All posts by Hollis Camp

Human Perspective in Lydia Davis’s “The Cows”

Lydia Davis’s chapbook, The Cows, is an impressionistic and exploratory work in which she examines her neighbor’s cows with loving detail, humor and empathy. The three main subjects are, as Thornburg calls them, “stubbornly languid” and definitively “bovine” in terms of plot and physical action; almost indistinguishably similar is size, shape, color, and demeanor, the cows fuse with the rural upstate New York scenery as year round stark foliage (1). Davis admits in an interview with Eleanor Watchel that she has long been disheartened with the novel, “rarely” finishing those that interest her the most (12). Instead she pursues with The Cows a curious stylistic journey into a realm devoid of “lyricism or flowery language”, consisting instead of a “plain” and “narrow focus” (Watchel 12). With systematic and lovingly frequent observations, Davis attempts to create a work of “literary landscape art” as a lesson to herself in polishing the skills of simplicity and objectivity (Thornburg 3). Her attempt to observe without judgement to try to make sense of the enigmatic “lumps” across the road reveals less about the cows than it does about herself, the society in which she resides, and perception as it relates to consciousness. Her examinations of the cows presents a raw depiction of human nature, tinged with a gluttonous desire to categorize, understand and inject meaning into the natural world, all of which can be seen through her descriptions of the cows relative to physical motion, spatial landscape, mathematical and scientific reasoning, simile and metaphor and personification.

As Davis discusses the cows and their physical motion, the inherent for desire for action becomes present. Initially, she sees the cows as performers, each day is “the start of an entirely new play”, each moment “the next act” (Davis 7). The first line in the chapbook, it is evident that she expects great things from these animals, as if they exist not on their own, but rather to specifically facilitate and inspire her work. She uses repetitive language such as “next”, “start”, and “new”, amplified by the reader’s anticipation of opening to the first page to create an overwhelming tone of excitement (Davis 7). However, her excitement lasts only until the next page, where her disappointment dominates. They move in spontaneous and haphazard ways, “as though something is going to happen, and then nothing happens” (Davis 9). Here, rather than graceful dancers moving under “the instructions of a choreographer” (Davis 17), she grapples with the dismaying realization that their motion is aimless, simple and without direction, “motionless until they move again” (Davis 9). Their dance is free of human influence and of their own accord. In fact, after prolonged observation, Davis admits her oblivion to the majority of their motion, as they seem to appear and disappear in increments of time determined by her “ten minute” attention span (Davis 11). Her enthusiasm at the beginning of her observation is followed by nearly immediate dissatisfaction because she sees the cows as sources of entertainment before she sees them as cows, speaking to the human tendency of egocentrism, in which expectation generates conditioned judgement.

Dismayed by their astonishing lack of physical activity, Davis attempts to accept them as objects and shifts her perspective and begins to view the cows in terms of spatial distinctions in regard to the landscape. She describes their size in the field as if she were discussing the subjects of painting, forever frozen in the permanence of the “foreground” and the “middle ground” of the pasture (Davis 23). This categorization of their description suggests that ultimately she is unable to see them as they are, but instead must justify their positions as though they are a painting, an artistic rendering of how they are. Through her use of language, she finds herself even farther from realistic observation, stuck inside the boundaries of a representation of a representation of the truth. Her self-centered perspective again obscures the accuracy of her vision once she abandons her former idea. As she looks at them from the comfort of her home, she muses “the field of my vision in which they are grazing is only the length of half my finger” (Davis 12). Here, Davis describes cows as they are from her inescapably human perspective. The views she holds shrinks the image of the massive cow down to her fingertip, serving as an imposition of her human superiority.

As her observations wear on, Davis grows increasingly captivated by the seemingly unexplainable nature of the cows. Seeking to understand their nature, she vainly attempts to categorize their behavior in terms of logic, basic mathematics, and scientific reasoning. Many times when she peers over her hedge in observation, the cows are huddled together in the shape of an indistinguishable, “irregular mass” (Davis 11). This description emphasis her disdain of the enigmatic. The irregularity of uneven and lumpy cows when standing in this formation is a inconvenience because it lacks the ordered boundaries that she craves as a human; she finds comfort in the justification of “twelve legs” (Davis 11). As an explanation of their strange positions one day, she states that together” they face three of the four cardinal points of the compass” (21). An authoritative “the” marks the dominion of the logical above the whimsical. Superior reason dominates again on page 20 when she employs a colon and list to describe their “forms of play” in a way that is, in all intents and purposes, robotic (Davis 20). This strategy of description demands order and completely undermines the nature of the unconventional and free-spirited play that she is trying to describe, providing a strong instance in which her desire to understand the cows in ordered, human ways overpowers her venture in trying to understand them solely as cows. Furthermore, she compares her experience of observing to cows to that of a math problem: “1 cow lying down in the snow, plus 2 cows on their feet looking this way across the road, equals 3 cows” (Davis 28). It is evident that she feels a great deal of affection for these animals and knowing that all three are present in her observation is a certain kind of solace. Thus she arranges and sorts the cows in coherent and systematic ways as a source of her own contentment in another loss to her ever-present subjectivity.

