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The Passionate Shepherd to His Love

So many people have used this poem to start their own: John Donne, Robert Herrick, C. Day Lewis, and most notably Sir Walter Raleigh. The poem was published after his death in 1599 and was sometimes attributed to Shakespeare. In quatrains (4 line stanzas) of iambic tetrameter.
Pastoral lyric: Poetry that expresses emotions in an idyllic setting. It is related to the term "pasture," and is associated with shepherds writing music to their flocks. The tradition goes back to David in the Bible and Hesiod the Greek poet.
Come live with me and be my love,
And we will all the pleasures prove
That hill and valley, dale and field,
And all the craggy mountains yield.

There we will sit upon the rocks,
And see the shepherds feed their flocks,
By shallow rivers to whose falls
Melodious birds sing madrigals.


Doctor Faustus

Christopher Marlowe, Doctor Faustus

Form: Blank verse (for main plot), unrhymed iambic pentameter, set in 13 scenes with a prologue, three internal choruses, and an epilogue (the "A text" published in 1604) or five acts, composed of 4, 3, 3, 7, and 3 scenes, and all but the last scene begins with a "Chorus" delivering a transitional epilogue (the significantly longer "B text" published in 1616, and probably contributed to by later poets). Subplot passages involving Wagner, the Clown, the Horse Courser etc. usually are in prose and use colloquial diction to comic effect, though Faustus becomes involved with the subplot in the end.
Characters: Major characters include Faustus, a German professor at Wittenberg who has turned magician, his servant Wagner, Mephistopholis the tempting demon and Lucifer, his lord, and a host of minor characters (three scholars who hope to learn from Faustus, a troop of "clowns" or country bumpkins whose quest for silly powers parodies Faustus' own desires, a set of high status characters including the pope and the emperor, and a set of allegorical characters including Faustus' good and bad angels, and the Seven Deadly Sins (a stock favorite of medieval moralities--Everyman transformed them into social types).
Summary: The scholar seeks the ultimate wisdom, and with it, the ultimate power, but becomes obsessed with power to the neglect of his spirit. A demon, summoned, tempts him to surrender his soul for a brief period of exotic earthly powers. His servant and a gang of comic characters, in a subplot, mirror Faustus' search for earthly power but with markedly less success (and, hence, less risk to their souls!). Faustus trades his spirit for illusions like his vision of Helen, a "dumbshow" (silent play) or metadrama that occurs within his own life's play and mocks his ambitions. Unlike Goethe's Faust, Marlowe's Faustus remains confident in his own damnation until the end, and therefore he is correct, though also morally wrong. Marlowe's own view of Faustus' career remains much more complex, however, since he shares many qualities with the necromancer.


To His Coy Mistress (1681)

Andrew Marvell was born in Winestead-in-Holderness in 1621. He was a friend of John Milton who recommended him for the post of Assistant Latin Secretary to the Council of State in 1653 - he finally got the job in 1657! While most of his poetry was not published during his lifetime, he did have a number of satires published, notably The Rehearsal Transposed which was published in two parts and was a rebuttal of the opinions of the Archdeacon of Canterbury. Samuel Parker. Thought of mostly as a metaphysical poet.
To His Coy Mistress is a poem of two halves: the first splendidly flatters by setting out what would be proper lengths of time in which to adore her, if there was sufficient time. But having set her up, he follows on by telling her that there just isn't the time for all that "And your quaint honour turn to dust" and so they should "tear our pleasures with rough strife". Human nature hasn't changed too much over the last three hundred years but I bet few young ladies receive requests to dispense with their virginity in such a form today! The final couplet seems to confuse many. (Poem is 46 lines long in heroic couplets.)
Had we but world enough, and time, 1.
This coyness Lady were no crime.
We would sit down and think which way
To walk, and pass our long love's day.
Thou by the Indian Ganges' side
Shouldst rubies find; I by the tide
Of Humber would complain. I would
Love you ten years before the flood,
And you should, if you please, refuse
Till the conversion of the Jews

But at my back I always hear
Times winged chariot hurrying near;.

