. Tanner is very resourceful and is very proactive. He tells the doctor, “I can do anything about the house.” We find this to be true.

‘He told the doctor he’d managed to deliver the child, a girl, in fact he’s wrapped it up in a towel and tucked it up in the washbasket.’

Even on the day of his wife’s delivery, in the midst of all the problems and in spite of his anxiety and desperation,  Tanner is a good host to Brinkman, his neighbor whom he hasn’t seen for the last six months. His good nature goes unnoticed by his neighbour, but that doesn’t deter him from serving his guest. He wins the love of all the people he meets including the doctor and the Maori boy who sells pigeons.  When the doctor says the Brinkman is a crank, Tanner objects and says that he should be called a dreamer at the worst.

Tanner is not only endowed with a good heart, he also has a smart brain. He is resourceful and plans things in advance.

“Tanner turned over in his mind what he’s say to his wife when she told him she was going to have a child.” But when he finally tells him, he doesn’t say anything but straightaway goes to the town to consult a doctor.

The language of the story is informal to a great extent though there are two instances of the writer’s skill to write in different styles. When Tanner writes to his sister his style resembles the Bible since it is probably the only book he is able to read after he became literate. Another change in style in when Brinkman talks. His English is fairly elegant. All the other characters speak in dialects.

The story ends with Brinkman’s  thoughts. His words tell us how simple are the characters that we come across in this story. In fact, these words throw much light on the theme of the story. In spite of deserts and barren lands, the earth is still beautiful. Likewise, in spite of hardships and accidents, life is still beautiful in its own terms.

“All the time Brinkman continued to sit there by the table and smoke his pipe. Two more women born into the world! It must have seemed to him that if this sort of thing went on, there should be a good chance, in the end, for him to acquire one for himself. Meanwhile, they would have to serve dinner sometime.”

The Destructors (analysis)

The Destructors

by Graham Green

The Destructors by Graham Green is an interesting short story which has allegorical touches. The story tells us how some unruly boys, vying with one another for leadership in their gang, go beyond all levels of evil and redefine it as a motiveless act.

There are three levels of characters in the story: Old Misery who owns the house, the gang of unruly boys and a truck driver. People at the church are also mentioned. The story happens near a car park overlooked by buildings which have been partly destroyed by ‘the last bomb of the first blitz’. The house owner Mr. Thomas whose nick name is Old Misery is actually nice to the children. But that doesn’t prevent Trevor, one of the boys,  from proposing to the gang that they should destroy Old Misery’s house completely when he is away. This proposal impresses the others and Trevor is voted up as the next leader and the old leader Blackie has to step down. None could come up with a worse mischief they could enjoy during the week. The story reminds us of The Lord of Flies by William Golding.

Houses have always been symbols of security and refuge. Hence they also stand for human institutions. Even the parliament is referred to as a house. House as a symbol appears in several parables in the Bible. Old Misery’s house stands for the established religions which were attacked more than a little by the two World Wars. People who had always been living in misery (old misery from the first sin?) had sought refuge in religions. But the religions lost their strength when the atrocities of war eroded many people’s trust in humanity and human kindness. This made e.e.cummings, a famous poet,  coin the phrase ‘human unkind’ in place of human kind.  The unruly gang is worse in its evil than those who steal or murder. They have no motive. It is motiveless malignity. They think there is no point in being vengefully evil.  Insisting that nothing should be stolen from the house they are destroying, the hero of the story Trevor says about the house owner, “There’d be no fun if I hated him.”

The truck driver who sees Old Misery’s house being pulled down by unseen hands laughs at it, not realizing that they might destroy his house the next day. At another level, those who passively watch the age-long institutions like religion and family disintegrate or made to disintegrate do not realize that the society and its institutions came into being to protect people and if they vanish we are again defenseless against evil.

More than the descriptions, it is in the dialogues that we find suggestions about the hidden meanings of the story.

“Wren built that house, father says.”

“Who’s Wren?”

“The man who built St. Paul’s”

“Who cares?” Blackie said. “It’s only Old Misery’s.”

In these lines we hear the echo of Satan addressing the other fallen angels in the pandemonium. Through the name of Wren, the man who built St.Paul’s Church, we are reminded of the people who organized the religions. However, now the religions belong to the miserable masses.

Again,

“What do you mean a beautiful house?” asked Blackie. They all hate beauty and culture.  They are things that flow along with the flow of life down the ages. It is interesting to see that they also consider the flow of things as a power against them. The pipes through which water flows are broken, the wires through which current flows are clipped and currency (that which moves around) is burned.

In very few words we are shown what we stand to lose when social institutions symbolized by Old Misery’s house are taken away from us. Old Misery’s helplessness is revealed when he wails over his disappeared house:

“He gave a sobbing cry. “My house,” he said, “Where is my house?”  The truck driver is passive but still makes fun of him. “Search me,” the driver said.

Thus, it is easy to see that The Destructors has more to it than meets the eye. As we read the story, we also want to see the children being successful. If the destruction was checked at some point, most of the readers would be disappointed. Thus it makes the additional point that we are not free of aggression and destruction. The popular movies and novels are all about destruction though they uphold constructive values at some point towards the end. There is a basic instinct in man to revel in his own aggression and it is through culture, art, religion and other similar activities that we overcome such tendencies.