Ode to a Dreamer of Dreams

Dear Dr. Sacks,

Like the late Carl Sagan, you have a gentle way of magnifying everything into brilliant resolution and reminding us of our place in the universe. I always look forward to reading your books and opinion pieces, as you put which things matter into perspective. Last month, I was quite delighted to read of your love for the physical sciences, also beautifully described in Frank Wilczek’s A Beautiful Question. Beauty can truly be found in any field or context and Wilczek’s coverage of the concept reminds me of that Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem, “Pied Beauty,” in which the author pronounces, “Glory be to God for dappled things.” As Adam Frank puts it, “Science — under all its theories, equations, experiments and data — is really trying to teach us to see the sacred in the mundane and the profound in the prosaic.”

Indeed, few experiences prove as humbling as observing the heavens. The night sky brings to mind the opening lines of a personal favorite: “Let us go then, you and I/ When the evening is spread out against the sky/ Like a patient etherized upon a table.” Meanwhile, consciousness continues to prove an elusive idea, as you mentioned. Is it a purely biological phenomenon or does it extend into the philosophical and spiritual realms? I think the most beautiful aspect of our universe is the sense of infinite mystery surrounding it; as Anaïs Nin explains it, “The possession of knowledge does not kill the sense of wonder and mystery. There is always more mystery.”

From your stories of patient case studies to your descriptions on the benefits of musical therapy, your words offered comfort and solace amidst adversity and uncertainty. When I was struggling with my own medical challenges (though nothing as serious as your struggles), I found works such as William Ernest Henley’s “Invictus” and Dylan Thomas’ “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night” to be particularly uplifting and encouraging, and perhaps you will, too. I think the practice of medicine allows one to grow closer to his fellow brethren and fulfill the insightful words of Countee Cullen: “Your grief and mine/Must intertwine/Like sea and river/Be fused and mingle/Diverse yet single/Forever and forever.” I only hope I will fulfill my role with the same patience, compassion, dignity, and grace that you exemplify in your daily life. As one chapter closes and another begins, I wish you laughter and joy in the company of friends and family, exchanges of love among kindred spirits, courage as you confront your final battles, and peace and contentment in the knowledge that you have touched more lives than you know. From the deepest parts of my being, I thank you. Stay gold, dear Captain, our Captain.

Warm regards,

Nita Jain

Late Night Thoughts on Lewis Thomas

Lately, I’ve been enjoying the works of Lewis Thomas. In The Fragile Species, he shared ideas evocative of the late Carl Sagan:

Never mind our embarrassed indignation when we were first told, last century, that we came from a family of apes and had chimps as near cousins. That was relatively easy to accommodate, having at least the distant look of a set of relatives. But this new connection, already fixed by recent science beyond any hope of disowning the parentage, is something else again. At first encounter, the news must come as a kind of humiliation. Humble origins, indeed.

Similarly, Sagan in Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space poeticized:

Our remote descendants, safely arrayed on many worlds throughout the Solar System and beyond, will be unified by their common heritage, by their regard for their home planet, and by the knowledge that, whatever other life may be, the only humans in all the Universe come from Earth. They will gaze up and strain to find the blue dot in their skies. They will love it no less for its obscurity and fragility. They will marvel at how vulnerable the repository of all our potential once was, how perilous our infancy, how humble our beginnings, how many rivers we had to cross before we found our way.

Message in a Bottle
Thomas’ appreciation for music was almost as great as his lifelong love affair with science. In an essay from The Lives of a Cell, Thomas offered a suggestion concerning the prospect of interstellar communication: “I would vote for Bach, all of Bach, streamed out into space, over and over again. We would be bragging of course but it is surely excusable to put the best possible face on at the beginning of such an acquaintance. We can tell the harder truths later.” This wish of his, at least, came to fruition in the form of the Golden Record, the contents of which were chosen by a committee chaired by Carl Sagan and included aboard both Voyager spacecraft launched in 1977. The sounds and images on the phonograph records were selected to illustrate the diversity of life and culture on Earth, intended for any intelligent extraterrestrial life to decipher. [Interestingly, in a Big Bang Theory episode named “The Communication Deterioration,” Koothrappali is selected to help work on an Earth message design and delivery proposal for NASA’s Discovery missions and asks his friends for advice. Wolowitz stresses the need for a device capable of transmitting information across a wide range of perceptual modalities. Sheldon argues that any intelligent life form would at the very least have the ability to locate the position of objects in space, making the ideal lingua franca haptic, i.e. relating to the perception and manipulation of objects using the senses of touch and proprioception.] Making sense of the Golden Record’s contents would require extraterrestrial life to possess the senses of sight, sound, and touch.

Image Credit: NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory) [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Image Credit: NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory) [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

One Glorious Symphony

The need to make music, and to listen to it, is universally expressed by human beings. I cannot imagine, even in our most primitive times, the emergence of talented painters to make cave paintings without there having been, near at hand, equally creative people making song. It is, like speech, a dominant aspect of human biology.

The individual parts played by other instrumentalists — crickets or earthworms, for instance — may not have the sound of music by themselves, but we hear them out of context. If we could listen to them all at once, fully orchestrated, in their immense ensemble, we might become aware of the counterpoint, the balance of tones and timbres and harmonics, the sonorities. The recorded songs of the humpback whale, filled with tensions and resolutions, ambiguities and allusions, incomplete, can be listened to as a part of music, like an isolated section of an orchestra. If we had better hearing, and could discern the descants of sea birds, the rhythmic timpani of schools of mollusks, or even the distant harmonics of midges hanging over meadows in the sun, the combined sound might lift us off our feet.

The Lives of a Cell

Reading these words reminded me quite a bit of a song my classmates and I used to perform in elementary school choir called “All God’s Critters Got a Place in the Choir.” The chorus and first verse read:

All God’s critters got a place in the choir
Some sing low, some sing higher
Some sing out loud on the telephone wire
And some just clap their hands, or paws or anything they got now

Listen to the bass, it’s the one on the bottom
Where the bullfrog croaks and the hippopotamus
Moans and groans with a big to-do,
And old cow just goes ‘moo!’

Well the dogs and the cats they take up the middle
The honeybee hums and the cricket fiddles
The donkey brays and the pony neighs
And the old coyote howls

The song was originally written by Bill Staines, an American folk musician and singer-songwriter from New England. Various versions of the song have been performed by groups ranging from Peter, Paul, and Mary to Celtic Thunder.

Brainstorming the Existence of a Mythical Country

The Constitution of the United Citizens of Andalucía,

An Autonomous Community of Spain

Area: 88,000 sq. kilometers, Population: 1,000

  • Economics

Free market, fair trade, and laissez-faire economic policy. Production and export of wheat, barley, and other textiles as well as the development of hydroponics drive the economy. Carbon capture and sequestration methods are used to mitigate the effects of fossil fuel emissions of both global climate change and ocean acidification. Citizens fall into tiered tax brackets based on annual household income.

