Monday, October 25, 2010

Perception in Literature

“The Short and Happy Life of Francis Macomber”, “Tell all the truth but tell it slant--”, “Success is Counted Sweetest--”, “I heard a Fly buzz—when I died”, and “Because I cold not stop for Death--” all deal with perception in different ways. The authors, Hemingway and Dickinson, show how to look at characters or concepts in peculiar ways.

In “The Short and Happy Life of Francis Macomber”, the reader is introduced to Francis Macomber and his wife, Margot. Francis is an apparent strong, handsome man, and claims to be a fantastic hunter. However, we find out at the start of the story that he had just ran away from a lion, proving himself to be a coward. As a reader, as soon as I read his physical description I assumed that he was going to be a courageous hero. I think Hemingway intentionally described Macomber in such a way because he wants him to be perceived in one way, but actually be the opposite. Also, Macomber’s wife, Margot, is perceived as the epitome of a trophy wife. She is described a beautiful woman who had a modeling career. However, instead of being a stereotypical or perceived version of a trophy wife, she appears as a manipulating, conniving gold-digger. As readers, we discover she has been with her husband for the money and will not leave him because she loves the luxurious lifestyle. These two characters are initially perceived to be one way, but end up being something completely different.

In “Tell all the truth but tell it slant--”, Dickinson talks about truth in an unorthodox way. Usually truth is thought of as a good thing, as stated in the proverb: honesty is the best policy. However, Dickinson is claiming that we should reveal truth slowly, because some people may not be able to understand the whole truth initially. I think this makes sense because if someone is caught in a lie, they most likely won’t outright admit they lied, but rather, gradually get into a conversation and admit it almost under their breath. Also, maybe this is a stretch, but I think Dickinson could be referring to God in this poem. God is referred to in the Bible as the way, the truth and the life. Perhaps Dickinson is saying, in this sense, that someone shouldn’t force Christianity on other people, but instead show them gradual things over time. I think Dickinson wrote this poem in this way because she wanted her audience to perceive it in the ways that they want to choose.

In “Success is counted sweetest--” it reminds me of that Counting Crow’s song, “Yellow Taxi.” This song claims that you don’t know what you got ‘till it’s gone and I think this goes back to this poem pretty well. The speaker in this poem is essentially saying that those who have success don’t realize what they have, and that those who are unsuccessful understand it better. Dickinson gives the example that those who lost the battle can define what victory is better than those who won. However, most people would perceive that the winners would be able to say what victory is, since they achieved it. I think it’s a very interesting concept, almost like a Catch-22, that even if you do finally have something, you won’t be able to understand what you have. I think this also can be applied to negative things, such as poverty. I have never in my life been in a position where I was not sure where I was going to sleep that night, or where my next meal would come from. I am sure, though, that people who have been in that situation are able to define warmth, shelter, and meals better than I ever could.

In “I heard a fly buzz when I died”, it shows that even something as monumental as death can be distracted by small things, like a fly. I thought it was so interesting that someone who is lying on her deathbed is distracted by something as trivial as a fly. Since the speaker knows she is dying, the logical thing to do would be to spend time with her loved ones and do things that matter. However, she is distracted by a fly and allows herself to contemplate about the fly. I personally perceive death as something that is terrifying and looming in people’s lives. However, the speaker makes death seem like something completely insignificant. There are lines that talk about how she signed her stuff away, but the speaker is mostly interested in the fly. I personally don’t understand why someone would be so interested in a fly on his or her deathbed, but I guess there are some people like that in the world.

Again in “Because I could not stop for Death--” Dickinson makes death be perceived in a strange way. She compares death to a suitor, who’s taking her on a carriage ride. The carriage ride, is ultimately a glimpse of her life and the memories she’s had throughout it. It seems like this ride is similar to how supposedly when you die your life flashes through your eyes. I think it is interesting that she tries to make death so casual, both in this poem and in her other poem, it almost shows how morbid she is in accepting death so freely. Perceiving death in this way, it shows that death doesn't necessarily have to be so serious.

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