Showing 771 - 780 of 877 annotations tagged with the keyword "Society"

The Children of Men

James, P. D.

Last Updated: Jan-11-1999
Annotated by:
Taylor, Nancy

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

It is the year 2021. The last birth recorded on earth occurred in 1995 (Year Omega). In England, Xan Lyppiatt is Warden; he promises security, comfort, and pleasure to his people. Xan's cousin, Theo Faron, Ph.D., retired professor of history at Merton College, Oxford, becomes involved with 5 people who oppose Xan's worst policies: the Quietus ("voluntary" mass suicides of the elderly), the sending of all criminals to the Man Penal Colony where there is no one to control cruelty, the rules forbidding Brits from traveling abroad and allowing only Sojourners (slave/workers) to emigrate, the compulsory testing of sperm and routine examinations of healthy women, and state-run porn shops. Theo and the 5, one of whom is pregnant, flee to avoid capture by Xan's men.

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Open Workings

Bamforth, Iain

Last Updated: Nov-25-1998
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)

Summary:

This is the third volume of poetry by Bamforth, a physician and scientific translator who practices in Strasbourg, France. Open Workings is precisely that--the poet opens various ideas, places, and events and shows us their inner workings. But we find that the workings are not what we expect.

Some of these poems (e.g. "Between the Rhins and the Machars," pp. 20-23) evoke Scottish folk tales and traditions. "The Fever Hospital" (p. 33) alludes to William Carlos Williams's famous poem "Spring and All," which begins, "By the road to the contagious hospital . . . " Several are set in a mining town in the Australian outback. In "A Clear Thought" (p. 39) Bamforth recalls the "scorched mesas / and camel-track droppings / of overland Australia" where he and his wife, "two transients, / (we) were crossing a language / bigger than its markers." The long sequence (30 poems) called "Doing Calls on the Old Portpatrick Road" provides a richly textured view of the life and interactions of a country doctor, one of whose patients asks, "Why do you call it failure now my heart breaks?" (p. 64)

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The Commodore

O'Brian, Patrick

Last Updated: Nov-16-1998
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

This is the 17th of Patrick O'Brian's novels about the adventures of Captain Jack Aubrey of the British Navy, and his friend, Stephen Maturin, the ship's surgeon and secret intelligence agent. Aubrey is a large, hearty, cheerful man who loves music and astronomy, and whose fortunes wax and wane as O'Brian follows him through numerous engagements and exploits around the world, roughly from 1800 to 1815. (While the early books in this series place Aubrey in some of the actual sea battles of the British war against Napoleon, "real time" gets suspended in the later novels.)

Maturin is small, dark, and secretive; of Irish and Basque descent; and a Roman Catholic. Nonetheless, he hates Napoleon so much that he becomes an agent for the British, working under the intelligence chief, Sir Joseph Blaine. Maturin is also a famous physician and naturalist, and he plays the cello to Aubrey's violin. The two men are the closest of friends, despite their many differences; in fact, this series of novels is the story of two complex and engaging characters and their years of friendship, as much as it is a series of sea yarns and adventures.

In The Commodore, Aubrey and Maturin have returned to England after a protracted trip around the world that occupied the previous four novels. Aubrey happily spends time with his wife and children, but Maturin discovers that his wife, Diana, has disappeared and his young daughter appears to be autistic.

Shortly, Aubrey receives orders to lead a squadron of ships to the west African coast, where he is to harass the slavers and, on the return voyage, to engage a French squadron being sent (secretly) to attack Ireland. Maturin joins the squadron after carrying his daughter to safety in Spain. They successfully knock off some slaving ships and terrorize the Coast of Guinea, before hurrying back to the southwestern coast of Ireland where they catch up with the French ships and defeat them.

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Away

Urquhart, Jane

Last Updated: Aug-17-1998
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

A strange Irish girl is "away" ever since she lay beside a drowned man. A teacher marries her, providing stability if not sanity, but the 1840s famines begin and the couple flee Ireland with their child Liam. They establish a homestead in a remote part of Ontario where a baby girl, Eileen, is born.

Not long after, the mother disappears and is not seen again for years until she is brought home dead. The son learns that she had been living by a lake immersed in her fantasies of the long dead lover. Eventually, Liam is left to care for his sister alone; they travel to a small port town where he realizes that Eileen has become an attractive young woman with desires of her own. She too goes "away" following a lover, but returns to Liam and his wife to live out her long and lonely life.

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Outside Passage

Scully, Julia

Last Updated: Aug-17-1998
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

Subtitled, A Memoir of an Alaskan Childhood, this spare, compelling work recalls young Julia's difficult and unusual life in a splintered family living "at the edge of the world." When Julia was born in 1929 the family had just moved to Seattle and entered an economic crisis--"somehow, my father had been bilked out of their money." (17) The marriage went downhill as poverty and the father's serious illness compounded an underlying conjugal incompatibility.