  • Politics

In our democracy, government is civil service. The prime minister serves an executive role and enables the goals of the bureaucrats below to come to fruition. Candidates for prime minister must be official citizens of Andalucía, aged 60 or younger to ensure sound decision-making abilities. Leaders are chosen based on proficiency on civil service exams and popular vote in public elections, held every four years. Prime ministers may not serve more than two four-year terms in order to ensure a democratic political system that is responsive to the will of the people and adaptable to the changing environment.

  • Education

Education from kindergarten through undergraduate is mandatory; tuition expenses for these years are covered by the state for all citizens. Scholarships are available for vocational, graduate, and professional education beyond the undergraduate years.

  • Criminal system

Criminals are tried and convicted by a jury of their fellow citizens in accordance with the severity of their offenses. The death penalty, capital punishment, and any variants thereof are strictly prohibited by law. The highest offenses are punishable by corporal punishment and court-mandated community service designed to improve infrastructure and transportation systems, including building of roads, construction of public buildings such as schools and libraries, and the development of diverging diamond interchanges to regulate traffic flow in a timely and efficient manner.

  • Medical system

Universal healthcare is provided to all citizens. Medical school expenses are covered by the state for those students that are eligible. Eligibility is based on academic proficiency in the life sciences, as assessed by competency exams that are administered subsequent to obtainment of an undergraduate degree. After successful completion of medical studies, physicians must pass a series of state-mandated board examinations in order to obtain licensure to practice.

  • Religion

Inhabitants are free to practice religion according to their own personal beliefs. Furthermore, the government does not sanction state-sponsored religion nor does it promote any one religious system over another. Agnosticism and atheism are not stigmatized. In this manner, peace and understanding are promoted among inhabitants of the state.

Through the Looking Glass of Science

IMG_4942 IMG_4935
“The whole secret of the study of nature lies in learning how to use one’s eyes.”
―George Sand

“To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.”
―William Blake, “Auguries of Innocence”

“If you’re scientifically literate, the world looks very different to you, and that understanding empowers you.”
―Neil deGrasse Tyson

1) Science is a tool which indiscriminately allows us to obtain a greater understanding of the laws dictating the phenomena in our world and the universe at large.

The goal of science is to illuminate fundamental truths concerning the workings of the universe. As NPR blogger Adam Frank puts it, “Science — under all its theories, equations, experiments and data — is really trying to teach us to see the sacred in the mundane and the profound in the prosaic.” More than a subject, a discipline, or a field of study, science is a lens through which we can perceive our surroundings. As British biologist Lewis Wolpert expounded, “I would teach the world that science is the best way to understand the world, and that for any set of observations, there is only one correct explanation. Also, science is value-free, as it explains the world as it is.”

2) Closely attached to the practice of science is the cultivation of skepticism and the need for empirical evidence.

“The skeptic does not mean he who doubts, but he who investigates or researches, as opposed to he who asserts and thinks that he has found.”
―Miguel de Unamuno

“A central lesson of science is that to understand complex issues (or even simple ones), we must try to free our minds of dogma and to guarantee the freedom to publish, to contradict, and to experiment. Arguments from authority are unacceptable.”
―Carl Sagan

“If it disagrees with experiment, it’s wrong. In that simple statement is the key to science. It doesn’t make any difference how beautiful your guess is, it doesn’t matter how smart you are who made the guess, or what his name is… If it disagrees with experiment, it’s wrong. That’s all there is to it.”
Richard Feynman

Being a scientist requires having faith in uncertainty, finding pleasure in mystery, and learning to cultivate doubt. There is no surer way to screw up an experiment than to be certain of its outcome.”
Stuart Firestein

Much of the beauty of science lies in its objectivity. Science advances on a foundation rooted in empirical observation, painstaking data collection, accuracy, and reproducibility. Commitment to the scientific method is not a matter of faith. That being said…

3) Science is nourished not only by reason and observation but also by imagination. Science makes use of that wonderful blend of curiosity, skepticism, and imagination to create and innovate.

I believe in intuition and inspiration…Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution. It is, strictly speaking, a real factor in scientific research.”
Albert Einstein, Cosmic Religion: With Other Opinions and Aphorismsp. 97 (1931)

“It is, I admit, mere imagination; but how often is imagination the mother of truth?”
Sherlock HolmesThe Valley of Fear

“In general we look for a new law by the following process. First we guess it…No! Don’t laugh―it’s really true!”
Richard Feynman

“It is important, at the present time, to bear in mind that the human soul has still greater need of the ideal than of the real. It is by the real that we exist; it is by the ideal that we live.”
―Victor Hugo, “William Shakespeare”

Kathleen Taylor, a research scientist in the department of physiology at Oxford University, writes about the complementarity between knowledge and imagination: “At both group and individual levels, knowledge facilitates community and continuity, while imagination facilitates change. Knowledge binds us to a sometimes-oppressive existence; imagination helps us escape it. However, imagination evolved as a tool for facilitating survival. Imagining, we take a step beyond what we know into the future or into another world. We see alternatives and possibilities; we work out what we need to reach our goals.”

Imagination and creativity often fuel the fires of scientific innovation. In the process, ideas previously considered impossible often become reality.

4) Science only adds to the mystery, wonder, and excitement; it cannot subtract. Sometimes, not having all the answers is part of the fun.

“I have a friend who’s an artist and has sometimes taken a view which I don’t agree with very well. He’ll hold up a flower and say ‘look how beautiful it is,’ and I’ll agree. Then he says ‘I as an artist can see how beautiful this is but you as a scientist take this all apart and it becomes a dull thing,’ and I think that he’s kind of nutty. First of all, the beauty that he sees is available to other people and to me too, I believe. Although I may not be quite as refined aesthetically as he is … I can appreciate the beauty of a flower. At the same time, I see much more about the flower than he sees. I could imagine the cells in there, the complicated actions inside, which also have a beauty. I mean it’s not just beauty at this dimension, at one centimeter; there’s also beauty at smaller dimensions, the inner structure, also the processes. The fact that the colors in the flower evolved in order to attract insects to pollinate it is interesting; it means that insects can see the color. It adds a question: does this aesthetic sense also exist in the lower forms? Why is it aesthetic? All kinds of interesting questions which the science knowledge only adds to the excitement, the mystery and the awe of a flower. It only adds. I don’t understand how it subtracts.”
―Richard Feynman

“The possession of knowledge does not kill
the sense of wonder and mystery.
There is always more mystery.”
―Anaïs Nin

“Music and physics are nourished by the same sort of longing.”
―Einstein’s character, Einstein and Eddington

 When I heard the Learn’d Astronomer

 When I heard the learn'd astronomer;
 When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me;
 When I was shown the charts and the diagrams, to add, divide, and
       measure them;
 When I, sitting, heard the astronomer, where he lectured with much
       applause in the lecture-room,
 How soon, unaccountable, I became tired and sick;
 Till rising and gliding out, I wander'd off by myself,
 In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
 Look'd up in perfect silence at the stars.

