Sunday, September 12, 2010

This Made Me Cry and Smile at the Same Time

Just read this and had to share. This is taken from the poem "Where You Are" by Mark Doty.

2. Everywhere

I thought I’d lost you. But you said I’m imbued

in the fabric of things, the way
that wax lost from batik shapes
the pattern where the dye won’t take.
I make the space around you,

and so allow you shape. And always
you’ll feel the traces of that wax
soaked far into the weave:
the air around your gestures,

the silence after you speak.
That’s me, the slight wind between
your hand and what you’re reaching for;
chair and paper, book or cup:

that close, where I am: between
where breath ends, air starts.

Doty, Mark. "Where You Are." Sweet Machine: Poems. New York: HarperFlamingo, 1998.73.

Dos Passos: Defender of Liberty

In “America and the Pursuit of Happiness,” which appeared in The Nation in 1920, John Dos Passos wrote that each person is compelled by “the duty of the individual to his conscience” which he argued was of greater importance than the citizen’s duty to his government (Wrenn 45). In this essay he further described the necessity of the individual to accept responsibility to act against abuses of government or “bullying mob.” This essay, one of Dos Passos earliest politically motivated writings, offers insight into the value the author placed on both personal liberty and responsibility. This autonomy of thought is evident in the trajectory of his association with the Communist Party. It was this independence which propelled him toward the radical movement, but which also elucidates the author’s increasing frustration, which led to his criticism and eventual rejection of Marxism. Dos Passos rebuffed efforts by the party to manipulate and control authors and their product, in terms of both content and form. He felt that a writer could only produce his best and most compelling work by remaining free of the stifling limitations whether in the form of literary tradition or political partisanship. In each format available to him, fiction, non fiction and his own personal actions, Dos Passos challenged and critiqued the radical movement and its attempts to organize and control its members. His mythic status as a literary innovator and active campaigner on behalf of leftist causes won the respect of critics, who were often willing to ignore weaknesses in his politics, attributing them to ideological immaturity or vestiges of his bourgeois upbringing.

Dos Passos represented what V.F. Calverton referred to in his article, “Leftward Ho!,” as the “radicalization of the American intellectual.”. In this article, Calverton explored the phenomenon of a growing number of Americans, who like Dos Passos, was elitist by birth but radical by choice. Calverton argued that this shift in ideology of the literati comprised of middle class intellectuals was significant because it indicated that the economic inequalities of capitalism were slowly creeping up and affecting the middle class and the “professionals” like writers, engineers and scientists, with greater and ever increasing implications for the “educated” masses. It was hoped that although Proletarian Literature was generally being directed toward the proletariat, it would also reach the middle classes who were just becoming aware of class inequities. It was also relevant to Calverton, because radical tendencies were becoming more commonly featured in the works of authors who were already recognized within the field of literature. He believed that this shift evidenced a “harbinger of the more ripened revolutionary thought of the future” (Calverton, Leftward).

In a 1925 article in The New Masses in which he reported on a labor dispute in Passaic, “Dos Passos reveals his self consciousness and embarrassment at being a middle-class spectator of working-class hardship” (Rosen 51). His writing shows awareness of the disparity between himself and the proletariat he was assigned to write about. He was regularly disparaged by others within the movement, including author and editor Mike Gold, as being a “burgeios intellectual.” Yet he recognized that he was in a unique position and had an obligation to document the experience, “he was directing himself specifically to middle class liberals and writing as one of them” (Wrenn 59) Dos Passos also used his voice as a contributor within the pages of The New Masses and The New Republic to make appeals directed to the sensibilities of the middle class liberal because he feared the potential for inhumane treatment in the struggle of the impending class war precipitated by the economic turmoil that was beginning in 1929. Though his polemics were initially met with suspicion and disdain, critic Granville Hicks reports in his article “The Politics of John Dos Passos” that eventually Dos Passos recommendations of “‘neutralizing’ the middle class became a major communist aim” (91). Despite the fact that he had refused to join the Communist Party of the United States of America, the credibility and direction he offered as an author, activist and Fellow Traveler was invaluable. Hicks wrote that regardless of his hesitancy to become fully committed to the organizational structure of the left, “Dos Passos was rendering a more valuable service to the Communist Party at the time than most of its members, for his prestige was great and his sincerity was unchallenged. No one had more influence of the leftward swing of the intellectuals in the early 30’s” (92).

Dos Passos was the product of a classical education at Harvard University and international travel through which he gained both broad exposure and perspective which resulted in his development as a writer, but also as a skeptical observer. He became increasingly alarmed by the exploitation, injustice and devastation caused by war which he witnessed in the United States and abroad. Beginning with his first attempt to write a novel, One Man’s Initiation – 1917 which was published in 1920, he began to use his fictional writing as a method of exploring social issues. Dos Passos earliest fictional works, including the novels Three Soldiers and Rosinante to the Road Again, express discontent with war and industrialism. Though generally considered technically weak novels, they demonstrated a burgeoning class consciousness that was promising to Marxian critics.

Dos Passos earliest novels are also notable for their focus on invention of style and increasing use of symbol and imagery which would later become prominently featured in his novels, especially the USA Trilogy. In “The Fiction of John Dos Passos” John D. Brantley discusses the development of Dos Passos early skills as a novelist which were increasing with each new work, but were also forecasting his invention of heavily image dependent motifs and strategies. Brantley offers a description of the “‘still’ image which momentarily freezes men in motion…he captures the image as well as the response of the character involved in it” (36). The cinematic style “freeze frame” allows Dos Passos the ability to control time and direct the reader’s attention to elements within the novel, privileging description over narration. Brantley also explains how Dos Passos uses “the images, usually involving or ending with a simile, show an increasing attention to mass and color….[which] blocks out the large masses of form and color and then adds the details” (36). The impact of visual representations within the novels, as well as Dos Passos growing attention to color and detail, is certainly attributable to his artistic endeavors as a painter and his extensive study of visual arts as a young man.

Biographer Townsend Ludington cites Dos Passos exposure to the Armory Show, which highlighted the works of contemporary modern artists, as a significant event which helped to shape the author’s conception of art and the role of the artist. The artists featured in the exhibit flouted traditional structure and sparked controversy with their experimental styles and techniques. These painters and sculptors cast aside the constraints of realist convention and attempted to shock the audience into a state of greater awareness by refiguring everyday objects and experiences. Dos Passos fascination with artists who challenged conventional methods also extended to the field of literature as was evidenced by his diaries which indicated an interest and appreciation for both French Symbolism and modernist authors.

Dos Passos traveled to Russia in 1928 to study the socialist system, but his encounter with innovative film director Serge Eisenstein had a profound impact on the development of his unique literary style. In the article, “John Dos Passos and the Visual Arts,” author Michael Spindler writes:
Eisenstein’s sweeping achievement …was to abolish the individualistic in favour of the collective hero, dispose with the story and plot, and put montage – the striking juxtaposition of shots – at the center of his film theory and practice. The films were historical and sociological in content, interpreting their country and it’s past. They demonstrated the artistic possibilities that lay within such sweeping themes as social and political change” (403). Spindler further argues that it was this encounter that allowed Dos Passos the freedom and encouragement to move away form the constraints of the traditional novel and continue the experimentation in style that he had begun with techniques like stream of consciousness employed in Manhattan Transfer and the cinematic stylings such as “still image” featured in Three Soldiers.

An amalgamation of literary, visual and cinematic influences culminated in the production of the U.S.A. Trilogy which is commonly recognized as a unique form of proletarian literature known as the collective novel. In Radical Representations, Barbara Foley writes that “certainly in the United States, and possibly in the entire sphere of literary proletarianism outside the USSR, Dos Passos is the single most important pioneer in the form of the collective novel” (425). Foley explains that the collective novel is characterized by three distinguishing features: emphasizing the group over the individual, the use of experimental devices which break up the narrative and the documentation of contemporary reality. Dos Passos structured the novels into four distinct sections: fictional narratives, biographies, Newsreels and Camera Eye. The construction of each of these sections within the novels further challenged convention. Narratives were presented in a non linear manner. Biographies featured phrases which were emphasized through italics or indentation, and parenthetical comments. Newsreels offered authentic documentary fragments borrowed from newspapers and popular culture. The Camera Eye, featuring stream of consciousness, has been characterized by critic Janet Galligani Casey as “an openly lyrical Bildugsroman, [which] traces the subjective development of the ‘real’ John Dos Passos as he personally experiences the events through which the fictional characters live” (250). Foley explains the function of “these devices which direct attention to the process of textual construction and invite the reader consciously to consider the paradigm the author has chosen for describing and explaining the social totality” (401). Dos Passos further challenged historical conceptions of the novel by creating a text without plot, using multiple voices and presenting unsympathetic characters that fail to achieve resolution. Even the actual words and their placement on the page function to disorient the reader as Dos Passos collapses language, uses repetition and experiments with punctuation and white space on the page. Modernist techniques and the pioneering use of montage distinguished John Dos Passos as an author who was able to revision traditional literary devices and create a new form of literature which would defamiliarize and cause readers to rethink societal structures.

As reported in the biography Twentieth Century Odyssey, Dos Passos was delighted and encouraged by the generally positive critical reviews of the 42nd Parallel. Mary Ross from Books and friend and critic Edmund Wilson offered praise filled reviews. Other reviewers had concerns or guarded praise for the techniques used in the novels. Henry Hazlitt had “reservations” about some of the elements in the novel but offered a favorable opinion of the documentary devices incorporated through the Newsreels calling it a “brilliant effect”. John Chamberlain’s review in the New York Times commented favorably on the theme of the novel, but he faulted the “unfinished quality of the work, had doubts about what he called the “trick stuff” – the Camera Eyes and Newsreels – and did not see any apparent indication of Dos Passos’s own philosophy” (Ludington 290). Dos Passos was encouraged that his work was having the impact and provoking the thought that he intended. He felt that the positive reviews, especially the private encouragement by friend and respected fellow author Ernest Hemmingway, validated the use of the unorthodox strategies he was employing to convey his ideas. He began 1919, which would become the next installment in the trilogy, with a renewed commitment to the style he had undertaken.

The novel 1919 was published in 1932 and received accolades from reviewers. Critic Robert Rosen reports that “the more militant 1919 brought Dos Passos greater tribute: V.F. Calverton placed him ‘in the mainstream of proletarian literature’ and Michael Gold saw him growing politically ‘like corn in the Iowa sun’” (90). Malcolm Cowley wrote that he believed that it was a “landmark of American fiction.” Henry Hazlitt who had previously offered a mixed review of 42nd Parallel, recognized the “social implications” of the novel and compared it with others by such respected authors as Hemmingway and Dreiser. Hazlitt opined that in writing 1919 Dos Passos had rivaled these authors and in some ways was superior to them. (Ludington, chapters 17 and 18).

Soviet Critics also began to take notice of John Dos Passos in 1930, and “for a time many critics considered him the most important contemporary writer of the non-Soviet world” (Brown 334). In his article “Dos Passos and Soviet Criticism” critic Deming Brown explains that during the early 1930’s there were significant restrictions upon the publication of non-Soviet writers. Texts which were published had to conform to “aesthetic, ideological and political” standards being debated and determined by the Russian Association of Proletarian Writers and later by the Union of Soviet Writers. Brown postulates that permitting the wide publication of Dos Passos texts indicated a “calculated political decision” on the part of the “communist party, which was assuming increasing control over all Soviet publication policy, [which] must have felt that Dos Passos, both as a political figure and as a writer, could develop into a valuable ally” (334). His activities within the United States added credibility which garnered much needed support and funding for leftist causes.