Julia was only seven years old when she and her older sister Lillian found their father dead--a suicide. "Nothing is said about how my father died, or even, in fact, that he is dead." (8) Not long thereafter Julia's mother, Rose, without any explanation or advance warning, left the girls at the Pacific Hebrew Orphan Asylum; there they remained for two years. Rose went to Nome, Alaska to try to find work. "Meanwhile, I strive to be a model orphan. I do all my chores . . . I'm quiet, do well in school, am extremely polite. And most of the time, I'm afraid." (33)

There follows another stay in a different orphanage. Here "I never hear my name . . . No one ever touches me. And, in my memory of that time, that place, I am always alone." (72) Finally, they join their mother again in a remote mining outpost of Alaska where Rose operates a roadhouse. Moving with the seasons back and forth between the outpost and the city of Nome, Julia's life takes on a semblance of normalcy. The environment is strange but interesting, the men who frequent the roadhouse are rough but friendly--there is a sense of camaraderie.

As Julia reaches puberty she becomes subliminally aware of a relationship between her mother and the owner of the Nome liquor store, Cappy. Cappy is married--his family is back in Seattle. There is never any open display of affection between Cappy and Rose, but he eats his meals with them and is almost a surrogate father to Julia and her sister. Suddenly Rose decides to move the family to Fairbanks. Here there is a "secret scenario" that Julia only pieces together many years later. As the events unfold in Fairbanks, Julia knows only that her mother is "distracted, not there." And that a man "carrying a small black satchel" comes to the house and leaves her mother moaning in bed.

Once more, Rose leaves her now teenaged children behind as she returns to Nome. It is wartime and Lillian and Julia find jobs at the military base in Fairbanks. As suddenly as they came to Fairbanks, they are summoned back to Nome--no questions asked, no explanations given. Cappy's son is missing in action. Once again, Julia cannot understand the silence, the absence of grief displayed--"Isn't anybody sad? Isn't anybody upset?" (181) Rose's relationship with Cappy quietly ends.

As Julia finishes high school she fantasizes about leaving Nome, going to college, becoming a journalist--fantasies inspired by Rosalind Russell's role in the film, His Girl Friday, and by Sinclair Lewis's critique of small town life in the novel, Main Street. "I begin to discern, vaguely, tentatively, that somewhere there exists a world where the accepted language is the one that Sinclair Lewis speaks--a language of ideas and, even, of feelings." (212) Indeed, as the book jacket notes, the author graduated from Stanford and became a magazine editor; she lives in Manhattan.

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Annotated by:
Wear, Delese

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

A novel written in the first-person to what appears to be a trusted friend, Spending is the story of Monica Szabo, a painter who has struggled her entire career to be "moderately successful." Divorced and the mother of young adult daughters, Monica teaches to supplement the income from her paintings.

One evening after a gallery talk a man introduces himself as a collector of her paintings and offers himself to be her muse. This offer includes everything so many successful male artists have had that enabled them to produce "great" art: protected time to create, money, a room of their own. His offer also includes sex.

The novel, then, is the unfolding relationship between Monica and the man she ironically calls only "B," a relationship that includes her huge ambivalence about the tensions of their arrangement that often collide at the intersection of his money and the implicitly obligatory (yet quite pleasurable) sex. By the end of the story Monica is rich and famous through the sale of her series of Christs who were not dead (as portrayed on Renaissance canvases) but merely postorgasmic. B, in the meantime, loses his fortune and the roles are reversed.

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Anton Chekhov. A Life

Rayfield, Donald

Last Updated: Jul-16-1998
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Biography

Summary:

This is the most detailed and comprehensive biography of Anton P. Chekhov written to date. Rayfield is a Chekhov scholar who published an earlier biography of the writer in 1975. There are numerous biographies of Chekhov available. In the Preface to this book, Rayfield explains why he wrote it. Chekhov's life is documented by a vast amount of archival material, much of which was unavailable to Western scholars in the past. Russian scholars have studied these sources extensively, but the studies they have published use only a small part of the material. Rayfield's own study convinced him that by drawing liberally from these archives he could write a new biography that would increase our understanding of Chekhov's life and character.

Rayfield's approach is strictly chronological. The book consists of 84 short chapters, each one named and subtitled with the period covered (e.g. July - August 1894). Rayfield sticks closely to the texts, developing a rather staccato style that is heavy on factual statements and light on his own interpretations. He also chooses not to discuss Chekhov's writings as such, except to present brief summaries of the plays and some of the more important stories, and to indicate relationships between Chekhov's life and his art.