Let us roll all our strength and all
Our sweetness up into one ball,
And tear our pleasures with rough strife
Thorough the iron gates of life:
Thus, though we cannot make our sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run. 46


Claude McKay (1889-1948)

One of the leaders of the Harlem Renaissance; known for his socialist politics. Different from the others because he adhered to old forms to write his protest poetry. The Lynching, Harlem Dancer, America, Africa and If We Must Die are all sonnets. Also wrote the book Home to Harlem.


Moby Dick

Herman Melville, Moby Dick

Moby Dick is told by Ishmael, a young man who wants to go to sea as a sailor to seek adventure and excitement. He signs on the whaling ship, Pequod, along with his newfound Indian friend, Queequeg, whom he has met one night at the Spouter Inn in New Bedford. Queequeg is a native of the Fiji islands and an expert harpooner.

The captain of the ship, the dark brooding Ahab, is obsessed with hunting a giant white sperm whale, Moby Dick. Some years ago during an encounter at sea, Moby Dick had bitten off Ahab's leg. Thirsting for revenge, the one-legged Ahab decides to hunt the whale down. Thus, Ishmael, along with the ship's crew, is caught under the spell of Ahab's obsession for Moby Dick.

The Pequod leaves Nantucket on Christmas Day for the Pacific, and along its journey, the narrator introduces the reader to quite a few of the ship's members. Starbuck is the chief mate, Stubb, the second mate, and Flask, the third. There are also three harpooners: Queequeg, Tashtego, and Daggoo. The narrator not only describes the crew but also provides a lot of information about sperm whales and how they are spotted and hunted. One night Ahab gathers the crew around him and tells them of his quest: to catch the great white whale. The crew excitedly backs up his challenge to kill this deadly creature; the rest of the night is spent in revelry. Ishmael discovers that Moby Dick is a temperamental and wicked beast who is capable of sinking a whaling ship.

While Moby Dick is being hunted, the crew catches several sperm whales. On the first sighting of a whale, Ishamael ends up falling into the ocean after his boat is capsized; the crew enjoys his misadventure. Another time Pip, the cabin boy, is thrown overboard and left for dead. Later he is rescued and declared mentally insane from the experience of being in the sea. Along the way, the Pequod meets several other ships; Ahab has only one question for each of them: "Hast seen the white whale, Moby Dick?" Some ships give Ahab news about the elusive white whale, but they report that all their attempts to catch him have ended in disaster. One of the captains has lost an arm to the whale. Ahab, excited by this news, goes back to the ship to make a new harpoon; in his excitement, he splinters his ivory leg.

The Pequod enters the Pacific Ocean much to the dismay of Starbuck and Stubb, who now realize the danger they are in and would prefer to abandon their mission. Eventually, the Pequod enters the Japanese sea, where the white whale is often sighted. Then a typhoon hits the ship, battering it with heavy seas. Ahab then spies the Rachel, whose crew explains that the white whale has destroyed a whole boat of crewmen, including the captain's son.

Soon after meeting the Rachel, the Pequod sights the white whale. Two attempts on two consecutive days go in vain as Moby Dick escapes. On the third day, Ahab drives a harpoon into Moby Dick's side. Furious, the wounded whale drives its massive head into the Pequod's side, smashing its bow. Ahab still refuses to give up the chase. He throws another harpoon at the whale, as his entire ship is sinking. As he throws the second harpoon, the rope gets entwined around Ahab's neck and drags him down into the water. The captain drowns, along with his crew. Only Ishmael survives, rescued by the Rachel. In this tragic story, the writer paints a brilliant portrait of life at sea and the American whaling industry during the 1800s.


