496-406 B.C.


The seven  remaining plays of Sophocles are considered the height of ancient Athens’ achievements with themes of army, city, family, the human race and independence within and without family. Acceptance of place or rejection? What does it mean to be an outsider? What should we do when forced to choose?


Life and Times

Sophocles had a long, successful, productive and happy life. He was fairly wealthy and well educated. He lived in Athens during the golden or classical age. Pericles, an important political figure, was a personal friend of Sophocles. After age 60, the city of Athens began to experience turmoil. He worked in Athenian theater all his life and introduced scene painting, increasing the chorus members from twelve to fifteen, and bringing in a third actor (a “tritagonist”) which allowed three-way dialogue and deeper relationship explorations. Sophocles’s plays seem more modern because he de-centered the chorus to focus more on the characters. He created realistic characters who explored issues such as when is it appropriate to compromise? Should I be a hero or take the course of moderation? He won first prize at the Great Dionysia while still younger than thirty. He composed over one hundred and twenty plays. He had so much charm of character that he was loved everywhere, by everyone. Sophocles’s participation in public life suggests that he was seen as a trustworthy and wise member of the community. He was married and had five sons, one of whom became involved in the theater. He lived past the age of ninety.


The Epic of Gilgamesh (ca. 1900-250 B.C.E.)

[These notes were pilfered from another source. Not my work.]

Plot Overview
The epic’s prelude offers a general introduction to Gilgamesh, king of Uruk, who was two-thirds god and one-third man. He built magnificent ziggurats, or temple towers, surrounded his city with high walls, and laid out its orchards and fields. He was physically beautiful, immensely strong, and very wise. Although Gilgamesh was godlike in body and mind, he began his kingship as a cruel despot. He lorded over his subjects, raping any woman who struck his fancy, whether she was the wife of one of his warriors or the daughter of a nobleman. He accomplished his building projects with forced labor, and his exhausted subjects groaned under his oppression. The gods heard his subjects’ pleas and decided to keep Gilgamesh in check by creating a wild man named Enkidu, who was as magnificent as Gilgamesh. Enkidu became Gilgamesh’s great friend, and Gilgamesh’s heart was shattered when Enkidu died of an illness inflicted by the gods. Gilgamesh then traveled to the edge of the world and learned about the days before the deluge and other secrets of the gods, and he recorded them on stone tablets.
The epic begins with Enkidu. He lives with the animals, suckling at their breasts, grazing in the meadows, and drinking at their watering places. A hunter discovers him and sends a temple prostitute into the wilderness to tame him. In that time, people considered women and sex calming forces that could domesticate wild men like Enkidu and bring them into the civilized world. When Enkidu sleeps with the woman, the animals reject him since he is no longer one of them. Now, he is part of the human world. Then the harlot teaches him everything he needs to know to be a man. Enkidu is outraged by what he hears about Gilgamesh’s excesses, so he travels to Uruk to challenge him. When he arrives, Gilgamesh is about to force his way into a bride’s wedding chamber. Enkidu steps into the doorway and blocks his passage. The two men wrestle fiercely for a long time, and Gilgamesh finally prevails. After that, they become friends and set about looking for an adventure to share.
Gilgamesh and Enkidu decide to steal trees from a distant cedar forest forbidden to mortals. A terrifying demon named Humbaba, the devoted servant of Enlil, the god of earth, wind, and air, guards it. The two heroes make the perilous journey to the forest, and, standing side by side, fight with the monster. With assistance from Shamash the sun god, they kill him. Then they cut down the forbidden trees, fashion the tallest into an enormous gate, make the rest into a raft, and float on it back to Uruk. Upon their return, Ishtar, the goddess of love, is overcome with lust for Gilgamesh. Gilgamesh spurns her. Enraged, the goddess asks her father, Anu, the god of the sky, to send the Bull of Heaven to punish him. The bull comes down from the sky, bringing with him seven years of famine. Gilgamesh and Enkidu wrestle with the bull and kill it. The gods meet in council and agree that one of the two friends must be punished for their transgression, and they decide Enkidu is going to die. He takes ill, suffers immensely, and shares his visions of the underworld with Gilgamesh. When he finally dies, Gilgamesh is heartbroken.
Gilgamesh can’t stop grieving for Enkidu, and he can’t stop brooding about the prospect of his own death. Exchanging his kingly garments for animal skins as a way of mourning Enkidu, he sets off into the wilderness, determined to find Utnapishtim, the Mesopotamian Noah. After the flood, the gods had granted Utnapishtim eternal life, and Gilgamesh hopes that Utnapishtim can tell him how he might avoid death too. Gilgamesh’s journey takes him to the twin-peaked mountain called Mashu, where the sun sets into one side of the mountain at night and rises out of the other side in the morning. Utnapishtim lives beyond the mountain, but the two scorpion monsters that guard its entrance refuse to allow Gilgamesh into the tunnel that passes through it. Gilgamesh pleads with them, and they relent.
After a harrowing passage through total darkness, Gilgamesh emerges into a beautiful garden by the sea. There he meets Siduri, a veiled tavern keeper, and tells her about his quest. She warns him that seeking immortality is futile and that he should be satisfied with the pleasures of this world. However, when she can’t turn him away from his purpose, she directs him to Urshanabi, the ferryman. Urshanabi takes Gilgamesh on the boat journey across the sea and through the Waters of Death to Utnapishtim. Utnapishtim tells Gilgamesh the story of the flood—how the gods met in council and decided to destroy humankind. Ea, the god of wisdom, warned Utnapishtim about the gods’ plans and told him how to fashion a gigantic boat in which his family and the seed of every living creature might escape. When the waters finally receded, the gods regretted what they’d done and agreed that they would never try to destroy humankind again. Utnapishtim was rewarded with eternal life. Men would die, but humankind would continue.
When Gilgamesh insists that he be allowed to live forever, Utnapishtim gives him a test. If you think you can stay alive for eternity, he says, surely you can stay awake for a week. Gilgamesh tries and immediately fails. So Utnapishtim orders him to clean himself up, put on his royal garments again, and return to Uruk where he belongs. Just as Gilgamesh is departing, however, Utnapishtim’s wife convinces him to tell Gilgamesh about a miraculous plant that restores youth. Gilgamesh finds the plant and takes it with him, planning to share it with the elders of Uruk. But a snake steals the plant one night while they are camping. As the serpent slithers away, it sheds its skin and becomes young again.
When Gilgamesh returns to Uruk, he is empty-handed but reconciled at last to his mortality. He knows that he can’t live forever but that humankind will. Now he sees that the city he had repudiated in his grief and terror is a magnificent, enduring achievement—the closest thing to immortality to which a mortal can aspire.

Character List
Gilgamesh –  King of Uruk, the strongest of men, and the personification of all human virtues. A brave warrior, fair judge, and ambitious builder, Gilgamesh surrounds the city of Uruk with magnificent walls and erects its glorious ziggurats, or temple towers. Two-thirds god and one-third mortal, Gilgamesh is undone by grief when his beloved companion Enkidu dies, and by despair at the prospect of his own extinction. He travels to the ends of the Earth in search of answers to the mysteries of life and death.

Enkidu –  Companion and friend of Gilgamesh. Hairy-bodied and brawny, Enkidu was raised by animals. Even after he joins the civilized world, he retains many of his undomesticated characteristics. Enkidu looks much like Gilgamesh and is almost his physical equal. He aspires to be Gilgamesh’s rival but instead becomes his soul mate. The gods punish Gilgamesh and Enkidu by giving Enkidu a slow, painful, inglorious death for killing the demon Humbaba and the Bull of Heaven.

Shamhat –  The temple prostitute who tames Enkidu by seducing him away from his natural state. Though Shamhat’s power comes from her sexuality, it is associated with civilization rather than nature. She represents the sensuous refinements of culture—the sophisticated pleasures of lovemaking, food, alcohol, music, clothing, architecture, agriculture, herding, and ritual.

Utnapishtim –  A king and priest of Shurrupak, whose name translates as “He Who Saw Life.” By the god Ea’s connivance, Utnapishtim survived the great deluge that almost destroyed all life on Earth by building a great boat that carried him, his family, and one of every living creature to safety. The gods granted eternal life to him and his wife.

Utnapishtim’s Wife –  An unnamed woman who plays an important role in the story. Utnapishtim’s wife softens her husband toward Gilgamesh, persuading him to disclose the secret of the magic plant called How-the-Old-Man-Once-Again-Becomes-a-Young-Man.

Urshanabi –  The guardian of the mysterious “stone things.” Urshanabi pilots a small ferryboat across the Waters of Death to the Far Away place where Utnapishtim lives. He loses this privilege when he accepts Gilgamesh as a passenger, so he returns with him to Uruk.

The Hunter –  Also called the Stalker. The hunter discovers Enkidu at a watering place in the wilderness and plots to tame him.
Partial List of Important Deities and Demons
Anu –  The father of the gods and the god of the firmament.

Aruru –  A goddess of creation who fashioned Enkidu from clay and her spittle.

Ea –  The god of fresh water, crafts, and wisdom, a patron of humankind. Ea lives in Apsu, the primal waters below the Earth.

Humbaba –  The fearsome demon who guards the Cedar Forest forbidden to mortals. Humbaba’s seven garments produce an aura that paralyzes with fear anyone who would withstand him. He is the personification of awesome natural power and menace. His mouth is fire, he roars like a flood, and he breathes death, much like an erupting volcano. In his very last moments he acquires personality and pathos, when he pleads cunningly for his life.

Scorpion-Man –  Guardian, with his wife, of the twin-peaked mountain called Mashu, which Shamash the sun god travels through every night. The upper parts of the monsters’ bodies are human, and the lower parts end in a scorpion tail. They are familiar figures in Mesopotamian myth.

Siduri –  The goddess of wine-making and brewing. Siduri is the veiled tavern keeper who comforts Gilgamesh and who, though she knows his quest is futile, helps him on his way to Utnapishtim.

Tammuz –  The god of vegetation and fertility, also called the Shepherd. Born a mortal, Tammuz is the husband of Ishtar.

Enlil –  God of earth, wind, and air. A superior deity, Enlil is not very fond of humankind.

Ereshkigal –  Terrifying queen of the underworld.

Ishtar –  The goddess of love and fertility, as well as the goddess of war. Ishtar is frequently called the Queen of Heaven. Capricious and mercurial, sometimes she is a nurturing mother figure, and other times she is spiteful and cruel. She is the patroness of Uruk, where she has a temple.

