P1 AOI Last Min Q2a Outline

Question
‘For all his aspirations and fantasies, Newland Archer learns nothing of reality.’ How far would you agree with this comment?

From Ms Aster

TS1: Archer’s aspirations and fantasies reside in the ideals of dramatic expression and originality that is independent from the dictates and shackles of Old New York

In order to present Archer’s aspirations we need to depict that which he is driven away from. (specific aspects of his current reality)

Possible evidence/points to use;

  • His contemplation of May as an ‘artificial product’ of society
  • His feeling oppressed by the ‘inexorable conventions that tied things together and bound people down to the old pattern’ (35).
  • His swelling dissatisfaction with the cold brutalities of his reality.
  • His aspirations to be more than a cog in the ‘powerful engine’ of Old New York (61).
  • His renunciation of social conventions, reflected in various images of conformity (‘dolls’, ‘patterns’)
  • His rebellious calls for them to ‘strike out for’ themselves.

*

TS2: His pursuit of a life outside Old New York is clearest in his attraction to the freedom, mystery and ‘adventure’ of Ellen Olenska.

How can we convey the extent to which Archer’s temptations to veer outside of society’s boundaries is largely embodied by Ellen and his reaction to her?

Possible evidence/points to use;

  • (i) Archer’s attempt to break away from the ‘narrow margins of life’ (103) in Old New York and seek a less ‘placid’, more ‘pleasurable’ experience with Ellen Olenska.
  • (ii) How are his encounters with Ellen depicted?
    -‘The blood rose to his temples’ (108); ‘His spirits, which had dropped at her last words, rose with an irrational leap’ (110); ‘Archer’s heart was beating insubordinately’ (110) ‘pleasurable excitement of being in a world where action followed on emotion with such Olympian speed’ (134)
    -the setting of Ellen’s house
    – Archer is increasingly buoyed by the imagination of all that Ellen represents to him, the embodiment of his fantasies of an alternate reality, stretching the distance between his actual circumstances.

*

TS3: However, Wharton suggests that Archer’s passion, elusively expressed from Chapters 8 to 15, are but romantic visions that are fantastical, unrealistic, delusory.

In presenting the frivolity of Archer’s fantastical romantic visions, how could you posit this against the unlikelihood of Archer learning about reality?

Possible evidence/points to use;

  • as ‘two lovers parting in heart-broken silence’
  • ‘Wherein, then, lay the resemblance that made the young man’s heart beat with a kind of retrospective excitement?’
  • Archer’s many flights of fancy: the cumulative use of ‘He felt’ (95, 126), ‘He imagined’ (113, 152, 155) and ‘He was beginning to think’ (112) marks out his delusions for the careful reader.
  • Our protagonist envisages himself as a valiant ‘rescuer’ (94) to the ‘pathetic and even pitiful figure’ (88) of the ‘helpless and defenceless’ Ellen (108).
  • The narrator’s presentation of Archer’s thoughts and perceptions.
  • The anaphoric repetition of ‘she was…’ and the enumeration of Ellen’s supposed vulnerabilities (‘young’, ‘frightened’, ‘desperate’, ‘humbling’) and Newland’s mastery over her unpleasant circumstances (‘pity’, ‘at his mercy’).
  • By deflating the sentimentality and drama of these visions, the narrator marks out how his visions are unrealistic, delusional and ultimately self-damaging.

*

TS4: Nevertheless, for all of the senselessness suggested by Archer’s aspirations against the landscape of his social world, he does in fact learn something of his reality and the inescapability of the ‘life that belonged to him’.

In what cases do we see Archer cognisant of the very strictures that hold him back yet decides to act against

his own understanding of ‘reality’?

Possible evidence/points to use;

i)Archer’s akrasia (the ancient greek term refers to a weakness or will or the state of acting against one’s better judgement)

– Archer astutely recognises that his predecessors ‘had dreamed his dream’ and chosen a ‘placid and luxurious routine’ over the ‘narrow’, Bohemian ‘margin’ he prefers.

*

TS5: Arguably, Archer does in fact begin to understand the necessity to sacrifice individual desires for the sake of collective interest, not only from the reminder that Ellen blatantly purports but also from the revelations he comes to acquire about the true workings of his society in Ch 33. Moreover his introspection in Ch 34, is a clearer indication of a man finally ‘at peace with himself’.