–Walt Whitman

The poem that Joan Feynman references is actually written by Walt Whitman. Nevertheless, I couldn’t disagree more with its fundamental claim: that science somehow robs nature of all its wonder and beauty. On the contrary, I feel that the science and math behind the laws of nature have a certain elegance of their own. The scientific beautifully complements the aesthetic, and for this reason, I will never be a proponent for the perpetuation of the “two worlds” ideology; science and the arts are two sides of the same coin. Rather than reduce the universe to a bunch of facts and figures, science frees the mind to experience the universe in all its glorious fullness, as it really is.

Stylistic Techniques in To The Lighthouse

In her novel, To the Lighthouse, Woolf uses stream-of-consciousness narrative, an omniscient point of view, highly punctuated sentences, metaphors, repetition, allusions, similes, imagery, structure, and cliffhangers for various purposes. Woolf utilizes stream-of-consciousness narrative and a third person, omniscient point of view to weave together a story that has a lyrical musicality evocative of waves on the beach, a recurring motif that is representative of change. Stream-of-consciousness works are evocative of characters’ natural, uninterrupted chains of thought while the third person, omniscient point of view provides full access into the thoughts, feelings, musings, and motivations of all the characters. This stream-of-consciousness narrative in this omniscient point of view is established at the beginning of the story where Woolf writes, “Had there been an axe handy, or a poker, any weapon that would have gashed a hole in his father’s breast and killed him, there and then, James would have seized it. Such were the extremes of emotion that Mr. Ramsay excited in his children’s breasts by his mere presence; standing, as now, lean as a knife, narrow as the blade of one, grinning sarcastically, not only with the pleasure of disillusioning his son and casting ridicule upon his wife, who was ten thousand times better in every way than he was (James thought), but also with some secret conceit at his own accuracy of judgment” (Woolf 4). The stream-of-consciousness narrative contains smooth, euphonious diction while the omniscient perspective allows readers to understand the emotions, anger, and conceit, experienced by James and Mr. Ramsay, respectively, in this scene. In addition, Woolf utilizes highly punctuated brief and extended sentences to emulate rapidly changing, connected chains of thought in the characters’ mentality. Woolf’s style of highly punctuated sentences is established at the beginning of the novel: “Strife, divisions, difference if opinion, prejudice twisted into the very fiber of being, oh, that they should begin so early, Mrs. Ramsay deplored…. It seemed to her such nonsense—inventing differences, when people, heaven knows, were different enough without that…. She had in mind at the moment, rich and poor, high and low; the great in birth receiving from her, some half grudgingly, half respect, for had she not in her veins the blood of that very noble, if slightly mythical, Italian house, whose daughters, scattered about English drawing-rooms in the nineteenth century, had lisped so charmingly, had stormed so wildly, and all her wit and her bearing and her temper came from them, and not from the sluggish English, or the cold Scotch (Woolf 8-9).”

Furthermore, Woolf uses metaphors as an effective method of characterization. A metaphor is a form of figurative language in which a symbol is used to represent another thing. For example, in Chapter IV of the first section, William Bankes sees a hen, “straddling her wings out in protection of a covey of little chicks, upon which Ramsay, stopping, pointed his stick and said, ‘Pretty—pretty,’ an odd illumination in to his heart” (Woolf 20-21). This hen serves as a metaphor for William Bankes’ relationship with Mr. Ramsay; when Ramsay accepted the domesticated life, like that of the hen, their friendship ended, for Bankes thinks that “their friendship had ceased, there, on that stretch of road” (Woolf 21). Bankes’ comment becomes understandable when the reader takes into account the fact that Bankes is a childless widower and most likely envies Mr. Ramsay for his family life. Repetition, or writing or restating something, is also utilized for purposes of characterization. Throughout the novel, Mr. Ramsay often quotes the verse, “Some one had blundered,” from Lord Tennyson’s poem, “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” to emphasize the enormity of the weight the issues of legacy and prestige bear upon him. Allusions, or indirect references to something, are also used as methods of characterization. When describing Mrs. Ramsay, Woolf writes, “The Graces assembling seemed to have joined hands in meadows of asphodel to compose that face” (29). With the allusion to Greek mythology concerning the Graces of Splendor, Mirth, and Good Cheer, Woolf accentuates Mrs. Ramsay’s seemingly ethereal beauty. Similes, figures of speech that draw comparisons between two different things, are also used to further the purpose of characterization. As Lily Briscoe sits beside Mrs. Ramsay, Woolf writes that “she imagined how in the chambers of the mind and heart of the woman who was, physically, touching her, were stood, like the treasures in the tombs of kings, tablets bearing sacred inscriptions, which if one could spell them out, would teach one everything, but they would never be offered openly, never made public” (51). With these words, Woolf likens the heart and mind of Mrs. Ramsay to a sacred tomb in which esoteric knowledge is stored.

Woolf employs imagery to further develop themes throughout the novel. Imagery consists of descriptions that appeal to any of the five senses. For instance, as Mrs. Ramsay watches the waves, she thinks that the sea “like a ghostly roll of drums remorselessly beat the measure of life, made one think of the destruction of the island and its engulfment in the sea, and warned her whose day had slipped past in one quick doing after another that it was all ephemeral as a rainbow” (Woolf 16). In this passage, Woolf uses visual and aural imagery to convey her theme about the transient nature of life. Woolf also uses the structure, or organization, of the novel to convey her opinions concerning life and war. The first section of the novel, “The Window,” is the longest but only spans the length of a day while the second section, “Time Passes,” covers a decade but fills merely twenty pages of the novel. Woolf is trying to express her message that indelible memories can be formed within a short amount of time, and she may be implicating the indifference, hostility, and futility of war. Woolf ends the novel with a bit of a cliffhanger, or unresolved ending, in the way that she does not disclose the final image of Lily’s painting. She writes, “She looked at the steps; they were empty; she looked at her canvas; it was blurred. With a sudden intensity, as if she saw it clear for a second, she drew a line there in the centre. It was done; it was finished. Yes, she thought, laying down her brush in extreme fatigue, I have had my vision” (Woolf 211). This ending allows the reader to interpret the painting in any way that he/she desires; by refusing to satisfy the reader’s curiosity about how the painting turns out, Woolf adds interest and complexity to the novel by stressing her theme that nothing we perceive is black and white but instead is made up of many different layers waiting to be detected.


Works Cited:

Woolf, Virginia. To the Lighthouse. New York: Harcourt, 1927.