Lugulbanda –  Third king of Uruk after the deluge (Gilgamesh is the fifth). Lugulbanda is the hero of a cycle of Sumerian poems and a minor god. He is a protector and is sometimes called the father of Gilgamesh.

Ninsun –  The mother of Gilgamesh, also called the Lady Wildcow Ninsun. She is a minor goddess, noted for her wisdom. Her husband is Lugulbanda.

Shamash –  The sun god, brother of Ishtar, patron of Gilgamesh. Shamash is a wise judge and lawgiver.

Analysis of Major Characters
An unstable compound of two parts god and one part man, Gilgamesh suffers most from immoderation. He is the greatest of all men, and both his virtues and his flaws are outsized. He is the fiercest of warriors and the most ambitious of builders. Yet until Enkidu, his near equal, arrives to serve as a counterweight to Gilgamesh’s restless energies, he exhausts his subjects with ceaseless battle, forced labor, and arbitrary exercises of power. Beautiful to behold, Gilgamesh selfishly indulges his appetites, raping whatever woman he desires, whether she is the wife of a warrior or the daughter of a noble—or a bride on her wedding night. Enkidu’s friendship calms and focuses him. When Enkidu dies, Gilgamesh grieves deeply and is horrified by the prospect of his own death. Abruptly abandoning glory, wealth, and power, all of which are worldly aspirations that he as king had once epitomized, he begins a quest to learn the secret of eternal life. What he finds instead is the wisdom to strike harmony with his divine and mortal attributes. Reconciled at last to his mortality, Gilgamesh resumes his proper place in the world and becomes a better king.

Hairy-chested and brawny, Enkidu begins his literary life as Gilgamesh’s faithful sidekick. In the most ancient of the stories that compose The Epic of Gilgamesh, he is a helper to Gilgamesh. As those legends evolved into chapters of a great epic poem, Enkidu’s role changed profoundly. Much more than a sidekick or a servant, he is Gilgamesh’s soul mate, brother, and equal, even his conscience. In the later stories the gods bring Enkidu into the world to provide a counterpoint to Gilgamesh. Unlike Gilgamesh, who is two-thirds god, Enkidu is fashioned entirely from clay. He begins his life as a wild man, raised by animals, and, crude and unrefined, he remains to a certain extent a sojourner in the civilized world. For example, when Gilgamesh spurns Ishtar, the goddess of love, with flowery, allusive insults, Enkidu merely hurls a piece of meat in her face. However, Enkidu is also instinctively chivalrous. He takes up arms to protect the shepherds who first give him food, and he travels to Uruk to champion its oppressed people and protect its virgin brides from their uncontrollable king. Ironically, that king is Gilgamesh. Enkidu overcomes him with friendship rather than force and transforms him into the perfect leader. Perhaps Enkidu feels Uruk’s injustices so keenly because he is such a latecomer to civilization. Though Enkidu is bolder than most men, he is also less pious than he should be. He pays dearly for the disrespect he shows to Enlil, the god of earth, wind, and air, when he urges Gilgamesh to slay Enlil’s servant Humbaba, and he incurs the wrath of Ishtar. Like all men, Enkidu bitterly regrets having to die, and he clings fiercely to life.

Utnapishtim’s name means “He Who Saw Life,” though “He Who Saw Death” would be just as appropriate, since he witnessed the destruction of the entire world. The former king and priest of Shurrupak, Utnapishtim was the fortunate recipient of the god Ea’s favor. His disdain for Gilgamesh’s desperate quest for eternal life might seem ungenerous, since he himself is immortal, but Utnapishtim must carry a heavy load of survivor’s guilt. He doesn’t know why, of all the people in the world, Ea chose him to live, but he does know that he tricked hundreds of his doomed neighbors into laboring day and night to build the boat that would carry him and his family to safety while he abandoned them to their fates. What Utnapishtim gained by his trickery was a great boon for humankind, however. He received a promise from the gods that henceforth only individuals would be subject to death and that humankind as a whole would endure. When Utnapishtim tested Gilgamesh by asking him to stay awake for a week, he knew that he would fail, just as he knew that Gilgamesh wouldn’t profit from the magical plant that had the power to make him young again. Gilgamesh is one-third man, which is enough to seal his fate—all men are mortal and all mortals die. Yet since Utnapishtim “sees life,” he knows that life extends beyond the individual—that families, cities, and cultures endure.

Themes are the fundamental and often universal ideas explored in a literary work.

Love As a Motivating Force
Love, both erotic and platonic, motivates change in Gilgamesh. Enkidu changes from a wild man into a noble one because of Gilgamesh, and their friendship changes Gilgamesh from a bully and a tyrant into an exemplary king and hero. Because they are evenly matched, Enkidu puts a check on Gilgamesh’s restless, powerful energies, and Gilgamesh pulls Enkidu out of his self-centeredness. Gilgamesh’s connection to Enkidu makes it possible for Gilgamesh to identify with his people’s interests. The love the friends have for each other makes Gilgamesh a better man in the first half of the epic, and when Enkidu dies, Gilgamesh’s grief and terror impel him onto a futile quest for immortality. The epic may lack a female love interest, but erotic love still plays an important role. Enkidu’s education as a man begins with his sexual initiation by the temple harlot, and the two heroes’ troubles begin with their repudiation of Ishtar, the goddess of love. Humanity renews itself through the female life force, which includes sex, fertility, domesticity, and nurturance, not through an arbitrary gift of the gods. When Gilgamesh finally sees that his place is here on Earth and returns to Uruk to resume his kingship, Ishtar returns to her place of honor.

The Inevitability of Death
Death is an inevitable and inescapable fact of human life, which is the greatest lesson Gilgamesh learns. Gilgamesh is bitter that only the gods can live forever and says as much when Enkidu warns him away from their fight with Humbaba. Life is short, the two warriors tell each other on their way to the deadly confrontation in the Cedar Forest, and the only thing that lasts is fame. But when Enkidu is cursed with an inglorious, painful death, their bravado rings hollow. Shamash, the sun god, consoles Enkidu by reminding him how rich his life has been, but though Enkidu finally resigns himself to his fate, Gilgamesh is terrified by the thought of his own. Mesopotamian theology offers a vision of an afterlife, but it gives scant comfort—the dead spend their time being dead. If Gilgamesh’s quest to the Cedar Forest was in spite of death, his second quest, to Utnapishtim, is for a way to escape it. Utnapishtim’s account of the flood reveals how ludicrous such a goal is, since death is inextricably woven into the fabric of creation. But life is woven in as well, and even though humans die, humanity continues to live. The lesson that Gilgamesh brings back from his quest isn’t ultimately about death—it’s about life.

The Gods Are Dangerous
Gilgamesh and Enkidu learn all too well that the gods are dangerous for mortals. Gods live by their own laws and frequently behave as emotionally and irrationally as children. Piety is important to the gods, and they expect obedience and flattery whenever possible. They can often be helpful, but angering them is sheer madness—and a character’s reverence for the gods is no guarantee of safety. Thus, the world of The Epic of Gilgameshdiffers markedly from that of the Judeo-Christian tradition, in which God is both a partner in a covenant and a stern but loving parent to his people. The covenant promises that people will receive an earthly or heavenly inheritance if they behave well. The Judeo-Christian God represents not just what is most powerful but what is morally best—humans should aspire to imitate him. These differences are noteworthy becauseGilgamesh also shares certain common elements with the Judeo-Christian Bible. Both Gilgamesh and parts of the Bible are written in similar languages: Hebrew is related to Akkadian, the Babylonian language that the author used in composing the late versions of Gilgamesh. The Bible comes from the same region as Gilgamesh and shares some of its motifs and stories, such as the serpent as the enemy who deprives humans of eternal life and, most important, the flood. In both the Bible and Gilgamesh, disobedience to a god or gods brings dire consequences. Although we never learn exactly why the gods unleashed the great flood inGilgamesh, we know why Ea rescues Utnapishtim and through him all the creatures and people of the world. As the god of wisdom and crafts, Ea is responsible for human attributes including cleverness, inventiveness, and creativity, which enable people to survive independently. Ishtar, too, while a fickle friend, presides over sexual desire, fertility, nurturance, agriculture, and domesticity, which ensure humankind’s future. For the Mesopotamians, piety and respect for the gods are not true moral obligations. Rather, piety and respect suggest a practical acknowledgment of nature’s power and serve to remind humans of their place in the larger scheme of things.

Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, or literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes.

There are two important seductions in Gilgamesh, one successful and one a failure. When the temple prostitute seduces Enkidu, he loses his animal attributes but gains his self-consciousness and his humanity. In contemporary western society, people often view human sexuality as base and lewd and may be more accustomed to a reversal of roles—with Enkidu seducing a woman, instead of a woman seducing him. Furthermore, Christianity encourages its followers to transcend their bodies and to store up treasures in heaven. Sex played a much different role in the Mesopotamian worldview. The notion of sublimation was entirely foreign to the ancient Mesopotamians, who believed that this world is the only one and that the act of sex mystically and physically connects people to the life force, the goddess. Sacred prostitutes did not embody moral frailty—they were avatars and conduits of divinity. When Gilgamesh spurns Ishtar as she attempts to seduce him, he brings disaster upon himself and Enkidu. When he asks Ishtar what he could offer her in return since she lacks nothing, he misses the point of her seduction. When Gilgamesh—who has no afterlife to look forward to and no moral ideal to aspire to—spurns the goddess, he spurns life itself.

Doubling and Twinship
Gilgamesh is full of characters and events that mirror or resemble one another. For example, Gilgamesh and Enkidu look almost identical. After Enkidu dies, Gilgamesh grows his hair and dons animal skins, as if trying to become his lost friend. Two scorpion monsters guard the twin-peaked mountain, Mashu, which Shamash travels through nightly. The gods Ea and Shamash champion the human heroes. The heroes undertake two successful quests, one against Humbaba the demon and one against the Bull of Heaven. Gilgamesh’s solitary quest to find Utnapishtim mirrors his journey with Enkidu to the Cedar Forest. These repetitions sometimes serve to reinforce or emphasize important features of the story, such as Gilgamesh’s and Enkidu’s power and heroism. At other times they create contrasts, calling attention to the differences between two similar events. Alternately, the story may be structured in terms of twins and doubles primarily for aesthetic reasons—in other words, because the repetitions lend the story a symmetry or cyclicality that is beautiful or poetic in itself.