Despite the Soviet’s fascination with the possibility and promise Dos Passos offered, all of the critics expressed concerns over elements of technique and ideology within his work. From 1932 -1934 the author consumed the literary community and inspired passionate exchanges. For many his work symbolized the growing debate over the value of modernism versus social realism. Influential Hungarian critic Georg Lukacs argued that by describing, rather than narrating, the writer is inserted into the work, despite the claim that formalist techniques allowed for greater subjectivity. He believed that:
“the loss of the narrative interrelationship between objects and their function in concrete human experience means a loss of artistic significance. Objects can then acquire significance only through the direct association with some abstract concept which the author considers essential to his view of the world. But an object does not thereby achieve poetic significance; significance is assigned to it (Lukacs 131)
Critics Pertsov and Kirpotin defended Dos Passos experimental methods of mixed genres as means of depicting the chaos of the bourgeois lifestyle. Others, like Selvinsky, Leites and Stenich expressed concerns over the incorporation of elements such as the Camera Eye and Newsreels as “culturally decadent”, “immature” and an expression of Dos Passos “internal conflict” between his bourgeois upbringing and his communist yearnings. There was vast disagreement over whether or not Dos Passos should become an influential force upon Soviet proletarian literature.
These Soviet debates over Dos Passos reached a heightened level amid the decision in 1934 by the Congress of Soviet Writers to adopt the doctrine of “social realism.” The intent according to Brown was the “creation of a single guiding literary theory which … would be employed by all Soviet writers” (Brown 334). According to author Terry Eagleton, this principle promoted:
the writer’s duty ‘to provide a truthful historico-concrete portrayal of reality in its revolutionary development’, taking into account ‘the problem of ideological transformation and the education of the workers in the spirit of socialism’. Literature must be tendentious, ‘party minded’, optimistic and heroic; it should be infused with a ‘revolutionary romanticism’, portraying Soviet heroes and prefiguring the future.” (38). Many Marxist critics expressed hope that Dos Passos’ writing would mature ideologically and develop into a style more reflective of this dogma. Ultimately a consensus was reached among Soviet critics that it would be unwise to encourage Soviet writers to pursue further study and imitation of Dos Passos, because his ideology was not sound and could potentially lead to confusion amongst its writers. It was suggested that perhaps Dos Passos could benefit from “comradely advice” and influence. Though the Soviets had once eagerly anticipated the final novel in the U.S.A. Trilogy it was never published in the U.S.S.R. Deming Brown suggests that “this boycott of the author was an act of political reprisal. His opinions had ceased to suit the Communist Party and so publication of his works, and critical consideration of them as well, were officially terminated” (349).

Brown’s assertion that Dos Passos status and credibility was diminished within the Soviet Union because of his opinions was the result of the authors growing disillusionment with the Communist Party made public through the author’s writings and actions. Several events occurred which caused Dos Passos to question the motivation of the organized movement and to more skeptically consider his endorsement of the party. His resentment increased gradually, and may be tracked in his letters, essays and through the body of the U.S.A. Trilogy, especially 1919 and The Big Money.

In May of 1926 John Dos Passos was listed as one of the founding contributors to a new “worker’s monthly” called the New Masses, which he hoped would be a format which invited exploration and debate for ideas free from the power of Soviet influence. Again Dos Passos sought liberty free of interference, and envisioned the new periodical as a vehicle through which a more Americanized version of Marxism might be realized. In an editorial which appeared in second installment called “The New Masses I’d Like,” he voiced concerns that the Soviet Communist Party might overwhelm the newspaper’s ability to view issues free of bias. He cautioned:
I don’t think it’s anytime for any group of spellbinders to lay down the law on any subject whatsoever. Particularly I don’t think there should be any more phrases, badges, opinions, banners imported from Russia or anywhere else…Why not develop our own brand? (Wrenn 52). He viewed The New Masses as being most valuable if it could truly be a forum for discussion and debate about new ideas and beliefs and argued that the publication should serve as a “litmus paper to test things by.” He rejected the notion that the periodical should be constrained by any doctrine but should focus instead on the issues facing the working class. This is one of the first examples in writing of his concern that the Marxist machine was obscuring the needs of the individual. He believed that the in its purest form The New Masses would be a vehicle for “making contact with the masses, of learning their needs, and not of preaching to them: ‘Wouldn’t a blank sheet for men and women who have never written before be better than an instruction book, whether the instructions come from Moscow or Bethlehem, Pennsylvania” (Wrenn 64). His idealized version of The New Masses became unattainable as the Communist Party increasingly insinuated itself into the publication.

In the late 1920’s and 1930’s Dos Passos, along with other famous socialists, became involved in labor disputes and political cases within the United States. They hoped that their involvement would raise awareness and funds in defense of cases in which they felt social injustices had occurred. Dos Passos became a vocal defender in the case of the Scottsboro Boys and the also in the trial of Sacco and Vanzetti. In 1931 Dos Passos traveled to Harlan, Kentucky as a member of the Dreiser Committee to investigate the conditions of mine workers involved in a violent labor dispute. During this trip he felt as though the Communists were using the notoriety of “Bloody Harlan” to promote the party, rather than to improve the conditions of the workers and their families. His conversations with miners confirmed “that the Communists were concerned not with people but tactics” (Landsberg 169). Dos Passos was moved by the plight of the miners, and agreed to compile and edit the interviews and information for publication which was released under the title Harlan Miners Speak: Report on Terrorism in the Kentucky Coal Fields, but refused to be complicit in the party’s publicity strategy surrounding the events. Biographer Townsend Ludington writes, “Dos had some second thoughts about the way the Communist Party manipulated people and situations to further its own ends, so when Earl Browder, head of the Communist Central Committee in New York, wanted him to return to Kentucky and stand trial for ‘criminal syndicalism’ he refused” (Fourteenth 381). Though Dos Passos recognized the credibility his name lent to social causes which he supported, he was angered by the party’s lack of compassion and resented their attempt to use his image and notoriety as a propaganda tool.

In a letter recounting the events in Harlan written almost twenty-five years later, Dos Passos reflected on the event, “ I think…that my first real disgust with the commies appeared when I saw them in action in Kentucky in the coal strike. A conversation with Earl Browder ended it” (Landsberg 169). At the time, he confided to friends regarding the events surrounding his trip to Harlan as “annoyances.” Whether this was the pivotal experience which transformed Dos Passos view of the communist party into the “bullying mob” he referred to in the essay “America and the Pursuit of Happiness” is unclear, however it clearly changed his perspective and forced him to view the actions of the Marxist machine more skeptically. Despite his agitation, he remained publicly silent about his growing disillusionment for fear of “giving aid to the enemy.”

The novel 1919 was published in 1932, and though Dos Passos was credited for creating a communist hero in the character of Ben Compton, several elements within the novel may be interpreted as evidence of Dos Passos’ ambivalence during this period. Ben Compton is presented early in the novel, as a minor character in the “Daughter” narrative. The section describes Daughter’s exposure to a textile strike, but the exchange between Ben Compton and Webb Cruthers is telling. The Webb character functions as a foil for Ben, although this is not completely clear until Ben’s character is featured at the end of the novel. When the two men encounter each other, Ben asks Webb if he will speak at the gathering, but Webb hesitates, uncertain what he would say. Ben responds “talking is the easiest part of the movement. The truth’s simple enough” (1919 215).
The manner in which the two characters react to similar events within the scene are revealing because they imply Dos Passos generalized views of party members. When the meeting leaders reach the hall they are locked out by police and ordered to disperse, but Ben spontaneously climbs atop a lamppost and begins to speak to the crowd. When he is taken away by the police, Webb also mounts a perch and begins to address the crowd, but when he sees the police approaching him he flees. When Webb and Daughter have reached safety she accuses him, “you ran like a deer.” Webb then responds “Do you think I ought to have waited and gotten arrested like Ben,” he then dismisses her accusation saying “you don’t understand revolutionary tactics, Anne” (1919 217). In his book, Dos Passos’ Path to the USA, author Martin Landsberg writes that the representation of the strike is interesting because, “Dos Passos does not depict any strikes as portentous events, he views them more than humdrum aspects of collective bargaining…[they] provide a means of examining American society and studying character” (217). Though both men spoke out against injustice in support of the communistic beliefs, Ben nor Webb effected any effective aid for the striking workers. Webb was more concerned with tactics, and Ben, because of the publicity surrounding his arrest, simply became a propaganda tool.
As if to underscore the contrast in character of the two men, the next scene depicts Webb trying to pressure Daughter into having sex with him, first by discrediting any “bourgeois nonsense ideas about love” and insisting that “people ought to be free and happy about sex” (1919 218). When his words fail to convince her, he becomes abusive and violent. Webb is depicted as a communist who employs the ideology when it benefits him, but fails to grasp the humanistic ideals of communism. This point is further illustrated in the next scene when Daughter again accompanies Webb to a strike. When the danger of arrest and physical assault bears down on the strikers, Webb runs, and leaves daughter behind to fend for herself. More significantly, when a female striker falls, no one within the crowd goes to her aid – except for Daughter, who is driven not by tactics or party solidarity, but by simple human compassion. When freed form jail Daughter is approached by Ben Compton and congratulated her for her actions which though she is not a communist or expressed an interest in becoming one, even honorable Ben Compton seems to be more motivated by the fact that she had “made a very good impression in the press” (220).

The Ben Compton character is privileged in its presentation in the Daughter narrative as being, handsome, passionate and willing to sacrifice for his beliefs, but his depiction in the chapter which features him offers a more complex view of Dos Passos’ much praised communist hero. First, it is important to consider the placement of Ben’s narrative within the body of the novel. Unlike other characters featured in 1919, Ben is the only one whose narrative is confined to a single chapter. Ben’s evolution from the child of an impoverished working class family into a symbol of resistance is documented in twenty-two consecutive pages, offering a fluid depiction of the events which transformed his thinking and caused him to commit himself to communism. This chapter is framed by biographies of “Joe Hill” and “Paul Bunyan” which describe the lives of two American working class men – Joe Hill and Wesley Everest, who were victimized by the capitalist system, and sought relief through their involvement in organized protest. The activists both end up meeting brutal deaths for their beliefs, but both men also face their fates (in Dos Passos retelling) with words spurring on future activism. In 1919, Ben too faces the sacrifice of twenty years in prison (a lifetime to a twenty-three year old) for his beliefs. Despite the depth of conviction attributed to him, elements of doubt are indicated as he faces his sentencing before the judge:
The only moment Ben came to life he was when he was allowed to address the court before being sentenced. He made a speech he’d been preparing all these weeks. Even as he said it it seemed silly and weak. He almost stopped in the middle. (357).
Though Ben had been previously described the intensity emotion he received from public speaking, and been energized by the opportunity to share his beliefs, he begins to question his convictions and the efficacy of the movement when he realizes that if he is to be released from jail early it will be due to the movement’s efforts. Dos Passos closes the novel, published in 1932 as “revolutionary hero” Ben is imprisoned as workers continue to be exploited and the devastation of war continues. Dos Passos writing at this time lacks the optimism and “prefiguring of the future” characteristic of proletarian literature, it is unclear if this is a result of the fact that he intended the novels to be part of a trilogy at the end of which communism would prevail, or if his political doubts were guiding his fiction.
Granville Hicks relates another incident which occurred in February 1934, during which Dos Passos was again horrified by the tactics of the Communists. The Socialist Party sponsored a meeting at Madison Square Garden in support of the repressed workers in Vienna. The Communists “invaded” the meeting which ended in a “first-class riot.” An open letter was sent to The New Masses by a group of twenty-five, including Dos Passos, reprimanding the Communist Party. Hicks relates that The New Masses responded with a letter singling out Dos Passos from among the signers which they claimed was made up of mostly “renegade and stoolpigeons.” They addressed him directly, “‘You…are different. To us, you have been, and, we hope, still are, Dos Passos the revolutionary writer, the comrade” (Hicks 93). Hicks continues, that although Dos Passos discontinued his association with leftist publications following this incident, he still “made no denunciations of communism, but his disillusionment was great, and it grew rapidly” (Hicks 93).

