Showing 91 - 100 of 123 annotations tagged with the keyword "Literary Theory"

Atonement

McEwan, Ian

Last Updated: Aug-01-2002
Annotated by:
Belling, Catherine

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Please note that in order to provide a useful analysis of this novel, it is necessary to reveal the novel's ending in the discussion below. It is England, 1935. Briony Tallis, 12 years old, decides to become a writer. Her first experiment in novelistic technique involves narrating from three different points of view an odd incident she witnesses from her bedroom window: her sister Cecilia undresses and steps into a fountain in the presence of Robbie Turner, the son of a family servant. Robbie has been educated at Cambridge under Mr. Tallis's patronage, and intends to become a physician. He and Cecilia are in love.

Briony's reconstruction of the incident is inaccurate, but she fails to recognize the lesson of her exercise in multiple perspectives: her version is sufficiently coherent for her to mistake it for reality. She jumps to further conclusions and causes Robbie's wrongful conviction and imprisonment for rape and Cecilia's permanent estrangement from her family.

The rest of the novel both elucidates and unravels the opening sequence. It is 1940 and Briony is becoming both a nurse and a novelist. Both roles represent her efforts to atone for her disastrous narrative misconstrual. As a nurse, she learns a new humility and cares for the appalling injuries of soldiers who, like Robbie, are suffering the war in France.

A more metaphysical atonement lies in her work as a novelist: we realize that we have been reading Briony's own rewriting of the initial events and her careful imaginative reconstruction of Robbie's experiences in the Dunkirk evacuation. She tells of her discovery of the actual rapist (if a rape it was), her decision to retract her accusations and her efforts to make amends with Robbie and Cecilia.

In a final section, set in 1999, the aging Briony, now a successful novelist, learns that she is developing progressive vascular dementia. Soon, her ability to remember and grasp reality will desert her. But she has finished writing her latest version of Robbie and Cecilia's story, the novel we have just read, and can rest.

Her atonement seems complete until we learn that Robbie died in France and Cecilia in the Blitz, and that the (relatively) happy ending we read was simply made up by Briony. Devastatingly, we learn that atonement for an error of fiction has been limited to fictional reparation. The lethal damage it has caused in the actual world is beyond mending . . . unless, of course, we accept the vertiginous truth that the damage described in this novel is itself also no more (or less) than a fiction.

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The Plague

Camus, Albert

Last Updated: May-03-2002
Annotated by:
Marta, Jan

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

One April morning in the 1940's in Oran, Algeria, Dr. Rieux, preoccupied with his ill wife's imminent departure to a sanatorium, discovers a dead rat. This unusual event marks the beginning of an epidemic of bubonic plague that will besiege the city until the following February. Over the long ten months Rieux, his acquaintances, friends, colleagues and fellow citizens labor, each in his own way, with the individual and social transformations caused by the all-consuming illness. Separation, isolation, and penury become the common lot of distinct characters whose actions, thoughts and feelings constitute a dynamic tableau of man imprisoned.

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Black Dogs

McEwan, Ian

Last Updated: Apr-09-2002
Annotated by:
Belling, Catherine

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

The narrator, Jeremy, orphaned at age 8, is attempting to write a memoir of his wife's parents, June and Bernard Tremaine. The pair married in England in 1946, idealistic young members of the British Communist Party, but on their honeymoon in France something happens to June that estranges her from her husband and his values forever. After the birth of their daughter, Jeremy's wife, the two live separately. June dies in a nursing home in 1987, after telling Jeremy a great deal about her life and marriage.

In 1989 Jeremy and Bernard travel to Germany together to share in the dismantling of the Berlin Wall. Bernard has taken a lot longer than his wife did to give up on communism. In Berlin, Jeremy hears his father-in-law's very different version of the couple's biography. Jeremy then travels to France to try and unearth the truth about their honeymoon, finding unreliable storytellers, poor memory, and, at the center, June's encounter in the French countryside with a pair of black dogs, owned and trained and then abandoned by the Gestapo. The story, as Jeremy reconstitutes it, is a discovery of evil that, regardless of literal factuality, bears a terrible truth about the human capacity to do harm, both personal and political.

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The Lifted Veil

Eliot, George (Marian Evans)

Last Updated: Mar-24-2002
Annotated by:
Kennedy, Meegan

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

The narrator, Latimer, begins the story with a vision of his death, which he attributes to a heart attack. He explains that, always sensitive after a childhood eye affliction and his mother's death, the further shock of a "severe illness" while at school in Geneva enabled him to see the future, and to hear others' thoughts--an experience which he describes as oppressive. He is fascinated by his brother's fiancée, Bertha, the only human whose thoughts are hidden from him, and whom he marries after his brother dies in a fall.

The marriage falters after Latimer eventually discerns Bertha's cold and manipulative nature through a temporary increase in his telepathy. When Latimer's childhood friend, the scientist Charles Meunier, performs an experimental transfusion between himself and Bertha's just-dead maid, the maid briefly revives and accuses Bertha of plotting to poison Latimer. Bertha moves out, and Latimer dies as foretold.

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Thinks . . .

Lodge, David

Last Updated: Feb-07-2002
Annotated by:
Belling, Catherine

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Helen Reed, a novelist, newly widowed, moves to the University of Gloucester for a semester to teach creative writing. There she meets Ralph Messenger, professor of cognitive science. Their relationship is set within a web of complex professional and family connections, most of which focus on variations of adultery. Everyone has a secret. Helen learns by reading the novel-in-progress of one of her students that the student had had an affair with her husband.

Ralph, awkwardly involved with a Czech grad student who is trying to blackmail him, is regularly unfaithful to his wife, who is in turn having an affair. Another scientist is addicted to on-line child pornography. Helen and Ralph eventually become lovers, until Ralph is found to have a lump on his liver (which later turns out not to be cancer) and then betrays Helen by reading her private journals. She then returns to London and he remains with his wife.

