Showing 191 - 200 of 376 annotations tagged with the keyword "Religion"

The Duel

Chekhov, Anton

Last Updated: Aug-17-2006

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

A group of ex-Muscovites are living in the hot and humid Caucasus. Among them are Laevsky, Nadyezhda Fyodorovna, Von Koren, Samoylenko, and a deacon. Laevsky and Nadyezhda are lovers. They came to the town to flee Nadyezhda’s husband and to live together in their own home. Instead, they remain in rented rooms. Laevsky drinks, gambles, and blankly performs the few tasks necessary in his government job. He spends much of his time figuring out how to get away from Nadyezhda, whom he has grown to hate. Nadyezhda herself is bored and has affairs.

Von Koren is a rigid marine scientist who deplores Laevsky for his indecision and apathetic philosophy. Von Koren believes that creatures like Laevsky who do no good should be killed, because natural selection ought to guide ethical decisions. He tries to act out his plan when the two duel, but is surprised by the Deacon and misses his shot. Laevsky’s shock at his close call drives him back to Nadyezhda.

Samoylenko is a physician and tries to be a peacemaker, but ultimately gets walked on. The Deacon dreams passively about glory in the Church or even in a remote village, but does little except laugh at his neighbors. The story is composed of a series of visits and conversations among the characters.

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Annotated by:
Belling, Catherine

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

The work consists of twenty-three devotions, each in three parts--a meditation, an expostulation, and a prayer--recording and exploring Donne’s experience of illness (probably typhus). The work traces the disease’s course and treatment, beginning in the first devotion with the first signs of illness, moving through the patient’s taking to bed and sending for physicians, their prescribing and carrying out various treatments, and a worsening of symptoms followed by the crisis where, in Devotion 17, the patient prepares himself for death. He then begins to recover, the physicians purge him, and, like Lazarus, he rises from his bed. The physicians then try to correct the cause of the disease in him, and, in the final devotion, warn the patient that a relapse is not out of the question.

Donne explores the spiritual implications of each stage of his illness, using the experience of his body to provoke reflections on the health of the soul. For instance, in the first devotion he asks why sin, unlike physical sickness, does not show early signs which might enable one to get treatment in time. Donne uses the arrival of the physicians to explore Christ’s role as physician to the soul, and the spots which appear on his body to meditate on Christ as the unspotted carrier of human stains.

Anticipating death, he considers the relationship of soul and body, seeing the body’s death as the cure of the disease. He then sees the physicians as God’s instruments in curing his body and miraculously raising him from illness. Finally, he argues that the root of all illness is internal, lying in the sin which infects his soul, and that therefore he must work constantly to prevent the relapse which continues to threaten.

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Annotated by:
Nixon, Lois LaCivita

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

Frears presents a stark portrayal of London’s underbelly, a place where everything is for sale--at a price. It is a world in which most people tend to ignore or overlook: prostitution, illegal immigrants struggling to survive, illegal activities, humiliating circumstances, and most centrally, black market organ transplantation. "We are the people you don’t see." Information age technologies mix with greed and desperation to depict an engrossing and sordid narrative about real-life events occurring in places beyond the ordinary purview. This modern day thriller brings audiences to the edge of their seats as they witness harrowing and very believable accounts of marginalized members of society deprived of basic human dignities.

The story is complex but two characters dominate, a doctor from Nigeria (Chiwetel Ejiofor) now reduced by harsh circumstances to several menial jobs including taxi driving and hotel clerking, and an illegal chambermaid from Turkey (Audrey Tautou) whom he befriends and assists. She lives in constant danger of humiliation, exposure, deportation. Their paths cross in a hotel where both work, where "johns" are served by prostitutes, and where illegal and sloppy surgical procedures are employed to harvest kidneys from desperate donors.

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Doctor Faustus

Mann, Thomas

Last Updated: Aug-17-2006
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

The full title of this novel is "Doctor Faustus: The Life of the German Composer Adrian Leverkühn as Told by a Friend." Mann wrote it during the latter part of World War II when he was living in exile in the United States. The Faust character in this story is a German composer named Adrian Leverkühn (1885-1940), whose biography is recounted by his childhood friend, a schoolmaster named Serenus Zeitblom. Zeitblom presents the tale in his own voice--in essence, the novel is an extended reflection on the composer’s life (the past) set into the context of the deteriorating military situation in Germany (the present) as he is writing; i.e. the same period that Mann is actually writing the novel.

Adrian Leverkühn starts out as a student of theology, but succumbs to his passion for musical composition. His early pieces, though technically skillful, lack energy and imagination. However, all this changes when the young man experiences himself as having made a pact with the devil. In a confession written years later, Adrian recounts that he "voluntarily" contracted syphilis in an encounter with a prostitute, an episode that he believed was emblematic of this Faustian bargain.

