Category Archives: Literature

Getting Lost in Reading and Writing

We’ve all read at least one book that makes us marvel at how writing can be so influential. I’ve often wondered how we can be so emotionally invested in nothing but words printed on crisp paper and then came across an interesting explanation of why we get lost in a book. At Free University of Berlin, a study of brain reactions to certain passages in the Harry Potter books was conducted to see if certain types of excerpts facilitated the immersive experience more than others . Out of this study, the fiction feeling hypothesis was born.

According to the fiction feeling hypothesis, narratives with emotional contents invite readers more to be empathic with the protagonists and thus engage the affective empathy network of the brain, the anterior insula and mid-cingulate cortex, than do stories with neutral contents.

Emotionally charged passages in books makes us readers empathetic with the characters and this brain engagement leads to the feeling of getting lost in a book. So if the passage is fear-inducing, we feel dread. It’s all about which neural pathways are activated while reading. This paints an interesting image in my mind, just thinking of brain scans lighting up in certain regions when reading different passages of books like a colourful kaleidoscope. It’s fascinating.

But then what about getting lost in the writing part of it?

I’d read something last semester that took a look at this. Freud attempts to answer this question in his essay, ‘Creative Writing and Day-dreaming”. He sought to understand where creative writers draw from while writing and how they are able to invoke in readers emotions they never thought they could have. In his quest for an answer, he likens the creative writing process to day-dreaming and child’s play. A child takes elements from the real world and builds his or her own, rearranging until he or she’s pleased and does so with a great deal of seriousness and emotional expenditure, all the while able to distinguish it from reality. Similarly, as we grow older, this pleasure derived from child’s play is found in its more mature substitute: day dreaming which can be immersive in its own right.

According to Freud, the hero of the story is a written manifestation of our ego or basically that the writer is in fact the hero, making most works autobiographical. Although I’m sceptical that this can be applied to every author, The Bell Jar is certainly a good example of this, with Syvia Plath and her protagonist Esther mirroring one another. Her semi-autobiographical book could have been a form of confessional, therapeutic writing, narrating her own descent into depression through a fictional counterpart. Not only does Freud say that the writer identifies with the hero, but readers do as well. I suppose that’s why reading this book can be quite intense.

So literature can be therapeutic for both writers and readers. It’s a space where we can fulfill wishes, live through danger vicariously and live out our potential problems. It’s a fantastic channel to release pent-up tension without negative repercussions and that’s what makes it so appealing to everyone. Expressive writing is an effective therapy technique for this very reason.

Another point Freud goes on to make is that in the case of the modern writer, the hero/ego is often fragmented into many parts, split off into several characters. It’s as if writers can pocket parts of themselves, positive and negative traits, in a wide range of characters. I think we can see this in the case of Game of Thrones (I’ve always thought GoT is Freudian what with all the emphasis on sex and violence in the series). George R.R Martin himself said that he identifies with all his characters, even the nasty ones we can’t fathom loving or even liking.

“When I get inside their skin and look out through their eyes, I have to feel a certain – if not sympathy, certainly empathy for them. I have to try to perceive the world as they do, and that creates a certain amount of affection. That being said, my favourite character is definitely Tyrion. He’s the one who I most enjoy writing. But I identify with all of them.” – George R. R Martin

While Freud may be far-fetched in some of his theories, I think these points have a certain truth to them. The essay is also worth a read, if you’re a little curious of what the father of psychology thought about creative writing.

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Literary Theory- Deconstruction

Deconstruction is a post-structuralist perspective in literary theory that is not a theory per se but rather a set of strategies or ways of reading a text.

Jacques Derrida is a leading figure in deconstruction.

There are two aspects that are important in deconstruction:

  1. Binary oppositions
  2. Centre of the structure

Binary Oppositions

Drawn from Levi-Strauss’ findings, units in a system exist in binary pairs or oppositions. One is favourable or positive while the other is unfavourable or negative.  Eg. good/evil

We think about the world in terms of binary oppositions.