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Annotated by:
Belling, Catherine

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

Nan Shin was an American woman living as a Zen Buddhist nun in France. She is diagnosed with advanced uterine cancer, undergoes surgery and chemotherapy and, by the end of the book, it appears, is dying. Her account does not, however, take the conventional form of the illness narrative; in fact its form might be called anti-narrative, for its focus is not on the story of Shin's illness and dying, but rather on the "every day living" that is at the center of her Zen beliefs.

The book consists of several strands that recur in alternating sections. One strand describes, in minute detail, the course of a single day's devotions and activities in the life of a Zen nun. Another traces the author's travels in the United States with her sensei, an astonishing man whose perspective on American culture is both detached and hilariously insightful.

A third tells of the author's frequent horseback rides through the French countryside, with beautifully focused and precise descriptions of the natural surroundings. Finally, there is the illness, presented matter-of-factly but conveying powerfully the author's (not always wholly successful) efforts to put into practice, in such trying circumstances, all she has learnt as a practitioner of Zen.

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To Render the Lives of Patients

Charon, Rita

Last Updated: Nov-16-2001
Annotated by:
Woodcock, John

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Essay

Summary:

The author, an internist and medical educator with a long-term interest in literature (she recently was awarded a Ph.D. in English literature), describes the literary exercise she uses to develop empathy in students taking her required course in medical interviewing. Charon has her students choose a difficult medical encounter from their own recent training and then write, using the first person, the story of that patient’s life in the day before the difficulty--including being treated by the medical student who is doing the writing. Because much of the story must be imagined, the writer’s intuition is automatically brought into play.

Because it is told from the patient’s point of view, the medical student is forced to see the patient whole and without reference to medical terms. Charon argues that this exercise of the imagination yields a combination of objectivity and empathy that forms the basis for good medical care. She also finds that the exercise helps medical students see themselves as their patients see them--and thus to understand, for instance, the effect on their patients of their youth and nervousness.

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The Message in the Bottle

Percy, Walker

Last Updated: Nov-01-2001
Annotated by:
Sirridge, Marjorie

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Collection (Essays)

Summary:

This book is composed of a series of essays written by Dr. Percy over a period of twenty years from 1954 to 1975. All have been published in journals except the last one, "A Theory of Language." The first one was written before his first novel, The Moviegoer, was published. These all reflect his recurring interest in the nature of human communication.

The first essay, "The Delta Factor," is perhaps the easiest to understand. It has a long subtitle: "How I Discovered the Delta Factor Sitting at my Desk One Summer Day in Louisiana in the 1950's Thinking About an Event in the Life of Helen Keller on Another Summer Day in Alabama in 1887." Percy asks why man feels so sad in the twentieth century; he goes on to state that this book is about two things: man's strange behavior, and man's strange gift of language and how understanding the latter might help understanding of the former.

Percy's view is that man's singular asset, which differentiates him from animals, is language. His interest in language and how children acquire language is almost certainly related to the fact that one of his daughters is deaf, hence also his interest in Helen Keller. Subsequent essays are further approaches to these questions, including the importance of symbolization as an essential act of the mind and a basic human need.

The essay, "The Message in the Bottle" is built around the supposition that a man who is a castaway on an island and has no memory of his past life finds on the shore a series of bottles which contain messages. The man, who has become a useful member of the island community, must decide which messages appear to state empirical facts and which seem to refer to the nature of reality. Dr. Percy sees that the messages can be in some ways like the news of the Christian faith. This fits with his own personal way of dealing with a feeling of alienation by turning to religion. He sees belief in one of the theistic historical religions as a way to redeem man from the catastrophe which has overtaken him. He describes not only himself but also man as a castaway who can recognize his need and have hope that some message might relieve his predicament.

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The Talking Cure

Busch, Frederick

Last Updated: Nov-01-2001
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

Narrated in the first person, the transforming events of Peter's life as a 15 year old are told years later. The opening paragraphs set the scene: "the older brother who went off to school" leaving "the brilliant . . . mother . . . bereft"; the father, "son of a bankrupt Hudson Valley apple grower"; "the darkening drift and dismay of my parents." Into this family unease steps the local veterinarian, Dr. Mason, whom Peter assists during after-school hours, and who is a sometime dinner guest in his parents' home.

Dr. Mason not only tries to persuade Peter to go into a medical profession, ignoring Peter's interests (writing poetry, reading about mountain climbing) but self-importantly insists on "offering [him] lessons in nothing less than all of life" (63). Dr. Mason, we learn, is singularly unqualified to dispense such lessons. He is, at least in Peter's eyes, overbearing and insensitive in his interactions with the owners of the pets he treats, and perhaps even unethical in his professional decisions. Then, Peter discovers, his mother is having an affair with Dr. Mason (who is also married). It is the burden of this knowledge that drives the narrative.

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Annotated by:
Kennedy, Meegan

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Collection (Short Stories)

Summary:

Warren here supposedly presents the papers of a late friend, detailing the interesting cases he had encountered as a physician. In fact, the "cases" are sensational short stories, presented as a novel due to the framing chapter introducing the narrator's "Early Struggles" to make a living as a physician. Other stories investigate typically Gothic themes like ghosts, duels, graverobbing, elopements, and broken hearts, with other scandalous problems like gambling, dissipation, murder, domestic abuse, and suicide. Medical topics include mental illness, epilepsy, hysterical paralysis ("catalepsy"), cancer, toothache, consumption, syphilis, heart disease, alcoholism, disease of the spine, gout, amaurosis (blindness), puerperal hemorrhage, measles, and stroke ("apoplexy").

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