Sunday, January 30, 2011

Prompts for Thursday's Blog

Reminders:  You should post your Thursday blog entries by themselves - not as comments to this thread.  You should also made sure they are legibly formatted, with a line between each paragraph.  If you get it wrong the first time, you can edit it.  As before, I will hopefully add a third option after class - but this is a goal, not a promise.

Option 1:  Write a diary entry or letter from the point of view of a "minor" character in Beowulf - anyone other than Hrothgar or Beowulf himself would be fine.  Write the letter, diary, etc. about anything you want (expanding on an incident in the poem, or creating a new one), but do it in a way which helps us understand the role of the character in the poem.  Your goal is to help us understand Beowulf, and you should be citing Beowulf for evidence, but you can flesh out your character to help that goal.  If you are adding events, make clear why you see them as consisent with existing events in the poem.

Option 2:    Skim through the poem looking for the elements of advice, or wisdom, within it.  Some is offered by the narrator; some is offered by Hrothgar.  Pick some theme (represented by one or multiple quotes), and answer the question:  is this piece (or group) of advice supposed to make us admire Beowulf (or Hrothgar) or is it supposed to make us skeptical of Beowulf (or Hrothgar)?

Option 3(Added Wednesday)  Go to the library, either physically or virtually.  You need to find a scholarly article on Beowulf, which *must* be from the Pitt library.  I strongly suggest that you use the MLA Database.  I'm going to give you a link - you may need to log in if you're off campus, and the link may be different on campus, etc.  If you have trouble, you can ask me for help, but it might be easier to deal with a librarian - it's up to you.


Once you have picked and read an article, you need to do two things.

1)  Summarize one of its arguments, making use of citations and possibly quotes from it.
2)  Apply it to our class discussion - either extend or critique something we/I had to say about the poem, using this scholarly article.

FOR THIS OPTION ONLY, you may take until 4 p.m. on Saturday (that deadline is firm).  If you're doing so, just email me to let me know IN ADVANCE.

Also, you must cite your article, using whatever citation method you know.  If you don't know any, google either the MLA method of citation, or the Chicago style, and use one or the other.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Katie's Essay

In Wit, Edson references Donne’s Holy Sonnets to illustrate Vivian’s scholarly personality. The set of sonnets are somewhat confusing and descriptively detailed. As we have talked about in class, this also exemplifies her serious personality. What we did not speak of in class, however, was of John Donne’s angry poetry. Vivian seems to view Donne in a saintly fashion. In some instances throughout the play she refers to him as “the greatest English poet, some would say” (40). However, when one reads more of Donne’s poetry besides the Holy Sonnets, there is a dark and almost morbid side to him that has not been included within the play. 

In John Donne’s poem entitled “The Curse” he speaks about cursing the man who finds out about his (John Donne’s) love affair. The curse gets as gruesome as to have this man succumb to incest and have his children suffer from his own tainted reputation. All of these images are horrid and ill wished. In another poem, entitled “Apparition” he speaks of haunting his ex-lover when he dies. Neither of these poems is included in Wit. Presumably there would be no purpose in including them, but the fact that they are not included attributes again to Vivian’s lack of feeling towards humanity, this time in the negative effect. In addition to the eroticism we had talked about in class, this evil spirit of John Donne makes Vivian appear so innocent. She had no lover, no children; she was innocent in a sexual way for at least the time surrounding her cancer. She was innocent as to be ignorant to Donne’s malicious spirit as well, because she had placed him on such a pedestal. In avoiding his darker works she is just as ignorant as ignoring his erotic work.

Another effect of excluding John Donne’s ill works almost makes Vivian seem scared of people in general. By focusing on the saintly aspects of his poetry, she is connecting herself with the higher power of the Christian God and alienating herself from dealing with any human emotion. In this she boosts herself towards a level that will not let her relate in any humanly way with those around her. This is much like the previous point that she denies humanity but in a deeper way, because she is scared of it and what it can accomplish. Yes, she may, too, be scared of the sexual advances that humans fall prey to, but also there is a darker aspect she is frightened of and refuses to deal with: human anger. She does not get angry with her professor towards the beginning of the play, she was not exactly angry, was she? She had to sit down, yes, but she never grew cross. And at the end even could see E.M. Ashford’s point (15). I’m sure she has gotten angry like every other human on the face of the Earth but in its dismissal from her play Edson also illustrates the extent of Vivian’s faith.

With that said, Edson has made Wit also into a Christian proclamation. I don’t know all that much under the Christian faith besides the basics but I can see that by sticking to such sonnets she has made a statement about death. Of course the whole play is about death, but now there is a religiousness tied to the transgression from Earthly to Heavenly life. With the exclusion of Donne’s malicious poetry, Edson could be implicitly defining Vivian as ascending to Heaven. In speaking nothing of any evil idea or creature or poem, there has been no question of Hell. There may also be deeper Christian values or lessons that I do not even see with my lack of knowledge on such a subject.

