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English – Discuss how emotions are portrayed in three literary texts

Discuss how emotions are portrayed in three literary texts


Discuss how emotions are portrayed in three literary texts

Of Mice and Men

Of Mice and Men

A comparison of three modern literary texts, Chapter 4 from “Of Mice and Men” by John Steinbeck, the poem “Havisham” by Carol Duffy and the Alan Bennett monologue “A Cream Cracker Under The Settee” from the context of how the authors have portrayed the emotions of their characters to the reader.

Throughout each of these three literary texts a theme like a thread runs through each of them. These three texts share common themes, for recurring in all three texts are the emotions of the characters, their loneliness, bitterness, anger and frustration.

Firstly, considering the emotion of loneliness and the poem “Havisham” the emotion is best represented here in the lines “…Whole days / in bed cawing Nooooo at the wall…” and again “…Puce curses that are sounds not words…” The cawing at the wall tells us she has no one to talk to about her emotions, of her anger and frustration except to the wall and then from the line “…Puce curses…” that she utters are for her own ears as there is no one else to hear them. Rejected at the alter Havisham turns inwards creating her own world full of bitterness, anger and frustration all of which means that she would be unable to form a normal relationship with anyone, all factors leading to this incredible loneliness. Finally, it would also seem that Havisham lives virtually in isolation a “Spinster.” subsequently adding to her loneliness.

Cream Cracker - Thora Hird

Cream Cracker - Thora Hird

The theme of loneliness also runs like a thread through the play “A Cream Cracker Under The Settee” there are several references to how lonely Doris feels, the most telling are the conversations she has with her dead husbands through his picture “ …Now, Wilfred. / I can nip this leg and nothing…” and again “…Come on, Dad…” She also mentions that she no longer has contact with her neighbours’ “…Folks opposite, I don’t know them…” Then again with the loss of her only child in childbirth “…If it had lived I might have had grandchildren by now…”

There are many similarities with the Havisham poem and the characters they portray, for instance both women have no one, Doris’s husband died and Havisham future husband left her, they both have no close family and have since formed no real relationships. Therefore they both appear to share many of the same emotions of loneliness, frustration and bitterness.

Loneliness is also a recurring theme in ‘Of Mice and Men’ the author John Steinbeck returns to this emotion throughout the book, in which the majority of the characters share this emotion of loneliness the only exception being Lennie whose innocence gives him some immunity from feeling lonely. But he does experience loneliness once in the book and only temporarily when George goes into town with the other farm workers leaving Lennie behind. George similarly is the only other character in the book to not feel lonely as he has his best friend Lennie, but of course this comes to him after he is forced to shoot his best friend Lennie in the final chapter of the book.

Looking at each of the characters in turn we are able to see this recurring theme of loneliness. Crooks, lives in enforced solitude because of his disability and because he is black “…a back busted nigger…” For in this time and in the location that this novella is set, in 1930’s America and at the height of ‘The Great Depression’ segregation existed and white and black people did not mix by law. Crooks the sole black person of the farm has no one to talk to. He has no friends and all the other ranch workers automatically avoid conversing with him beyond what is necessary to their jobs.

“A guy goes nuts if he ain’t got nobody, Don’t make no difference who the guy is, long’s he’s with you. …I tell ya a guy gets too lonely, an’ he gets sick”

Crooks describes how lonely a guy can get and infers that it can effect their mental health “…a guy gets too lonely, an’ he gets sick” this can also be directly related to the subjective mental state of Havisham, whose loneliness in combination with her bitterness have certainly effected her mental well being.

Candy is feeling particularly lonely since the recent loss of his dog. The dog was Candy’s only companion and even though the dog was old and sickly he delayed the inevitable rather than lose his companion. After losing his dog Candy then seeks out Lennie just to have someone to talk to, for instance Crooks said “That you Slim? He called. Candy’s voice answered. Slim went into town. Say, you seen Lennie?”from this we can infer that Candy is so lonely that he feels the need to seek out Lennie for someone to talk to. Also from this quotation we are able to infer that even Lennie’s companionship is preferable to Crooks, due entirely to segregation, that is white and black do not mix. Candy also seeks out the companionship that Lennie and George has and is very keen to share in their dream of owning land, a farm that they can call their own, Candy imagines himself working on the farm and with Lennie and George and also hopes to have the companionship that he does not now have since losing his dog.