In the confession he recreates his dialog with Satan, who promises the composer an artistic breakthrough, if he agrees to forego human love. As a result of the pact, Leverkühn sets off on a brilliant 24-year career, becoming the greatest German composer of his time. Throughout the novel Serenus intersperses technical details of Leverkühn’s many compositions, culminating with his masterwork, an oratorio called "The Lamentation of Doctor Faustus."

Adrian Leverkühn had been a self-centered youth who failed to reciprocate the friendship and devotion that others, especially Serenus, had lavished upon him. As an adult he leads an austere, solitary, monk-like life. Yet, while he lives only for his music, he also yearns for love. His personal life consists of a series of aborted relationships. Leverkühn becomes attracted to a female acquaintance and asks a friend to court her for him, only to learn that she has fallen in love with the friend.

Toward the end of his career, Adrian’s 5-year-old nephew comes to live with him in the country. The nephew ignites in him another spark of love, only to be snuffed out when the boy suddenly dies of meningitis. Finally, just as he is in the process of "unveiling" his great composition to a select group of friends, Leverkühn experiences a "stroke" and lapses into a coma from which he recovers physically, but not mentally. He survives for another decade in a demented, childlike state, and cared for by his mother.

The larger theme of this somber work relates to the decline of German culture during the decades before the onset of the Nazi era. Mann explores the collapse of traditional humanism and its replacement by a mixture of sophisticated nihilism and barbaric primitivism. In "The Story of a Novel" (1949),

Mann wrote that "Dr. Faustus" was about "the flight from the difficulties of a cultural crisis into the pact with the devil; the craving of a proud mind, threatened by sterility, for an unblocking of inhibitions at any cost; and the parallel between pernicious euphoria ending in collapse with the nationalistic frenzy of Fascism." In Zeitblum’s narrative comments, Mann subtly relates the composer’s personal tragedy to Germany’s destruction in the war. Mann also claimed a "secret identity" between himself, Leverkühn, and Zeitblom.

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Dance Fire Dance

Dorsett, Thomas

Last Updated: Aug-16-2006
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)

Summary:

These poems push at the edge of the unknowable, as in "Credo," where Dorsett concludes, "Nearer those peaks / I understand nothing, something / in the far side." Unlike many poets of his generation, Dorsett confronts reality with hope, rather than despair. He does not, however, ignore the random pain and self-delusion of human life. In "Our Father Who Art," for example, he writes, "what are we left with? Fly swarmed swamps / where our puffed-up selves promise the bog not to eat beetles . . . . "

As a pediatrician, Dorsett must frequently confront unjust and random suffering. In the strong poem "Like Flies We Are . . . " Dorsett writes, "Who can doubt the world’s amoral? / And not only to great artists: / if the briefcase had been placed / inches closer, Hitler would have died; / Anne Frank, etc. would have survived."

This acceptance is, however, only a few poems deep. Dorsett realizes that human beings searching for meaning are like his two goldfish discussing "fish religion." We can never attain the truth about why the conditions in our tank are deteriorating. Facile New Age answers merely delude us: "Modern taste in resurrections / wants fast easters with no cross / . . . Selfjesus is coming! God help us." In the end, Dorsett opts for an ecstatic reality beyond faith and knowledge, a reality in which Christ’s resurrection and the Buddha’s enlightenment both reside.

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Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

This remarkable book takes the reader into a Dutch nursing home where many of the 300 patients are terminally ill. The main protagonist is Anton, a competent, tough, and compassionate physician who tries to discover some meaning in the suffering of his patients, while at the same time disavowing any such meaning. Anton’s colleagues include Jaarsma, a somewhat detached and bureaucratic older physician, and Van Gooyer, a young physician who still believes that science has all the answers.

The first-person narrative consists of short, punchy segments (almost like an endless series of discrete physician-patient interactions) detailing the stories of Anton’s patients and his reactions to them. Many of these persons request assisted suicide or euthanasia. Anton reveals what he feels about these requests, how he goes about judging their validity, and the manner in which he actually carries out assisted deaths. A strong spiritual theme permeates the book; while Anton denies the relevance of God and religion, he seems constantly to be searching for a spirituality that "makes sense" of contemporary life.

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Dear Mili: An Old Tale

Grimm, Wilhelm Karl

Last Updated: Aug-16-2006
Annotated by:
Bertman, Sandra

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Fairy Tale

Summary:

This fairy tale by Wilhelm Grimm, rediscovered in 1983, is prefaced by a short letter to "Mili," presumably a young girl much like the one in the story; what follows is a tale designed to teach children that life can be unpredictable. The story also demonstrates, however, that the unknown can sometimes provide shelter and security even when things are not familiar.

