The Woman and Her Swan: The Connection Between Mothers and Daughters As Seen in The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan

The Woman and Her Swan:
The Connection Between Mothers and Daughters
As Seen in The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan


“I wanted everything for you to be better. I wanted you to have the best circumstances, the best character. I didn’t want you to regret anything. And that’s why I named you Waverly. It was the name of the street we lived on. And I wanted you to think, This is where I belong. But I also knew if I named you after this street, soon you would grow up, leave this place, and take a piece of me with you.” (433)

This is what Mrs Lindo Jong, Waverly’s mother, says in The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan, in a chaptered titled “Double Face.” All of the mothers in The Joy Luck Club – Suyuan Woo, An-mei Hsu, Lindo Jong, and Ying-Ying St. Clair – want the same thing: they want their daughters to have much better lives that their own. Unfortunately, the daughters – Jing-mei Woo, Waverly Jong, Rose Hsu Jordan, and Lena St. Clair – do not understand these motives of their mothers, just as they do not fully understand who their mothers had been before they became mothers. There had been lives, dreams, and family members left behind, and yet, the women do not find the time or the opportunity to tell their daughters about themselves. In the end, the daughters find out some things they knew about their mothers, but they do not completely come to understand the individual people that their mothers had been. But it is an impossible question to be fully answered: What is the right way to be a mother? What is the right way to be a daughter?

While we may never know the “right” answer to these questions, it seems that mothers and daughters have built-in instincts to try to look after each other and to save each other. For example, An-Mei Hsu remembers her mother who, after her first husband’s death, had married a rich merchant, only to be shunned by her family and to live an unhappy life. However, when she learns that her mother is ill, she comes back home to find that her mother is near death. This is when An-Mei sees a side of her mother that she will remember forever. She recounts:
I saw my mother on the other side of the room. Quiet and sad. She was cooking a soup, pouring herbs and medicines into the steaming pot. And then I saw her pull up her sleeve and pull out a sharp knife. She put this knife on the softest part of her arm. I tried to close my eyes, but could not. And then my mother cut a piece of meat from her arm. Tears poured from her face and blood spilled to the floor. My mother took her flesh and put it in the soup. She cooked magic in the ancient tradition to try to cure her mother this one last time… (78)
Even though her family had shunned her for her actions, An-Mei’s mother still comes back and does the best she can to help restore her mother. It is not just mothers who are willing to sacrifice themselves to save their children. Their children are also willing to sacrifice themselves to save their parents. An-Mei continues:
Even though I was young, I could see the pain of the flesh and the worth of the pain. This is how a daughter honors her mother. It is shou so deep it is in your bones. The pain of the flesh is nothing. The pain you must forget. Because sometimes that is the only way to remember what is in your bones. You must peel off your skin, and that of your mother, and her mother before her. Until there is nothing. No scar, no skin, no flesh. (79)
To remember what is in our bones, we must peel off our skin, and that of our mother, and her mother before her. Until there is nothing, no scar, no skin, no flesh. This is the inevitable bond between mothers and daughters.

Mothers leave a mark on their daughters, and their daughters carry it until the end of their lives, when they pass it off to their own daughters. Jing-Mei Woo’s mother had to flee China because the Japanese were invading. She had to leave behind her house, her friends, and her two babies. However, for Jing-Mei, the story feels distant. Her mother would tell her the story during her spare time, when she would unravel a story so she could knit. Remembering these times, Jing-Mei says of her mother, “…as she began to roll with one sweeping rhythm, she would start her story. Over the years, she told me the same story, except for the ending, which grew darker, casting long shadows into her life, and eventually into mine” (31). No matter how much mothers want their daughters to have happier and better lives, they have to realize that their daughters lives cannot be completely different from the ones they experienced. Mothers and daughters have strong connections, and this can show on their facial features, personal characteristics, eccentric habits, etc. Therefore, when the mothers’ stories end, their daughters pick up the thread. Even though Suyuan Woo and her daughter may not realize, their stories share more similarities than differences.

In closing thought, in “Queen Mother of the Western Skies,” a woman says to the Queen, “O! O! You say you are laughing because you have already lived forever; over and over again?…Then you must teach my daughter this same lesson. How to lose your innocence but not your hope. How to laugh forever” (347). It seems to be a never-ending question for mothers: How to guide their daughters so they can live a life of happiness. Do daughters have more choices than their mothers in happiness?


<Works Cited>

Tan, Amy. The Joy Luck Club. Electronic Reproduction, Penguin Books, 2006,


“A Nightingale’s Song”

“A Nightingale’s Song”
The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

(*Minor Spoiler Alert*)

“I hope you never know how fragile you are, Isabelle.”
“I’m not fragile,” she said.
The smile he gave her was barely one at all. “We are all fragile, Isabelle.” (199)

The conversation above is between Isabelle Rossignol and her father, Julien Rossignol, who, after his return from the Great War, and after his wife’s death, has never been the same.