The Compson Family’s Disintegration

“Love’s pleasure lasts but a moment; love’s sorrow lasts all through life” (O’Connor). Jean-Pierre Claris de Florian’s words apply to the actions of William Faulkner’s characters in his The Sound and the Fury and convey love—and reasons to pursue it—as well as the timeless duration of the effects of love. Benjy, Quentin, Jason, and Dilsey possess different attitudes toward time. These characters, along with Caddy, also reflect the effects of love and a lack of love. Faulkner utilizes the characters of Benjy, Quentin, Jason, Dilsey, and Caddy to express the themes of time and love, which eventually lead to the Compson family’s decline.

Faulkner demonstrates the theme of time through the major characters in the novel. He shows the different perspectives of three of his characters, Benjy, Quentin, and Jason, in their respective sections through the use of the stream-of-consciousness technique. Faulkner includes this particular literary device as a method of accomplishing his own stated desire to “put all of human experience between one Cap and one period” (“The Sound” 825). Faulkner expounds upon this view of time, which is most evident in Quentin’s section, in his statement that “there is no such thing as was; if was existed, there would be no grief or sorrow” (“The Sound” 825). Stream of consciousness is a technique in which “the free-flowing thoughts, impressions, and random leaps of association within the mind of a character are rendered without regard for linear development of action” (“The Stream-of-Consciousness”). Faulkner embeds stream of consciousness into his characters’ monologues through a lack of punctuation and capitalization, as well as the recurrence of important ideas (“Themes”). Sartre interprets the setting of Faulkner’s novel as having a “missing link: the lived future.” Eusebio L. Rodrigues reiterates, “…the protagonists of Faulkner are invariably nailed to the cross of the past” (Messerli). The phrase “Fui. Non sum,” which translates to “I was. I am not” and appears in Quentin’s section, enforces the argument that the characters are “immutable selves fixed in the past” (Skirry). Faulkner’s theme of “the continuation of the past into the present” is visible in the Compson family’s decline (“The Sound” 825).

In all four sections of the novel, the main characters respond distinctively to time. In the novel’s first section, Benjy interprets all life experiences as interchangeable, indistinguishable events. His thoughts shift from events in the present to those in the past due to his association of sounds and images rather than a firm understanding about the significance of events. Because he is incapable of comprehending the impact of the passage of time, Benjy is liberated from time’s effects (“Themes”). Lawrence Bowling construes Benjy’s tendency to depart from the present to be an inherent purpose of his mind: “As is characteristic of Benjy, his backward-looking mind returns to the present only long enough to be reminded of another fragment from his past” (Roggenbuck). Faulkner, however, claimed that Benjy possessed the capacity to choose to reject the future: “There was Dilsey to be the future, to stand above the fallen ruins of the family like a ruined chimney, gaunt, patient and indomitable; and Benjy to the past. He had to be an idiot so that like Dilsey, he could be impervious to the future, though unlike her by refusing to accept it at all” (Roggenbuck). According to Faulkner, Benjy “chooses to establish his relationship to the world by detaching himself from 1928 and seeking refuge in his past” (Roggenbuck). Benjy therefore resides in pleasurable memories to find strength to bear his unfortunate current existence. Through Benjy’s eyes, time serves as a method of escape from reality.

In contrast to Benjy’s ability to bolster himself with pleasurable thoughts from the past, Quentin’s memories hinder his ability to survive in the present in the second section of the novel. His overwhelming grief over the loss of his sister’s innocence is intolerable, eventually compelling him to end his battle with time through suicide (“Themes”). Quentin’s father passed on his grandfather’s watch to Quentin, saying,

I give you the mausoleum of all hope and desire; it’s rather excruciating-ly apt that you will use it to gain the reductio absurdum of all human experience which can fit your individual needs no better than it fitted his or his father’s. I give it to you not that you may remember time, but that you might forget it now and then for a moment and not spend all your breath trying to conquer it. Because no battle is ever won he said. They are not even fought. The field only reveals to man his own folly and despair, and the victory is an illusion of philosophers and fools (Skirry).

The actual Latin phrase, reductio ad absurdum, “reduced to absurdity,” reflects Mr. Compson’s belief that time “reduces human experience to absurdity because all life concludes with death.” Mr. Compson’s cynicism affects Quentin’s thoughts and ideas about life, resulting in his final demise (Ross). Quentin’s father says, “A man is the sum of his misfortunes. One day you’d think misfortune would get tired, but then time is your misfortune” (Martin). He also believes that clocks slay time, claiming, “Time is dead as long as it is being clicked off by little wheels—only when the clock stops does time come to life” (Martin). On the day of his suicide, Quentin breaks the watch in a futile attempt to conquer time. Ironically, Quentin, who represents hope for the family, symbolically kills the family along with himself because of his inability to endure in the present and pursue his goals at Harvard in order to create a better future (“Family”).

Contributing to the theme of time in Quentin’s section is the pervasive nature of the image of the shadow. Quentin is constantly aware of his shadow’s presence and is usually trying to evade it. At one point, Quentin imagines drowning his shadow, foreshadowing his later death. Quentin’s persistent efforts to distance himself from his shadow, a reminder of the passage of time, are representative of “that part of himself that possesses all the humanity and non-order that he cannot accept” (Martin). Because Quentin spends all his energy trying to conquer his shadow, which finally results in suicide, rather than shed light upon it in order to reach an understanding of his life, the shadow later serves as a symbol of the Compson family’s past greatness. Faulkner refers to Quentin, saying, “There was nothing for him to do save buzz, frantic and inviolate, inside the glass walls of his tumbler until he either gave up or was himself by himself, by his own frantic buzzing, destroyed” (Martin). Faulkner explains how Quentin’s inability to move beyond the “glass walls of his tumbler” and accept changes lead to his final downfall. The extensive reference to the shadow also alludes to the soliloquy from Macbeth that serves as the source of the novel’s title:

Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing. (Ross, Macbeth, V.v. 23-28)

In addition to his inability to consent to personal changes, Quentin’s knowledge of the impossibility of changing Caddy back into what she once was causes him to end his life. His father assures him that the pain will subside and life will continue, but his words do not perform their desired, comforting effect. Quentin’s pain is the only testament to human truth and the meaning of life. Because time will eventually alleviate his pain, Quentin commits suicide not to escape his agony but in order to preserve the veracious intensity of his feeling because he too believes that it will eventually dissipate (Longley). Karl E. Zink concludes that Faulkner “sees man as the creature of change, and his doom as the necessity to submit. This is the source of poignant regret for the loss of much that is good or beautiful. But cessation of change is death” (Messerli). Quentin’s failure therefore lies in his inability to accept changes in both Caddy and himself, which arises from his overwhelming desire to seek “stasis, the perfect and dead world Faulkner saw in the image of Keats’s Grecian urn,” contributing to the Compson family’s decline (Messerli).

