Ethan Frome

 by  Edith Wharton

A Norton Critical Edition edited by Kristin O. Lauer and Cynthia Griffin Wolff

Ends with authoritative text backgrounds and contexts criticism

Ethan Frome

The narrator is curious about lonely and quiet Ethan Frome. He begins to learn a bit more when Frome begins giving the narrator rides to work.

1

We go back in time 24 years earlier

“The guests were preparing to leave, and the tide had already set toward the passage where coats and wraps were hung, when a young man with a sprightly foot and a shock of black hair shot into the middle of the floor and clapped his hands. The signal took instant effect. The musicians hurried to their instruments, the dancers–some already half-muffled for departure–fell into line down each side of the room, the older spectators slipped back to their chairs, and the lively young man, after diving about here and there in the throng, drew forth a girl who had already wound a cherry-coloured ‘fascinator’ about her had, and, leading her up to the end of the floor, whirled her down its length to the bounding tune of a Virginia reel.

“Frome’s heart was beating fast. He had been straining for a glimpse of the dark head under the cherry-coloured scarf and it vexed him that another eye should have been quicker than his. The leader of the reel, who looked as if he had Irish blood in his veins, danced well, and his partner caught his fire. As she passed down the line, her light figure swinging from hand to hand in circles of increasing swiftness, the scarf flew off her head and stood out behind her shoulders, and Frome, at each turn, caught sight of her laughing panting lips, the cloud of dark hair about her forehead, and the dark eyes which seemed the only fixed points in a maze of flying lines” (14).

“The face she lifted to her dancers was the same which, when she saw him, always looked like a window that has caught the sunset” (16).

Frome is beginning to care more for Mattie, his wife’s cousin, than for his wife.

II

I think Frome’s wife, Zeena, knows what is going on.

III

Zeena will be in town overnight to see a new doctor. Frome and Mattie will be alone.

IV

“There was in him a slumbering spark of sociability which the long Starkfield winters had not yet extinguished. By nature grave and inarticulate, he admired recklessness and gaiety in others and was warmed to the marrow by friendly human intercourse” (29).

“…the laughter sparkling through her lashes” (34).

A special dish is broken during dinner. When will Zeena learn of the broken dish and how it was being used over a flirtatious dinner?

V

Mattie and Ethan spend a quiet evening together, both too nervous to really do anything.

VI

All Ethan thinks about is Mattie though they’ve never touched or kissed. His wife has now returned. Ethan now has to secretly fix the dish they broke.

VII

Zeena finds the broken dish. Mattie confesses. 

VIII

Ethan is going to ask the Hales for an advance so he can run away but he changes his mind. He just couldn’t lie to them.

IX

“She clung to him without answering, and he laid his lips on her hair, which was soft yet springy, like certain mosses on warm slopes, and had the faint woody fragrance of fresh sawdust in the sun” (60). 

Zeena knows all…you can tell by the clues and the way she acts.

“…all their intercourse had been made up of just such inarticulate flashes, when they seemed to come suddenly upon happiness as if they had surprised a butterfly in the winter woods…” (63).

Mattie and Ethan stop by a shared memory space on the way taking her to the train. They share a sled ride down a long run and almost hit a tree. Mattie decides instead of parting that they should sled down the hill once again and that is when they hit the tree. They’d rather die together than part.

“…and her dark eyes had the bright witch-like stare that disease of the spine sometimes gives” (71).

Read this short novella to find out the juicy details! The story is only 72 pages long (in this version). Just an afternoon’s read. 

I didn’t read all of the background and context material (too boring), but I did find something of note in a piece by Carroll Smith-Rosenberg. Her essay is called “They Hysterical Woman: Sex Roles and Role Conflict in Nineteenth-Century America”

“Hysteria as a chronic, dramatic, and socially accepted sick role could thus provide some alleviation of conflict and tension, but the hysteric purchased her escape from the emotional and –frequently–from the sexual demands of her life only at the cost of pain, disability, and an intensification of woman’s traditional passivity and dependence.”

II

“The effect of hysteria upon the family and traditional sex-role differentiation was disruptive in the extreme. The hysterical woman virtually ceased to function within the family. No longer did she devote herself to the needs of others, acting as self-sacrificing wife, mother, or daughter: through her hysteria she could and in fact did force others to assume those functions. Household activities were reoriented to answer the hysterical woman’s important needs. Children were hushed, rooms darkened, entertaining suspended, a devoted nurse recruited. Fortunes might be spent on medical bills or for drugs and operations. Worry and concern bowed the husband’s shoulders; his home had suddenly become a hospital and he a nurse. Through her illness, the bedridden woman came to dominate her family to an extent that would have been considered inappropriate–indeed, shrewish–in a healthy woman. Taking to one’s bed, especially when suffering from dramatic and ever-visible symptoms, might also have functioned as a mode of passive aggression, especially in a milieu in which weakness was rewarded and in which women had since childhood been taught not to express overt aggression. Consciously or unconsciously, they had thus opted out of their traditional role.”

I do remember reading that back in the day when some husbands became increasingly unsatisfied with their wives, they would begin to make a case that the wife was hysteric or was losing her mind. In this way, they could have their wives committed against their will. They would leave their wives in asylums while they married new, younger wives. Can you imagine having to resort to hysterics in order to rest? We’ve come a long way, baby.

Promises I Can Keep: Why Poor Women Put Motherhood Before Marriage

I read this book in the hopes of learning why more young people do not enter college. The relevant information is shared below. In brackets, I have placed brainstorming ideas on how to ease or combat a prohibitor to college entrance.

By K. Edin and M. Kefalas

Introduction

“…children of single parents are still at greater risk” (3) [therefore, we need to target single parents and their children].

“While the poor women we interviewed saw marriage as a luxury, something they aspired to but feared they might never achieve, they judged children to be a necessity, an absolutely essential part of a young woman’s life, the chief source of identity and meaning.”

“…a baby born into such conditions represents an opportunity to prove one’s worth” (6).

“…an expectant mother uses pregnancy to test the strength of her bond with her man and take a measure of his moral worth” (7).

“But this insistence on economic independence also reflects a much deeper fear: no matter how strong the relationship, somehow the marriage will go bad. Women who rely on a man’s earnings, these mothers warn, are setting themselves up to be left with nothing if the relationship ends.”

“…it means lifelong commitment.”

“…poor young mothers seldom view an out-of-wedlock birth as a mark of personal failure but instead see it as an act of valor” (9).

“…central tenet of good mothering can be summed up in two words–being there.”

“Millie’s experiences show why the standards for prospective fathers appear to be so low. The answer is tangled up in the young women’s initial high hopes regarding the men in their lives, and the supreme confidence they have in their ability to rise to the challenge of motherhood. The key to the mystery lies not only in what mothers believe they can do for their children but in what they hope their children will do for them.”

“In some profound sense, these young women believe, a baby has the power to solve everything” (10).

“…mothering role, how it can become virtually the only source of identity and meaning in a young woman’s life.”

“…they manage to credit virtually every bit of good in their lives to the fact they have children…”

“…poor urban neighborhoods that have seen the most dramatic increases in single motherhood” (11). 

“Forty-five percent had no high school diploma, but 15 percent had earned a GED. A surprising number, nearly a third of the total, had participated in some kind of post-high school educational activities such as college, nurses- or teachers-aid training, or cosmetology school.

“…almost half were neither working nor in school when we met them. Forty percent held low-end service-sector jobs at the time, working as telemarketers, childcare workers, teacher’s aides, nurse’s aids, factory workers, cashiers, fast-food workers, waitresses, and the like” (25).

One: “Before We Had a Baby…”

Early pregnancy causing parents to abandon education and move directly into low paying jobs. 

“Yet expressing the desire to have a baby together is far from a promise of life-long commitment.”

“…the bond that shared children create may be the most significant and enduring tie available.”

“…extraordinarily high social value the poor place on children” (31).

“While middle-class teens and twenty-somethings anticipate completing college and embarking on careers, their lower-class counterparts can only dream of such glories. Though some do aspire to these goals, the practical steps necessary to reach them are often a mystery.” [We need to take the mystery out of this process.]

“A childhood embedded in a social network rich with children–…creates the illusion of a near Dr. Spock-like competence in childrearing.”

“As talk of shared children is part of the romantic dialogue poor young couples engage in from the earliest days of courtship…”

“Some youth decide to begin trying to get pregnant so they can escape a troubled home life” (33).

“Children…Young women also hunger for the love and intimacy they can provide.”

“…pregnancy offers the promise of relational intimacy at a time few other emotional resources are available.

“Trust among residents of poor communities is astonishingly low–so low that most mothers we spoke with said they have no close friends, and many even distrust close kin. The social isolation that is the common experience of those who live in poverty is heightened for adolescents, whose relationships with parents are strained by the developmental need to forge an independent identity. The ‘relational poverty’ that ensues can create a compelling desire to give and receive lobe. Who better to do so with, some figure, than a child they can call their own” (34). [The need to build supportive communities to thwart emotional isolation.]

“…many young women come to see parenthood as the point at which they can really start living” (35).

“…nearly universal agreement that all children ought to have a sibling or two to play with” (36).

“The potent mix of social shame, self-doubt, and compelling desire leads to accidents waiting to happen” (39).

“These young women often reject the idea that children–or at least the first child–will damage their future prospects much” (40).

“So though their neighborhoods and schools offer plenty of examples of young mothers who had to leave school and face extraordinarily hard times, they still provide an ample supply of counterexamples–young unmarried women who have succeeded in doing well by their children, ensuring that they’re clean, clothed, housed, fed, and loved. Armed with these role models, they insist that it doesn’t take a college education, a good job, a big house, matching furniture–or a marriage license–to be a good mother” (41). [Could women in this situation provide mentor duties for various programs?]

“Children, whether planned or not, are nearly always viewed as a gift, not a liability–a source of both joy and fulfillment whenever they happen upon the scene. They bring a new sense of hope and a chance to start fresh.