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah is about many things – it’s about WWII and how it broke families and individuals, as they witnessed the deaths of many of their loved ones. It’s about how the war changed relationships between friends, neighbors, parents, and children. Mostly, this book is about the bond between two sisters, Vianne and Isabelle Rossignol and how they risk their lives to keep what is rightfully theirs. Vianne and Isabelle assume that they would have a lifetime to fight with each other, misunderstand each other, to feel regret afterwards, and to still love each other through it all as sisters. However, all of this turn out to be luxuries they cannot afford once WWII begins. The Second World War brings Isabelle, Vianne, and their father back together as family, but it does not allow them time to tell each other what they weren’t able to say before – that they loved each other despite everything, and that they forgive each other.

Isabelle thinks:
“Why hadn’t she told them she loved them every day when she had the chance? And now she would die without ever saying a word to Vianne. Vianne, she thought. Only that. The name. Part prayer, part regret, part good-bye” (363).

Vianne thinks:
“The regret she felt was immense, as was the guilt. What had her last words to her sister been? Don’t come back” (366).

Sisters say things all the time. Sometimes what one sister says to the other can leave a scar, but the same sister comes back to heal the wound. That’s what sisters do. Isabelle and Vianne reminded me of myself and my sister, and it scared me to imagine what they must have felt when they realized there wasn’t any time.

Despite of everything that the war brings, those who manage to survive manage to live through the rest of their lives, while holding on to their memories of the people they have lost. As one of her characters state in the novel, Kristin Hannah’s novel shows that, “Wounds heal. Love lasts. We remain” (438).


<Works Cited>
Hannah, Kristin. The Nightingale. St. Martins Press, 2015.

“Beloved, You Are Mine”: The Unbreakable Bond Between Mothers and Daughters As Seen in Beloved by Toni Morrison

“Beloved, You Are Mine”:
The Unbreakable Bond Between Mothers and Daughters As Seen in Beloved by Toni Morrison


Beloved by Toni Morrison tell the story of three women – Sethe, Denver, and Beloved. Sethe is a wounded woman. In order to prevent her daughter from experiencing slavery, she decides to end her daughter’s life. It is a decision that only mothers may be able to understand. This decision haunts Sethe, and prevents her from understanding that, whereas Beloved is dead, Denver is still alive. Showing the interesting relationships between mother and her dead daughter, and mother and her daughter who is still alive, Beloved shows the powerful connection that exists between mother and her daughters, as well as between sisters.

Living with her mother and the baby’s ghost in 124, Denver is lonely. Her mother is occupied with the thought of her dead daughter that she does not have enough energy left to pay attention to her daughter who is still alive. At one point, Denver tells Sethe, “I can’t no more. I can’t no more” (14). When Sethe asks, “Can’t what? What can’t you?” Denver says, “I can’t live here. I don’t know where to go or what to do, but I can’t live here. Nobody speaks to us. Nobody comes by. Boys don’t like me. Girls don’t either” (14). Girls and boys do not talk to Denver because they know Denver’s mother was in prison once, and they know why. Denver also learns that Denver herself had been in prison with her mother when she was only a baby. With her mother who refuses to look at her “[a]s though the size of it was more than vision could bear” (14), and her own fear that her mother may do to her what she did to her sister, Denver is terribly lonely all the time.

Can a mother’s love be powerful enough to kill her daughter? When Sethe killed Beloved, she killed a huge part of herself. No one relationship between mothers and daughters will be the same, and for Sethe’s case – who grew up in slavery – there may be too many risks for mothers and daughters to be able to have a “normal” relationship. Regardless, Sethe loved her daughter fiercely, even if her decision may not be completely understandable for readers.

What Denver needs to realize is that her mother loves her, too. She may not be able to see that because she may not realize that her mother loves both her and her sister, but in different ways. Paul D thinks this is risky. He thinks:

[f]or a used-to-be-slave woman to love anything that much was dangerous, especially if it was her children she had settled on to love. The best thing, he knew, was to love just a little bit; everything, just a little bit, so when they broke its back, or shoved it in a croaker sack, well, maybe [she]’d have a little love left over for the next one… (43)

Paul D believes it is in Sethe’s best interests to spare her love for her children, so that she can save herself a little bit when her children are taken away from her. However, Sethe feels differently about the meaning of motherhood. When Paul D reminds her that Denver is a grown child, Sethe tells him, “I don’t care what she is. Grown don’t mean nothing to a mother. A child is a child. They get bigger, older, but grown? What’s that supposed to mean? In my heart it don’t mean a thing” (43). Even when Paul D reminds her that she cannot protect Denver forever, Sethe says “I’ll protect her while I’m live and I’ll protect her when I ain’t” (43). For Sethe, motherhood means not just loving her children. It also means protecting them for as long as she can.