On the other hand, Jason, who narrates the third section of the novel, lives in present time in contrast to Quentin whose thoughts mainly focus on the past. Jason views time as money to be gained by outpacing the “mechanical and minute-to-minute” ticking of the clock (Messerli). In the last section of the novel, Dilsey presents yet another assessment of time through a historical perspective. She glances back on her past and embraces her life experiences with an unwavering, pious faith (“Themes”). Dilsey’s interpretation of time is one of a “continuum—Christ’s birth and the present and eternity are all related in time.” Perrin Lowrey details, “Dilsey…realizes what has happened to the Compsons, and she sees them in their proper historical perspective. In her mind there is an interaction of all the faculties; sensation and emotion and reason work together, and this interaction allows her to understand time in its several senses. The opposition between temporal and eternal fades away” (Messerli).

In addition to the theme of time, Faulkner includes love among family members, love between the sexes, and Christian love to demonstrate the Compson family’s decline in his novel. Faulkner presents the Compson brothers’ love for Caddy. Benjy longs for the tender loving care his sister showed towards him when he was young and moans upon hearing the word “caddie” called out on the golf course because the name invokes lost memories (“Themes”). Only Caddy’s slipper, which equates to Caddy, which is the same as love to Benjy, can stop his tears (Messerli). Benjy possesses natural, innocent love for someone who has treated him with compassion and decency. Quentin’s love for his sister Caddy, however, is incestuous, for he is envious of her relationship with other boys and refutes the truth about her past lovers. In spite of Quentin’s outwardly visible signs and actions implying his supposed, incestuous desire for his sister, Faulkner writes in his “Appendix: Compson 1699-1945” that Quentin “loved not the idea of the incest which he would not commit, but some presbyterian concept of its eternal punishment: he, not God, could by that means cast himself and his sister both into hell, where he could guard her forever and keep her forevermore intact amid the eternal fires” (“Themes”). Faulkner notes in his appendix that Quentin “loved death above all” (Bauer).

In contrast to Benjy and Quentin’s love for their sister, Jason’s incessant obsession involves “…immortal hatred and study of revenge.” Jason exemplifies narcissistic qualities, allowing no room for concern of others. Jason fails to realize that the prime impetus of his actions emanates from “his crippling inadequacy of the soul.” Through Jason’s eyes, his niece Quentin serves as a living reminder of Caddy’s ignominy and his lost job, therefore functioning as Jason’s target at which he aims all his inner enmity. Jason uses the lost job his niece cost him as justification for all his moral wrongdoings. He can simultaneously claim that Quentin is an irrevocably fallen woman and complain about his futile attempts to offer her guidance; he can insist on his indifference towards his niece’s actions even while following her footsteps in order to spy on her (Longley). Since his mother, who is incapable of giving love, shows Jason favoritism in childhood, he acquires a position of opposition towards his sister, the only person who can ever love him. Because Jason grows up without love, he can only harbor hatred, which causes him to later possess feelings of jealousy toward Quentin even after his brother’s death. Jason’s vain attempts to rectify his niece’s mistakes may be a quest for love expressed in abhorrence. However, since Jason does not believe in love, he replaces his search for love with the pursuit of money (Messerli). Caddy sends monthly checks as a method of supporting her daughter since Jason forbids Caddy to visit Quentin. Caddy’s checks never carry out their intended purpose, however, for Jason intercepts the mail and cashes the money into his own savings. He further demonstrates his conceited malice by burning free tickets to a traveling show in front of Luster simply because he is well aware that Luster cannot pay for them (“Family”). Furthermore, because of his parents’ lack of love, Jason condemns Benjy to an asylum, sells the house, and engages in criminal activity, demonstrating the devastating effects of a lack of love (“The Sound” 825).

Conversely, Dilsey encompasses loving qualities rather than hateful sentiments. Having been raised in a Christian environment from his youth, Faulkner would likely have been exposed to this biblical passage: “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (Smith, 1 Cor. 13: 4-7). Dilsey exemplifies every quality of love listed by St. Paul, making her the “antithesis” of Jason Compson. By providing a reference to Dilsey in the appendix to The Sound and the Fury that reads, “They endured,” Faulkner connotes that Dilsey loves in an unconditional, agape sense (Smith). The novel ends on this theme of Christian love. Faulkner utilizes Dilsey’s character to demonstrate the kind of love that emanates from pure faith and endures adversity (“Themes”). Dilsey, who “seed de first en de last,” represents “the only humanity that survives the fall of the house of Compson—the only humanity to endure” (“The Sound” 826).

While Dilsey may be the caretaker and Quentin the oldest child, Caddy is the “chosen substitute” for her negligent parents because of her ability to offer compassion and sacrifice. The “notorious image of the hypochondriac Mrs. Compson doing little else besides whining about being punished by God for her family’s transgressions” is evidence of the parents’ neglect. Caddy attempts to compensate for her mother’s neglect by attending to Benjy’s needs herself. The fact that Caddy’s response to her mother’s indifference is the cause of her downfall is largely Quentin’s responsibility. The love of family members, particularly Quentin, fails her, leading to inward betrayal. Concerning Caddy, Baum points out, “Ironically enough, those qualities in her character that are admirable are the ones which lead to her fall: her complete selflessness, which leads her to be indifferent to her virginity and to what happens to her; her willingness to put the other person’s interests first; and her great desire to communicate love” (Bauer). Caddy’s strong desire to express love leads her to sexual activity, resulting in Quentin’s disapproval and desperate attempts to reveal to Caddy the immorality of her actions. Once she views her sexuality through her brother’s eyes, she perceives her actions as sinful rather than loving and condemns herself, resulting in a pregnancy without knowledge of the father’s identity. Caddy’s family finds a husband to “legitimize” Caddy and her child, but upon discovering the truth about his wife’s condition, Caddy’s husband sends her home where she is shunned because she has sinned. Bauer writes, “This rejection reinforces Caddy’s acceptance of Quentin’s belief in her sinful nature and she loses confidence in her capacity to be a good mother to her child” (Bauer). Caddy begins to believe that she would be a negative influence upon her child and therefore allows her family to raise her daughter, despite her justified suspicions of the “treatment of the innocent baby as a symbol of its mother’s sin” and her empirical knowledge of their tendency to damage and ruin. According to Lawrence Bowling, abandoning her child is Caddy’s paramount failure. He writes,

She is “damned,” not because she committed fornication and bore an illegitimate child but because, living in a state of perpetual sin, she has neither desire nor hope for redemption; but, most of all, she is damned because, instead of accepting her duty to her child and being the best mother she could, she abandoned the child to the same household which had been her own ruin (Bauer).

Thus, Bauer echoes, “The tragedy of Caddy’s life is repeated by her child” (Bauer). Because Caddy’s daughter is the only progeny of the Compsons, this loss signifies the end of the family line (Bauer).

