Evolution and Literature

llim's picture

Females in the 16th and 21st Century: Gender Perception in Literature

Females in the 16th and 21st Century: Gender Perception in Literature

It has been argued that stories serve as a representative of the era in which it was conceived. As such, it serves as a reminder of the ideals of its particular society, including those directed towards gender. Through literature, one can gain insight as to what was expected of a males and females during a particular era and how it has (or has not) changed over time. The Renaissance was a time where to be a woman brought about images of a meek person who bent to the will of her male superiors, whereas in the modern day, this image is not necessarily true.

azambetti's picture

Synoptic Evolution

“One may as well begin with” (Forster 3) the evolution of literature.  There have been many instances in the history of literature where an author’s writings are disassembled, only to be reconnected, possibly with different characters and scenery, but still having the basic themes and ideas of the original piece.  Zadie Smith’s On Beauty has this type of interconnection with E.M. Forsters’ Howards End.  I found it rather remarkable how a similar tale could evolve within two completely different societies and contexts.  Howards End is based in equestrian England in the early twentieth century among different social classes, and On Beauty is based in present day Massachusetts among social and racial classes in a university atmosphere.  What appears to make up the plethora of differences between the two similarly based stories is the audience to which the story is written.  This adjustment to a story to better connect and interact with the audience, I think, has always been the driving force for why authors find the need to revamp a story, such as Zadie Smith did with E.M. Forster’s Howards End and the writers of the Gospel of Matthew and Luke have done to the Gospel of Mark. 

Mariellyssa Wenk's picture

Culture, Characters and Evolution

It can be argued that evolution is solely a biological process – an interaction of time, chance and chromosomes. In class we discussed how language and thought also contain elements of evolution. After reading Forester’s Howard’s End and, to some extent, Smith’s On Beauty, the question arose in my mind of how much culture and sociology can affect the evolution of a community or an individual. Although the evolution of characters happens on a much smaller scale, compared the decades and centuries of change that Mayr describes, it appears throughout both books. In Howard’s End the lives of the characters are dictated by society and the changes they make to their lives are directly related to the aspects of the culture around them.

J Shafagh's picture

Dynamic Homes: Representing Comfort in "Home," "Howard's End" and "The Fall of the House of Usher."


Dynamic Homes:  Representing Comfort in Witold Rybczynski’s "Home," E.M.  

Forster’s "Howard’s End,"  and Edgar Allen Poe’s "The Fall of the House of Usher."

