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Voltaire’s “Candide”

Anguish, Thomas. A Sermon Preached at St. Nicholas, Deptford, On the Fast Day Appointed by Royal Proclamation. John Clarke, 1756. Eighteenth Century Collections Online, Gale.

French philosopher Voltaire presented his critique of Leibnitz’s theory of metaphysical optimism in the satire, Candide. In it, he not only mocks the idea that this is “the best of all possible worlds” but also the different religions of the time. Voltaire was spurred to write his masterpiece by the devastating earthquake in Lisbon, Peru in 1755. The following year, Thomas Anguish presented his sermon at St. Nicholas, Deptford, presenting the same Christian view that Voltaire critiqued in his satire. In studying this primary source, one would note that Candide challenged the cultural expectations of the time, just as Voltaire desired when he wrote the novel.

Thomas Anguish broadly presents several classic Christian ideas in his sermon, from suggesting the will of God to discussing the egocentric human nature of man. He begins by mentioning that previous earthquakes and natural disasters led the people to flock to churches and repent. “[O]ur churches were filled, and our conversations turned upon the probable judgments of God” (Anguish 3). Throughout his sermon, Anguish returns to this idea that people turn to religion in times of desperation and ends his sermon by mentioning that “such a want of faith and goodness under so clear a light, will destroy both body and soul in hell” (Anguish 14). While promoting Christianity and its lack of judgment, Anguish contradicts himself by commenting condescendingly on these souls that repent in their times of need for self-preservation. He then preaches that other religious figures and groups will pass judgment, referring to them as “this intolerant kind” (Anguish 6). Contradicting his distaste for judgmental behavior, Anguish uses words such as “barbarous and ignorant” to describe those that pass judgment on others. Such words suggest strong, negative connotations and a condescension towards those groups, putting Anguish in the same position as the others that judge. Conflicting ideas and connotations such as this in the sermon are likely to be critiqued by satirists like Voltaire.

One of Anguish’s next points is his comparison of earthquakes and war. He refers to the earthquake in Lisbon that inspired Voltaire to write his novel, stating that the superiors in London provided a “speedy, generous, and effectual relief recommended, but granted with an unison of mind and voice, without hesitation, without delay!” (Anguish 6). His praise of his own church continues throughout the sermon, likely to promote it to those that he mentions above, those that only turn to church in their times of need and desperation but forsake it when they find themselves stable and secure. Further discussion of earthquakes leads Anguish to state that earthquakes are mysterious wonders and that humankind should not question how they happen, or they would be too afraid to exist. This suggests the belief that earthquakes are God’s will, an idea that contradicts the growing Age of Enlightenment in Europe during the 18th Century. He moves to discuss that war, unlike earthquakes, “is a calamity of man’s own making” (Anguish 9). While God created earthquakes, war is supposedly man’s fault and does not stem from God. However, Voltaire would likely point to the Crusades as evidence that God’s will is often a cause of many wars that men wage on each other.

Despite the critiques of other religions and those that are not devout followers that Anguish provides in his sermon, his overall message promotes Christianity and that men can redeem themselves. He states that everyone has these “animal desires” but those that follow the virtuous life can be free of these desires. This sets the stage for the religious society that Voltaire critiques in his satire, Candide.

The protagonist Candide challenges the expectations of the culture through the mockery of religious figures throughout the novel. Many of the religious leaders in the satire behave self-righteously and are ridiculed throughout the text. These characters typically face the most gruesome deaths in the novels, including the Jew and the Grand Inquisitor that Candide slays. “Without giving time to the Inquisitor to recover from his surprise, he pierced him through and through, and cast him beside the Jew” (Voltaire). His quick slaughter of these two figures without hint of repentance or guilt would cause outrage in the community, especially with one of the commandments being “thou shalt not kill.” The Grand Inquisitor is a powerful figure that would usually demand respect, but Candide does not practice any religion, nor does he show any respect for the man in this scene. He is spurred to action by brash thinking and his lust for his lover Cunegonde. The main character then proceeds with his adventure in the story, not sparing a second thought or moment of respect for the deceased. Everything about Candide presents a disrespectful attitude and lack of regard for religious figures and power, reflecting the same attitude that Voltaire, a Deist and man of reason, has for the religious figures of his time. This comment on religion would likely outrage a number of different people. Voltaire purposely creates a character that does not subscribe to a particular religion, instead presenting a man of “science” that believes in the theory of metaphysico-theologico-cosmolo-nigology.