In a correspondence addressed to Edmund Wilson in January of 1935 (as Wilson was preparing to travel to Russia) it is clear that Dos Passos continued to privately mull the flaws of communism, and to consider alternative solutions. In the body of the letter he apologized to Wilson for his diatribe, but explains, “I’ve been laying around clarifying what I would be willing to be shot for” (Dos Passos, Fourteenth 462). His continued travels had allowed him interaction with “Cubans of radical education” and from his discussions and observations he concluded that the Stalinists were “alienating the working class movement of the world” adding, “what’s the use of losing your chains if you get a firing squad instead?” (461). Just as he was deeply troubled by the destructiveness of World War I, so he began to decry the “massacre” in Europe which he attributed to the Stalinists. The letter also indicates his belief that Soviet communism was negatively influencing the CPUSA which as a result was continually moving further away from its humanistic aims:
I suspect that a vast variety of things are going on in Russia under the iron mask of the Kremlin, but I don’t think any of them are of any use to us in this country – if our aims are freedom and the minimum of oppression – because they are working out various forms of organization that our great conjunctions are also working out in a very similar way. While those forms were headed toward
workers’ democracy they were enormously interesting but since they have turned away from that…I would personally prefer the despotism of Henry Ford, the United Fruit and Standard Oil than that of Earl Browder, and Amster and Mike
Gold and Bob Miner"(461). He ends the letter stating that he felt like a young man again, searching for answers, but this time experience had made him even more perceptive and skeptical.

In 1935, shortly after the official adoption of “social realism” by the Congress of Soviet Writers, Dos Passos publicly challenged the dictates as a violation of the craft. Though he recognized the value of the words of the everyman, as evidenced by his desire to give voice to the proletariat in his idealized version of The New Masses, he believed that the value of the professional writer was demonstrated by his ability to “mold and influence ways of thinking to the point of changing and rebuilding the language, which is the mind of the group” (Dos Passos, Writer 79). In “Writer as Technician” he explicitly states his belief that the writer is an isolated figure who must remain free from the distractions of “even the most noble political partisanship in the fight for social justice” (Dos Passos, Writer). He argued that the author must be able to “give free reign to those doubts and unclassified impulses which that are at the root of invention and discovery and original thinking” (Dos Passos, Writer) in order to honestly convey the discoveries he has made about the world around him. This essay, intended for presentation at the American Writer’s Congress of 1935, railed against the immense pressure to manipulate the writer and his work. Dos Passos’ contribution to the conference was to be read, but was not received in time. Printed materials from the event were being prepared for publication and Dos Passos was contacted by Malcolm Cowley and asked to “clarify” or rephrase a portion which referred to “militant Communism”. His response to this request was documented in a letter written to Cowley in May, 1935 which in more personal terms expresses the exasperation he felt toward the movement which he believed had become misguided. He begins by vowing not to write any more of these “lousy statements,” which he felt were often misconstrued and his true intentions were lost in the minutiae. More significantly, he complained to Cowley:
….right now the issue is classical liberties and that the fight has got to be made on them. The reason I see no other ground is that I don’t believe the Communist movement is capable of doing anything but provoke oppression and I no longer believe that the end justifies the means – means and ends have got to be one … I don’t think the situation is improving in this country – the comrades are just parroting Russian changes of mood and opinion which shows their impotence up even more (Dos Passos, Fourteenth 477). Essentially Dos Passos believed that the American communist experiment, especially under the influence of the Soviets, had failed. Granville Hicks writes “out of his dual disillusionment, the ole quarrel with capitalism and the new distrust of communism, he wrote The Big Money…” (93).

The depiction of radicals within The Big Money, represented by the characters Mary French, Don Stevens and Ben Compton, is an indictment of the communist party. Mary French is introduced in this novel and is portrayed as a woman who is compelled to improve the lives of those less fortunate through her hard work and dedication. Like a young Ben Compton, during her formative years she was exposed to inequality and hardship. She works at Hull House and later as a reporter exposing the poor conditions of worker’s families. Her involvement with her “duties” cause her to lose contact with family and friends and her efforts become all consuming. Though Mary’s sacrifices are represented as brave and heroic, her convictions ultimately result in skewed priorities and failed relationships, among these is her relationship with Ben Compton. Upon Ben’s release from jail (not due to organized efforts to win his release, but because of Armistice Day), Mary provides him a place to stay and they become romantically involved. Though they plan to marry, Ben is constantly absent on party business. When she becomes pregnant, Ben convinces her that they must abort the baby, because their duties to the party must not be interrupted. Eventually, Compton is expelled from the party, though he indicates that “…it doesn’t matter, I’m still a revolutionist…I’ll continue to work outside of the party” (Big 539). This assertion by Ben indicates Dos Passos belief that party association was not necessary to the true revolutionary, who only required conviction and willingness to demonstrate his beliefs.

The portrayal of the trial of Sacco and Vanzetti, which Dos Passos had been so personally involved with, also indicates the authors shift in perspective of historical events. While the men were on trial, he had worked in concert with the communists to free the men, but the actions of Don Stevens in the fictionalized account belies Dos Passos altered view of events. Martin Landsberg explains:
In The Big Money Stevens’ attitude toward Sacco ands Vanzetti is almost as callous as that which Dos Passos describes the Communists as taking toward imprisoned [Harlan] miners in 1931. It is not an attitude that Dos Passos in 1927 saw as characteristic of Communists…When trade union officials, socialists, ministers and lawyers say this will lead to violence and may discourage a last minute commutation, Stevens says: ‘After allthey are brave men. It doesn’t matter whether they are saved or not anymore, it’s the power of the workingclass that’s got to be saved.’ …The difference between the treatment of the Communists in the narratives of Nineteen Nineteen (1932) and The Big Money (1936) is due to the political history…as well as Dos Passos own development” (220). Many have cited the involvement of the Soviets in the murder of Dos Passos’ friend Jose Robles in 1937 , and the subsequent cover up, as the event which ultimately terminated his association with communism, but a survey of his writing, especially during the period from around 1931 – 1936, shows increasing disillusionment and aggravation toward the radical movement. Dos Passos own moral code, captured in the essay written in 1920, required him to explore these concerns in his writing, for regardless of the threat – in the form of capitalism or “bullying mob,” be believed that the individual was duty bound to preserve liberty and expose any entity that would attempt to encroach upon them. Ironically, it was this love of independence (both literary and ideological) and authorial integrity which so captivated members of the Proletarian movement and gave him such power.

Works Cited
Belkind, Allen. Dos Passos, the Critics, and the Writer's Intention. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 1971. Print.
Brantley, John D. The Fiction of John Dos Passos. The Hague: Mouton, 1968. Print.
Brown, Deming. "Dos Passos in Soviet Criticism." Comparative Literature 5.4 (Autumn, 1953): 332-50. Jstor. Web. 06 Feb. 2010.
Calverton, V.F. "Leftward Ho!" Modern Quarterly spring 1932: 26-32. Print.
Dos, Passos John. 1919. Debolsillo, 2007. Print.
Dos, Passos John. The Big Money. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin, 2000. Print.
Dos, Passos John. The Fourteenth Chronicle: Letters and Diaries. Boston: Gambit, 1973. Print.
Dos Passos, John. "The Writer as Technician." American Writers' Conference. International, 1935. 79-82. Print.
Eagleton, Terry. Marxism and Literary Criticism. Berkeley: University of California, 1976. Print.
Foley, Barbara. "The Collective Novel." Radical Representations: Politics and Form in U.S. Proletarian Fiction, 1929-1941. Durham: Duke UP, 1993. 398-441. Print.
Galligani Casy, Janet. "Historicizing the Female in U.S.A.: Revisions of Dos Passos's Trilogy." Twentieth Century Literature 41.3 (Autumn 1995): 249264. Jstor. Web. 12 Apr. 2010.
Hicks, Granville. "The Politics of John Dos Passos." Antioch Review 10.1 (Spring, 1950): 85-98. Jstor. Web. 24 Apr. 2010.
Landsberg, Melvin. Dos Passos' Path to U.S.A.; a Political Biography, 1912-1936. Boulder, Colorado: Associated UP, 1972. Print.
Ludington, Townsend. John Dos Passos: a Twentieth Century Odyssey. New York: Dutton, 1980. Print.
Lukacs, Gyorgy. Writer and Critic: and Other Essays. London: Merlin, 1978. Print.
Spindler, Michael. "John Dos Passos and the Visual Arts." Journal of American Studies 15.3 (1981): 391-405. Jstor. Web. 8 Apr. 2010.
Wrenn, John H. John Dos Passos. New York: Twayne, 1962. Print.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Stage Craft of Disability: A Review of Shakespeare's Richard III

Though rooted in historical fact, William Shakespeare’s depiction of King Richard III is an example of the playwright’s keen stagecraft which allowed the bard to explore a multiplicity of meaning and explore conventional (to his time) social conceptions of disability. According to documentation, the historical figure upon whom the character is based did not suffer from the disability or deformity which is emphasized as a key component of the character. The character of a disabled Richard is rather an example of an amalgamation of Shakespeare’s political expediency, literary tool and raree show to delight audiences.

Historical documentation indicates that Richard III did not suffer from the physical characteristics or limitations described throughout the play, such as references to his hunched back or withered arm. Shakespeare’s likely motivation for portraying Richard as a “demonic cripple” was to support and perpetuate the negative view of Richard and the Plantagenet line which was held by the current monarch, Queen Elizabeth I. The first historical descriptions characterizing Richard in such a manner may be attributed to Elizabethan devotee Sir Thomas More in 1513.

The image of Richard as a being who was not physically able and normal in appearance would have carried great significance for a Renaissance audience who believed in the idea that the outward appearance offered a reflection of a person’s inward character or morality. Shakespeare chose to take advantage of this set of beliefs by presenting Richard as physically broken as a symbol of and motivation for the character’s evil nature. This imagery also capitalized on the notion of the disabled or physically imperfect as dangerous beings. Richard was described as “not just a person with a hunchback, but a treacherous one whose most heinous act was his alleged murder of his two child nephews…” he is “…also credited with the murders of his wife Anne Neville, Brother George, King Henry VI, and his son Edward” (Covey 172).

Shakespeare, ever aware of the live performance aspect of his plays, would have anticipated the entertainment value of embodying evil in a monstrous and grotesque character. Richard’s infirmities would have served as a visual cue for the audience to beware of the danger and evil of the freakish character. Stage productions have depicted Richard in varying degrees of impairment since the play was first produced around 1633. Some productions have chosen to downplay the aspects of disability allowing the impairments to take on a more subtle effect. Author Leonard Kriegel wrote of the powerful impact an obviously disabled Richard (performed by actor Anthony Sher) could have even on a modern audience (who do not share the Renaissance ideas intermingling disability and evil). He describes how Richard “…advances menacingly on the audience, swinging on two crutches that propel his body forward as if it were being hurled at the audience. He bounds like some threatening animal across the stage. Throughout the performance the crutches emerge as a statement of Richard’s presence, both a prop for Sher and a weapon with which he seems to flail away at the audience’s sense of well being” (Kriegel 31). Richard’s impact however was not limited to visual effect. Shakespeare’s masterful development of this character and its portrayal of disability similarly challenges the audience.

