“He only says, ‘Good fences make good neighbors.’ Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder If I can put a notion in his head: “Why do they make good neighbors?”

Throughout the poem, Frost portrays the idea of the importance of walls and wall like structures. In this poem, we can interpret the uses of both a physical and a non-physical wall. First of all, as Frost talks about the wall, he uses clear visuals of the creating of a new wall like structure or things that you would imagine being inside of such structures (things like walls being made out of stones or cows being inside of a fence) to give it its physical structure. However, in other parts, he describes a general idea of what a wall does, without describing a physical wall, for instance when he talks about the “outdoor game” (because apple trees do not eat cones). This description leads to the main point of physical walls not only being used to create boundaries to keep the possessions of one neighbor separate from another, but also morphing a sort of trust or rather understanding between two different people. This being said, it is clear that the speaker of the poem understands the usage of walls, but doesn’t necessarily see them as a requirement in this situation, perhaps showing a bit more openness than the neighbor. However, if the speaker is not willing to understand the limits and boundaries of the neighbor, then they most likely will not get along or the “neighbor” will get more defensive, as we see when he adds more stones to the wall after the speaker’s question behind the purpose of walls. This type of relationship can be seen in a variety of interactions with different people; however, Frost uses this specific example to relay this message.

“I’d like to get away from earth awhile, And then come back to it and begin over.” Frost, p 737

In order to escape the demands and responsibilities of life, which can entrap him like a “pathless wood,” Frost describes his desire to be away from it all, and to come back to it again. Escape may not be the most appropriate word, as he does not want to run away his life on Earth in search of some better place. (“Earth’s the right place for love; I don’t know where it’s likely to go better”). He certainly does not want only part of his wish to come true, for him to die and “not to return.” Perhaps better suited to what he’s looking for is a moment of release, a way to leave reality and come back to it again in a sense of back and forth—like the motion of a swinging birch tree.

His release is like a pseudo-form of limbo, where by being perched on top of the birch tree, he is “toward heaven”—not quite in heaven, where he could never return, but no longer grounded. Like in limbo, he is somewhere between Earth and Sky, but unlike limbo, he is not stuck there. The swinging motion of the birch allows him to fulfill his desire of “going and coming back.” Going towards some form of Heaven, coming back down to Earth. Earth, being the physical ground, or the metaphorical grounds for truth and reality, and Heaven being the spiritually transcendent place, or the grandness of imagination. By saying he has used his imagination to release himself from the “considerations” of the everyday, Frost echoes an action we all have done. Reality and fantasy—both are needed to keep going in life. There is no shame in being a “swinger of birches,” and indeed perhaps it is unavoidable.

“There is no half measure-no scratching on the surface of the rubbish heap of tradition, will bring about reform, the only method is absolute demolition.” (Norton pg. 797)

Loy paints a very dark picture of American society. She pokes fun at tradition, calling for a societal revolution, an idea embedded in futuristic manifestos such as this. This quote is describing her cry for women to overturn the patriarchal society they live in. She personifies the thoughts and emotions of many women living during this time period, emotions such as anger, betrayal, revolution, and suppression. She hints at her belief that women are superior to men throughout the manifesto, especially when she says, “deny at the outset-that pathetic clap-trap war cry woman is the equal of man – for she is not.”  Her idea of a revolution stems from the belief that the only way to ensure fairness is to suppress men and allow women to rise up as the superior sex. In order to achieve this, she claims women need to isolate themselves from men in order to gain a true sense of “self-respect.” Her ideas seemed very Marxist to me as a reader; women rising to overthrow men is similar to the proletariat revolting in order to overthrow the elite government (bourgeoisie).

It is interesting to study her use of language and fonts throughout this text.  She highlights words and phrases pertaining to revolution and oppression. For example, “parisitism” signifies her resentment for marriage, which she believes to be a form of female bondage and subservience. She compares it to “prostitution” later on, poking at the objectification of women by selling their bodies to men. Ironically enough, however, she goes on to state that, “there is nothing impure in sex,” an idea that seems to contradict her previous attack on prostitution. This statement is another cry for women to shed the belief that they must be virgins before marriage, a tradition that she believes diminishes their social power.

I believe that her overall idea is flawed. She claims that women rising to power will eliminate key societal problems. But rather than equalizing the sexes, she chooses to repress men the same way women were, resulting in a similar revolution from the male population. The only way to eliminate these societal woes is to let men and women reside together as equals in society. She fails to address the possibility of men and women existing symbiotically.

*Quote from Feminist Manifesto by Mina Loy

“Don’t imagine that the art of poetry is any simpler than the art of music, or that you can please the expert before you have spent at least as much effort on the art of verse as an average piano teacher spends on the art of music.”

Ezra Pound’s “A Retrospect” attempts to expound the new school of poetry dubbed Imagism. This “brief recapitulation and retrospect” advises the aspiring writer to avoid constriction from the old-world styles of literature and poetry and embrace the modernistic approach. The manifesto constitutes the actualization of modernism as we know it, explicitly defining how and why writers should create their art. Writers in this modern style will, per Pound’s advice, focus their efforts on representing an Image (or the essence of a subject), economically choosing their words, and “composing in the sequence of the musical phrase, not sequence of a metronome.”