De Florian’s words translate into actions throughout the course of The Sound and the Fury. Benjy and Quentin live mostly in the past mentally, accounting for Faulkner’s extensive use of the stream-of-consciousness technique in their sections. Quentin’s watch, which once belonged to his grandfather, and his shadow are symbolic of his relationship with time, which he sees as something to be conquered. Jason tries to make every second count; for him, lost time equates to lost money. He wants to use time to the fullest in order to achieve maximum efficiency. Dilsey is the only character that functions and dwells within present time. Because of her parents’ failure to provide parental love, Caddy is forced to intervene and adopt the role of a mother at a very early age. Because Caddy makes this decision, Benjy views his sister as synonymous with love. Quentin’s stance toward love is more complicated. He claims to have committed incest, implying a supposed unnatural love for his sister, but in actuality, he only loves death. Jason replaces love with money out of the bitterness of his heart while Dilsey loves unconditionally and endures whatever comes. De Florian’s words concerning love and time could not apply to this novel more whole-heartedly.


Works Cited:

Bauer, Margaret D. “The Evolution of Caddy: An Intertextual Reading of The Sound and the Fury and Ellen Gilchrist’s The Annunciation.” The Southern Literary Journal, Vol. XXV, No. 1, Fall, 1992, pp. 40-51. Online Detroit: Gale, 2003. Student Resource Center-Gold. GACS Private Library. 15 Feb. 2009.

“Family.” Thematic Guide to the American Novel. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2002. Gale Virtual Reference Library. GACS Private Library. 15 Feb. 2009.

Longley, John L., Jr. “Who Never Had a Sister: A Reading of The Sound and the Fury.” Mosaic, Vol. VII, No. 1, Fall, 1973, pp. 35-53. Student Resource Center-Gold. GACS Private Library. 25 Jan. 2009.

Martin, Robert A. “The Words of The Sound and the Fury.” The Southern Literary Journal. 32.1 (Fall 1999): p46. Literature Resource Center. GACS Private Library. 25 Jan. 2009.

Messerli, Douglas. “The Problem of Time in The Sound and the Fury: A Critical Reassessment and Reinterpretation.” The Southern Literary Journal. 6.2 (Spring 1974): p19. Literature Resource Center. GACS Private Library. 15 Feb. 2009.

O’Connor, Joseph. “Pages from an Alien Dictionary.” The Irish Times. 12 Apr. 2009 <http://www.irishtimes.com/indepth/amnesty/article-01.html&gt;.

Roggenbuck, Ted. “‘The Way He Looked Said Hush’: Benjy’s Mental Atrophy in The Sound and the Fury.” The Mississippi Quarterly. 58.3-4 (Summer-Fall 2005): p581. Literature Resource Center. GACS Private Library. 7 Feb. 2009.

Ross, Stephen M. and Noel Polk. Reading Faulkner: The Sound and the Fury. Jackson, MI: University Press of Mississippi, 1996. NetLibrary. GCPL. 19 Apr. 2009.

Skirry, Justin. “Sartre on William Faulkner’s Metaphysics of Time in The Sound and the Fury.” Sartre Studies International. 7.2 (Dec. 2001): p15. Literature Resource Center. GACS Private Library. 7 Feb. 2009.

Smith, Christine. “Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury.” The Explicator. 66.2 (Winter 2008): p100. Literature Resource Center. GACS Private Library. 7 Feb. 2009.

“The Sound and the Fury.” Masterpieces of World Literature. Ed. Frank N. Magill. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1989. 823-826.

“The Stream-of-Consciousness Novel.” Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism. Ed. Thomas J. Schoenberg and Lawrence J. Trudeau. Vol.178. Detroit: Gale, 2006. Literature Resource Center. GACS Private Library. 7 Feb. 2009.

“Themes and Construction: The Sound and the Fury.” EXPLORING Novels, Detroit: Gale, 2003. Student Resource Center-Gold. GACS Private Library. 25 Jan. 2009.

The Romantic Era

Expression was everything to the Romantics-expression through art, music, poetry, drama, literature, and philosophy. Like one of the intellectual fathers of the era, Jean Jacques Rousseau, Romantics yearned to reclaim freedom. Rousseau wrote, “Man is born free and everywhere he is in chains.” The Romantic period was a time of political revolution and new ways of looking at the world, based on emotion, adventure, and imagination. Instead of working for wealthy bosses, composers were for the first time able to work for themselves. They composed music to express what they were thinking and feeling unlike during earlier days, when they were only allowed to compose exactly what their employers wanted. A newfound appreciation of the artist as an individual emerged during the Romantic Era.

The nineteenth century saw the creation and evolution of new genres such as the program symphony, pioneered by Beethoven, and now developed by Hector Berlioz. Franz Liszt developed its offshoot, the symphonic poem. This era gave birth to the concert overture, examples of which were composed by Felix Mendelssohn and almost every composer thereafter and short, expressive piano pieces written for the bourgeois salons of Europe by Robert Schumann and Frédéric Chopin. Italian operas were composed in the Bel canto traditions, and these led directly to the masterworks of Giuseppe Verdi, while Richard Wagner established the idea of the German music drama. For inspiration, many Romantic composers turned to the visual arts, poetry, drama, literature, and nature. Using the classical forms of sonata and symphony as a starting point, composers began focusing more on new melodic styles, richer harmonies, and ever more dissonance, in the pursuit of moving their audiences, rather than concerning themselves with the structural discipline of classical forms. Later composers of the nineteenth century further built upon the forms and ideas developed by the Romantic composers.

Many individual styles of Romantic music existed and were often dependent on where the composers called their home. Composers wrote music that represented their countries- including the history, politics, and challenges of those countries. This music is called “Nationalistic,” and sometimes included folk song melodies and historical references of the country. The continued growth of the orchestra was also a trademark of the Romantic period. New instruments, or ones that had been modified in some way, allowed composers to write music for entirely new sounds and for new instrument combinations.

The nineteenth century saw the development of many different musical styles, but certain musical styles stand out. The dynamic range was wider, and there was a larger range of sound. A greater variety of instruments were used, including improved or newly invented wind instruments. Melodies were longer, more dramatic, and emotional. Tempos were more extreme, and tempo rubato was often called for. Harmonies were fuller and often more dissonant. Formal structures were expanded and often determined by the programmatic content of the piece.

Felix Mendelssohn was born in Hamburg, Germany on February 3, 1809. Felix Mendelssohn was something of a prodigy. He wrote his first piece at the age of eleven, beginning a prolific period in which the youth created pieces in virtually every genre from sonatas to concertos and even a Singspiel. Having shown exceptional musical talent at an early age, Mendelssohn’s family encouraged him to study music and make a career for himself. Mendelssohn first appeared in public as a pianist at the age of nine and performed his first original compositions when he was eleven years old. At the age of seventeen, Mendelssohn composed an overture based on Shakespeare’s play A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which was so successful that he later composed more music on the subject, resulting in a suite of pieces to be used in conjunction with productions of the play. Such a collection of pieces is known as incidental music, and the fleet and airy Scherzo from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is typical of the seemingly effortless style of this composer. Mendelssohn connected with nature, as did most composers of the period. One piece of his that was influenced by nature is the Fingal’s Cave Overture, also known as The Hebrides, which depicts the rocky, wind-swept coast and ancient caverns of Scotland. Mendelssohn’s numerous travels also influenced two of his five symphonies, the third in A minor, known as the “Scotch” Symphony, and his popular Symphony no. 4 in A major, known as the “Italian” symphony, which incorporates melodies and dances that Mendelssohn heard while traveling.

