Just another WordPress.com site

Archive for the ‘Literary Criticisms’ Category

The Creation of Sin: A Look at Paradise Lost

The Creation of Sin: A Look at Paradise Lost

John Milton writes in Paradise Lost “Of Man’s first disobedience and the fruit/ of that forbidden tree whose mortal taste/ Brought death into the world” (1.1-3). He establishes the classic struggle of good and evil and shows exactly where this conflict first arose. Before the existence of Man, Satan waged a war in Heaven, where he tried to overthrow the almighty power of the Christian God. Satan, once one of the highest archangels, became jealous when God presented his only begotten Son “have anointed whom ye now behold/ At [His] right hand” (5.605-6). Satan persuaded one third of the archangels to be disloyal to God and a fruitless, meaningless war was fought for three days. The fallen angels fell for nine days through chaos, until they finally landed in Hell. God then creates “another world, the happy seat/ Of some new race called Man about this time” (2.347-8). The first beings of this new race are Adam, a man, and Eve, a woman. Eve is historically said to be the original breeder of sin through her disobedience of God. However, through textual support from Paradise Lost, it can be shown that women, as Eve, were not entirely to blame for the fall of mankind, but both sexes, men and women alike, should share equal blame for this “loss of Eden” (1.4).

The creation of Adam and Eve could prove to be a large factor in determining that both Adam and Eve are to blame for the introduction of sin into the world. Milton presents Eve’s creation story first, though, Adam’s creation was chronologically first.

Milton does much with flashbacks in Paradise Lost. The beginning of the poem starts right after the fallen angels have landed in Hell, after falling for nine days, but then flashes back to the war in Heaven in Books Five and Six. It is suggested that by doing this, John Milton is attempting, and succeeding in for that matter, to make Paradise Lost into an epic. Much like Virgil and Homer’s works, Paradise Lost starts us in the middle of a story and progresses both forward and backward in time to reach a resolving conclusion of the story and to recount events prior to the start of the epic. Milton’s putting Eve’s creation story before Adam’s is another way in which he tries to make Paradise Lost an epic. Eve is created from Adam’s rib, which was extracted by God while Adam was sleeping. This immediately presents the idea that Eve is not as close with God as Adam is. Because Adam was created from the “Dust of the ground” by God, making Adam alike in His image, Eve being created from Adam is like a carbon copy of a carbon copy (7.525). Eve’s being a duplicate of a duplicate already makes her more apt to disobedience because she is, in some sense, further from God. After her creation, Eve awakens “under a shade on flow’rs” wondering who and what she is and how she was brought about and why (4.451). Eve soon sees in a lake her reflection in all its glory. She finds herself strikingly beautiful “and [is] pined with vain desire” (4.466). Milton then exhorts that woman have a supreme beauty over that of men as Eve finds Adam and thinks he is “fair indeed, and tall,” but “less fair,/ Less winning soft, less amiably mild” than she (4. 477, 478-479). At once Eve finds herself and her image superior to that of Adam and retreats to return back to “that smooth wat’ry image” at the lake (4.480). Milton suggests that Eve’s vanity leads to her downfall. It’s a good indication that Satan, after overhearing this creation story, will use flattery and beguilement to tempt Eve. Furthermore, after overhearing Adam tell Eve not to complain about the work in their garden, but to be thankful of God, and to obey the one order that he has given them: “not to taste that only Tree/ Of Knowledge planted by the Tree of Life,” Satan wonders that if God has given them a command, they could be tempted into disobeying it (4.423-4).

Adam’s creation story is dissimilar to Eve’s because he is not shown to have any flaws or shortcomings from the start, unlike Eve and her vanity. Adam is created “in [God and the Son’s] image, Man/ in [Their] similitude” (7.519-20). He awakens in “This happy light,” while Eve had admittedly awoken in shade (8.285). Also God appears before Adam “of shape divine,” where God was a mere voice when he spoke to Eve (8.295). Adam then is given the direct order not to eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge by the Son, “but of the tree/ Which tasted works knowledge of good and evil/ Though may’st not. In the day thou eat’st, thou diest” (7.543-4). All God is truly looking for is both obedience and service from humankind and his angels. He wants “One Kingdom, joy and union without end” (7.161). Immediately, Adam knows of his place in the world, whereas, Eve was confused after first awakening. Adam knows that God is more powerful than he and he is therefore below God and at His service,