In Western metaphysics, the term that comes to the left of the slash is considered positive while the term to the right of the slash is considered negative. We argue about which position a term should be placed. For example, why is male better than female or why is white better than black? Deconstruction asks how the first term is valued over the other.

By taking the example of speech/writing and how speech is favoured over writing, it’s been found that we associate speech to the presence of another wherein writing is associated to the person who has written the text. The privilege of speech or presence over writing or absence is an example of logocentrism ( word-centredness).

Eg. God said “Let there be light” which associates his presence to light. The fact that He spoke reinstates His existence.

Each term has meaning or what Saussure calls value in reference to the other. Binary opposites are inseparable in their opposition because the term on either side of the slash has meaning as the negation of the term on the other side of the slash.

Centre of the structure

The centre holds the whole structure in place, keeping each binary opposition on the proper side of the slash.

Terms like God, human being, truth serve as the centre.

Functions of the centre:

  1. It creates the system and governs the units within the system according to the rules of the system.
  2. It is something beyond the system and not governed by the rules of the system. Hence the structure is paradoxically inside and outside the system. It escapes what Derrida calls the totality or structurality.

Characteristics of the centre:

  1. It limits play. The centre thus holds all the units in place and in relation to one another, keeping the structure for moving too much. This motion is called ‘play’, so the centre limits play and keeps the system stable and rigid. Derrida says this isn’t good for a signifying or philosophical system. Play is what makes literary language. In literary texts, language plays (polysemy) while in non-literary texts, language does not play (each term has only one meaning). You wouldn’t wonder what the word wrench means in a plumbers manual means but you would in a poem.
  2. It cannot be replaced by any other unit in the system. Eg. God is the centre of the system and nothing else is equivalent to replace as the centre
  3. It is the transcendental signified i.e the ultimate source of meanings.

According to Derrida, there was a rupture or a moment when structuralism enabled philosophy to think about itself differently. It was the moment when philosophers were able to see philosophical systems not as absolute truth but as systems and structures.

Prior to this rupture, there was continual substitution of one centred system to another centred system like God was replaced by the rational mind and the rational mind was replaced by the unconscious and so on.

Derrida and other poststructuralists write in a way that is constantly reminding the reader that meaning is unstable and that makes us aware of the constructed systems which make the text possible. That is why their works are so difficult to read and understand.

So what does Derrida mean when he says deconstruction is a set of ways to read a text?

  • Deconstruction reads a text to see where it posits its own centre, how it constructs its own system of ‘truth’ and ‘meaning’ and then looks to see where it contradicts itself. Hence it’s a way of reading that looks for chinks in the armour of the text i.e where the structure gets shaken up. A deconstructive reading reads a text against itself.

Bricolage

The term bricolage means tinkering in French. In art or literature, bricolage means construction from a diverse range of available things. Someone who engages in bricolage is bricoleur, the equivalent of a handy man or jack of all trades. A bricoleur doesn’t care about the purity or stability of a system but rather uses what’s available to get the job done.

Bricolage doesn’t worry about coherence of the words or ideas it uses. For example, you are a bricoleur if you talk about the Oedipus complex without knowing anything about psychoanalysis. Bricolage understands that meaning is something shifting.

A bricoleur is contrasted to an engineer. A bricoleur cannot plan or make projects since to do so implies both that the necessary tools and materials can be obtained as required and do not have to be ready at hand.

Source- Literary Theory: A Guide for the Perplexed by Mary Klages

Redefining Religion in The Color Purple

The Color Purple may not be one of my favourite books, particularly due to the fact that it is written in black english which is a little difficult to get used to, but one letter in this somewhat non-traditional epistolary novel will always stay with me. The one where Celie and Shug have a very enlightening discussion on religion. I’ll never forget it.