“…the way in which a young woman reacts in the face of a pregnancy is viewed as a mark of her worth as a person. And as motherhood is the most important social role she believes she will play, a failure to respond positively to the challenge is a blot on her sense of self” (43).

“…most still view the termination of a pregnancy as a tragedy…Virtually no woman we spoke with believed it was acceptable to have an abortion merely to advance an educational trajectory.” [So it would be unwise to focus on reducing young pregnancies. We have to focus on what comes next.]

“In absolute terms, the poor have more abortions than the middle class, but that is because they also have more pregnancies” (44).

“In choosing to bring a pregnancy to term, a young woman can capitalize on an important and rare opportunity to demonstrate her capabilities to her kin and community. Her willingness and ability to react to an unplanned pregnancy by rising to the challenge of the most serious and consequential of all adult roles is clear evidence that she is no longer a ‘trifling’ teenager” (45).

[Could we capitalize upon this can-do attitude to include education and job training?]

“…poor young women grab eagerly at the surest source of accomplishment within their reach: becoming a mother” (46).

“…for these disadvantaged youth, a pregnancy offers young women who say their lives are ‘going nowhere fast’ a chance to grasp at a better future. Choosing to end a pregnancy is thus like abandoning hope” (47).

Two: “When I Got Pregnant…”

“A child is one of the few things a young man can say he has created and one of the few ways he can make an early mark on the world.

“Unmarried fathers who ‘step off’ of their responsibility to their children–as they often do–are still the subject of contempt in these communities” (60).

“…the mother’s own mother is often an integral part of the parenting team as well” (66). [Could recruit mother/daughter teams to school or family combos?]

“Thus, the tiny row homes of these crowded urban neighborhoods often house a revolving cast of characters that spans three, sometimes four, generations. In fact, nearly half of our mothers live in such households” (67). [So, would living independently even be a benefit?]

Three: How Does the Dream Die?

The goal remains to marry and attain a stable relationship. [Couples counseling? Individual training to set up expectations, boundaries, and communication skills? What if there were a system set up that when one man left, the single mother would be paired with another single mother as a resource? They begin to work as a team.]

“Lack of money is certainly a contributing cause…”

“Job insecurity is endemic…” (75).

“Over time, however, a chronically unemployed father proves too much for most mothers to bear.” 

“Money usually becomes an issue because he seems unwilling to keep at a job for any length of time, usually because of issues related to respect. Some of the jobs he can get don’t pay enough to give him the self-respect he feels he needs, and others require him to get along with unpleasant customers and coworkers, and to maintain a submissive attitude toward the boss” (76). 

“Young mothers regularly rail against young fathers who squander too much of their earnings on alcohol, marijuana, new stereo components, computer accessories, expensive footwear, or new clothing, while the needs of the family are, in their view, not adequately met” (78).

“These disagreements over the father’s work effort and spending habits cut right to the heart of the couple’s relationship because, for the new mother, his behavior with regard to money is an emblem of his dedication to the family. Financial responsibility is often the yardstick by which she measures his love for and commitment to her and the child. For young and impoverished mothers working to establish a stable environment for their children, the making and spending of money is much more than a matter of income and expenses, of budgets and balance sheets: it is a morality play. Few women expect their baby’s fathers to be the sole breadwinners, but they believe that good fathers should at least try to stay employed, work at a legitimate trade, and turn over most of their earnings to the family” (79-80).

[Need to work on male level of responsibility.]

“…mother usually points to far more serious offenses as the prime forces that pull their young families apart. It is the drug and alcohol abuse…criminal behavior…incarceration…repeated infidelity…patterns of intimate violence…drug dealing…” (81).

“Young mothers reject drug dealing for both symbolic and practical reasons. On a symbolic level, residents of even the poorest communities believe that a good father must earn his living by respectable means. While drug money may substitute for legitimate pay at times, mothers agree that it ought to be a stop-gap measure during financial crises, not a long-term career. Practically speaking, dealing drugs is simply not a family-friendly activity. For starters, most mothers believe that life in the trade will land their baby’s father in a cell or a casket–not the ideal scenario for the man they are relying on the ‘be there for them and the child” (82-3).

“Though middle-class mothers are only rarely investigated for child abuse or neglect, the poor are much more likely to be under the scrutiny of Child Protective Services, whose workers are sometimes derisively called ‘baby snatchers’ by mothers in the communities we studied. Second, mothers also know that dealers often become ‘their own best customer,’ and ‘druggies’ make poor parents as well as poor partners. Mickey told us, ‘The drugs he was selling he started doing, which was cocaine.’ Finally, even those raising children in the worst of urban neighborhoods want desperately to teach the right values. Thus, the only thing worse than a baby’s father who is trying to make a living on the corner is a son or daughter who ends up doing the same” (84).

“…a prison record is an ongoing handicap for a man struggling to be a responsible father and support his children” (86). [Do we need to build in support for the formerly incarcerated through job partners that accept and know how to work with these men?]

“…heavy drinking and an addiction to drugs…It is impossible to overemphasize the devastating impact of drugs and alcohol on the lives of the men in the eight communities we studied. Outside observers often find it impossible to ignore the public displays of these addictions, the men with bloodshot eyes drinking ‘forties’ on the stoops, the strung-out addicts huddled in doorways or weaving down the sidewalks. But the destruction these toxins wreak inside of the family is equally profound. Drugs and alcohol can quickly transform men who are valued partners and fathers into villains who threaten the well-being of the family” (87).

“The first evidence of an addiction to alcohol or drugs is often a startling change of personality, a dramatic reshuffling of priorities that results in draining precious economic and emotional resources from the family as the addiction ‘takes him over’” (88).

“Physical abuse can be just as corrosive of trust as repeated infidelity, and though it occurs across class lines, it occurs more often among the poor” (94).

“Domestic violence, the chief culprit in most stories of relational ruin, is more common among our Puerto Ricans and whites than among the African Americans. Part of the reason may be that African American mothers are less likely to cohabit with a male partner, and the lack of common residence could serve as a protective factor. Infidelity was an equal opportunity relationship wrecker. The third most common problem, criminal behavior, was a more prominent feature in the breakup stories of our African American mothers. Given the restricted legal labor market for unskilled black men, this is not surprising. Similarly, incarceration figured in the accounts of more African American mothers. …drugs are more likely to bring trouble with the law” (98).

“Women seem to welcome the social closure that a birth brings… Very often, though, the father seems to catch cabin fever.

“Fathers also get fewer rewards from their peers in their new status as a parent than mothers do.”

“The transition to parenthood means that the demands on young men dramatically increase just as the rewards of the relationship are radically reduced” (100).

“Many men respond to these pressures by returning to their street-corner associations in a relatively short period of time” (101).

Four: What Marriage Means

“Unlike women of earlier generations, poor women today almost universally reject the idea that marriage means financial reliance on a male breadwinner.” Maybe why more women are in college? “…they believe their own earnings and assets are what buys them power” (112).

“These women believe that getting married to a man and living off of his earnings practically ensures an imbalance of power they’ll find intolerable” (113).

“Poor young women who put motherhood before marriage do not generally do so because they reject the institution of marriage itself, but because good, decent, trustworthy men are in short supply. Though they hope for marriage and often hold it as a central goal, most are at least somewhat skeptical that it can be achieved” (130).

“They hold marriage to a high economic standard, one requiring as much from themselves as from the men they hope to marry. Even more important are the relationship standards they hold for marriage. Though many do find men who are seemingly decent, the mistrust generated by painful past experiences means that even the most hopeful mothers approach marriage with extreme caution. Marriage, which should be for life, requires all the thought and care in the world. In the meantime, they get on with the business of creating a family” (131). 

“Some have argued that the decline of marriage, which is most pronounced among the poor, can be traced to declining male wages. Indeed, men with a high school education or less have seen large losses in hourly wages over the last thirty years, and far fewer are able to find full-time, year-round employment. But it is clear from these stories that even if the employment and wage rates in these neighborhoods returned to their 1950s levels, in the heyday of Philadelphia’s economy, the marriage rate probably wouldn’t increase much. Though male wages for unskilled workers were higher in those days and jobs more plentiful, unskilled male laborers were not paid that well, and the nature of Philadelphia’s system of small craft production meant that even jobholders in the 1950s still faced a highly unstable job market.

“Most studies suggest that at best, declining male employment and earnings can only account for about 20 percent of the sharp downturn in marriage. Our stories suggest that many of the men who would have been considered marriageable in the 1950s would not be so today, for few 1950s marriages waited on the acquisition of a home mortgage, a car, some furniture, and two solid jobs. Even fewer 1950s brides insisted on monitoring their mates’ behavior over four, five, or six years’ time before they believed they could trust them enough to wed” (135).

“This does not mean that marriage has lost its significance, either for the culture as a whole or for the poor. The most fundamental truth these stories reveal is that the meaning of marriage has changed. It is no longer primarily about childbearing and childrearing. Now, marriage is primarily about adult fulfillment, it is something poor women do for themselves, and their dreams about marriage are a guilty pleasure compared to the hard tasks of raising a family. Though women living in disadvantaged social contexts often wish they could indulge in a marriage at the same time that they’re raising their children, it is simply not practical for most. If a marriage is to be lasting, it must have a strong economic foundation that both partners help to build, in which the woman maintains some level of economic independence. The couple relationship must also be strong enough to overcome the problems that so frequently lead to divorce, because marriage, which most still say is sacred, involves making promises–promises to be faithful and stay together for a lifetime. And as Deena Vallas puts it, most are not willing to make promises they are not sure they can keep.”

“…unless poor women can improve their own positions through education and work, they have no choice but to abandon the dream of marriage altogether or attempt to change the available men” (136).

Five: Labor of Love

“Spending time with their children is one of the most powerful tools women like Dominique feel they can use to shield their children from the dangers of their neighborhood’s streets.”  [Bring older kids to class?]

“Modeling a commitment to education…” (139).

“…The neighborhood is often the greatest impediment to their aspirations for their children” (149). [Providing on or near-campus housing for families during the length of their education. Home placement after graduation.]

