English Literature Exam Essays

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Essay 1

Each of the two passages below presents a judgment of a parent by a child. Compare and contrast the passages in terms of :

1)        the kind and severity of the judgements and what they reveal about the social and personal beliefs of Elizabeth and Arkady

2)        the narrative techniques of ‘showing’ and ‘telling’ employed in each passage and their effectiveness. ( 1500 words)

Pride and Prejudice satires early nineteenth century English social institutions. Elizabeth Bennet is Jane Austen's satirical tool as she explores class, feminism and love in the country estates of rural England. In Austen's society,  women's social and economic circumstances are defined by their fathers and eventually their husbands. For the Bennet sisters marriage is more than a means of economic support, it is a source of upward mobility. Elizabeth's turning down two marriage proposals shows that she is an independent character. With her quick wit and loose tongue, Elizabeth rejects the patriarchal society defined by Chris Weedon and does away with the sexual mores of her time. Austen's other female characters embody Hannah More's view on how women should act; they serve as foils for Elizabeth's "very different mode of femininity."Austen's feminist hero challenges the ideals of prudence, decorum, propriety and social responsibility with Mary Wollstencraft's ideals of self-expression, spontaneity and personal fulfillment.  
Chris Weedon's patriarchal society defines the circumstances under which
Pride and Prejudice takes place. Weedon defines patriarchal as the "power relations in which women's interests are subordinated to the interests of men. These power relations take the form of... internalized norms of femininity." These internalized norms of femininity are nowhere more prevalent than in Pride and Prejudice. Mary Bennet, Lady Catherine De Bourgh and Charlotte Lucas personify Hannah More's typically passive, refined woman. More contends that women's happiness is dependent on restraint and submission and that women must not "[depart] from the refinement of their character" or "[blemish] the delicacy of their sex." Lady Catherine De Bourgh epitomizes the patriarchal society. De Bourgh, "a sharply realized embodiment of a stock comic figure," is a condescending upper-class snob who judges everyone based on manners and decorum. Lady Catherine's philosophy concerning young women is adopted from  
More's view:
"An early habitual restraint is peculiarly important to the future character and happiness of women. A judicious unrelaxing but steady and gentle curb on their tempers and passions can alone ensure their peace and establish their principles...
 Girls should be led to distrust their own judgement; they should learn not to murmur at expostulation; they should be accustomed to expect and endure opposition... It is of the last importance to their happiness, even in this life, that they should early acquire a submissive temper and a forbearing spirit."
Mary Bennet, Elizabeth's older, more attractive sister, typifies the "delicacy of the female sex."  Mary's passivity aligns her with the ideal of a submissive, domestic woman; her maxim that "every impulse of feeling should be guided by reason"conforms to More's idea of womanhood. Charlotte Lucas is a plain girl, not attractive, not ugly. She has no talents and is coming from a middle-class family. More's assertion that
"this world is not a stage for the display of superficial or even of shining talents, but for the sober exercise of fortitude, temperance, meekness, diligence, and self-denial;... life is not a splendid romance...[but] a true history, many pages of which will be dull, obscure, and uninteresting"  
describes Charlotte's  beliefs and experiences. As she gets older she takes a very pragmatic approach to marriage; by accepting Mr. Collins' proposal, Charlotte is yielding to the idea that life is not a splendid romance. Charlotte's assessment that "happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance" nearly echos More's statement. Charlotte's furthers her dreary outlook on marriage in stating "I am not romantic you know. I never was. I ask only a comfortable home." These prudent, decorous characters are targets of Austen's satire.
Elizabeth Bennet is the feminine hero of the novel. She is lovely, clever, and outspoken. Elizabeth's wit and outspokenness attract her suitor, Fitzwilliam Darcy. He is attracted to her "liveliness of mind."  Elizabeth demonstrates her independence of mind and neglect of decorum several times throughout the novel. She travels across the country side alone, in muddy conditions out of concern for her sister Jane; she is not concerned with "blemishing the delicacy of her sex." When Mr. Collins proposes to Elizabeth she rejects his offer, despite her mother's wishes.  Collins then accuses Elizabeth of rejecting his offer out of proper decorum. Elizabeth pleads with Collins "Do not consider me now as an elegant female intending to plague you, but as a rational creature speaking the truth from the heart." Elizabeth is constantly defying femininity. Elizabeth embodies Mary Wollstencraft's feminist ideals.