Whether it was from Sethe’s fierce love and regret, or Beloved’s fierce love and regret for what happened, Beloved does come back to her mother. This shows that there is an unbreakable bond between mothers and daughters. Sethe’s pain and suffering is shown when she confesses that “didn’t have the time to explain before because it had to be done quick” (200). However, she believes, or wants to believe, that Beloved had come back to her of her own free will.

Towards the end of the novel, all three women – Denver, Sethe, and Beloved – speak, even though it’s not clear who is saying which part, or whether they are all speaking in unison:

You are my sister
You are my daughter
You are my face; you are me
I have found you again; you have come back to me
You are my Beloved
You are mine
You are mine
You are mine. (216)

All mothers are mothers, daughters and sisters. All daughters are mothers, daughters and sisters. The connection between mothers and daughters are powerful, unbreakable, and eternal. Even if circumstances in life prevent them from living peaceful lives, they find each other again. As shown in Beloved, the relationship between mothers and daughters are such that they will always love, protect, and ache for each other.



<Works Cited>
Morrison, Toni. Beloved a Novel. Vintage International, 2004.

A Snow-Covered Dublin: “The Dubliners” by James Joyce

A Snow-Covered Dublin:
The Dubliners” by James Joyce

The “Dubliners” is a story of 20th century Dublin, Ireland. Through the short stories, James Joyce shows the struggles that the Dubliners face, starting from “The Sisters” where a boy learns of the death of Reverend James Flynn, to “Eveline” where she tries to run away with a man she loves, all the way to the end of the last story, “The Dead,” where snow falls to cover both the living and the dead.

In “Eveline,” Eveline makes the decision to run away with her lover, Frank, whom her father does not approve of. Frank decides that the answer is for Eveline and him to run away to Buenos Aires. The boat is ready, and all she and Frank have to do is get on it. However, the inner turmoil within Eveline grows, and while she understands that “…she wanted to live,” and that “[s]he had a right to happiness” (23) she is still filled with terror. At the same time, she tells herself that “Frank would save her,” and that “[h]e would give her life, perhaps love, too” (23). And while the moment has come for her to make her escape, she cannot decide. In the end, she watches as her lover yells her name while being led away from her by the boat. As she watches Frank, who is desperately calling out her name, there is no recognition in her eyes. Even though it is unfortunate Eveline was unable to make an escape, at the same time, I wonder if her life would have been any better if she had succeeded in running away with Frank. Who would not have felt the same as Eveline? The struggles, fears and doubts that Evelin’s story shows is a story that many women can relate to.

In the end, the stories come to a close as the narrator describes how the whole of Ireland is covered by snow. I thought it was interesting that Joyce titled this last story “The Dead,” while hinting that this snow could represent a cycle of the lives of people in Dublin. As Gabriel falls asleep next to his wife whom he no longer knows, he reflects on what he sees:

Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland…It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead. (152)

My first question is, does the snow mean that everyone is cleansed, no matter what they have done, or been through, and that they can start a new beginning? Is everyone forgiven for their wrongs and their mistakes? My second question is, does the snow suggest renewal? The snow does more than just connect the dead and the living of Dublin, Ireland. It also connects the stories of Dubliners to the stories of readers’ and their worlds. The everyday struggles, fears, frustrations and regrets felt in the stories of “Dubliners” are important elements that still continue to make up our world today. Through the characters in “Dubliners,” I can easily see the faces of the people around me.

In “Dubliners,” Joyce captures the people of Dublin, Ireland, at their most intimate levels, revealing so much about their lives in a short amount of time. Even though it is a work of fiction, it still teaches readers about 20th century Dublin and its people. It also lets readers know that people will always struggle in their everyday world, no matter who they are and where they are, and that the world will go on the way it does. And surprisingly, the struggles that people deal with in “Dubliners” are similar to the struggles people face today. By sharing the stories of Dubliners, Joyce allows readers to understand not only the lives of its characters, their thoughts, and actions, but also allows readers to question what has changed from 20th century society to today’s society.


<Works Cited>
Joyce, James. Dubliners. New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1991. Print.

“Take It Slow, Romeo”: Learning from Friar Lawrence’s Advice in Romeo and Juliet by Shakespeare

“Take It Slow, Romeo”:
Learning from Friar Lawrence’s Advice in Romeo and Juliet by Shakespeare

Shakespeare’s play, Romeo and Juliet, holds an important place in our culture today. The unfortunate story of the two young lovers have been performed, made into movies, and they are still being read and discussed in classes today. The movie edition of Romeo and Juliet by Franco Zeffirelli (1968) stays closely to the setting of the play of 16th century Verona (even though it may never be known exactly how Shakespeare wanted his play to be performed). The movie also emphasizes the bawdy comedy of the play, as well as the tragic end that Romeo and Juliet meet due to their families’ never-ending feud. Because the play contains many universal messages, the setting of the play could be altered to speak to different bodies of audiences. One of these important messages from the play is that one should not act to quickly. One needs to think carefully before taking action.