Almost all of the action in Gilgamesh begins with a journey. Enkidu journeys from the wilderness to Uruk and Gilgamesh. Gilgamesh and Enkidu journey to the Cedar Forest. Enkidu journeys to the underworld. Gilgamesh journeys to and then through the twin-peaked mountain Mashu. He journeys to Urshanabi to find Utnapishtim, then travels with Urshanabi across the sea and through the sea of death, only to return to Uruk. Gilgamesh’s many journeys mirror his internal journey to become a selfless and devoted king.

Baptism imagery appears throughout Gilgamesh, signaling a continual renewal and rebirth of the characters. Enkidu washes and anoints himself after he tastes cooked food and beer at the shepherd camp. Ninsun washes herself before she communes with Shamash. Gilgamesh washes himself after his return from the Cedar Forest. Gilgamesh and Enkidu wash themselves in the Euphrates after they subdue the Bull of Heaven. Gilgamesh undergoes a reverse baptism after Enkidu’s death, when he dons skins and lets his hair grow. Siduri urges Gilgamesh to wash himself, but he refuses. Utnapishtim orders his boatman to baptize Gilgamesh before they journey home. Gilgamesh is in a pool of pure water when the snake steals the magic plant. Though Gilgamesh regrets losing the plant, the baptism imagery suggests he doesn’t need it anymore. He has finally come to terms with his morality and is ready to resume his place in the world.

Symbols are objects, characters, figures, or colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.

Religious Symbols
Gilgamesh is rich in religious symbolism. Religious rituals in Mesopotamia involved sacrifices, festivals, sex, dream interpretation, and shamanic magic, all of which appear in the story. Enkidu’s hirsuteness symbolizes the natural, uncivilized state. The walls of Uruk symbolize the great accomplishments of which mortals are capable. In the context of the ancient king who built them, they represent the immortality he achieved through his acts. Bulls represent explosive, destructive natural power, and the ability to wrestle a bull suggests humanity’s ability to harness nature’s power. This symbolism accounts for Enkidu’s interpretation of Gilgamesh’s dream about the bull in the Cedar Forest. Enkidu says the bull is Humbaba, and that the act of wrestling the bull is Shamash’s blessing. Later in the poem, Enkidu and Gilgamesh do subdue a bull together, perhaps suggesting that humankind has the power to conquer famine.

Images of doorways, portals, and gateways constantly recur in Gilgamesh. Enkidu blocks the doorway of the bride’s chamber and wrestles with Gilgamesh. Enkidu and Gilgamesh stand awestruck and terrified before the gates to the Cedar Forest. After their triumph there, they fashion the tallest tree into a gate for Uruk. The Scorpions guard the gates of Mashu. Siduri the barmaid locks the door to her tavern. The hatchway of Utnapishtim’s boat is caulked shut. In most cases, doorways mark a transition from one level of consciousness to another. They also represent choices, since characters can either shut themselves behind doorways to seek safety or boldly venture through them.


Ancient Egyptian Literature

Ancient Egypt has one of the world’s oldest literary traditions. Texts that emerged from ancient Egypt display a remarkable range of genres, styles and themes. It was not until the nineteenth century that European scholars deciphered the forgotten language and gradually recovered Egypt’s written heritage. It did not help that they used fragile papyrus for their writings.

The Oral and Written in Egyptian Literary Culture

Egyptian texts were mostly written in ancient Egyptian language, a member of the Afroasiatic language related to ancient Semitic languages. The classical form of the language is Middle Egyptian. Egyptian was written in two main scripts: hieroglyphic script and “hieratic” or “priestly writing.” Literacy was restricted to elites in ancient Egypt. Literature was not a medium for broad consumption by reading but was enjoyed through verbal storytelling. Skillful speech was highly valued. Egyptians saw written compositions as part of a culture of oral performance, taking delight in alliteration, repetition and wordplay. The earliest longer texts from the Old Kingdom (3rd millennium B.C.) are carved in tombs. They have metrical form and are the largest category of continuous composition. There are also Pyramid Texts carved in the burial apartments of kings and queens.

The Classical Periods of Egyptian Literature

Kings of the Middle Kingdom (1940-1650 B.C.) expanded writing and scribal schools. Thus came the production of complaints, dialogues, tales, and wisdom texts  with complex imaginary settings, narrative frames and story cycles. This fiction set the standard for later times. The New Kingdom (1500-1000 B.C.) combined motifs from the Near East revealing their cosmopolitan life and relations with other countries. Some poems during this period began to critique old rituals.

The Late Period (C.A. 1000-30 B.C.)

Egypt lost its imperial power through foreign invasions. It became a province of the Roman Empire. This led some of its literature to explore more somber tones. The new form of writing was called Demotic (650 B.C. to 300 C.E.). Demotic developed new themes and longer tales.


Cannibal Spell for King Unis 2325 B.C.

This work is one of the earliest long Egyptian texts and was found inside a king’s sealed death pyramid. The text tells of the king taking on the role of creator god in a never-ending cycle. This text may have been recited during the burial ceremony along with an animal sacrifice.

[Summary in my own words except for the quotes]

All the world pauses for the death of King Unis. He is powerful, even more powerful than his creators. Unis wears his headdress and is still vital and powerful. He grows in power by eating other gods. He is effective. Unis has gone up into the sky. The sky gods are now working his case. Unis can devour all and has many helpers in his quest. Unis eats the magic of the gods and those in the sky serve him. Both skies serve him and both shores serve him. “Unis is the most controlling power, who controls the controlling powers; Unis is the sacred image who is most sacred of sacred images…” He is now in his proper place in front of all privileged ones. He is the most senior of the senior gods. He is the crowned lord of all controlling powers. He has acquired the hearts of the gods. Their magic is now in his belly. “…he has swallowed the Perception of every god [and] eternity is his limit…” Unis is now set and apparent. “Those who do (evil) deeds will not be able to hack up the place of Unis’s heart among the living in this world forever continually.”

Creation and the Cosmos

Cosmogonies are stories about how the world began. To compose a “cosmogony” is to describe how the world came to be a beautiful and well-ordered place. Early cosmogonies provide mythical stories and divine personifications instead of scientific theories. The continuity of mythical elements across the Babylonian, Greek, and Roman cultures (i.e. divine creation/floods) seems to indicate a common heritage among the ancient Mediterranean world. Ancient cosmogonies do not usually begin with creation ex nihilo (from nothing), but present some primeval matter from which the world took shape. These works also trace the ways human life has changed since it began. Ideas of decline and progress are essential to the way humans imagine themselves and their place in the world.
A whole world is a relatively new idea. Early people always pictured themselves at the center of the world and tried to imagine what was above and below. These text often feature stories of primeval struggle between different generations of the gods: a “theomachy” (battle of the gods). This kind of story can display triumph of male power over an earlier time (matriarchal); as a prototype for how successful human rulers can replace warring factions or oligarchies; or as a mirror of the usual struggles in human families where the younger generation takes control. Creation stories may also help establish the centrality of a particular place or culture within the whole world.
Cosmogonies tend to classify the world in a hierarchical structure. The terms in which people imagined creation, and the gods, varied with the landscape. Sun, sky and water are sometimes viewed as the sources of life. Poetic accounts of cosmogony played an important part in literature throughout antiquity; they are not confined to the distant past. From the beginning, composing stories about cosmic creation was intimately related to thinking about human acts of creation. Creation stories are meditations on the act of making, and we should remember that the Greek word for poetry, poesis, primarily means “making.” Often some of the most self-aware works of literature, these stories raise questions about how human and divine agency relate to one another when we make up worlds of the mind.

Ancient Mediterranean and Near Eastern Literature

The Invention of Writing and the Earliest Literatures

“Literature” comes from Latin for “letters.” Before writing, people told stories and sang songs. Preliterate societies had different intellectual values from us. They tended to enjoy stock phrases, traditional sayings, and proverbs; essential mechanisms by which cultural memory was preserved. Before writing, there was no such thing as an “author.” Storytellers echoed and manipulated old tales and passed on inherited wisdom. All oral storytelling is inevitably lost. Literacy did not take hold all at once. Early poets sometimes attempted to imitate oral gestures.

Writing was not originally invented to preserve literature. The earliest written documents contain administrative, commercial, legal and political, information. Mesopotamia, specifically in the area of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, is where writing first developed (3300-2990 B.C.) Pictographic characters were inscribed on to wet clay tablets with pointed sticks. The bulk of the texts involve economics and  lists.  By 2800 B.C., scribes began to use the wedge-shaped end of stick to make marks rather than pictures: cuneiform (a wedge). By 2500 B.C., historical events and literature began to be written. The early Sumerian epic Gilgamesh was found on clay tablets. Still, this writing was not designed for the public; too complicated. The script could be written and read only by experts: scribes.

The Egyptians use hieroglyphics. The writing system that was destined to survive was developed by the Phoenicians. The script consisted of 22 simple signs for consonantal sounds. Through trade, the Phoenician script spread throughout the Mediterranean. It was easy to learn, but the absence of notation for the vowels made for ambiguity. Eventually, the signs for the vowels were invented by the Greeks.


Ancient Near Eastern and Mediterranean Cultures

The ancient world developed around natural resources using the strength of slaves.  (Unfortunately, injustice and exploitation were essential to cultural existence.) The first civilizations of the Mediterranean basin developed in two regions that were particularly receptive to agriculture and animal husbandry: the valley of the Nile, and the valleys of the Euphrates and Tigris rivers near modern Iraq. These were centers for the complicated administration of irrigated fields. Supported by the surplus the land produced, these areas became centers for culture, government, and religion. Then arose the Greeks, Hebrews, and the Romans; all distinct cultures. There was large-scale cultural exchange between these various peoples due to colonization, imperialism, and trade.

Most ancient cultures were polytheistic. Gods were often reinvented from one place to another. There are two exceptions to early polytheism: the Egyptian Great Hymn to the Aten and the Hebrew Bible. Morality and religion were not necessarily linked in the ancient world. Religious practice (orthopraxy) was more important than religious belief (orthodoxy). Religion involved a shared set of rituals and practices which united a community in shared activities such as festivals and song. Be wary of assuming that the stories about gods that appear in literary texts are necessarily a record of the religious beliefs of a whole culture.