To attain/ The Heighth and depth of Thy eternal ways/ All human thoughts come short/ All human thoughts come short, Supreme of things./ Thou in Thyself art perfect and in Thee/ Is no deficence found. Not so is Man. (8.412-16)

However, Eve is too consumed by her own beauty to notice the beauty of God’s creation around her.  All of these differences in their creation suggest that Adam is somehow closer to both God and the Truth about their existence on the new earth and is therefore more liable to obedience and adherence to God’s commands and orders. Even Satan is able to recognize that “their sex not equal seemed:/ He for God only, she for God in him” (4.296, 299). This could be a reason as to why Satan targets Eve. He recognizes that she is most liable to fall.

Despite the fact that God made Adam higher than Eve and more likely to obey his direct orders, God creates them as a team. In her paper “The Mischief-Marking of Raphael Upon Adam and Eve in Paradise Lost,” Corinne Abate says, “Adam and Eve consider each other as inseparable, equal soul mates, brought together by God to stay that way forever” (42). Separately, neither Eve nor Adam can battle with Satan’s evil craftiness, but together, they can. They are built as a unit, “For contemplation he and valor formed,/ For softeness she and sweet attractive grace” (4.297-8). Both are part of the machine of humankind, for God knows that “it[‘s] not good for Man to be alone,” thus he erects Eve to serve as Adam’s companion, his comrade against Satan and sin (8.445). Eve is “bone of [Adam’s] bone, flesh of [his] flesh,” but is different in that she has “innocence and virgin modesty” (8.495, 501). Despite their apparent differences and inequalities, they are “one flesh [and] one heart” (8.499). Adam seems to realize that he and Eve are a “union of mind or in [them] both one soul” before Eve does (8.604). Whether Eve doesn’t understand that they are a union or understands and chooses to ignore it, Milton doesn’t make clear. Milton makes it so that it’s Adam who recognizes that they have the best chance of defeating Satan together, “on us both at once/ The enemy, though bold, will hardly dare,” but Eve is persistent on working alone (9.303-4). So despite his best intentions to stay together, Adam concedes to his wife’s request for fear of upsetting her. Here, we could justifiably blame both parties for their disconnectedness. Eve because she is so persistent to work alone, “For solitude sometimes is best society,” and Adam because he knows that he has a higher intellect and should have refused to split up, but he allows it because he is being far too obsequious to Eve, who is supposedly below him in stature and intellect (9.249).

Both Adam and Eve should be held responsible for the actual eating of The Tree of Knowledge’s fruit. Both eat it, and though their intentions are quite different, their reasons for eating the fruit are as sinful as their disobedience. Eve first gets the impression that the ambrosial fruit can make “gods of men” from the disturbing dream she had where an angel plucked one of the fruits from The Tree of Knowledge and tasted it (5.70). Really, it is Satan “squat like a toad close at the ear of [the sleeping] Eve” whispering this dream (4.800). When it gets to Satan’s actual deception and flattery of Eve, finding out that eating the Tree’s fruit can make her “A goddess among gods” won’t be quite as alarming (9.547). Eve will have had time to contemplate this dream and decide on its validity. After encountering a talking snake, Eve will surely believe in the fruit’s power and her naiveté will be at its greatest. Milton describes Eve as “our credulous mother,” meaning Eve could have just been too gullible and far too willing to be more than human (9.644). Because Eve is deliberate in her disobedience, her sin is almost preplanned and premeditated, which makes it that much worse. Eve counts on being equal to or greater than God because Satan as the serpent tells her that he is like man after eating the fruit because he can talk, so, she will surely be just like God, the next rank up in the hierarchy of the universe, “That ye should be as gods since I as Man,/ Internal Man, is but proportion meet:/ I of brute human, ye of human gods” (9.710-2).  Because “Eve demonstrates an approach to the created world that is based not upon authority and reason but upon the necessity of relationships in order to complete one’s sense of self,”  she deems it a necessity to make Adam eat the fruit as well (Liebert 155).