How is Archer keenly more aware than ever before about the ruthlessness and ‘conspiracy’ of his social world. What message do they make him understand? Does he immediately take this to heart and is simply bowing in submission?

  • The twenty-six year gap between Ch 33 and 34 facilitates the change from forced acceptance to contentment.
  • The reader encounters an older, more mature fifty-seven year old protagonist reflecting on how the ‘long years together [with May] had shown him that it did not so much matter if marriage was a dull duty, as long as it kept the dignity of a duty’.
  • The change in tone from disillusionment to enlightened ‘dignity’, ‘honour’ and ‘good in the old ways’ mirrors the change in Archer’s perspective towards his role.
  • A language of fulfilment characterises his eldest son Dallas as ‘the pride of his life’ (290) and Archer himself as a ‘good citizen’ whose ‘days were full’ and ‘were filled decently’ (286).
  • (how can we use these ideas to illuminate how Archer has learned something about reality?)

P1 Roundtable AMS Q5 Outline

‘The play presents a world of divided loyalties.’ How far do you agree with this comment on All My Sons?

Introduction
All My Sons is often criticised for presenting an ‘impatient’, didactic lesson on man’s responsibility towards his fellow men.
(Context) While the title evokes a simplistic sense of cohesion and community (for all men are ‘our sons’), the play itself unfolds to waves of contradiction and conflict. (Outline) Chris’s moral ambition does not endure, stirred by the promise of happiness with Ann and the guilt of protecting his father. His idealism sets him on a collision course against both his parents, particularly his father’s undulating family-first values. These loyalties and divisions ultimately send the Keller family hurtling towards tragedy, destabilising the idea that one can simply know that ‘there’s a universe of people outside and you’re responsible to it’. (Thesis) By presenting a world of divided loyalties, the play challenges its audience to look beyond devotion to any one ‘loyalty’. It urges us to find balance, however hard it may seem.

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(What)
We ascertain as early as Act One that Chris’s brand of ‘Man for man’ responsibility, entrenched in a world of divided loyalties, is far from absolute. (How) The conflicting nature of Chris’s priorities is conveyed through immediate contrasts in his tone and vocabulary. (How) An undercurrent of shame is evident when he associates his father’s money with ‘loot’, which he felt ‘ashamed’ to take and ‘wrong to be alive’. He speaks resoundingly of his comrades’ selflessness and exalts ‘the love a man can have for a man’. (How) Yet, he unflinchingly promises ‘to make a fortune for’ Ann, professing that ‘I want you now’ and ‘I’m going to…’. The audience is likely to spot the shift to these self-centred declarations starting with ‘I’, and begins to doubt his credibility. (Why) Evidently, Chris Keller is constructed as a man of internal contradictions and divisions. He is less a Christ figure than he is a hesitant hero — a reminder that no man can wholly live up to the noble sacrifices… of dead men.

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(What) Chris thus embodies ‘a world of divided loyalties’, more so than Ann’s self-seeking cunning and Jim’s sense of compromised idealism. His re-entrance in Act Three discloses to the audience that he is guilty of protecting his own father from the arm of justice, his split loyalties to both family and a ‘universe of people outside’ becoming even more disquieting. (How) The repetition of ‘yellow’ in his lengthy confession reflects this sense of turmoil, as he grapples with his own cowardice and deceit by doing ‘nothing’ about his father (87). (How) The self-loathing continues as bestial imagery is used to compare Chris to ‘cats’, ‘dog’ and a ‘zoo’; Chris cannot bear being torn between family and the wider community, and for that reason he can only ‘spit on myself’ in disgust (87). (How) His series of rhetorical questions reiterate this division in loyalties. Asking if and why he would ‘put (his father) behind bars’, Chris appears to acknowledge that he ‘cannot take it out on him’. Before the crucial letter sequence, Chris remains a figure divided between his fractured principles and his wretched father:

CHRIS. What? Do I raise the dead when I put him behind bars? Then what I’ll do it for? […] But here? This is the land of the great big dogs, you don’t love a man here, you eat him. […] The world’s that way, how can I take it out on him? What sense does that make? This is a zoo, a zoo! (Act Three, 88)

The same bestial images and self-loathing can be read as further evidence of Chris’s responsibility to society, as he continues to lament the loss of ‘honor’ and ‘love’ in a forsaken ‘zoo’. (Why) Yet, the play suggests that these internal divisions have taken a toll on Chris: the stage directions describe him as spent and ‘exhausted’ (86). This portrayal of Chris as a victim here provides no answers to the moral quandary, but only serves to ask the audience further questions about their own loyalties.