               According to Witold Rybczynski, author of the book entitled Home: A Short History of an Idea, traditions are maintained in home environments to help individuals make meaning of their worlds and be more comfortable within their surroundings.  To argue his point, Rybczynski describes how certain designers such as Ralph Lauren create collections that “evoke the atmosphere of traditional hominess,” which is something highly desirable and comforting in the modern-day, progressive and technologically advanced world.  Thus, by buying Lauren’s home furnishings, consumers are able to create the traditional home feeling for personal comfort.  This fact represents the larger implication that one’s home brings a sense of comfort to individuals, as one can associate and make meaning of his or her own life through the home and family environment, and that people come together and are united in the home.  On the contrary, the loss of stability and comfort in the home can create an uncomfortable or uninhabitable home and lifestyle, or divisions and clashes between its inhabitants.  These viewpoints, stemming from Rybczynski’s textual framework, are portrayed in E.M. Forster’s book entitled Howard’s End, and in Edgar Allen Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher.  However, although these two texts confirm the ideas portrayed in Home, Rybczynski’s commodification of an idealized home setting only recognizes the varying literal and figurative meanings and functions of materials in the home, and fails to mention the fact that its inhabitants can equally change its hominess and comfortability as well.  Therefore, Forster and Poe’s texts also challenge Rybczynski’s generalizations, as they both represent the significance of the individuals and family on the home environment.  Nevertheless, Forster and Poe’s texts also complicate our understanding of the meaning of home, as the represented home situations are somewhat unstable, constantly changing and modified throughout the two stories.
                 From the opening of his novel, Forster represents the conflict between the idealistic and intellectual Schlegel family and the materialistic and wealthy Wilcox family.  The families differed between their materialism and idealism, their practicality and imagination, and their reason and passion.  When the Wilcox family moves from their country house, Howard’s End, into a flat in Wickham Mansions, across from the Schlegel’s home at Wickham Place, Margaret Schlegel and Ruth Wilcox meet and immediately become friends.  However, as Ruth soon dies from her declining health, her husband, Henry Wilcox, gets acquainted with Margaret and proposes a marriage.  The two very different people with different ideologies come together under one home in union and harmony. 
                Later in the novel, when Margaret’s sister Helen returns from a trip to Germany, she stays in Howard’s End, as it then becomes the location for all of the familial activities.  Because of her sympathy for Helen during her pregnancy, and the subsequent murder of Leonard Bast, Margaret becomes the caregiver of both Helen and Henry at Howard’s End.  And Henry then pronounces that after his death, his children will inherit his money and Margaret will inherit Howard’s End.  Margaret, furthermore, intended to leave Howard’s End to Helen’s child after her death.  Overall, all of these significant scenes in the novel occurred in Howard’s End, and the home was eventually the one thing that brought the very different Schlegel and Wilcox families together in unity.  This is represented in a specific passage in which Helen says, “at night, we squeeze up in this lovely house.  The whole clan’s here now – it’s like a rabbit warren.”  Thus, Forster’s text confirms Rybczynski’s views by showing that the home brings a sense of comfort to two sisters, and unifies the two families under one roof. 
                    Poe’s Fall of the House of Usher also confirms the implications we draw from Rybczynski’s text, demonstrating that the loss of control of the activities in the home creates an unbearable and uncomfortable living experience.  The story begins as an unnamed narrator travels to see a childhood friend, Roderick Usher, due to his recent letter expressing his sense of nervous agitation and oppressing bodily illness.  As the narrator approaches the house, he is surprised by its dark, oppressive and gloomy physical appearance, saying “I felt that I breathed an atmosphere of sorrow.  An air of stern, deep, and irredeemable gloom hung over and pervaded all.”  The narrator continues to describe how he believes the physical appearance of the building must undoubtedly have an adverse affect on its inhabitants.  Poe gives us one extremely significant passage in which the narrator describes a thought he has as to why Usher experiences this bodily illness:
I had learned too…that the entire family lay in the direct line of descent, and has always, with very trifling and very temporary variation, so lain.  It was this deficiency, I considered, while running over in thought the perfect keeping of the character of the premises with the accredited character of the people, and while speculating upon the possible influence which the one, in the long lapse of centuries, might have exercised upon the other – it was this deficiency, perhaps, of collateral issue, and the consequent undeviating  transmission, from sire to son, of the patrimony with the name, which had, at length, so identified the two as to merge the original title of the estate in the quaint and equivocal appellation of the “House of Usher’ – an appellation which seemed to include, in the minds of the peasantry who used it, both the family and the family mansion.

rebeccafarber's picture

The subconscious and conscious adaptation and evolution of literary stories

Any story that we generate, whether it is written, spoken, performed – includes at least bits and pieces from stories that we have absorbed in the past. Our original works and stories that we create are products certainly of our imagination and hard work but also of accounts that we have previously absorbed, that have impacted us whether we know it or don’t. It is indeed possible to consciously model a narrative based on one that was produced before it, as Zadie Smith did in On Beauty with E.M. Forster’s novel, Howard’s End as her model. The functionality of this practice is one that leaves little room for originality and flexibility, as evident by the somewhat confined ending of Smtih’s novel. On the subconscious level, however, I argue that somehow, a part of what we have read, watched, or listened to has stuck with us and is manifest in the work we create and the stories we later tell. In that respect, all of our stories are conglomerations of slices of the stories we have already heard, whether we knowingly choose to make them so or not.