Benito Cereno

Herman Melville Benito Cereno

After entering the harbor at St. Maria, off the coast of Chile, Captain Amasa Delano soon sees another ship approaching as well; it is an old and majestic Spanish galleon. Delano then notices that the second ship has tattered sails and wanders here and there, nearly running aground, even though it is clearly manned. Delano has one of his small boats lowered and is taken over to the ship to offer his assistance. He is met by a skeletal Spanish captain (Benito Cereno), his attentive black servant (Babo), and a motley crew.
When Captain Delano offers his aid, no one seems eager about his assistance; they offer only apathetic thanks. As Delano waits for his crew to return to his ship and get the necessary supplies to help the San Dominick, he gets the story of the strange ship's troubles and observes many odd proceedings.
Benito Cereno begins to explain why the ship appears so tattered and broken. He tells Delano that the San Dominick tried to round Cape Horn and hit terrible weather. Then disease broke out on board and killed all but a few of the Spaniards and many of the Africans. Next the ship was largely stuck in calm water for two months. The ship has come to St. Maria to get water and food, for the few people on board are starving and dying of thirst. Most of Cereno's explanation is plausible to Captain Delano, except for the two months of calm. As a result, he feels sympathetic to their plight.
As he spends the day on the ship, Captain Delano sees several oddities. He notes that Babo seems to be a devoted servant, never leaving Cereno's side; sometimes, however, he seems rather forward and acts rather inappropriately. Delano also notices that the Africans on board seem to be in charge of the deck, supposedly because most of the crew has died; these powerful black men strike him as a bit threatening, even though they work in orderly fashion. Additionally, Delano notices that many times during the course of the day Cereno is reduced to trembling and speechless gagging. Delano asks many questions, both orally and silently. When Delano's questions become especially direct, Babo leads Cereno away into the hold in order to shave him; he explains that they are on a strict schedule. Although he is shocked at the poor manner in which Cereno runs his ship, Delano cannot help having pity for Benito Cereno.
By the time the crew of The Bachelor's Delight returns with water and supplies, Captain Delano has decided to wash his hands of the whole weird affair. After making sure that the San Dominick has the minimum necessary supplies, he takes his leave of Benito Cereno and climbs into the waiting boat with his crew. As they push off, Benito Cereno jumps into the boat with them. Then Babo jumps in after Cereno and attempts to stab him. Captain Delano quickly understands what has been happening on the San Dominick; he realizes that the African slaves have revolted and control the ship. When the small boat finally pulls away, Babo has been taken prisoner, and Cereno has become the grateful cargo. As they depart, a shroud falls from the bowsprit of the San Dominick; it has a human skeleton tied to it. Underneath are the scrawled words: Follow your leader.


Bartelby The Scrivener

Herman Melville Bartelby The Scrivener

First Lines: " I AM a rather elderly man. The nature of my avocations for the last thirty years has brought me into more than ordinary contact with what would seem an interesting and somewhat singular set of men, of whom as yet nothing that I know of has ever been written: I mean the law-copyists or scriveners. I have known very many of them, professionally and privately, and if I pleased, could relate divers histories, at which good-natured gentlemen might smile, and sentimental souls might weep. But I waive the biographies of all other scriveners for a few passages in the life of Bartleby, who was a scrivener the strangest I ever saw or heard of."
Last Lines: Dead letters! does it not sound like dead men? Conceive a man by nature and misfortune prone to a pallid hopelessness, can any business seem more fitted to heighten it than that of continually handling these dead letters and assorting them for the flames? For by the cart-load they are annually burned. Sometimes from out the folded paper the pale clerk takes a ring:'the finger it was meant for, perhaps, moulders in the grave; a bank-note sent in swiftest charity:'he whom it would relieve, nor eats nor hungers any more; pardon for those who died despairing; hope for those who died unhoping; good tidings for those who died stifled by unrelieved calamities. On errands of life, these letters speed to deathAh Bartleby! Ah humanity!.