The Greeks

Their origins are still a mystery. They were presumably a blend of native tribes and Indo-European invaders. The second millennium B.C. saw a brilliant culture in the Minoans on a large island of Crete, complete with enormous palaces. On mainland Greece there was also a rich culture with a writing system called Linear B, later destroyed by fire. The next few hundred years the Greeks were illiterate and they entered the Dark Ages. Then oral poetry evolved and we still have the Iliad and the Odyssey.

Eighth century B.C. Greece again became literate with the alphabet borrowed from the Phoenicians. The cities differed from each other in custom, dialect, and political constitution. They were rivals and fierce competitors. Seventh century B.C. treaties and political decrees were inscribed in stone and literary works written on rolls of paper made from Egyptian papyrus. In the sixth century B.C. the Persian Empire dominated the Near East and Mediterranean areas, eventually becoming the largest empire in the ancient world. The Persians developed a very sophisticated culture and assumed they would continue to dominate, but the Greeks (led by Athens and Sparta) managed to repel repeated Persian invasions. Free from the fear of foreign invasion, the Athenians produced their most important literary and cultural achievements. While Sparta was conservative and ruled by the few, Athens was democratic, although women and slaves could not vote. Athens was strong by sea and Sparta was strong by land; they fought the Persians together. When they no longer had Persia to fight, they turned against each other and fought for 27 years, ending with the total defeat of Athens.

In the 5th century B.C. Athenian democracy provided citizens with cultural and intellectual environments new to the ancient world. There was a breaking away from myth and a study of how the body works and how the environment contributes to health. New thinkers began to use their powers of observation. It was the dawning of prose literature in medicine, history and philosophy. Athenian theater became popular. Boys began to be educated in a new way. They studied the alphabet and the poems of Homer. Intellectuals immigrated to Athens and began to teach; public speaking was a serious subject. These “wisdom teachers” were called Sophists and taught astronomy, ethics, government, literary criticism and rhetoric. These new ways of teaching created a generation gap with the parents wishing for the old ways of thinking.

The most famous Sophist was Socrates. He was an Athenian citizen and charged no fee for teaching. He investigated ethics, politics and truth through “dialectics,” a method of question and answer. He believed in the possibility of true goodness. Socrates became the starting point for all later Western philosophy. After Athens was burned by Sparta, the Athenians later returned to democracy, but killed Socrates who had become viewed as a corrupting force.

Later, Philip of Macedon took over Greece, and his son Alexander inherited a powerful army and political control of all Greece. The Hellenistic age followed (323 B.C. to 146 B.C.) Due to Alexander’s achievements, Greek culture was spread far and wide: their architecture, geographers, gymnasiums, language, libraries, mathematics, poetry, sciences, and theaters. When Jesus of Nazareth became known he was recorded by the simple vernacular of Greek known as Koine.



Rome experienced a time of growth. By 201 B.C. they were a world power. Rome was never a democracy, but a complex political system known as a republic which was designed to prevent any single person or group from seizing total control. Romans saw conflict as deadly. They valued a sense of tradition, and a myth of old Roman virtue and integrity. They valued the custom of predecessors, duty, efficiency, industry, manly courage, seriousness, and strength through unity. They developed a legal code that formed the model for all later European and American law. They built baths with hot and cold water, sewers, and straight roads and aqueducts that would last two thousand years.

Roman poets often struggled with, or rejected, the moral codes of their society. Many artists were rebels. Romans conquered half the world before they began to write, then they borrowed wholesale from Greek originals. Still, Latin literature is original.

The institutions of the Roman city-state proved inadequate for world government. The second and first centuries B.C. were dominated by civil war between various factions vying for power. Augustus defeated Mark Antony and Cleopatra and claimed to be restoring the Republic. Instead, he assumed primary control of the state and became the first in a long line of Roman emperors. There followed a long period of Roman rule. Eventually the empire became too big to be run by one man, but left behind its legacy.

Iron Maiden: Run to the Hills: The Official Biography by Mick Wall

I have been a fan of Iron Maiden, especially the old stuff, for years, but never really knew anything about them. I’m not sure how this book came to my shelf, but it is a pretty hefty read at 348 pages. The book is not a critique; more like a love letter. We do get the true creation story from everyone’s point of view. First person conversations run throughout the book. Any time the music is mentioned it is always with glowing terms. In the foreword, Steve Harris, founding member of Iron Maiden, writes “This book was written by Mick Wall, someone respected enough by the band for us to want him to take on the task. A fan and friend of Maiden for many years, Mick decided to approach not just the current members but also past members of the band, plus management, agents, and past and present members of the crew for the material for this book. It makes interesting reading, even for me, because everybody has a different view of how things have happened over the years!” Here are some interesting bits and quotes.
“…Iron Maiden begins and ends with the dreams and ambitions of one man: Steve Harris [bassist, lead writer and head honcho]. He it was who can up with the name, came up with the songs, the idea, and the attitude…’Arry, as the band affectionately know him…” (16).
Harris is a huge soccer fan, especially of Ham United. Study some of their album covers closely and you may find soccer references.
“Steve came up with the name of the new band, Iron Maiden–a medieval torture device that could be described as a coffin lined with long, sharp spikes–simply, he says, because ‘it just sounded right for the music. I was sitting around at my mum’s place, talking about names for the band and that was the name that was bandied about, and I said, Yeah, that’s great. I like that. I don’t remember if I thought of it or my mum did, or someone else in my family, I can’t remember. But I do remember saying it to my mum and she went, Oh, that’s good. I think I had a short-list of four or five names and she said, Oh yeah, that’s the best one’” (29).
[Can you imagine being in high school, starting a heavy metal band, and your mom going “Iron Maiden…now, that’s a name!”]
Harris had been in cover bands, but he wanted his own band in order to perform the originals he’d been writing. “Even then, the Harris penchant for an unexpected time-change which would become the hallmark of all Iron Maiden’s most respected work, was already much in evidence” (32-3).
“But with the arrival of Wilcock came the news of a guitarist mate, of Den’s that, he said, would blow them away. His name was Dave Murray. I said, ‘Well, if he’s that good get him down here!’ recalls Steve. ‘So he did. And that’s when everything really changed…’” (34).
Maiden was seen as part of the “new British rock scene.” Sounds journalist Geoff Barton “had a name for it; he called it the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM). The phrase New Wave Of British Heavy Metal was this slightly tongue-in-cheek thing that first cropped up in a sub-heading and we just expanded it a bit to give the feature some sort of slant” (94).
[I’ve included a large section on the creation of Iron Maiden’s mascot, Eddie, because I’ve always been fascinated with the image. I used to draw him in doodles during high school. I’ve named various objects “Edward” in homage to him across the course of my life, and he was even the inspiration for a teenage poem entitled “Spoon.” I’ll share it later if I can find it.]
“The other most striking feature of Maiden’s first single was the introduction into the scheme of things of one of the most important characters in the entire Maiden story–Eddie, the cartoon creation of self-styled English eccentric and former art-school drop-out, Derek Riggs” (142).
“…the one thing that never changes is the thrill that runs through an Iron Maiden audience the moment Eddie bursts forth onto the stage at the climax of every show. If you’ve never seen Iron Maiden live, you won’t know what is so palpably obvious to those of us who have been there to see it for ourselves: that Eddie is the immortal soul of Iron Maiden; the defining symbol of the eternally youthful, blissfully uncompromising spirit of the band’s music. No matter what your age (and after nearly three decades there are plenty of Maiden fans whose memories are now longer than our hair), Eddie stands for the part of us that will never stop loving loud, live, over the top rock music; that will never shrink or hide from adversity; and never give up hope that there are still better times to be had…somwhere. Which is why Eddie no longer belongs either to Derek Riggs, Rod Smallwood or Steve Hrris. He belongs to us all” (143).
Rod Smallwood explains that the band did not have a defining feature; “they didn’t have that one figure who utterly stamped his presence and image on the band in a way that was obvious enough to make a good album cover. There wasn’t anything extra to give the image that continuity. So I went looking for someone, something…an image, that would look good on the record sleeve and say something more about this band than just another photograph of them on stage.’
“Rod was in John Darnley’s office at EMI one afternoon when–of all things–a poster on the wall for trad-jazz star Max Middleton caught his eye. ‘It’s not like I’m a big Max Middleton fan or anything,’ he says, ‘but the artwork on this poster was just so striking, you couldn’t miss it. Your eyes just went to it as soon as you walked in the room. So I immediately asked John, ‘Who did that for you?’ And it was this guy I’d never heard of called Derek Riggs. I asked to meet him so he could show me some more of his work, and in the middle of a load of drawings for what he thought would be good sic-fi book covers, there was the first album sleeve! It was this sort of cartoon of this mad-looking sort of punk monster, but as soon as I saw it, I knew. That was it! The only change we asked Derek to make was to make the hair a bit longer, so it was less obviously like a punk. Derek had been round all the record companies trying to sell it for a punk band–album or single, she didn’t mind. But I saw that and thought, ‘No, that’s for us, that’s exactly what we need.’ I remember taking his portfolio around to show the band. I just threw it on the table and said, ‘See if you can pick out your album sleeve,’ and it was the first one they picked out! It was just obvious to everybody from the word go–there was Eddie! It was like he’d been done just for the band.’
“‘People always ask if Eddie was inspired by Maiden’t music but I’d never even heard of Iron Maiden when I drew the first Eddie,’ Derek admits. ‘I’ve never really been into heavy metal. In fact, when I’m drawing, instead of listening to whatever Maiden are up to, I’m much more likely to spend most of my time listening to Beethoven, Stravinsky or even The Spice Girls. In those days, though, I was quite fond of punk and originally that’s what Eddie was supposed to be–this sort of brain-damaged punk. I was very influenced by the punk idea of wasted youth, this whole generation that had just been thrown in the bin–no future and all that. Which is funny, because I then included it with some other stuff I’d been sending around to various sort of science-fiction book publishers, to see if they could use any of it on one of their book covers or whatever. I didn’t really know what else to do with it. I’ve never even really been into art, not in the conventional sense. Not since they threw me out of art college, in Coventry, when I was nineteen.’
“‘But no-one was interested–I was pretty crap at book covers, actually. I discovered I could paint city streets really well, but that wasn’t much help when it came to ski-fi. Then, out of nowhere, Rod and Maiden picked up on this particular image, only they wanted me to make it a bit less like a punk and more like them. So I redrew him with pretty much the same face, the same body and clothes and everything, just with longer hair. It was still spiky but now it was long and would shoot out in all directions.’
“‘I liked the idea because it gave you great visual continuity.’ says Rod, ‘and it made the Maiden sleeves just stick out a bit more than the average sort of ‘could-be-anything’ sort of sleeves most rock bands used then. And it became a very important part of Maiden’t image, in that way. We’ve never done a lot of television, we’ve never really been on the radio, but because Eddie struck such a chord with the Maiden fans, we didn’t need to be. Wearing an Eddie T-shirt became like a statement: fuck radio, fuck TV, we’re not into that crap, we’re into Iron Maiden. And, of course, we’ve had a lot of fun wit Eddie over the years, trying to find new and ever-more outrageous things for him to be and do. Sometimes the ideas come from Derek, although usually they either come from me or one of the band. But it can be anybody or anything that inspires us. Like with Number Of The Beast, where we had Eddie in hell with the Devil as his puppet, only the Devil’s got a puppet Eddie, too, and it was like, well, who’s the really evil one here? Who’s manipulating who? The concept was very simple, but the way Derek executed it was fantastic. Originally, he came up with it for the sleeve of the ‘Purgatory’ single, but we said, ‘No, that’s much too good,’ so we kept it for the album. We had the artwork months before we had the music.’
“The idea of turning the original Eddie the ‘Ead that had adorned the backdrop of every Maiden gig for the last three years into the more recognizable face of Riggs’ Eddie was a fairly obvious one. Smoke would still billow from its mouth during the usual ‘Iron Maiden’ finale, only now the ghastly, staring mask had acquired not just long spiky hair but a long spiky personality to match. But the real masterstroke was when they eventually hit on the idea of having a three-dimensional Eddie that didn’t just stare from the back of the stage, but actually ran about it terrorizing both the band and the astonished audience. Rod credits former EMI managing director in the Eighties, Rupert Perry, for the original suggestion that Eddie might become more than just a useful merchandising icon;that he might somehow become an active part of the show.
“‘Rupert was at a show with us one night,’ says Rod, ‘and he just said, ‘Smallwood, why don’t you get this guy on stage?’ And I thought, ‘Yeah, he’s right, that would be great.’ At first, it was just me with an Eddie mask on. I’d just go bounding around the stage like a lunatic during the intro to get the audience worked up, and the place would go mad. So we started doing it every night. Once, in Detroit, a guy from the record company came up when I had the mask on and asked me if I’d seen Rod. I just growled! Then various tour managers did it. One tour manager we had, Tony Wiggins, absolutely refused to do it so he would always wear cord trousers to the show, because he knew we’d never let Eddie go on stage in cords! It had to be a leather jacket and jeans. So Tony never did Eddie.’”
“‘I can’t actually take all the credit,’ insists Rupert Perry. “It’s true that it was me who first said to Rod, ‘You know, what if the Eddie character could move?’ But I was thinking more along the lines of something that would happen at the start of the show, perhaps before the band even came on. But Rod, in his genius, took that and turned it into something much more exciting. And now, of course, Eddie is a very big and important part of every Iron Maiden show. It would be hard to imagine them without him. He’s become like the sixth member.’
“Originally, Eddie’s brief but blustery appearances took the form of a leather-jacketed man (as he admits, usually Rod, or one of their tour managers) in a specially-designed head-mask. But as the band’s international career took off around the world and the arenas they filled grew larger and larger, so, too, did Eddie. Bigger and more berserk with each new album that rolled around, by Powerslave, in 1984, he was over fourteen feet tall and able to launch thunderbolts with the wave of one giant, bandaged hand. Clearly, this was no mere man-in-a-fright-mask.
“Dave Lights remembers how the idea arose. ‘I had taken my family to see Jack And The Beanstalk in pantomime the previous Christmas,’ he says, ‘and I remember how impressed all the kids had been every time the giant walked on stage. It was basically a bloke on stilts but dressed up to look about ten feet tall. It was just such a simple, marvelous effect that I mentioned it to the band and said, ‘You know, maybe we could have Eddie as some sort of giant when he comes on stage.’ I think the first time we did it, on the Number Of The Beast world tour, the Eddie we had was about eight feet tall, but he ended up about fourteen feet in the end, I think. He just kept growing, getting bigger and more ridiculous with each tour we did. And it’s kind of become the best part of the show. It’s always right at the end, during ‘Iron Maiden’, and it’s just turned into this big, mad celebration. Just when you think you’ve seen all the effects there are, had all the best lights and heard all the best numbers, suddenly here comes Eddie and it just sends everybody right over the top.’”
“Dickie Bell, the band’s current tour manager, who has worked with Maiden since 1981, reckons, ‘The kids fucking love Eddie more than they love the band. And you can see why: it’s ‘cause he’s one of them. In their minds, he’s like the Maiden fan from hell! And when he gets up on stage, it’s like one of their own getting up there and doing it for them. It’s like Eddie is the ultimate headbanger” (144-147)! [End Eddie section.]
“With new Steve Harris-penned mini-epics like ‘Hallowed Be Thy Name’ (the dying note of a condemned man) and the track from which the album takes its title, ‘the Number Of The Beast’ (inspired by the film Omen II) Maiden had entered new creative territory.