Frequently in literature, “the cripple is the creature who has been deprived of his ability to create a self”(Kriegel 34). In the opening soliloquy the audience is granted access to Richard’s personal thoughts, a true reflection of his self perception. This initial articulation reveals that Richard does not envision himself as weak or lacking, but rather as a personification of control and ability. He views himself as a politician and a warrior first. Richard bemoans his difficulty in adjusting to the transition of war and instability to peace, as though without war and turmoil he has no purpose. In describing himself he references his disability secondly, and this self characterization is mostly marked by how his disability interferes with his ability to assimilate. But he does not allow the disability to define how he sees himself. It seems as though Richard has deceived himself of his true condition when during wartime he is able to contribute on the battlefield – immersing himself in the action and forgetting his form. There are a few lines in the play which infer that he is only reminded of it when confronted with his own image or shadow., when he does not have the warriors sense of purpose and distraction. In his opening soliloquy he states that without battle he has “no delight to pass away the time,/ unless to see my shadow in the sun/and descant my own deformity” (1.125-27). Richard is not internally limited by his condition and he proves masterful at creating images and personas for his advantage. In the opening of the play, he complains that “Why, I , in this weak piping time of peace,/Have no delight to pass away the time” (Richard, 1.1.24-25) Richard proclaims that he will create his own excitement, stating “To entertain these fair well-spoken days,/ I am determined to prove a villain” (Richard, 1.1.29-30). His constructed image allows him to maintain a vantage from which he can cause chaos, without being recognized as the source. He states that his image that he portrays allows him this power. He enjoys the contrariness of his feigned existence stating “And thus I clothe my naked villany/With odd old ends stol’n forth of holy writ/ And seem a saint, when most I play the devil” (Richard, 1.3.335-338).

Though there are several scenes in which Richard choreographs the events to suit his purpose and help reinforce the constructed images he has created for himself, one of the most significant may be found in Act 3, Scene 7. In this scene Richard devises a plan to take the throne, while seemingly not affected by the desire for power. He presents an image of himself as a pious prince, more concerned in the council of the bishops whom he has arranged as props. He celebrates the hypocrisy of his pretended piety when he states “For God doth know, and you may partly see/How far I am from the desire of this” (Richard, 3.7.234-235). This ability to convince people of virtues and characteristics which were not sincere to the individual was an idea that was promoted in Machiavelli’s The Prince, and was described as a necessary tool of power and skill, we can see in this passage how Richard’s seeming piety and disinterest in the power of the throne helps him to appear an ideal leader, while allowing Richard to obtain his true objectives.

In her article, “Enabling Richard: The Rhetoric of Disability in Richard III”, Katherine Schapp Williams argues that Richard actually uses the condition of his body as a form of persuasion and point of distraction against his interlocutors. She argues that Richard employs his broken body as a “full blown narrative device that accrues force for his own machinations” (Williams 3). Richard, though politically shrewd, is discounted as he performs ministrations toward his ultimate goal of usurping the throne. Though the tradition of outer form reflecting inner evil perpetuates the concept that the disabled are dangerous and wicked, Richard’s true malevolent intent is actually masked by the physical abnormalities which characterize him and upon which the other characters are fixated. He manipulates others perceptions of himself by using their own assumptions of his disability against them. He reinforces their incorrect notions by stating “ Because I cannot flatter and look fair/ Smile in men’s faces, smooth deceive and cog” (1.3.47-48) he is ill suited to the politics of the royal court. Other characters in the play are focused instead on his deformity, again by Richard himself. In his pretended resistance of the throne, Richard points to his physicality as a factor which should eliminate him from consideration. He states “So mighty and many are my defects,/That I would rather hide me from my greatness” (3.7.160-161). Later in the same scene he again protests, “I am unfit for state and majesty” (3.7.205). Just as other characters created by Shakespeare such as Henry V, Julia from The Two Gentlemen of Verona and Edgar from King Lear have used masks to move stealthily gathering information and manipulating situations, so Richard uses his disability to move as an undetected threat, so much so that Williams argues that his “bodily difference may actually be enabling” (Williams 2).

Shakespeare also portrays Richard’s awareness that he is able to manipulate others, despite his appearance. In wooing Anne, Richard overcomes not only their tumultuous personal history caused by his murderous deeds, but also his physical abnormalities which Anne references frequently. She calls him a “foul lump of deformity” (1.2.57). She also refers to him in inhuman by calling him a hedgehog. After he has successfully won her, he crows that he has used his “foul” form to win her, with nought but “the plain devil and dissembling looks” (1.2.236).

Shakespeare also employs Richard’s physical condition to explore the idea of isolation. Richard’s physical condition as compared with other characters is visually distinctive offering a clear demarcation of normality and abnormality. Socially too, Richard is clearly isolated as he offers in his first soliloquy, confiding that “But I, am not shaped for sportive tricks/Nor made to court an amorous looking glass….And that so lamely and unfashionable/That dogs bark at me as I halt by them” (Richard III 1.1.15-16 and 23-24) This separation from society is described by Richard as having forced upon him by his physical condition, and implies that it is a consequence over which he has no control. He adds that even animals are alarmed as he passes emphasizing the monstrous nature of his appearance as markedly inhuman. This is also important because it implies that he is unable to form solidarity or companionship with any creature – human or otherwise. This theme is reemphasized in the wooing scene between Richard and Anne when she declares “Villain, thou knowst’ not law of God nor man./No beast so fierce but knows some touch of pity.” Several times in the play Richard is described in animalistic terms, as a hedgehog, and a toad. But the assertion that Richard is not even on the level of an animal, but rather is spurned even by animals, and does not even have the endearing qualities of an animal demonstrates how completely ostracized Richard has become. The sense of separation or not belonging is palpable “for Shakespeare’s characters with disabilities or deformities…they were separated with an added dimension from other characters not lacking disabilities.”

This social isolation to which he has been relegated by fate defines our reading of Richard and his motivations. His lack of personal relations and interconnectedness is an important feature of his identity. Shakespeare frequently explored issues of identity and humanity in his plays like King Lear and The Tempest, in which characters like Lear and Prospero withdrew socially, only to be redeemed by their relations with others. He does not offer that remedy for the character of Richard. Richard is keenly aware of his separation from others, and this is especially clear in Act 5, Scene 3 when he is visited by the Ghost of his wife Anne. He bemoans this lack of fellowship and communion crying out “I shall despair. There is no creature loves me;/And if I die, no soul will pity me” (5.3.201-202) He states simply that there is no one to whom he feels allegiance or love for but himself, stating, “Richard loves Richard; that is, I and I” (5.3.184).

Perhaps one of the most intriguing components of the character of Richard is the paradoxical configuration of self determination and predetermination. Shakespeare creates a fictionalized account of a historical event, which requires a predefined conclusion, one that must take into account the preferences of the current power structure (Queen Elizabeth I). Shakespeare also recognized the need to provide an ending in which misdeeds were punished and injustices rectified. He also needed to create a character and resolution for that character which was supported by cultural beliefs. However in creating the character of Richard III, Shakespeare challenged notions of control over one’s one fate. He created in the character of Richard a disabled figure who refused to have his actions or identity defined solely by his physicality. A character who though disabled demonstrated remarkable strength and ability both in the political arena, and also on the battlefield, stirs emotions audiences which are unsettling. As Kriegel pointed out, the visual aspect of the character can be impactful, but the emotional and social aspects of Richard are equally disturbing. Richard’s paradoxical nature as both disabled and deformed, while extremely strong and able in battle and political maneuvering challenges the audience (both modern and early) to question our ideas of body image and disability. Many have argued that this play helped perpetuate the ideas of disability and evil being intertwined, but I would argue that a more sophisticated reading would focus on Shakespeare’s twofold emphasis on the paradox of disability/ability as well as on the devastating effect that the isolation caused by his disability had upon Richard.

Works Cited

Covey, Herbert. “Shakespeare on Old Age and Disability.” International Journal on Aging and Human Development. Vol. 50. 169-183. 2000
Kriegel, Leonard. “The Cripple in Literature.” Images of the Disabled, Disabling Images. Eds. Alan Gartner and Tom Joe. Praeger: New York. 1987. 31-46
Shakespeare, William. The Tragedy of King Richard the Third. The Complete Pelican Shakespeare. Eds. Orgel, Stephen and A. R. Bruanmuller. New York: Penguin, 2002. 910-957.
Williams, Katherine Schapp. “Enabling Richard: The Rhetoric of Disability in Richard III.” Disability Studies Quarterly, Vol 29, No 4. 2009.

Defending John: A Reflection on the Accusation of Misogyny in Paradise Lost

John Milton’s poetry and prose, as well as a consideration of his personal history, reveal a complex set of ideals and beliefs on many subjects – education, marriage and Liberty chiefly among them. There has been an ongoing debate within the academic community of feminist scholars for years regarding the treatment of female characters by the author and poet. Many point to the portrayal of women in Milton’s crowning achievement, Paradise Lost, as evidence of his misogynistic view. Though this work, especially when considered with his prose writing, does not directly point to Milton’s views regarding women – they do offer insight into his experiences and beliefs which help the modern reader to consider the legitimacy of accusations of misogyny against the author.

In the chapter, “Milton’s Bogey: Patriarchal Poetry and Women Readers” from the classic feminist tome Madwoman in the Attic, Professor Sandra Gilbert chronicles the breadth of negative influence Milton’s portrayal of Eve has had on authors and poets ranging from Mary Shelley, Sylvia Plath and Virginia Woolf among others. While the works of these authors certainly indicate that they were profoundly impacted by their readings of Paradise Lost (and in some cases additional Miltonic texts) it simply does not prove that neither Milton, nor his works, were misogynistic in nature.

Gilbert’s inference that the female guilt resultant from Eve’s transgression as more attributable to Milton’s retelling, rather than from the Book of Genesis where it originally appeared, is deceptive and disingenuous. Gilbert argues that Milton has created an “unholy trinity” consisting of Satan, Sin and Eve (instead of the more obvious combination of Satan, Sin and Death) – in diametric opposition to the Father, the Son and Adam, thereby intentionally linking Eve and femininity to evil. In fact, there are only two female characters portrayed in the entire 12 book epic poem – Sin and Eve. Sin is described as Satan’s daughter with whom he has an incestuous relationship and which results in the offspring of Death – Sin’s multitude of children. Sin’s prototype certainly points back to the character of Duessa from Edmund Spenser’s The Fairie Queen which Milton was certainly aware of and influenced by. There is also the allusion Of Sin sprouting from Satan and Eve is derived from a piece of Adam’s rib both harken to Athena having similarly sprouted from Zeus’s head. Though this may be read by some as a further indictment of Eve’s monstrous nature, but it can just as easily be read as an allusion to classical mythology and in Eve’s case is directly attributable to the Genesis account. The feminine gender of Sin seems to offer some validation to critics who would damn Milton for portraying this creature in the “woman as monster” mode, rather than pointing back to other literary references and additional allusions to mythology which would seema more plausible source of inspiration as Milton’s supposed disdain for the female gender.