Religion has always been difficult for me to wrap my head around. You can see the problem in that very sentence. You see, as far as I can tell, religion is not something one has to wrap their head around but something one just believes in. It’s not that easy for me and I don’t think it ever will be. I find that faith is perhaps the most difficult thing to have, especially in almighty entities.

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“I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it.”

In the letter that I’m basing this post on, Celie appears to have disowned God and refuses to believe he has ever done anything good for her, which Shug refutes with a list of little blessings that Celie has overlooked in her life. I know how Celie feels. When the worst has happened it is easy to turn back on religion and the idea that God is watching over you. Questions about why this has happened start to override any faith you once had and it all starts crumbling from there.

But who said that religion resides in a temple, church or mosque? This is exactly what Shug points out to Celie. She says she never found God in church and that any God she ever felt was brought with her, along with many other folks. So, in a way, God lies within us not outside of us. Finding God starts with exploring our self and who we are.

The idea that God is a man with a long overflowing beard( reminds me of Dumbledore) is also questioned. Perhaps it is an archetype planted in our minds as we are born, only to grow into a full-fledged concept cemented in our perception whenever we even read the word God.

In the end, Shug confidently delivers her theory on what God is. She believes that God is not a he or a she but rather an it. And it is always making little surprises and springing them on us when we least expect.

“I believe God is everything. Praise God by liking what you like.” said Shug Avery.

Enjoy the sun, the trees and the birds that annoyingly wake you up in  the morning. Enjoy your guilty pleasures because God created everything in this world for you to admire and appreciate.

As an agnostic, there is something comforting in that realization. This part of the novel reassured me of the fact that having unconventional ideas concerning religion is perfectly alright. In fact, it seems to make more of a case for being spiritual instead of religious. The difference becomes abundantly clear while reading this passage and it’s wonderful.

Gold Mouths Cry

At first when I read this poem it made absolutely no sense but when I sat down in class with a friend it started to become clear 🙂


Sylvia Plath writes about a  bronze statue referred to as bronze boy standing in a graveyard. He reminisces about the thousand autumns that had come to pass and how the leaves of trees came sliding down his shoulders in all those years.

“We ignore the coming of doom of gold and we are glad in this bright metal season.” This is a remark of how we disregard our mortality, death being referred to as the doom of gold and life being referred to as a bright metal season. The dead laugh at how easily we forget our impending deaths, mocking the living.

The bronze boy never grieves as he is surrounded by death, the deceased in the graveyard as well as the leaves falling off of the trees that have blinded his eyes to sadness and mourning for the inevitable.

The juxtaposition of nature as exampled by the leaves and trees and the metallic references express the polar opposites of life and death discussed in the poem. The bronze boy is a symbol of immortality, (cast as a stature to honour his  heroic deeds while he was living) standing in a position where he is forced to watch the evidence of mortality all around him, numb to the grief that accompanies it after having spent centuries knee deep in a sea of morbidity.

A Supermarket in California Analysis

This particular poem was written by Allen Ginsberg, a Beats generation poet. In the Beat generation, the journey is important i.e the motion of going from place to place and that is exactly what this poem is. It is a journey. It is also an ode to Walt Whitman.

In the beginning, the poet describes himself thinking about Walt Whitman while wandering around in the streets, underneath the trees and staring at the full moon, all the while suffering a head ache and feeling very self conscious. Both these symptoms can point to the use of a psychedelic drug that results in hyper-perception and opening of the mind.

Hoping to take comfort in natural produce, the poet ambles into a supermarket which are also known as convenience stores. The supermarket becomes a symbol of America’s consumerism which makes Ginsberg feel trapped by. Convenience stores also represent how convenience does not foster thought just as the State did not encourage thinking.