George and Lennie - Of Mice and Men

George and Lennie - Of Mice and Men

Curley’s wife is obviously lonely, seeking out the companionship of the other men on the Ranch using the excuse of looking for he husband Curley while all she really wants is to be able to talk to someone other than her husband. For her husband Curley does not really love her and there are no other women on the ranch that she can associate with and so she tries to interact with the other men on the ranch. For example in the novel she says to Lennie “…I get lonely. You can talk to people, but I can’t talk to nobody but Curley. Else he gets mad. How’d you like not to talk to anybody?” This is probably why she goes out to the barn where Crooks, Candy and Lennie are, having been left behind while the rest of the ranch’s men have gone into town. For she must have known that Curley would not be in the barn, she would have assumed that Curley would have gone into Town with the rest of the men. The rest of the men on the ranch are careful not to associate with Curley’s wife even to the point of avoiding talking to her as they know that Curley the bosses’ son would not like it. For Curley could therefore get them sacked from the ranch, returning them back into the large migratory and mainly unemployed workforce always looking for the next days employment and so they effective isolate her just to protect what they have. It is this enforced isolation that drives Curley wife to seek out the other men on the ranch at every opportunity just to have someone to talk to.

Of Mice and Men - Lenny and Curleys Wife

Of Mice and Men - Lennie and Curley's Wife

Further more, it is at this gathering in Crooks room that the main characters depicted in the novel of being the loneliest meet. Each feels that they have been deserted by the others who have gone into town and so they have independently gravitated to the barn and then inside Crooks room seeking companionship, or just someone to talk to. Each of them feels outcast from the other workers on the ranch for one reason or another. But even though they should have little in common with each other for they are separated from each other by a number of reasons for example their sex, their colour, age or combination of these, together they share this common emotion of loneliness and so rather than be lonely they discard their differences temporarily and seek each other out.

As the chapter plays out these differences resurface when Crooks asks Curley’s wife to leave “…You got no rights comin’ in a colored man’s room. You got no rights messing around in here at all. Now you jus’ get out, an’ quick…” and Curley’s wife responds “Listen, Nigger” she said. “You know what I can do to you if you open your trap?” this exchange of words causes each character to remind themselves of their differences and so the brief period of companionship, the respite from their mutual loneliness is over as they leave Crooks to be once more alone in his room. This completes the cycle for this section of the novella. Crooks is alone as usual in his room at the beginning of this section and is once again alone at the sections end as each of the other protagonists leave his room. This is an example of how the author has structured the text using these cycles to reinforce the message of loneliness to the reader.

Havisham and Pip - Great Expectations

Havisham and Pip - Great Expectations

Bitterness is strongly represented in the ‘Havisham’ poem in just the first few lines of the first stanza “…I haven’t wished him dead. Prayed for it / so hard I’ve dark eyes for pebbles…” the omission of words from this line (ellipsis) could be “A day has not passed by that she did not wish him dead”. Havisham is very single minded in her desire to see him dead in fact she “Prayed for it”. Her bitterness turned to hate, the anger and frustration at being unable to extract her revenge on her bridegroom becoming hatred for all men “Give me a male corpse for a long slow honeymoon”.

The bitterness that Doris feels as she approaches the autumn that is, symbolism for the final years of her life and still with all her plans remaining unfilled including those for a family. “If it had lived I might have had grandchildren now. Wouldn’t have been in this fix. Daughters are best. They don’t migrate”. The audience will almost certainly feel that Doris’s life is full of regrets’ and feel, that is emphasise with her and share in her pain over the loss of her child. But this may change when Doris plans her revenge on Zulema.

Doris is bitter about the treatment of the elderly, the ever present threat overhanging Doris the threat of her being institutionalised by a report from her carer Zulema in recommending that Doris be placed into ‘Stafford House’ for her own safety a care home for the elderly.  Zulema says “I have to report on you. The welfare say to me every time, “Well, Zulema, how is she coping? Wouldn’t she be better off in Stafford House?” Doris’s bitterness turns to revenge as she finds the focus and title of the story a cream cracker under the sofa and plots her carers demise by getting her sacked from her job.

“I’m going to save that cream cracker and show it her next time she starts going on about Stafford House. I’ll say, ‘Don’t Stafford House me, lady. This cream cracker was under the settee. I’ve only got to send this cream cracker to the Director of Social Services and you’ll be on the carpet. Same as the cream cracker. I’ll be in Stafford House, Zulema, but you’ll be in the Unemployment Exchange.”

Audience sympathy felt for Doris, this poor old lady who’s had a difficult life with the loss of her child and the predicament she has now found herself in, may well switch from being one of sympathy to one of abhorrence as Doris plots her revenge on Zulema.  Doris’s bitterness is further explored as she recounts her impression of the people who she imagines inhabits a care home like Stafford House. Linking what she thinks are the old fashioned names of the elderly inhabitants she expects to see in the care home, at the same time imagining herself in the same light and in the care home as her own name Doris fills the requirement.

Cream Cracker - Doris collapsed on the floor

Cream Cracker - Doris collapsed on the floor

“…They don’t get called Doris now. They don’t get called Wilfred. Museum, names like that. That’s what they’re all called in Stafford House. Alice and Doris. Mabel and Gladys. Antiques. Keep them under lock and key. ‘What’s your name? Doris? Right. Pack your case. You belong in Stafford House.’

