20th Century British Literature Term Paper

Pages: 6 (2023 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: ≈ 3  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Literature

¶ … 20th century British literature. Specifically it will use Samuel Beckett's "Waiting for Godot," Graham Green's "The Quiet American," and "Wide Sargasso Sea" by Jean Rhys, and discuss how the 20th century Britain produced an era of fragmentation and uncertainty. Each of these novels conveys the atmosphere of fragmentation and uncertainty in their own way. Each was written at a time when the entire world was uncertain and fragmented, and the novels all represent what was happening in England and the rest of the world. They all provide very different views of the world, but they all have elements in common that show the world was anything but peaceful, serene, and connected in thought and action. In addition, they all represent different themes prevalent in 20th century British literature, such as realism, feminism, and a cynicism toward themselves and the world around them.

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Samuel Beckett wrote "Waiting for Godot" in the late 1940s and it was first published in 1952. The play, which is essentially about nothing, illustrates the world (and England) after the end of World War II. The country was rebuilding from the devastation of the war, but the Soviet Union was dominating Europe, and the Cold War had begun. Many people felt the world was in a type of limbo, just waiting for the U.S. Or the Soviet Union to begin another world war for world domination. Europe was fragmented and uncertain, and so was England, so the play reflects that. In addition, the play represents the fragmentation of British society, with the two main characters represented the lower classes, and Pozzo the upper classes. There was still fragmentation in society even after the war, and it exists even today. There are "commoners" and there are the "titled," and it creates a rift in British society that seems to be outmoded and unnecessary. All of these works address that in some way, and represent an important look at a faction of British society that may be outmoded and is certainly resented by many.

TOPIC: Term Paper on 20th Century British Literature. Specifically it Will Assignment

Some people believe the two main characters, Vladimir and Estragon, represent displaced soldiers from the war, because they seem like aimless wanderers who have no home, no money, and no reason for life. They are dressed in rags, and throughout the play, Estragon references his aching feet and his ill-fitting boots. Beckett writes, "ESTRAGON: (turning to look at the boots). I'm leaving them there. (Pause.) Another will come, just as... as... As me, but with smaller feet, and they'll make him happy" (Beckett). Vladimir and Estragon are representative of society attempting to rebuild itself, and the fragmentation of a society torn by war. The English were uncertain about their futures and perhaps a bit cynical too, just as the characters in this play become.

As the men wait for the never-appearing Godot, they discuss life, but they also show the uncertainty of life. For example, in the second act, the wealthy Pozzo returns blind and his servant dumb, even though in the first act they seemed to have the world waiting for them (at least Pozzo did). He was wealthy, commanded a servant, and had plenty to eat. Pozzo illustrates the uncertainty of life and the cruelty of society at the same time. Beckett mimics society often in the play. For example, Vladimir says, "To all mankind they were addressed, those cries for help still ringing in our ears! But at this place, at this moment of time, all mankind is us, whether we like it or not. Let us make the most of it, before it is too late!" (Beckett). The underlying theme of the play is the cruelty of humankind toward each other, as they slowly watch life passing by - doing nothing. Again, Beckett writes, "VLADIMIR: (stutteringly resolute). To treat a man... (gesture towards Lucky)... like that... I think that... no... A human being... no... it's a scandal!" (Beckett). Thus, the play represents the fragmentation and uncertainty of humankind, as well as the English, especially the fragmentation of the classes in typical British society.

The Quiet American" by Graham Greene continues this disturbing theme. Written in 1955, the book is a disquieting look at the burgeoning Vietnam conflict, which would explode into the Vietnam War in the 1960s. Fowler, an English reporter is a jaded opium junkie who leaves England behind for the jungles and people of Vietnam. His cynical attitude matches the dissatisfaction and fragmentation of the time. The world was still trying to recover from world war, endure a Cold War, and watching hostilities in Asia flare up. World War II was supposed to end the dissention, but the world seems more fragmented than ever. Fowler has given up on England, and even given up on God, which seems to represent general thinking for much of the world. Fowler says early in the book, "I envied those who could believe in God and I distrusted them" (Greene 44). Fowler represents a cynical population that has lived through war, sees it coming again, and, like the two "do-nothings" in "Waiting for Godot," simply stands around waiting for it to happen, rather than working to do something about it. Greene seems to be saying the English are far removed from what is happening in the real world, and isolation is making their society even more fragmented and uncertain.

In addition, he reminds readers about the horrors of war. He says, "A two-hundred pound bomb does not discriminate. How many dead colonels justify a child's or a trishaw driver's death when you are building a national democratic front" (Greene 163). Later, he makes what seems to be a statement that could come directly from the heart of England. He says, "I thought again, as I had thought when I saw the dead child at Phat Diem, I hate war" (Greene 195). Again, the world is uncertain, society is uncertain, and Fowler's cynical look at the reasons behind war mirrors what happened in Europe during World War II and still seemed to be occurring. Society was not getting along any better, and in fact, some people might have thought society was worse off in many ways after the war. Fragmentation and uncertainty were still rampant, and these novels all reflect that cynical and wait-and-see attitude of British and world society.

To demonstrate further the British feeling of fragmentation, Greene portrays Fowler as distrusting and disliking Americans, even though he and the American Pyle become friends. Pyle saves his life, but Fowler is not grateful, and his distrust of Americans indicates the fragmentation of the world. It also indicates how Britain and other countries have little trust in each other or their motives. Finally, it represents the split in British society. The upper classes feel they are superior to the lower classes, just as they feel they are superior to other world cultures and countries. This split in Britain creates uncertainty and distrust among the classes, and adds to overall tension in the country. All of these works recognize this problem in English society and address it with the realism popular in 20th century literature. The society is distrustful of others and fragmented from the world because of internal beliefs and pressures, and these works all make that very clear for the reader. Perhaps they are all attempting to say that Britain could be less fragmented and uncertain in world society if they began less fragmented in their own class rules and roles.

Jean Rhys' work "Wide Sargasso Sea" might not seem to fit in with these other works, but even though it is set in 19th century England, it reflects the fragmentation and uncertainty of British society too, and indicates how it changed throughout time. The story, published in 1966, is a continuation of Charlotte Bronte's "Jane Eyre," and discusses Bertha Mason (called Antoinette in the novel), Heathcliff's mad wife who does not speak during Bronte's novel, but comes alive in Rhys' work. Most importantly, "Wide Sargasso Sea" represents a time in British history when they ruled the world and colonized many foreign countries. Their rule was literally fragmented, and the future of the colonies was uncertain, as the American rebellion for independence clearly indicated. Rhys' work reminds the reader of the Caribbean of Antoinette's birth, with colors that are more vivid in their descriptions, and messages. Rhys writes, "Everything was brightness or dark. The walls, the blazing colours of the flowers in the garden..." (Rhys 57). Later she continues, "The sky was dark blue through the dark green mango leaves, and I thought 'This is my place and this is where I belong and this is where I wish to stay'" (Rhys 108). Thus, the lush tropical setting is far removed from the gray skies of Britain, and the gray days that will occur when Heathcliff and Jane meet.

Perhaps the most important aspect of Rhys' work is how she adapted a 19th century romantic novel to reflect more modern concerns and attitudes. Instead of focusing on the romance of the… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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