Once inside, he sees whole families shopping at night and the use of the term ‘whole’ comments on how a family is presented as a husband, wife and children. He sees husbands in the aisles, wives in the avocados and babies in the tomatoes. This signifies America’s packaging of the perfect family just as fruits and vegetables are in supermarkets. He also sees Garcia Lorca, a Spanish poet who had written an ode to Walt Whitman, by the watermelons. It can be interpreted that those of the homosexual persuasion are also packaged separately from the whole families.

Moving on, the poet describes Walt Whitman himself in the supermarket as a lonely old grubber poking at the fruits and vegetables while eyeing the grocery boys, adding a sensual tone to the poem. These lines also provide insight into how America saw homosexual men as predators waiting to prey on young boys. Whitman is seen asking questions like ‘Who killed the pork chops?” which is an unusual way to ask who had butchered the meat. He also asks ‘Are you my Angel?” and the ‘Angel’ refers to a drug-induced state. Walt Whitman was always known fro having asked questions that no one else did.

Ginsberg begins following Whitman in the supermarket among ‘brilliant stacks of cans’ which he perceives to be brilliant because of his drug-induced state. He also thinks he is being followed by the ‘store detective’. This is also potential paranoia from his use of drugs and can also represent the state of paranoia America was in at the time what with the War.

Ginsberg samples artichokes in the supermarket with Whitman before wandering around in the streets asking him where they were going and there is no answer. The question could literally mean where were they going but it could also be Ginsberg asking where America as a nation was heading since he was displeased with its direction. He asks what America Whitman had while he was alive.

The poem ends in a metaphor of Charon ferrying lost souls across the river Styx to Hades symbolizing America’s destructive path to ruin as facilitated by the commodification of modern society. Walt Whitman got down the ferry and stood on the banks as it continued on the black waters of Lethe which in Greek mythology is a river from which you drink in order to forget your life before death. According to Ginsberg, Whitman got down and stood as a forgotten hero as modern society continued on without him.

The Spirit of Human Connection and Reunion in Alice Walker’s ‘The Color Purple’

Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel ‘The Color Purple’ is the tale of a young black girl named Celie, a victim of racism, poverty and segregation as well as oppression and sexual abuse at the hands of men. The novel is set in the deep American South in between the wars, approximately spanning forty years, taking the reader on a raw, honest and emotional journey through a modified epistolary format as Celie writes letters to God and then to her sister Nettie.

The book begins with a fourteen year old Celie questioning God why her step father Fonso (who she at the time believed was her birth father) chose to rape her and then take away her two children Olivia and Adam. Her self esteem was shattered and fear and despair in turn filled this void. Separated from her sister Nettie, the only person who she thinks ever truly loved her, Celie is forced to marry a widower whom she refers to as Mr.___. Her notion of love is perverted with this marriage and her fear of men only solidified as she is beaten by her husband. But when Celie meets the outspoken and unapologetic singer Shug Avery her transformative journey begins and is reinforced by her discovery that Nettie is not dead as she had been led to believe exemplifying how important human connection is.

From the depths of despair in the beginning of the novel, the final letter reflects a remarkable change not only in Celie’s metamorphosis but the changes in the nature of relationships she has with others like Nettie, Shug and Albert or Mr.___.  The characters grow as individuals before coming back together. Through out the novel, these relationships are disturbed only to be restored: Shug returns from travelling with Germaine, Sofia returns to her family and Nettie, Olivia and Adam return to Celie. There is a family reunion on the 4th of July where everyone has gathered making Celie very happy. While the reunion occurs as a whole, it is imperative to analyse the nature of each relationship and subsequent reunion at the close of the novel since each one has its own significance in the canvas of human connection.