Once again going against the accepted ideas of society, the only religious figure that is presented in a pleasant manner, though also falling to his demise, is the Anabaptist James. This likely ruffles the feathers of the society at the time because Anabaptists were one of the rejected and persecuted religions. To put positive connotations on such a man would seem to suggest that Voltaire was regarding him with greater favor than the more accepted religions such as Christianity or Catholicism. “A man who had never been christened, a good Anabaptist, named James… took [Candide] home, cleaned him, gave him bread and beer, presented him with two florins” (Voltaire). Voltaire makes the Anabaptist the most generous character in his novel, protecting Candide after he is rejected by others and denied bread. The Anabaptist then also saves Candide but drowns in the ocean after his final good deed. The decision to make a man from a shunned religion the most kind of the novel was not a mistake in Voltaire’s plan. Rather, the purpose was to show his disdain for these more common religions, as Voltaire was a Deist. This targeted religion, one that would typically be under severe scrutiny and judgment, is actually representative of the other religions that Christianity often criticizes, as Thomas Anguish’s sermon demonstrates. Voltaire is actively demonstrating the compassion and capability of other religions as providers for salvation, while also still criticizing religions that believe in God’s intervention in man’s life by writing the Anabaptist James out of the story.

Promoting his Deist beliefs, Voltaire creates the country of El Dorado, where religion does not plague the people and prevent them from progress or reason. In 1755, science had not advanced enough to establish many of the basic ideas accepted as truths, allowing many religions to continue the Greek tradition of claiming natural events as work of the gods, although the Age of Enlightenment was taking place and promoting the pursuit of knowledge and philosophy. However, as a man of reason, Voltaire rejects beliefs of divine intervention, such as earthquakes simply being something of God’s will that should not be studied. Religion does exist in the fictional country of El Dorado, but as the old man in chapter XVIII insists, “’We do not pray to Him,’ said the worthy sage; ‘we have nothing to ask of Him; He has given us all we need” (Voltaire). The old man also confesses that they do not have religious authority figures. Instead, all of the people are equal worshippers, dismantling the need for figures such as the Grand Inquisitor or the Pope. This society, while worshipping God, is also scientifically advanced and does not allow their religion to prevent them from their studies. “But what surprised [Candide] most… was the palace of sciences, where he saw a gallery two thousand feet long and filled with instruments employed in mathematics and physics” (Voltaire). Voltaire promotes his Deist ideology with the concept that the people of El Dorado believe God exists, but they do not believe that He intervenes, a crucial tenet of Deism that the Christian church would vehemently oppose. In Candide, Voltaire’s example of a perfect society where the people do not fight and promote intellectual pursuit without forsaking God is only possible when Deist principles are applied, evidently challenging the mainstream religions of his society and celebrating the rise of the Age of Enlightenment.

Candide served as Voltaire’s platform to critique other religions and promote his own, while also critiquing an assortment of other aspects of society in the 1750’s. Primary sources from the time show the exact type of religious beliefs that Voltaire, as a Deist, opposed and considered ridiculous. His satire purposely opposed the accepted ideals of his time and sought to point out these flaws in a ridiculous adventure of a simple, religiously apathetic man.

Hosseini’s “A Thousand Splendid Suns”

Rabbani, Farhanaz, and Tazin Aziz Chaudbury. “The Silent Soldiers: A Postcolonial Feminist Study of Selina Hossain’s River of My Blood and Khaled Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns.” Asiatic:IIUM Journal of English Language & Literature, vol. 12, no. 1, June 2018, pp. 25–42. Ebscohost, ebscohost.com.

Khaled Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns focuses on the struggles of two different women in Afghanistan and their intertwined lives as they navigate a war-torn country and suffer the varying extreme expectations of women over several regimes. The tale of their survival and resilience in such a dangerous climate serves as an astounding story of feminism and perseverance. However, Hosseini’s description of feminism in these trying times relies on female connections and kinship rather than the feminism recognized in western culture that presents itself in marches, protests, and media presence. Farhanaz Rabbani and Tazin Aziz Chaudhury present the idea that feminism in Third World countries is far different than that of First World countries and that both Mariam and Laila find themselves participating in the latter. Their argument is valid in reference to Mariam, the older wife, but they ignore crucial aspects of Laila’s personality and beliefs that hold First World feminist ideals. Third World feminism and First World feminism appear different, but they can often overlap and do so in A Thousand Splendid Suns, using the main characters as allegorical figures for Third World feminism and First World feminism, rather than presenting one version of feminism in the novel.