Davis’s inability to shake her subjectivity as an observer becomes most prominent through her recurrent use of simile. Throughout her writing, she describes the shape, action and behaviors of the cows in relation to human objects which apply to her, her readers, and the modern society in which both reside. Standing together they form a “locomotive”, apart and from a distance they take the shape of “wide black strokes of a pen” (Davis 14, 27). Individually, they “look like black staples” with legs that form sharp angles with the earth like “prongs” of a fork (Davis 28). Rather than the subtler metaphor, her use of the word “like” pervades the various descriptions of the cows with a sense of synthetic imitation. Each object to which she compares the cows heightens her inability to separate herself from the heavily objectified and industrialized society that overwhelms her. Aware of this detriment to her perception, she shows significant insight with the solitary appreciation of the graceful nature of “the position, or form, itself” of the grazing cow (Davis 30). Only when she is able to step back and see the cow as a cow does she express genuine understanding of her surrounding natural environment.

Perhaps the most flagrant expression of Davis’s lack of objectivity is her frequent imposition of human emotions onto the cow’s behaviors. As Thornburg points out, Davis does indeed go to great lengths to allow the cows to stand on their own: physical human presence outside herself is “virtually absent” from the observations, allowing the cows “the chance to occupy our attention more fully” (5). However, she feels the need to see the cows as more than cows is evident through over twenty separate instances of personification throughout the chapbook. Davis is forced to inject her own emotions and drives as justifications and explanations of the cows’s inscrutable behavior. She supposes that a cow’s day spent standing perfectly still is motivated by a “philosophical attitude”, unable to accept the cows as foreign objects to her limited understanding of them (Davis 12). She goes on to imagine their various “wants” and “likes” as she depicts the cows in scenarios in which they feel “concentration” “jealousy” “discouragement” “embarrassment” and “shame”, even if their physical actions are the simple lowering of the head, the quiet stare, or an unmotivated meander to the far side of the field (Davis 16, 22). It is not to say the cows are incapable of these emotions, but instead, that as an onlooker, one has no way of knowing. Davis is very much aware of this and admits that her suggestions of bovine emotions are “false”, understanding that the cows exist in peaceful oblivion from the human world and “do not know the words ‘person’, ‘watch’ or even ‘cow’”, yet she is unable to cease their production as her descriptions continue, and therefore finds herself continuously farther away from an objective truth (Davis 22, 37). As Through these musings, she demonstrates her desire to give everything meaning, even a concepts as enigmatic and alien as the humble cow, strengthening the inexplicably human aversion to utterly simplistic blankness.

Much in the way that Stevens decided there are only thirteen ways to observe a blackbird, patterns emerge in Davis’s descriptions of the neighboring cows. In a search for order, logic, and sentience in the cow’s actions, she looks at them from varying perspectives including, physical motion and position, where she gets her bearings, mathematical reasoning, where she tries to find logical explanations for the unexplainable ‘cow-ness’, and finally through personification and comparison, where she applies the emotions and objects of a world undeniably human in an attempt to gain a relatable familiarity. Greater trends emerge in her writing with the progression of the work such as a tone of uncertainty captured by repetitive uses of words like “sometimes”, “probably” and “or” and a shift to descriptions characterized by adjectives as basic as “so” (Davis 25, 29). This shift is a result of her growing awareness that true objectivity is ultimately futile. After having carefully watched the cows for many seasons, she concludes her project with the observation that they disappear at dusk (Davis 37). Here, Davis highlights the critical flaw in her experiment in objectivity—that an encompassing and totally unvarnished perspective is ultimately impossible as a result of the decomposition of human omniscience during the night. All superiority and domain is lost in the realization of the inadequacy of the narrative and its inability to envision anything outside of the egocentric human perspective. The pixels and print of Davis’s The Cows do not come close to demonstrating an unbiased depiction of the natural world. This does not suggest that the narrative should be abandoned and that all hope is lost in the search for truth, but rather that we see more of ourselves in observations of the foreign world, and that the truths of this foreign world, embodied by the basic cow, will forever remain a mystery.