Celie and Albert’s reunion reflects that no matter how terrible things are between people, time and space is all that’s needed to remedy what was once broken. Initially, Celie never felt anything for her husband Mr.___ and her conscious choice of avoiding the use of his name seems to convey how she does not think of him as a human being, just a nameless entity who makes her life miserable when they get married. Yet, towards the end of the novel, she begins to call him by his first name which is Albert. This is because they become closer as they talk about their shared love of Shug. This is how they begin to listen and relate to one another, something that was utterly lacking while they were living together as a married couple. Clearly when Celie and Shug leave Albert, he changes for the better, showing us that absence does indeed make the heart grow fonder. After leaving Albert, Celie becomes an independent woman with her own business. Having both grown as individuals during their time apart, once Celie and Albert meet again, he becomes interested in her pants business and she teaches him how to sew. During this time they talk and in turn learn from one another. Though Albert asks Celie to marry him again, this time in both flesh and spirit, she refuses and says they are better off as friends. Their friendship becomes a vehicle for platonic re connection and communication, allowing them to finally be themselves.

Shug, on the other hand, was someone Celie wanted to be more than just friends with and indeed their relationship does escalate to that of lovers. Celie’s aversion to men may play a role in her romantic interest in women and it appears as if Celie loves Shug more than Shug loves Celie. This becomes apparent when she tells Celie that she has fallen for a nineteen year old boy named Germaine who makes her feel young and attractive despite her middle age. Celie is unhappy with Shug’s request to have one last fling and to give her six months time after which she would come back. Despite Celie’s disapproval, Shug leaves and Celie becomes very lonely and it is in this time that she platonically reconnects with Albert. One would expect Celie to be angry with Shug once she comes back but that is not the case. It’s as if Shug is the free bird who needs some time to fly before coming back home and Celie is the one who must give her that freedom. Thus Shug and Celie’s reunion proves that if you love someone, set them free and if they come back they are yours.

However the most emotional of reunions is that of Celie and Nettie. Fonso and Albert were the people ultimately responsible for the separation of the two sisters. Instead of giving Nettie’s hand in marriage to Albert, Fonso offers Celie. Once Celie leaves her home, Nettie is the object of their step father’s attention and this drives Nettie away from home and so she asks to stay with Albert and Celie. Everything is fine until Albert makes sexual advances toward Nettie that she had to fight off. This outrages Albert and he kicks her out of his house and seeks his revenge by hiding Nettie’s letters from Celie. Since Celie hadn’t heard from Nettie in years she assumes that her sister is dead but her hope soars when she finds all of Nettie’s letters hidden in Albert’s trunk. So the only manner in which she knew her sister since she left was in the written form, by her words and stories about her life. Nettie was a mental construction that Celie actively struggled to maintain and towards the end of the novel when they are reunited she becomes a solid and physical presence in Celie’s life, as the person behind the letters comes to life before her very own eyes.

Along with Nettie come Celie’s children Olivia and Adam whom she has only read about in Nettie’s letter and her yearning as an estranged mother is rewarded once she finally meets her children in the flesh and all grown up.

These reunions culminate Celie’s journey in both physical and spiritual nature, rejuvenating both her mind and spirit. This is clear when reading the last paragraph of her final letter. She says she feels peculiar around the children since they are all grown and they see Nettie, Albert, Shug, Samuel and her as old people who don’t really know what is going on. Then she goes on to say, “But I don’t think us feel old at all. And us so happy. Matter of fact, I think this the youngest us ever felt.”

Although each character travels his or her own path, all their relationships are restored, bonded by family and friendship helping them transcend their past and the pain that accompanies it. So long as you have your loved ones with you, the trials and tribulations endured in life that burden your shoulders seem to lift off and dissipate and that is the reason why reunions are so important in this novel as well as in life itself.