The Egoist

George Meredith, The Egoist (1828-1909)

Gave advice to Gissing and Hardy while a reader for a publishing company. Rejected one of S. Johnson's works. Also wrote An Essay on Comedy, as it later became known, Meredith emphasizes the importance of intelligence and insight to comedy. Focusing mainly on Moliere and Restoration drama, he identifies central elements of high comedy, speaking highly of the role of women in comedy and defining comedy as "the fountain of sound sense."
The novel, The Egoist, is about Sir Willoughby Patterene, a highly narcissistic gentleman, in his quest to find a socially acceptable wife. In Willoughby's youth his two aunts nurtured his narcissism. He was the self-proclaimed "son of the house." Which is a reference to Louix XIV, who believed that he was the center of the entire universe (DiMauro 250)
Throughout the narrative Sir Willoughby has little luck with women. "His first fiance, Constantia Durham, abandons him three weeks before the wedding; the second, Clara Middleton, grows to abhor the cynosure, leaving Willoughby to court Laetitia Dale, the daughter of a cottager on the Patterne estate, whom Willoughby had once renounced as being below his station" (DiMauro 250).



John Milton, Lycidas

In this Monody the author bewails a learned friend, unfortunately drowned in his passage from Chester on the Irish Seas, and by occasion foretells the ruin of our corrupted clergy, then in their height.
pastoral elegy: The pastoral tradition in English literature, the tradition of dealing with characters under the guise of poetic shepherds in an idyllic environment, has its roots in classical literature; Vergil and Theocritus are two of the most notable poets who wrote in the pastoral vein. All nature helps out to mourn the loss.
YET once more, O ye Laurels, and once more

Ye Myrtles brown, with Ivy never-sear,

I com to pluck your Berries harsh and crude,

And with forc'd fingers rude,

Shatter your leaves before the mellowing year.

Bitter constraint, and sad occasion dear,

Compels me to disturb your season due:

For Lycidas is dead, dead ere his prime

Young Lycidas, and hath not left his peer:

Who would not sing for Lycidas? he knew

Himself to sing, and build the lofty rhyme.



Milton, Areopagitica

Areapagitica is Miltion's response to Henry VIII's Licensing Order that outlawed printing without author's consent - kinda like modern copyrights.
KEYWORD: cloistered virtue - Milton considered this ironic because of free choice.
The Four Major Arguments
Who are the inventors of licensing? The Catholic church.
What is to be thought of reading? It is a necessary acquisition of knowledge of good and evil in a fallen world.
This Order is ineffectual in suppressing "scandalous, seditious, and libelous books."
This Order will discourage learning and the pursuit of truth.
They, who to states and governors of the Commonwealth direct their speech, High Court of Parliament, or, wanting such access in a private condition, write that which they foresee may advance the public good; I suppose them, as at the beginning of no mean endeavour, not a little altered and moved inwardly in their minds: some with doubt of what will be the success, others with fear of what will be the censure; some with hope, others with confidence of what they have to speak.


On Education

Milton, On Education

this is his tract on the theological basis for his views on education.



John Milton, Comus

Written in heroic couplets.
Comus is a pagan god invented by Milton, son of Bacchas and Circe, who waylays travelers and transforms their faces to those of magical beasts. Comus attempts to enchant a lady who has been separated from her brothers in the guise of a shepherd. The brothers are told by an attendant spirit Thyrsis (also disguised as a shepherd) and try and find the cottage where Comus has taken her. The spirit give the brothers a root, Comus tries to make the lady drink a magic potion but her Chastity is so strong it's as though she's possessed by some superior power. The brothers burst in, but they haven't secured Comus's wand, so Thyrsis invokes Sabrina, another minor goddess with a song 'Sabrina fair/ Listen where thou art sitting. Sabrina arrives and everyone is set free.'
THE Star that bids the Shepherd fold,

Now the top of Heav'n doth hold,

And the gilded Car of Day,

His glowing Axle doth allay

In the steep Atlantick stream,


And the slope Sun his upward beam

Shoots against the dusky Pole,

Pacing toward the other gole

Of his Chamber in the East.

Mean while welcom Joy, and Feast,


Midnight shout, and revelry,

Tipsie dance, and Jollity.

Braid your Locks with rosie Twine

Dropping odours, dropping Wine.