Mendelssohn’s teachers included the Bohemian pianist-composer Ignaz Moscheles and the German composer Carl Zelter. A revival of public interest in the works of Johann Sebastian Bach was directly attributable to Mendelssohn, who in 1829 conducted the first performance since Bach’s death of his St. Matthew Passion. At about the same time, Felix began to travel widely; the next few years took him to England, Scotland and Italy. Besides spreading his reputation, these journeys were important for the pieces that they yielded. Some, such as his “Italian” symphony and the Hebrides overture, documented his musical impressions of these voyages. Mendelssohn suffered a physical collapse at the death of his favorite sister, Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel, and passed away a few months later in Leipzig on November 4, 1847.

In 1833, Mendelssohn took a conducting post in Düsseldorf. Two years later he took his most important position, as director of the Gewandhaus in Leipzig. He remained in Leipzig for another ten years, maintaining a busy schedule of performances, conducting works of contemporaries as well as the old masters. He also founded and directed the Leipzig conservatory. His abilities as a conductor and as an organizer of festivals created a great demand for his services. Because of his schedule, most of his compositional work was restricted to the summer months.

Mendelssohn’s music is the most classically oriented of all his generation. This is partly due to his intense study of Bach, Handel, and Mozart, and the influence is best seen in his large choral works such as the oratorios St. Paul and Elijah. At the same time, his clarity of form and the effortless outpouring of his melody bring to mind the same qualities in Mozart. Yet he was a true Romantic, cultivating smaller forms, such as the Lied, and brief character pieces for the piano. He also showed the Romantic penchant for imbuing his pieces with extra musical associations, and he had the deep love of literature that marked this generation, a quality that is often an important aspect of his music.

Hungarian composer Franz Liszt was born in Raiding on October 22, 1811. Franz Liszt embodied all of the great ambitions of the Romantic era, and many of its contradictions. His life spanned three generations of Romantic composers. In his early life, he was an extravagant virtuoso, the darling of the ladies, and a creator of new and adventurous music. In his old age, he turned to the church, becoming a priest, writing sacred music, and championing the music of a new generation. He began his career as the concert pianist of the century, who, along with the prodigious violinist Niccoló Paganini (1782-1840), created the sect of the modern instrumental virtuoso. Liszt first studied the piano with his father and later with the Austrian pianist Carl Czerny in Vienna, where he also studied theory with the Italian composer Antonio Salieri. In 1823, Liszt moved with his parents to Paris and took composition lessons from the Italian opera composer Fernando Paër and the Czech-French composer and theorist Anton Reicha.

To showcase his phenomenal and unprecedented technique, Liszt composed a vast amount of music designed specifically for this purpose, resulting in an immense library of piano literature filled with awing scales, trills, arpeggios, leaps, and other technical marvels. Liszt composed a series of rhapsodies on Hungarian gypsy melodies, the best-known being the familiar Hungarian Rhapsody no. 2. This kind of music differs in several aspects from the generally more introspective, poetic music of pianist-composer Frédéric Chopin. In 1833, Liszt met the French countess Marie d’Agoult, known as a writer under the pseudonym Daniel Stern. They formed a liaison that endured until 1844 and had three children, one of whom, Cosima, became the wife of the German pianist and conductor Hans von Bülow and later of the German composer Richard Wagner. Liszt studied composition and made his living as a performer and teacher. In his performances he followed the model of such virtuosos as the violinist Paganini, making his personality and physical presence as much a part of the performance as his dazzling technique and musicianship. His affect on the audience, especially women, is preserved and sometimes satirized in numerous drawings and paintings. Both turbulent scenes and periods of great creativity marked Liszt’s long-lasting relationships with two married women-the Countess Marie d’Agoult, by whom he had three children, and the Princess Carolyne Sayn-Wittgenstein. In 1848, Liszt abandoned his concert career to concentrate more on his composing. He took the post of court conductor to the Duke of Weimar, and it was here that he wrote or revised many of his most well known pieces. Late in life he moved to Rome, taking minor orders there in 1865. Much of the rest of his life was taken up with composing religious music, although he kept up his career as a teacher and performer, dividing his time between Rome, Weimar and Budapest. Liszt died in Bayreuth on July 31, 1886.

Many of Liszt’s symphonic works abandoned the four-movement structure of the symphony, such as Dante Symphony. Instead, these symphonic poems were huge single-movement works that relied on extra musical programs and the progressive transformation of a musical theme for their structural coherence. In these works, the themes are modified by changes in harmony, rhythm, or even melodic outline. These transformations are used to create a sense of narrative or psychological progression. Liszt also used the technique of thematic transformation in his non-programmatic works, such as his concertos. As a virtuoso pianist, Liszt filled his piano music with fantastic technical demands, and many represent the ultimate in nineteenth century virtuosity. He also expanded the repertory and possibilities of the piano with his many transcriptions and arrangements of symphonic and operatic works.

Liszt is often credited with the creation of the symphonic poem: extended, single-movement works for orchestras, inspired by paintings, plays, poems or other literary or visual works, and attempting to convey the ideas expressed in those media through music. An example of such a work is Les Préludes, which is based on a poem in which life is expressed as a series of struggles, passions, and mysteries. The Romantic genre of the symphonic poem, as well as its cousin, the concert overture, became highly attractive to many later composers, including Saint-Saëns, Tchaikovsky, Dvorák, Sibelius, and Richard Strauss. Liszt said, “Music embodies feeling without forcing it to contend and combine with thought, as it is forced in most arts and especially in the art of words. If music has one advantage over the other media through which a person can represent the impressions of the soul, it owes this to its supreme capacity to make each inner impulse audible without the assistance of reason… Music presents at once the intensity and the expression of feeling. It is the embodied and intelligible essence of feeling, capable of being apprehended by our senses. It permeates them like a dart, like a ray, like a mist, like a spirit, and fills our soul.”