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

There are two reasons I did not want to read A Clockwork Orange. The first had to do with the movie. I’ve seen it more than once and what always stands out, besides the bizarre grossness of Alex having his eyelids held open, was the ultra violence. The scene that sticks in my brain the most is when the droogs break into a house and terrorize a couple, beating them both and raping the woman. It’a a horrific scene. Because the scene has always bothered me, why would I want to read the book? The second reason I was reticent is due to the language. I’d heard from others that the author, Anthony Burgess, made up his own language which made the book slow-going for some. That very feature would turn many off the book straightway and never attempt it at all. So, with much trepidation, I began the book.
     My paperback version has an intro written by the author “Introduction: A Clockwork Orange Resucked.” I wrote at the top of the page, “Please read. Very revealing.” Burgess explains that in the American version of the book the final chapter had been deleted to make the book twenty even chapters, yet the final 21st chapter is where we learn that Alex is maturing. Burgess writes, “He grows bored with violence and recognises [sic] that human energy is better expended on creation than destruction. Senseless violence is a prerogative of youth, which has much energy but little talent for the constructive” (xi). In chapter 21 Burgess says for Alex, “It is with a kind of shame that this growing youth looks back on his devastating past. He wants a different kind of future.” While his American publisher argued that Americans were tough; they could enjoy a story of pure violence and evil without a denouement that came round to growth and change, Burgess disagreed. “I do not think so because, by definition, a human being is endowed with free will. He can use this to choose between good and evil. If he can only perform good or only perform evil, then he is a clockwork orange–meaning that he has the appearance of an organism lovely with colour and juice but is in fact only a clockwork toy to be wound up by God or the Devil or (since this is increasingly replacing both) the Almighty State. It is as inhuman to be totally good as it is to be totally evil. The important thing is moral choice. Evil has to exist along with good, in order that moral choice may operate. Life is sustained by the grinding opposition of moral entities” (xiii). I did notice while reading that Alex more than once states that doing wrong is just one choice of many; he does not place a moral judgement on the choice itself; it is one of many ways to go and he exercises his right to make his own choices. Regarding the title, he says it is a known phrase with “old Londoners. The image was a bizarre one, always used for a bizarre thing. ‘He’s as queer as a clockwork orange’ meant he was queer to the limit of queerness” (xiv). [Any younger readers must realize that the word “queer” here does not mean homosexual, but unusual or out of the ordinary.] Back to a clockwork orange Burgess states, “I mean it to stand for the application of a mechanistic morality to a living organism oozing with juice and sweetness” (xv). Lots of good groundwork set in the intro; please read it if you have a version that contains Burgess’s point of view.
The main character’s name is Alex and he runs with a small group of boys named Pete, Georgie and Dim. When I first entered the chapter I contemplated the necessity of making a vocabulary list so I could understand the slang. I attempted this by writing droogs = friends; rassoodocks = plans, but even by the second page I felt no need for this work. For experienced readers, the sensation is very much like filling in the blanks of a word or sentence. For example, if we see the sentence “Th cat wnt up te tre” we can can, with little effort, see that the cat went up the tree. That’s what reading this slang is like. The unknown words, in a sentence surrounded by known words, still allows one to comprehend what is being said. Before long, you find a pattern in the slang and begin learning what some of the words mean. If you are an adventurous reader and have read Old English, African American colloquial narratives or old Greek and Roman myth stories, then reading A Clockwork Orange will be no problem.
Fashion: One theme from the book that comes across in the movie as well is fashion. These boys may not have much, but they are well going to look right while doing wrong. “The four of us were dressed in the heighth of fashion, which in those days was a pair of black very tight tights with the old jelly mould, as we called it, fitting on the crutch underneath the tights, this being to protect and also a sort of a design you could viddy clear enough in a certain light, so that I had one in the shape of a spider, Pete had a rooker (a hand, that is), Georgie had a very fancy one of a flower, and poor old Dim had a very hound-and-horny one of a clown’s listo (face, that is)…(4). I believe this is what we would call a cod piece!
Violence: Yes, the ultra violence runs throughout the story. They beat up a professor type coming from the library. They beat up two shop clerks for money and cigarettes. They kick around a drunk guy in the street and fight a rival gang. They steal a car and later dispose of it by pushing it into a lake. In chapter two the horrorshow scene occurs with the gang breaking and entering while an older couple is home. The woman later dies from the trauma. Alex lures two ten-year-old girls from the record shop, gets them drunk and rapes them. They hear of a rich old lady who lives alone with her cats. The scene with Alex trying to attack while the cats are attacking him is vastly entertaining. But see here: breaking into an old woman’s house to beat and rob her is entertaining? I hate to say it is. Later we learn that two of Alex’s female victims have subsequently died at the hospital. Two different women on two different violent occasions. He is a murderer at age fifteen. At one point Alex tries to explain why he’s bad. “But, brothers, this biting of their toe-nails over what is the cause of badness is what turns me into a fine laughing malchick. They don’t go into what is the cause of goodness, so why of the other shop? If lewdies are good that’s because they like it, and I wouldn’t ever interfere with their pleasures, and so of the other shop. And I was patronizing the other shop. More, badness is of the self, the one, the you or me on our oddy knockies, and that self is made by old Bog or God and is his great pride and radosty. But the not-self cannot have the bad, meaning they of the government and the judges and the schools cannot allow the bad because they cannot allow the self. And is not our modern history, my brothers, the story of brave malarky selves fighting these big machines? I am serious with you, brothers, over this. But what I do I do because I like to do” (45). Alex is found guilty of his crimes and sentenced to 15 years in prison. His number is 6655321. He learns that Georgie was killed during a home invasion. Due to overcrowding and horrible food and living conditions, the guys in Alex’s cell, (but especially Alex) end of beating the new guy to death. In the second part of the book, section 6, Dr. Brodsky says, “Delimitation is always difficult. The world is one, life is one. The sweetest and most heavenly of activities partake in some measure of violence–the act of love, for instance; music, for instance. You must take your chance, boy. The choice has been all yours” (130). This refers back to the idea that violence is interwoven into life and is not a thing set outside it. Choice is reiterated just as Alex stated before.
Adults: One thing we see from adults in this novel is that they are not much different from the kids. For example, there are a group of old lady barflies. The boys learn that if they buy the old ladies drinks, the women will become the gang’s alibi and tell the police the boys had been there all night. The ladies just want to sit, gossip, play cards and get drunk. They don’t care who buys them drinks, they just want to drink! This group could easily have been another group of less adventurous boys who’d rather stay in and out of trouble. Alex lives at home with two parents who cook for him and ask about his life. He has his own room and nice clothes. Alex’s stable home life adds a layer of confusion as to why he is so bad. Just like the barfly women, Alex’s parents are ineffective when it comes to influencing his behavior. They are just there, yet without any power to actually effect change. They seem rather comforting, but Alex makes sure the audience knows that in the past he must have schooled his dad a time or two because Alex always gets what he wants. Alex has a parole officer that visits if he doesn’t attend school. Alex puts on a clean persona in front of this man and pretends to be everything he’s not. The parole officer warns him that if he messes up again Alex will no longer be in juvenile detention, but real adult jail. Of course, Alex goes on to break the law again rendering the parole officer of no use in Alex’s world. Just as his parents never knew what their son was up to in real life, they also know nothing of Alex’s length of sentence or the experimental treatment he is being given in jail. They have been separated and silenced from Alex’s life as long as the reader has known him. When Alex begins his jail sentence they decide to take in a boarder to help with finances. The parents do not know when their son will be released, do not visit him, and seem to simply find a replacement body when he leaves. They eat meals with the border and they bond like family. There is a disconnect between the adults and kids in the novel as if they are all interchangeable cogs with no identity that makes a unique impression upon another. As long as the machine keeps turning no one seems to care very much for the individual cog. After Alex jumps from a high window and ends up in the hospital his parents finally come to visit him. They invite him back home to live even though he’s acting like an asshole (their true son). Alex says he will return as long as they both understand that he’ll be in charge. They agree, rendering them exactly as ineffectual as before.
Leadership: Alex is forever on the lookout for anyone who wants to crush his position of power. His comrades, his parents, and a dude named Billyboy are all suspicious targets and must be kept in line. At one point the boys are in the bar and a girl sings for a second. Dim acts dumb so Alex punches him. This sets up a new dynamic within the group; they’ve never turned on each other before. Alex wants to keep Dim in line but the others, especially Dim, don’t take kindly to fists being used between them. By chapter five Georgie states there will be no more picking on Dim. Alex says they’ve been talking behind his back and he wants to know more. Pete chimes in that they’d like a more democratic group, not just Alex telling them what to do and not do all the time. The gang ends up physically fighting each other with Georgie’s hand and Dim’s wrist getting cut. When the blood begins to flow Alex thinks “So they knew now who was master and leader, sheep, thought I” (59). When Alex has broken into an old lady’s house to rob her he determines he can do the entire job alone…he doesn’t need to let in the other guys. When he gets to the exit, Dim chains him in the face as the police sirens sound in the distance. The other gang members leave as Alex stands red-handed and red-faced. There is no loyalty, as Alex gives up all the guys in his gang the minute he hits the back seat of the cruiser. What kind of leader does Alex actually make? What kind of leaders are the parents, the barflies? Who is really in charge of this fiasco we call life?
Music: Alex prefers classical, and he knows all the greats and the parts he likes best of all the greatest works of classical music. There are scenes where he listens to music in his bedroom, he visits a favorite record shop and music is later involved in his rehabilitation therapy. One would think that classical music is a high brow Alex characteristic, yet he twists this bit of culture into something low by imagining violent scenes while listening. He deeply loves the music and uses some rather technical language to engage it. At the same time he can sully something so brilliant by picturing what he would do to this or that person on the street if he had the right energy and time. It is an odd juxtaposition.
Society: and its (legal) mechanizations. We see columns in the newspapers asking what is wrong with the youth. What has made them all so bad? Would culture tamp down the violence? (Yet we know Alex to be a great fan of classical music and fashion.) Alex has always been a delinquent, so he has been assigned a parole officer. When the police officers catch Alex they beat him. His parole officer spits on him. We get the distinct impression that the “good” guys are no better than the bad guys. While Alex is in jail we see that every cell is overcrowded. He comes to hear of some type of experimental rehabilitation that, if undergone, will make one a candidate for immediate release. After Alex and his cellmates beat the new guy to death they decide Alex is ripe for rehabilitation. When discussing what the rehabilitation is to do we come across what could be considered the novel’s thesis statement: “You are to be made into a good boy, 6655321. Never again will you have the desire to commit acts of violence or to offend in any way whatsoever against the State’s Peace. I hope you take all that in” (106). After a stint in jail Alex seems to be looking forward to returning to his old life; it now doesn’t seem so bad after all. When it comes to this method of rehab, the readers come to know that the doctors are reluctant; they are not at all excited. We can see this method had been handed down as an experiment that the doctors cannot get behind; they are being bullied as well. The Ludovico Technique involves shooting the patient with a nausea-inducing chemical, strapping them down and making them watch ultra violent film clips. The idea is for violence to be coupled with a sick feeling ever after. The treatment begins to work. As rehabilitation begins to take hold within Alex, one of the observers states that Alex is making non-violent decisions not because he has developed morals, but because he does not want to be sick. This is not the same thing as actually being nice and actions coming from a place of kindness. “He ceases to be a wrongdoer. He ceases also to be a creature capable of moral choice” (141). Alex begins to scream “Am I just to be like a clockwork orange?” They are turning him into a human machine; when wound up by violence he reacts in a prescribed manner. During his treatment his parents are never contacted. Government and law enforcement want to be able to create promising stories for the press so they will appear competent and in control. “The Government’s big boast, you see, is the way it has dealt with crime these last month” (179). The old man who helps Alex recover from a police beating wants to use Alex to make an anti-government statement…just like the government wanted to use Alex to make a pro-reform statement. Alex states that he had always just waited “to have done to me what was going to be done to me, because I had no plans for myself” (181). What a huge statement regarding wayward youth! If you do not determine a legal path for yourself, you will be given one by the authorities. The men who want to reform Alex into an anti-government, anti-reform cause lock him up (just like jail) and leave on the classical music (just like torture) that Alex had experienced before. Alex wants to kill himself and jumps out the window hoping to die. Alex sums it up when he says, “…not one chelloveck in the whole horrid world was for me and that that music through the wall had all been like arranged by those who were supposed to be my like new droogs and that it was some veshch like this that they wanted for their horrible selfish and boastful politics” (189). After Alex hits his head and returns to his hateful self, the government uses this development to show ‘Hey! See? We didn’t fuck up anyone’s mind. He’s fine!’
Change: The gang that was once a fighting unit begins to divide. When the boys become unsatisfied with Alex as the sole leader, they begin to break ranks. When Alex goes to jail the group changes again with Georgie being killed during a home invasion. Alex changes through harsh rehabilitation. The family unit changes by taking in a lodger. Alex’s room and all his stuff is gone when he returns. When Alex returns to his favorite record store he finds that popular music has changed and the kids are dancing funny. The guy he always knew to work at the store is no longer there. Alex, who had been so strong before, changes into a person who wants to commit suicide. The professor type the boys had beat before ends up recognizing Alex, calling his cronies, then the old men beat up the young boy. “It was old age having a go at youth, that’s what it was” (163). Billyboy and Dim, former gang members, are now cops who take Alex to the edge of town, beat him, and leave him. This shows us the youth turning into the very things they couldn’t stand while growing up. In a strange twist, Alex ends up in the house they had broken in with the couple. The woman has since died. The boys had on masks during the horrible attack, so the old man does not recognize Alex; he’s just a young man who has been beaten and dumped by the police. Instead of a home invasion, this time Alex is coddled and cared for by the man, not knowing this is the boy who wrecked his life. When the anti-government group holds him hostage Alex jumps from the window hoping to kill himself. Instead, he knocks his head in such a way that he’s no longer prone to sickness when thinking of violence. After his release from the hospital Alex is again found in the milk bar, but he has a new set of friends and an actual job. Now that he actually works for his money he doesn’t like throwing it around like before. When the gang wants to go out and terrorize the city, Alex says he’s not feeling into it; they should go on without him. As Alex sits and thinks about what he’d like to do he surprises himself to learn that what he really wants is a nice cup of chai and a fire to sit by. Just as Alex longs for a nice boring adult evening alone he runs into old gang member Pete. He barely recognizes him from the grown up attire, the kind demeanor and the wife on his arm! Alex thinks about being 18 and how so many people had already made a name for themselves by that age. Alex thinks about having a son of his own and all the things he would teach him. Then he realizes that because youth is like a wind-up toy without a brain, his son probably won’t listen to him, probably won’t care for his father’s hard-earned experience and advice.

The Walking Dead (Compendium Two)

Robert Kirkman, Charlie Allard and Cliff Rathburn (Second publishing, 2013).