Works Cited

Thornburg, Ann Marie. “The Cows, by Lydia Davis.” MAKE Literary Productions. Make Literary Magazine, 9 Feb. 2012. Web. 03 May 2014. <http://makemag.com/eview-the-cows-by-lydia-davis_new/>.

Ulin, David L. “Lydia Davis Talks to Animals.” The Reading Life: Books and All Things Bookish. The Los Angeles Times, 30 June 2011. Web. 06 May 2014. <http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/jacketcopy/2011/06/the-reading-life-lydia-davis-talks-to-the-animals.html>.

Watchel, Eleanor. “An Interview with Lydia Davis.” BrickMag.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 May 2014. <http://brickmag.com/interview-lydia-davis>.

 

“Equilibrium” (1494)

On the surface it would seem that the two apartments, one atop the other, are worlds apart from one another. Below is a loud and rioting party, filled with a rambunctious cast of characters, all who have had their fair share of intoxicants during the span of their 3 day party signifying the end of the lease on the apartment. Above Callisto and Aubade reside in a “hermetically sealed” (1486) sanctuary, seemingly separate from the outside world. As both houses resist impending changes to their environments, there exist parallels between the two seeming different rooms, resulting in the inevitable conclusion of “equilibrium” (1494). This equilibrium is foreshadowed by the presence of music, sound and noise

Similarly, despite the many differing characteristics of the two apartments, the presence of music reveals that they are in no way separate entities. Both settings are defined by music and sound. Downstairs the music pumps wildly and the characters and musicians debate about operas and instruments, resulting in an “ungodly crescendo” (1493) of noise, while above Aubade’s entire existence is dictated by sound, the “howling darkness of discordancy” (1486). The sound from below permeates the Callisto’s quarantined apartment, signifying that his precious isolated fantasy had been broken long before Aubade destroys the window to let the cold air in. In fact, it is the music which first wakes Callisto from sleep, foreshadowing the imminent realization of his obsession with entropy and the fact that no thing is perfectly sustainable. He frets about the weather’s constancy because he knows that it must change eventually. As a result of this mindset, foreshadowed by the overwhelming presence of noise that exists within both apartments thus connecting them, he too knows that the state he has created in his apartment must inevitably be destroyed by the chaos of the world, resulting in a horrifying equilibrium of that which he cannot control.

Deforming “Diving into the Wreck”

Original text (34-44):

First the air is blue and then

it is bluer and then green and then

black I am blacking out and yet

my mask is powerful

it pumps my blood with power

the sea is another story

the sea is not a question of power

I have to learn alone

to turn my body without force

in the deep element

Altered text:

blue

bluer green

black

powerful

alone

deep

This fourth stanza of “Diving into the Wreck” deals largely with the narrator’s transcendental experience as she becomes submerged under water to begin her deep see exploration.  It is interesting to note the large role that adjectives play in the illustration of this shift.  The adjectives paint a tragic image.  Without the context provided by nouns and verbs, the adjectives by themselves depict a plummet into darkness, not unlike the way in which dying, or falling into a deep sleep is often depicted: a slow fading of color that can only be experienced by oneself.  This environment change reveals a shift from a dependence on the basic senses and demands a certain focus on the cultivation of the energy of the mind, moreover, a new kind of consciousness and way of functioning.  In addition, the use of simple colors emphasizes the ordinary or simple nature of this transformation; the descriptions reveal that our narrator’s journey is universal and common to anyone willing to take the plunge into this new kind of understanding.

This shift in consciousness gains greater meaning in the context of the original verse when we learn of the speaker’s dependence on the oxygen tank.  This dependence is critical, shown through the repetition of soft consonants like p’s, b’s and d’s (38) to resemble the familiar “lub-dub” of a beating human heart. The tank is indicative of the fact that the realm in which we enter in this poem is entirely unnatural and inhospitable.  Because the speaker renounces the tank as a companion through the use of the word “alone”, the shift can be read as one from a human world obsessed with and reliant on power and machinery to a more peaceful, “deep” (44) place of effortless fantasy.

 

 

Comparison of Stevens and Coover

“A man and a woman 

Are one.