Moliere, Tartuffe

In Tartuffe, a comedy in five acts, Moliere relates the story of an attempt, by an irreclaimable hypocrite, to destroy the domestic happiness of a citizen who, charmed by his seeming piety, has received him as a prominent guest. In painting such a portrait, this lively assailant of Parisian foibles was in a new element, though one that proved to him perfectly congenial. His genius had a serious side, and on that side he was unquestionably at his best, the character of Tartuffe being drawn with a strength and precision which few dramatists have equalled.
Characters: Orgon, Cleante, Tartuffe


The Misanthrope

Moliere, The Misanthrope

Characters: Alceste, Célimène, Philinte, Oronte, and the prude Arsinee


Thomas Mann

Paul Thomas Mann (1875-1955) was a German novelist, social critic, philanthropist and essayist, lauded principally for a series of highly symbolic and often ironic epic novels and mid-length stories, noted for their insight into the psychology of the artist and intellectual and an underlying eroticism informed by Mann’s own struggles with his sexuality. He is noted for his analysis and critique of the European and German soul in beginning of the 20th century using modernized German and Biblical myths as well as the ideas of Goethe, Nietzsche, and Schopenhauer.


“Death in Venice”

“Death in Venice”, Thomas Mann

Aged Gustav von Aschenbach – a novelist in the novel, a composer in the film – travels to Venice, where he becomes obsessed with the androgynous beauty of an adolescent boy named Tadzio. An epidemic of Asiatic cholera has just broken out and von Aschenbach plans to leave but changes his mind because of Tadzio, even though he never even has the opportunity to talk to the boy. As his vacation continues, von Aschenbach’s entire existence begins to revolve around following this young boy, both a symbol of faded youth and of attractions that von Aschenbach never made reality.

The novel ends on the Lido beach where von Aschenbach is watching Tadzio play with his friends. The boy wanders out to sea but turns and finally shares eye contact with the old man, and von Aschenbach dies.


The Magic Mountain

The Magic Mountain, Thomas Mann

The protagonist is Hans Castorp, who visits his cousin Joachim Ziemßen in a sanatorium in Davos in the Swiss Alps before World War I. Castorp’s departure is repeatedly delayed by his failing health – what at first looks like a cold develops into the symptoms of tuberculosis. In the end, Castorp remains in the morbid atmosphere of the sanatorium for seven years. At the end of the novel, the war begins, Castorp is drafted into the military, and his imminent death on the battlefield is suggested.

During his stay, Castorp meets and learns from a variety of characters, who are together a microcosm of pre-war Europe. These include the humanist and encyclopedist Lodovico Settembrini (a student of Giosuè Carducci), the totalitarianist jesuit Leo Naphta, the hedonist Heer Peeperkorn, and his romantic interest Madame Chauchat.


Gabriel García Márquez

Gabriel José García Márquez (b. 1928) is a Colombian novelist, journalist, publisher, political activist, and Nobel laureate in literature. Born in the town of Aracataca in the department of Magdalena, he has lived mostly in Mexico and Europe and currently spends much of his time in Mexico City. Widely credited with introducing the global public to magical realism, he has secured both significant critical acclaim and widespread commercial success. A growing consensus of literary scholars holds that García Márquez ranks alongside Jorge Luis Borges and Julio Cortázar as one of South America’s greatest 20th-century authors.


One Hundred Years of Solitude

One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel García Márquez

All of the events of One Hundred Years of Solitude take place in the fictional Colombian village of Macondo. The town is founded by José Arcadio Buendía, a strong-willed and impulsive leader who becomes deeply interested in the mysteries of the universe when a band of gypsies visits Macondo, led by the recurring Melquíades. As the town grows, the fledgling government of the country takes an interest in Macondo’s affairs, but they are held back by José Arcadio Buendía.