After reading The Walking Dead (Compendium One) what else was there to do but read compendium two? I am a huge fan of the AMC television series which introduced me to the fact that the show was created from a comic book series. The tv show films an entire season, then takes a long hiatus, so superfans are left out in the cold. I’ve been contemplating watching the spin-off: Fear the Walking Dead, but I am kind of prejudiced against it. I watched the first three of four episodes and found the characters so unlikeable that I actually WANTED them to be eaten by zombies. I may go back for another try since the regular series does not return until OCTOBER! From a writing perspective, one of the most fascinating ideas surrounding The Walking Dead is not only that the comic is an on-going affair, the creators are actually involved in a re-write of the original material as they make the tv show. How interesting would it be to create something once, decide that you’d like to try an alternate version, then put it in your own tv show based on the same material. It’s a true-to-life ongoing revision!
Compendium Two opens with Chapter Nine: Here We Remain. We open with the struggles of father Rick and son Carl. The young son is coming to learn that his dad cannot protect everyone at all times; each individual must be responsible for their own safety. Rick is losing a small portion of his sanity every time he hears a phone magically ring, he answers, and he hears the voice of his dead wife.
Chapter Ten: What We Become. We see Maggie try (unsuccessfully) to hang herself. We meet the group of creeps who terrorize Rick and Carl to the point where Rick takes a big chunk o’throat out of one of the bullies; (a classic scene in the tv show). Morgan re-appears after not being seen in ages.
Chapter Eleven: Fear The Hunters. We have twin boys (instead of the tv sisters) who end up meeting tragedy when one of the brothers kills his twin because he cannot understand murder or death. Dale and Andrea had taken these boys in as their own. Carl suggests that the murdering brother (a mere child) should be killed because he is a danger to the group. The idea is viewed as obscene by the adults around him. Dale is knocked out and taken by a rival group. (Taken on by another actor in the show), Dale’s leg is prepared and eaten by a cannibal group of humans. After they have ingested the meat, Dale reveals that he had been bitten; they were eating tainted meat. The cannibals drop off Dale, sans leg, in front of the church where our group is holed up. This leads to one of the show’s cliffhanger lines when Rick says, “They’re fucking with the WRONG people.” Both Rick and Carl have to admit that they have crossed over into new territory at this point in the story: they’ve killed living people. Carl later confesses that he killed the murderous twin boy, Ben. (In the show it was Carol who shoots the little girl from behind by telling her to look at the flowers. Classic.)
Chapter Twelve: Life Among Them. Rick and Carl discuss the philosophy of how to remain human in this inhumane world. Eugene finally admits that he’s been lying to the group in order to be protected by them. They meet Aaron who takes them to Alexandria. With other children laughing and playing, we come to understand that Carl no longer knows how to be a kid. We learn that Michonne used to be lawyer. Our group now finds it difficult to act “normal” like all the other people in Alexandria. It feels fake, shallow and strange. Our group had been stripped of their guns coming into the town; Glenn is now given the job of secreting the guns back to their owners.
Chapter Thirteen: Too Far Gone. Carl actually sees his father on the phone talking to a ghost.
Chapter Fourteen: No Way Out. Keeping the walls secure around Alexandria becomes a full time job. Morgan gets bitten by a walker on the arm and without much ado, Michonne cuts off his arm. Morgan shares wisdom with Carl about the importance of caring. Morgan dies from his wounds. We get to see another classic cliff hanger from the show in which the group is trying to escape an over-run Alexandria by drenching themselves in death-goo. This is when Rick’s would-be girlfriend’s son starts talking too loud drawing the attention of the walkers. As Mother and son are eaten, Rick has to sever her grip with an axe. Then Carl gets his eye shot out! The team knows they must band together to solve their problems.
Chapter Fifteen: We Find Ourselves. Rick recognizes that as he meets people now he is evaluating if he should kill them or not. What value do they hold? Can they be trusted? What use will they be? He says that contemplating killing them now seems a casual, routine thought. Rick says he felt he actually died a long time ago. Andrea jumps his bones by kissing him…(to make Rick feel alive, I guess?).
Chapter Sixteen: A Larger World. Our group meets the character Jesus who says he comes from a settlement on a hilltop. A scuffle ensues and the hilltop leader, Gregory, is stabbed. Our group learns about a rival group led by a guy named Negan. Our group view the hilltop as just another place to take over and command. They want to stop fighting and start living.
This is where compendium two ends. (I did not mean to get into all that, but I got carried away. It was interesting to note the titles and seeing their progression.)