Adam’s sin lies in how his love of Eve shrouds his love of God. In book 8, Adam goes on and on about Eve, reiterating this lustful desire that she holds over him to Raphael. “Here passion first I felt,/ Commotion strange! In all enjoyments else/ Superior and unmoved, here only week/ Again the charm of beauty’s powerful glance (8.530-3). However, Raphael advises Adam to refrain from carnal touch and corporeal passion and to find a more honorable love to reflect their love of God, “By which to Heavenly love thou may’st ascend/ Not sunk in carnal pleasure” (8.592). Adam is unable to follow Raphael’s advice because when Eve tells him that she has eaten the fruit off the Tree of Knowledge, he is at once “amazed/ astonied stood and blank while horror chill/ Ran through his veins” (9.889-91).  His fear of her disobedience to God is soon replaced with fear of what shall become of Eve. Adam isn’t sure if he could stand to live without her on earth. He admits that “God [could] create another Eve,” but his carnal passion is far too great for this Eve that stands before him (9.911). Adam then decides that their “state cannot be severed” and that they are “one flesh: to lose [Eve] were to lose [him]self” (9.958, 959). Adam “scrupled not to eat,/ against his better knowledge,” but he becomes too “overcome with female charm, so he “complet[es] the mortal sin” by eating the fruit (9.997-8, 999, 1003). The couple look at each other with” lascivious eyes” and find themselves feeling divinity within” (9.1014, 1010).

Adam and Eve can now be compared to two high school students unwilling to withstand peer pressure. Eve finds herself being pressured into eating the fruit by the talking snake. Satan is a powerful orator in every speech that he delivers. In his tempting of Eve, he uses an abundance of rhetorical questions. By doing this, Satan is making Eve ask herself the very same questions. When Eve begins contemplating her disobedience in her head, she too uses a plethora of rhetorical questions. Eve has, thus, internalized Satan’s language. When Eve tempts Adam into eating the fruit, she uses one rhetorical question that gurantees that she will directly disobey God. She asks him, “Hast thou no wondered, Adam, at my stay?” (9.856). At Eve’s fall, Satan was the peer guilty of pressuring another peer, but at Adam’s fall, Eve switches roles and becomes the one doing the peer pressuring. Adam finds himself unable to bear “the pain of [Eve’s] absence from [his] sight” (9.861). He decides he must eat the fruit so that if they die because of it, at least they will die together. After eating, Adam realizes the pleasure of eating the fruit and wonders why he and Eve were forced to abstain from eating it for so long. He then contemplates even more disobedience when he says, “If such pleasure be/ In things to us forbidd’n it might be wished for this one tree had been forbidden ten!” (9.1026). He wishes that God had forbidden them to eat more trees so he could feel even more of such pleasure. The apple, here, is almost seen as a drug. Eve is tempted into trying the drug, which she then tempts Adam into trying. They both receive a high from it and decide that they are “so well refreshed [that] now [they must] play” (9.225). The fruit intensifies Adam’s sin as he becomes even more lustful towards Eve, whom he finds even “fairer now” that it “inflame[s his] senses” (9.1032, 1031). Milton describes their sinful playing as “in lust they burn” (9.1015). There is nothing at all heavenly about their sex after eating the forbidden fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. After the couple comes down from their drug induced high, they realize the severity of what they have done. They no longer feel the pleasure they did after first tasting the drug, the apple, but now the pleasure has worn off and they feel the depression that normally follows a high. They are embarrassed by their sinful disobedience and by their nakedness. Adam, at once, blames Eve for this “good lost, and evil got,” but Eve blames the serpent (9.1072). Milton describes new “high passions” that arise, but these passions are not good like the high pleasure they received after eating the apple. These passions are “anger, hate,/Mistrust, suspicion, discord – and shook sore/ Their inward state of mind” (9.1123-5).

Both Adam and Eve sinned greatly to eat the apple off the Tree of Knowledge. Eve, because she was created out of a disadvantage, was much more likely to be disobedient to God’s will. Because of her subservience, she finds herself wanting to be more than Adam and more than human. Adam is told directly from Raphael to find a purer love for Eve, but because of the lust he feels for Eve, he is unable to do so. Both sinned in their disobedience, and their reasons for eating the apple are just as sinful as their disobedience. Yes, Eve tempted Adam into eating it, but she cannot be directly blamed for the fall because of her tempting Adam. Adam had to consent somewhere along the way. Thus both Adam and Eve, both men and women, should share equal blame for this creation of sin on earth.