Rabbani and Chaudhury preface their claims with brief histories of feminism in Afghanistan and Bangladesh. They then define the type of feminism presented in the rest of the article. “Postcolonial feminism integrates indigenous ideas with Third World feminist ideas and discusses the representation of women in ‘once colonized countries’ (Tyagi 45), which is deeply embedded in nationalism” (28). They present the idea that women in third world countries are “in a precarious condition of ‘double colonization’ (qtd. in Tyagi 45) as they simultaneously experienced the oppression of colonialism and patriarchy in the postcolonial period” (28-29). These are basic ideas of feminism that one might not initially associate with strictly impoverished, Third World countries. Women of all races have experienced oppression throughout the periods of colonization and colonialism is linked to patriarchal societies. However, the main idea of the article is that Mariam and Laila are “silent women” and their feminism is not the demand for equal rights through protests and political involvement that one might see in the current US climate. Instead, these women “[find] an agency through which she can exert her power” (41) such as murdering their abusive husband, Rasheed. Rabbani and Chaudhury claim that the protagonists’ feminism is tied to their traditions and nationalism, limiting them from being more than “’powerless,’ ‘exploited’ and ‘sexually harassed’” (29). Their feminism is in conflict with religion and traditional ideas, according to the authors. These women appear to be utterly helpless according to First World feminist thinking, but Rabbani and Chaudbury label them as “silent soldiers” of their own kind of feminism.

As the authors argue, I believe that Mariam does represent the Third World feminism that exists. Mariam was born a harami, a bastard in Afghanistan that quickly lost her only family after her first attempt at freedom. Throughout the story, her desire to fight against the abusive husband she marries dwindles and the audience sees a broken woman. Her attempts at First World feminism are few are far in between, and often these grasps at power are often demolished. In a traditional attempt to gain some sort of power, Mariam almost finds power in her first pregnancy. However, luck does not favor her and instead she miscarries this child and the following pregnancies. “In the next four years… there had been six more cycles of hopes raised then dashed… Rasheed had grown more remote and resentful” (Hosseini 99). She cannot fulfill her purpose in a patriarchal society and provide a male child to her husband, thus crushing her spirit and presenting her as a “useless” woman to the rest of society. The characterization of Mariam as this Third World feminist is accurate. She is aware of the injustice that men push on women, as her mother warns her, “’like a compass needle that points north, a man’s accusing finger always finds a woman. Always’” (Hosseini 7). Mariam learns “how much a woman could tolerate when she was afraid” (Hosseini 98). She knows injustice and that her lot in life will to be to suffer the problems and oppression of men, but her resilience in trying times and suffering through these injustices and taking the blame for events out of control demonstrate that she is a silent soldier of Third World feminism. Her inability to stray from tradition or strain against the expectations of women is only tested later when she interacts with Laila, an allegorical figure for the more western ideals of feminism.

Laila, significantly younger than Mariam, was raised to value knowledge and presented with the idea of living a better, free life. Her pursuit of knowledge was promoted in the communist regime, “Women have always had it hard in this country, Laila, but they’re probably more free now, under the communists, and have more rights than they’ve ever had before” (Hosseini 135). Under the communist regime, Laila is exposed to a different form of feminism than Mariam, and thus cannot be defined exactly as a “silent soldier” like her. Their environment changes their perspectives on women’s roles, as Laila’s friends state their high expectations for her future, even with her status as a girl. “But you, Laila, you’ll make [Giti and Hasani]… proud. You’re going to be somebody” (Hosseini 166). Where Mariam was directed into a life of submission and service to her husband, Laila was a wild spirit who even broke the traditions of her culture by sleeping with her first love, Tariq. Laila’s character falls in line with western feminism that promotes a more active involvement of women rather than being tied to traditions and nationalism. Her character is resilient and constantly acting out in ways that are unexpected and undesired in women for her culture. This disregard for expectations thus prevents her from being clearly labeled as a postcolonial feminist in a Third World country because she is a well-educated, gender role opposer. While her sister-wife Mariam is in the same situation, their attitudes differ in many situations. Whereas the older woman resigns to her life with an abusive husband, Laila chooses to marry Rasheed for a strategic gain to protect her own future and her bastard child.