Julia Smith's picture

On Beauty: Joseph Chaikin, the Open Theater, and Postmodern American Theater

            During a class discussion, we looked at a Mark Rothko painting that was intended to invoke only an emotional response, and asked ourselves whether or not we could help making up a "story" to accompany the painting. One student said that she was reminded of a lake where her family used to have a house. This unintentional human response, trying to make meaning out of art, is puzzling to both artists and audiences around the world. Artists are now trying to eliminate the audience’s likeliness of "storytelling" and instead trying to make the audience generate more of a "feeling". Ideal art right now, therefore, is more abstract than literal. Although this movement is occurring in all art forms, I am choosing to narrow it down to the theater because it is my field of study. Most postmodern theater artists are now trying to separate themselves from "storytellers"; they are moving toward an abstract, emotionally based form. Chaikin helped to revolutionize postmodern theater by first starting to move away from storytelling. His ideals of natural human emotion, physicality, and ensemble hit exactly what we have been talking about in class: ideal art is emotion, not a story. America is moving toward an emotionally based new form of popular art.

Elise Niemeyer's picture

Endings as Mirrors of Evolutionary Growth in Literature: Howards End and On Beauty

All works of literature are the results of an evolutionary process.  They have been influenced by many works that came before, selected for through publication, and generated new elements that make them unique and successful.   There is also an evolutionary process at work within the book itself.  The story develops over the course of the narrative, drawing on past influences, selecting for elements that move the story along, and generating an ending that is indicative of this particular evolutionary journey.   Where the end product of a biological evolutionary process is the creation of a new species, the end product of a novel is literally its ending scene, words that must resolve, or not, the preceding action of the story, incorporating the evolution of the plot, characters, and themes throughout.  On a larger scale an adapted literary work is the end product of an evolutionary process inspired by a generative original.  On both theses levels it is helpful to analyze the results of the evolutionary processes, the ending of a story and the adaptation of an original work, in order to understand the process itself.

Shannon's picture

Genius Loci: Connecting People, One Story at a Time

Have you ever felt a string of emotions come over you upon entering a familiar place? One of life’s simplest pleasures we can experience is to have our senses immediately stimulated upon entering a surrounding environment. It is suggested that an emanation of good or evil forces dictates how the miniscule nerve endings in our mind and body will respond. The atmosphere in which we stood may have produced “good” or “evil” feelings, but we tend to overlook the presence of these emotions when they evolve in our unconscious behavior. Whether to smell the scent of freshly baked cookies or to have the hair on the back of our neck rise, we are left with a distinctive story, a special impression that our brains do not document for analysis. Nevertheless, our mind establishes a unique connection that evolves from a specific locale.

marquisedemerteuil's picture

Evolution of the Author/Subject in Sophie Calle's Exquisite Pain

The Stasis of the Evolving Self: Sophie Calle’s Exquisite Pain 

How can the idea of biological evolution be applied to literature?  One book can be written as a version of or homage to and earlier one, and because the more modern book reflects a different society, literary evolution can be said to be taking place.  But the evolution of a person and of her life can be the subject of a book.  French artist Sophie Calle’s book of photography, Exquisite Pain, takes up the subject of personal evolution, and shows how this fact of life effects, and even complicates, works of art.  Her vision of personal evolution is similar to Darwin’s idea on biological evolution: just as Darwin hypothesized that evolution is a non-teleological process, Calle shows that people do not evolve to become better, or cured of their pain.

SarahMalayaSniezek's picture

Building Diversity: When a Diverse Student Body isn’t Enough

Tolerance is extremely important to the future of the United States of America.  Currently, the U.S. is one of the most diverse countries in the world, and is becoming more diverse by the day (Ingram 2001).  At the same time, the global economy is growing rapidly, causing an increase in the amount of interaction between individuals from different countries (Ingram 2001).  If the United States is to survive as a country its citizens must be able to work well with each other, and those from other countries; therefore, they need to be tolerant of others’ differences.     

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