Works Cited

Abate, Corinne S. Ebscohost. “The Mischief-Marking of Raphael Upon Adam and Eve in

Paradise Lost. English Language Notes 36.3 (1999): 41-54. 11 Nov 2008 <http://web.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.libraries.wright.edu:2048/ehost/pdf?vid=5&hid=17&sid=cc8582a6-6540-4509-9ee3-5731d0aeffc2%40sessionmgr8&gt;

Liebert, Elisabeth. Ebscohost. “Rendering “More Equal”: Eve’s Changing Discourse in

Paradise Lost.Milton Quarterly 37.3 (2003): 152-165. 10 Nov 2008 <http://web.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.libraries.wright.edu:2048/ehost/pdf?vid=4&hid=17&sid=cc8582a6-6540-4509-9ee3-5731d0aeffc2%40sessionmgr8&gt;

Milton, John. Paradise Lost: A Norton Critical Edition, ed. Gordon Tesky. 3rd ed. New

York: Norton, 2005.


Racial Dynamics: Toni Morrison’s “Recitatif”

Racial Dynamics: Toni Morrison’s “Recitatif”

*Published in The Fogdog Review Winter 2010

The concluding line to Toni Morrison’s only published short story “Recitatif,”  ‘‘What the hell happened to Maggie?” is a curious one indeed (Morrison 2698).  Instead of bringing about a resolving conclusion, this question advances the reader’s curiosity to the nostalgic memory of Maggie, a mute woman who worked in the kitchen at the orphanage in which the story’s two main characters, Roberta and Twyla, were raised. The ambiguous childhood memory of Maggie figuratively and literally becomes the central conflict between Twyla and Roberta’s friendship. Neither of the girls ever truly knew Maggie well and neither saw Maggie after leaving St. Bonny’s orphanage, but the memory of the orchard in which the bowlegged Maggie fell reoccurs every time the girls reencounter one another in adulthood. Maggie is not an active character in the story; she is a mere memory for Twyla and Roberta. Instead, Maggie’s character works as a symbol for both Twyla and Roberta’s companionship and conflict and their similarities and differences.

Twyla, the story’s narrator, tells the story from a first person point of view. However, her narration is challenged as Morrison explores the memory of Maggie in the orchard, making Twyla reevaluate this incident every time she encounters Roberta. Twyla and Roberta disagree about the incident in the orchard, and this disagreement forces Twyla to wonder if her memory is deceiving her. The orchard becomes an important setting, as it is the place where Twyla and Roberta become both victims and victimizers. When she first mentions the orchard, Twyla says, “I don’t know why I dreamt about the orchard so much. Nothing really happened there. Nothing all that important, I mean,” (Morrison 2686).  Here, Twyla’s remark is a bit confusing and is indeed something to look at. As David Goldstein-Shirley says in his article “Race and Response: Toni Morrison’s ‘Recitatif’:”

This comment is most problematic. The entire narrative comprises Twyla’s recollections of past events. If, as readers naturally assume when reading a first-person account, the narrator is speaking to them in the present, then why would Twyla say that nothing really happened in the orchard? Telling a retrospective story, she ought to know that the incident with Maggie, which obsesses her throughout the story, is not only significant but crucial (Goldstein-Shirley).

Yes, as the audience progresses further and further into the story, they find that important events did take place in the orchard, and that Maggie’s humiliation, as well as their own, become a central theme to the story. When first discussing the orchard, Twyla describes it as having hundreds of apple trees and being “fat with flowers,” (Morrison 2686). They would watch the older, intimidating girls dance to the radio there. Twyla then describes a particular day when Maggie hurries through the orchard to catch her bus but falls, and all the older girls laugh at her. Twyla feels some sting of guilt as she ventures to say, “We should have helped her up, I know, but we were scared of those girls,” (Morrison 2686). Twyla realizes, here, the hierarchal power at St. Bonny’s and her own position in it. Twyla and Roberta were intimidated by and frightened of the older girls. Looking back on it, however, Twyla realizes the older girls were merely acting tough even though they were “poor little girls [who] fought their uncles off,” (Morrison 2686). At St. Bonny’s, the older girls group together to victimize Roberta, Twyla, and Maggie. Twyla and Roberta then victimize Maggie by calling her names because they fear being voiceless and powerless like Maggie. They identify themselves with the older, victimizing girls instead of coming to Maggie’s aid.