The interaction between the characters serves to demonstrate that perhaps Rabbani and Chaudhury did not consider how Third World feminism and First World feminism are intertwined and affect each other. These are not opposing ideals characterized by their perspectives of each other, as their article might insist that First World feminists consider Third World women as weaker creatures incapable of change. Instead, Mariam and Laila’s personalities and beliefs bleed into each other. The influence of the spontaneous, calculating younger woman moves Mariam to rise against her oppressive husband and commit murder, not only breaking the law but also metaphorically beginning a rise against the patriarchy. Even before the development of their relationship, Mariam was spurred to a new outspoken stance due to the threat that Laila imposed on her household. “Mariam had never before spoken in this manner, had never stated her will so forcefully” (Hosseini 226). This is western feminist behavior, rather than the behavior of a “silent soldier” that fights the patriarchy with their existence and perseverance. Vice versa, Laila falls into the ideas of Third World feminism when she resigns to living with Rasheed and accepting the burqa to hide her identity and fall from high expectations. “Still, [Laila] found some comfort in the anonymity that the burqa provided… She wouldn’t have to watch the surprise in their eyes, or the pity or the flee, at how far she had fallen” (Hosseini 232). Rather than continuing her pursuit of knowledge or embodying the ideals of First World feminism, Laila momentarily finds power in following tradition and protecting her children and fellow sister-wife without disrupting traditions. Though the younger protagonist is the greater embodiment of First World feminism, it would be remiss to state that she did not eventually fall into the role of submissive woman to her husband’s traditional, antiquated hand, which means I do agree with Rabbani and Chaudbury, to an extent. However, I still believe that as allegorical figures, these two women demonstrate that Third World feminism can still have elements of the outspoken, radical First World feminism, and western women can often adopt the traditional, nationalistic views of feminism that Afghanistan produces.

Rabbani and Chaudbury present Laila and Mariam as “silent soldiers” and suggest that these two women fall under one kind of feminism, labeled as Third World feminism. However, evidence suggests that Laila, unsurprisingly, differs from the behavior of a Third World feminist in many ways. Still, the younger woman also adopts several of the same tactics in order to survive, just as Mariam adopts the behavior of a First World feminist after interacting with Laila. Feminists, whether Third Word or First World, adopt a number of behaviors and actions that may be similar to one another and it would be inaccurate to attempt to separate feminists into distinct categories because there will always be an overlap as women of different economic and social backgrounds interact with each other.

Kurt Vonnegut’s “Miss Temptation”

Kurt Vonnegut, an author known for his satirical work and commentary on society, published his feminist short story, “Miss Temptation,” in 1956, shortly before second wave feminism flourished in the United States. Vonnegut’s short story satirizes the sexualization of women and their treatment as objects rather than people. In “Miss Temptation,” Vonnegut presents the idea that women aren’t sexual objects for men to degrade and abuse, but rather they are equal to men. In this particular short story, Vonnegut exaggerates the characteristics of the patriarchal and religious base, breaks gender roles and expectations, and uses the power dynamic between Susanna and Corporal Fuller in order to expose the vast hypocrisy of men from idolizing the beauty of women while condemning their sexuality to expecting women to serve as submissive objects of pleasure.

Vonnegut begins his short story by disregarding strict Puritan values in a small town, which would usually shun a woman for her enchanting, sensual presence in town. Puritanism typically aimed at keeping women in line and punished women who acted out, as shown by the infamous witch hunts lead by Puritans. Throughout the history of the United States, support for suppressing women and restricting their actions could often be found in religions such as Puritanism. Small towns such as the setting of the story would often be the pictured scene for such thoughts and strict attitudes. Instead of developing a stifling environment for his female protagonist, Vonnegut writes that, “[N]ot even the oldest farmer suspected that Susanna’s diabolical beauty had made his cow run dry.” Sudden and seemingly inexplicable bad luck such as cows running dry would typically send a Puritan town into a witch hunt, as seen in Salem’s history. Women were typically blamed for inexplicable hardships, especially those that may present their sexuality as brazenly as Susanna does. However, the author raises this Puritan town to be above such accusations of women. Thus, Vonnegut creates a supportive environment for Susanna and her beauty to exist without conflict, until Corporal Fuller, embodying the toxic, historical masculinity that smothers women, returns home. Throughout the story, the author then drops clues, indicating that Fuller represented the patriarchal, religious base that the feminist theory suggests society was built on at the time. Vonnegut makes clever reference to the history of witch hunts and their unjust destruction of innocent women, “[Fuller’s] indictment had reduced Susanna to washes of what she’d been moments before.” Exaggerations of history suggest that the Salem Witch Trials involved burning women at the stake. Vonnegut similarly uses exaggeration to expose the pretentiousness and ridiculous hold onto the past with Fuller’s verbal assault on Susanna. He even describes Fuller’s outburst as, “The wraith of a Puritan ancestor, stiff-necked, dressed in black, took possession of Fuller’s tongue… the voice of a witch hanger, a voice redolent with frustration, self-righteousness…” The author’s description of the army man demonstrates that he is representative of the oppressive patriarchal and religious beliefs on women. Fuller is all the worst aspects of Puritan men, “stiff-necked,” a “witch hanger,” and self-righteous with no redeeming qualities, thus an extreme hyperbolic allegory for the oppressive base of the society that Vonnegut attempts to critique, arguing that to view women the same way that Fuller does is to view them in an antiquated and dangerous manner.