In 1789, William Lisle Bowles (1762-1850) wrote an influential sonnet sequence, Fourteen Sonnets, a sign of brighter times ahead for the form. As rational, witty, neoclassical seventeenth century poems written in heroic couplets gave way to major works in more open forms, the sonnet was somehow adapted to accommodate the literary values of this period. In many of these works one can sense the new worth placed on intuition and spontaneity. Second, perhaps, only to Shakespeare, William Wordsworth (1770-1850) is generally considered one of the greatest sonneteers. Writing over five hundred sonnets (mostly the early ones are still read), he ushered the form back into widespread use and also revived the sonnet sequence. Wordsworth continued the work of Milton in freeing the sonnet’s subject matter from the conventional and treated the sonnet as a subjective “verse essay” in which to explore his emotions (White & Rosen). Among the well-known poets of the Romantic period, John Keats (1795-1821) and Percy Shelley (1792-1822) wrote the sonnets most commonly anthologized–“Bright Star” and “Ozymandius,” respectively. Other notable poets, including Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834) and Lord Byron (1788-1824), wrote a few sonnets but did their best work in other forms.

Walt Whitman, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, Edgar Allan Poe, Emily Dickinson, and the Transcendentalists represent the first great literary generation produced in the United States. In the case of the novelists, the Romantic vision tended to express itself in the form Hawthorne called the “Romance,” a heightened, emotional, and symbolic form of the novel. Romances were not love stories, but serious novels that used special techniques to communicate complex and subtle meanings. Instead of carefully defining realistic characters through a wealth of detail, as most English or continental novelists did, Hawthorne, Melville, and Poe shaped heroic figures larger than life, burning with mythic significance. The typical protagonists of the American Romance are haunted, alienated individuals. Hawthorne’s Arthur Dimmesdale or Hester Prynne in The Scarlet Letter, Melville’s Ahab in Moby-Dick, and the many isolated and obsessed characters of Poe’s tales are lonely protagonists pitted against unknowable, dark fates that, in some mysterious way, grow out of their deepest unconscious selves. The symbolic plots reveal hidden actions of the anguished spirit.

One reason for this fictional exploration into the hidden recesses of the soul is the absence of settled, traditional community life in America. English novelists-Jane Austen, Charles Dickens (the great favorite), Anthony Trollope, George Eliot, William Thackeray-lived in a complex, well-articulated, traditional society and shared with their readers attitudes that informed their realistic fiction. American novelists were faced with a history of strife and revolution, a geography of vast wilderness, and a fluid and relatively classless democratic society. American novels frequently reveal a revolutionary absence of tradition. Many English novels show a poor main character rising on the economic and social ladder, perhaps because of a good marriage or the discovery of a hidden aristocratic past. But this buried plot does not challenge the aristocratic social structure of England. On the contrary, it confirms it. The rise of the main character satisfies the wish fulfillment of the mainly middle-class readers.

In contrast, the American novelist had to depend on his or her own devices. America was, in part, an undefined, constantly moving frontier populated by immigrants speaking foreign languages and following strange and crude ways of life. Thus the main character in American literature might find himself alone among cannibal tribes, as in Melville’s Typee, or exploring a wilderness like James Fenimore Cooper’s Leatherstocking, or witnessing lonely visions from the grave, like Poe’s solitary individuals, or meeting the devil walking in the forest, like Hawthorne’s Young Goodman Brown. Virtually all the great American protagonists have been “loners.” The democratic American individual had, as it were, to invent himself. The serious American novelist had to invent new forms as well hence the sprawling, idiosyncratic shape of Melville’s novel Moby-Dick and Poe’s dreamlike, wandering Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym. Few American novels achieve formal perfection, even today. Instead of borrowing tested literary methods, Americans tend to invent new creative techniques. In America, it is not enough to be a traditional and definable social unit, for the old and traditional gets left behind; the new, innovative force is the center of attention.

In the wake of the Romantic revolution in literature came a similar revolution in music. About 1820, Beethoven began to write passionate compositions, which often threatened to burst asunder the classical forms in which he worked. His 1824 Symphony No. 9 is notable not only for its length and complexity, but for the fact that he introduced vocal soloists and a chorus into the final movement, as if the purely instrumental form of the classical symphony could not express all that he felt. After this radical departure from tradition, many composers felt free to experiment. Beethoven is also significant in the history of music for being the first composer to earn his living directly from his own work without being subsidized by a church or aristocrat. He benefited from the emergence of the new bourgeois audience, which could not afford to retain a composer on salary as Prince Esterhazy retained Haydn, but who eagerly bought tickets for Beethoven’s concerts. With the money he received from lessons, from the sale of his compositions, and from his public performances, Beethoven was able to survive if not to prosper. This was a crucial factor in allowing him to express his extreme individualism, rejecting the role of artistic servant within which even giants like Haydn and Mozart had been confined. He could write as he pleased and challenge the public to follow him.

As seen in discussing the Romantic Movement generally, the rise of the new middle classes created a new audience seeking fresh sensations. It was also an audience, which was powerfully drawn to emotion in the arts, and music more than any of the other arts has the capacity to elicit powerful emotions. Although forms like the sonata continued to be used by Romantic composers, the new, wider audiences were less to appreciate the details of the development of themes than to be swept along on waves of melody, harmony, and rhythm.

The fashion of the Romantic Era was characterized by beret sleeves, coal scuttle bonnet styles, and pelerine collars. The most popular women’s hair fad was the Apollo Knot, a striking style tending to lean towards one side. Another lesser style was the Madonna coiffure with the center parted up and built up with ringlets at crown and sides.

Historical themes of the Romantic Era included the increasing role of science in defining a worldview, the rise of European nationalism, and a growing autonomy for the arts. The skepticism resulting from by a clearer understanding of the world and humanity’s place in it changed the way people thought of themselves and society. Charles Darwin’s (1809-1882) The Origin of the Species is one example of the new attitude. Many areas of Europe, especially Italy and Central Europe, desperately sought freedom from foreign control. At the same time, Germany, which was never a completely unified country, struggled to create a separate national identity.

In conclusion, the Romantic Era encased the elements of an increased interest in nature and the supernatural, the rise of program music, nationalism and exoticism, and the changing status of musicians. Romantic artists saw nature in a less idealized way than the artists of the Classical period had. The natural world was considered less a model of perfection and more a source of mysterious powers. Romantic composers gravitated toward supernatural texts and stories. Schubert’s Erlking and Berlioz’ Symphonie fantastique are two good examples. Music began to be used to tell stories, or to imply meaning beyond the purely musical. Composers found ways to make their musical ideas represent people, things, and dramatic situations as well as emotional states and even philosophical ideas. Composers used music as a tool for highlighting national identity. Instrumental composers such as Bedrich Smetana made reference to folk music and national images (as in The Moldau), while operatic composers such as Giuseppe Verdi set stories with strong patriotic undercurrents. Composers took an interest in the music of various ethnic groups and incorporated it into their own music. Composers also wrote works based on stories of exotic lands and people. A composer was no longer dependent for income on the steady employment by nobility but relied instead on the support of the public and the patronage of individuals. Music was seen less as an occupation and more as a calling. Specialized training institutions, or conservatories, replaced the apprentice system of the church and the court. Women found more opportunities for musical expression, especially as performers, but social and cultural barriers still limited their participation as composers.