Thursday, May 15, 2014


I will confess at the outset, Modernism is not my favorite genre/time period.  In addition, I tried to do too much during this class, so we rushed through the texts.
Sigmund Freud
  First we tackled Freud - enough said, right?  

My students read Freud's essay on the Interpretation of Dreams.  After a good opening discussion about dreams, the meaning of dreams, the importance of dreams, we looked closely at the text.  We needed to define terms like "manifest dream content," "latent dream thoughts," "condensation," and "free association."  We learned that what we remember when we awake is not the most important part of the dream.  To get to the most important part of the dream, of course a psychoanalyst is required to free up the hidden thoughts and desires of the dreamer.  

We moved on to some surrealist writings - the first by a Japanese author, Abe Kobo.  His short story, The Red Cocoon begins with a man wandering the streets, wondering where his house is, and ending up at a woman's house, questioning her - "how do you know this is your house?"  "Maybe it's my house."  It is an odd encounter, but not as odd as events that will soon transpire.  The man learns that he cannot sleep on a park bench, because such benches belong to everybody, and nobody.  The tone of isolation, homelessness, lack of identity and longing for belonging is potent.  The man then feels part of the heel of his shoe unwind, possible enough, but shortly thereafter he has become entwined in a cocoon.  In fact, the man IS now a cocoon . . . surrealism at its height.
Gabriel García Márquez 

Finally, we turned to Gabriel García Márquez' , "The Very Old Man with Enormous Wings."  Many of my students are Latino/Latina and one of my students is from Colombia, so I was glad we were able to study this short story.  A student in my ESL class informed me recently that Gabriel García Márquez recently died, so it was even more fitting to honor him by reading his story.In "The Very Old Man with Enormous Wings," the man of the title is found in a couple's backyard.  He becomes an instant sensation, and the couple sells tickets, charging the villagers to come and look at him.  His wings are dirty, with very few feathers, andt he speaks a language unknown to anyone.  When the priest tries to engage him in conversation in Latin, and the man/angel is unresponsive. the priest concludes that he cannot possible be an angel!   

All the modernist writings convey a sense of hopelessness, dissatisfaction, and disillusionment - again, not my favorites.  For our final week we read and discussed 'Things Fall Apart," by Chinua Achebe.  Stay tuned . . .


Friday, May 9, 2014

"The Cherry Orchard"

One of the most intriguing aspects of teaching world literature is learning about the authors.  I have discovered an unexpected trend -- many of the authors studied medicine, and some were practicing doctors, before they turned to writing.  Anton Chekhov is one example.  He wrote "medicine is my legal wife . . . literature is my mistress."  An unfortunate similarity among authors is their early death  - Chekhov was only 44 years old when he died (slightly older than Jane Austen at her death).  Another common thread is many of the authors had parents who read to them, or told them fabricated stories.  One can usually find glimpses of the adult author in the child.  As a child, Chekhov spent all his money on tickets to the theater!

Chekhov wrote,“you say you have cried at my plays…But this is not why I wrote them, it was Stanislavsky [Russian actor and director] who turned them into cry-babies.I simply wanted to say to people honestly: “Understand, how bad and boring your lives are!” People should understand this and…create themselves another and better life. What is here to cry about?”

In "The Cherry Orchard" an impoverished noble family is forced to sell their orchard and their home.  They are in denial and do not take the measures needed to hold onto the land -- basically develop the land for cottages (in today's vernacular it would mean selling the land to build condos).  The play shows the rise of the bourgeois middle class and the collapse of the upper class.  It has been viewed as both a drama and comedy, though Chekhov himself viewed it as a comedy, and there are many funny, eccentric characters populating the play. At the end of the play, the family is moving out and they have locked up the house.  Unfortunately, they locked the old butler in the house, and as he decides to "take a nap" since he can't get out of the house, the sound of the cherry orchard being chopped down can be heard.  Is this funny or tragic??

My class enjoyed the play.  The hardest part was learning the many characters' names, so I simplified the names and provided nicknames:

Lubov Andreyevna Ranevskaya - Lou  (Generous and loving)
Ermolai Lopakhin - Lop   (Peasant turned businessman)
Trofimov – Prof Trof (Eternal student)
Leonid Andreyevich Gaev – Gaev (the Big Baby)
Boris Semyonov-Pischik – Piss (Begging landowner – comic relief)
Semyon Epikhodov – Epi  (2 and 20 troubles – comic accountant)