A man and a woman and a blackbird 

Are one.” (Stevens 10)

 

“That sweet odor that girls have.  The softness of her blouse.  He catches a glimpse of the gentle shadows amid her things, as she curls her legs up under her.  He stares hard at her.” (Coover 207)

Both of these texts deal with  extreme objectification, specifically the young girl in “The Babysitter” and the blackbird in “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” from a variety of different viewpoints.  Both use the many-perspective narrative technique to fully explore the profundity of their subjects; however, Stevens uses his to sway the reader towards a calming sense of interconnectedness with nature while Coover employs the narrative style to overwhelm the reader with fewer, more extreme view-points to highlight the discordant tendencies of the traditional societal roles of women.

Stevens uses thirteen different stanzas, varying in tone and composition to reveal the nature of human misperceptions.  He uses the blackbird as the central object of the poem to call attention to and glorify the commonly overlooked blackbird.  With each stanza, he offers a different vignette which proposes a new way of examining the blackbird.  These many view points offer contradictory messages of tranquility and violence and nothingness and significance and result in a whirlwind of observations that culminate in the blurring of time and order,  which can be seen through claims in the final stanza such as “it was evening all afternoon” and “it was going to snow” (Stevens 50).   Coover uses a similar technique in the narrative of “The Babysitter”.  The chronology of the story is disjointed into short stanza-like paragraphs which vary in tone depending on the speaker.

Stevens uses the many dimensions of his narrative to depict an incalculable vastness of the physical world through heavily examining facets of the blackbird.  In doing so, he tackles the concept of sexuality with the above quote, acknowledging its immense influence over society.  Coover uses the multiple viewpoint method to demonstrate the ways in which the young girl is sexually objectified by societal roles for women.  Nameless, she is without a clear identity, defined instead by those around her as they focus and fantasize the different aspects of her sexuality.  To Mr Tucker, she is a fetishized reincarnation of his and his wife’s lost youth, to Jack and Mark she is the physical satiation of their most innate desires, and to Jimmy and Bitsy, she is an interim mother.  Each of these representations are shown through differing narrative styles; however, she is without a voice of her own and is thus torn apart by the tsunami of fantasy roles she as a malleable youth is expected to fulfill.

Illusions in “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” Revised

Hemingway’s “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” chronicles the agonizing death of Harry as gangrenous rot slowly consumes his leg during his vacation in Tanzania.  While incapacitated, he spends a great deal of the story contemplating his many relationships and experiences.  In doing so, he comes to terms with his most profound regret: not saving the time to write them down.  He attributes the majority of his underachievement to the caustic lifestyle embraced by the very wealthy, one of which he reaps the physical luxuries, but suffers great mental turmoil.  In order to cope with what he considers to be the acute failure in achieving his most torrid desires, he attempts to separate himself from reality in his narrative through the use of flashbacks as well as perceptual contortions of traditional aspects of human sentience such as love, death, and religion.

The first evidence seen of Harry’s separation from reality is through the use of his narrative flashbacks, which he uses to artificially satiate his regrets.  The syntax of the flashbacks consists of exhaustingly long-winded passages of seemingly stream-of-conscious description, which contrast sharply with the terse dialogue that dominates the rest of the story.  The physical events of each flashback blend into one another, contributing to the tone of haze and confusion throughout the story.  The shift in syntax, in addition to the visual distinction of italics, lets the passages take the form of dream sequences rather than truly chronological or realistic flashbacks.  As Harry’s condition worsens and he grows closer to death, the frequency of these passages greatly increases, in that the fourth, fifth and sixth flashbacks are separated only by sparse lines of dialogue.  Although the flashbacks are for the most part his own experiences, never does he assume the first person narrative.  Instead, he relieves the weight of his regrets by pushing them onto the reader through the use of the subject “you,” (Hemingway 1031) seen in both the fourth and fifth flashback.  In his anxiety of being unable to mend the mistakes of his past, his dreams begin to invade the physical plot, taking Harry farther away from the reality of his situation and closer to the successful reality he wish he had carried out.

Harry’s uneasiness with his death can also been seen through his relationship with his wife.  He is clearly unhappy with his relationship, emphasized through his comparison of their love to a “dunghill,” (Hemingway 1025).  Rather than honestly confront his wife with the his true unhappiness, he revises his true feelings with saccharine musings of love: “the familiar lie he made his bread and butter by.” (Hemingway 1025).  In the acknowledgement of his deception, Harry also acknowledges the truth in honesty, yet still retreats into a realm of duplicity.  In addition to his confession of the dishonesty of his relationship, Harry reacts to love by reversing its typical perception.  Because he sees the act of intercourse as a form of “destruction” (Hemingway 1028), it is clear that he rejects its primary purpose, that of creation.  This overthrow of traditional perception reveals his dismissal of reality.  Similarly, he describes his first encounter with love as a plague of sorts, one that he is “unable to cure himself of” (Hemingway 1029).  With these twisted conceptions of love, Harry abandons reality he falls deeper into his self delusion.