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(What)
The Keller family becomes a microcosm of these ‘loyalties’ to society and family, as dramatised in the growing tensions between Chris and Joe. (How) The divisions in ideology is foregrounded by the clash of discourse. Chris employs an idealistic tongue of community and altruism, reiterating values of ‘responsibility’, living ‘for each other’ (38) and being ‘better’ than our baser instincts (91). On the other hand, Joe speaks about the primacy of family and how ‘Nothin’ is bigger!’ (83), emphasising the father’s duty to provide (77) and more tellingly, the filial loyalty of sons and daughters (32, 77). (What) Their staunch allegiance to their own beliefs prevents them from recognising — and appreciating — each other’s. (How) Miller’s stage directions towards the end of Act Two exemplify this antipathy: Chris is ‘deadly’ and ‘unyielding’ in his demands, whilst Keller is initially ‘insistent’, and later ’horrified at his overwhelming fury’ (76). (How) These tensions culminate in an incendiary physical confrontation at the end of Act Two. They circle each other on stage like predator and prey, ‘their movements now… those of subtle pursuit and escape’ (76). Chris explodes into violent rage both verbal and physical: he threatens to ‘tear the tongue out of your mouth’ and ‘pounds down upon his father’s shoulder’, shocking an already startled audience (78). (Why) The antagonism between father and son here embodies the damage done by their incompatible belief systems.

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(What) The woeful divisions within the Keller family are extended by the conflict between Chris and Kate, where the former’s idealistic aspirations collide with his mother’s pragmatic desire to preserve what is left of her family. (How) This fierce loyalty is self-evident from both her name (as the mother and ‘guardian’ of the house) and her introduction as ‘a woman of uncontrolled inspirations and an overwhelming capacity for love’ (18). (How) Yet, it is her appeal for Chris to ‘protect us’ at the start of Act Two that characterises her staunch commitment to ‘us’ over society-at-large (44). (How) Subsequently, Kate’s ‘uncontrolled’ dedication to the family is pit against Chris’s personal desires, with both employing a series of ferocious exclamations at the end of Act Two. Each refuses in absolute terms (‘now I say no!’, ‘You’ll never’, ‘I’ll never’) to give way to the other and makes their own demands (‘till I do it’, ‘You’ll never let him go!’). (Why) Mother’s attempts to force Chris away from Ann and back into her definition of ‘us’ (which includes Larry) prove futile, driving the family even further apart. The Kellers’ conflicting intentions ultimately sink them deep into the play’s tragic vision.

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(What) Only in the face of catastrophe do these divided loyalties come to a standstill. (How) In the play’s final scene, Mother repeatedly begs for Chris to relent (‘Didn’t you hear? It’s over!’, ‘What more can we be!’) and forgive Joe for his moral blindness (91). This instead incites Chris’s most fervent call to be ‘better’ and to be ‘responsible’ to a whole ‘universe of people’ (91). The deadlock here, like that between Chris and Keller, leads the audience towards a similar mix of apprehension and distress. (How) A reprieve from these unbearable tensions is earned, ironically, only when ‘a shot is heard in the housea tragic coda to the conflict between familial devotion and social responsibility. As a grieving mother comforts her grieving son in her ‘arms’, with tears welling but not streaming (‘almost crying’, ‘she begins sobbing’), their loyalties are momentarily put aside. (Why) In silence (‘Shhh…’), divisions fade to differences and the only loyalty left is that of family. Finally, we see mother and son stand together.

Conclusion
Bearing the weight of a father’s death and a family in mourning, the audience leaves the theatre with a heavy heart. ‘Loyalties’ have destroyed not just an individual, but also the relationships between mother and father, mother and son, father and son. The conflation of both loyalties to the play’s message — every man should be seen as All Our Sons — is compelling. However, it is a convenient truism; it is not easy to see loyalty to the family and society as one and the same. Like Kate and Joe, we ask ourselves if we can be better, and try in our own way to be a ‘Jesus in this world’ (89). Like Chris in the final scene, we wonder if our family should be our immediate priority instead… or if we will always remain divided.