However, not all reunions are those of characters in a book or people in reality. There is still one very important reunion that is left to be discussed and it’s that of the author and the protagonist or the creator and the creation. In the tenth anniversary edition preface, Alice Walker says that the novel was a spiritual journey that both she and Celie took, explaining that, “This book is the book in which I was able to express a new spiritual awareness, a rebirth into strong feelings of Oneness I realized I had experienced and taken for granted as a child; a chance for me as well as the main character, Celie, to encounter That Which Is Beyond Understanding But Not Beyond Loving…”

The spiritual journey that Walker describes can be seen in how Celie addresses her letters over the course of the novel. Initially she writes her letters to God but halfway through the book, she questions whether God really exists and begins to write letters to Nettie instead. Unlike her previous letters, Celie addresses the final one like so: Dear God. Dear stars, dear trees, dear sky, dear peoples. Dear Everything, Dear God. This is the stage that I believe Celie as well as Walker have reached the actualised state where their spirits are reunited with The Spirit to whom Walker dedicated the novel to.

Also, the family reunion can be seen as the encounter of what the author describes as ‘That Which Is Beyond Understanding But Not Beyond Loving’. In my interpretation, Walker is attempting to say, among other aspects of the universe, human beings are so complex and beyond our understanding but aren’t beyond our innate capacity to love others. I think that is what reunions remind us of. The characters of ‘The Color Purple’ and Alice Walker herself teach us that while understanding is limited, love and warmth are not.

References:

  1. “The Color Purple Study Guide.”Study Guides & Essay Editing. Web. 29 Aug. 2014.
  2. “The Color Purple By Alice Walker The Color Purple.”Literature Notes: The Color Purple. Web. 29 Aug. 2014.

Stanzas on Freedom

James Russell Lowell worked as an editor for a newspaper that took an abolitionist stance. He wrote Stanzas on Freedom to express how slavery ought to be viewed by one and all, as a malignancy in society that needed immediate treatment in the form of protest. It’s a good example of a poem that reflects on a social issue in a particular time period. This poem was written priorto the Civil War and pleads to the citizens of New England to stand up against slavery.

James Russell Lowell

There are altogether 4 stanzas (8 lines in each), consisting of 4 rhyming couplets. The first stanza is directed to the men of New England while the second stanza is directed at the women. The third and fourth stanzas are meant for citizens in general. So Lowell has slowly built up his message and targeted separate categories of people with each stanza, making sure that it struck those who read it in different ways that they could empathise with the plight of the African American slaves. In this way the poem progresses from particular examples to a general concept of slavery.

The first two stanzas are considered to be the questioning and reflection stanzas while the latter two stanzas are more like answers to the questions previously put forth. Ultimately the poem is not only speaking about slavery but of the spirit of America. The poem is exactly as it is titled, about freedom rather than rattling on about slavery and its oppression, questioning whether America is truly the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Here are the summaries for the stanzas:

Stanza 1

Lowell addresses the men of New England who boast of being brave and free. The references in this poem of brave and free are in the context of the Star Spangled Banner by Francis Scott Key particularly the line “O’ say does that Star- Spangled Banner yet wave, or the land of the free and the home of the brave?”.

“If there breathe on earth a slave, are ye truly free and brave?” He asks them whether they can truly wear their freedom and bravery as a medal of honour on their chests if slavery still prevails in their country. They cannot boast of coming from a lineage of brave men if they ignore the shackles chaining the ‘brotherhood’.

The point being extenuated in this stanza is that humankind is only as good as the lowliest of them. By using derogatory terms like ‘base’ and ‘unworthy’ he impresses upon the so-called free men that they are not free at all so long as they stand by injustice and oppression as if they were mute witnesses in a catastrophe. If you cannot feel the pain of the chain, then you are a successful brick in the foundation of slavery.

Stanza 2

This stanza is addressed to the women of New England who, at the time, did not enjoy any rights like the right to vote. When reading this stanza it is clear that women were not free nor brave in their own right in society at the time and were given importance not as individuals but as child bearers and mothers. That is why they are questioned about how they could call their children free when slavery exists. He says they are not fit to be mothers in the first place if they cannot speak out against slavery and ought not to bring children into a world where it exists. Lowell also thinks they should feel the pain of their ‘sisters now in chains’ because although they may not be physically oppressed like slaves are, women are the oppressed gender on other levels.