One of the many prominent themes of the play is love – specifically, falling too quickly in love. It is true that the two families’ stubborn unwillingness to end their feud leads to the deaths of the Montague’s only son, and the Capulet’s only daughter. However, it is also true that Romeo and Juliet fall in love instantly. When Romeo asks Friar Lawrence to marry him and Juliet right away, Friar Lawrence is surprised to hear that Romeo has gotten over his love for Rosaline so quickly. Nevertheless, he agrees to help with Romeo and Juliet’s marriage, in hope that this will help end the two families’ feud. Unfortunately, this is only Friar Lawrence’s hope, and all Romeo hears is a ‘yes.’ And as soon as he does, he is eager to get out of Friar Lawrence’s cell. Even when Friar Lawrence tells him, “Go wisely and slowly. Those who rush stumble and fall” (2.3.101), it only goes in Romeo’s one ear and out the other. If Romeo and Juliet had considered Friar Lawrence’s message, maybe it could have warned them about the consequences of their marriage would have on both their families. Or maybe not, since they were too blinded by love to ever truly consider anything else.

It is important to always take things one step at a time. Friar Lawrence says to Romeo, “…love moderately. Long love doth so./ Too swift arrives as tardy as too slow” (2.6.14-2.6.15). Here, he explains the importance of being moderate by describing the dangers of being too fast or too slow. This advice is not solely relevant to Romeo and Juliet. This is an important message that all of us could benefit from. I wonder if Romeo and Juliet’s story could have turned out differently if they had taken things a bit slower. At the same time, I realize that it had been Romeo and Juliet’s fate to live and die as “star-crossed lovers” (Prologue, line 6) and that they would have met a tragic end, no matter what.

Even though Shakespeare set the story in 16th century Verona, the story of Romeo and Juliet continues to speak to us today. The play’s messages concern love, family feuds, reputation, and fate. These are important aspects of society that continue to influence our lives. And as we read or watch a performance of the play, maybe we ourselves should consider Friar Lawrence’s message: To take things neither too quickly nor too slowly, but to take things one step at a time.



<Works Cited>

Folger Shakespeare Library. Romeo and Juliet from Folger Digital Texts. Ed. Barbara Mowat, Paul Werstine, Michael Poston, and Rebecca Niles. Folger Shakespeare Library, 24 November, 2017.

Shakespeare, William, et al. Franco Zeffirelli’s Production of William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Paramount Pictures Corp., 1968.

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain: Is It Possible to Love Someone Too Much?

“Sometimes I wish we could rub out all of our mistakes and start fresh, from the beginning…And sometimes I think there isn’t anything to us but our mistakes” (McLain, 220).

This is what Elizabeth Hadley Richardson says in The Paris Wife by Paula McLain. She is the first wife, “the Paris Wife,” of Ernest Hemingway (he has a total of four wives in his life). After their divorce, Ernest Hemingway moves on to become the famous author that we all know – the author of The Sun Also Rises, A Farewell to Arms, The Old Man and the Sea, along with others. Meanwhile, Hadley is left with a broken heart. Even though she eventually remarries, she is never able to fill up the space in her heart that was taken by Ernest (at least, that’s the impression I got from reading McLain’s novel). After all, Hadley is the one who told Ernest, “I’d love to look like you…I’d love to be you” (58). How much do you have to love someone in order to want to be them?

The main reason for Hadley and Ernest’s divorce is Ernest’s affair with Pauline Pfeiffer, Hadley’s friend. Pauline Pfeiffer “Pfife,” and Ernest start spending more time together and meeting up in secret behind Hadley’s back. However, that is not to say that Hadley is unaware of their love affair. It’s shocking enough that Ernest and Pfife continue their affair right under Hadley’s nose. What is worse is that Ernest wants to keep both women. Why can’t he do what every other man around him is already doing? The narrator says:

[Earnest] loved them both and that’s where the pain came in. He carried it in his head like a fever and made himself sick thinking about it. And sometimes, after hours lying awake, it came to him clearly that he only had to change his life to match his circumstances. Pound had managed it. He had Shakespear and Olga both and no one doubted he loved them. He didn’t have to lie; everyone knew everything and it all worked because he’d kept pushing and hadn’t compromised or become someone else…Why couldn’t Pfife be his girl? (256)

It needs to be acknowledged that Ernest is surrounded by people who are always drinking and throwing lavish parties and showing off their wealth, and that Ernest is inevitably influenced by this to a certain degree. However, the idea of wanting to keep a wife and a lover at the same time seems to be too much. It is not fair to use the excuse that everyone else is doing it, so why can’t he?