Response to ‘Love is Not All’ by Edna St Vincent Millay

In the poem ‘Love is Not All’, the poet writes about love in a fairly nonchalant tone at first, which progresses into a contemplative tone followed by a resolute tone at the end. The entire poem revolves around the poet’s thoughts about love as a whole, about how it has no value for survival and yet people are willing to die for it. Through expressing her thoughts, the poet enters three phases of contemplation before reaching a sturdy conclusion, and could either be reminding herself about the fact that love is literally not all, perhaps reaffirming her decision to abandon the importance of love by penning it down in a poem.

In the poem, Millay makes use of the survival motif in the words ‘meat’, ‘drink’, ‘slumber’, ‘roof’ and ‘floating spar’ which are all words that signify a certain sense of importance to survival, and are all basic needs of humans in order to live and subsist. Through foregrounding the phrase ‘Love is not all’, followed by a caesura (as seen in the colon after the opening declarative), the persona emphasizes the way love cannot encompass all things. By reiterating this with the allusions to means of survival, the poem alludes to the idea that love has no value for our daily lives and is in fact, redundant and of no real value, practically speaking. The repetition of the words ‘rise’ and ‘sink’ in line 4 creates an image of drowning that in turn gives an effect of helplessness, as the persona keeps emphasizing the idea of sinking ‘again’ and ‘again’. This may serve as a means of depicting how love is unable to provide actual help for the helpless, despite it being able to provide hope represented by ‘rising’. This further underscores the idea that love has no practical use nor survival value, as the line ends ultimately with ‘sink’ (rather than ‘rise’). (Editor’s note: Consider the purpose of these images, in terms of what the reader is being persuaded to ‘do’)

The persona then moves on and writes about how love is unable to heal men of their ailments and illnesses, through the cumulative use of ‘lung’, ‘breath’, ‘blood’, ‘bane’, all of which are significant body parts that carry out important functions. Through the use of the absolute word in the first line, ‘not’ in ‘Love is not all’ followed by a repetition of ‘nor’ as well as ‘cannot’ in ‘Love cannot fill’, the persona’s tone becomes disdainful and even condemning, as she reduces love to something that is strictly non-functional. By combining the absolutism of her tone and the metaphor of bodily functions, the poet further breaks down love into something impractical and perhaps even useless, as it has no ability to sustain one’s survival or heal one of the ‘bane’ of illnesses. This hence portrays the poet’s idea of love as something that certainly does not encompass everything, but is also something unnecessary as well. (Editor’s note: take into consideration the usual view / glorification of love as a vital part of what makes us human, and how the poem seeks to undermine / denigrate this perspective)

As the poem progresses, however, the persona’s tone shifts from one that is absolute and disdainful to one that is contemplative, as seen in the tentative words ‘may’ and ‘might’ from lines 7-13. Through the contrast between this tentativeness and the absoluteness in the first six lines, the persona shows a hint of wavering, as she considers the ways in which one may be driven to succumb to love. From the word ‘Yet’ which suggests a note of contradiction, the tone and idea of the poem shifts even further. The poet has also introduced the personal pronoun ‘I’, which reflects her perspective. The poem now becomes more emotive and perceptive, unlike the first six lines where the persona merely states the way love is redundant as if these were all simply facts, making the first half of the poem seem nonchalant in comparison to line s7-13. Through introducing the first-person perspective, the persona refers to her own feelings in the poem, and this creates a slight contemplative mood as the poet constantly refers to herself and her uncertainty (Marker’s comments: Significance of this? Consider how the persona’s view of love starts to resemble that of ‘many a man’ – is love really ‘not all’ to her here?)

In lines 7-13, the poet also uses strong verbs such as ‘pinned’, ‘moaning’, ‘nagged’ and ‘driven’ which suggests a certain forcefulness, personifying love as something that is not only alive but is aggressive, able to take down someone completely and even causes them to choose death over the absence of love. By suddenly giving love a personality, the persona no longer refers to love as a passive, useless emotion but a strong, overpowering energy able to overwhelm someone. This sudden change in the portrayal of love also serves to signify the persona’s recognition of the power that love has, further emphasizing her contemplation as she now considers the power of love.