In sticking to the Holy Sonnets Edson has created an ironic and even witty play that would have been entirely different had John Donne’s ill-willed poetry had infiltrated.

Zach D's Essay

In the story Wit there is an underlying theme and understanding of death. The appreciation for life and the meaning of it to people is apparent. Vivian is an ovarian cancer patient. The chances for survival are at the very minimum. Doctors make it clear that there is now a timeline on Vivian’s life. Death is an aspect of life that does not make sense to most people or in most cases not even trying to be understood. Making a connection to death and its meaning is difficult for people to grasp. Yet, understanding that in a lifetime there will be an end. In Wit Vivian does not like to speak about the light at the end of her tunnel. The light slowly is dimming for Vivian and as the play continues on you begin to realize her acceptance to this next part of her life.

I believe that John Donne in his poetry uses a lot of metaphors and allows for a deeper meaning to his words. I found in his poem “Holy Sonnet X,” “Death Be Not Proud,” Donne explains death as time in which he will accept. In line 7 Donne says, “And soonest our best men with thee do go,” implying that everyone in this world will die eventually. I believe in this sonnet Donne helps to assure people that we must come to terms with death, that it is a part of life. 

In the story Wit I believe that Vivian has come to terms with death and accepted that she is under an hourglass. In the play the use of death in Donne’s poetry is not present because death is already present in the story. While reading the play I found myself continuing to wait for the final scene and how Vivian will die. I felt that death is what made this play so interesting. When dealing with death as a predetermined ending to a story the reader or viewer is anxious and that is what makes the play flow. As a reader to see how the character, already knows that she is going to die, reacts and views the last times of her life. 

The most influential scene that comes to my mind is the last when Vivian suddenly dies. The urgency by the medical staff to try and save her life when she in actuality didn’t want to be saved, were they trying to save Vivian for her life sake or for the research aspect end of it all. To me this shows Vivian had come to terms with her light at the end of the tunnel and accepted that there are better things on the other side of the tunnel. On page 29 and 30 Vivian recites the passages from “Holy Sonnet X,” by she is saying these lines to herself. I felt in this scene she is allowing herself to see death in a new vision. Death is something people have a difficult time grasping and accepting, Donne allows in some of his poetry to give the reader opportunities to understand it’s a part of life. Donne tells us death is not going to judge you depending who you are; death will meet you when your time comes.

Zach T's Essay

Vivian in the play Wit shows that life cannot be taken for granted. Vivian is a strong willed character that fights the constant struggles of life, and shows that life isn’t that easy most of the time. Vivian had a strong faith in her pride and what she had accomplished throughout her life. Even though cancer took her life she felt that she had left a small impact behind on earth.

Vivian was a very tough woman that handled her cancer with a strong ambition. She was described as being strong when Jason said: “well, she wasn’t exactly a cupcake”(Edson 75). Not only was she a strong individual, but also she had a reputation as a college professor for having difficult classes and a very demanding manner. Vivian cared about her students and her teaching as she had a strong sense of scholarship and wanted her students to get a full understanding about Donne and poetry. Her strong passion for teaching seemed to consume her life. She was unmarried and without children, her parents were deceased, and she had no other family members to contact towards the end of her fight. It seemed as she lived a lonely life in which her father didn’t pay much attention towards her. Since Vivian didn’t receive a lot of attention she turned her focus and fascination towards books that her father had given her. Vivian’s situation wasn’t the best, but she seemed to keep her head up. She relied on her past experiences to guide her in the right direction.

Vivian’s situation can be related to The Tale of the Flopsy Bunnies as the flopsy bunnies did not provide enough food for their children, so they had to improvise and sneak into Mr. McGregor’s trash in order to get enough food. It seems as though Vivian was put in a similar situation when her lack of parenting didn’t seem to corrupt her. She found a way to strive towards what fascinated her, which were words and books.

At the very end of the play Vivian is introduced to a children’s book The Runaway Bunny that plays a big part in the play and ties things together for Vivian. As Dr. Ashford reads Vivian the story as she is dying, the full meaning behind the pictures seems to be surreal. In class it was interpreted that the mother bunny was viewed as the spirit of God. The mother bunny was always going to watch over her young bunny as God was taking Vivian into his own hands. As the young bunny traveled away from his mother, his mother being God would always find him. As Vivian seemed lost in what to direction to head or what to think as she stated in her last few lines of the play “I don’t see any other way. We are discussing life and death, and not in the abstract” (Edson 69). Dr. Ashford was able to calm Vivian into whom she was able to lie and rest in peace in the hands of God where he would take care of Vivian.
Vivian is a strong character that takes things as they are. She has gone through life for her passion of Donne and his poetry. And the connection with both of these children’s novels can help get a better grasp of the situation Vivian is going through and they provide another piece of literature that Wit can be compared with.