Aside from the practical advice for composition, Pound’s more  significant lesson to writers deals with the attitude towards their works. All writing, and poetry especially, should be treated as an art form, and writers should expect to earn in fame and glory proportionate to the amount of effort given to their art. In this we are reminded of James’s artist character, sacrificing his love of portrait painting in exchange for the creation of cheap illustrations. There is no glory for the artist in this scene because there is no dedication to the true art of his work. Pound, the Imagists, and myself feel that “it is better to present one Image in a lifetime than to produce voluminous works.” To capture the essence of an image and to adequately and efficiently liberate it from its ineffable state into one of comprehensibility is the highest of accomplishments for any artist, including the writer. This success, however, will come only when one dedicates himself to his writing with passion and devotion.

“Up to now literature has exalted a pensive immobility, ecstasy, and sleep. We intend to exalt aggressive action, a feverish insomnia, the racer’s stride, the mortal leap, the punch, and the slap” (Marinetti 796).

In this article from the “Manifesto of Futurism” Marinetti shows off his use of forceful, insistent language seen throughout his work. Words used here such as “aggressive”, “feverish”, “punch”, “slap” give the text a rather hostile tone. This hostility seems to be a convention found in all three of the manifestos. What is this hostility pointed towards? Marinetti also gives us insight into this here, clearly blaming traditional styles of literature. This article gives us a clear picture of the divide Marinetti creates between the “old” and the “new.” The high energy, aggressive words used when describing the “new” serve as tools for coercing the reader to join the revolution. In addition, the use of “We” helps to make the reader feel like a part of Marinetti’s ideal vision for the future. The static nature of the diction used for the orthodox and conventional styles of the past are juxtaposed with the vitality of the future. “Racers stride,” and “the mortal leap” serve to emphasize the swiftness with which Marinetti intends his message to spread. The addiction he seems to have for speed parallels his ambition for a new, aggressive, and passionate future.

This passage is also able to exhibit the violence that Marinetti believes is necessary for a complete transformation. He goes on later to write that war is “the world’s only hygiene” and beauty only exists in struggle. This violence underlines the passion for the upheaval of customary traditions Marinetti yearns to see exhibited throughout the public.

“People who always thought they were so much never did really do things right for anybody” (p. 9)

In “The Gentle Lena”, Stein brings to the forefront of the story the ideas of perception and self-awareness. The contrast between the way people view themselves versus how others view them is extremely prevalent. It is in this quote that one is able to view, blatantly, that the way someone, for example Mrs. Haydon, views herself (she views herself as Lena’s kind-hearted, always-knows-best savior) can be so incredibly far fetched from the way she is actually perceived by others. Here, we see that while Mrs. Haydon perceives herself as this kind of “savior” of Lena’s, the reality of the situation is, as the german cook perfectly puts it, Mrs. Haydon “never did really do things right for anybody”. The conflict between the semi-delusional perception Mrs. Haydon has of herself in comparison to the reality of who she is and how she is actually perceived comes to light here.

Yet, the reason why this is such a relevant and interesting quote to discuss is because of how it perfectly reflects a major theme that runs through the story. The reader witnesses various cases in which the perception conflicts with the reality. Mathilda, Mrs. Haydon’s eldest daughter, provides another perfect example of this. Mathilda thinks herself so high and mighty and superior to the “ugly and dirty” german people from her mother’s land, yet Mary, the Irish girl, wouldn’t ever want to “be a fat fool like that ugly tempered Mathilda Haydon”. The perception Mathilda has of herself conflicts entirely with the perception others, such as Mary, have of her. There is then additional conflict between the author’s own perception and description of the character and then what the character actually thinks of him or her self. For example, Mathilda severely judges the german people, obviously regarding herself as something superior to them, yet the descriptions Stein lends to her character, such as “fat”, “slow”, “stupid”, “flabby”, etc. suggest quite the opposite of that superiority. Thus, the differences in perception not only come from the different characters’ input on other characters but also from the author’s descriptions of those characters, which is something interesting to note. Lastly, this issue of self-awareness and perception comes into play majorly throughout the story in Lena’s character, who has absolutely no self-awareness whatsoever. While it is unclear whether or not she has any pre-conceived perception of herself at all, it is obvious that she does not have any idea what others think about her, as she is completely oblivious to for example, the teasing she gets from Mary, completely missing the fact that Mary thinks she is slow and stupid and thus takes pleasure in teasing her. Ultimately, Stein successfully forces the reader to question both the legitimacy of their own, perhaps, self-constructed self-awareness and even further, the belief they have about themselves, their own character, and who they think they are versus the reality of who they really are and how they are really perceived.