However, despite her wavering and contemplative mood, the persona chooses to accept that the possibility of her own succumbing to love does exist, as she ‘might’ give up love for something more important of survival value, such as ‘peace’ and ‘love’, in order to reaffirm her resolve to put rationality before the irrationality of love. This is delivered most poignantly in the last line, ‘I do not think I would’, whereby the absolute words ‘do not’ further emphasizes her stand. The poem thus progresses from being resolutely against the concept of love to contemplative to now even more resolute… about how she too needs love at the end.

Rachel Lee (1T01 2015)
JC1 Semestral Assessment

Response 2 to ‘The Secretary Chant’

‘The Secretary Chant’ is a decrying of the stereotyping of women in the modern workplace, where its gender lines ensnare women based on (startlingly) primitive expectations and obligations in the roles they are expected to assume. This ‘Secretary Chant’ is expressed from the first person perspective of a female persona, who laments about the bitter circumstances she has ostensibly been tied down to, in a society where her voice is shunned, silenced but she is still made to fulfil societal expectations, and she is perceived merely as a being who exists to function and serve society-at-large. However, her outcry is also nicely complemented by an immense sense of pride, where we see the persona embracing her feminine identity towards the end of the poem, giving one the idea of the ‘Secretary Chant’ as a tribute to the suffering of her female comrades in society.

The title, ‘The Secretary Chant’ gives us the impression of a piece which might unravel sounding extremely sombre, mellow and rehearsed, from the term ‘chant’. However, ‘chant’ also conveys the concept of a mantra of some sort, a unifying element which brings individuals bound to the same fate and circumstances together, as they exercise this unifying voice, a vehement message and an outcry. It is evident when the opening of the first stanza is marked by ‘My’, the personal pronoun which seems to empower the persona’s voice. It alludes to the idea that the persona is extremely passionate about the role she will later decry; when ‘My’ is subsequently enumerated anaphorically as the chant unravels, we notice that ‘My’ is paired with elements such as ‘My hips’, ‘My ears’, ‘My breasts’, ‘My fingers’, all of which are body parts, which give the persona the power to feel, through senses, where ‘ears’ are associated with hearing and ‘mouth’ with a voice, complemented by aspects which women are often identified, recognised and even valued for. Their physical attributes of ‘breasts’ and ‘hips’ serve to accentuate the persona’s female identity, a form of empowerment. All these aspects are integral parts of a female, which would seem to naturally imbue the stanzas with a grounded, boldly passionate tone, with the persona embracing her feminine identity, an innate nature which gives her strength as an individual. (Editor’s note: a greater sense of tentativeness would help as we move to the ‘shift’; this statement of identity on the surface very quickly, certainly on a first reading, splinters into a self-devaluation of sorts?)

However, there is an immediate shift in tone from pride and empowerment to vulnerability and bitterness when we realise that these aspects of power are transformed into derogatory metaphors, where the persona’s ‘hips are a desk’, her ‘head’ is a ‘badly organised file’ or her ‘navel’ a ‘reject button’. Here, these integral elements of feminine beauty and power are perceived as mere objects, through the harsh objectification and debasement of them into everyday, functional items. That ‘rubber bands form my hair’ is especially apt here, where the poet draws references to ‘rubber bands’ to speak crudely of fashion accessories which women often wear to enhance their looks, reducing their hair to mere daily household items or those found in workplaces, ordinary, plain and often taken for granted. This speaks metaphorically for the way in which women are perceived — ordinary, boring, common, functional with nothing of special value. Additionally, the motif of workplace items, tied with women’s precious features with ‘hips as desks’, ‘paper clips as chains’ drive the poignant message that the role of women is perceived by society to be bound to menial work, functioning merely to slog away, robbed of things they treasure and yearn for, in the interest of economic value. This is to the point where the line between an individual’s rudimental identity and societal expectations are blurred.

The idea of the persona’s ‘navel as a reject button’ drives the idea that women are shunned for these elements they don, these that are perceived as unorthodox or uncanny, driving society to discriminate and stigmatise them. All this culminates in an extremely sardonic, mocking tone where the jarring condemnation intensifies with each metaphorical debasement of body parts, alluding to the idea that women are not just shunned, but really, they are humiliated as well, driving the persona’s fervent bitterness and reframing the poem as an outcry against her own oppression. This is complemented by the rather violent verbs ‘hang’, ‘bear’, ‘press’ and ‘File me’, alluding to the degree of brutality in the light of their ensnarement by society; women, the poem posits, have no say because of their objectification and ensnarement within the workplace.