Open Thread for 2nd Reading (Beowulf, through page 131

Your Sunday blog posts (instructions are on the syllabus) should go as comments to this post.

Note: for anyone who is interested and has a few minutes to spare, there are some great resources for Anglo-Saxon / Old English, the language in which Beowulf is written, on the web.

Old English

There's some good audio on this page.

Instructions for Commenting on each other's blog posts

Here's what I have on the syllabus:

By ten p.m. Saturday every week on which a revision is not due, you will post a concise response to another person’s essay (you’ll know whose). My expectation is that you will offer a substantive idea which will assist them in revision, by offering a critique of, or extension to, some aspect of their essay. Your goal is to help the other person get an A, if they revise this blog entry.

There's one vital piece of information missing:  whose blog are you supposed to respond to?  Respond to the person who posted immediately before you posted yours; if you were the first person, respond to the last person.

Since I didn't give you that piece of information until now, you have until Sunday night to post your thoughtful comment in response to some else's essay.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Holy Sonnet XIV & Wit

Throughout the play Wit, Vivian quotes various lines from the Holy Sonnet X by John Donne. A scholar of Donne’s work, Vivian incorporated many of these thoughts and words into her everyday life, and it could be seen that his worked shaped her as an individual. That being said, Holy Sonnet X is extremely important to the content of Wit, and the play would be very different if it was based on the content of a different sonnet.

Holy Sonnet X works within the play by supporting Vivian’s initial matter of fact response to dying and also her subsequent fears. “Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;” this line perfectly describes Vivian initial feelings of her terminal illness. Initially, Vivian’s took her diagnosis lightly. She joked during her physicals, and viewed her diagnosis as if it was just a normal occurrence in her life. Just like Donne did in that line, Vivian did not view death as a serious thing. Just like Donne, Vivian considers death to be something that could be mastered. In Sonnet X Donne stated “And poppy, or charms can make us sleep well, /and better thy stroke; why swell’st thou then?” In the play, Nurse Susie gave Vivian a morphine dose to ease the pain of dying and make her last few hours as comfortable as possible. The ideas of both these lines and this play scene are parallel. In the holy Sonnet, Donne was referencing the fact that “poppy” elicits a sleep more deep and peaceful then death could ever provide. The “poppy” is represented by the morphine that is administered. At the ending of the play Vivian walks towards the light, is parallel to the Holy Sonnet X line “One short sleep past, we wake eternally”. This line implies that one’s live doesn’t start until they die. By being awake eternally, one is infinitely alive. When Vivian died at the end of the play, she was in a way freed from living her life according to Donne.

If the focus of the play was shifted to Holy Sonnet XIV, the underlying meaning of the play and the parts mentioned above would certainly be lost. The inclusion of the Holy Sonnet X supported many of the key points of the play, from Vivian’s initial defiance of her death sentence, to her finally accepting her fate. However, other parts of the play would be highlighted and enhanced. Holy Sonnet XIV focuses on the idea of the “three personed God”. This could be representative in the play by Dr. Kelekian, Jason, and Nurse Susie. Also the several lines by the speaker in the sonnet ooze of desperation to gain acceptance and healing from God. “Your force, to break, blow, burn, and make me new.” this line is similar to Vivian unquestioning commitment to Dr. Kelekian and Jason’s seemingly dangerous full dosage of medication. Just like the speaker, Vivian was made anew at the end when she died and was freed from not only her cancer but also free from living her life according to Donne.

There are lines and moments in this poem that do not apply to the poem at all. Specifically, the line “except you enthrall me, never shall be free, / nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.” would not be contextually significant. Though Vivian was a scholar of Donne’s work, she did not follow everything he wrote about. Sex and love are two hot topics of Donne’s that were not really emphasized in Wit. Any real mention of sexuality in the poem was minuscule, and if sex was incorporated into the play, the concentration on Vivian’s struggle with accepting and understanding death would have been muddled.

Holy Sonnet and Wit Prompt 1

In Margaret Edson’s Wit, Vivian struggles with several major questions. As advanced metastatic ovarian cancer and the chemotherapy she endures to combat it eat away at her body and her strength, Vivian ponders the decisions she has made in her life. She replays events such as when she would berate an unprepared student, or when she would spend evenings in the library rewriting papers about John Donne and his Holy Sonnets instead of spending time with friends. At the end of her life, Vivian wonders if she worked too hard and failed to take joy in life’s more personal aspects. This becomes more apparent when the pain from her treatment and cancer becomes so overwhelming that she finds herself almost begging the Susie, Dr. Posner, Dr. Kelekian, and the rest of the medical staff for the attention and affection that she has denied most of the people in her life, particularly her students. We get to see a vivid contrast when her mentor, Professor E.M Ashford, comes to visit her. Like Vivian, Ashford was a great literary scholar. However she also managed to find time to have a family and enjoy herself. In one of the flashbacks, Ashford encourages Vivian to spend time with friends instead of rewriting a paper. When we see the healthy, happy, eighty year old Ashford tending to the dying fifty year old Vivian, Edson symbolically gives us her answer on who she thought chose a better approach to life.