A home. Not me. No Fear…”

The theme of bitterness, frustration and anger continue through to the end as Doris mentally gives up on what has become the struggle that is life and with the final words given in bitterness, anger, frustration and possibly with relief. “…Never mind. It’s done with now, anyway…” This is also portrayed to the audience through the staging of the play; the opening scene starts off in lightness with the final scene fading to a blackout.

In ‘Of Mice and Men’ Crooks appears the most bitter. His bitterness stems from his position in American society, in this time of segregation his colour and race alienates him from the predominant white society. His bitterness quickly turns to frustration and anger when he speaks to Lennie in his room “This is just a nigger talkin’, an a busted-back nigger. So it don’t mean nothing, see

Crooks clearly feels that he has either a low or no position in society and his negative emotions overflow with bitterness, anger and frustration. He tries to seek some personal revenge on society by attacking Lennie’s trust in George with the words “I said s’pose George went into town tonight and you never heard of him no more.” Crooks pressed forward some kind of private victory. “Just s’pose that,” he repeated.

Candy’s bitterness stems from his passiveness, unable to take the lead, assume and independent position due to his age and his relatively lowly position on the ranch as a swamper. This combined with his disability which prevents him from full acceptance by the other men on the ranch, making him seem to be a lesser person in both their and his own eyes. This is a sign of the times, a less tolerant society than we have now, where the disabled, non whites and women were seen as second class citizens. Candy briefly breaks free from his passiveness when he becomes part of Lennie and George’s dream of owning their land. This is expressed most clearly when he confronts Curley’s wife initially.

Of Mice and Men - Lennie being restrained

Of Mice and Men - Lennie being restrained - crushing Curley's hand.

“…He was the master of the situation. “I might of knew.” He said gently. “Maybe you just better get along an’ roll your hoop. We ain’t got nothing to say to you at all. We know what we got, and we don’t care whether you know it or not. So maybe you jus’ scatter along now, cause Curley maybe ain’t gonna like his wife out in the barn with us “bindle stiffs.’.

Once more Candy asserts his recently re-acquired self esteem while demanding Curley’s wife to go from Crook’s room. “You better go home now,” he said quietly. “If you go right now, we won’t tell Curley you was here.”

Curley’s wife’s bitterness however stems from what she perceives was her missed opportunity to be an actor in Hollywood Films, which she believes would have become true had her mother not prevented her doing so. “…I tell ya I could of went with shows. Not jus’ one neither. An’ a guy tol’ me he could put me in pitchers…” She is also bitter because of her enforced loneliness, which is caused by Curley forbidding her from talking to the other men on the ranch. She is frustrated in her attempts to talk to the other men of the ranch by the men themselves who know that Curley does not want them to talk to her. He backs this up by threatening them with his boxing prowess or the threat to their job should they disobey his demands.

In conclusion the authors for all three literary texts have employed a variety of literary techniques in expressing the emotions of the characters they have portrayed. The shared themes of the emotion of loneliness either expressed through the loss of a loved one for example by death or betrayal. The shared themes for the emotions bitterness and frustration from still being alive while a partner is not, as in Doris in the ‘Cream Cracker’, for Candy in his old age, Crooks as an outcast or the loneliness as described in Havisham from being jilted, left alone while the betrayer still seemingly enjoying life possibly with another. The themes were revisited again and again particularly in ‘Of Mice and Men’ emphasising the loneliness of the protagonists and also providing a humanising face to the troubled America of those times, with its drifting, lonely workforce travelling across America in search of the next employment.

The structure of each of the texts also has bearing on audience or a reader’s consumption. For example in the monologue ‘Cream Cracker’ which was produced as a play for television the audience is drawn into the idea that as the staging of the play follows the days cycle from morning to night and the light level drops towards blackout, it also seems to parallel Doris’s life as if her life is coming to an end as the day passes into night. Another example is in the cycles of loneliness as employed by John Steinbeck in ‘Of Mice and Men’ as the protagonists’ start out lonely and are then returned to their loneliness as dreams fade.

Miss Havisham - Charles Dickens novel Great Expectations

Miss Havisham - Charles Dickens novel Great Expectations

Finally, in the ‘Havisham’ poem each of the stanzas assumes a different significance to the reader. For example the first stanza appears to be full of bitterness, the second, loss and denial, the third love and eroticism turning to violence and the fourth stanza is for revenge. The reader is drawn through all her emotions from being jilted at the wedding “Beloved sweetheart bastard” the loss turning to bitterness and then hatred and finally to her craving to enact physical revenge on all males “…Give me a male corpse for a long slow honeymoon…”

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