The sounds within the poem help to amplify the lamentations, coupled with the persona’s vehement tone. The plosive ‘t’ sounds at the back of ‘credit’ and ‘debit’, and the short, sharp sounds, ‘Zing’, ‘Buzz’ and ‘Click’, in their short, end-stopped lines stand in for the emotional pain which women are made to bear, a result of oppression in their society. These short lines all appear to be cut short, unintentionally or intentionally mirroring the ways in which women are often silenced; from ‘mouth issue cancelled reams’, the poem speaks about women often having much to voice out in ‘reams’, established in the long-drawn out assonant sounds, whilst the paradox ‘cancelled reams’ effectively conveys that much of these women’s thoughts and voices are often silenced so quickly by society. This adds an element of bitterness and contempt, amplifying the persona’s lamentation for oppression.

Finally, we notice that in the last few lines of the poem, the persona declares in declarative speech, ‘File me under W because I wonce / was / a woman’. The short, punctuated line driven by the personal pronoun ‘I’ imbues the persona’s declaration with a sense of pride, where she declares her identity boldly, fearlessly and explicitly. This alludes to the notion of this poem as a tribute to women, driven by passion and vehemence, where women ultimately take pride in their identity, as a sense of finality and closure. It brings us back to the idea of the deeper meaning behind the declaration, while it might have seemed a bitter and sombre lamentation and outcry of injustice, it stands grounded as a tribute. Nevertheless, there is the undeniably jarring sounds, evident from the liquid sounds of ‘w’ in ‘wonce’, ‘was’ and the vowel sounds in ‘woman’, delivered to a drawn-out, poignant effect. Although the persona exudes pride in her past identity as a female, there is still an underlying remorse and sadness from oppression, where pride and poignancy co-exist in this secretary’s identity.

Adeline Thong (1T21 2015)
JC1 Semestral Assessment

Response to ‘The Secretary Chant’

Editor: It’s been some time (2 YEARS!) since we’ve featured a poetry essay on these pages. My colleagues seem inspired enough by this; my JC2s probably would benefit from a familiar voice; I should, casting my nitpicking aside, appreciate the product of part-system, part-individual genius here. Read the original poem here.

The poem, ‘The Secretary Chant’ represents the parallel between human and machine in the modern condition, or more specifically the objectification of the female body in a purely functional mode – to serve the purpose as a mere machine meant to follow orders mechanically, unquestioningly as a secretary.The poem prompts the reader to further inspect the role of the secretary as well as the role of a woman in particular, depicted here as almost sub-human in its automated purpose to serve the needs of the office, which could be reflected as the wider perception of women in society or the working world.

In reference to the language of the poem, it is written in only the first-person perspective, with the use of ‘My’ and ‘I’, illustrating an almost robotic effect with ‘My hips’, ‘My breasts’, ‘My hair’, ‘My head’. The employment of such first-person pronouns creates a rather personalised tone that, as seen in the word ‘Chant’ in the title, matches the idea of a mantra enforced upon the persona’s speech. There is a lack of variation in the perspective of the poem and its sentence structures, as if the persona were entranced due to the fact that she persistently tells herself what she ought to be, as though society had forced upon her this strict criteria and narrow perspective — that she must adopt to fit society’s standards. Moreover, in terms of rhythm, there are many run-on lines, giving the effect of a processing machine that does not need to pause for breath (unlike a human) and the lines are generally short in length, emphasising the context of a clinical office job and a secretary who deals with the mundane, systematic aspects in the office. This is evident from ‘From my ears hang / chains of paper clips’ (lines 2-3) and ‘PRess my fingers / and in my eyes appear / credit and debit’. These examples of enjambment accentuate the notion of a consistent, tireless attitude of the persona where the only pauses (indicated by punctuation such as full-stops and commas) only occur when she has finished the task in that mechanical fashion.