The concept of death plays a large role in the story and like love, it is distorted by the Hemingway’s narrative.  The entirety of the story chronicles Harry’s arduous demise; the sluggish nature of gangrene exhausts both Harry and the reader.  Furthermore, his death is illustrated in the blurring of reality and dreams; it is physically nothing more than the passive slipping away of breaths.  Harry describes death throughout the story in an abrupt manner devoid of emotion and specifics.  This style is exemplified through the statement in his first flashback, “those were the same Austrians they killed then that he skied with later” (Hemingway 1024).  The confusing nature of this line distorts the chronological flow of events and makes the definitive nature of death obscure.  A second illusion lies within the comparison of death to one of the hyenas of the plains which, “rests its head on the foot of the cot” (Hemingway 1035).  The scavenging hyena in this instance behaves in a manner similar to that of a familial dog.  This comparison is shown again with Harry’s assumption that he can simply “tell it to go away” (Hemingway 1035), a command normally heeded by a house pet.  Because death in the story is the major source of Harry’s anxiety, its association with the domestic canine implies security.  Harry’s shift of death to a familiar symbol of comfort displays another instance in which rejects transitional perceptions to appease his mental discomfort.

Harry’s greatest distortion of reality is in his perception of religion.  The epitaph that precedes the story is the first introduction religion, in that it equates the summit of Kilimanjaro with a certain enlightened holiness through its translated name, “the House of God” (Hemingway 1021).  Harry takes his final solace in this image of “unbelievable white” so consuming that it is “all he could see, as wide as the world” (Hemingway 1036) as his destination in the moments before his death.  Like the frozen leopard carcass preserved at the peak, Harry seeks the permanence of a legacy that he was never able to achieve through his writing.  This desire of reaching the crest of heaven serves as an illusion because Harry’s death is in no way similar to that of the leopard.  The frozen leopard symbolizes immortality because it died in a heroic quest to satisfy an intangible desire, however, Harry dies meekly on the plains of Tanzania, infected with disappointment.  Even in his dream he remains too cowardly to take control of his aspiration, as the plane is piloted by Compton, his personal servant and the embodiment of the indulgent lifestyle for which he blames for the majority of his death.

Hemingway illustrates the nature of Harry’s desire to separate himself from the tragedies of his reality throughout “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” with flashbacks enhanced by a distortion of traditional perceptions of aspects of life such as love, death and religion.  The vastness and ambiguity of each concept are so terrifying to him that he recoils from the real world. In a haze of drunkenness, he twists each around in his mind until they come to embody distortions of their traditional meanings.  It is through this kind of irrational rationalization of fears and regrets that Hemingway reveals the devastating extent of Harry’s innate cowardice.

Intro to Ralph Ellison

ralph_ellison

Ralph Ellison was a hugely influential African American voice of the 20th century.  He was born in 1914 in Oklahoma City.  His father died when he was three years old.  Years later, he was awarded a scholarship to attend Tuskegee Institute to study music and gain proficiency with both the trumpet and piano.  During his time in college he became infatuated with modern literature, finding particular inspiration in T.S. Eliot’s “The Wasteland”.  After three years at Tuskegee, Ellison moved to New York City to study visual arts.  There, he met author Richard Wright who saw Ellison’s potential after reading one of his book reviews.  Wright strongly encouraged Ellison to pursue writing and was a large source of support for the majority of his career.  Ellison began his most prominent work, Invisible Man in 1945 and it was finally published in 1952.  He was heavily awarded for Invisible Man as well as his many other essays and stories. He went on to teach at Bard College, University of Chicago, and New York University.  Wright’s work has been celebrated for it’s independence from his contemporaries, but criticized for not being sufficiently devoted to social protest.  Ellison saw his success as a failure, wishing to be seen as an author who wrote stories rather than an activist who wrote socio-political statements.  However, in his writing Ellison tackles issues of identity, individuality, and social conformity, all the while maintaining undercurrents of vibrant culture and imagination which stem from his artistic passions.