The character of Eve is a literary device that moves forward the plot of the story, but is also a predetermined actor in a cultural myth. Milton elaborates upon this persona by creating a physical description, personality and history. She is described through Satan’s eyes as “Shee has a veil down to the slender waist/Her unadorned golden tresses wore/Dishevell’ed, but in wanton ringlets wav’d” (PL Book IV, ll 304-306. The reader’s initial introduction to Eve reveals a woman of admirable physical beauty, but also hints at her nature and personality as well, as she is described with words like wanton, and disheveled. He creates in Eve a unique perspective of events and allows her voice by creating an opportunity for the character in Book IV to reveal her own perspective of the creation story which differs from the one which Adam recalls to the Angel Raphael in Book VIII. This difference is significant, because it indicates the inherent differences in the human characters and their divergent views of the same event, but it also indicates a pridefulness in Adam which causes him to withhold information of Eve’s preference for her own reflection over Adam’s presence. The scene which Eve recounts of viewing herself in the lake “pleas’d I soon return’d,/Pleas’d it returne’d as soon with answering looks/of sympathy and love; there I had fixt/Mine eyes till now, and pin’d with vain desire” (PL, Book IV, ll 464-466). is significant, for three reasons which will impact the story significantly. It demonstrates the first time she is made to subvert her own will at the bidding of another -Eve’s preference for herself indicates autonomy from Adam, for which she is rebuked several times. Secondly, Eve recounts that upon her “awakening to consciousness she heard a “voice” which gave her information which would be verified and considered reliable regarding her creation and purpose, this experience makes Eve’s trust in the voice of Satan and the form of the serpent both believeable and sensible. Finally Eve’s revelation of her narcissistic behavior provides the information which Satan needs to prepare his deception of the human race which will provide him the revenge he seeks. Eve’s version of the events of her creation is also important because Milton allows Eve a voice and expressive power in her communicating her recollection of the events of her creation. Eve becomes her own spokesperson, and her account – which is privileged with being the first to inform the reader, is revealed to be the more complete and truthful, suggesting that she is possibly the most reliable narrator in the scenes which are set in the Garden of Eden.

Eve’s initial autonomy from Adam may actually indicate that Milton believed that women were indeed stronger and more independent by nature, but that their inherent ability to self satisfy and regulate had been removed from them by their treatment by the patriarchal power structure (in this case The Father and Adam, and later by society) and cultural conditioning. Eve’s own account of her creation reveals a narcissistic preference for herself over Adam. Initially it is a voice which deters her from gazing upon herself, and redirects her toward Adam. Eve attempts to return to the image of herself again, until Adam “with that thy gentle hand/Seiz’d mine, I yielded, and from that time see/How beauty is excell’d by manly grace/And wisdom alone which is truly fair” (PL, Book IV, ll 487-491). Eve’s initial autonomy from Adam, and preference for herseld and the “love and sympathy” which she found in her own reflection, may actually indicate that Milton believed that women were indeed stronger and more independent by nature, but that their inherent ability to self satisfy and regulate had been removed from them by their treatment by the patriarchal power structure (in this case The Father and Adam, but in general society) and cultural conditioning.

Throughout the poem Milton observes elements of traditional structure of epic poetry – these include conventions such as the invocation of the muse, exposition through the chorus, and storytelling or narration within the narration. Another convention which Milton frequently observed in the poem was the intervention of a divine being to move along the plot. Eve is effected by the divine intervention in several ways. The first is her experience with Raphael and Adam where she prepares and serves a meal for them to eat in Book V. Though this act of domesticity is often read as belittling and a demonstration of Eve’s servitude, it is a plot point by which Milton is able to reveal information to both the reader, and Adam and Eve. When offered the food from the Garden of Eden, Raphael refers to the food as “Food not of Angels, yet accepted so” (ll 463) and indicates that there is food which will allow “Your bodies may at last turn all to spirit/Improv’d by tract of time and wing’d ascend” (ll 497-498) indicating a transformation activated by consuming this food which will allow them to move freely between Eden and Heaven. The indication of God’s plan for the human couple are further elaborated upon by Raphael, God’s messenger, who tells them that humans were God’s replacement for fallen angels, and describes the method, by their own actions, through which they will be transformed. Raphael describes, “They open to themselves at length the way/Up hither, under long obedience tri’d,” indicating the need for Adam and Eve to act as agents in fulfilling God’s plan for them.

A part of God’s plan in creating a female for Adam is to create a compliment and a helpmeet. Though Raphael emphasizes Eve’s importance for being able to enact procreation through childbirth, it is initially Adam’s pleadings to God which cause him to produce a mate for Adam, as Milton described the original intent of marriage, found in the Doctirne and Discipline of Divorce Milton which was to “comfort and refresh him against the evil of solitary life” Milton 703). Milton also proposed in these treaties the import of achieving a mutuality between husband and wife that was founded in respect. Adam describes Eve as “so lovely fair,” but it is the completion of him through emotional and romantic love which creates new sensations for Adam who describes, “Sweetness into my heart, unfelt before” (Book VIII, ll. 475) and “here passion first I felt,/Commotion strange and unmov’d, here only weak/Against the charm of Beauty’s powerful glance” (Book VIII, ll530-533). Though Adam’s attraction to Eve is clear, she is also reliant upon him for companionship and pleasure. When given the opportunity to hear describe the workings of the planets, Eve elects a solitary refrain – choosing instead to hear the information from Adam commingled with his caresses. Though the argument has been made that Eve does not have the intellectual ability to learn matters of such elevated learning, it must be considered that she would rather share in the experience with her helpmeet and companion whom she enjoys, than the loquacious angel Raphael. This view of marriage in which Eve is desirous of a “meet and happy conversation” would be consistent with the blessings of a contented marriage which Milton promoted.

In Book 9 Eve is presented in direct contrast to the way in which Raphael depicted her. Though they are disagreeing and Eve is frustrated with Adam’s unyielding nature she attempts to persuade him in a controlled and reasonable manner. She does not allow passion to dictate the tenor of her arguments, but rather speaks to logic. Adam advocates following custom and adheres to rote learning, but Eve represents reason and questioning, actions which Milton emphasizes repeatedly in his prose and poetry, and which he outlined as as essential for earning and maintaining liberty. Milton essentially places his own arguments in the mouth of the beautiful who yields to Adam with “coy submission.” When Adam tries to prevent her from separating from him to tend the garden, Eve expresses her opposition and attacks his assertion that he wishes to accompany her to protect her weaker virtue. To counter this, Eve offers arguments found in Milton’s Aeropagitica (in which Milton voiced his argument against censorship by Parliament) arguing that in order to resist evil you must have experienced it. Eve’s desire to question and pursue knowledge and experience contrasted with Adam’s acceptance and dedication to distilled knowledge are reminiscent of the approaches to life which Milton described in the companion poems “L’Allegro” and “Il Penseroso” which read together imply that neither alone is sufficient, but each together are complimentary and necessary for a balanced perspective. By personifying these characters with these traits, he does not demean or privilege one over the other, nor does he privilege Adam over Eve, but rather points to their mutual necessity. Critic Janet E. Halley summed up their relationship by stating, “In the course of the poem, Adam and Eve discover their sameness and equality as well as a structure of differences that make each the incomplete part of a heterosexual pair that is the only whole” (Halley, 232).

The elements of the story converge upon Eve when she is faced by Satan in the guise of the serpent, who uses information about her and the limited knowledge she does have to tempt her. Though Milton took certain creative license with the retelling of the story of the Fall, by characterizing the players and building the action of the story through events and actions, he had to do so within the confines of the story offered in the Genesis account, but also with awareness of the social and legal restrictions upon women during the period in which he wrote the poem. Milton saw this as an opportunity to address and explore issues which he championed in his prose works regarding liberty, tyranny, rebellion, marriage and the pursuit of knowledge and free will. Raphael and Adam’s continual questioning of Eve’s internal purity are one of the great ironies of the poem, Professor Gilbert described in detail such a woman, whose external beauty is profound, but whose delicate shell disguises an internal morass of rot and evil. The character of Eve may also be interpreted as a paragon of human deficiency or imperfection who continually strives to achieve knowledge and experience, making her internally more beautiful than without, an ideal which Milton esteemed highly.

Works Cited
Gilbert, Sandra M. and Susan Gubar. ­The Madwoman in the Attic. New Haven: Yale UP, 1979.
Halley, Janet E. “Female Autonomy in Milton’s Sexual Poetics” Milton and the Idea of Women. Ed. Julia M. Walker. Urbana: U of Illinois Press, 1988. 230-254.
Hughes, Merritt Y., ed. Paradise Lost. ­John Milton: Complete Poems and Major Prose. Indianapolis:Hacket 2003.

John Milton and Liberty: You Get the Government You Deserve

In The Second Defense of the English People John Milton wrote of his fundamental desire to see and aid in the “establishment of real liberty,” which compelled him to “transfer the whole force of my talents and my industry to this one important object” (830). Milton wrote persuasively of the justification and the necessity for the pursuit of freedom in political tracts wherein he argued for the benefit of autonomy in three spheres: religious, domestic and civil. He recounted in Second Defense that he initially realized that the episcopal war with the Scots allowed the opportunity for him to begin publicly his questioning and exploration of ideas on this matter, which he believed were both crucial and urgent.

In ­The Reason of Church Government, published in 1642, Milton argued for liberty in worship, which he believed could be found by adopting the more Presbyterian style of church governance and devotion found in Scotland. Milton compares the tradition and custom of the episcopal church to a “natural tyrant.” He argued that the initial formation of the church government was intended to instill discipline and organization as described in the gospels. Milton argued however, that the purpose of church government had been perverted by the prelaty as a method of control and self aggrandizement. He criticized the orientation of human tradition in ecclesiastical worship, writing that God had never intended it “to be patched over with the devices and embellishings of man’s imaginations” (645). Milton believed that ornate religious worship was empty and full of thoughtless conformity; he criticized the flamboyant manner of the church, arguing that worship which was more interior lived and felt would be more authentic and meaningful. He pressed the idea that the church in its current state served itself more for purposes of this world than God’s glory, corrupting the true intent. Milton warned that the prelaty “subdue your spirits by a servile and blind superstition; and that again shall hold dominion over your captive minds, as returning with an insatiate greediness and force upon your worldly wealth and power, wherewith to deck herself and her false worships” (684). He declared conscription to the Church of England was akin to “perfect slavery,” and argued that his fellow Christians should throw off the oppressive religious style which he felt was embodied by the Episcopal Church.

Milton approached the ideas of domestic liberty in two pamphlets, Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce published in 1643 and Areopagitica in 1644. In these tracts, as well as in Reason for Church Government, he attempted to personalize issues of liberty. He used these pamphlets as a method by which he could persuade people to begin to question their unthinking adherence to custom for custom’s sake. He attempted to point out the absurd restrictions and authoritarianism which governed and restricted all areas of existence from spiritual worship to domestic life. He underscored the need for individuals to control the basic administration of their own lives.
In Doctrine of Divorce, Milton advocates for a change in the laws permitting divorce, essentially challenging the tradition, or custom, that it should be the government’s business to determine just causes for the absolution of marriage. He invokes the notion of tyrannical oppression upon domestic liberty by stating that “no effect of tyranny can sit more heavy on the commonwealth than this household unhappiness on the family” (700). Milton addressed the notion that there were discrepancies between old and new testament scripture regarding divorce, but Milton clarified his ideas which stated that Jesus’ words in the Gospel of Matthew did not prohibit divorce, but merely acted as a reprimand to those who would abuse the ability to end a marriage as set down by Moses in the Book of Deuteronomy. He argued against the notion that these scriptures were contradictory, stating that if that were the case, God would be proven to be unjust and inconsistent. He also believed that Canon Law placed a greater value upon marriage as a carnal undertaking, questioning why infidelity should be the only acceptable reason for divorce. Milton argued that the “domestic charter” of marriage was granted to man as a remedy to loneliness. He claimed the purpose of marriage was to offer “the apt and cheerful conversation of man with woman, to comfort and refresh him against the evil of solitary life” (703). Milton argued vehemently that if a person was bound by a joyless marriage, that it would actually be worse than loneliness and totally in opposition to God’s will. The importance of a compatible marriage was emphasized, reaffirming the idea that marriage partners should be like minded and of similar disposition. A “well yoked” marriage would be built upon virtues which would bring glory to God as was his intended purpose. Conversely, if a marriage were not well yoked by God, then it could (and should) be undone. In fact he reasoned that a person who was forced to remain in an unhappy marriage would be tempted to sinful behavior. Milton felt it was necessary to approach this unjust prohibition, for as long as it remained in force, “farewell all hope of true reformation in the state, while such an evil lies undiscerned or unregarded in the house” (700).