Twyla and Roberta are able to be victimizers because they have each other. They share the fact that their mothers have left them at St. Bonny’s, Twyla’s because she “danced all night and Roberta’s [because she] was sick” (Morrison 2685). Although each girl is lucky that her parents are not dead, both feel the pain of abandonment and this feeling becomes a key reason as to why the girls become so close despite their racial differences. Although the girls were very close at St. Bonny’s, Twyla describes their meeting again at a diner called, “Howard Johnson’s” as being much less warm. Their racial separation seems to be a much larger issue. When Roberta and Twyla later discuss their militant meeting, Roberta says, ‘‘Oh, Twyla, you know how it was in those days: black-white,” (Morrison 2693). In Newburgh, not only do the two women live in separate sections of a racially segregated community, but also they are of different socio-economic classes. Roberta married a wealthy man that worked with “computers and stuff,” and Twyla married a fireman (Morrison 2693).

When the town becomes divided because of the bussing controversy, the racial and economic differences between Twyla and Roberta become even more apparent. Twyla becomes an advocate for bussing while Roberta vehemently opposes it. Their disagreement over what exactly happened to Maggie is reflected in this public confrontation. Twyla begins to argue with Roberta while Roberta is picketing, and a large mass of people surround Twyla’s car and begin throwing rocks at it. Twyla responds to this aggressive action by saying:

Automatically I reached for Roberta, like in the old days in the orchard when [the older girls] saw us watching them and we had to get out of there, and if one of us fell the other pulled her up and if one of us was caught the other stayed to kick and scratch, and neither would leave the other behind. My arm shot out of the car window but no receiving hand was there (Morrison 2695).

At this point, Twyla identifies with the helpless feelings that Maggie had in the orchard that day. At St. Bonny’s, Twyla and Roberta were close friends because of their feelings of abandonment, but here, Roberta abandons Twyla. Because she gropes for Roberta’s hand only to find it not there, Twyla relates to the same humiliation that Maggie had in the orchard. Roberta then compares Twyla to one of “the big girls on the second floor” by telling Twyla that she is “the same little state kid who kicked a poor old black lady when she was down on the ground,” (Morrison 2686, 2695).

The hierarchies that existed back in the orchard at St. Bonny’s now exist in this historical, public scene. These hierarchies, however, are different. The power hierarchies in the orchard concern intimidation and powerlessness, but in the bussing scene, they concern race. Twyla had previously described Maggie as “sandy-colored,” so when Roberta described Maggie as being black, Twyla at once rejects this idea (Morrison 2686). This, however, can lead readers to question the validity of Twyla’s memory. “The problematic accusation also calls into question the completeness of Twyla’s storytelling,” (Goldstein-Shirley). Upon later thought, Twyla admits, “I actually couldn’t be certain. She wasn’t pitch-black, I knew, or I would have remembered that. What I remember was the kiddie hat, and the semicircle legs,” (Morrison 2697). Because Twyla was unsure of which race Maggie actually belonged to, it is obvious that race was not a factor in the St. Bonny’s orchard. “During their childhood, this bond conceal[ed] complications of race and class,” but now with where each of the women are in this tightly-knit community, race takes on a whole new meaning (Androne 136). Elizabeth Abel even says, “Roberta is skeptical about racial harmony.” Is it her overbearing mother’s fault for her abrupt discrimination, or was it her uprising in social class? Regardless, Maggie’s humiliating fall in the orchard begins to take on racial significance because of it.

