Literature and the ties to social change


27 August 2016

Our first review begins with James Joyce and his work of The Dead. One of the constant themes that we see in this piece, is Gabriel Conroy and his inability to properly connect with the women of the story, due in part to the changing dynamics of male and female relationships as well as women’s rights. At our first introduction of Gabriel, he is meeting with Lily. The pretext of our introduction to Lily, states that she is the caretaker’s daughter, and her personality agrees well with her three mistresses. On the particular night of the party, we are told that Lily is, “literally run off her feet” (Joyce). We are also told that there is the long-standing understanding that Lily would not backtalk her mistresses. The very examples going to play into Gabriel’s inability to connect with the women of the story. For the sake of brevity, we will only examine Gabriel’s interaction with one of the female characters.

Gabriel begins his interaction with Lily by making small talk about her attendance at school. With this examination providing little in return, Gabriel pushes the conversation to that of the potential for Lily’s future marriage. Joyce informs us that Gabriel has known Lily since she was a little girl. One can only assume as to the reasoning for her outburst. It could be because she is indeed sensitive to the subject, or does not think about it; given her role and obligations to the house. Or we could believe that it is simply because of the stress of the party and her many chores. Whatever the reason, Lily becomes furious, announcing that all men are full of long-winded and useless talk. Additionally, Lily believes that the men of today are only looking out for their best interests and what they can acquire. Upon this unexpected tension, Gabriel attempts to bribe his way out by offering Lily some money. Lily refuses and attempts to leave, and Gabriel continues pressing; making the situation worse. The tension is left hanging and will continue to grow. Mr. Conroy will have no further meaningful interaction with Lily through the rest of the story.

Overall, I would say the ending of The Dead is optimistic. Despite his many fumblings, Gabriel was able to consciously control his temper in a few of the interactions, or at least he initially tried. By the end of the night, he had begun to see his wife in a way that he never had. Despite being angry about learning of his wife’s previous love, he gave him the inspiration to reminisce; and one would hope this would lead to lasting changes.

The next story in our examination is that of T.S. Eliot’s The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock. We see several elements of social changes that have occurred on the heels of previous ones. The United States faced, “economic and social problems of the first Industrial Revolution distressed many, these concerns were set aside during the nation’s bloody Civil War” (Engelman). At the cease of that conflict, the United States was swept up into a second Industrial Revolution that continued until about the 1920s. The second Industrial Revolution was met with a huge influx of immigrants, increased westward expansion of population thanks in part to the post-Civil War railroad system. Protective American tariffs, “Northern control of Congress after the War led to ever higher tariffs, reaching an average of 57 percent with the Dingle Tariff of 1897. These rates remained in effect until 1913. […] U.S. industry grew and agriculture expanded westward to feed the growing populations of industrial cities” (Civil). With these in several additional changes, we make our encounter with J Alfred Prufrock. He is a man on the verge of paralysis due to the ever expanding and compressing city life. Due to these conditions, Mr. Prufrock experiences a deep sense of depression. In a continuing cycle, the depression leads him to question every aspect of his life; and the answer he arrives at his failure.

Overall, the mood of the story is very pessimistic. Prufrock breaks down every element of his life, and he envisions failure in isolation at every corner. I would like to think that he could become more optimistic if he simply moved out of the city, but we have no way of knowing in this story if he is capable or does. I see hope in the line, “Do I dare Disturb the universe? In a minute there is time. For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse” (Elliot). I also see connections with several lines to include, “Then how should I begin. To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways?” (Elliot).

We end with the story of Anna Karenina, written by Leo Tolstoy. The tale is a multitude of changes, and for this, we will focus on agriculture. This is one my personal favorite topics because it is one that is very relevant today and is important in every fact of life. The fact of life is if we do not have food, we die. During the story, we see the attempt of the changing of the guards, the fight between the old establishment and the new upstarts. The newcomers want to bring around modernization and technology along with the change in the government structure. With this becomes many problems for the old guard. Modernization and technology completely change the way farming is done and it directly impacts the old government structure. With improved technology, the use of serfs comes into question. You have the human rights aspect, as well as the inefficiency of using human labor in lieu of advanced technologies.

Changing the rules about the slavery would mean that there are more people available to do even more farming with this new technology. The only way that a country can grow successfully is by having a steady supply of food. The opportunity of exports is also very lucrative to the coffers of a country. Finally, the more people that moved to the city means fewer people producing food, the further one becomes removed from the food production system the less likely they are to think or care about it. This removal can and will prove to be disastrous with wide sweeping famine, disease, and death.

Despite the many negative connotations of the story, I do believe it is an optimistic outlook. The story does try to portray happiness, chasing your dreams, and always being willing to sacrifice yourself for the advancement. We see that Levin is one of the few characters to make it through the story to a happy ending. Unfortunately, we are aware of what happens in the future of Russia and the Soviet Union; and it is sad to see that the warnings were not heeded.

Works Cited.

Anna Karenina, Dir. Joe Wright. Working Title Films. 7 September 2012. Web. 27 August 2016.

Civil War and Industrial Expansion, 1860–1897 (Overview). Gale Encyclopedia of U.S. Economic History. 1999. 28 August 2016.

Eliot, T.S. (1915). T.S. Eliot Reads: The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. Online video clip. YouTube, 7 Dec. 2011. Web. 27 August 2016.

Engelman, Ryan. The Second Industrial Revolution, 1870-1914. US History Scene. 10 Apr. 2015. Web. 28 August 2016.

Joyce, James (1914). The Dead. Creighton University. Web. 27 August 2016.