Although women did not have the direct ability or power to stand up for what they believe in, they could influence the men in their lives so Lowell chose to address them so that if they read his poem, they could spread the word to men. He appeals to the women’s sense of humanity to stand up for what is right and encourage their husbands to have the courage to stand up to abolish slavery.

A simile is used in this stanza that conveys the untapped power held by women. “Deeds to make the roused blood rush/Like red lava through your veins” compares the latent frustration and indignation boiling under their calm surface to the blood flowing in their veins. The way the heart pumps blood in the body, women ought to push out their outrage against slavery like a volcano spewing out red hot lava.

Stanza 3

Is it true freedom when all you do is look out for yourself? Is it truly the land of the free and home of the brave if America was built on the toil and sweat of slaves, living their lives in chains? In this case then those who are free owe man kind a debt because everyone is a slave whose service will be called for at one point in life, be it in the present or the near future. These are some points made in the third stanza. Lowell claims that true freedom is sharing the chains of others. The individual and mankind should be considered as one rather than separate entities.

Stanza 4

This stanza builds on the concept that those who do not speak out against slavery are in the same boat as slaves if not worse for they are in a position to do something but choose not to. Slaves are those who are afraid to speak up on behalf of those who are fallen and weak. Saves are those who will not face the hatred, scoffing and abuse that accompany sticking up for what one believes in, instead shrinking into the silence of continued and permitted oppression. Those who would rather be in the majority despite being wrong instead of being in the minority who is right, are slaves. Lowell brings to light the various levels of slavery that exist in this stanza. He elucidates that those who are not physically enslaved are mentally enslaved especially by society’s norms and ways. So, if you cannot stand hand in hand with those who are suffering unjustly, you cannot be considered brave and free. For these people, fear of failure, rejection and becoming a social outcast are the figurative chains that weigh down on them. This can be equally disastrous for the progress of a nation and more importantly, for humanity and all of mankind.

The New Land- John Smith

*Based on an excerpt of the entire text

john smith

John Smith was an adventurous yet shrewd captain much like many other European explorers. He organized the first successful English colony in North America, having been sent to Jamestown, Virginia and wrote ‘Description of New England’ based on his findings and interest in ‘the new land’.

Before diving into the text, a distinction between a colonist and coloniser needs to be elucidated. A coloniser is someone who has been sent by the empire to set up imperial law and set up administration in various foreign territories while a colonist is anyone settling in the colonised country of their own free will.

He uses rhetorical questions steeping in sarcasm, meant to attack the entire spirit of colonising and the mindset of colonisers themselves, to illustrate the capitalistic greed the British are inborn with. He asks what more they want since they already have power and a glorified reputation that comes with the act of colonising a territory. Colonisers would come to a new land and establish themselves in a powerful position with no one to answer to and this results in abuse of this power. In a way, colonisers can be compared to viruses ready to infect a healthy body, entering and then rapidly multiplying to bring down the system.

He also puts forth the question of whether or not one should advance on his own merits or demand great things from limited resources which is precisely what happened during colonisation. Colonisers would accumulate wealth off of the natural resources of the colony, not truly working to earn that wealth which Smith points out is not a fruitful or honourable thing to do.

The direct attack of Smith’s words is seen when he questions, ” What so truly  suits with honor and honesty, as discovering things unknown, erecting towns, peopling countries, informing the ignorant, reforming things unjust, teaching virtue?” He refutes the high and mighty air that colonisers seem to possess, thinking they are civil people who must educate the Native Americans who they refer to as godless savages merely because their way of life is different to their own. The line is also essential in highlighting how the English perceive anyone different than them and the expansionist employs of those sent by the Empire.