Furthermore, there is abundant imagery based on body parts that seem to be metaphorical references to common objects in an office. The secretary’s body is described in an organised and eerily specific way, for which it is perceived that each body part has been successfully replaced as mere objects instead of parts of an actual human being. Evidence comes from ‘hips are a desk‘, ‘Rubber bands form my hair‘ and ‘head is a badly organised file‘ — these instances of ‘hips’, ‘hair’ and ‘head’ being morphed into inanimate objects such as ‘desk’, ‘rubber bands’ and ‘file’ respectively is reflective of the objectification the vivid imagery conceptualises it in its most nonchalant, matter-of-fact tone. The concern with gender roles is also prevalent in the description where ‘breasts are quills of mimeograph ink’, where even the female body part representing maternity has been debased into an ink-producer, its life-giving nature thus reduced into a secretarial, mundane task. This suggests that femininity or maternity cannot co-exist with the identity (and job scope) of a ‘secretary’, where women are seen in accordance to their functional value, rather than being treated and respected as humans. There is purposeful emphasis on pregnancy with ‘I am about to be delivered / of a baby / Xerox machine’ — this abrupt realisation on the reader that pregnancy has become a metaphor for mechanical production instead of birth is extremely disturbing and the fact that the image of a ‘Xerox machine’ is only given in the next line proves the systematic nature of objectifying women. The sounds in the poem, such as ‘Buzz’, ‘Click’, ‘Zing’ and ‘Tinkle’ heighten the mechanical feeling of the poem, where such sounds normally associated with machines are now morphed into so-called human sounds, capturing the dehumanisation… and ultimate subjugation of the secretary into a cold, clinical world of work.

Lastly, throughout the progression of the poem, it is clear that for most of the first part is systematic objectification of female body parts, and the second presents the persistent objectification of the persona’s ‘pregnant’ state. It is only at the very end of the poem when the persona declares, ‘I wonce was a woman’, and focusing on the use of ‘was’ somewhat convey sa lamentation of the past where the persona perhaps acknowledges her human nature rather than a product of society’s expectations as an office woman. However, it is more a tone of resignation, where she has already divorced her emotional self as a human (and a woman) and it is simply another ‘File’, a memory that ceases to exist in the objectification that has been simultaneously enforced upon her, even in a modernising world [Editor’s note: ‘File’ is used in the poem as a verb that reduces the persona to even less than an object – the letter ‘W’ – within the system – the alphabetical order of ‘files’ in a cabinet perhaps. The switch from the second-person to the first person here is less a declaration of identity than it is a passive submission to being ‘filed’]

In conclusion, this poem seems to reflect the acceptance of a woman secretary and her role in the office, though it more urgently depicts society’s patriarchal, sexist ideals even in a supposedly ‘modern’ world.

Samantha Cheung, 1T01 (2015)
JC1 Semestral Assessment

2T02 Composes a Thesis

So… a group was presenting an otherwise proficient outline on the question, “Chris has every reason to feel as guilty as his father.” This was the thesis they came up with.

Thus, Chris Keller has every reason to feel as guilty as his father – in the same way Keller was perceived to be a materialistic murderer of 21 men, Chris can be seen to be the idealistic murderer of his own father.

Somewhat promising, but it was a statement that never really went beyond (i) restating the question – meh; (ii) providing exposition / narrative information in the form of consequences (Chris murders his father). I therefore asked the class to devise a proper thesis in all of 5 minutes, and provided the following guidelines.

  • Thesis statements link the question to the overall purpose of the play.
    *
  • We should ask, why does the play present Chris as being ‘as guilty as his father’?
    – What does the play suggest to us about idealism / social responsibility?
    – What does the play tell us about the pursuit of the American dream?
    – What does the play tell us about the family / self-interest?
    *
  • Try to think about things in terms of society or individual desire or values, not so much about characters in the world of the play. When you start using ‘Chris’, you tend to dive back into the plot.
    *
  • This applies to any literary text or paper, really. You are writing about ‘giving up romantic ideals’ in The Age of Innocence or the ‘inherently brutal, ruthlessly violent world’ when comparing Streetcar and Othello.

This is what we came up with. Brilliant stuff, if you ask me 😉 So you see… it’s really not that difficult, so long as you endeavour to give your point of view. We will be focusing a lot more on writing theses to ‘differentiate’ your essays, since nearly all of us have the necessary foundation of analysis / essay structure!

1. Neither the American dream nor idealism triumph in the play – it is not about choosing either/or but rather striking a balance.

2. The play shows the audience… no matter how socially responsible or idealistic one can be, there is always some degree of self-interest.

