My Literary Criticism

“The Shattered Flask: Creation Gone Awry in Bernard Malamud’s God’s Grace.”

The above article was published in the academic journal Studies in American Jewish Literature.  In it I provide an analysis of Bernard Malamud’s novel, God’s Grace, a fascinating vision of a dystopian future.  Malamud is one of my favorite authors.  This article derived from my master’s thesis at Youngstown State University.   Follow the following link to read the full text.  Because it’s published you’ll have to register with JSTOR to view the full article.  It will only take a minute.

http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/41206095?sid=21105354814761&uid=2&uid=3739256&uid=2129&uid=2134&uid=3739840&uid=4&uid=70

“Malamud’s Muse: A Melvillean Analysis of  God’s Grace.”

This essay has been accepted for publication in the Bernard Malamud Society Newsletter.  See below for an excerpt.  I’ll post a link once it’s published.

“Malamud’s Muse: A Melvillean Analysis of God’s Grace.”

“To produce a mighty book, you must choose a mighty theme.”

       ~ Moby-Dick

In Malamud’s God’s Grace (GG), the albino chimp appears as an elusive, dream-like figure three times in the narrative. He might be considered a minor character, but it seems he should play a larger role in a thorough analysis of GG. As I interpret GG, the albino chimp may be the clearest of many allusions and parallels between Malamud’s novel and Melville’s classic, Moby-Dick (MD). Moreover, I believe one cannot understand GG without also understanding its connection to MD.

Malamud openly cited Melville as a general influence in his writing, as he said to Curt Leviant in June 1974 (49). More importantly, in an interview on February 3, 1983, with Pirjo Ahokas, author of Forging a New Self, Malamud called GG a “Melvillean” novel (n370). Unfortunately, this short statement is all one has to go on to unravel what Malamud meant. While this clue helps to explain the presence of the albino, it does little to assist one in understanding what is meant by the “Melvillean” nature of GG. To decipher what “Melvillean” means in this context, it will be helpful to review how the albino figures in Malamud’s narrative.

To unravel this cryptic remark, let us begin by turning to a Jungian analysis of the albino. This seems appropriate because the abino first appears to Calvin Cohn in a dream. Jeffrey Helterman is right when he states that the albino represents Cohn’s alter ego (113). To expand on Helterman’s insight, though, it appears the albino can be interpreted on other levels. For instance, it is not clear at first whether the albino is real or only part of Cohn’s unconscious. At the albino’s first appearance, the narrator relates: “Cohn, as he slept, “conceived a white dream. An albino had appeared in the mist-laden forest, a fearsome male chimpanzee no one had seen but all seemed to know of.” He frightens Cohn; nevertheless, Cohn sets out to find the mysterious creature, but gets “no more than a muffled glimpse of a white figure” (124). The narrator continues, “[e]xasperated, Cohn flung his iron spear (he had chanced on it in the Rebekah Q) to the ground; and in his dream was angered at God for having got him to this island and into this dream.” Then Cohn beholds “a bulbous cloud shape like a white tulip.” Afterwards, Cohn speaks to “an angelic voice,” saying, among other things, “[a]fter seeing the white ape, I felt a dread something bad might happen” (125). Following a contentious dialogue with the angel, Cohn asks, “[t]hen who knows what’s happening anywhere? Is this island what it seems to be?” The angel responds: “So call it a dream” (126).

Tableaux Vivants: Illusion and Reality in Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth.”

This has been declined.  I originally wrote this essay as part of my master’s program in English at Youngstown State University.  An excerpt is given below.

Tableaux Vivants: Illusion and Reality in Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth

In chapter 12, near the center of Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth (Mirth), the Welly Brys host a gathering for their new society friends. During the entertainment put on for their guests, a number of the female partygoers take part in a tableaux vivants (living pictures), a performance involving the re-creation of famous works of art by using characters (in this case guests) as posers or performers. The final model of the tableaux is Lily Bart, the ill-fated heroine of Wharton’s novel. For her performance, Lily chooses to bring to life the well-known “Mrs. Richard Bennett Lloyd,” painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds in 1775-76.

Wharton critics have commented at length on the tableaux vivants scene. One in particular, Cynthia Griffin Woolf, views the tableaux as the “centerpiece” of the novel, and Lily’s participation in it as a reversion to “corrupt but familiar representations of femininity” (“Drama” 80). And Maureen Howard calls the tableaux “childish iconography, an obliteration of the brushstroke of artistic achievement” (147). While I agree with Woolf and Howard, I believe that Wharton goes far beyond what these critics perceive and uses the scene to create a complex, multi-layered reflection on history, satire, feminism, art, parody, philosophy, and tragedy.

Lily’s performance as Mrs. Lloyd marks the high point of her life and also the beginning of her downfall. Wharton structures her narrative around the tableaux vivants and uses this event as a means to focus her story and offer a satirical attack on fashionable New York’s “morally corrupt society” (Woolf, Feast 417) of her day. But more than that, this scene can be used to analyze Wharton’s complex and masterful novel, which functions on a wide variety of levels, including the literal/historical, satirical, feminist, artistic, parodic, philosophical, and tragic. In this article, I examine Mirth on these many levels, using the tableaux vivants as a focal point to analyze the scene itself and how it gives meaning to other parts of the novel and to the work as a whole. My view is that the tableaux vivants serves as the central image of Wharton’s novel and allows the critical reader an entryway into the complexity of the novelist’s extraordinary intellect and insight into the meaning of the work.

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7 thoughts on “My Literary Criticism

  1. Literary fiction is supposed to be different from genre fiction. I’ve been trying to read some science fiction novels with an eye to the writing advice I’ve run across (I post about that at http://bit.ly/1FBrSlu) Do you think the same advice applies to both types of fiction?

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    1. I read (and write) mostly literary fiction but my guess is there’s a blurry line between lit fiction and genre fiction. Any fiction that moves the heart and the aesthetic sense is literary and some genre fiction, I think, does that.

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