Smith bashes the idea of teaching the Native Americans about western civilization and Christianity by saying that anyone with a grain of faith or seal in religion would not resort to harming others or enforcing their ideas upon them like they were doing. They also thought the Native Americans were ‘idle’ because their society was not structured based on class nor were their set professions like tailors, doctors and the like. Unable to comprehend the nature of their culture, the British deemed them as idle beings which Smith opposes. Hence he’s defending the ways of the Native Americans.

After an entire paragraph riddled with sarcastic questions meant to make colonisers feel ashamed of themselves and their greed, Smith skilfully moves on to compare and contrast the culture of the British and the Native Americans.

In America, nature and liberty provides resources for free and which you’d have to pay a great deal for in England. Industrialisation in England resulted in people being ripped away from their roots which Matthew Arnold expressed in his poem Dover Beach and similarly reflected in God’s Grandeur by Hopkins. Living in America, they are reminded of what it is like to rely on Mother Nature’s bounty.

Smith says there is no greater pleasure than recreating oneself by fishing claiming it to be a humbling and peaceful past time through which one could sustain man, woman and child and could live off of one’s own boat. In England, fishermen are preoccupied with selling their haul for money rather than using it to sustain themselves like what the Native Americans do. Carpenters, Masons, Tailors and many others could make fishing a recreational activity if they should so choose. A mere hour could provide enough food for a week. One may also find pleasure, profit and content in the art of fishing, going from isle to isle, minding one’s own business and not harming others.

Smith seems to be interested in the barter system still in effect in Native American society when he speaks about what one can do with excess fish if caught saying, “Or if they will not eat it, because there is so much better choice, yet sell it, or change it fishermen or merchants for any thing they want.” Essentially the motto here is waste not, want not. The line “If a man work but three days in seven, he may get more than he can spend unless he will be excessive.” points out how one can live a simple life.

After discussing the benefits of fishing, Smith effectively establishes the fact that both sides can benefit from one another, something he truly wished to propagate among the English still living in England so as to impress upon them a new outlook on the potential of their American colonies. Equality is highly stressed here when Smith promotes mutual benefit, saying that both cultures can learn from one another. He believes the Commonwealth (otherwise known as colonisers across the globe) could learn the art of being one with Mother Nature and develop less capitalistic and expansionist thought.

Rather than hunting and hawking which are destructive activities, fishing and fowling are more peaceful in nature. Instead of shooting a hawk in the sky, if you allowed yourself to take the time to watch the hawk stoop for a few hours, you will find a certain pleasure that cannot be gained in any other way. Animals ought to be treated with respect, a value that Native Americans uphold, for their bodies not only provide meat but their skin is so rich that it would recompense the labour that goes into hunting it, as much as a Captain’s pay. Native Americans used most parts of the animals they hunted for various purposes and the English could learn to do the same instead of wasting it. Also, by referring to a captain’s pay, the text becomes more relatable to the English reader at the time for captains were paid well and held a worthy position in society.

Then Smith comments on how the Native Americans had to pay 30, 40 or 50 shillings to the colonisers so that they could grow their crops on an acre of ground and good land once used to only cost them labour and they were never considered poor people. He also remarks that the land in itself is not poor at all since it is so rich in natural resources.

Finally he assuages readers by saying he is not trying to persuade people to leave their homes and families to settle down in America but to learn the lesson that one can become wealthy by doing simple work and colonisers learn that they do not need to dominate the natives but rather train them in certain skills. In this manner, the whole society may benefit.

Studying literature

Studying literature is sometimes a funny thing. Perhaps we add meaning to words that were written in a fit of anger or a moment of lust, fueled by fleeting insanity wherein sense is abandoned. If I write that the curtain is red, you could interpret that statement as my anger clouding my eyes in rage till I see everything in a maroon shade, but maybe, just maybe, the curtain really is red.

When preparing for lit exams it is easy to completely dive into the text and interpret it in new ways but then studying is a whole other aspect. Sometimes in the art of critique and studying, we lose our connection to the words and ultimately appreciation.

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