The feminist theory recognizes the traditional, “good” female role in a patriarchy as “modest, unassuming” (Tyson 89). However, Susanna is presented as a sensual woman that inspires desire in men such as Fuller. She defies the traditional gender role of being a conservative woman that does not showcase her sexuality, blending into society’s expectations. Instead Susanna is a spectacle, “[h]er hips were like a lyre, and her bosom made men dream of peace…She wore barbaric golden hoops on her shell-pink ears…” Susanna represents the idea of a free woman, not bound by the restrictions of the patriarchy and their gender roles for women. Fuller, after publicly denouncing her as a tease, meets Susanna again and her appearance and status as a free woman has shifted. “[Susanna] was now dressed for travel—dressed as properly as a missionary’s wife.” However, even as her appearance matches the traditional “good” girl expectation, Susanna begins a lively and opinionated rant that demolishes the idea of her behaving as expected by the patriarchy, and Fuller is equally as intimidated and upset by the conservative Susanna. This reflects on the society that Vonnegut is experiencing as women are gearing up for the next swell of feminism and fighting for their rights to be viewed as more than submissive creatures. The scene suggests that even when women are pressured to suppress their bodies for men, their spirits will rise and demand the same respect that men take for themselves. Susanna’s long tirade regarding her feelings reflects the climate of society as women wish to express themselves and be seen as more than just wives or mothers. In analyzing the ignored gender roles that Susanna presents, the feminist criticism reveals the changing perspective of women, both in men such as Vonnegut and in the social climate as second wave feminism begins, and women begin to demand to own their own bodies. It also shows the fickle nature that is typically expected of women is reflected in Fuller, and more broadly in the oppressive patriarchy, who dislikes Susanna’s sensual expression of self, yet is equally as uncomfortable with her “proper” attire.

The power dynamic between men and women has historically favored men as the dominant and women as the weak and submissive. Initially, “Miss Temptation” follows this idea when Fuller critiques Susanna in front of his audience; however, the power dynamic does not remain in his favor. In fact, Fuller is never actually the one in place of power in his interactions with Susanna. It is because she intimidates him that he insults Susanna, exposing that he is not actually the “all powerful army man” that the audience initially assumes. Fuller, despite his low rank, is still an army man, such a role should give him a greater social standing than a civilian woman and he is expected to act as such. Instead, this idea is deconstructed quickly as his self-righteous opinion of himself is weakened. “Susanna, the golden girl of a thousand tortured daydreams, was now discussing her soul, passionately, with Fuller the lonely. Fuller the homely. Fuller the bleak.” Fuller, once again representative of the toxic patriarchy, is exposed as easily destroyed and brought down from his self-righteous throne of power. Rather than having control over the situation, he is put at Susanna’s level, creating an equal ground where Fuller cannot assert authority over her, as a man or as a part of the military. Instead he is forced to see that Susanna has feelings and is “not Yellowstone Park” nor does she “belong to everybody!” Susanna makes the comparison of being treated like public property or an attraction meant for men to look at and metaphorically tour. Women have often been treated as if their bodies belonged to men to gawk at and criticize. Her argument does not promote being viewed as private property, but rather for women to not be viewed as property at all and instead have standing as human beings capable of their own decisions. This scene reflects the possibilities that would be hoped for in the second wave of feminism as women sought equality and control over their own bodies and decisions such as access to birth control. Men such as Fuller expect to remain in power and dominate women, but the feminist theory would suggest that by analyzing this short story, written by a man around the time of a social movement, men were actually intimidated by the power held by women and sought to suppress them into their expected roles in the power dynamic between the sexes.