Being that this dilemma is, in my opinion, the central conflict in the play, I think the Donne poetry included should be mainly focused on uncertainty facing death. The sonnets directly referenced in the play, numbers V, VI, and X achieve this with a great degree of success. The fifth sonnet focuses on self-analysis, with some parts seeming to describe Vivian’s character perfectly, such as when Donne says, “I am a little world made cunningly”, which I interpreted to describe how she had worked so hard to achieve the levels of intelligence and distinction that she had and to be the kind of person she had become, in terms of letting go of emotion. Donne goes on to describe a change in this “world”, saying, “Pour new seas into mine eyes… or wash it if it must be drowned no more But oh it must be burnt!”. To me, this fits into Vivian’s character development, in that she realizes she has failed to live her life to the fullest, and wants to change, but that this revelation has come too late. In the sixth sonnet, Donne basically describes the acceptance of death. This sonnet fits in well, as Vivian is forced to come to grips with the fact that her life could be ending soon, which really manifests itself when she asks Dr. Kelekian for a do not resuscitate order. Sonnet number ten is also appropriate to a certain extent, given the fact that it addresses the idea that there are worse things than death such as being “slave to fate, chance, and kings”. In the last days of her life, Vivian is for all intents and purposes, a slave to the painful treatments she is receiving, and she certainly accepts the view that death is preferable to insurmountable suffering when she requests the do not resuscitate order from Dr. Kelekian.

All of these sonnets work very well in the context of the play, which would suffer if any of them were removed. However, I believe that sonnet IX would make a positive contribution as an addition as opposed to a substitution. In it, Donne basically describes temptation and its effects, something that Vivian has probably dealt with in her life. When Donne says, “If poisonous minerals and if that tree Whose fruit threw death on immortal us”, the temptation he references is likely something regarding lust or gluttony, which differs from what Vivian gave into , which was overwork and a resistance to emotional intimacy. However the temptation still exists as a major concern she had to grapple with. The sonnet goes on to question whether or not giving into temptation was such a terrible sin, saying, “If lecherous goats, if serpents envious Cannot be damned, alas why should I be?”. This also applies to Wit, because it is very arguable whether or not Vivian really made a significant mistake by developing tunnel vision with regard to her work. I think that is a very relevant question, especially considering the fact that her particular vice failed to harm anyone, save perhaps the occasional embarrassed student. While I would not consider this sonnet to be equal to the three that are directly referenced in the play with regard to relevance and connectivity, I think it would provide a helpful insight to some of the thought process that Vivian was undergoing.

Blog 2 Prompt #3 -- Religion in Donne's Poems

John Donne is a great poet who speaks on many aspects of life. In W;t we read mostly of the side of Donne that wants to hide from his feelings yet also write ironic and witty, complicated poems. However, Donne is also very in touch with his sexual side, which we discussed in class. His erotic poems scan the entire book, something Vivian seems to leave out of her explanations for multiple reasons. His religious parts of his poems also go unmentioned by Vivian.

The mention of “three” is brought up a lot in Donne’s poems. In the assigned readings Triple Fool and The Flea, Donne uses the term “three”, in the title of one poem and in line 18 of The Flea. Three, to me, means the Holy Trinity; the father, the son, and the Holy Spirit. This Catholic terminology is not added to Donne’s poems to go unnoticed, he believes in Christ and uses his poems as a medium for talking about Catholicism.

The Holy Sonnets are also filled with religious meaning. Donne pours such religious passion into his poems; it is hard to believe Vivian went without talking about that. In the Holy Sonnets XIV, Donne pleads for God to break his heart and save him to help him become a better person (lines 1-2) and how Donne cannot accept God’s love because he is sinful. (lines 9-10).

In Holy Sonnet I, Donne tells us that he is afraid God will not relieve him of his sins and he will not enter Heaven (lines 1-4) and he is also scared that the devil will easily take over him. (lines 5-8). Donne references God in almost every line saying how God is the only one who matters and he hopes he has done all that he needs to to enter Heaven.

Vivian does not seem like a religious person. She does not reference God throughout W;t and she does not explain this aspect of Donne’s poetry to her students. Even as she is dying and in much pain, there is no desire for religion in her life, she only thinks back to her childhood and other past experiences she’s had. For that reason, she may not have explained religion to her students because she is not familiar with it and has no religious background.

Another reason for this lack of religious explanation may be because she has been so focused on her academics and teaching that she lost sight of any God in her life and stopped believing in him. She may see no point in teaching about him if she does not think there is truth to Catholicism.

Also, Vivian lacks many emotions. I believe that to find truth in God and religion, one must be an emotional person. You must have passion because the thought of God’s existence is so abstract and hard to find true when no one can see it. If Vivian only finds comfort in words and being intellectual, she may find it hard to believe in something such as God and therefore, would not teach religion or think about it.