[Both learning in the same classroom?] “These mothers often admit that their own difficult experiences with school make them tentative and anxious when dealing with teachers about their child’s academic progress. For a mother who still struggles with reading, her seventh-grader’s language arts homework may contain vocabulary words she has never heard. Likewise, a fifth-grade math curriculum may be beyond the capacity of a parent who struggled in school herself, leaving her ill-equipped to help with homework. Even many middle-class parents we know complain that they barely understand some aspects of their fifth or sixth grader’s math homework. Jasmine, thirty-eight, a Puerto Rican mother of two adult children and a four-year-old, who dropped out of school in the eleventh grade, worries in particular about math. ‘I’m lousy with math, and that’s the one thing I’m afraid of. I’m thinking, Am I going to be able to help him out with math?’ She says that when she was in school, ‘I didn’t have no one to [help me]. That’s why I struggled…I would just sit there [in math class] terrified.’”

“A central problem among the mothers we spoke with was how to reinforce the value of school to their children when they themselves had often not listened to their own parents in this regard. Mothers with histories of academic failure often find themselves in the awkward position of preaching the message ‘Do as I say and not as I do’ while they threaten, bribe, and cajole their children not to ‘mess up,’ urging them to ‘do better than Mommy.’ Paula, a Puerto Rican forty-year-old who did not manage to realize her dream of completing college, tries to encourage her fifteen-year-old to take a different path by pointing to the consequences of her own missteps and failures. ‘I want her to be more educated…I used to go to school [and] clown around a lot…check out the boys. And I never really paid attention to reading and all the spelling.’ At the same time that she tells these cautionary tales, she attempts to instill the high aspirations that she believes will motivate her child to do well. ‘You want a real good job making $40,000 to $50,000 per year. You want to be a doctor? You have to know how to read real good, spell real good and know your math real good.’ ‘Nowadays,’ she reasons, ‘if you want a job [even]…flipping burgers, you need a high school diploma” (153)! 

“A woman’s boy is meant to have children! Your breasts, your ovaries were given to you by God to bear children, not just to give a man sexual pleasure. It is selfish and wrong to be childless” (165)!

Six: How Motherhood Changed My Life

“…many unmarried teens bear children that are conceived only after they’ve already experienced academic difficulties or dropped out of school.”

“Poor youth are driven by a logic that is profoundly counterintuitive to their middle-class critics, who sometimes assume that poor women have children in a twisted competition with their peers to gain status, because they have an insufficient knowledge of–or access to–birth control, or so they can ‘milk’ the welfare system. Yet our mothers almost never refer to these motivations. Rather, it is the perceived low costs of early childbearing and the high value that poor women place on children–and motherhood–that motivate their seemingly inexplicable inability to avoid pregnancy.

“These poor young women are not unusually altruistic, though parenthood certainly requires self-sacrifice. What outsiders do not understand is that early childbearing does not actually have much effect on a low-skilled young woman’s future prospects in the labor market. In fact, her life chances are so limited already that a child or two makes little difference, as we document in the next chapter. What is even less understood, though, are the rewards that poor women garner from becoming mothers. These women rely on their children to bring validation, purpose, companionship, and order to their often chaotic lives–things they find hard to come by in other ways. The absolute centrality of children in the lives of low-income mothers is the reason that so many poor women place motherhood before marriage, even in the face of harsh economic and personal circumstances. For women like Millie, marriage is a longed-for luxury; children are a necessity” (172).

“…many mothers tell us they cannot name one person they would consider a friend, and the turmoil of adolescence often breeds a sense of alienation from daily as well.” [The need for peers and friends.] 174

Conclusion

Making Sense of Single Motherhood

“Providing more access to stable, living-wage employment for both men and women should therefore be a key policy objective” (219).

Moby Dick (or The Whale)

One may easily look at the novel Moby Dick (or The Whale) and think no way can I read that! That book is 568 pages! But what you don’t know is how funny and exciting it can be. The best thing is that the chapters are super short. I love when a novel has short chapters because you can choose to read for short spurts of time and still end with the chapter. This novel was written by Herman Melville in 1851. When you read Melville you somehow begin to believe that he is your long-time friend. Like Hugo’s Les Miserables, Melville can go off on a tangent. You will learn about whaling in the 1800s, but probably a bit more than you care to know. Still, since you have probably never been a whaler, it is interesting to learn about the process. 

On one of the front pages it reads: “The text of Moby-Dick in this volume is from The Northwestern-Newberry Edition of The Writings of Herman Melville, edited by Harrison Hayford, Herschel Parker, and G. Thomas Tanselle and published by Northwestern University Press and The Newberry Library, with the permission of the publishers It is an approved text of the Modern Language Association of America.” This is the Barnes and Noble edition from 1988. This volume comes with gorgeous artwork, yet too little of it! The illustrations were done by Mark Summers. There are also appendices: “Creating Moby-Dick” by Leon Howard, letter excerpts, reviews, “Rebirth” by Leon Howard, “The Chronology of Whales” (and whaling) by Ivan Sanderson, “Dictionary of Sea Terms” by Richard Dana, and “At Melville’s Tomb” reprinted from The Complete Poems and Selected Letters and Prose of Hart Crane.

I have included the names of each chapter because, as simple as they are, they amuse me somehow. Here are some of the best bits and broad chapter summaries. As per my rule, the last chapter remains a mystery until you read it for yourself.

Chapter One: Loomings

“What of it, if some old hunks of a sea-captain orders me to get a broom and sweep down the decks? What does that indignity amount to, weighed, I mean, in the scales of the New Testament? Do you think the archangel Gabriel thinks anything the less of me, because I promptly and respectfully obey that old hunks in that particular instance? Who aint a slave? Tell me that. Well, then, however the old sea captains may order me about–however they may thump and punch me about, I have the satisfaction of knowing that it is all right; that everybody else is one way or other served in much the same way–either in a physical or metaphysical point of view, that is; and so the universal thump is passed round, and all hands should rub each other’s shoulder-blades, and be content” (4).

“…this the invisible police officer of the Fates, who has the constant surveillance of me, and secretly dogs me, and influences me in some unaccountable way–he can better answer than any one else” (5).

Ishmael loves to get away from the stresses of life by going to sea as a sailor. He has to work a bit but he gets paid. He was also interested in going on a whaling expedition.

Chapter Two: The Carpet-Bag

“Yes, these eyes are windows, and this body of mine is the house. What a pity they didn’t stop up the chinks and the crannies though, and thrust in a little lint here and there. But it’s too late to make any improvements now. The universe is finished; the copestone is on, and the chips were carted off a million years ago.”

“What a fine frosty night; how Orion glitters; what northern lights! Let them talk of their oriental summer climes of everlasting conservatories; give me the privilege of making my own summer with my own coals” (9).

Ishmael wants to board a ship from Nantucket and nothing less will do. When he arrives one ship has already left. He finds lodging at The Spouter Inn.

Chapter Three: The Spouter-Inn

“Better sleep with a sober cannibal than a drunken Christian” (24).

There are no more beds so Ishmael agrees to share a bed with a harpooner who is out. Ishmael is in bed when he returns. The harpooner has been out selling shrunken human heads. Late at night Ishmael sees the man who turns out to be a dark, hairless cannibal performing odd rituals. Ishmael jumps out of bed to consult with the landlord. They are introduced and then spend a peaceful night sleeping side-by-side. 

Chapter Four: The Counterpane

Queequeg is asleep with his arm lovingly draped over Ishmael. When the cannibal awakes he performs his toilet and leaves.

Chapter Five: Breakfast

“However, a good laugh is a mighty good thing, and rather too scarce a good thing; the more’s the pity. So, if any one man, in his own proper person, afford stuff for a good joke to anybody, let him not be backward, but let him cheerfully allow himself to spend and be spent in that way. And the man that has anything bountifully laughable about him, be sure there is amore in that man than you perhaps think for” (29).

Ishmael is ready for some whaling stories from all these men over breakfast, but they all keep shyly quiet, eat, and wander into the public room.

Chapter Six: The Street

Description of the New England town, New Bedford, by day.

Chapter Seven: The Chapel

“But what then? Methinks we have hugely mistaken this matter of Life and Death. Methinks that what they call my shadow here on earth is my true substance. Methinks that in looking at things spiritual, we are too much like oysters observing the sun through the water, and thinking that thick water the thinnest of air. Methinks my body is but the lees of my better being. In fact take my body who will, take it I say, it is not me” (36).

Ishmael runs across Queequeg at the church where people are praying for the ones killed out on whaling expeditions. This frightens Ishmael at first but then thrills him.

Chapter Eight: The Pulpit

The preacher arrives and climbs up into his pulpit by way of a boat ladder which he pulls in behind him afterward.

Chapter Nine: The Sermon

“In this world, shipmates, sin that pays its way can travel freely, and without a passport; whereas Virtue, if a pauper, is stopped at all frontiers” (43).

“…prodigy of ponderous misery drags him drawing down to sleep” (44).

The preacher tells the story of Jonah and how he asked God for forgiveness. After being returned to land by the whale he spoke of truth in the face of falseness.

Chapter Ten: A Bosom Friend

“And those same things that would have repelled most others, they were the very magnets that thus drew me. I’ll try a pagan friend, thought I, since Christian kindness has proved but hollow courtesy” (50).

“But what is worship?–to do the will of God--that is worship. And what is the will of God?–to do to my fellow man what I would have my fellow man to do to me–that is the will of God.”

“How it is I know not; but there is no place like a bed for confidential disclosures between friends. Man and wife, they say, there open the very bottom of their souls to each other; and some old couples often lie and chat over old times till nearly morning. Thus, then, in our hearts’ honeymoon lay I and Queequeg–a cosy, loving pair” (54).

Queer theory, anyone? Anyone?

Back at the inn Queequeg and Ishmael are the only two so they have a visitation and become friends.