At Twyla and Roberta’s last meeting at the diner where they run into each other, Roberta confesses to having lied about the two of them kicking Maggie when she was already down on the ground. Twyla had already concluded that she had not kicked Maggie like Roberta said but admits to having wanted to. Her wanting to kick Maggie when she was already down is due to the fact that Twyla connects Maggie with her mother. “Maggie was my dancing mother,” (Morrison 2697). “Twyla and Roberta revise their memories of Maggie in order to transfer their anxieties and anger toward their mothers onto her,” (Androne 134). Twyla connects her repressed hostility toward her irresponsible mother with the pity she had for Maggie. At the diner, Roberta concedes that she had also wanted to kick Maggie. She too identifies her feelings of abandonment with Maggie, comparing Maggie with her mother as well even though Roberta’s mother  is the opposite of Twyla’s mother, Mary. Moreover, both Twyla and Roberta identify themselves with Maggie. “I knew she wouldn’t scream, couldn’t—just like me—and I was glad about that,” says Twyla as she compares her own feelings of helplessness to Maggie’s (Morrison 2697).

The way in which Toni Morrison creates an inactive character such as Maggie, and turns her into a central symbol brings about interesting questions regarding the racial fissure that divides Roberta and Twyla. Through Maggie, the woman begin to release their tumultuous and repressed feelings of St. Bonny’s because of Mrs. Itkin, Twyla and Roberta’s caretaker, nicknamed Big Bozo, and their mothers’ neglect. By connecting themselves with Maggie, a woman they formerly suppressed, they gain a greater understanding of themselves, each other, and their racial differences. However, “What the hell happened to Maggie?” is still a lingering question on their minds (Morrison 2698). It is one that will never be answered, and the women will never be as complete as they would have been if they had not abandoned Maggie and eventually each other.

Works Cited

Abel, Elizabeth. ‘‘Black Writing, White Reading: Race and the Politics of Feminist Interpretation,’’ inCritical Inquiry, Spring, 1993, pp. 471–98.

Androne, Helane Adams. MELUS, Summer2007, Vol. 32 Issue 2, p133-150, 18

Revised Memories and Colliding Identities: Absence and Presence in Morrison’sRecitatif” and Viramontes’s “Tears on My Pillow.”.

Goldstein-Shirley, David. ‘‘Race and Response: Toni Morrison’s ‘Recitatif’,’’ in Short Story, Vol. 5, No. 1, Spring, 1997, pp. 77–86.

Morrison, Toni. “Recitatif.” The Norton Anthology of American Literature Volume E. 7th ed. Ed. Nina Baym. New York: Norton & Company, 2007. 2684-98.


Sunday Morning: A Modernist’s Perspective

Sunday Morning: A Modernist’s Perspective

*Published in The Fogdog Review Fall 2008

After World War II, the United States entered into an age of confusion, reformation, and reluctance to conform. Gertrude Stein, a patron of this time of conversion to modernity, called this era the “lost generation.” This modernist perspective even branched out to fiction writers who began experimentation with new literary techniques and concepts. “Sunday Morning” by Wallace Stevens, first published in 1915 by Poetry, introduced a new perspective on religion, specifically Christianity, by launching the new literary technique, imagery. Harriet Monroe, editor of the journal in which it was first published, made considerable changes to the draft before publishing it, as she omitted three of the poem’s eight stanzas and rearranged the remaining five. When Wallace Stevens republished his collection of works entitled Harmonium, he reinserted the three missing stanzas to give the poem back its true feeling of making religious worship “new.” Through his use of imagery, Wallace Stevens diverges from the traditional views in religious poetry by presenting ideas of worshipping those things that are impermanent instead of an iconic God.

Prior to the twentieth century, writers constructed their work to reflect the virtue of human stability and to characterize intelligible experiences. Most stories and novels had a clear and well defined conclusion or closure as plot conflicts were resolved and characters gained knowledge about themselves and the world around them. Religious poetry held true to Christian virtue and suggested conventional worship of Jesus Christ. “Sunday Morning” brought an audacious concept to light: reject traditional Christian worship and make a “heavenly fellowship” with nature (Stevens 102).

The poem itself seems to have two speakers presenting ideas that are at odds with one another. Stevens first presents this new idea of humanity unifying with nature in the first stanza as a contented woman sits at her breakfast table on a Sunday morning. She is enjoying her own company and the vividity of the nature around her instead of joining in the religious worship at church. Her complacent mood is characterized by the sunny chair and the freedom of the cockatoo that has been freed. However, the woman becomes somber as she realizes that this secular beauty of nature is not endless, and she now sees the once bright colors of the fruit and freedom of the parrot as “procession[s] of the dead” (Stevens 10).