Reading Vonnegut’s “Miss Temptation” alone leads to the conclusion that he believed women were more than just objects for men’s visual enjoyment. Applying the feminist criticism takes this meaning from the satirical short story and exposes that while men place themselves as dominant figures over women, they are equally as sensitive, and the patriarchy can be demolished. Their hypocrisy runs deep in their inability to accept sensual women who own their bodies while also claiming the right to stare and project their desires onto these women.

Sylvia Plath’s “Mad Girl’s Love Song”

Severe depression and love are not often considered interchangeable. However, Sylvia Plath wrote a poem titled “Mad Girl’s Love Song”, published in 1953. Upon first read it seems as if the speaker has gone mad with longing for her lover. However, an alternate perspective is that this poem is about her depression. This theory is supported by the fact that in the same year of its publication, Sylvia Plath attempts to commit suicide and is eventually diagnosed with depression and put through electroconvulsive therapy. This “love song” details not the missing presence of a lover, but of the woman that the poet once was before her depression became unbearable. She develops a speaker, possibly more unstable than Plath herself, to present this story of a woman driven insane and longing for a return to reality. Sylvia Plath presents the idea of perception versus reality in her poem “Mad Girl’s Love Song” using bizarre diction, the villanelle structure, and an interesting choice of punctuation marks to show what it is like to have a mental illness but still desire the return of her sanity, to view the world differently than society.

Sylvia Plath sets the tone for her poem by using the word “mad” in her title. In this case, the word does not mean angry, but instead “insane” and establishes the speaker of the poem as someone unstable and untrustworthy in their descriptions. The rest of the poem is followed by the speaker using whimsical and bizarre diction. For instance, the third stanza uses the words “bewitched” and “moon-struck” to describe an interaction that the speaker has “dreamed.” Bewitched is technically defined as to enchant or cast a spell. The connotation is not far from the denotation and brings to the reader’s mind the image of witch and magic. Using “bewitched” then enhances the use of “moon-struck” and its whimsical connotation. Witches are typically associated with nature and the night. Later, the speaker references a thunderbird, which is an allusion to the North American myth. The lines read, “I should have loved a thunderbird instead;/ At least when spring comes they roar back again.” The phrasing suggests that the speaker truly believes this mythical creature will return before the person she used to be will. It can be read literally in this sense, which serves to prove that she truly does not have a grasp on reality, or it can be read figuratively, which still implies that she knows she will never be who she once was, because that person doesn’t exist, just like the bird. This imagery created by the words shows the bizarre and outlandish feelings that the speaker is experiencing in her dreams as she speaks to the addressee, her sane persona. In using this kind of diction, Sylvia Plath is supporting her claim that this speaker is mad, consumed with outlandish hope that her sanity will return. This also helps in developing Plath’s comment on perception versus reality because the scenes she uses to describe her life are odd as the second stanza suggests with “The stars go waltzing out in blue and red.” The audience, and perhaps even the addressee, knows that stars don’t dance, nor are they colored blue and red. The speaker sees the world in a chaotic, unusual manner, especially in stanza four when she describes an apocalyptic scene fading. The assumption is that the audience picks up on the exaggerated imagery and its oddities so that Plath can emphasize that the imagery is not simply decoration, but rather state that being “mad” involves perceiving the world as this bizarre, almost overwhelming, place.

Plath’s poem uses the villanelle format and thus the first and third lines of the first stanza are reused as refrains in the following stanzas, each time contributing a new meaning to the stanza. In doing this, she brings about this idea of repetitive, intrusive thoughts. One of her refrains, “(I think I made you up inside my head)”, does an excellent job in helping with this effect. Our speaker is directly stating that she is unsure of the existence of her previous state of mind now. While Sylvia Plath was diagnosed with depression, this line presents an interesting take on one of the symptoms of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. This shows that she has repetitive and compulsive unwanted thoughts. Thus, she returns consistently to these lines, as if they are thoughts that her mind keeps bringing back. Plath’s use of the villanelle is also impressive because her rhyme scheme is not like typical villanelles. Her villanelle does not follow the traditional ABA rhyme and instead deviates in many places throughout the poem. Breaking away from the traditional method allows Plath to put more emphasis on the idea that the speaker is not traditional, nor logical really. The “mad girl” doesn’t care for making a consistent ABA ABA rhyme scheme, instead her words are meant to be noticed for differing from the pattern because her mentality differs from society’s expectations and standards for the norm. Perhaps Plath wants the audience to consider that the speaker thinks in this manner, mostly correct, but just slightly off. Ultimately, writing in this method and changing the rhyme scheme of the villanelle gives the speaker a noticeable difference from what is expected and shows the audience that living with mental illness is like following the traditions and still feeling flawed and appearing imperfect in society’s standards.