We can clearly see that Donne finds much passion in religion throughout all of his poems and religion is a large part of his beliefs. Vivian, however, extracts the religious aspects of the poems and does not acknowledge their importance. May it be that she is not religious herself, or over the years she lost trust in God, or that her lack of emotions cloud her ability to find comfort in a greater power, she continues to only see the irony, wit, and complications in Donne’s poetry.

Holy Sonnet I and W;t

Much of John Donne’s Holy Sonnet poetry was included in or referenced by the play W;t. One Sonnet that was not included in the play was Holy Sonnet I. This exemption, which by no presumption would be considered as a mistake, could have added a greater depth to Vivian’s plight.

In Holy Sonnet I, the character talks about how God has made him and yet he is going to die, not believing that God would just let him die after all the work it took to create him. Not only is he dying, but he is dying quickly (I run to death, and death meets me fast) just as Vivian only has 2 hours left to live. By adding this line, it could in a tragic way advise the audience that death is fast approaching. On the other hand, by Vivian saying “I’ve got less than two hours. Then: curtain. (Page 7)” is also used in an abrupt manner which shocks the audience to face the aspect of death without warning just as she had. Although with the Sonnet’s reference, it would let the audience aware with less theatrics.

Towards the end of her life, Vivian is overwhelmed with fear at the prospect of her death. In this sonnet, the character is also fearful of death (I dare not move my dim eyes any way,/Despair behind, and death before doth cast/Such terror,). A few other points about this line in relation with Vivian’s state of mind is that in the capitalization of the words Despair and Such also richly emphasizes the pain and fear that she is currently facing. Despair with a capital D reflects a much more powerful emotion then just the word despair would. Also the fear that she currently feels is enhanced through the phrase “Such terror” other than “such terror”.

Towards the end of the play, Vivian gets sicker as does the character in John Donne’s Holy Sonnet I (and my feeble flesh doth waste). Another similarity between the two is the hope for redemption. Vivian goes through her redemption with the nurse taking care of her at the end and her old mentor reading her a children’s story. The character goes through this redemption by thinking that he is going to hell (my feeble flesh doth waste/By sin in it, which it t’wards hell doth weigh;/Only thou art above, and when towards thee/By thy leave can I look, I rise again;)

The similarities end there however as the rest of the poem is that the main character is again tempted by the devil into sin and that if left to his own devices, he would go with the devil and sin again, but because he is protected by God then his heart is like “iron” and is protected from evil.

Even though the ending of the sonnet does nothing to enhance or move the story of Vivian, the beginning and middle are too similar to see that it could only enhance for the reader and viewer what Vivian is struggling through as she comes to terms with her own mortality.

The Tale of the Flopsy Bunnies

The Tale of the Flopsy Bunnies plays the necessary role of character advancement in Wit. Vivian the narrator introduces us to this story while explaining her choice to study words, “I can recall the time, the very hour of the very day, when I knew words would be my life’s work.” (Edson 41) Vivian goes on to say that on her fifth birthday she knew she loved words and discovering their meanings. Instead of taking the book at face value, I thought of it as a device, attempting to use backward reasoning. I asked myself what would happen if The Tale of the Flopsy Bunnies was not included in Wit. From there, I was able to identify its function in the storyline.

The Tale of the Flopsy Bunnies has a good amount of complicated language even though it is a children’s book. We are introduced to this fact when young Vivian attempts to read the word soporific and stumbles over the pronunciation. Her father helps her with it and then defines it for her. Vivian continues to read and discovers that the picture shows exactly what her father had said. “The illustration bore out the meaning of the word, just as he had explained it. At the time, it seemed like magic.” (Edson 43) This starts her career in words and leads her to the poetry of Donne. From the excitement she showed learning the definition of soporific, it is easy to understand Vivian’s fascination with Donne and words like, “ratiocination, concatenation, coruscation, tergiversation.” (Edson 43)

From five years old, Vivian defines herself by challenging words and literature. She does not have any family or friends save her mentor, E.M. Ashford, and seems to have spent most of her life alone. The introduction of the father shows him as aloof to the point of uncaring. The stage directions sum up Mr. Bearing’s attitude, “Disinterested but tolerant, never distracted from his newspaper.” (Edson 41) The reader never receives a full understanding or explanation of Mr. Bearing’s behavior but that can possibly to understood as Vivian’s disinterest in others. She never wonders why her father acted like that, she just knows her did and moves on. There is no mention of a mother. Vivian does not seem to have anyone to identify with and I think this leads her to identify most closely with books and words.

