Term Paper: American Lit Definition of Modernism

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[. . .] Antiheroes are thus often those whose heroic qualities are left unrealized by mainstream American society.

In Nathaniel Hawthorne's classic work, The Scarlet Letter, he depicts an antihero, or better, an antiheroine, in the form of the character of Hester Prynne. Indeed, Hester would most certainly fall into this latter class of antiheroes, who represents an individual who is downtrodden and oppressed because of her damaged and saddened societal position and as a result of this, Hawthorne has chosen her as a hero to make us aware of her plight. Thus, in choosing her, Hawthorne had a social and didactic purpose in choosing Hester as his model because she is an example of the sort of person who is made to be an outcast in society for one mistake that she made when, at heart, she is basically a very good, honest, and strong person who has many heroic qualities aside from her more human weaker ones.

Similarly, Bigger Thomas, the erstwhile protagonist of Richard Wright's incendiary novel Native Son, is a largely objectionable character who really has few endearing or redeeming qualities. Indeed, among his crimes in the novel are the commission of a murder (although he does so by accident), his decision to decapitate the body of the deceased woman and shove it into the furnace, and a flight from the police who are encroaching and cornering him in on all sides. Indeed, Thomas, however, despite his anger and his objectionable actions, is also someone who, because of his race and his class, was never given a fair chance in the world, and Wright is attempting to point out the sorts of societal problems associated with race and class as they currently exist within the world. Again, the purpose her is largely didactic in its essence.

The protagonist of Kate Chopin's alleged masterwork is Edna, a young mother trapped inside a marriage that fails to bring her any pleasure or happiness. Indeed, after an aborted early romance with a young man named Robert, Edna begins to realize that there is a large and impressive world out beyond the reaches of what she imagines and attempts to engage on a voyage of discovery. But at every turn she is forced to realize that there are continually a large series of restraining and encroaching factors that limit her freedom, largely because she is a woman, and, in ultimate frustration, she commits suicide at the novels end, allowing herself to drown in the all consuming tug of ocean tides. Indeed, Chopin's purpose is also didactic and social in its character, in that she is attempting to explain the difficulties and the problems that women face in society because their roles are so limited in terms of the scope and availability of the options that are given to them.

Thus the common and typical feature of the hero of American literature lies in the very fact that they are atypical. Thus, the typical American hero is in fact the antihero or antiheroine, who is most distinguishable and discernable for the fact that the possess many unheroic qualities, but often these qualities are the result of the fact that the people question are outcasts or otherwise oppressed by society in a fashion that leaves them with few other options.

4.) Is Moby Dick the Great American Novel?

Moby Dick, which was certainly Herman Melville's masterwork has had a storied and interesting career from its very inception -- indeed, the novel itself was a dismal commercial failure upon its initial publication (Melville's earlier works had sold briskly and given him some degree of literary fame in America, although more as a serializer of nautical reminiscences than as a novelist). With the failure of the novel, Melville seemed discouraged in his later writing endeavors and certainly he never again attempted to write a novel anywhere close to as ambitious in its scope in the fashion that Moby Dick was. Also, as a result of the financial failure of the novel, he was also forced to take a job inspecting ships, which prevented him from writing to the degree and the extent that he would have liked. As to the merits of Moby Dick, itself, there certainly are definite problems with the work of fiction -- it is difficult and oddly paced. Nonetheless, in its use of memorable characters, its unique prose stylings with extended sentences, and it basically motivating story of man against nature, it certainly has all the elements of greatness in it. Nonetheless, there are ways in which it falls short of its mark, nonetheless, I would argue that as a "failure" both commercially and artistically (in which it comes very close to being the greatest American novel while still missing the mark by a slight and slim margin) Moby Dick remains an essential part of the cannon and must be taught in schools.

Indeed, the characters alone make it a necessary read for any student of American Literature, or any student of literature in America. For example, the hilarious first interaction between Quequegg and Ishmael and wonderful and certainly reveal a great deal about both of the characters, as does the former's tendency to always bring a coffin with him when bunking amidships upon the open sea. Indeed, for these delightful and intriguing character's alone, Melville's novel deserve to be read and certainly, these are the parts wherein his brilliance shines and we can call the novel conclusively great, and even locate, at moments the exact degree, development, and epicenter of its greatness from which the other elements radiate. Thus, from the simple aspect of character alone it would not only not be impossible to indict Melville's novel as hackwork, but also it must be realized that in this particular realm if no other, his narrative ascends from the realm of simple expression and reaches the highest level of artistic expression in terms of creating well-formed and nuanced characters who are memorable and whose actions strike as human and funny.

On the other hand, however, there are the long expository sections of Moby Dick that do tend to drag by explaining all of the most gritty and unnecessary details of life on a whaling ship, on the types of whales, and on a varying degree of other technical and professional aspects of the seaman's trade as it was applied in the business of whaling back in Melville's day these. These chapters, including his sections on "cetalogy" or the science of whales in which Ishmael hilariously (though it is an unintentional humor) declares that a whale is indisputably a fish (instead of a mammal) drag and drone on and generally interrupt the narrative flow of the novel in a strange and significant fashion. Indeed, the seem strange and are often related to the great thrust of the narrative by means of tangential reasoning at best, and more realistically, by no means whatsoever or even any possibly realistic link at worst. However, there is a reasonably defense for this tendency of Melville's, which while it doesn't excuse it aesthetically, at least explains the tangents. One must remember that Melville began his career as a successful member of the literati by publishing two travelogues that were basically tales of exotic memoirs, being the works Typee and Omoo and that these novels gained him both fame and fortune. Thus, part of his mode is expository in a reactionary fashion and thus explains these sections.

Moreover, to do Melville a fair amount of credit, the very fact that his novel is a failure, both commercially and aesthetically, is a fact that makes it very much like almost all of the other American novels that are considered great. Indeed, consider briefly the allegedly "great" American novel, Sister Carrie, by Theodore Dreisser. Like Moby Dick there are many great moments and great characters in the book (indeed, Dreisser is quite possibly considerable more deft in terms of his use of plotting and narrative than Melville generally is), yet, nonetheless, almost even the most uneducated reader will notice that his prose is typically contrived, clunky, and at its worst, almost semiliterate. Similarly, we could consider William Gaddis' great 20th century work The Recognitions, which was so critically ignored that the author did not finish another work for more than twenty years. Indeed, even though he did and later received the National Book Award and some other much-deserved attention, even most educated people have never heard of it, and certainly only a very few people have actually bothered to read it in its entirety. Thus, after a fashion, Moby Dick is sort of the archetype for the failure of great American novels to be great either in terms of cultural or popular success or else in terms of strange and often inexplicable aesthetic amateurishness alongside elements in a work that are otherwise unquestionably great.

Thus, I would argue that we should admit, when talking about Moby Dick that it is… [END OF PREVIEW]

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