Often, the punctuation in poetry is analyzed for emphasis purposes, however Sylvia Plath makes an interesting choice in putting the whole poem in quotation marks and one of her refrains in parentheses. As the title implies, this is a “love song” for someone, and Plath puts the whole piece in quotations, as if it is being sung or recited to someone else. In theory, the addressee is not a physical person standing in front of the speaker, but the memory of the speaker’s normal life, before being burdened by her insanity. This is Plath’s recollection of her own struggles with depression. Rather than leaving the poem out of quotations and treating it like a dramatic monologue or such, presenting this poem as a song does a few things for Plath’s purpose. Firstly, Plath put this poem in quotations because this poem is addressed to her past self. She is speaking to the person she was before her depression became a permanent fixture in her life and she became “mad.” This is also why she seems to be speaking directly at someone, rather than objectively saying “she” to describe her past self that she wants to become once again. This poem is not a “what if” situation, but rather comes from the perspective of someone who later in life will undergo electroconvulsive therapy for treatment. Secondly, the poem reads as if the speaker is performing for others, her disease is on display for the public and she is purposely allowing them to know what she is thinking about her past. This piece isn’t meant to be perceived as “intruding” into the poet’s personal life. Plath wants the audience to understand that this is for the public to see a depressed person’s perception of the world. With “Satan’s men” and “arbitrary blackness” as the images presented, she is not sugarcoating the life she lives. Along with the quotations, Plath also uses parentheses in one of her refrains. My interpretation of this line includes treating it as an aside, as if in theatre. Since this love song is being performed, the line, “(I think I made you up inside my head)” is not actually meant to be read as if being spoken or sung to the addressee. This line is more for the speaker as they contemplate whether the person they are speaking to is real, if there ever was a time where they were not suffering from insanity. It adds a sense of doubt in the audience whether this speaker can tell the difference between the real world and what they’ve made up. Ending the poem, or song, with this line effectively leaves the audience questioning the entire piece and what parts of the speaker’s song are true and what is just part of their messy perception of the world.

Others will argue that Sylvia Plath wrote this poem to discuss love and longing for a long gone lover, and while this is a valid lens to view the poem, Plath skillfully utilizes a specific structure, mythical and whimsical diction, and particular punctuation to tell the story of her depression and engage the audience to view the difference between her perception of the world and her past life, and reality.

Alice Walker’s “Everyday Use”

Heritage is a concept passed down through family in their traditions, stories, and interactions. However, in Alice Walker’s “Everyday Use,” the view on heritage becomes thorny, reflecting the current issues of African Americans and their struggle to differentiate between their history as slaves and their family history. She presents the conflicting idea of heritage as valuing simple familial connections or extravagant physical displays. Alice Walker uses the voice of the mother, her different focalization of the daughters, and the allegorical purpose of the daughters to convey the complicated struggle of African Americans and their definition of heritage to show the different perspectives on heritage and suggest that neither deserve to be condemned.

The story is narrated by Dee and Maggie’s mother, who is revealed as a poorly educated, “large, big-boned woman” (Walker 315). This physical description is important because it is later stated that Dee is the opposite, having “nicer hair and a fuller figure” (316) than her sister, Maggie, and having attended school. Right away the audience is made aware of the distinct difference that Mama sees in herself and Dee. This important distinction sets the tone for the comparison that appears throughout the text. The narrator’s eldest daughter has become everything that Mama believes she could never be: educated, fashionable, and confident, which explains why Dee also learns a different view of heritage than Mama. The disconnect between mother and daughter parallels the disconnect between many African Americans that view each other as strangers based on their differences in education. Mama looks at Maggie as someone similar to herself, grouping them into one social identity group and Dee into another. Walker is using the mother’s voice to distinctly show an “us versus them” phenomenon in the family. Having their mother as the narrator allows Alice Walker to show the basic, skin deep disparities between the sisters, their educations, and their lots in life. This translates into Alice Walker’s idea that having different lots in life can affect how African Americans view their heritage and develop some hostility towards the other perspectives. At times, hostility is evident in the voice of the mother, relating to the inability to understand other values. “Why don’t you do a dance around the ashes? I’d wanted to ask [Dee]” (316). Mama seems accusatory and angry towards the distant Dee, an example of how she is incapable of understanding her daughter’s feelings because they are different. Telling the story through the voice of the mother exposes the prejudice among African Americans and their peers that view heritage as something other than their own ideals. Mama views heritage as a familial connection, whereas Dee views heritage as a grandiose display and return to her culture before slavery. The voice of the mother sets the stage for Walker to begin comparing the differences between Maggie and Dee, and in a greater sense the difference between heritage defined by familial values and materialistic values.