Civil war breaks out in the land, and Macondo soon takes a role in the war, sending a militia led by Colonel Aureliano Buendía, José Arcadio Buendía’s son, to fight against the conservative regime. While the colonel is gone, José Arcadio Buendia goes insane and must be tied to a tree. Arcadio, his illegitimate grandchild, takes leadership of the town but soon becomes a brutal dictator. The Conservatives capture the town, and Arcadio is shot by a firing squad.

The wars continue, with Colonel Aureliano narrowly avoiding death multiple times, until, weary of the meaningless fighting, he arranges a peace treaty that will last until the end of the novel. After the treaty is signed, Aureliano shoots himself in the chest, but survives. The town develops into a sprawling center of activity as foreigners arrive by the thousands. The foreigners begin a banana plantation near Macondo. The town prospers until a strike arises at the banana plantation. The national army is called in, and the protesting workers are gunned down and thrown into the ocean. At this time, Úrsula, the impossibly ancient widow of José Arcadio Buendía, remarks that “it was as if time was going in a circle”.

After the banana worker massacre, the town is saturated by heavy rains that last for almost five years. Úrsula says that she is waiting for the rains to stop so that she can die at last. The last member of the Buendía line, named Aureliano Babilonia (originally referred to as Aureliano Buendía, before he discovers through Melquíades’ parchments that Babilonia is his paternal surname), is born at this time. When the rains stop, Úrsula dies at last, and Macondo is left desolated.

Aureliano Babilonia is finally left in solitude at the crumbling Buendía house, where he studies the parchments of Melquíades, who has appeared as a ghost to him. He gives up on this task to have a love affair with his aunt, though he is unsure whether they are related. When she dies in childbirth and his son (who is born with a pig’s tail) is eaten by ants, Aureliano is finally able to decipher the parchments. The house, and the town, disintegrate into a whirlwind as he translates the parchments, on which is contained the entire history of the Buendía family, as predicted by Melquíades. As he finishes translating, the entire town is obliterated from the world.


Cotton Mather

Cotton Mather

A socially and politically-influential “Puritan” minister, prolific author, and pamphleteer. Author of more than 450 books and pamphlets, Cotton Mather’s ubiquitous literary works made him one of the most influential religious leaders in America. Mather set the nation’s “moral tone”, and sounded the call for second and third generation Puritans, whose parents had left England for the New England colonies of North America to return to the theological roots of Puritanism.

Magnalia Christi Americana is a book written in 1702. Its title is in Latin, and is usually given the English title The Ecclesiastical History of New England as a translation. It consists of seven “books” collected into two volumes and details the religious development of Massachusetts, and other nearby colonies in New England from 1620 to 1698. An excerpt of the book is collected in the widely respected Norton Anthology which details the works and accomplishments of William Bradford. Other notable parts of the book are Mather’s descriptions of the Salem Witch Trials, in which he criticizes some of the methods of the court; his complete “catalogus” of all the students that graduated from Harvard College, and story of the founding of Harvard College itself; and his assertions that Puritan slaveholders should do more to convert their slaves to Christianity.


H. L. Mencken

A twentieth century journalist, satirist and social critic, a cynic and a freethinker, known as the “Sage of Baltimore” and the “American Nietzsche”. He is often regarded as one of the most influential American writers of the early 20th century.

Perhaps Mencken’s most important contribution to American letters is his satirical style. Mencken, influenced heavily by Mark Twain and Jonathan Swift, believed the lampoon was more powerful than the lament; his hilariously overwrought indictments of nearly every subject (and more than a couple that were unmentionable at the time) are certainly worth reading as examples of fine craftsmanship.

The Mencken style influenced many writers; American author Richard Wright described the power of Mencken’s technique (his exposure to Mencken would inspire him to become a writer himself). In his autobiographical Black Boy, Wright recalls his reaction to A Book of Prefaces and one of the volumes of the Prejudices series:

“I was jarred and shocked by the clear, clean, sweeping sentences … Why did he write like that? I pictured the man as a raging demon, slashing with his pen … denouncing everything American … laughing … mocking God, authority … This man was fighting, fighting with words. He was using words as a weapon, using them as one would use a club … I read on and what amazed me was not what he said, but how on earth anybody had the courage to say it.”