3. The play suggests that… the American dream cannot co-exist with idealism – you have to forsake one. The Keller family, in trying to negotiate a co-existence of the two, meets tragedy.

4. The play posits a Darwinian view of society: idealism cannot really ‘work’, it is about the survival of the fittest. We all have to ‘forget’ about our values and ‘live on’.

Response to ‘My prime of youth is but a frost of cares’

Chidiock Tichborne’s poem describes the folly of not living a life fully, until it is too late to do so. The poem, written in the first-person point of view, is an introspective account of the persona bitterly lamenting his wasted youth which he describes as a ‘spring’ that ‘hath not (yet) sprung’. It has now turned into a ‘frost of cares’, where his ‘feast of joy’ or his youth has now become a ‘dish of pain’. This juxtaposing of images, seen throughout the poem, presents to the reader a stark contrast of how a painful and weary life becomes as we age, and therefore evokes our sympathy for the persona.

In the first stanza, the pattern of juxtaposition entails the imagery of nature and agriculture set against the imagery of pain and suffering. For example, ‘prime of youth’ is juxtaposed to ‘frost of cares’ and similarly ‘crop of corn’ is juxtaposed to ‘field of tares’. The imagery of nature and crops symbolises youth as something that is exuberant and lively, yet his life is described with the imagery of pain and suffering, signifying the stark contrast between youth and old age because ageing is to the persona, a long, arduous process which gives nothing but pain.

As the persona later elaborates in the first stanza, ‘the day is gone’ but he has yet to see the ‘sun’. We see the persona lamenting his wasted youth which he describes as ‘good’ being in ‘vain’, which makes us the readers feel that youth gives us fleeting joy but it is all in ‘vain’ as ageing is an inevitable, painful part of life. We again see juxtaposition employed in the second stanza, yet of a different nature, as the persona describes his youth or his ‘spring’ as ‘past’ but however it ‘hath not sprung’, or ‘his youth is gone’ but yet he considers himself ‘young’. Now, we see rich irony in the persona’s words, as we begin to feel that the persona is regretting his chance to live his life in a fulfilling way, because it is too late for him to do. Truly, every stanza ends with the line ‘And now I live, and now my life is done’ which emphasises to us, the reader, the scope of his regret for not living his life when he had the chance, and again evokes our sympathy.

In the last stanza, the persona again uses juxtaposition rich in irony. The persona shows us that he feels that his fate was already ‘pre-destined’ as he ‘sought’ his ‘death’ and ‘found’ it in his ‘womb’ and he ‘trode the earth’ and ‘knew’ that it his ‘tomb’. The ironic contrast in images symbolises life like ‘earth’ and ‘womb’ in opposition to ‘tomb’ and ‘death’, again emphasising how the persona laments that he has not lived his life, even to the extent where he uses hyperbole to describe his death as beginning from the ‘womb’. This exaggeration evokes a sense of sorrow from the reader because we sympathise with the persona’s bitter fate.

The persona’s tone gradually shifts from the first stanza to the third, as in the first stanza, he bitterly derides ageing as being a ‘dish of pain’ from his glorious youth which he perceives as a ‘feast of joy’. However, we see the shifting of his tone from the first stanza to that of sorrow and regret in the second stanza, as he laments his wasted youth as one in which he ‘saw the world’ and yet he ‘was not seen’, showing us how insignificant he feels and how much he mourns the fact that he had not lived his life though now his ‘life is done’. Finally, we see his tone shift to one of finality and resignation, in the third stanza, as if he accepts his bitter fate and believes that his ‘death’ had begun right from the ‘womb’, which triggers sympathy as we feel sorry for the persona’s misery and folly.

The mood in th epoem is one of graveness and sombreness, enhanced by the caesurae employed by the poet to create a plodding rhythm which makes us stop and reflect on the persona’s feelings and emotions in every line. The repetition of the line, ‘And now I live, and now my life is done’ serves to remind us of the persona’s regret and emphasises to us that we should not take our youth for granted.

Though the poem is one of regret, lamentation and sorrow, I believe that the message that the poet is trying to convey is one of hope because it ultimately serves to mind us that unlike the persona, our lives are not ‘done’: we should not take our youth for granted and live our own ‘spring’, to rejoice in our ‘feast of joy’, and be thankful for our ‘crop of corn’. We should live before it is too late to do so.

Juiee Malekar
1T07 2013