Chapter 11: Nightgown

“We felt very nice and snug, the more so since it was so chilly out of doors; indeed out of bed-clothes too, seeing that there was no fire in the room. The more so, I say, because truly to enjoy bodily warmth, some small part of you must be cold, for there is no quality in this world that is not what it is merely by contrast. Nothing exists in itself. If you flatter yourself that you are all over comfortable, and have been so a long time, then you cannot be said to be comfortable any more.”

“For this reason a sleeping apartment should never be furnished with a fire, which is one of the luxurious discomforts of the rich. For the height of this sort of deliciousness is to have nothing but the blanket between you and your snugness and the cold of the outer air. Then there you lie like the one warm spark in the heart of an arctic crystal” (53).

They nap and talk over and over again until by midnight they are wide awake again. Queequeg begins telling the story of his history.

Chapter Twelve: Biographical

Queequeg left his native land where his father is king so that he could see the oceans and other lands. He learns to be a harpooner but has not come to embrace the ways of Christianity. He trades a king’s scepter for a harpoon. They decide to sail out of Nantucket together.

Chapter Thirteen: Wheelbarrow

“We cannibals must help these Christians” (61).

They board ship. Queequeg gets in a short fight. The ship’s boom comes loose and knocks a man overboard–the man Queequeg was fighting with. Queequeg first secures the broom with a rope then saves the man who fell overboard. Now everyone approves of him.

Chapter Fourteen: Nantucket

Describes Nantucket

Chapter Fifteen: Chowder

They find the Try-Pot Inn that has been suggested and have excellent chowder. Before going to bed the landlady takes Queequeg’s harpoon from him saying it is too dangerous to allow.

Chapter Sixteen: The Ship

Bildad, Peleg and Ahab are introduced. Ishmael signs on with Bildad and Peleg, the owners of the ship and settles on his wages. Queequeg tells Ishmael that his god tells him whichever ship Ishmael chooses would be the fated ship. Ishmael kind of wonders about his decision because the two owners seem to fight a lot and he hasn’t yet met the ship’s captain: Ahab, a one-legged man who hasn’t been in the right spirit since a whale ate his leg.

Chapter Seventeen: The Ramadan

“…for I cherish the greatest respect towards everybody’s religious obligations, never mind how comical…”.

“…let him be, I say: and Heaven have mercy on us all–Presbyterians and Pagans alike–for we are all somehow dreadfully cracked about the head, and sadly need mending” (81).

Queequeg has a day and night of fasting and meditation before the both of them board their ship, the Pequod.

Chapter Eighteen: His Mark

At first Bildad and Peleg don’t want a cannibal on board but Ishmael convinces them he is a member of the first congregation. They then want to see if Queequeg can really harpoon and he proves himself and is set up to make quite a bit of money. Now Bildad wants to convert the cannibal to Christianity.

Chapter Nineteen: The Prophet

“A soul’s a sort of a fifth wheel to a wagon” (91).

Queequeg and Ishmael disboard and are met by a man named Elijah who asks if they are sailing with that ship. He asks weird questions about if they know all about Captain Ahab and the prophecy. Elijah says he will not sail with the boat. Ishmael blows him off as being crazy.

Chapter Twenty: All Astir

The ship was being loaded with all provisions over the course of a few days but no one saw Captain Ahab. He is rumored to be getting better but Ishmael is trying to cover up his uncomfortable feelings about not having yet met the man.

Chapter 21: Going Aboard

On the way to board the ship Elijah appears again and asks if they have seen men go on board. They have. Elijah says, “See if you can find them.” They can’t. Later they meet up with another crew member who says Captain Ahab has boarded and they are finally ready to set sail.

Chapter Twenty-two: Merry Christmas

The ship gets underway with Bildad and Peleg the co-captains. They both seem a bit agitated but are trying to hide it. They say as soon as the boat sees a sunny day Captain Ahab will appear, so no one has seen him yet. Bildad and Peleg depart the boat in a dinghy.

Chapter Twenty-three: The Lee Shore

Reintroduction of Bulkington who stands at the helm. Even though he just came off a dangerous four year voyage, he is up again on a three year boat.

Chapter Twenty-four: The Advocate

Ishmael speaks of the history and dignity of whaling.

Chapter 25: Postscript

Chapter 26: Knights and Squires

Starbuck is the chief mate and has seen many battles.

Chapter 27: Knights and Squires [why are two chapters titled the same?]

Starbuck, Stubb, and Flask. Tashtego and Daggoo. Introduction of the harpooners. Ishmael explains that the leaders of the ship are usually American whereas everyone else comes from all parts of the world. How islanders usually make the best harpooners.

Chapter 28: Ahab

Captain Ahab finally appears on deck. He looks healthy. Ishmael is surprised to find a long scar stretching down his cheek to his shirt. They are heading for warmer climates.

Chapter 29: Enter Ahab; to him, Stubb

The warmly cool, clear, ringing, perfumed, overflowing, redundant days, were as crystal goblets of Persian sherbet, heaped up–flaked up, with rose-water snow. The starred and stately nights seemed haughty dames in jewelled velvets, nursing at home in lonely pride, the memory of their absent conquering Earls, the golden helmeted suns! For sleeping man, ‘twas hard to choose between such winsome days and such seducing nights. But all the witcheries of that unwaning weather did not merely lend new spells and potencies to the outward world. Inward they turned upon the soul, especially when the still mild hours of eve came on; then, memory shot her crystals as the clear ice most forms of noiseless twilights” (123).

Second steward, Stubb, had a run in with Captain Ahab and Ahab was rude first by calling Stubb names.

Chapter 30: The Pipe

Ahab hasn’t been sleeping but instead spends his time pacing the decks.

Chapter 31: Queen Mab

That night Stubb has a dream that it is not an insult to be kicked with Ahab’s ivory leg, but an honor. The next day Ahab says he sees whales about and if anyone spots a white one to scream loudly.

Chapter 32: Cetology

Cetology, or the science of whales. Ishmael goes into detail describing types of whales.

Chapter 33: The Specksynder

Speaking how the men are divided into groups onboard.

Chapter 34: The Cabin-Table

Description of the order and manner in which the crew takes dinner.

Chapter 35: The Mast-Head

“Perhaps they were; or perhaps there might have been shoals of them in the far horizon; but lulled into such an opium-like listlessness of vacant, unconscious reverie is this absent-minded youth by the blending cadence of waves with thoughts, that at last he loses his identity; takes the mystic ocean at his feet for the visible image of that deep, blue, bottomless soul, pervading mankind and nature; and every strange, half-seen, gliding, beautiful thing that eludes him; every dimly-discovered, uprising fin of some indiscernible form, seems to him the embodiment of those elusive thoughts that only people the soul by continually flitting through it. In this enchanted mood, thy spirit ebbs away to whence it came…(157).

What it is like to watch for whales from the crow’s nest.

Chapter 36: The Quarter-Deck

Ahab announces that they are looking for the great white whale that took his leg. Starbuck thinks it is foolish, but everyone else gets pumped.

Chapter 37: Sunset

Ahab’s thoughts while alone. He says it was prophesied that he would be dismembered and now he wants the prophecy to be him to dismember the one who crippled him.

Chapter 38: Dusk

Starbuck in despair and alone. He thinks it foolish to help Ahab seek revenge, but he also pities Ahab and wants to help him.

Chapter 39: First Night-Watch

Stubb knows that the reason for the journey is a queer one but decides he will go to it laughing.

Chapter 40: Midnight, Forecastle

“A row a’low, and a row aloft–Gods and men–both brawlers! Humph” (174)!

The men are all hanging around drinking, singing, sleeping or arguing. A storm comes up.

Chapter 41: Moby Dick

“…all truth is profound” (183). Ahab seems to have chosen the crew for his specific purpose. He had placed all his hatred and energy into this one whale. People knew stories and myths about the white whale like how he would be getting stabbed by boatmen then all of a sudden turn and destroy them.

Chapter 42: The Whiteness of the Whale

Ishmael explains the meaning of the color white and how when white is coupled with a vicious thing it makes people twice as afraid.

Chapter 43: Hark!

One mate with excellent ears hears a cough below deck and states the sound comes from a person they have yet to see above deck.

Chapter 44: The Chart

“While thus employed, the heavy pewter lamp suspended in chains over his head, continually rocked with the motion of the ship, and for ever threw shifting gleams and shadows of lines upon his wrinkled brow, till it almost seemed that while he himself was marking out lines and courses on the wrinkled charts, some invisible pencil was also tracing lines and courses upon the deeply marked chart of his forehead” (196).

Captain Ahab can’t even sleep without being woken up by nightmares of the whale. It will be a one in a million chance to find him.

Chapter 45: The Affidavit

There have been stories of whales being wounded once then captured years later. There have been incidents where sperm whales have sunk ships.

Chapter 46: Surmises

Knowing that head mate Starbuck didn’t care for the purpose of the voyage and that he could eventually cause the ranks to mutiny, Captain Ahab was careful to keep everything as normal as possible and do all the things normally done on a whaling expedition. 

Chapter 47: The Mat-Maker

“It was a cloudy, sultry afternoon; the seamen were lazily lounging about the decks, or vacantly gazing over into the lead-colored waters. Queequeg and I were mildly employed weaving what is called a sword-mat, for an additional lashing to our boat. So still and subdued and yet somehow preluding was all the scene, and such an incantation of reverie lurked in the air, that each silent sailor seemed resolved into his own invisible self.