The Stranger by Albert Camus

The Stranger by (Frenchman) Albert Camus. Vintage International. Translated from French by Matthew Ward. Paperback. 1946. Camus was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1957.
     Okay, so having my son choose my books doesn’t always work out for me, the reader! He has chosen three bummers in a row; great books, downer emotions. I’ve been putting off writing about Albert Camus’s The Stranger because I really don’t know what to say about it. Is the theme here what the French call “ennui”: “a feeling of utter weariness and discontent resulting from satiety or lack of interest; boredom”?
     When a literature student has read and marked the material, understands the plot, characters and theme, but still doesn’t know exactly what to write about, one good strategy is to do some research. For college writing we must use what we call “valid sources” so that we don’t quote Joe Blow’s opinion when he is neither a scholar nor a gentleman. We need to find articles, even books, on what scholars and experts have written about The Stranger before. The problem with doing too much research before writing your own ideas is that you may accidentally “borrow” another’s thesis or ideas and end up re-hashing the ideas of someone else. In a perfect world, you would begin by having your own thesis and hook, be able to make more than one point based on that idea, then later research to add support, argument, or details to your original thought. Sometimes research can spark an idea and while you read another’s analysis, you can find holes you can then plug with your own research and analysis from the book. You may also find someone with whom you may argue, using their points to make counter-points built through your notes and the original text. Another thing a literature student can do is compare something from the text to something outside the text. Sometimes this helps because it takes the pressure off of digging a deep well into a story that is somehow elusive. The student can choose a character, for instance, and compare his behavior and personality to other characters they have formerly met. Here, I’m not going to do research, but I’m pretty sure a million things have been written about Camus’s The Stranger. I hear there is even a rebuttal text from the perspective of the Arab who meets his demise in the original text.
     There is an easy comparison between Meursault, the main character in The Stranger, and Alex, the main character in A Clockwork Orange. Neither of these characters care about anything. Very little beyond their own urges makes any difference to them. Both characters passively and actively make poor decisions that not only affect themselves, but those around them. Their poor decisions lead to violence and damage others. (If I were writing a lit paper I’d have to break these types of behaviors down into categories if I could, then give examples of comparisons between the two characters. I’d need direct quotes from the book along with page numbers.)
     Meursault’s mother is in an old folks’ home and he rarely visits. He’s the only child, lives alone and has no other pressing obligations, yet still thinks the home is best for her. The novel begins with Meursault being called to her funeral. When he arrives he chooses not to see her one last time; he does not want them to open the casket. He is not able to confirm his mother’s age. Even from the first chapter we see how Camus assaults Meursault with his surrounding environment. There are lots of colors, sounds, smells, places and people crushed into the funeral procession and burial. Because we are in the first chapter, we don’t know that this technique will become a pattern. Here is how the first chapter ends: “Then there was the church and the villagers on the sidewalks, the red geraniums on the graves in the cemetery, Perez fainting (he crumpled like a rag doll), the blood-red earth spilling over Maman’s casket, the white flesh of the roots mixed in with it, more people, voices, the village, waiting in front of a cafe, the incessant drone of the motor, and my joy when the bus entered the nest of lights that was Algiers and I knew I was going to go to bed and sleep for twelve hours” (18). Meursault does not cry before, during or after his mother’s funeral. She is the only family member we hear of. He suspects that when he returns to work after this little break that everything will go back to normal.
     When Meursault goes swimming the next day and runs into a woman he used to date, we come to understand that his mother’s death is simply not on his mind. He asks Marie out and they have a date that night. We get another dense description when Meursault considers the passing scenes outside his window. He just sits there, smoking cigarettes, looking at the neighborhood below. He thinks about the woman, but just in a basic sense: how she looks, how she laughs, that he wants to have sex with her. He never mentions any emotions that have to do with her. By chapter three we are introduced to another relationship that does not work: Salamano and his dog. They live next door. Why does Salamano keep an ugly mangy dog that he cannot stand? Why does Meursault date a woman who stirs no emotion? Further, we meet another neighbor named Raymond Sintes who suspects his woman is cheating on him. He smacks her around a bit before breaking up with her: “He’d beaten her till she bled. He’d never beaten her before” (31). The neighbors can hear this physical domestic dispute but no one does anything.
     The plot thickens through these relationships that do not work. Meursault does not know or really like Sintes, but when asked, he sits in his apartment and listens to the man’s suspicions about his girlfriend. Sintes comes up with a plot to write his ex a love letter begging her to come back. When she does, and lets down her defenses, he’ll really pop her good and throw her out. His revenge will be complete. He asks Meursault to write the letter. Meursault says no, then yes, because he really has no opinion one way or the other. Who cares if someone gets hurt? Who cares if he plays a role in someone else’s violent revenge? The violence against the woman and the plot against her further violation bonds the men in machismo: “I got up. Raymond gave me a very firm handshake and said that men always understand each other” (33). When Salamano’s dog is said to have “whimpered softly” at the end of chapter three I began to wonder if the dog were a symbol of something else. The dog is kept, hated and beaten. The girlfriend is kept, not loved (at least) and beaten. We could also stretch this idea back to the dead mother. She was kept in an old folks’ home, not particularly loved (at least in an overt way) and, as one does, is beaten by life until under ground. Women and dogs are not fairing well in this story. As Meursault engages with the woman he is dating, we come to know that he does not love her either.
     The letter-writing plot works perfectly for those who set it in motion. The ex comes back, they go to bed and she is mercilessly beaten. Even though Meursault knows he wrote the letter that brought the woman back to her aggressive lover, he has no emotions concerning the woman’s plight. It’s not that he tamps down his true feelings or covers a well of deep emotion with macho distain; he truly has no feelings. The scene is written as a nice bonding visit as Sintes describes the girlfriend’s beat down to Meursault. Just as the girlfriend runs from her abuser, Salamano’s dog runs too. The two who are beaten upon make their escape. The difference is that Salamano actually cares that his dog has gone missing. He cannot picture his life without a dog to beat and curse. He is now all alone. Like Meursault. Like Sintes. Like the dog on his own. Like Maman in her grave.
     By chapter five we learn that the beaten girlfriend has a brother…an Arab…and that brother has friends. They are keeping an eye on Sintes which creates rising action within the plot. We get to hear Meursault’s boss describe his employee to a T: “He looked upset and told me that I never gave him a straight answer, that I had no ambition, and that that was disastrous in business” (41). Meursault feels that if one does not achieve their dream career, then whatever you become no longer matters. “…I couldn’t see any reason to change my life. Looking back on it, I wasn’t unhappy. When I was a student, I had lots of ambitions like that. But when I had to give up my studies I learned very quickly that none of it really mattered” (41). He does not even care if he gets married or has a family. The girl he’s been dating for one minute asks Meursault to marry her. He basically says ‘I don’t love you, but sure. Whatever.’ Why are all the women in this novel so dumb? Marie doesn’t view Meursault as anything other than eccentric. She wants to marry him (without love on his behalf) and move with him to a new job position in Paris. We go on to see that she is just as peculiar as him; maybe they are a perfect fit. I think Salamano and his dog could be the basis for an entire paper; I see how they keep popping up in these notes. Meursault asks Salamano why he doesn’t just get a new dog. “…he was right to point out to me that he was used to this one” (44). This prompts the thought that we can get used to, even attached to, the things that we hate. The dog had replaced Salamano’s dead wife who served the same purpose: “He hadn’t been happy with his wife, but he’d pretty much gotten used to her.” I summed up this chapter with 1) taking care of things we can’t stand; 2) not taking care of others; 3) loneliness; 4) no decision is also a decision.