“Wails of weeping without words” (948)

The sentence “Wails of weeping without words” occurs immediately after Joe has caught Missie May in her infidelity and has physically beaten Otis Slemmons out of the house. With only five words, Hurston manages to characterize a heartbreaking mistake, the nauseating anticipation of a negative future, and the long-lasting detrimental effects of infidelity. Missie May’s sadness is the most literal interpretation of the sentence. The use of the words “wail” and “weeping” evoke gut-wrenching images of deeply rooted emotional and physical pain. These are not tears that stream silently down cheeks, so often depicted in popular melodramas; they are prolonged and animalistic manifestations of sorrow that take total control over Missie May’s body. Her emotion is so strong it has rendered her unable to express herself in a civilized way. Rather, she is “without words”, helpless and lost in her grief without even the possibility of a respectable explanation. A second prominent factor of the passage is the alliteration of the letter ‘w’. The repetition of the soft consonant lulls the reader into a melancholy that trembles in the same manner as one’s voice does before and after they have been crying. The woe that she feels is inescapable, and has taken hold of every word of significance in the sentence. The sentence’s fragmentation mirrors the impending emotional separation between Joe and Missie May. The selected sentence is stylistically loaded with alliteration, diction and fragmentation. The combination of these elements reveals the great depth of Missie May’s grief in realizing her life-altering infidelity and the tragic nature of her submission to the temptation of material wealth in exchange for the truly priceless and unconditional love of her husband.

“Etherised” (3)

“Etherised”

The setting of the poem is compared to a “patient etherized upon a table” (3). “Etherised” carries with it a great deal of emphasis at the start of the poem, cloaking the following lines with a certain haziness that skews the perception of both the reader and the narrator. The comparison suggests a kind of universal and dire state of illness. The illness plagues the narrator in the form of a crippling infatuation with the banality of routine in modern society. The obsession is reinforced through the methodical repetition of images of empty women that “come and go talking of Michelangelo” (13) as well as the habitual taking of tea; as the images resurface, they mark the passage of time like an ominous ticking clock.

The use of the word “etherised” goes on to represent a clinical separation from reality, supported by a fragmented perception of the narrator’s world. He does not see people as whole and uses synecdoche to describe them through compartmentalizations of their existence. Line 55 begins a pattern where he identifies people by their body parts with “the eyes” and “the arms”. This method of description sparks images of amputation and reveals the narrator’s belief that he is incomplete and his life’s desires are not satisfied. Furthermore, “etherised” gains a greater tonal presence as Eliot makes literal references to surgical separations when the narrator imagines that he is being dissected by his peers, “when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin” (57), and again when he pictures his “head, (grown slightly bald) brought in upon a platter” (82). With images of clinical procedures and foggy or shrouded states of mind, Eliot suggests that an obsession with the trivialities of modern society has resulted in a human race lost to an anesthetized delusion where the resolve of sobriety results in an inescapable death.

“It was the world in which the powers who fought for the Professor were destined to wage their final battle.” (Wharton p. 34)

Wharton depicts the slow downfall of Professor Linyard as he sacrifices not only his integrity but the heightened sense of ecstatic passion he experiences only when pursuing his work. The quotation directly signifies his internal conflict as he rationalizes sacrificing his passion for the convenient flatteries of fame. This conflict is mirrored through imagery, diction and metaphor as well in the ever growing influence of capitalism as it manipulates and exploits the insatiable greed of consumers. He resents his wife as a voracious consumer and judges his peers for succumbing to “prudent capitalists” and “cowed wage-earners” (10). The battle comes to light in the extended war metaphor (23) in which ‘The Vital Thing’ infiltrates the popular forms of media and later the aspects of domesticity he loathes. The war imagery resurfaces on page 27, where his conflict grows stronger as he grapples with the steady decline of his pride versus the temptations of consumerism presented by his family.

His wife and children serve as representations of consumerism through their frivolous and unjustified desires and debts. This connection brings the proclaimed “battle” closer to home and all the more difficult for Linyard. The Professor sees the domestic aspects of his life as dull and lifeless, because they are characterized by the banalities of the cotidian. His passion lies within the ingenuity of his idea, supported through the heavily romanticized passage on page 4 in which his idea comes to him. The inversion of passion between his home and work suggests his inner desire not only for intellectual superiority but monetary gain as well. The conflicting desires for both pride and fame are made vivid through copious war imagery, resulting in his ultimate downfall, his conscious a scorched battlefield, descended irreversibly to shallow justifications of avarice.