“I was the attendant or page of Queequeg, while busy at the mat. As I kept passing and repassing the filling or woof of marline between the long yarns of thewarp, using my own hand for the shuttle, and as Queequeg, standing sideways, ever and anon slid his heavy oaken sword between the threads, and idly looking off upon the water, carelessly and unthinkingly drove home every yarn: I say so strange a dreaminess did there then reign all over the ship and all over the sea, only broken by the intermitting dull sound of the sword, that it seemed as if this were the Loom of Time, and I myself were a shuttle mechanically weaving and weaving away at the Fates. There lay the fixed threads of the warp subject to but one single, ever returning, unchanging vibration, and that vibration merely enough to admit of the crosswise interblending of other threads with its own. This warp seemed necessity; and here, thought I, with my own hand I ply my own shuttle and weave my own destiny into these unalterable threads. Meantime, Queequeg’s impulsive, indifferent sword, sometimes hitting the woof slantingly, or crookedly, or strongly, or weakly, as the case might be; and by this difference in the concluding blow producing a corresponding contrast in the final aspect of the completed fabric; this savage’s sword, thought I, which thus finally shapes and fashions both warp and woof; this easy, indifferent sword must be chance–aye, chance, free will, and necessity–no wise incompatible–all interweavingly working together. The straight warp of necessity, not to be swerved from its ultimate course–its every alternating vibration, indeed, only tending to that; free will still free to ply her shuttle between given threads; and chance, though restrained in its play within the right lines of necessity, and sideways in its motions modified by free will, though thus prescribed to by both, chance by turns rules either, and has the last featuring blow at events” (213-4).

The first sighting of a school of whales. Everyone is preparing for the hunt when Captain Ahab appears on deck with five unknown men.

Chapter 48: The First Lowering

“But little King-Post was small and short, and at the same time little King-Post was full of a large and tall ambition…” (220).

At the same time the men were hunting their first whales a storm came up and messed up the hunt. They lost the ship for the night, but returned safely to it by morning. 

Chapter 49: The Hyena

“There are certain queer times and occasions in this strange mixed affair we call life when a man takes this whole universe for a vast practical joke, though the wit thereof he but dimly discerns, and more than suspects that the joke is at nobody’s expense but his own” (226).

Ishmael made out a will because he was confused. Starbuck was supposed to have the most knowledge yet he was the one who led Ishmael’s boat into a storm while hunting.

Chapter 50: Ahab’s Boat and Crew–Fedallah

It is hard enough for people with two legs to hunt whales, much less a person with one!

Chapter 51: The Spirit-Spout

Every few nights there is one spray from a whale in the distance as if leading them on. Ahab is getting more quiet and seems to sleep with his eyes open to the compass.

Chapter 52: The Albatross

They come upon another ship the crew of which acts very strange. They exchange no words when asked if they’d seen the white whale and the captain drops his trumpet into the sea. A large school of fish that had been following the Pequod now switch to following the other ship. Ahab took this as a sign.

Chapter 53: The Gam

When two ships pass they usually GAM, or have a visitation. So it was highly unusual for that ship to pass without a word.

Chapter 54: The Town-Ho’s Story

Ishmael repeats a story he heard of mutiny aboard a ship and how it ends with the spotting of Moby Dick. In pursuit, one man gets pitched overboard and is eaten by the whale!

Chapter 55: Of the Monstrous Pictures of Whales

Discusses how whales have been described and portrayed across the years…usually inaccurately.

Chapter 56: Of the Less Erroneous Pictures of Whales, and the True Pictures of Whaling Scenes

Pictures of whales done accurately.

Chapter 57: Of Whales in Paint; in Teeth; in Wood; in Sheet-Iron; in Stone; in Mountains; in Stars

More historic chronicling of whales.

Chapter 58: Brit

Brit is a yellowish brine that whales feed off of and float upon the surface of the water while feeding.

Chapter 59: Squid

A large white form is spotted. Upon sailing out, they find it is a giant white squid which sperm whale usually feed on.

Chapter 60: The Line

Explains how the harpoons are connected to a rope line and how it all works within the boat.

Chapter 61: Stubb kills Whale

The first whale is killed by Stubb. No accidents.

Chapter 62: The Dart

Explains how the harpooner must yell and paddle at full speed, then harpoon the whale. Ishmael feels this is too exhausting and that others should yell and paddle while the harpooner should save his energy for shooting.

Chapter 63: The Crotch

The crotch is a short plank to rest two harpoons upon. Both harpoons are flung in case one doesn’t stick. This leaves one rope that can cut off the other or get entangled in things and cause accidents.

Chapter 64: Stubb’s Supper

Stubb cut off a slab of whale meat and had the old cook come from out of bed to cook it for him.

Chapter 65: The Whale as a Dish

The history of eating the whale.

Chapter 66: The Shark Massacre

When a whale is captured late at night it’s usually lashed to the ship until morning when it will be chopped and brought on board. In the Pacific, the sharks will come and start eating on the carcass so they have to kill some and try and keep them away.

Chapter 67: Cutting In

Describes hoisting the whale on board to begin stripping and cutting him.

Chapter 68: The Blanket

Speaking of the thickness of a whale’s skin and how he maintains his warm body temperature.

Chapter 69: The Funeral

After skinning the whale for his blubber he is dropped back off in the sea where the sharks and birds still pick on him.

Chapter 70: The Sphynx

The whale is beheaded. While the head was hanging to the side of the ship and everyone was down at lunch, Captain Ahab talked with the whale’s head asking it what secrets it withheld.

Chapter 71: The Jeroboam’s Story

The Pequod came upon another ship that had been taken under the influence of a crazy shipmate who thought himself a prophet. He warned to stay away from the white whale and when they came in contact with Moby Dick one man had died so they gave up.

Chapter 72: The Monkey-rope

As Queequeg dangled over the side working on the whale Ishmael held the other end of the rope keeping him from getting crushed between ship and whale or falling too deep into the water and being eaten by sharks. If one went down, so would the other.

Chapter 73: Stubb and Flask ill a Right Whale; and Then Have a Talk over Him

As Flask and Stubb went out to kill the right whale (to hang his head on the opposite side of the sperm whale’s head to even the ship) they began talking of Fedallah and how he seems devilish.

Chapter 74: The Sperm Whale’s Head–Contrasted View

Describes the head and jaws of the sperm whale.

Chapter 75: The Right Whale’s Head–Contrasted View

Description of the right whale’s head.

Chapter 76: The Battering-Ram

How the front of the head between the eyes is so hard as to be impregnable.

Chapter 77: The Great Heidelburgh Tun

The Heidelburgh Tun is where all the oil is stored.

Chapter 78: Cistern and Buckets

“Midwifery should be taught in the same course with fencing and boxing, riding and rowing” (344).

While Tashtego was removing the oil from the whale’s head he fell down in the hold and was almost drowned. If it hadn’t been for Queeque who saved him by cutting a slit and pulling him out.

Chapter 79: The Prairie

Speaking of the study of faces, both human and animal. How the sperm whale really doesn’t have a face.

Chapter 80: The Nut

Talking of how the brain is about twenty feet down into the head and the length and breadth of the backbone.

Chapter 81: The Pequod meets the Virgin

“But pity there was none. For all his old age, and his one arm, and his blind eyes, he must die the death and be murdered, in order to light the gay bridals and other merry-makings of men, and also to illuminate the solemn churches that preach unconditional inoffensiveness by all to all” (358).

Another ship was visiting to borrow oil when a school of whale was spotted. There was a chase. Stubb, Flask and Starbuck win the race, but upon killing the whale it began to heavily sink and they eventually had to cut it free.

Chapter 82: The Honor and Glory of Whaling

The royal history of famous whalemen.

Chapter 83: Jonah Historically Regarded

The story of Jonah and the arguments against it.

Chapter 84: Pitchpoling

Stubb is an expert pitchpoler. When a whale is too far ahead and hasn’t been stopped by a harpoon, a large lance is tossed way up in the air that comes straight down on the whale.

Chapter 85: The Fountain

“And how nobly it raises our conceit of the mighty, misty monster, to behold him solemnly sailing through a calm tropical sea; his vast, mild head overhung by a canopy of vapor, engendered by his incommunicable contemplations, and that vapor–as you will sometimes see it–glorified by a rainbow, as if Heaven itself had put its seal upon his thoughts. For, d’ye see, rainbows do not visit the clear air; they only irradiate vapor. And so, through all the thick mists of the dim doubts in my mind, divine intuitions now and then shoot, enkindling my fog with a heavenly ray. And for this I think God; for all have doubts; many deny; but doubts or denials, few along with them, have intuitions. Doubts of all things earthly, and intuitions of some things heavenly; this combination makes neither believer nor infidel, but makes a man who regards them both with equal eye” (374).

Examining the spout hole of the whale.

Chapter 86: The Tail

Explanation of the tale; how it looks and how it works.

Chapter 87: The Grand Armada

“…that oriental sea are enriched, it seems a significant provision of nature, that such treasures, by the very formation of the land, should at least bear the appearance, however ineffectual, of being guarded from the all-grasping western world” (380).

“Surely, he will stop for water. Nay. For a long time, now, the circus-running sun has raced within his fiery ring, and needs no sustenance but what’s in himself” (381).

A footnote: To gally, or gallow, is to frighten excessively,–to confound with fright. It is an old Saxon word. It occurs once in Shakspere:–

“The wrathful skies

Gallow the very wanderers of the dark,

And make them keep their caves.” 

Lear, Act III. sc. ii.

To common land usages, the word is now completely obsolete. When the polite landsman first hears it from the gaunt Nantucketer, he is apt to set it down as one of the whaleman’s self-derived savageries. Much the same is it with many other sinewy Saxonisms of this sort, which emigrated to the New-England rocks with the noble brawn of the old English emigrants in the time of the Commonwealth. Thus, some of the best and furthest-descended English words–the etymological Howards and Percys–are now democratised, nay, plebeianised–so to speak–in the New World. 384

“Best, therefore, withhold any amazement at the strangely gallied whales before us, for there is no folly of the beasts of the earth which is not infinitely outdone by the madness of men” (385).

While going through the straights the Pequod was chasing a large shoal of whales but being chased from behind by a pirate ship. They got right in the middle of a huge circle of whales trying to hunt through the commotion.

Chapter 88: Schools and Schoolmasters

“The same secludedness and isolation to which the schoolmaster whale betakes himself in his advancing years, is true of all aged Sperm Whales. Almost universally, a lone whale–as a solitary Leviathan is called–proves an ancient one. Like venerable moss-bearded Daniel Boone, he will have no one near him but Nature herself; and her he takes to wife in the wilderness of waters, and the best of wives she is, though she keeps so many moody secrets” (394).