Ernest’s foolish hope of wanting to keep both his wife and his lover is not fulfilled. However, “Ernest Hemingway spent the last months of his life tenderly reliving his first marriage in the pages of his memoir, A Moveable Feast” (331), and this was the last thing he wrote before his death. Why did he relive his marriage with Hadley in his memoir when he had been so cruel to her when they were together? Was he really resentful of her losing the valise containing all of his work of writing? Is it possible that he missed her even while he was with his other wives?

A sidetrack: There is a song, called “Destiny” by a South Korean group called “Cool”. This song came out in 1996, I believe, and contains a storyline that is similar to the one of The Paris Wife. The protagonist of the song “Destiny” already has a girlfriend when he meets a girl who is everything he has ever dreamed of. He believes this new girl is “the one,” and is now torn between his girlfriend and this other girl. He says something along the lines of:

If I ask my girlfriend to leave me because I’ve found “the one,” it will ruin me.
But if, because of my girlfriend, I can never meet this other girl again, then I’ll be ruined, too.
It’s so frustrating, I can’t stand it, what should I do?
I can’t keep them both with me.
I’m so mad, I can’t let go of either.

Whenever I would hear this song, I used to feel nostalgic because of the way it brought back memories of when I was living in Korea with my family. However, my feelings towards this song changed while reading The Paris Wife. I still like the song, but because I’ve recently finished reading The Paris Wife, all of the pain and suffering Hadley had to face is brought to my mind when I listen to the lyrics. I think it’s wrong to love two people at once. You’d only end up hurting more people than you need to in the end.

In the end, Ernest Hemingway commits suicide by shooting himself. When Hadley hears of this, her husband, Paul Mowrer, asks her if he can get her anything, to which she says no. She says:

There was nothing Paul could possibly do for me except let me go – back to Paris and Pamplona and San Sebastian, back to Chicago when I was Hadley Richardson, a girl stepping off a train about to meet the man who would change her life. That girl, that impossibly lucky girl, needed nothing. (314)

When Hadley wishes she could go back in time, I’m reminded of how she wished the same thing when she realized that she and Ernest’s marriage was beginning to fall apart. It seems that sometimes people fall in love, and sometimes they fall out of love. Hadley had fallen in love with Ernest and had done everything she could to try to keep their love strong. As much as people try to keep their love, and their marriages intact, it does not seem to be as easy as they would like. Still, Hadley Richardson’s story makes me wonder, can a person can love someone too much? What are the consequences of that?


<Works Cited>

McLain, Paula. The Paris wife: a novel. Ballantine Books Trade Paperbacks, 2012.



Immortal Beauty vs “Natural Life” – Which Would You Choose? Looking at The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

Immortal Beauty vs “Natural Life” – Which Would You Choose?
Looking at The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

In the Preface of The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde writes, “There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written. That is all” (Wilde, viii). After reading his novel, and coming back to this statement, I find myself disagreeing with Wilde’s suggestion. This statement is deceiving for many reasons. First, it takes away any responsibility of the author for the effect his/her books have on the public. There definitely are moral books and immoral books, and authors are responsible for the effect their books have on society. Second, when readers discuss works of literature, they do not simply decide whether the book was “well written, or badly written.” Books create whole different worlds within the minds of readers, and each reader thinks differently. A book that seems horrendous to one reader may have the complete opposite effect on another. This is emphasized by the story of Wilde’s novel, which warns against the danger of choosing immortal beauty over natural life, in which nothing lasts forever. In contradiction to Wilde’s statement, I argue that his novel definitely has a moral message, and while I found the novel to be excellently written, there may be others who may disagree.

There are moral books and immoral books, and there are sneaky novels, like Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray. While Dorian had successful traded in eternal youth for an entrapment of his soul in Basil’s painting, his life was not what others imagined it to be. His face was beautiful and youthful, but his soul was tarnished and in the end, Dorian regrets making the wish he made many years ago in Basil’s studio. As Dorian stands in front of his painting that shows the blood of his guilt, the narrator says:

He felt a wild longing for the unstained purity of his boyhood-his rose-white boyhood, as Lord Henry had once called it. He knew that he had tarnished himself, filled his mind with corruption and given horror to his fancy; that he had been an evil influence to others, and had experienced a terrible joy to being so…But was it all irretrievable? Was there no hope for him? (162)