“The American Language”

The American Language is H. L. Mencken’s 1919 book about changes Americans had made to the English Language.

Mencken was inspired by “the argot of the colored waiters” in Washington, as well as one of his favourite authors, Mark Twain, and his experiences on the streets of Baltimore. In 1902, Mencken remarked on the “queer words which go into the making of ‘United Statese.'” The book was preceded by several columns in The Evening Sun. Mencken eventually asked “Why doesn’t some painstaking pundit attempt a grammar of the American language… English, that is, as spoken by the great masses of the plain people of this fair land?” It would appear that he answered his own question.

In the tradition of Noah Webster, who wrote the first American dictionary, Mencken wanted to defend “Americanisms” against the English, whom he increasingly detested.

The book discusses the beginnings of American variations from English, the spread of these variations, American names and slang over the course of its 374 pages. According to Mencken, American English was more colourful, vivid, and creative than its British counterpart.


Marianne Moore (1887-1972)

Her most famous poem is perhaps the one entitled, appropriately, “Poetry,” in which she hopes for poets who can produce “imaginary gardens with real toads in them.” It also expressed her idea that poetry is not written in meter, but in more natural forms. She composed hers in “syllabics”. Robinson Jeffers likewise disavowed meter as a natural part of poetry. Moore went even further than Jeffers, wholly denying meter.


Carson McCullers (1917-1967)

Carson McCullers (1917-1967)

An American southern gothic writer. The Ballad of the Sad Café (1955) is the story of the chaos wrought on a woman’s life when her cousin Lymon Willis (a dwarf, both deformed and powerfully charismatic) enters her world.

She also wrote The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. Four lonely individuals, marginalized misfits in their families/communities, each obsessed with a vision of his or her place in the world, collect about a single deaf-mute with whom they share their deepest secrets. An adolescent who desires to write symphonies, an itinerant drunk who believes he must organize poor laborers, a black physician whose desire is to motivate his people to demand their rightful place in American society, and a cafe owner whose secret wish is sexually ambiguous, believes that the deaf Mr. Singer understands and validates his or her obsession. Singer, ironically obsessed with a friendship of questionable reciprocity, commits suicide when the friend dies.


“Song of Solomon (1977)”

Morrison’s third novel, Song of Solomon, brought her national attention. A family chronicle similar to Alex Haley’s Roots, the novel follows the life of Macon “Milkman” Dead III, a black man living in Chicago, Illinois, from birth to adulthood.

Morrison’s protagonist, Macon “Milkman” Dead III, derives his nickname from the fact that he was breastfed during childhood (Macon’s age can be inferred as he was wearing pants with elastic instead of a diaper, and that he later forgets the event, suggesting he was still rather young). Milkman’s father’s employee, Freddie, happens to see him through the window being breastfed by his mother. He quickly gains a reputation for being a “Momma’s boy” in direct contrast to his (future) best friend, Guitar, who is motherless and fatherless.

Milkman has two sisters, “First Corinthians” and “Magdelene called Lena.” The daughters of the family are named by putting a pin in the Bible, while the eldest son is named after his father. The first Macon Dead’s name was the result of an administrative error when Milkman’s grandfather had to register subsequent to the end of slavery.

Milkman’s mother (Ruth Foster Dead) is the daughter of the town’s only black doctor; she makes her husband feel inadequate, and it is clear she idolized her father, Doctor Foster, to the point of obsession. After her father dies, her husband claims to have found her in bed with the dead body, sucking his fingers. Ruth later tells Milkman that she was kneeling at her father’s bedside kissing the only part of him that remained unaffected by the illness from which he died. These conflicting stories expose the problems between his parents and show Milkman that “truth” is difficult or impossible to obtain. Macon (Jr.) is often violently aggressive towards Ruth because he believes that she was involved sexually with her father and loved her father more than her own husband. On one occasion, Milkman punches his father after he strikes Milkman’s mother, exposing the growing rift between father and son.