The genesis of the Russian radical movement is portrayed in Ivan Turgenev's classic novel Fathers and Sons as a shock which resonated throughout the Russian public sphere, effecting change within both families and society. Indeed, historian Daniel Brower argues in {\em Training the Nihilists: Education and Radicalism in Tsarist Russia} that the radical movement changed not only the lives of the university students who were recruited, but also the society around them, by creating a legitimized niche for such counter-cultural activity. He claims further that most recruits for the movement entered not for intellectual reasons, but because of the recruitment process, which proved crucial to the movement's later success:

Though ideological questions. . . appeared the major concern of radical journalists whose articles and books set the intellectual tone for the movement. . . much of the writing of the radical journalists was far above the heads of potential recruits. . . Rational analysis was not by itself adequate to generate large-scale, collective recruitment of radicals. Family, peers, church, and state all combined to discourage collective resistance. . . Some of the radicals did follow an individual, intellectual path to dissent. But the evidence suggests strongly that only the institutional force of the school of dissent made possible massive recruitment into the radical movement during the 1860's and 1870's. (Brower 18--19)

As a realist novel, Fathers and Sons tries to portray details of its historical milieu, particularly forbidden aspects of life, supposedly without bias. Thus, we might indeed expect Turgenev's portrayal of Bazarov to coincide somewhat with a historian's view of a typical radical.

Although three of the four young characters in Fathers and Sons seem to conform with Brower's description, the character of Bazarov seems to be superficially quite different from the others. Despite appearing to be completely intellectualized and unaware of social pressures, Bazarov is often subject to social influence, and cares how he is perceived. Many of his actions appear to be motivated by a desire to please others and thus make a good impression; as scrutiny makes evident, he has clearly developed skills to do this.

At first blush, the reader sees Bazarov as independent, and intellectually committed to what he terms “nihilism.” (footnote - Turgenev actually coined the term “nihilism” to refer to the beliefs of the radical movement. Finding Turgenev's term overly negative, other authors have used the more positive-sounding “intelligentsia” to refer to the class of radicals. Brower explains that he chooses to refer to members of this group as “radicals,” to avoid the debate altogether. I shall use the terms “radicalism” and “nihilism” interchangeably.} Nihilism, as espoused by Bazarov, is largely a mixture of empiricist, utilitarian, positivist, and materialist philosophies; although Bazarov claims to negate even logic in his second argument with Pavel Kirsanov, (footnote - Ivan Turgenev, Fathers and Sons, trans. and ed. Michael R. Katz (New York: Norton, 1996), 37-42) Subsequent references to this edition will appear in parentheses in the text.} he exhibits a clear preference for “scientific” ideas throughout the book, calling all else “nonsense” or “romanticism” (e.g., 20--1, 26, 35, 51). With this vague assemblage of “scientific philosophies” as an operative definition for Bazarov's radical beliefs, it becomes possible not only to compare Bazarov with Brower's portrait of the typical student radical, but to contrast his much espoused attitudes with his behavior. To avoid questions of changes within Bazarov's personality during the course of the book, evidence will be limited to indications of Bazarov's personality before he visited Odintsova at her estate. The primary concern of this essay is thus Bazarov's impetus for becoming a radical while at university: his subsequent evolution is irrelevant. (footnote - While much interesting speculation about Bazarov's character is possible from observing his interactions with Odintsova, and the way he reacted to subsequent events, this topic is left as an exercise to the reader.)