How the males and females travel according to their stage of life.

Chapter 89: Fast-Fish and Loose-Fish

“…the By-laws of the Chinese Society for the Suppression of Meddling with other People’s Business…” (396).

When a fish has been chased, harpooned, even caught, then lost, what are the rules on who recovers a loose fish?

Chapter 90: Heads or Tails

Even when a fish is caught, it is still the property of the king and queen.

Chapter 91: The Pequod meets the Rose-bud

Stubb cheats another ship out of a whale they had alongside to get the valuable ambergris found inside.

Chapter 92: Ambergris

Speaks of ambergris and the smell of whales

Chapter 93: The Castaway

A shiphand, Pip, was moved up to work in the harpoon boats. He was so scared that he jumped once, getting caught in the rope and they had to let the whale go. The second time he jumped, it was a while before he could be picked up. During that time he went mad. 

Chapter 94: A Squeeze of the Hand

“Squeeze! squeeze! squeeze! all the morning long; I squeezed that sperm till I myself almost melted into it; I squeezed that sperm till a strange sort of insanity came over me; and I found myself unwittingly squeezing my co-laborers’ hands in it, mistaking their hands for the gentle globules. Such an abounding, affectionate, friendly, loving feeling did this avocation beget; that at last I was continually squeezing their hands, and looking up into their eyes sentimentally; as much as to say,–Oh! My dear fellow beings, why should we longer cherish any social acerbities, or know the slightest ill-humor or envy! Come; let us squeeze hands all round; nay, let us all squeeze ourselves into each other; let us squeeze ourselves universally into the very milk and sperm of kindness” (417).

Speaking of the parts of the whale that can be used for profit.

Chapter 95: The Cassock

The cutting of the blubber.

Chapter 96: The Try-Works

“It has an unspeakable, wild, Hindoo odor about it, such as may lurk in the vicinity of funereal pyres. It smells like the left wing of the day of judgment; it is an argument for the pit” (422).

“To every pitch of the ship there was a pitch of the boiling oil, which seemed all eagerness to leap into their faces. Opposite the mouth of the works, on the further side of the wide wooden hearth, was the windlass. This served for a sea-sofa. Here lounged the watch, when not otherwise employed, looking into the red heat of the fire, till their eyes felt scorched in their heads. Their tawney features, now all begrimed with smoke and sweat, their matted beards, and the contrasting barbaric brilliancy of their teeth, all these were strangely revealed in the capricious emblazonings of the works. As they narrated to each other their unholy adventures, their tales of terror told in words of mirth; as their uncivilized laughter forked upwards out of them, like the flames from the furnace; as to and fro, in their front, the harpooneers wildly gesticulated with their huge pronged forks and dippers; as the wind howled on, and the sea leaped, and the ship groaned and dived, and yet steadfastly shot her red hell further and further into the blackness of the sea and the night, and scornfully champed the white bone in her mouth, and viciously spat round her on all sides; then the rushing Pequod, freighted with savages, and laden with fire, and burning a corpse, and plunging into that blackness of darkness, seemed the material counterpart of her monomaniac commander’s soul” (423).

“Look not too long in the face of the fire, O man! Never dream with thy hand on the helm! Turn not thy back to the compass; accept the first hint of the hitching tiller; believe not the artificial fire, when its redness makes all things look ghastly. To-morrow, in the natural sun, the skies will be bright; those who glared like devils in the forking flames, the morn will show in far other, at least gentler, relief; the glorious, golden, glad sun, the only true lamp–all others but liars” (424)!

“Give not thyself up, then, to fire, lest it invert thee, deaden thee; as for the time it did me. There is a wisdom that is woe; but there is a woe that is madness. And there is a Catskill eagle in some souls that can alike dive down into the blackest gorges, and soar out of them again and become invisible in the sunny spaces” (425).

Speaking of the oven that cooks the blubber. Ishmael was hypnotized by the fire and caught hold of a feeling of death. He had to shake it off.

Chapter 97: The Lamp

The men can now replenish their lamps and live in light.

Chapter 98: Stowing Down and Clearing Up

“Oh! My friends, but this is man-killing! Yet this is life” (428).

How the ship becomes so filthy while cutting and boiling, then how spotless afterward. When it becomes clean, another whale is spotted and the cycle begins again. 

Chapter 99: The Doubloon

There is a valuable gold coin kept on display at the center of the ship that will go to whoever does in the white whale.

Chapter 100: Leg and Arm: The Pequod, of Nantucket, meets the Samuel Enderby, of London

Ahab visits a ship whose captain lost an arm chasing the white whale. Ahab gets the direction the whale was last seen to head.

Chapter 101: The Decanter

How the Dutch and English whalers like to eat and drink well on their voyages.

Chapter 102: A Bower in the Arsacides

Ishmael comes across a whale’s skeleton and claims to tattoo the measurements on his arm since he had nothing else to write on.

Chapter 103: Measurement of the Whale’s Skeleton

Measurements of the whale’s skeleton.

Chapter 104: The Fossil Whale

Historic look at the whale and their bones.

Chapter 105: Does the Whale’s Magnitude Diminish?–Will He Perish? 

How the whale has been hunted and his numbers have decreased over the years.

Chapter 106: Ahab’s Leg

Captain Ahab cracked his ivory leg and had the carpenter begin making him a new one.

Chapter 107: The Carpenter

Chapter 108: Ahab and the Carpenter

The carpenter constructing Ahab’s new leg.

Chapter 109: Ahab and Starbuck in the Cabin

The oil casks were leaking below. Starbuck told Ahab they had to re-seal them and at first Ahab said no; he can only think of Moby Dick. Re-thinking himself, Ahab then consents to re-sealing the casks.

Chapter 110: Queequeg in his Coffin

“Top-heavy was the ship as a dinnerless student with all Aristotle in his head” (475).

Queequeg became so sick that they had a coffin made for him. At the last minute, Queequeg remembered an important errand he had upon returning to port and therefore rallied back from death.

Chapter 111: The Pacific

The Pacific has been gained; the last part of their adventure. Ahab’s restlessness becomes heightened. 

Chapter 112: The Blacksmith

The blacksmith’s life.

Chapter 113: The Forge

Ahab has his own harpoon made.

Chapter 114: The Gilder

The sea is calm. Men fall to philosophizing.

Chapter 115: The Pequod meets the Bachelor

They pass a fully oil loaded ship heading joyously home. The men on the Pequod become melancholy looking after her.

Chapter 116: The Dying Whale

They catch four more whales.

Chapter 117: The Whale Watch

Chapter 118: The Quadrant

Ahab charts his location by the sun then asks the sun the location of Moby Dick. He gets angry at the sun and says he will look at it no more.

Chapter 119: The Candles

“Warmest climes but nurse the cruellest fangs…” (497).

During a typhoon the top of the masts catch fire. Starbuck cautions Ahab to head for home, but Ahab says no way. They are all bound to the white whale.

Chapter 120: The Deck towards the End of the First Night Watch

Ahab sinks deeper into insanity.

Chapter 121: Midnight–The Forecastle Bulwarks

The crew is soaked from wind and rain.

Chapter 122: Midnight Aloft–Thunder and Lightning

Chapter 123: The Musket

As Starbuck goes down to tell Ahab the ship is on course, he finds Ahab sleeping. Starbuck grabs a gun and stands there wanting to kill Ahab, save the crew, and head home. He eventually puts the gun down and returns topside. He asks Stubb to carry a message.

Chapter 124: The Needle

The lightning turned the compass backwards. Ahab made a new one. The top three crewmen are no longer behind the quest of Ahab.

Chapter 125: The Log and Line

“‘The greater idiot ever scolds the lesser,’ muttered Ahab, advancing. ‘Hands off from that holiness!’” (516)

Ahab made an unreasonable demand concerning a worn out rope. He and Pip get in a crazy conversation. (They have both lost their minds.)

Chapter 126: The Life-Buoy

None thought of it, but as they entered the sea of Moby Dick, one man fell overboard and never was seen again. The buoy they sent after him also sank. They are going to use Queequeg’s casket for a new buoy.

Chapter 127: The Deck

Ahab talking crazy.

Chapter 128: The Pequod meets the Rachel

The ship Rachel had seen Moby Dick the day before. Three boats were lowered for a shoal of whales ahead. One lowered behind for Moby Dick. All returned safely except for the boat pursuing the white whale. When the Rache’s captain asks Ahab to help search, Ahab refuses. He is behind schedule.

Chapter 129: The Cabin

Pip and Ahab are becoming friends because they have both gone crazy.

Chapter 130: The Hat

Ahab now never leaves the deck, ever searching. He puts Starbuck as head watch. A wild bird swoops down and flies away with the captain’s hat.

Chapter 131: The Pequod meets the Delight

Another ship that encountered the whale and lost a man.

Chapter 132: The Symphony

Starbuck tries to convince Ahab to go home. No. Fedallah has lowered himself over the side of the ship to search.

Chapter 133: The Chase–First Day

They find Moby Dick. Boats are lowered. The boat Ahab is in is attacked by the whale and smashed in two. Moby Dick circles them until he is run off by the ship. They search for him the rest of the evening.

Chapter 134: The Chase–Second Day

The second time they go out for Moby Dick the lines for the weapons become tangled and one man gets taken out to sea. The whale attacks when he is chased.