In Areopagitica Milton relies on four main arguments to counter the Licensing Order of 1643, which he viewed not only as a mode to potentially censor any written materials, but also as an a further encroachment upon intellectual freedom and the dissemination of the very ideas of liberty to which he was so committed. In Areopagitica he wrote, “for this is not the liberty which we can hope, that no grievance ever should arise in the Commowealth – that let no man in this world expect; but when complaints are freely heard, deeply considered and speedily reformed, then is the utmost bound of civil liberty attained” (718). Milton traced the origin of censorship to the Catholic Church. He wrote that the practice did not come from “the modern custom of any reformed city or church abroad; but from the most antichristian council and the most tyrannous inquisition ever inquired” (725). His second argument explored the purpose of reading. He points out that Moses, Daniel and Paul were not corrupted by their knowledge. Milton pointed to Dionysius Alexandrinus who embodied the notion of becoming informed and knowledgeable in order to be prepared to combat misinformation or heretical teachings. Exposure to different ideas is also necessary for the ability to distinguish between good and bad, and that the inability to recognize evil leaves one ill prepared to navigate temptation. Milton then addressed the fact that no other nation has ever approached licensure in this manner and that the difficulty of such an undertaking would be almost impossible. Review of all material would require incredible resources and exposure to questionable materials by those deemed worthy to judge, but also reliance upon those judges to be able to determine what should or should not allowable. Milton pushes the absurdity of this notion further, by proffering the idea that if the intent is to safeguard the virtue of the nation, then all activity of every kind must be controlled. Finally he asserts that the Licensure Order would greatly limit the exchange of ideas and knowledge which would result in a diminishment of education which would be detrimental to the nation. Milton challenges Parliament implying that passage of the Licensing Order would make the people “grow ignorant again, brutish, formal, and slavish as ye found us; but you then must first become what ye cannot be, oppressive, arbitrary, and tyrranous as they were from whom ye have freed us”(745).

Each of Milton’s previous tracts were pieces designed to prepare the English people for the introduction of the idea of civil liberty which Milton believed was attainable. In Tenure of Kings and Magistrates, Milton explored the idea of monarchy. Milton attempted to convince others to maintain their resolve regarding the deposition and execution of Charles I. Milton related the history of Aristotle’s Politics, underscoring the origin of a monarch’s power emanating form the people he rules, and theking’s purpose as service to the people. A king only retains his power if he rules for the people, and when reciprocally they swear allegiance to him. When that contracted relationship is violated, and the king is corrupted only serving a faction of the people, then the king must be recognized as a tyrant – who may lawfully be deposed and punished according to the law.

Milton’s fundamental beliefs may be encapsulated by the statement, “the promotion of real and substantial liberty, which is rather to be sought from within than from without, and whose existence depends not so much on the terror of the sword as on the sobriety of conduct and integrity of life” (830). Milton was aware of the tenuous nature of the newly won liberty which was in place in England during this time, and believed that man must continually seek knowledge and remain vigilant in safeguarding their liberty, warning “If you think slavery is an intolerable evil, learn obedience to reason and the government of yourselves…Unless you spare no pains to effect this, you must be judged unfit, both by God and mankind to be entrusted with the possession of liberty” (838).

Works Cited

Hughes, Merritt Y., ed. “Areopagitica.” ­John Milton: Complete Poems and Major Prose. Indianapolis:Hacket 2003.

Hughes, Merritt Y., ed. “Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce.” ­John Milton: Complete Poems and Major Prose. Indianapolis:Hacket 2003.

Hughes, Merritt Y., ed. “The Reason of Church Government.” ­John Milton: Complete Poems and Major Prose. Indianapolis:Hacket 2003.

Hughes, Merritt Y., ed. “The Second Defense of the English People.” ­John Milton: Complete Poems and Major Prose. Indianapolis:Hacket 2003.

Hughes, Merritt Y., ed. “The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates.” ­John Milton: Complete Poems and Major Prose. Indianapolis:Hacket 2003.

Warning To An Unruly Child in the Handmaid's Tale

In the dystopian novel, The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, portrays a world controlled by the newly defined social conventions and practices of the “Republic of Gilead.” Atwood created a complex character, a tragic hero, who struggles internally to make sense of the alienation and chaos of the world in which she finds herself. Atwood stated that she did not “require a more heroic protagonist, for I think The Handmaid’s Tale offers something more important than a story of swashbuckling heroism by demonstrating that there is no safety and that the greatest danger is in ignoring that there is” (Green 15). Atwood creates a character who moves through life blithely with little awareness of impending danger, content to “lie low” and “live in the margins,” even when her very survival is threatened. The Handmaid’s Tale serves as a warning to readers who would fail to actively safeguard their freedoms.

One element that is often overlooked in the study of the oppressive governance in the fictional Gilead is the protagonist’s complicity in her subjugation. In “Discipline and Punish,” philosopher and critic Michel Foucault argued that “he who is subjected to a field of visibility, and who knows it assumes responsibility for the constraint of power…he becomes the principle of his own subjugation” (Foucault 555-556) He believed that the imprisoned or oppressed, like Offred, assume a mentality of resignation and constant awareness of their condition which causes them to accept and internalize their limited power and position – in effect allowing themselves to be oppressed.

Atwood employs imagery of childishness throughout the text to demonstrate the lack of maturity, responsibility and independence necessary to counter the newly established laws and societal conventions. Throughout the novel, Offred the handmaid is regularly treated like a child by those who are superior to her. Offred assumes the characteristics of a child, in both thought and action, framing her ideals or observations in childlike terms. It is Offred’s willing assumption of this persona which eases the subordination, of her, by others in the power structure. Her adoption of this childlike mindset relaxes her moral standards, allowing her the ability to rationalize. She cloaks behaviors that she recognizes as wrong or forbidden by setting them in terms of naughty or immature behavior. She also employs this sense of powerlessness as a ready excuse, to remove herself from any culpability for these unlawful and immoral actions.

The narrator acknowledges her transition from free American woman to limited child figure in Gilead with the observation that “I am like a child here, there are some things I must not be told” (Atwood 53). Offred, though prized for her womanly reproductive ability, is treated in a diminished manner befitting a child by characters at all levels of the power spectrum. The “Aunt” characters, from which Offred received most of her early indoctrination of her new purpose, demean their charges by calling them “girls” (instead of “ladies” as is the practice when the Wives are present). Even Rita, who is essentially a lowly domestic servant is able to debase Offred, who remarks that it is “surprising how much like a small, begging child she makes me feel…how importune and whiny” (207). The Commander indulges her by playing childish games with her such as hiding items behind his back for her to guess at or letting her win at the games they play together.

It is at the earliest point in the chronology of the story that the pattern of acceptance of subjugation is first revealed. As drastic changes begin to occur in the Untied States which leave her suddenly without a job or the ability to access her won bank account, she simply resigns herself to the new reality. She describes how many women have begun protesting the changes in marches and demonstrations, but content to “lie low”she admits, “Ididn’t go on any of the marches. Luke said it would be futile” instead, she continues, “I started doing more housework, more baking” (180). She describes the physical and emotional depression she experienced, but did nothing to advocate herself. The unnamed narrator realizes the impact of her diminishing power and childlike reliance on others to care for her, when her husband, Luke, promises to “take care” of her. Her initial reaction, disclosed through internal dialogue, is “already he’s starting to patronize me” (179). Almost immediately she acquiesces to him by agreeing that she knows he will care for her, and recognizing that she is at his mercy.

The activities of Offred’s daily life resemble her remembrances of childhood, offering a sense of familiarity and appealing to a sense of nostalgia for the experiences which range from the mundane to the impactful. The Handmaid notes the details of her everyday life, mimicking a youngsters, including daily naps and describing her meals, “a cheese sandwich, a glass of milk…a schoolchild’s lunch” (282). More profound events of her daily life such as her exposure to bible teachings and political programming are echoed by earlier events of her youth. The films that the Aunts present to demonstrate the radical feminist teachings from which the “girls” are being protected depict acitivist women, including her own activist mother. These screenings echo the ones which her mother watched with her, “when she was seven or eight, too young to understand it” (144). The Biblical teachings which are mandated by the government in the Republic of Gilead are also reminiscent of television programs, viewed around the same age, when she would watch “the Growing Souls Gospel Hour, where they would tell Bible stories for children and sing hymns,” adding the irony that “one of the women was called Serena Joy” (16), the wife of her latest commander. The Handmaid’s inability to distinguish between the modes of exposure to ideological dogma is profound. Offred compares, without distinction, the forced programming sessions she viewed as a handmaid with her childhood memories of documentary and television features that was optional and uncensored.

Offred’s diminishment to a childlike figure is not merely foisted upon her by the characters and circumstances of the novel, it is an image she adopts in terms of self identity, behavior and the way she perceives the world around her. In general terms, she speaks of how women’s bodies are like “unruly children.” In more personal terms, she describes herself as a “child who is being allowed up late with the grown-ups” (82). This distinction between herself and other members of the household is significant, because she views herself as inferior to each person, regardless of their level of power, and “grown up” when contrasted with herself.

She regularly exhibits child like characteristics and beliefs. In several scenes in the novel she assumes the posture associated with a good and obedient child, by sitting with her hands folded in front of her. She places herself into accepted postures – “without being told”. Her movements are youthful, and even the act of walking down a concrete sidewalk offers a regression to childish mannerisms and superstitions as “like a child, I avoid stepping on the cracks” (24). This childish mindset, which allows her to cling to superstition, also allows her to maintain an innocent or naïve way of viewing the horrific world around her. Both buildings and people are framed in terms of fairy tale language and imagery. She envisions herself and fellow handmaids as fairytale figures, moving through a world “as if enchanted. A fairy tale I would like to believe” (213). She offers a portrayal of her reality in this idealized literary tradition, in an attempt to ground herself with a frame of reference, but also offering herself hope for a “happy ending.”

Offred’s perception of the atrocities occurring around her, especially the men’s executions, is phrased in metaphor and simile consistent with juvenile experience. Confronted with the hooded bodies of three dead men the narrator describes them as faceless dolls, scarecrows, and melting snowmen. The appearance of blood on one of the cloth hoods is likened to “a mouth, a small red one, like the mouths painted with the thick brushes of kindergarten children” (32). Though she herself has just likened this seeping of blood on to the white hood of the executed as a mouth, she emphasizes that it is a “child’s idea of a smile” (32). The juxtaposition of childish perceptions with awareness of the reality of the situation indicate an intentional desire to escape from reality and her belief that she is unable to control any of the horrors she encounters.

