The second half of Don Quixote of La Mancha (written in 1615, a full decade after the first half) is much better than the first half (thoughts here). As the novel progresses, Cervantes’ writing improves, the plots improve, and the character’s personalities become far more distinct. I was drawn into the story in a way I was not drawn in on reading the first half.
In short, I loved the second half. It is still not my favorite book because it is not my favorite genre (I prefer more realistic Victorian-era fiction). But it is clear why Cervantes is considered a revolutionary writer and why this novel was a precursor to other novels. It is landmark for a reason. (more…)
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How does a blind person understand the majesty of a cathedral? The narrator in Raymond Carver’s short story “Cathedral” tries to describe it. His underlying epiphany, however, is not about architecture but about his own prejudices and stereotypes. He discovers in the end that he has been the one blind. He has not understood the uniqueness of the various people in the world, particularly the blind or otherwise disabled.
I first read Raymond Carver’s short story “Cathedral” when I was in college, and as I pondered stories about the “little noticed” in life for my wallpaper reading project, I thought of it again. How often do the sighted consider the difficulties of describing a cathedral in words to those unable to see the grandeur? Likewise, how often do the -abled consider the similarities and personalities rather than the stereotypes of the “disabled”?
Having reread the story now, I don’t think it is a “wallpaper” story: it’s full of depth and it focuses on real issues that many might relate to. Carver provides some interesting parallels: the blind man’s lack of sight versus the narrator’s prejudice; the narrator’s ability to see the grandeur of a cathedral versus the wife’s ability to see the grandeur of the blind man. It is ultimately a touching story as well.
For those who may want a content warning, I should note that the friends do smoke dope together. It seems to me, though, that that scene is the beginning of the narrator’s understanding of his mistaken prejudices. As they visit and do “ordinary” (for them) things, the narrator begins to recognize his mistaken prejudice.
“Cathedral” is not in the public domain. I read it an anthology: Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, and Drama, by X.J. Kennedy and Dana Gioia, seventh edition (1999).
The goatherds’ observation that “This gentleman must have a few vacant chambers in his head” (page 439) comes at the end of part 1 of Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes (first published 1605, translated by Edith Grossman 2003). Yet, that is exactly the thought I had as I began the novel. Why, oh why, is this story of this madman amusing? Why am I supposed to find his bossy relationship with peasant Sancho Panza to be a story of true friendship?
As I continued reading, I began to see that Cervantes is doing something quite interesting. He’s providing an echo to the contemporary novels of chivalry, and he’s questioning what is real in all novels. He isn’t trying to convince anyone to change, and he doesn’t necessarily disapprove of the chivalric novels. He’s making fun of those who take fiction seriously, including his own. Is this satire or irony or sarcasm? I struggle to place it. I’ve read the definitions for each in my Harmon and Holman’s Handbook to Literature (8th edition) and I cannot decide.
This post contains thematic spoilers. (more…)
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I cannot remember which blogger mentioned the poetry of Anne Bradstreet as among their favorite (please, tell me if it was you!), but I must agree that her poems are spectacular. I love Bradstreet’s religious themes, but also I loved her personal accounts of life. Although her writing was from a comparatively primitive pioneer era, her poems on motherhood and womanhood, on struggling to find balance in life, on developing and sustaining her Christian faith, and on writing still resonate with me in this very different age.
I sometimes think poetry is at it’s best when it’s written and illustrated for children. Red Sings from Treetops: A Year in Colors by Joyce Sidman and Pamela Zagarinski is one such example. The illustrations capture the metaphors of a world changing with the seasons, and the poem is simply beautiful. (more…)