One of the most difficult concepts to grasp for most people is that of the unknown.
People deal with not knowing their future very differently, and sometimes similarly, however most of the time, ignorance plays a big factor in trying to understand the unknown. In Gabriel Marquez’s “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings,” people fall to greed when faced with uncertainty. In Bernard Malamud’s “Angel Levine”, the main character goes as far to question his faith because of the unknown. When the man with wings appears in “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings,” people are rightfully afraid and confused. The man appears dirty, old and sickly, with a giant pair of wings on his back. These people do not know who or what he is, leading to poor treatment. He is an outsider to their society, and usually when an outsider appears, it takes a little while for people to become acquainted and accepting of them.
They were not sure if he was an angel or not, and many people saw him as a freak show.
In order to capitalize on his very odd appearance, his “captors” made people pay to see the “angel” that had appeared in town. Their human greed got the best of them, and since they were not sure of what he was, they did not see anything wrong with treating him as an animal almost. Their fear of the unknown, or simple ignorance of what he was, led to mistreatment and abuse of his being.
In “Angel Levine”, the main character seeks aid for him and his sick wife, and is greeted with aid in human form; a Jewish black man, called Angel Levine. The protagonist, Manischevitz, refuses help and is angry that he did not receive aid in the form of a white man.
Eventually, the protagonist realizes that the spirit of goodness is in all people, regardless of color or religion, and Manischevitz is helped. Because of this realization of Levine being an angel even though it wasn’t in the form of what he expected, Levine gains his angel wings. Manischevitz’s initial fear of not knowing who Levine was, or if he was real, almost led him to a life of misery and losing the help that was sent to him. This shows that when people are living in either ignorance, discrimination, and can’t tell the unknown, they give up potential opportunities of goodness. Once people realize that not everything is what they initially seem, their lives will be much fuller in all ways.
Both of these stories illustrate that people faced with the unknown normally fear it; but they can react in two ways, either live in the ignorance, like in Marquez’s piece, or they can work to figure out how to change it, like in Malamud’s piece. Therefore, it is important to not treat people and concepts that aren’t initially understood as bad and evil like the man with wings, but to learn to accept and understand them like Manischevitz did with Angel Levine. The theme of gender is extremely prevalent in both “Hills Like White Elephants” by Ernest Hemingway, and “My Last Duchess” by Robert Browning. In both of these instances, the main characters in both stories revolve around powerful men in one way or another. For the Duke, his world revolves around power; and at this time, power of such royal status could only be obtained by a man.
In “Hills Like White Elephants”, a couple is debating the possibility of the woman receiving an abortion for an accidental pregnancy. However, throughout the short story, it is very apparent how the man’s tone changes and affects his girlfriend. In “My Last Duchess,” the Duke is extremely sensitive and jealous of the way his late wife paid attention to other people. As a powerful man in charge, he believed that he was the only person, especially the only man, that the Duchess should be able to pay attention to. Thus, when “she liked whate’er/She looked on, and her looks went everywhere,” the Duke was extremely offended, for he was supposed to be the “favor at her breast.” He found it quite offensive that she interacted and spoke with other men when she was married to a man of such great power and status; that she would never have to speak to someone else. He felt that his “gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name” should have been taken with pride and gratitude.
It disgusted him that she could ever give attention to someone that was not him. He believed that women, especially wives, deserved to be domestically dominated, the same way servants must follow orders; any sign of kindness or joy was a threat to his power as a man.Therefore, after she died, possibly at his doing, he found her very dispensable. Because of his gender, he felt that women were disposable and easily replaced, therefore he would be able to easily find his next duchess. Similarly, in “Hills Like White Elephants,” the American Man is sure to make his opinions known about his girlfriend’s possible abortion. It is quite shocking how he acts and speaks to his girlfriend about such an important and frightening topic, that would change their lives forever. Clearly, the reader is able to tell that the girlfriend is very upset and worried about the possibility of becoming a mother, and rightfully so. However, her boyfriend is very insensitive to her feelings when speaking of the abortion: “ really not anything. It’s just to let the air in.”
The way that he speaks of a life-altering operation is definitely an interesting choice in diction when referring to the abortion his pregnant girlfriend may have to have. I think the way that this man talks to his girlfriend is a clear sign of a man that definitely views himself as the dominant hand in the relationship. He is not nearly as high-strung as the Duke in the previously mentioned story, but I think that their genders definitely play a role. In a situation where the man has no idea what it is like to be pregnant and have to be the one having the abortion, the man has a very strong, ignorant, and somewhat arrogant opinion of what his girlfriend should do. In both stories, the male characters feel that their opinions and needs are more important than the women’s; a classic tale of gender inequalities that have been seen through many years of history and literature.
The relationship between a parent and child is one of the world’s most complex and variating ideas to grasp, specifically that between a father and son. These relationships and their multiple forms of existence are shown in poems “On My First Son” by Ben Johnson, “My Papa’s Waltz” by Theodore Roethke, and “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night” by Dylan Thomas. Their illustrations of father-son relationships range from complex, possibly abusive, and tragic; however the common thread always comes back to the love a father and son share for one another. The most somber of these three works, “On My First Son,” illustrates the tragedy that comes with the loss of a child, especially a father who has lost a son. The poem begins with the father saying goodbye to his late son: “Farewell, thou child of my right hand, and joy…” The father mourns his son, yet also envies him for now having escaped the pains that life brings.
The author blames himself for his child’s death, and scorns himself for caring too much about the things he may lose in life, like his child. The immense pain the reader illustrates how a father can or cannot go on after the loss of a child. In this case, it seems that the author feels that he cannot even be a father once his son has died; that his entire identity relied on his being a father and the relationship with his son, which was taken from him. A more complicated illustration of a father-son relationship comes in “My Papa’s Waltz,” a poem that sparked much controversy regarding if it was a normal family scene or that filled with alcoholism and abuse. While some believe this poem depicts a completely happy family dynamic, others see this as a picture of an abusive father and son.
Some lines such as “The hand that held my wrist/Was battered on one knuckle;/At every step you missed/My right ear scraped a buckle,” sound that they could be interpreted as domestic abuse. Even though the reader cannot be sure if there is abuse present or not, there is definitely a problem with alcohol, which may instill fear in the boy, and his mother, making her unable to step in. This poem shows the complexity of father-son relationships, in the sense that the boy loves his father and enjoys his company, however alcohol and possible abuse make their interactions tense. Since the boy only knows the guidance that his father brings, he has no choice but to love him.
Throughout the entirety of “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night,” the reader exclaims that anyone facing the end of their lives should go out fighting, and in a blaze of glory. He believes that no one should leave the world without trying their hardest to stay, angry that they must face death in the first place. Towards the end of this poem, the reader learns that the author’s feelings are so strong because his own father is dying. This shows a different aspect of a father-son dynamic, because the father is weak, and the son must offer advice in a very vulnerable state – the opposite of the normal scene of the father helping his son. The son cannot stand to see his father pass, and just wants him to try his best to fight, even though he knows that he can’t. All of these poems show a great deal of suffering and pain through father-son relationships, however I think the love these fathers and sons have for one another is very apparent, just in different ways.