In reaction to the stifling authoritarian regime she is forced to live under, Offred begins to test boundaries, as children often do. She describes a brief encounter with a Guardian in which she allows him to see her face and is tempted to touch his skin. She rationalizes the behavior as “a small defiance of the rule, so small as to be undetectable, but such moments are the rewards I hold out for myself, like the candy I hoarded, as a child, at the back of the drawer” (21). She couches these and other infractions in terms of youthful behavior – serving to diminish the serious of the infraction and allowing her to justify her actions. Her rebelliousness increases gradually from minor offenses like stealing sugar packets and butter, increasingly boldness allows her to cheating with the commander in word games and sharing non-sanctioned verbal exchanges with her fellow handmaids, and finally culminating in grievous offenses of maintaining ongoing relationships with both the Commander and Nick.

She attempts through her recounting of events to make herself appear sympathetic and justified, reminding the reader frequently of her inability to control the direction and outcome of her life. However, she acknowledges awareness of violating the rules and boundaries of her own personal standards, and even those of the society in which she was raised. When considering an object to steal from the household of the commander, she recognizes the futility of the object she covets, noting, I would like to steal something from this room…It would make me feel that I have power” (80-81). The rules she breaks in no way advance her ultimate freedom or protect others vulnerable to the oppressive system.

Her relationship with the commander is also morally problematic for her – she enjoys the forbidden rendezvous and distraction offered by the illicit activity despite the danger it represents to her. She realizes that this relationship has negative and hurtful consequences for the wife, Serena Joy, “I felt guilty about her. I felt I was an intruder, in a territory that ought have been hers” (161). She recalls discussions that she had with her friend, whose opinion she highly valued, and who showed disdain for the action of “poaching” another woman’s man. Yet Offred acknowledges her activity not as powerless sex slave, but empowered mistress. She realizes even from the audience perspective her actions are fundamentally wrong – apologizing, “I wish this story were different, I wish it showed me in a better light” (267). She acknowledges the power and privilege that her forbidden relationship with the Commander offers her. This relationship offers her a chance at redemption for her moral character, as it allows her the opportunity to act an informant for the resistance movement. But she dismisses this idea – and greedily focuses on her own selfish motives.

Many characters in the novel, oppressed similarly to Offred, affect their situations by actively choosing to counter the system which subjugates them. Her mother served as an emblem of political and social activism, whose efforts brought about real change (although not necessarily the kind she had intended.) Moira, her friend both during freedom and imprisonment, exemplifies constant challenge to authority and determination to control her destiny, ultimately leading to her escape. Offred recognizes the difference between women like Moira and herself, “I don’t want her to be like me. Give in, go along, save her skin…I want gallantry from her, swashbuckling, heroism, single-handed combat” (249).But Offred recognizes that Moira and her bravery are exceptional and rare. Other handmaid characters, more relatable to Offred, also find avenues for determining their own destiny, whether through aiding the resistance movement or committing suicide.. Regardless of the seemingly unalterable situations which they find themselves in, these other characters further act to witness against Offred’s assertion that she is unable to impact her life.

The recognition that she could have been taking action throughout the story to shape her own outcome is a theme repeated many times in the novel, yet in the end she still fails to act independently. In the last chapter of the novel she sits awaiting the arrival of the Guardians who are coming to remove her to an unknown fate, but instead using any number of exit strategies she has considered, she reverts to daydreaming as an escape from the uncertain reality which awaits her. The childlike Offred takes no action to protect or defend herself, but rather, once again allows, herself to be placed at the mercy of others (the Guardians).
The Handmaid’s Tale, though an imagined reality, challenges readers to consider the progression or logical outcome of behaviors present in today’s society. Atwood’s characterization of Offred as a citizen who is disengaged and non-reactive to social and political changes in her world serve as a warning for modern day readers to “grow up” and take responsibility, through remaining informed, involved and taking each opportunity to shape their destiny, else they could be dismissed like an unruly child.

Works Cited
Atwood, Margaret. The Handmaid’s Tale. New York: Random, 1986.
Foucault, Michel. “Discipline and Punish.” Literary Theory: An Anthology. Eds. Julie Rivkin and Michael Rivkin. Malden: Blackwell, 2004. 549-565
Greene, Gayle. “Choice of Evils.” The Women’s Review of Books­. July, 1986: 14-15. JSTOR­. MLA International Bibliography. Oviatt Library. 24, March 2009

Main CHaracter in the Margins: Homosexual Voice in The Big Money by John Dos Passos

In examining the U.S.A. Trilogy by John Dos Passos, critic George Becker defines two themes which are found throughout the series – the obvious “soulless drive for wealth,” and the more subtle “repression of dissent.” The latter may be exemplified by the political and social demonstration of disparate ideological views (socialism/capitalism, material/idealism, and collective/individual, etc.), as well as the challenge of societal conventions found throughout the novel. Becker argues that the separation from the conventional or accepted traditions subject characters who express themselves in non traditional ways or express radical views as targets of ostracism or marginalization.

Most critics of the novel The Big Money, including Becker, tend to read the character Tony Garrido as an extension of Margo Dowling or a subplot to her overall narrative. I would argue that Dos Passos is using the character of Tony, as a “closeted” main character to explore the dissent of the homosexual from social conventions, and its repression which is demonstrated internally and externally[RSB1] . Garrido’s embodiment of the theme of “repression of dissent” may in actuality define him as a significant character (perhaps more so than Margo). Both in the context of the story and in the technical method by which this character has been presented by Dos Passos, Tony’s sexuality relegates him to a marginalized status which effectively silences his voice. Tony is never able to directly broach the struggle his sexual identity causes him and the pain and difficulties he faces must be related only through the voice of others. The exploration of Tony Garrido’s experience is therefore hidden or “closeted” within the context of Margo’s narrative and the Valentino biography.

In Margo’s second narrative section in the novel, when Margo and Tony happen upon each other, they are both struggling to form their identity in terms of their sexuality. The young couple, she is sixteen years old and he is twenty-one, find solidarity and a level of newly experienced comfort in someone with whom they can share their frustrations and their dreams. Margo complains to Tony, describing the unease she feels because of her burgeoning sexuality. She recounts to him the harassing attention of the men who are interested in her - though she withholds news from him about being raped by her stepfather Frank. Tony also fails to disclose the secret of his homosexuality. Though unvoiced to Margo, Tony displays signs of distress regarding the sexual component of their relationship, as well as her conclusion that a marriage between them would provide the perfect escape (for her away from Frank and Agnes and the stifling boredom of the apartment and for him to the nostalgia of his childhood home of Cuba) which they both desire.

Tony clearly struggles internally during this period with the true nature of his homosexual desires and the societal pressures to seek out a conventional relationship. Tony responds timidly to Margo’s aggressive sexual advances, allowing her to take on the role of instigator. Despite her provocative actions which grow increasingly intimate by her design, Margo refuses to allow consummation by completing the sexual act, insisting on first being married and escaped from their present condition. Tony’s emotional outburst of tears and feigned indignation to Margo’s sexual advances would indicate extreme sexual frustration or a frightened lack of experience, they are in fact the first real intimations of Tony’s homosexuality, and the dueling urges which conflict him. Later references will indicate to the reader (and eventually to Margo,) Tony’s true sexual identity, but during their courtship he seems willing to participate by marrying Margo and attempting a more traditional relationship. Margo is the architect of the marriage plan, and though “he didn’t seem to like the idea very much” (146) he did nothing to dissuade his future wife.

Theorist Judith Butler argued that “Gender …is a construction that regularly conceals its genesis. The tacit agreement to perform, produce and sustain discrete and polar genders as cultural fictions is obscured by the credibility of its own production “ (903). During their engagement, Tony “performed” the role that was expected of him, in both appearance and deed. Tony and Margo were striking together, causing strangers on the street to remark, “my, what a handsome young couple” (146). Tony provided the anticipated protest when Margo refused to allow him to have intercourse with her, referencing male dominated cultural tradition, or machismo, identified with Cuban men. He also played stereotypical male roles by earning the money needed to carry out their plans and by being the decisive voice in the timing and execution of their wedding arrangements. Tony’s unease becomes evident as he plunged into a “compulsory heterosexual” relationship, which although he participated in and enacted, is not credibly based. The narrative catalogues Tony’s increasing discomfort and fear as they obtain a marriage license, register at the hotel as a married couple and secured the room , and their honeymoon suite – they use it for practical purposes of freshening up, and not for relieving the unrealized sexual tension.

Immediately upon marrying, Tony is affected by the external consequences of the denial of his nature. The unnatural carriage and composure of the couple belie the true nature of their relationship- causing the hotel clerk to doubt their marriage claim and demanding proof. When the newlyweds begin to drink champagne shortly after their wedding, effectively loosening his inhibitions, Tony begins to gradually insinuate his homosexuality, revealing that “many rich men like me very much” (148). His marriage and return to Havana are so unsettling to Tony that he becomes physically ill on the journey and Margo must assume the role of caretaker and protector which will continue through the course of their relationship. Though Tony experiences a sexual relationship with Margo, as is evidenced by her subsequent pregnancy, it becomes increasingly clear that he is dedicated to pursuing (or being pursued) by male companions. The nature of Garrido’s relationships with men like “el Senor Manfredo” are cloaked, falsifying their true intent. Tony presents these men as friends who are interested in helping him further his career. Tony demonstrates his confusion and dual allegiance to both his constructed heterosexual image and his homosexual yearnings by visiting the bedside of his pregnant wife while accompanied by his male “benefactor.” Margo’s reaction to the events unfolding around her are filled with denial, her arrival in Havana marks her realization that she will be unable to fulfill her dreams of happiness with Tony..” The nature of their incompatibility is unclear to Margo, even as Tony gradually reveals more of his authentic self to her. It is only when she hears the truth from her husband about his “secret disease” that she fully comprehends the situation.