In contrast, Macon Dead Jr.’s sister, Pilate, is seen as nurturing—an Earth Mother character. Born without a navel, she is a somewhat mystical character. It is strongly implied that she is Divine—a female Christ-in spite of her name. Macon (Jr.) has not spoken to his sister for years and does not think highly of her. She, like Macon, has had to fend for herself from an early age after their father’s murder, but she has dealt with her past in a different way than Macon, who has embraced money as the way to show his love for his father. Pilate has a daughter, Reba, and a granddaughter named Hagar. Hagar falls desperately and obsessively in love with Milkman, and is unable to cope with his rejection, attempting to kill him at least six times.

Hagar is not the only character who attempts to kill Milkman. Guitar, Milkman’s erstwhile best friend, tries to kill Milkman more than once after incorrectly suspecting that Milkman has cheated him out of hidden gold, a fortune he planned to use to help his Seven Days group fund their revenge killings in response to killings of blacks.

Searching for the gold near the old family farm in Pennsylvania, Milkman stops at the rotting Butler Mansion, former home of the people who killed his ancestor to claim the farm. Here he meets Circe, an almost supernaturally old ex-slave of the Butlers. She tells Milkman of his family history and this leads him to the town of Shalimar. There he learns his great-grandfather Solomon was said to have escaped slavery by flying back to Africa, leaving behind twenty-one children and his wife Ryna, who goes crazy with loss. Returning home, he learns that Hagar has died of a broken heart. He accompanies Pilate back to Shalimar, where she is accidentally shot and killed by Guitar, who had intended to kill Milkman.

The novel ends on a poignant note. In an attempt to confront and reconnect with Guitar, Milkman leaps toward Guitar—and his own death, uttering his hard-won psychological truth: “if you surrendered to the air, you could ride it.” Milkman’s death brings the novel full circle, from the initial suicide “flight” of insurance agent Robert Smith to the self-sacrificing “flight” by Milkman.


“Beloved (1987)”

“Beloved (1987)”

Beloved is loosely based on the life and legal case of Margaret Garner, an escaped slave who killed her child to prevent the child from being taken back into slavery.


Sir Thomas Malory

Sir Thomas Malory

Malory (1405-1471) is important because he wrote the first major Arthurian romance, which continues to be rewritten up to the current day. I don’t see the summary here being very important; I would remember, however, that this is a work of prose. Many questions on the GRE can be answered if simply you remember whether a work is prose or verse. A good GRE question would try to trick you into identifying Malory as the author a verse Arthurian romance.

Here’s a brief history of the man and the work:

Few facts are certain in Malory’s history. From his own words he is known to have been a knight and prisoner, and his description of himself as “a servant of Jesu both day and night” has led to the inference that he might have been a priest . It is believed that he was knighted in 1442 and entered the British Parliament representing Warwickshire in 1445 .

In 1450, it appears that he turned towards a life of crime, being accused of murder, robbery, stealing, poaching, and rape. However, the validity of these charges are the subject of much controversy given Malory’s unclear political affiliations. False charges were common amidst the political strife of the War of the Roses. Supposedly while imprisoned for most of the 1450s (mostly in London ‘s Newgate Prison ), he began writing an Arthurian legend that he called The Book of King Arthur and His Noble Knights of the Round Table. His work was first published posthumously by William Caxton as Le Morte d’Arthur in 1485.

Malory is believed to have obtained the material for his work from many French sources in addition to earlier English Arthurian Romances, most notably the stanzaic Morte Arthur and the alliterative Morte Arthure. In the preface to the first edition of the Le Morte D’Arthur , William Caxton speaks of the work as printed by himself “after a copy unto me delivered, which copy Sir Thomas Malory did take out of certain books of French, and reduced it into English.” Malory himself tells us that he finished the book in the ninth year of King Edward IV of England (about 1470 ). Le Morte D’Arthur brought together the various strands of the legend in a prose romance which many critics reckon the best of its kind.