     The plot moves forward as Meursault defends Sintes in court; he gets off with a warning. To celebrate being able to beat a woman and get off with just a warning, Sintes, Maria and Meursault decide to spend the day at the beach. Yea! As they board the bus, brother Arab and his buddies watch. Later, there is a confrontation on the beach. Sintes get his arm and face cut with a knife welded by one of the Arabs. Sintes wants to shoot the Arab but Meursault talks him out of it. He takes the gun from his friend who goes back to their beach host’s house to get bandaged up. For some reason (or, just like everything else in the novel, for NO reason), Meursault takes the gun and wanders by himself along the beach going back in the direction where the scuffle with the Arabs had occurred. [By the way…it’s not ME who is calling these characters “the Arabs”; that’s the way it is put in the book. Blame Camus!] Again, environmental factors begin to overwhelm Meursault as he walks along the beach. The sun is blasting hot, the sand is burning, the ocean is reflecting. We begin to think that maybe Meursault is having a heat stroke. It very much seems that Meursault is experiencing some sort of episode where he can’t control his body or his thoughts. When he comes upon the Arab brother they confront each other. Meursault is standing up with a gun and the Arab is laying down with a knife. Maursault is environmentally assaulted while he assaults the other: “The sea carried up a thick, fiery breath. It seemed to me as if the sky split open from one end to the other to rain down fire. My whole being tensed and I squeezed my hand around the revolver” (59). You think maybe he is overcome and squeezes the trigger by accident, but then he shoots the Arab FOUR MORE TIMES. That part is a little more difficult to explain.
     Meursault is arrested. As they are getting to know him he comes to understand that others have testified he was not upset one bit by his mother’s death. Meursault is confused as to how that could mean anything in light of this new development. What does having no feelings have to do with the current murder? Meursault does not verbally defend himself. When they ask why he won’t defend himself he says that when he has nothing to say he just keeps quiet. When asked if he loved his mother he says sure, “the same as anyone” (67). Does he mean he loved his mother the same amount as he loved anyone else? (Zero.) Or does he mean he loved his mom as much as anyone else loved her? (Unknown.)
     Chapter One of Part Two is when we learn a bit more regarding Meursault’s personal philosophy; the French ennui. The police/chaplain’s investigations are the tools by which we question Meursault. Why had he hesitated between the first and second shot? “…it really didn’t matter.” Did he believe in God? No. Without belief in God, the chaplain states that his life would be meaningless. “As far as I could see, it didn’t have anything to do with me, and I told him so” (69). Meursault begins to agree with the chaplain only to get him to leave. He doesn’t care what he himself believes or what the chaplain believes, or what the chaplain believes of him. He just doesn’t care. When the chaplain asks if he is sorry for what he had done “I thought about it for a minute and said that more than sorry I felt kind of annoyed. I got the impression he didn’t understand. But that was as far as things went that day” (70). I summed up this chapter by writing “There is no sadness at the loss of freedom; no longing for a different outcome. He just enjoys conversing with the magistrate during the investigation which takes 11 months. The magistrate calls him Monsieur Antichrist.”
     At trial that are many people that can testify to Meursault appearing to care about nothing. [So interesting here that an unknown previous reader began numbering the pieces of evidence against Meursault stated during his trial. The person had made no previous or subsequent markings. They marked seven pieces of evidence against Meursault.] When the prosecutor appears jubilant that they have all the evidence needed, we see a shocking admission of feeling. The prosecutor looks at him “…with such glee and with such a triumphant look in my direction that for the first time in years I had this stupid urge to cry, because I could feel how much all these people hated me” (90). Even though Meursault’s testimony during Sintes’s trial helped tremendously, the same does not occur when the roles are reversed. At the end of the trial, Meursault is briefly transported to his past. This part reminds me of A Clockwork Orange’s Alex when we see that if one does not take control of one’s destiny, life can just as easily take you down one road as another: “The trial was adjourned. As I was leaving the courthouse on my way back to the van, I recognized for a brief moment the smell and color of the summer evening. In the darkness of my mobile prison I could make out one by one, as if from the depths of my exhaustion, all the familiar sounds of a town I loved and of a certain time of day when I used to feel happy. The cries of the newspaper vendors in the already languid air, the last few birds in the square, the shouts of the sandwich sellers, the screech of the streetcars turning sharply through the upper town, and that hum in the sky before night engulfs the port: all this mapped out for me a route I knew so well before going to prison and which now I traveled blind. Yes, it was the hour when, a long time ago, I was perfectly content. What awaited me back then was always a night of easy, dreamless sleep. And yet something had changed, since it was back to my cell that I went to wait for the next day…as if familiar paths traced in summer skies could lead as easily to prison as to the sleep of the innocent” (97).
     The lack of guiding one’s own life is reflected again in the next chapter. “Everything was happening without my participation. My fate was being decided without anyone so much as asking my opinion…But on second thought, I didn’t have anything to say. Besides, I have to admit that whatever interest you can get people to take in you doesn’t last very long. For example, I got bored very quickly with the prosecutor’s speech. Only bits and pieces–a gesture or a long but isolate tirade–caught my attention or aroused my interest” (98-9). He cannot even take an interest in his own trial! Even though it is determined that Meursault’s crime was premeditated, he seems to feel that even the loss of one’s freedom can become boring. They make the case that Meursault had never shown any emotion. In today’s lingo we might wonder if he were on the autism spectrum; does he have special needs? “I had never been able to truly feel remorse for anything. My mind was always on what was coming next, today or tomorrow” (100). When they call for the death penalty, Meursault blurts out that the heat of the sun made him do it! The court finds this pretty humorous. Meursault is simply nowhere to be found in his own life. “I think I was already very far removed from that courtroom” (103). Further, “The utter pointlessness of whatever I was doing there seized me by the throat, and all I wanted was to get it over with and get back to my cell and sleep” (105). As he’s being taken away Marie looks at him with “a worried little smile on her face. But my heart felt nothing, and I couldn’t even return her smile.” Meursault’s lack of emotion and decision are never more confounding that when he is sentenced to the guillotine. He claims he is thinking nothing and when asked if he has any parting words”I thought about it. I said, ‘No.’ That’s when they took me away” (107).
     Reflections of Alex occur again when Meursault is contemplating an escape from prison. He pictures making a run for it, “But when I really thought it through, nothing was going to allow me such a luxury. Everything was against it; I would just be caught up in the machinery again” (109). The industrial prison complex becomes the path for those who do not forge their own. Ironically, as Meursault contemplates his own death he figures that there is one thing worthy of interest. “How had I not seen that there was nothing more important than an execution, and that when you come right down to it, it was the only thing a man could truly be interest in” (110)? He curses himself for never taking anyone up on the invitation before. Wasn’t being publicly killed the pinnacle of human investment? Why had he never considered it that way in the past? In a funny way he points out that it is in everyone’s interest that the beheading come off without a hitch; you want that guillotine to work correctly THE FIRST TIME. As he waits in his cell Meursault points out that (duh) he never really had an imagination. He knows that everyone will die sooner or later, so what’s the difference that his is sooner? “But everybody knows life isn’t worth living.” The existential angst continues as he reflects back on his one sided relationship with Marie. She had stopped writing. “…remembering Marie meant nothing to me. I wasn’t interested in her dead. That seemed perfectly normal to me, since I understood very well that people would forget me when I was dead. They wouldn’t have anything more to do with me. I wasn’t even able to tell myself that it was hard to think those things” (115).
     The chaplain continues to wrestle for Meursault’s soul by trying to make him believe that he needs to accept Christ into his heart before dying. Meursault thinks this is the most ridiculous thing ever. The conversation holds no interest to him and that is the reason he wants to stop visiting the chaplain. The religious man cannot fathom how the prisoner can face his own death without the comfort of God being by his side. “I said I would face it exactly as I was facing it now” (117). The chaplain presses by asking if there is any hope. Is dying really the end? No heaven? No hell? “‘Yes,’ I said.” It feels as if Meursault does not require one single solitary thing outside of his own existence to make him feel better. There is nothing outside of himself that can add comfort: not his mother, not Marie, not his friends, not his co-workers. Meursault needs nothing to exist except air, food and water. He does not need guilt to make him feel better or worse. “I didn’t know what a sin was. All they had told me was that I was guilty. I was guilty, I was paying for it, and nothing more could be asked of me” (118). Meursault feels that wishing for something, like another life or to believe in God, is still just a wish. Wishing to be rich doesn’t make one rich so why put effort into wishing? Meursault finds more surety in the life he has certainly lived that the hope that some higher spirit exists. He continues to reiterate that nothing really matters. Here is how the story ends:
     “So close to death, Maman must have felt free then and ready to live it all again. Nobody, nobody had the right to cry over her. And I felt ready to live it all again too. As if that blind rage had washed me clean, rid me of hope; for the first time, in that night alive with signs and stars, I opened myself to the gentle indifference of the world. Finding it so much like myself–so like a brother, really–I felt that I had been happy and that I was happy again. For everything to be consummated, for me to feel less alone, I had only to wish that there be a large crowd of spectators the day of my execution and that they greet me with cries of hate” (123).