Tony’s external characteristics and actions which distinguish him as homosexual develop throughout the course of the novel. Initially Tony is described in terms of his feminine features and mannerism – Margo initially marvels at his “long eyelashes brushing his pink cheek” (148) and his “polite bashful manners.” Despite his delicate description, there is no clear indication that he is other than a typical heterosexual male. This is further reinforced by the reaction of Frank when he learns that Margo and Tony are dating and he disparages Tony by identifying him as a “greaser” rather than using a sexual epithet. When Margo encounters Tony in Florida as she is preparing to cruise with her new boyfriend Tad, a dramatic change has come over Tony by extension Margo’s perception of him. Upon recognizing his “mincing” walk approaching, “the first thing that Margo thought was how on earth could she have ever liked that fagot” (216). Tony also develops a drug problem – which a modern reader may interpret as further evidence of the self destructiveness and inner turmoil caused by Tony’s conflicted sexuality. However in exploring “The Gendering of Addiction in the Twentieth Century,” author Mara Keire explains, “Cocaine was another signifier that some fairies adopted to distinguish themselves from conventional society. These fairies chose cocaine because, like their contemporaries, they associated drug use with femininity…. It was the association of drugs with fairies that informed John Dos Passos’s characterized Tony Garrido it was his addiction as much as his "mincing walk" that confirmed his homosexuality to his wife Margo Dowling. (Keire 3) Tony’s secret which he was initially reluctant to confide, becomes a very public presentation of self.
Dos Passos creates the character of Tony as the ultimate symbol of the outsider. Tony is a drug addict, out of work, effeminate foreigner. His delicate appearance, body language and mannerisms offer rebellious challenge to the image of the generally strong and powerful male ideal common in American in the post World War I era. Becker’s criticism of The Big Money relates several behavior patterns among the main characters, most significantly for this thesis, is that which the critic identifies as being “so prominent as to constitute a major theme, …an eradicable inhumanity, an intolerance toward all people and ideas in anyway offbeat” (Becker 9). The many distinctions which make Tony an outsider, also make him the object of scorn and contempt from other characters featured in the novel. He is railed against as being a “greaser,” “spick,” “fagot” and a “rat.” Becker writes of Dos Passos’s characters, that “this automatic consigning of aliens and oddballs to coventry leads to exploitation and violence” (Becker 9). Becker points to Margo’s harsh treatment of Tony throughout the novel, and while I would agree that she is lashing out at him for his homosexuality, I would suggest that she is demonstrating the confusion and internal struggle caused by the confusion which their complex relationship causes her – she loves him – even the characteristics which signify his homosexuality, and yet it simultaneously repulses her. Margo does regularly exploit Tony, treating him as a commodity that can be used when it benefits her, and dismissed when it does not. Tony is also the victim of violence or threatened violence, several times in the novel, In one incident he arrives on Margo’s doorstep bloody and disheveled explaining “A gang beat me up” (269). In another incident he has been beaten by his male companion, Max, who has threatened to “break every bone in his body” unless he is able to extort money from Margo. Finally, perhaps predictably, Tony is killed, his skull is fractured by a blunt object during a wild party rife with alcohol and narcotics, attended (according to newspaper accounts) only by men.
Dos Passos’s use of the Newsreel and (newspaper articles like the one recounting Tony’s death), and the biography sections may be read as a subjective voice guiding the reader’s attention to significant issues. The choice of biography subjects within The Big Money is often debated, but many critics have chosen to explore the importance of his choice of framing Margo Dowling’s narrative with celebrities Isadora Duncan and Rudolph Valentino. Rudolph Valentino’s biography in The Big Money is often described as Dos Passos’s critique of Hollywood manipulation and artifice, idol worshipping fans and the naiveté of the celebrity (Eduards 6-9). The Duncan biography is regularly distinguished by critics as the only use of a female in any of the 27 biographies presented in the U.S.A. Trilogy (Casey 7-9).I believe that the incorporation of the Valentino biography is as equally distinctive as the Duncan text, because the Valentino text features the only presumed homosexual in the biographical series, but also because it underscores the importance of the only defined homosexual figure in the novel. The similarities between created celebrity which Dowling and Valentino experience is certainly an issue which Dos Passos wished to explore, but I believe that framing Margo and Tony’s story with a character so remarkably similar to Tony Garrido points clearly to Dos Passos choice to highlight the challenges of gender identity and it’s implications.

Tony Garrido self identifies with Valentino, insisting upon his chance for success in Hollywood, that “if Valentino can do it, it will be easy for me” (314). The similarities between the Garrido and Valentino are notable. Both are foreigners who hope to find fame, and start out dancing in cabarets. Tony and Valentino were both “stranded on the coast [and] headed for Hollywood, worked for a long time as an extra.” (150).But the similarities between these men go beyond superficial details. Holding up these figures for examination, Dos Passos allows for contemplation of binaries prompting the reader to consider how as a society and a culture we tend to privilege one and scorn the other. Some of the binaries explored by an examination of the Valentino/Garrido characters are straight/gay, public/private, artifice/authentic, foreigner/citizen all of which are based on perception. This idea may be illustrated by reading Valentino’s biography which emphasizes dreams – both in the the dreams he had for himself and for his future, but also of the creation of this man of questionable sexuality becoming the “gigolo of every woman’s dreams ” (Dos Passos 150). This passage can be seen to represent both Valentino’s idealism versus the realism of his early struggles, but it also suggests the binary of artifice versus authenticism.

The most provocative elements of the Valentino biography for this examination are the veiled references to homosexuality and descriptions of the relationship to his wife, which can be compared to Tony’s relationship with Margo. Details of his divorce according to the biography entitled “Adagio Dancer” indicate that he and his first wife never slept together, implying a marriage of convenience which would allow him to assume the constructed image of a married man. This deceit allowed Valentino to fulfill the lustful fantasies of his fans, while providing a cover of privacy allowing him to follow other pursuits. Though Margo and Tony are never revealed to have been intimate after their time together in Cuba, they continue their legal marriage and remain a constant in each other’s lives. Another significant detail which emerged from this section is that Rudolph Valentino wore a slave bracelet given to him by his wife. It is an object that implies a delineation of power and control in the relationship. Valentino’s wearing of the bracelet suggests subservience to her despite his expected masculine domination. Though Margo does not offer Tony a slave bracelet, she similarly marks his subservience with a concrete object, “she made him wear an old chauffeur’s uniform when he drove her to the lot. She knew that if he wore that he wouldn’t go anywhere after he’d left her except right home and change” (Dos Passos 316). The uniform served not only as a physical marker of Tony’s inferior role, but it allowed Margo to exert her dominance by controlling his behavior.

Valentino’s biography also describes his collapse, emergency surgery and death from infection which is ambiguous in nature. Readers of Dos Passos’s era would have been familiar with the rumors which surrounded his death and which ranged from the innocuous suggestion that he had died from a burst appendix to the more scandalous accusations that he had been shot by a gay lover or that he had contracted syphilis and succumbed to an infection because of it. Tony’s venereal disease, which he spreads to Margo and their baby is featured as a prominent plot element. Similarly to the Valentino account, allusions are made to Tony’s “secret disease,” – it is only through knowledge of his activity and deduction by the symptoms whch confirms to the reader that Tony has contracted a venereal disease (and infected his wife). This rising action of discovery of Tony’s syphilitic condition and its resulting death of her infant daughter, prompts Margo to flee from Tony. Though she is aware of the disease and it’s potentially permanent complications, she refuses to seek treatment for some time – further demonstrating her denial of Tony’s behavior and how his behavior and its consequences becomes her “secret” as well.
Tony’s constant presence drives or alters the action in each of the Dowling sections, which further support the claim that Tony is truly a main character. The only section of the novel in which Tony is not represented is in the section describing Margo’s youth - although even in this introduction, an incident is described which indicates an attraction for and desire to protect effeminate men. She is awarded with a prize at a boardwalk game booth by a foreign man described in effeminate terms: “Margie thought he was lovely, his face was so smooth and he had such a funny little voice and his lips and eyelids were so clearly marked just like the dolls’ and he had long black eyelashes too.” Margo’s attraction to the game attendant is more profound and indicates her desires, “Margie used to think she’d like to have him to take to bed with her like a doll. She said that Agnes and Frank laughed and laughed at her so that she felt awful ashamed.” (133-134). Her youthful wishes to take this man as a plaything to her bed – though innocently voiced - certainly indicate a physical attraction to men whose signifiers would indicate a definite preference for effeminate men. Her desire to treat him like a doll and protect him also indicates a nurturing side – which is internally conflicted because of the shame related to this desire, and will form the basis of her relationship with her future husband. Though not present physically in this section, the issues which Tony represents and Margo’s response to them are markedly clear.

Dos Passos intentionally crafted this lonely girl whose upbringing is void of traditional or conventional gender roles – she grows up with an absentee father and a surrogate motherer figure with whom she cannot relate – to become an extension or anchor for Tony’s character. Margo’s upbringing is designed to make her sympathetic to Tony’s flawed judgment and inability to conform and which make it impossible for him provide her with stability and provide her with the idealized husband figure she desires. One cannot overlook the similarities between Tony and Margo’s father – both are men who desired to live a traditional life, but whose addictions and lifestyles made that impossible. Both men ultimately disappoint Margo repeatedly, but she continues to hold out hope for them. Tony’s unexpected arrivals and departures, as well as brief flashes of happiness and normalcy are reminiscent of the limited happy experiences she would have as a child when Fred would return home, brightening her world. In Margo Dowling II (192-201), though Tony has abandoned her in a foreign country while he is being pursued by his male “friends,” Margo lashes out and literally beats him into submission – after which they are being described as “happy and cozy for the first time since arriving in Cuba” (195). Later in the novel, Margo is confronted by her estranged husband who is ill and she makes the decision to nurse him back to health in her hotel room. His presence forced her to alter the room registration, “it made her awful to have to write it down in the book Mr. and Mrs. Antonio de Garrido. Once it was written it didn’t look so bad though” (218). Margo’s use of Tony’s last name when she registers at a modeling agency upon arriving in Hollywood and her incorporation of his family history and culture into her created image indicates an ultimate acceptance of Tony. Though she is still hurt and perplexed by his dalliances with other men, and horrified by his behavior which is marked by lying and stealing, Margo continues to stand by Tony.

The final section on Margo Dowling (303-339) ends with the revelation of Tony’s death described in a newspaper article which a relieved Agnes shows to shocked Margo. Upon learning of his death, Margo demonstrates the most emotional response she has had throughout the novel. “Margo felt the room swinging in great circles around her head. “Oh, my God “she said. Going upstairs she had to hold tight to the balustrade to keep from falling. She tore off her clothes and ran herself a hot bath and lay back in it with her eyes closed” (338). Immediately upon learning of Tony’s death, Margo embarks on a staged marriage trip with Sam Margolies and her transition to completely artificial construct is complete. Tony therefore may seem, troubled and a source of pain for Margo (who at times lashed out because of her internal desire to force him to conform), but was what defined her humanity.

Though Margo is presented as a main character, The Big Money presents her life story and rise to celebrity only in the context of Tony’s experience. It is significant that Dos Passos symbolically represented Tony in Margo’s earliest experiences, interwove him through her narratives and then related biographies framing her and that the sections narrating Margo’s experience come abruptly to an end upon the death of her husband.

Philosopher Michel Foucault recognized those who fell outside of the accepted norms of sexual and gender identity as “other.” Those who were deemed to engage in “unnatural” sex practices were identified by some as a separate “species.” (Foucault 896). Dos Passos recognized the social oppression faced by homosexuals in the early part of the twentieth century in America which made it impossible for them to proclaim their sexual identity without fear of vicious attack. The inability for the character of Tony to claim a voice and speak openly of the pain of the queer experience and the persecution inflicted upon him by an unsympathetic world is personalized for the audience, in a nuanced manner which would begin to prompt society to view those relegated to the status of “other” as humanized. Tony Garrido’s embodiment of the overarching theme of “repression of dissent,” which is so significant to Dos Passos marks him as a significant voice within this novel – though he seems to have no voice at all.

Works Cited
Becker, George J. “Visions…” John Dos Passos. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1974. Galenet. Literature Resource Center. Oviatt Library, Northridge CA. 29 April 2009. .

Butler, Judith. “Performative Acts and Gender Constitution.” Literary Theory: An Anthology. Eds. Julie Rivkin and Michael Rivkin. Malden: Blackwell, 2004. 900-911.

Casey, Janet Galligani. "Historicizing the female in U.S.A.: Re-visions of Dos Passo's trilogy." Twentieth Century Literature 41.16 (Fall95 1995): 249. MAS Ultra - School Edition. EBSCO. Oviatt Library, Northridge, CA. 29 Apr 2009. .

Dos Pasosos, John. The Big Money. Boston: Mariner Books. 1933.

Eduards, Justin J. “The Man with a Camera Eye: Cinematic Form and Hollywood Malediction in John Dos Passos's "The Big Money." Literature Film Quarterly. Vol 27. Iss 4. 1999. 245-255. Communication and Mass Media Database. EBSCO. Oviatt Library, Northridge, CA. 29 April 2009.

Foucault, Michel. “The History of Sexuality.” Literary Theory: An Anthology. Eds. Julie Rivkin and Michael Rivkin. Malden: Blackwell, 2004. 549-565

Keire, Mara. “Dope fiends and degenerates: the gendering of addiction in the early twentieth century.” Journal of Social History. Volume: 31. Issue: 4. 1998. Page Number: 809+. Questia. 27 Apr 2009.


[RSB1]Reword/change order.