By this time, readers are aware of the deaths Dorian has caused, either directly, or indirectly. When Dorian first learns of Sibyl’s suicide, he turns to Lord Henry, who turns Sibyl’s suicide into a beautiful act of tragedy. By the time Dorian stands in front of his pictures, he is only glad to know that everyone who knows of his terrible deeds have been killed, have committed suicide, or have been murdered by Dorian himself. At the same time, Dorian’s own death is tragic and ironic: By putting a knife through the soul that was entrapped in the portrait, he ends up stabbing his own heart, and along with it the eternal beauty and youth, which never really belonged to him to begin with. The eternal beauty and youth is put back to its original place in the painting, where it will hang forever. Dorian’s dangerous wish and the continuous suffering it causes emphasizes the important moral messages in Wilde’s novel. And despite what Wilde says in the Preface, his readers can definitely benefit from these message. Interestingly, Wilde designates Lord Henry Wotton, the character who has the most influence on Dorian, as the character to convey these moral messages. By conveying these messages, Lord Henry indirectly delivers the same messages to readers.

While Dorian Gray is the protagonist, the story could not exist without Lord Henry Wotton, who not only toys around with Dorian Gray’s mind, but with his own statements. In the beginning of the novel, Lord Henry tells Basil Hallward, “…beauty, real beauty, ends where an intellectual expression begins. Intellect is in itself a mode of exaggeration, and destroys the harmony of any face…Your mysterious young friend, whose name you have never told me, but whose picture really fascinates me, never thinks” (2). While Lord Henry praises beauty, he also makes a jab at people who are intellectual, as though they are only pretending to be serious and intellectual. Why else would he say that intellect is a mode of exaggeration that destroys the harmony of any face? Why would he insult people who are intellectual, when he himself seems to be the one of the most intellectual and mysterious people in his society? While Lord Henry’s many satiric statements make the readers reflect on their meanings, they never reveal anything personal about the speaker himself. When Dorian is devastated after seeing Sibyl’s horrendous performance, and he regrets ever having loved Sibyl, Basil says to him, “Love is a more wonderful thing than Art” (61). To his, Lord Henry says, “[t]hey are both simply forms of imitation” (61). Is Lord Henry trying to be flippant? Or could art and love be the same in that they are both just as crucial and wonderful to one’s life? When Lord Henry hears of Sibyl and Dorian’s engagement, he is horrified, and expresses his feelings to Basil. Basil tells him, “If Dorian Gray’s life were spoiled, no one would be sorrier than yourself. You are much better than you pretend to be,” and to this Lord Henry laughs and says, “[t]he reason we all like to think so well of others is that we are all afraid of ourselves. The basis of optimism is sheer terror” (54). Throughout the novel, it is hard to get to know who Lord Henry really is.

Just like Lord Henry’s confusing and sometimes contradictory statements, so are the moral messages of The Picture of Dorian Gray. It is clear why Dorian suffers at the end the way he does. He wanted something that was unnatural, and therefore suffered the consequences. However, Basil had done nothing wrong except work on his paintings. He has always consoled others around him, and was there to console Dorian when his heart was crushed after seeing Sibyl’s horrible acting, and was there to remind Lord Henry how much he really cared about Dorian. However, in the end, by trying to remind Dorian Gray of who he used to be, and by trying to set him back on the right path, he was murdered by the very person he worshipped. Throughout the novel, he had been the one who was “boring” and “without a fault”, at least according to Lord Henry’s standards. Therefore, it is interesting that he faces such an unfortunate end when Lord Henry is untouched by Dorian’s actions.

In the end, The Picture of Dorian Gray is a story that provides both entertainment and food for thought. Lord Henry Wotton’s statements that are strewn throughout the novel definitely make the reader pause and reflect on what he said. Through Dorian Gray’s motivations and his tragic end, readers can think about their forbidden desires. Because of the complex characters, their desires, and the decisions they make, the novel provides plenty of opportunities for readers to reflect on themselves as well as on those around them, while enjoying a story about a man who was able to hold on to his beauty and youth until the moment of his death. For these reasons, I argue that Wilde’s novel is more than just well-written, and that it contains moral messages. In contradiction to his own statement, his novel is a novel that is worth being analyzed and discussed by literature lovers.


<Works Cited>

Wilde, Oscar. The picture of Dorian Gray. Dover Publications, 1993.

What Are You Trying To Say? John Dowell’s Unreliable Story As Portrayed in The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford

What Are You Trying To Say?
John Dowell’s Unreliable Story
As Portrayed in The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford

When we tell a story about something that happened, we often choose to tell it solely from our own perspective – imbuing the story with our biases and often changing or adding details here and there to make the story sound favorable to ourselves. This is what John Dowell does in The Good Soldier: A Tale of Passion by Ford Madox Ford. Dowell tells the story of the Ashburnhams, his wife, Florence, and himself not in a carefully-organized, chronological, and factual manner, but in a way that is random and haphazard, completely disregarding the appearance of his tale. Even as he tells the story to the reader, he shows moments of confusion and doubt as to what really happened. In addition to this, throughout his story, he insists on describing Edward Ashburnham is a “good soldier,” even though the readers are aware that this is not true. The effect of all of this is interesting; It makes John Dowell a realistic character, a real person, while at the same time making him an unreliable narrator. In the end, John Dowell does not only fool the readers with his story, but he also fools himself.