“Sometimes Lena would wake up a little and get back into her face her old, gentle, patient, and unsuffering sweetness, but mostly Lena did not seem to hear much when the good german woman scolded.” (16)

Stein uses a unique style of writing in this story to reflect the dull, monotonous, and eventually unsatisfying life that Lena lives.  The narrative is written entirely in short, simple statements, such as this sentence, using verbatim descriptions and observations over and over again.  Her style reflects the choppy and often ungrammatical English a German immigrant, such as Lena, would speak.  This can be seen as a glimpse into the workings of Lena’s mind; the simple, straightforward writing reflects Lena’s simple, childlike mind.

She is never described as being extremely overjoyed at anything, only as having a pleasant life.  Stein uses tepid words to describe Lena at the beginning of the story before her marriage such as “gentle,” “patient,” and “sweet” (1).  She is content living a simple life as an unmarried nanny.  When she agrees to marry Herman she becomes “lifeless,” “dirty,” and “pale” (16).  She becomes depressed and unhappy, eventually losing touch with the world altogether. Her simple life seems to have had no importance.  No one remembers her after her death, not even her husband.   Because of her gentle nature she has been taken advantage of and abused by the stronger, more forceful people around her like her aunt and mother-in-law. She doesn’t seem able to live a more complicated life of being married and having children.

“It was a new feeling Herman now had inside him that made him feel he was strong to make a struggle.” pg. 15

Gertrude Stein’s diction throughout this story is bland and simple, much like the characters introduced throughout. The characters appear very static and almost one-dimensional, with defining traits that envelop their entire personalities. In the beginning of the story, the protagonist, Lena, is a patient, subservient and seemingly simple girl who is unable to stand up for herself. She remains in these personal boundaries, scolded and commanded by others around her until her death. Her marriage is dictated by her family members, with Lena’s personal desires completely dismissed. Ultimately, she lives her entire life under the command of others, hardly making personal decisions or demonstrating initiative.  Lena is only one of many static characters who do not change throughout the story.

However, this passage stood out to me as it highlighted who appeared to be the only dynamic character in the story and his change: Herman Kreder. Herman, also coaxed into marriage, is initially extremely reluctant and has little desire to be married. He is in fact disinterested in women, a personal fact he is unable to bring forth. The birth of his first child catalyzes a distinct change in character and motivation. Herman Kreder, who until the arrival of his child endured and obeyed the scolding commands of his parents, feels prepared to stand against his parents to care for his child. The change would not have appeared as drastic had the other characters been dynamic whatsoever. Kreder’s child has changed him from a meek, subservient individual with little to care about to a doting father.

It is possible to speculate that Kreder’s transformation may provide insight on Stein’s opinion of children. Perhaps even the most indifferent and numbingly obedient individuals can be changed by the birth of his/her child.

“And yet it was not the same goddess, after all, but a pseudo-science masquerading in the garb of the real divinity. This false goddess had her ritual and her literature. She had her sacred books, written by false priests and sold by millions to the faithful.” (Pg. 8-9)

In this quote from Part I of  “The Descent of Man,” Wharton presents Professor Linyard’s point of view on the current state of popular literature. As a microbiologist and beetle-enthusiast, Linyard is well versed in scientific study, but he finds the scientific research mass produced to be empty and demeaning. The works published at the time are described as “optimistic” and light like “breakfast foods,” rather than “concentrated” like true scientific work requires (Pg. 11). This kind of “pseudo-science” is fiction or a pleasant read for the “faithful” average readers; it is not methodic research for scholars with data that can be tested and verified. Rather than targeting some esoteric group of intellectuals, the authors or “false priests” of these unfalsifiable works have focused on what sells, foreshadowing the eventual sellout of Linyard himself. And what sells is a book or a story that targets the majority of readers who ride the bandwagon together like an amorphous amoeba. Wharton’s previous conception for a book before his failed attempt at satire with “The Vital Thing,” entitled the “Unconscious Cerebration of the Amoeba,” almost seems like an attempt for the human to evolve out of the bandwagon or unicellular thought, to appreciate real science (Pg. 6). This being said, the title “The Descent of Man,” alludes to Charles Darwin’s work of the same name that attempts to explain this theory of evolution, an idea that too was ill perceived at first exposure.

The allusion to the Books of Samuel of the Bible serve a similar purpose, interestingly enough as the protagonist’s name is Samuel Linyard. Linyard wishes to satirize these popular fictions, to make “at least the little stone striking the giant between the eyes.” He tries to be little David in confrontation with the giant Goliath but is consumed by the popular giant in the process. Part of the reason Darwin’s “On the Origin of the Species,” was so hard to accept was the retreat from religion or the possibility that humans scientifically evolved from less complex organisms (monkeys as “amoeba” were more for satirical purposes) in lieu of the idea that God created all. This transitions quite nicely to the more rhetorical side of the quote. Throughout Wharton’s short story, she uses religious words like “faith,” “goddess,” “sacred,” and “priests,” this quote no less exemplary. Wharton’s use of irony here is quite clear in that Linyard is calling what he knows to be true science, “the real divinity,” and what he thinks to be “pseudo-science,” “a false goddess,” when really science and religion strongly diverge in the same way as Linyard’s intent and the audiences’ interpretation of “The Vital Thing.”

“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.