Chapter 135: The Chase–Third Day

Mapplethorpe

By Patricia Morrisroe

Random House  New York   1995    461 pages

I have always been a fan of photography and, in a marginal way, ever since college, Robert Mapplethorpe was on my radar. Somehow over the years his daring imagery made an impression and I was drawn to the macabre and fringes like the artist. I was interested to know more about him and a biography was just the thing. Yet, the more I read the less I liked the artist. I haven’t read many biographies, so I suppose I just presumed that, in the main, they highlighted the more lovable aspects of their subjects. This was a no-holes-barred type study that slowly but surely revealed a person I would never want to know. Mapplethorpe only cared about fame, period. Well, fame and fucking. Okay: fame, fucking and drugs…perhaps in that order. If those are the top three things you care about, imagine what you will do to get them. Mapplethorpe did them all. He used people in every way imaginable while being an asshole prick all the while. While reading the last half of the book I was audibly huffing and puffing every time he would make a dick move. Once, I was reading in bed while my husband was going through his pre-bed toilet and I said, “Man…this guy is just an asshole.” By the time my husband finished brushing his teeth I said, “He’s made five more dick moves since you’ve been in there.” It’s kind of a bummer when your gods are burned, but in this case he ended up burning himself. All his excess led to a slow death from AIDS. 

Prologue

“Mapplethorpe’s artistic credo had always been to ‘see things like they’ve never been seen before’” (4). “…the fascination of the abomination” (7).

Part One: Dark Secrets

“Robert Michael Mapplethorpe was born on November 4, 1946” (13).

“What Robert liked best, however, was the freak displays, where ‘ape girls,’ bearded women, tattooed men, snake charmers, and dwarves were hidden away in dark booths. His older sister, Nancy, was terrified of them, but Robert always wanted to peek inside and was frustrated by his grandmother’s efforts to keep him away. ‘There’s nothing worse than wanting to see something and having someone stop you,’ he said. The freaks became symbols to him of all things strange and forbidden, and while he would not pursue them as vigilantly as Diane Arbus did in her photographs, they would crop up in different guises in Mapplethorpe’s pictures. By identifying the Catholic Church and Coney Island as the two most vivid memories of his childhood, he was touching upon the essential drama of his photographs–the push-pull between the sacred and the profane that was to give his work what he called an ‘edge’” (18).

“Up until now, Robert’s vision of art had been limited to the iconography of the Catholic Church–the madonnas and Christ figures to whom he directed his prayers. His trips to the museums added another dimension, and he began drawing Cubist madonnas, inspired by Picasso. ‘These were not beautiful Botticelli-type madonnas,’ said Cassidy, ‘but grotesque creatures with split profiles. I guess they were religious in that they were madonnas, but there was something disturbing about the way he had broken up their faces’” (21).

“His lunch hours were spent at Times Square, where, after a hot dog at Nathan’s, he would got to Hubert’s Freak Museum to feast his eyes on such human curiosities as Sealo the Seal Boy, whose hands grew out of his shoulders; a hermaphrodite named Alberto Alberta; and Congo the Jungle Creep, a Haitian in a fright wig who performed voodoo rituals. Diane Arbus found many of her subjects at Hubert’s, but Robert lost interest in the freaks after he spotted a gay pornographic magazine in a store on Forty-second Street” (26).

“They led the overwrought pledges into another room, where they had devised a variety of different tests, many of which evoked the rituals of gay sadomasochistic sex. The Pershing Rifles were regarded as an elite military unit, and their stylish uniforms played into the fantasy of the master-slave scenario. In this case the ‘masters’ stripped the pledges naked, blinded them with sanitary napkins, and commanded them to perform close-order drill with their bayonets. Subsequently they bound the pledges’ penises with one end of a rope, then attached bricks to the other end and ordered them to hurl the brick across the room. Next the pledges were ordered to crawl into a bathroom on their hands and knees; they were told to eat excrement from a toilet bowl–it turned out to be mashed bananas and chunky peanut butter. Mapplethorpe later confided to Patti Smith that someone had also inserted the tip of a rifle into his rectum” (31).

“He preferred the art of self-presentation to self-analysis…”

[Margin note: Not “writing what he knows”] “Mapplethorpe was aware of Warhol’s growing reputation as a pop provocateur, and he had already targeted the elusive artist as ‘someone who knew what he was doing.’ Mapplethorpe’s attraction both to Warhol and to the Pershing Rifles was an early indication of how he would later take a ‘cool’ approach to his militaristic S&M imagery, but at Pratt he was still too intimidated by his own instincts to allow his creativity free rein” (32). 

[The monkey skull story]  “Scratch’s brief and bizarre history encapsulated many of the major themes of Mapplethorpe’s adult life–his preoccupation with images of death and violence; his fascination with the devil; his desire to transform the ugly, or freakish, into works of beauty. It also pointed to a darker side of his nature, which would later emerge in his sexual relationships with other men–a need to break all the rules and transgress taboos.”

“…his LSD flowers have more in common with Walt Disney’s Fantasia, but his benign, giddy view of nature was perhaps reflective of his belief that LSD had provided him with the ability to lose himself in a guilt-free sensory experience. And since he felt guilty about so many aspects of his life, drugs temporarily solved his moral dilemma.

“For the next twenty years Mapplethorpe would use drugs almost daily–marijuana, amphetamines, Quaaludes, acid, MDA, cocaine, and amyl nitrite; they became an integral part of his sexual experimentation, for they helped blur the distinction between pleasure and pain and allowed him to silence his internal censors. He found that drugs enhanced his creativity, too, and from that time on, he would never put pencil to paper–or later take a picture–without first getting stoned.

“Timothy Leary’s Psychedelic Reader became Mapplethorpe’s new bible, and instead of going to church he attended Leary’s “Celebrations” of the League for Spiritual Discovery (LSD) at the Village Theater on Second Avenue in Manhattan, which featured multimedia light shows and guest speakers such as LeRoi Jones and Allen Ginsberg.

“From living at home, to sharing an apartment with two army men and a studio with a monkey, Mapplethorpe settled into a brownstone on St. James Place, with was described by one occupant as a ‘psychedelic Animal House.’ The parquet floors were strewn with mattresses and drug paraphernalia, and hanging from the top of the mahogany staircase was an upside-down Christmas tree decorated with rubber chickens. ‘Everybody was doing so many drugs that the place had a real hallucinatory quality,’ said Claude Alverson, an interior-design major who lived on the top floor. The tenant devised a grotesque game called ‘Creative Kill,’ for which they were obliged to record on a kitchen clipboard the dates and ‘creative’ ways they exterminated the resident cockroaches. Visitors recalled seeing bugs impaled on safety pins and dangling from tiny nooses made of dental floss.

“Acid-inspired art was becoming so common at Pratt that teachers could often tell the exact moment a student had discovered drugs. Mapplethorpe’s drawings, for example, became more obsessive and detailed, and after taking LSD he would retreat to the brownstone’s garden, where he would spend five or six hours drawing a single leaf, or covering a piece of paper with his signature or thousands of colored dots. He shared a bedroom with Harry McCue, and although McCue refrained from taking drugs, he, too, was enthusiastic about the idea of being a psychedelic artist’. They searched for inspiration in the dreamlike eroticism of Hieronymus Bosch and Egon Schiele, and in photographs by the German surrealist Hans Bellmer, know for his unnerving images of dismembered dolls. They came to the conclusion that they would never be able to produce such graphically disturbing work unless they rid themselves of their traditional Catholic morality and embraced life at its most extreme.

“Mapplethorpe picked Andy Warhol to be his role model; the artist had created an antichurch within the Factory, his silver-walled studio on West Forty-seventh Street, where his followers–many of who, like Warhol, had been raised Catholic–were involved in exploitative sexual games that hinged on a need to confess their sins and seek absolution for them. Their outlandish and pathetic antics had recently been documented in Warhol’s Chelsea Girls, which Mapplethorpe had found ‘terrifying’ in the way its stars willingly descended into drug-induced paranoia and self-hatred. Clearly, Warhol was more Satan than saint, and after seeing the movie Mapplethorpe was further convinced that exploring the dark side would incite his imagination. He vowed that when he moved to Manhattan after graduation he would find Warhol, and perhaps befriend him.

“‘We wanted the power of Satan,’ McCue said, ‘so we tried to seek out people and situations through which we could get in touch with him.’ Some of their efforts were almost laughably juvenile, as in the time they bought a goat’s head from a butcher’s shop and, encircling it with candles, attempted to raise the devil himself. They targeted blacks and homosexuals as two groups with intimate ties to Satan, and they made a concerted effort to socialize with Bioletta and Rosita Cruz, whom Mapplethorpe was convinced knew voodoo witchcraft; they also visited Greenwich Village for the purpose of staring at homosexuals in order to bask in their malevolent aura.

“On one occasion McCue purchased a pirat’s shirt from a shop that catered to gay men, and although Mapplethorpe teased him about looking like a homosexual, he bought the same shirt the following week. It was all done in the spirit of ‘exploring the weird,’ as McCue described it, but given Mapplethorpe’s attraction to men, his motivations seem far more complicated. As with the Columbian Squires jacket and the Pershing Rifles uniform, he used clothing to forge an identity for himself, and with the pirate shirt he could play at being gay–for art’s sake.

“Mapplethorpe’s wardrobe at the time revealed a psychologically divided man; switching back and forth between a magician’s cape, a ‘homosexual’ shirt, and an ROTC uniform, he was still at war eith himself. That spring, the growing tension between Pratt’s art students and the engineers–’North Prattnam versus South Prattnam,’ as the school’s newspaper described them–would force Mapplethorpe to choose between the two uniforms.

“The engineering students largely comprised ROTC, and as the antiwar sentiment grew at Pratt, the army–and the engineers–were targeted as the enemy.” [margin note: turning point] “On April 15, 1967, fifty students from ‘Pratt Action for Peace’ joined 125,000 protesters in Central Park, and roused by the demonstration, they staged a sit-down four days later, to denounce the presence of a visiting army colonel on campus. Trapped inside the athletic hall along with the ROTC cadets, the colonel eventually escaped through the back entrance, leaving Robert and his regiment to face the 150 demonstrators who waved signs that read WAR IS HELL and USE YOUR BRAINS NOT YOUR GUNS. Mapplethorpe was booed and hissed by members of his own art department, and soon afterward he began soliciting advice from friends on how to fail his upcoming army physical. They suggested everything from puncturing an eardrum to mangling a leg, but Mapplethoorpe eventually opted to swallow a tab of acid before traveling to the army’s induction center on Whitehall Street. By the time he submitted to his physical, he appeared so psychotic the doctor deemed him unfit to serve.