It is important to organize one’s thoughts before conveying them to others in order to create clear understanding. If one conveys thoughts in a disorganized, confusing manner, it is easy to lose the listener’s attention, as well as their trust and respect. John Dowell does exactly this, and he does this on purpose so that readers will not be able to tell whether Dowell is a sane person who may be trying to sound foolish, or whether he is actually a fool. Earlier in the novel, Dowell says, “I don’t know how it is best to put this thing down – whether it would be better to try and tell the story from the beginning, as if it were a story; or whether to tell it from this distance of time, as it reached me from the lips of Leonora or from those of Edward himself” (44). Dowell is telling a story of events that took place many years ago. This means that the facts may not be as fresh in his mind as they would have been if the events had taken place recently. In addition to this, he wonders if he should tell the story as he heard from Leonora or Edward, which puts even greater distance from the reader and the actual story. After muddling the facts as much as possible, Dowell tells the readers, “I don’t know. I leave it to you” (Ford, 223).

By the time I finished Dowell’s story, I had to re-adjust some of my perceptions of the characters in Dowell’s story. I also felt confused as to what had really happened, and John Dowell’s gullibility and ignorance shocked me until I found the following quote in Smith’s article. Smith asks, “[d]oes it follow that Dowell, from start to finish, is simply telling a tall tale? This question can be rephrased to come better to the point: does it follow that Dowell is inside, as well as outside, the tale Ford tells through him? Inside it twice, that is?” (327). This seemed very possible. After all, Dowell waits for a long time before telling his story, and even while telling his story, he takes his time. At certain points, he even puts in “knowledge” that are doubtful and questionable. In his article, Smith goes on to explain that only way for Dowell to be both inside and outside the story would be if Dowell were to dupe himself, or as Smith says, “if a dupe can dupe himself” (327). Maybe Dowell truly wanted to believe Edward Ashburnham was a good man, despite the flashing signs that proved he wasn’t. Maybe he wanted to share his story with others to make sense of what happened, but he wanted to make sure he himself sounded like a good guy, and that just wasn’t possible if he told the story straight from the beginning to the end without changing anything. Whatever the case may be, when the readers realize they had been fooled by Dowell by the end of the story, it is possible that they are not the only ones fooled. By telling the story the way he did, Dowell may have also fooled himself.

Stories are interesting because, depending on who tells them, the main message of the stories will be different. This is natural. After all, when people go through the same experience, they all remember different parts of it as being the most memorable. Because of this, John Dowell’s version of the story cannot be fully trusted. We never hear from the other characters. Of course, Dowell does many other things to make himself especially more unreliable as a narrator. He tells a story of events that happened a long time ago, many parts of which he is not very sure of. He switches the order of events in his narrative so that readers are often left with a huge gap that is unexplained. Throughout it all, he makes readers wonder whether his feelings for Edward Ashburnham may go beyond just friendship. By choosing to tell a story without any particular organization, where revelations are made a bit late, Dowell manages to keep the readers in darkness where nothing that Dowell tells them can be trusted completely. Most importantly, Dowell does not just lead the readers into listening to his tale. By portraying himself as one of the characters in his “fabricated” tale, Dowell manages to be fooled by himself. So who do we fool with our tales?


<Works Cited>

Ford, Ford Madox, Kenneth Womack, and William Baker. The good soldier a tale of passion. Peterborough, Ontario: Broadview literary texts, 2002. Print.

Smith, Grover. “Dowell as Untrustworthy Narrator.” The good soldier: authoritative text, textual appendices, contemporary reviews, literary impressionism, biographical and critical commentary. By Ford Madox Ford and Martin Stannard. New York: W.W. Norton, 1995. 325-30. Print.

I Just Want the Best For You

I Just Want the Best For You:
Understanding Mrs. Bennett from Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

How many times have we heard our parents say, “I just want what’s best for you, honey”? Often, this comes as their response during an argument when we refuse to listen to their requests. What is hard for us to consider is the fact that, the discrepancy between the cultural and environmental backgrounds of our parents may differ harshly from our own. Therefore, even though our parents really do want what’s best for us, it may not feel that way for us, their children. In Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, Mrs. Bennet is portrayed as a woman whose only goal in life is to marry off her daughters. Throughout Pride and Prejudice, there are no explanations or excuses provided for Mrs. Bennet’s actions, unlike the other novels, such as Beloved by Toni Morrison or Please Look After Mom by Kyung-Sook Shin. And yet, Mrs. Bennet shares a similarity with the other mothers; As a mother, she wants to make sure that her daughters live happily in a society where a woman’s happiness is determined by wealth and reputation and wealth of the man she marries.