This understanding makes Vivian’s reaction to her diagnosis a bit more believable. Instead of focusing on the fact of being diagnosed with stage four cancer, she focuses on the words that the doctors use. It gives her comfort to define words and break them apart to gain a better understanding of their meaning. During Doctor Kelekian’s explanation of her disease, Vivian has her own conversation as the doctor is talking. As he is saying, "The Antineopaltic will inevitably affect some healthy cells..." Vivian is thinking this in her head, "Antineoplastic: Anti: against Neo: new. Plastic: to mold, Shaping. Antineoplastic. Against new shaping." (Edson 9) This is only a part of her inner monologue. In fact, the reader gets the impression that Vivian is not playing attention to the doctor as all. Wit and words are her defense and this passage shows her using both to shield herself from the awful truth that Doctor Kelekian is explaining in such a detailed fashion.

“My only defense is the acquisition of vocabulary.” (Edson 44) Vivian says that when she is explaining the foundation for her love of words. This quote shows more about her character and about the inclusion of the The Tale of the Flopsy Bunnies to the play. I believe Vivian means this quote quite literally. She seems to take most things as face value and does not have a true emotional connection to anything except for words. She has not lived life so much as gone through it. She has no emotional defenses. This attitude of hers is seen most fully during her discussion with Dr. Ashford about Donne’s poetry. Ashford is attempting to emphasize the importance of punctuation to get at the meaning of the poem. “Nothing but a breath, a comma, separates life from life everlasting.” (Edson 14) Vivian completely ignores that idea and instead takes her own somewhat superficial meaning, “Life death…I see. It’s a metaphysical conceit. It’s wit!” (Edson 15) She does not see the emotional meaning in the poem and completely glosses over the achingly true meaning of the poem. It seems she is only learning the meaning to Donne’s poem when she really is a breath away from death.

In conclusion, I believe that The Tale of the Flopsy Bunnies places an intrinsic role in the understanding of Vivian’s character. Without the story it would be difficult to understand her ideas as anything more that cynical. Actually, my first reaction to her was that she was cynical but the children’s book along with analysis in class allowed me to understand Vivian and her ideals better. The story allows me to connect to Vivian on a personal level, which though she might have gone her whole life not needing, I thrive on emotions. Her strength and seeming uncaring can turn people off from her but the reasons why she acts like that help in the overall understanding of her as a character. Without The Tale of the Flopsy Bunnies, our understanding of Vivian as the main character of Wit would be limited.

Runaway W;t

A book within a play: simple placement for deeper meanings. A children's lesson placed within a life’s tragic end. The wonder and doubts of life explained to Vivian on her deathbed by E.M. Ashford have meanings of one is never alone no matter where they go. Be it death, be it life, stories of truth like the Runaway Bunny give an ominous, yet comforting, feeling and knowledge to the questions of what is next.
In class, we discussed the parallels that could be drawn between the mother bunny as the "Godly figure" and the little bunny as Vivian. I believe that Margaret Edson used the tale of the Runaway Bunny not in contrast, but more in compliment with the select Donne poems for a distinct underlying purpose. That is, to wonder and assume that at certain times in our life we may convolute and be lost in our own various perception of God’s ways: as we might be when reading the work of John Donne. However, this convolution could be cleared up when introduced to another piece of work with a, sometimes necessary – simplified meaning. This can be seen towards the end of the play when E.M. Ashford does indeed act as a motherly figure towards Vivian: Maybe because such a figure was never mentioned early on as being a part of her life? This Chemo intense regression to “infancy” seems not only to be for Vivian’s unwinding state and comprehension, but maybe also for us the reader to slow down and comprehend the material ourselves.

Delving deeper into the mother/God motif – we can see connections drawn between W;t and the Runaway Bunny in The bible verse Psalms 139 7-12.

7 Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,”
12 even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you.

Now, this Psalm could have obviously inspired Margaret Wise Brown’s story of the bunny attempting to flee his Mother’s/God’s presence. From the heavens in the beginning of line 8 to the end of line 9, we can see direct connections between the mother being present in the heavens and in the ocean. As the wind, The mother blowing her son, the sailboat, where she pleases and turning into a fisherman to fish out her son, the trout, from the depths of the ocean and or perhaps metaphorically Hell. This seems to be yet another apparent illustration of God’s presence throughout one life and hard times: As explained in line 10. With all these religious parallels drawn between children’s stories and the Bible, it was just a mater of time before one line would comingle itself with the play W;t. In this Psalm’s last two lines, I had to stop and ask myself why? Why if true, then does Vivian still proclaim, “I’m scared. Oh, God. I want . . . I want . . . No. I want to hide. I just want to curl up in a little ball. (She dives under the covers.) (70) Is it to literally hide from God or a state of giving up on him? If present, why not ease her anguishing pain? Is it because this in fact is another life lesson that God may not actually be there? Or rather a stronger and deeper message that He is . . . Wanting you, Vivian, to become enlightened and free of ones own pain: “We live as we die, and die as we live” – Edward Counsel.