The poem’s speaker then begins to talk, in some sense, to the woman as he questions her decision to leave behind the beauty of nature to find divinity in “shadows and in dreams” (Stevens 18). Stevens builds tension by giving the speaker a voice with a strikingly different opinion of religious worship than the woman. The speaker’s rejection of traditional worship gives the reader a real sense of whether worshipping the questioned existence of the Christian God is the best way to find peace on earth. The speaker believes it possible to find divinity in those things that are mortal and can decay. His use of imagery of the seasons shows the splendor of those things that change, which he believes should be just as worshipped as the Christian God. The speaker advises the woman to appreciate the transcendence of earth because it envelopes both the pleasures and pains of living. He believes that these will be “the measures destined for her soul” (Stevens 30).

The speaker continues by explaining how the ancient myths of religion are not allegories that human beings can comprehend because they are not conceivable in human reality. He connects the story of the Greek God Jove to Christ and exhorts that humans should find divinity in what is tangible and real, nature. The woman then refutes the speaker’s claim that nature can give her spiritual fulfillment. Though she experiences contentment when observing nature, she questions its ability to make her eternally happy when she says, “But when the birds are gone, and their warm fields/ Return no more, where, then, is paradise?” (Stevens 49-50). The speaker acknowledges that the nature is not permanent, but the woman can be forever happy with her immediate observance of the vividity of nature by accessing her memory. He compares this observance with the remarkably dark myths of Christianity, namely Christ’s crucifixion, and wonders how this image could possibly make her eternally happy. The woman again refutes his claims by stating the need for “some imperishable bliss” (Stevens 62). The speaker reasserts that she can only find bliss in what is impermanent. By saying that “Death is the mother of beauty,” the speaker is asserting that she can only have true satisfaction by appreciating the impermanent. The connection of death to human reality is not necessarily a pessimistic one because he means that divinity is only found in those things that are forever changing. The speaker draws upon youth to exemplify his point as he uses the image of nature as “new [ripening] plums and pears” and a young maiden growing older with love (Stevens 73). He continues his argument that death is the mother of beauty by describing heaven as having ripe fruit that never falls. He describes how the rivers never end by flowing into the sea. In contrast, “our perishing earth” is full of beginnings and endings that are painted with the rich tastes of plums and pears.

In Stanza VII, the speaker gives an alternative to conventional worship as he describes a pagan worship of the earth. Their chanting intends to be almost barbaric, as if they are returning to the original way of worship and devotion of nature. They are not worshiping a symbolic God, but nature in its entirety and everything impermanent. The woman, admitting that Jesus’ tomb had no correlation with mystical spirits, and only contained his body, frees herself of the restraints of her religion and seeks divinity in herself through nature.

The lost generation in a sense introduced poetry to imagery and allegories. Wallace Stevens uses two main clusters of imagery to illustrate his theme. He connects the natural world to the sun and its warmth which the woman enjoys at the beginning of the poem. He then uses the image of the sun in the pagan ritual to refer to the divinity of the natural world that the pagans seek as he describes their “boisterous devotion to the sun” (Stevens 93). He associates the vivid colors, the sweet smell of fruit, and the sounds of the pagans’ chant becoming unified with nature. Stevens then connects the absences of sound to Christianity, and its bereaved shadows are contrasted with the bright and vivid colors of the natural world. He reinforces the image of absence when the voice tells the woman that Jesus’ tomb contained only a body, suggesting Christianity to be a dead religion that cannot give eternal happiness.

This extensive use of imagery greatly reiterates Wallace Steven’s thematic point: Divinity can only be found in those things that are impermeable. Also, by putting the two imagery clusters against each other in contrasting light, he emphasizes a type of argument that creates tension. This religious context introduces a strikingly new viewpoint of traditional worship. The imagery makes the poem one of the most thematically sonorous poems of its time.

Work Cited

Stevens, Wallace. “Sunday Morning.” The Norton Anthology of American Literature Volume D. 7th ed. Ed. Nina Baym. New York: Norton & Company, 2007. 1443-6.

Tag Cloud