Having Mama as the narrator not only gives insight into her mind and opinions of the girls, it also gives the audience the ability to see what she is seeing. Alice Walker employs Mama as the focalizer. Through her eyes we are given specific details regarding the two daughters. For instance, the narrator is constantly putting our focus on Maggie’s feelings. “Maggie will be nervous until after her sister goes: she will stand hopelessly in corners homely and ashamed…eyeing her sister with a mixture of envy and awe” (315). Mama understands Maggie’s feelings because they both embrace family and emotional connections. They both celebrate traditional views of heritage and oral history. On the other hand, Dee is often described either regarding her actions or her appearance. “[Dee] never takes a shot without making sure the house is included…Then she puts the Polaroid in the back seat of the car, and comes up and kisses me on the forehead” (318). In this scene, Mama narrates Dee’s actions, but has no insight into Dee’s thoughts as she is taking photos of the house. This behavior contradicts Mama’s previous idea that Dee would hate the new house. Thus, our narrator evidently has no idea how her eldest daughter thinks and feels; however, she shares a bond with Maggie that allows her to understand her emotions and insecurities. Walker uses focalization to develop how the characters are presented both to the audience and Mama. The focalization also helps Walker showcase the two ideas of heritage. Dee’s view on heritage is based on demonstrating it through her dress and putting family artifacts with history on display, like African Americans that search for a sense of history in their culture and displaying traditional ideas. Opposingly, Maggie has been characterized as having a greater emotional connection and being far more like her mother, presenting the idea that heritage comes from families despite slavery. Specific focus on Maggie’s emotions and Dee’s actions drives Walker’s point that heritage can be defined by an emotional connection to the family or it can be defined by actions and displays of objects related to the family and traditions.

Throughout the short story, Alice Walker develops the sisters as allegorical characters. Maggie represents the classic view of heritage as traditions and stories passed down the family line. When Hakim-a-barber asks a question regarding the history of the dasher, Dee does not have the answer. Instead Maggie chimes in, “’Aunt Dee’s first husband whittled the dash…His name was Henry, but they called him Stash’” (319). Maggie holds a connection to these pieces and the history of the family and values items for their purpose and history. Thus, she is meant to present the view of heritage as something defined by emotional relationships and an emphasis on connections to others. This seems to be the definition of heritage that Mama agrees with, not because she explicitly says so, but because she defends Maggie when she realizes that Dee doesn’t necessarily care for the history behind the quilt. Dee instead values items and actions to show her heritage. Whereas Maggie desires the quilts for personal use, Dee states that she would hang the quilts for show. This lines up with her characterization. She has mostly been described through actions and appearances, making her the allegorical representative of heritage defined by valuing a display of one’s cultural background. The first instance of Dee demonstrating a greater emphasis on her cultural background rather than her familial connections occurs when she corrects her mother on her new name, “’Not ‘Dee,’ Wangero Leewanika Kemanjo… [Dee]’s dead’” (318). Dee has embraced a view of heritage as displaying her culture both in her home and in her clothing. Alice Walker has now presented two very different and seemingly contradictory views on heritage because Dee’s decision to change her name to something culturally accurate is rejecting the view of heritage being defined by family relationships. However, while Mama seems to agree with Maggie in the end, we must consider the distance that Alice Walker has from the narrator and the allegorical characters. Alice Walker is an African American woman and likely has considered these differing perspectives of heritage. We cannot definitively state that Walker prefers one view of heritage over the other, but we can acknowledge that they both exist and that both daughters have understandable reasons for their differing value.

Alice Walker’s “Everyday Use” calls on the audience to consider their own definition of heritage. She points out the prejudice between African Americans regarding their views on heritage and that the line between distancing oneself from their oppressive slave masters and their own family is a thin one that Dee dances on, symbolic of the numerous other African Americans facing this issue. Maggie and Mama represent the traditional idea of heritage and family traditions. Alice Walker writes not to condemn one view over the other, but to promote the acknowledgement of both as acceptable forms of self-expression.