In the characters of Arkady, Sitnikov, and Kukshina, the reader is certainly introduced to radicals who match Brower's description perfectly. Comparing the scene at Kukshina's home with Brower's description of a usual reading circle yields a striking resemblance. Brower explains that students joined “self education” reading circles not only to read and discuss recent intellectual theories, but for an informal atmosphere in which a variety of more personal issues could be discussed, with some amount of emotional involvement. Police records from that time describe some circles as having quite a confused atmosphere, where the

“entire conversation turn[ed] on revolutionary themes” interrupted often with “revolutionary songs”. . . [and] toasts to “the French republic, the success of the red flag, and revolution in general,” which were “triumphantly received” by the participants (Brower 196).

The gathering at Kukshina's home doesn't sound much less confused:

“You can't do anything with [women],” Sitnikov said. “One ought to despise them, and I do, absolutely and completely! . . . Not a single one of them could understand our conversation; not one even deserves being talked about by serious men like us!”\\ “But they've no need to understand our conversation,” said Bazarov. . . \\ “What? Then you must share Proudhon's opinion?” [said Kukshina]\\ Bazarov drew himself up arrogantly.\\ “I don't share anyone's opinion: I have my own.”\\ “Down with authorities!” cried Sitnikov, delighted with the chance to express himself incisively in the presence of the man before whom he fawned.\\ “But Macaulay himself,” Kukshina started to say.\\ “Down with Macaulay!” thundered Sitnikov. (53)

In this conversation, as with others in the scene, intellectual discourse drops into the background of the characters' lively and vacuous banter; instead, a large number of names are dropped and authorities invoked. Both settings are chaotic, and marked by a great deal more attention to seeming radical than intellectual interchange.

In addition, it seems that Bazarov's “disciples”, Arkady and Sitnikov, are committed to him rather than to his ideas. Bazarov seems to exert a social influence on them which makes them consciously evaluate themselves with respect to his ideas. We see this attitude in Sitnikov's obsequious manner above, as he fawns for Bazarov's attention, as well as when he first encounters Bazarov and Arkady, and credits Bazarov with his “regeneration” (49).

In Arkady, we see a great deal of self-conscious attention paid to radical ideas, such as when he consciously conceals his emotion because “it was not for nothing that he was a nihilist” (46). Arkady's initial comment to his father about how important Bazarov was to him, though he hadn't know him very long, shows the degree of confidence he has invested in Bazarov (7--8). He perhaps gives a great deal more credit than is deserved with his comment to Bazarov's father that “ a great future awaits [Bazarov]” (95). From such remarks about Bazarov's personal qualities, it seems that Arkady is captivated more by Bazarov's personality than his ideas. However, to place this devotion in perspective, it should be noted that Arkady does not dress in the manner of most radicals, and will not hesitate to show irritation with Bazarov (e.g., 33--34).

While three of the four young people in this book are relatively typical radicals, according to Brower's description, we are left with the question of Bazarov's conformity to the radical image. We can judge Bazarov's conformity to the Brower's typical radical in several ways: demographically, by his physical appearance, and from his apparent motivations for joining the radical movement (i.e., whether his radical convictions were developed independently, or if he seems overly concerned with social considerations such as fitting into the radical milieu.) As with any question of human motivation, this last criterion is quite difficult to judge decisively. This question is further complicated by the fact that radicals made an effort to appear socially deviant, so their own words must be evaluated for motivations. With respect to dress, Brower notes:

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The radicals chose their attire to differentiate themselves from their social peers. The unique social position of the radical community created the desire for unique appearance (16).

\noindent Thus Bazarov's indignant declaration, “I don't share anyone's opinion: I have my own!” (53), can be taken as a true declaration of ideological independence or as an expression of his desire for such originality. To avoid such a dilemma, it is possible to look for indications that Bazarov cares about how he is perceived by others, even if the image he projects is not one which is accepted in mainstream society. ...

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