Thursday January 27, 2011 Prompt 2

Throughout the play Wit, Vivian’s character changes in a very short period of time. From the time that she enters the hospital to her death she is constantly fighting against the disease that has infected her. I believe that this fight for her life allows her to remember back to her childhood and take a closer look at things that have made her the person that she is today. She wants to understand the words that the doctors are saying to her so she thinks back to a similar memory. Her first memory about her 5th birthday makes her remember her father and how he always wanted her to read. She picks The Tale of the Flopsy Bunnies to read first. She begins to read and cannot pronounce a word (soporific). Her father allows her to sound it out and eventually defines the word for her. At this moment she realized that she was amazed by words and she wanted to learn more.

I believe that this is important because she makes this her whole life. Her ability to speak and write is the quality that she defines herself by. When she is diagnosed with cancer, those abilities are taken away from her.

Throughout The Tale of the Flopsy Bunnies, the main theme is that parents are to provide for their children. The Flopsy Bunnies do not adequately provide enough food for their six children so the children sneak into Mr. McGregor’s trash in order to feed themselves. They almost get caught by him but a field mouse is able to help save them. I believe that the moral that Vivian learned, maybe not when she was five, but later on was that her father provided for her and she had a good childhood.

I also believe that Vivian attempts to devote this same theme in her work as a teacher. She learned it from her teacher Dr. Ashford and she tried to do the same for her own students. She didn’t always seem as though she was helping them as is evident with the memory of her classroom talking about the John Donne sonnet. She seems very difficult to learn from but I believe that she feels that to understand something you must be tough and not let someone off easily. This is the same practice that her father and Dr. Ashford used with her.

At the end of the play there is another children’s book that is introduced which plays an important role in the play. Vivian’s only visitor, Dr. Ashford comes to see her. Vivian is so weak that she does not want to talk about Donne, so Dr. Ashford reads her The Runaway Bunny. The imagery in this story plays an important role in the way that Vivian’s life ends. Throughout the story the young bunny says that he is going to run away and states how he will do it. The mother bunny always has a comeback as to how she will find the young bunny and bring him back. A major influencing factor of how the book is interpreted comes from the pictures. By interpreting the pictures it is possible to come to the conclusion that the mother bunny is actually the spirit of God and the young bunny is God’s child on Earth. No matter where the young bunny goes or what he turns into, God will always find him. Finally the young bunny just decides that he will stay with his mother.

I believe that the imagery in this story was in a way telling Vivian that it was alright to die. That she did not have anything that she needed to hold onto because no matter what happened, God would always find her and bring her home. Following the story, Dr. Ashford leans over and tells Vivian “It’s time to go. And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest”. I believe that Dr. Ashford was telling Vivian that it was her time to go and that God would bring her home to him. This final image would have been a peaceful image and would have alleviated Vivian’s fears of death.

Children's Book & Wit

After the discussion in class about the children’s books The Flopsy Bunny and The Runaway Bunny and comparing it to Edison’s play Wit showed me that children’s are truly not meant for children. Anything that says “viewable for all ages” in most cases is fallacy. I believe that Disney movies are prime examples of children films that are not made for children. The Flopsy Bunny and The Runaway Bunny are examples of children’s books that are completely different from one another. Some books in my opinion are not made for a young child’s mind because many children can’t comprehend bad situations occurring around them.

The Flopsy Bunny and The Runaway Bunny are children’s books that Vivian became very close to in the play Wit. The two books gave Vivian different views on life; I think children’s books should truly be comprehensive to children not adults. In The Flopsy Bunny the family had to deal with hardships that many people overlook. Everyone knows that there are people in the world that are starving and someone’s child being murdered. Yet many people do not care about these topics unless they have a personal connection. The young bunnies starving and having to eat out of the trash is sad but what made the story even worse was the fact that they were going to be killed for their fur. This so far had to be the worst children’s book I’ve read. I wouldn’t want my child to understand the horrible things that were truly happening in the book. Many children probably wouldn’t care about the storyline; they would look for the pictures. When I read the book I thought this book didn’t think it would belong in the children section. It has the usual storyline of the good cute little bunnies and the typical bad guys, where the story ends as good prevails evil. Since I read deeper into the book then most people would; I would hate to read a child a book about poverty and murder.

The Runaway Bunny is the complete opposite of The Flopsy Bunny because The Flopsy Bunny was depressing compared to The Runaway Bunny. The Runaway Bunny in my opinion was sincere and sweet. The storyline of a mother always being there for their child, this type of story fits children’s books. If someone wanted to read into the book they could find a reference to God. The pictures inside of the book one in particular portrays an image of God watching over his children. The reference of this book in the play Wit, I believe fits perfectly. Nothing but a breath-a comma-separates life everlasting (p. 14). A significant difference between life and death is only a breath and for everlasting life you need God. In the bible there are many spots that talk about everlasting life. In John 5:24 it says: Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall bit come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life. This book is perfect for those who want a spiritual reference to a children’s book.