A young widowed mother, afraid for her daughter when the village they lived in was about to be attacked by invading warriors, sends the child to hide in the forest for three days. Alone and frightened, the girl loses her way, prays to God and is led to a little house tucked away in the woods where she meets a kind old hermit, Saint Joseph.

Three days (translated thirty years earth time) later, he decides it is time for the girl to return to her mother, whose dying wish is to see her daughter once more before death. Handing Mili a rosebud, he promises that after she meets her mother, she will be able to return: "Never fear. When this rose blooms, you will be with me again." The next morning the neighbors find the child and mother together, dead in their sleep.

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Absence of Mercy

Stone, Robert

Last Updated: Aug-01-2006
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

Mackay’s story begins in the 1940s when, at age 5, he was sent to a "boarding school" run by the Catholic order of the Pauline Brothers. Mackay’s mother had herself been institutionalized for paranoid schizophrenia and his father was not in the picture. In the school Mackay was exposed to pervasive violence: "intramural" violence wherein the stronger children taunted and beat up the weaker ones; classroom violence in which the instructors slapped or beat with a razor strop those boys they deemed to be errant in any respect; organized boxing matches; and, most feared, "statutory evening punishment" where students had been selected out by a Brother to be humiliated and beaten after the evening meal and prayers. The latter violence was characterized by "the absence of mercy" and a sadistic ritualism that induced "sick-making terror" in its victims.

We follow Mackay through additional episodes of violence as he progresses through delinquent adolescence--now living in a welfare hotel with his mother--through a stint in the Navy, marriage and fatherhood, and, finally, to an episode in the New York City subway that is the crisis point of the story. In the Navy he is once again victimized by a drill instructor who humiliates Mackay into losing the "instinctive cringe" he had developed during his years at the institution.

Mackay reads in the newspaper that an old buddy--"they had suffered shame and pain together that could never be explained to anyone (38)"--has been murdered in the subway while coming to a woman’s aid. Mackay is terribly troubled by this incident, not only because of the earlier close relationship, but also because he finds himself intrigued by the story. A year later, Mackay is in a similar situation--in his presence, a well dressed but deranged man is threatening a woman in a subway station.

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Misgivings

Williams, C. K. (Charles Kenneth)

Last Updated: Jul-26-2006
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

The poet C. K. Williams enters the room where his father has just died and exclaims to the corpse, "What a war we had!" (p. 1) Soon thereafter, his mother comes into the room and quietly lies down beside her dead husband, their bodies close but not touching. Thus begins Williams's memoir about his parents' deaths and his grieving. In the process of working through his grief, the poet finally comes to "see" his parents and to understand the nature of his feelings toward them and their feelings toward each other.

"You used to be such a nice man," he remembers his mother once telling his father. Indeed, when Williams was a child (and the family poor), his father was engaged and attentive. But as he evolved into a very successful businessman, he emotionally withdrew from the family. Throughout Williams's adult life, he and his father were alienated, their interactions consisting of verbal warfare, made much worse by the young man's choice of profession (writing poetry). It was only after the father had his first "stroke" (indicating brain metastases) that he was able to declare a truce. At one point he said, bemusedly, to his son, "We were kids together, you and I" (p. 37). However, during this truce, Williams's father, unable to bear his suffering, repeatedly pleaded with his son to help him end his life, an act that Williams was unable to perform.

Williams remembers whispering "I love you," when he first viewed his mother's corpse. Yet during life he saw her as a "completely and unquestioningly self-centered" woman (p. 58) whose life was filled with constant anxiety that she wouldn't get enough out of life, or that she'd lose what she had. She was a careless mother and a fretful and vain person. Yet there was more than that. Williams connects with his mother as a suffering person during her final illness: "Someday I'll thank her for how much of herself she risked to have divided herself when she was so young, so unprepared, so vulnerable, into the double creature she and I were...and the linked beings we always would be." (p. 166)

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Annotated by:
Bertman, Sandra

Primary Category: Visual Arts / Painting/Drawing

Genre: Oil on canvas

Summary:

A timeless, archetypal moment of the passing of one generation on to another. While Joseph and his Egyptian Wife, Asenath serenely look on, the aged, nearly blind Jacob on his deathbed breaks with tradition in blessing the youngest grandson first. In the Biblical account (Genesis: 48:8-20), the displeased Joseph interferes, trying to move his father’s hand from Ephraim to the dark-haired Manasseh--"This is the first-born; put your hand upon his head." "I know it, my son, I know it," replies the dignified patriarch, continuing to bless the younger angelic-looking, chosen child, Ephraim, as if moved by prophetic intuition, "set[ting] Ephraim before Manasseh."

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