I believe the reason why Mrs. Bennet is often overlooked is the fact that she does not have any particular traits that encourage readers to become attached to her. How can readers be attached to a woman who is blinded by her ambition to marry her daughters off to any rich available bachelors she meets? What readers need to realize is that this is the only way of life Mrs. Bennet understands. As the narrator says:
[Mrs. Bennet] was a woman of mean understanding, little information, and uncertain temper. When she was discontented, she fancied herself nervous. The business of her life was to get her daughters married; its solace was visiting and news. (3 – 4)
Similar to Mrs. Bennet, the mothers from The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan and Please Look After Mom by Kyung Sook Shin also faced educational, economical, and societal limitations as women. In a way, many of these mothers are women of “mean understanding” and “little information” which can lead to them having “uncertain” tempers. What these women know is that the best thing they can do for their daughters is to make sure that they are married into a rich family. Even though Mrs. Bennet can come off as an obstinate mother to the rest of her family as well as to the readers, her obstinacy comes from her deep love for her daughters. When considering the reason for her actions, Mrs. Bennet becomes a sympathetic woman. What kind of mother would not want what Mrs. Bennet wants for her own daughters? Mrs. Bennet’s concern for her daughters is seen when she asks Mr. Collins about Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s daughter. When Mr. Collins says Lady De Bough’s daughter is “…the only one daughter, the heiress of Rosings, and of very extensive property” (83), Mrs. Bennet’s response is, “Ah!…[T]hen she is better off than many girls. And what sort of young lady is she? Is she handsome?” (83). Therefore, even as she comes up with plans to marry off her daughters, she is constantly interested in the status of other unmarried ladies. When she compares her daughters to Lady Catherine’s daughter, it is obvious that her daughters are constantly on Mrs. Bennet’s mind, and being concerned about their marriages is the only way she knows of showing love to them.

The similarity that mothers share universally is the sacrifice they make for their children. The mothers of The Joy Luck Club had wanted for their daughters to understand the sacrifices their mothers had made for them. In a way, Mrs. Bennet is doing the same thing. She is sacrificing her connections to provide the right connections for her daughters. The unfortunate part of this is that she is so busy thinking of her daughter’s futures that she has no time to sit down and explain to them why she is doing what she is doing. Mrs. Bennet is only satisfied when she believes that “…she might soon have two daughters married; and the man whom she could not bear to speak of the day before was now high in her good graces” (88). Even though Mrs. Bennet might feel content from just thinking about her daughters getting married, her daughters may not feel the same way. This shows that what mothers want for their daughters, and what their daughters want for themselves can be very different. The one pattern that stands out among these mothers and daughters is the fact that they never clearly communicate with each other about what their intentions are. The mothers never really explain to their daughters what they want from them and why. The daughters also never bother to ask their mothers the intentions for their actions, and they never explain to their mothers what kind of life they are envisioning for themselves. What this results in, then, is an inevitable conflict between mothers and daughters.

At some point, mothers need to think about whether their goals are shaped by their own societal experiences, which they then pass down to their daughters, without thinking of the different societal experiences their daughters are experiencing at the current moment. The hopes and goals the mothers pass down to their daughters may no longer be relevant, since their daughters are probably living in a completely different society.

At the end of the novel, the narrator of the novel says:
Happy for all her maternal feelings was the day on which Mrs. Bennet got rid of her two most deserving daughters. With what delighted pride she afterwards visited Mrs. Bingley, and talked of Mrs. Darcy, may be guessed. I wish I could say, for the sake of her family, that the accomplishment of her earnest desire in the establishment of so many of her children produced so happy an effect as to make her a sensible, amiable, well-informed woman for the rest of her life; though perhaps it was lucky for her husband, who might not have relished domestic felicity in so unusual a form, that she still was occasionally nervous and invariably silly. (474)
With her two daughters married, Mrs. Bennet is filled with delighted pride. Even though marriages are not simple, Mrs. Bennet’s goal in life is si
mply for her daughters to marry well. It does not take much to make Mrs. Bennet happy, and her goal in life is not to do anything for herself, but to make sure her children are ensured happy lives. Because women face more limitations than men, the goals mothers have for their daughters may be more particular than their goals for their sons, and this is no different for Mrs. Bennet.  Even though many daughters may be too frustrated with their mothers to realize this, they need to remember one thing, and it is this: The one goal that a mother has is to provide the best she can for her children.


<Works Cited>

Austen, Jane. Free EBooks.