The new material gives us a much better view of the day-to-day texture of Chekhov's life, his interactions with family and friends, and his interesting and enigmatic relationships with women. The book also includes a helpful diagram of the Chekhov family tree, two maps of Chekhov's country, and many photographs.

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Three Lives

Stein, Gertrude

Last Updated: Jul-05-1998
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Collection (Novellas)

Summary:

This first published work of fiction by Gertrude Stein includes two stories, "The Good Anna" (71 pp.) and "The Gentle Lena" (40 pp.); and a novella, "Melanctha" (151 pp.) Each one is a psychological portrait of the named protagonist. All three are members of the lower socioeconomic stratum of the fictional town of Bridgepoint.

"The Good Anna" tells the story of a German immigrant who kept house for Miss Mathilda. Anna was honest, steadfast, and loyal as the day is long, but she was also stern and difficult to deal with. Anna's special friend was Mrs. Lehntman, the romance of her life. After Miss Mathilda moved to a far country, Anna took in boarders for a living, didn't make much money, and after a while died. "The Gentle Lena" is the story of another German servant girl who married unhappily and died shortly after the birth of her fourth child.

"Melanctha" is an extended portrait of Melanctha Herbert, a mulatto woman, and her unhappy love affair with Dr. Jeff Campbell, the doctor who took care of Melanctha's mother during her final illness. Much of the novella consists of protracted conversations between Melanctha and Jeff and extensive descriptions of their respective mental states.

Eventually the two lovers drifted apart. Melanctha took up with Jem Richards, "who always had to know what it was to have true wisdom." But that relationship didn't work out either. Melanctha became depressed and considered suicide. After she recovered from depression, she developed consumption and died.

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AIDS and Its Metaphors

Sontag, Susan

Last Updated: Jul-03-1998
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Treatise

Summary:

This essay was written ten years after the author's Illness as Metaphor (see this database). Sontag begins by explaining the stimulus for her earlier essay: her own experience as a cancer patient. During that time, she discovered that cultural myths about cancer tended to isolate and estrange cancer patients. They suffered needlessly because of "meaning" attributed to their illness by society. A decade later, Sontag observes that attitudes about cancer have become more open and truthful. However, a new illness (AIDS) has arisen to carry forward the metaphorical banner.

AIDS brings together two powerful metaphors about illness. First, AIDS develops further the theme (seen earlier in cancer) of disease as invader: the enemy invades and destroys you from within. Thus, AIDS strengthens the use of military metaphors in medicine. The war against cancer is reincarnated as a war against AIDS. Secondly, because AIDS is a sexually transmitted disease, it also evokes the theme of plague-as-punishment.

Sontag's project in this essay is more focused than in the earlier book. She acknowledges that the medical and public health response to AIDS explicitly counters these myths. She concludes that "not all metaphors applied to illnesses and their treatment are equally unsavory and distorting" (p. 94). The metaphor she is most anxious to see eliminated is the military metaphor, both on an illness level (illness invades the person) and a societal level (social problems invade society).

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Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Treatise

Summary:

In this book written for the layman, linguist George Lakoff and philosopher Mark Johnson cogently argue that metaphor is integral, not peripheral to language and understanding. Furthermore, "metaphor is pervasive in everyday life, not just in language but in thought and action. Our ordinary conceptual system, in terms of which we both think and act, is fundamentally metaphorical in nature." (p. 3)

The authors adopt a broad definition of metaphor, examine common phrases for metaphorical interpretation, and offer a classification system of metaphor. For example, orientational metaphors are found in our ordinary language and are part of the spatial organization of our lives. When one says, "He dropped dead" or "He's at the peak of health," one is using the orientational metaphor that we live by: "Health and life are up; sickness and death are down." This orientation is not arbitrary; the authors point out that one lies down when one is ill.

Other types of metaphors categorized by the authors are structural and ontological (e.g., making a non-entity into an entity: "We need to combat inflation," or setting a boundary on a non-entity: "He's coming out of the coma"). The authors also differentiate metaphor from other figures of speech, such as metonymy, which relies more completely on substitution: "The ham sandwich wants his check."

The second half of the book address issues more philosophical in nature, such as theories of truth and how we understand the world, including the "myths" of "objectivism," "subjectivism," and "experientialism." These theories are reviewed with metaphor in mind. For example, objectivism relies on the separation of man from the environment and the subsequent mastery over the environment. Hence objectivism is rife with metaphors which confirm such ideas as "knowledge is power."

The authors conclude by stating that metaphors provide "the only ways to perceive and experience much of the world. Metaphor is as much a part of our functioning as our sense of touch, and as precious."

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