Everyone has different outlooks on life and interpret life based on their own experiences. It’s the same as films and books. I can interpret the play Wit, to be foolish and people can either agree or disagree with my opinion. Disney films such as The Lion King and Aladdin are categorized as children movies but if you really watch them, you can see that many of the topics they discuss are subjects that fit in adult atmospheres. The Lion King has jealousy, murder, lies, and deceit but children can’t comprehend those concepts they can only see the friendships and loyalty towards the other characters. The same could be said about the film Aladdin; it has the same points as The Lion King with the exception of theft. Some topics such as lying, cheating, and stealing are subjects that adults or parents tell children not to do in the future. As a parent myself, I always tell my son that lying, stealing, and cheating are morally wrong but it makes it harder to get your point across when you have movies and books that undermine what you are trying to teach children. Murder on the other hand is something that I never want my son to know about until he is older. If I could shield him from comprehending and understanding why people commit this crime I would.

Children are not born with morals they learn them either from their family or friends. Children are very good observers and will repeat what others do around them. My son is good example of such when my brother says anything around him that he has never heard before, he will instantly repeat it. I feel that the same can be said about morals and views. My son is always around me and my family so the way we view a certain situation is probably how he will feel until, he finds his own voice on the subject. Some of my views I hope will stick with him such as my spiritual beliefs.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Open Thread on Wit and John Donne

After reading the Donne poems, the one that stood out to me was 'Break of Day'. At first it seemed that Donne was simply speaking about the sunrise and how light affects what we do, i.e. whether we wake up and start our day or lay down and go to sleep. But after spending more time reading into the lines it becomes apparent that Donne is not only speaking about how light and sun affects what we do, but also he is intertwining that message with the fact that his lover is more inclined to get up and leave him in order to tend to her daily life rather than just lay with him, simply because the sun has come up signifying the start of the day. It seems that a question that Donne has that emerges throughout the poem is "Why is it that we seem to think the rising of the sun means that we must do work and tend to business?" It also seems that Donne asks himself the question of "what would happen if a businessman ignored what the sun is 'telling him' to do, and went against the grain and simply stayed in bed?"

Prompts for Thursday's Blog Post

Initial Notes:  Remember, you will have one of these due every week, except on those weeks when a revision is due.  They're due at ten p.m. on Thursday night.  Here's going to be my tentative late policy:  essays should be in by ten p.m.  I'll try to ignore slight lateness (say, a couple hours) as long as you don't make a habit of it.  If blog posts are more than a couple hours late, I will *not* comment on them, although you will still receive credit.  If your essay is more than a day late, do *not* post it to the blog.  Instead, email it to me with a brief explanation for its lateness.

Prompt 1:  Take one of the holy sonnets which is not included in, or referenced by, Wit.  Discuss how the play might have been changed (for instance, in its focus) by using a different one of the holy sonnets, including whether that change would, in your view, have improved or weakened the play.

Prompt 2:  In class, we will be discussing both The Tale of the Flopsy Bunnies and The Runaway Bunny in relationship with Edson's play.  After listening carefully to what I have to say about the relationship of one or both of these texts to Wit, read both of them carefully (they'll be easy to find in any decent library or bookstore, obviously in the children's section), and do one of the following.

  • Extend something I had to say about the relationship among texts; that is, make my argument your own, and expand on it.
  • Offer an alternative interpretation of the role played by one or more of these children's books within Edson's work.
Prompt 3:  (This one was added Wednesday night).  Moving beyond the differences we noticed between the Donne poetry does reference and that which she does not reference, identify another feature which is absent from the poetry she selected, and discuss what that absence means.  In class, we mostly discussed the absence of the erotic side of his poetry:  identify something else that isn't used in the play.

Note 2: Generally, I will add an additional prompt within a day after class, based in some way on our discussion.

Note 3:  Remember that your Sunday blogs posted should go as comments to my post titled "open thread...".  

Literature and the Contemporary: Open Thread for 1st Reading (Wit & Donne)

Literature and the Contemporary: Open Thread for 1st Reading (Wit & Donne): "You can check the syllabus if you want for instructions, but what you need to do is very simple: just write a coherent paragraph (even..."

and Donne Poems

After reading and re-reading Wit and selected Donne poems, many questions remained

burning in my mind. I tried making connections between the thoughts of Vivian in Wit, and the

complex words in Donne’s Holy Sonnets. In Wit, Vivian says to one of her doctors, “Are you

going to be sorry when I--- Do you ever miss people? (57). Vivian was fully aware that she

would die in the near future. At one point she also states “My cancer is not being cured, is it (66).

This time Vivian addresses this as a statement, not even a question. She was prepared for the

truth, that cancer would soon take her life. These words relate to a passage from Donne’s Holy

Sonnet X. “Much pleasure, the from thee, much more must flow, and soonest our best men with

thee do go” (63). Here, Donne is basically stating that everyone dies sooner or later. These

passages are related in terms of facing reality: that every living thing must come to an end.