“Escaping the army was Mapplethorpe’s last hurdle to freedom. No longer obligated to keep his hair clipped short, he let it grow past his collarbone. He had always toned down his outfits before he visited Floral Park, but he could not hide his hair; when his father saw it, he flew into a rage. Fathers across America were engaged in similar battles with their long-haired sons, but in this case Harry’s contempt was fueled by his growing suspicion that Robert was homosexual. Why else, Harry wondered, would his son have been rejected from the army? ‘You look like a girl,’ he shouted. ‘You make me sick.’

“In addition, Harry was infuriated by Robert’s latest revelation that he would not be graduating with the class of ‘67, for, having switched majors, he was now a semester behind. Harry had warned his son that he would pay for only four years of college, and true to his word, he refused to give Robert an extra penny. It was not a totally unreasonable position; Harry still had three children to educate on his modest salary. But Robert had failed to make any contingency plans, and he drifted through the rest of the semester in a druggy haze. Same Alexander, who had taught Robert typographic design several years earlier, recalled that Mapplethorpe stumbled into one of Alexander’s evening workshop classes and passed out on the floor. ‘He wasn’t even enrolled in the class,’ Alexander said, ‘but he stood there by the door, then he just fell.  I caught him and put him in a chair. He was totally blotto’” (42-6).

Gothic crow

“‘When I work, and in my art, I hold hands with God,’ he once scribbled in Smith’s notebook. She sparked his interest in the occult, and he often accompanied her to Samuel Weiser’s bookstore on Astor Place to buy manuals on witchcraft and astrology. She read the books while he studied the pictures, and he began to fashion an aesthetic that combined Catholic and occult symbols. His favorite motif was the pentagram, a five-pointed ‘magical’ star that would reappear again and again in his sculptures and photographs” (53).

“‘Nineteen sixty-eight had the vibrations of an earthquake about it,’ reported Time magazine. ‘America shuddered. History cracked open: bats came flapping out, dark surprises’” (56).

“‘Robert and Patti had gotten into a fight,’ Michels explained, and ‘Robert had hung the wolf.’ The next time Michels visited Smith, she sat in a corner muttering an incantation, and as her voice grew louder and the words more jumbled, a strange black cat pounced on the windowsill and entered the room. ‘It was like a death cat from Hell,’ Michels said. ‘I totally freaked.’ Michels made a swift retreat from Smith, and their relationship ended on that bizarre note.

Part Two: Patron Saints

“Mapplethorpe’s exposure to the Dionysian atmosphere of Max’s had made him even more determined to use gay pornography in his art, and he began searching through Times Squarre bookstores for old copies of gay magazines in order to understand the conventions of homosexual erotica. In the late forties, muscle and fitness publications such as Grecian Guild Pictorial and Physique Pictorial had begun to include photographs and drawings aimed at a growing gay readership, and the models, posed in bathing suits and loincloths, personified the idealized man. George Quaintance, an American illustrator and painter, contributed to Physique Pictorial, and before his death in 1957 he produced a series of pictures os naked cowboys and sailors who projected the all-American athleticism of Johnny Weissmuller. It was the Finnish-born artist Tom of Finland, however, who pointed to a new homoeroticism that was more overtly sexual. Aroused by this memories of German soldiers during World War II, he created drawings of men in black leather jackets, motorcycle caps, and knee-high leather boots that centered on the ‘butch’ male. It was an image that would become more and more visible as the growing gay rights movement helped erase the prevailing ‘camp’ behvioral style, by which some men adopted feminine mannerisms. Instead, gay activist advanced the notion that a man could be both gay and virile, which served to focus attention on the previously hidden S&M subculture, where men in leather bars enacted complicated master-slave scenarios that tested one’s masculinity” (72-3).

“Throughout the summer Smith had been giving impromptu poetry readings at the Chelsea, and using her raspy voice to accentuate the rhythm of the words, she was unconsciously edging her way toward a career in music. Certainly she could not have failed to notice the sudden prominence of rock and roll at Max’s Kansas City, where the Velvet Underground performed five nights a week, thereby paving the way for the emergence of a local New York band scene. Encouraged by the success of the Velvet Underground, Mickey Ruskin opened a cabaret on the second floor and helped launch the careers of Billy Joel and Bruce Springsteen. Eventually the musicians began to outnumber the artists, as Max’s evolved from an art scene to a music scene” (90-1).

Colta  [what a cool name]

Part Three: Sex and Magic

“At the beginning, though, punk didn’t have such an extreme connotation; in fact, when Patti Smith and her band played an eight-week engagement at CBGB in the spring of 1975, the term ‘punk rock’ wasn’t even being used to define the emerging sound. ‘I think all the groups had one similarity in that we wanted to elevate the idea of rock while still trying to keep it simple,’ Smith said. ‘It was a real reaction against disco music and the glitter-rock thing. Our lyrics were much more sophisticated, and we weren’t into artifice at all. The whole punk phenomenon in England was much more reactionary and more ‘high style.’ We didn’t comb our hair not because we were making a political statement, but because we just didn’t comb our hair.’ Smith has often been credited with initiating the trend for ripped or shredded clothing, as she mutilated her T-shirts because she often felt ‘claustrophobic’ in them. Other performers embellished the ‘ripped’ style by piecing their clothing together again with safety pins, and later borrowing the accessories of the S&M subculture, to which punk owed a debt in its outlaw mentality and fascination with extremes. Such was the connection between music and sex that malcolm McLaren even owned a shop in London called SEX, which sold leather and bondage gear to both hardcore enthusiasts and artists alike. The shop was co-owned by fashion designer Vivienne Westwood, who summed up the prevailing ethos: ‘We’re totally committed to what we’re doing and our message is simple. We want you to live out your wildest fantasies to the hilt’” (154-5).

“Years later, when Rolling Stone composed a list of “The 100 Greatest Album Covers of All Time,” Horses ranked twenty-sixth. The stark black-and-white imagery provided a dramatic contrast to the psychedelic palette of most seventies rock albums, and Smith’s swaggering unisex pose radically altered the prevailing feminine stereotype of ‘girl singers.’ ‘I saw Horses in a record store in Australia,’ said art critic Paul Taylor, who died of AIDS in 1992, ‘and immediately fell in love with the picture. I didn’t know anything about Patti Smith or about punk, but I bought the album on the strength of the photograph. It was elegant and totally modern, and I remember looking at the photo credit and wondering, ‘Who is Robert Mapplethorp?’”

“But Studio 54 was more for socializing…[whereas] Mineshaft, [was] a hardcore ‘leather environment’” (189). “‘The scene at the Mineshaft was not about conversation.’”

“Nick…menacing demeanor of a pit bull, and his swarthy face, with its dark brows and black eyes, was made even more ominous by the flaming skull tattoo on his forehead” (190-1).

“Do it for Satan” (192).

“Arthur Fellig, better known as Weegee, who, during the thirties and forties, documented the seamy underside of New York’s nightlife” (204).

“Mapplethorpe was loath to be labeled a ‘gay artist,’ yet his rise to prominence paralleled the acceptance and assimilation of a gay aesthetic into the cultural mainstream. Frank Rich, in a 1987 essay for Esquire entitled ‘The Gay Decades,’ delineated nine episodes in ‘the homosexualization of America.’ These included Mart Crowley’s Boys in the Band; the rise of Bette Midler and her campy bathhouse sensibility; rock music’s ‘merchandizing of androgyny’; the American Psychiatric Association’s 1973 resolution that homosexuality should no longer be classified as a psychiatric disorder; and Studio 54’s institutionalization of gay chic. The gay rights and women’s movements helped liberate the male nude; women could now look at photographs of naked men in magazines such as Playgirl, thereby blurring the lines between ‘the sex that looks,’ as art scholar Margaret Walters defined the traditional male voyeuristic pose, and ‘the sex that is looked at.’ George Stambolian, who taught a course in the male nude at Wellesley College, explained: ‘For years the male nude was repressed, and when one spoke about ‘the nude,’ one usually meant the female nude. But in the late seventies, all that began to change. The Marcuse Pfeiffer Gallery did a major survey on the male nude that included works by both male and female photographers, and that inspired a lot of debate about the sexist notions we held about male nudes versus female ones–mean having to project a powerful image, women passive and powerless.’”

“In contrast, Mapplethorpe was working at a time when many gay photographers were using their pictures to express both their public and private selves. Both Arthur Tress and Duane Michals analyzed their homosexuality through dreamlike images that borrowed from surrealism and Jungian psychology; Robert Giard took pictures of nude models in ordinary domestic settings, such as in the bathtub or reading the newspaper; Jimmy DeSana photographed S&M scenes in a crude, confrontational way that was the exact opposite of Robert’s cool classicism; and Peter Jujar expressed his melancholy vision of the world through moody pictures of friends and lovers” (216).

“…framing had always been an integral part of his art” (218).

“STill, she might not have removed herself so quickly from the ‘vicious game’ had she not become involved with a man who roused her fantasies of unconditional love like no other boyfriend before him. Fred (Sonic) Smith had been the rhythm guitarist for the MC5, the Detroit-based group managed by White Panther leader John Sinclair. The ‘Five,’ as they were known, were expected to take his convoluted message of rock, dope, and armed self-defense to the airwaves. Sinclair had established a commune in Ann Arbor–’Trans-Love Energies’–where the band lived in an eighteen-room house with a group of women who, according to Rolling Stone, provided the ‘domestic energies’ by cooking, cleaning, and sewing their clothing. ‘It was an astonishing thing,’ said Danny Fields, who had once promoted the MC5, ‘because here was this band preaching liberation of all aspects of humanity, of the races, of the sexes, of everything. Then the men would come back from a concert, and they’d sit at a table chomping on spareribs, and the women would be in the kitchen scurrying around. The women didn’t eat with the men, except for John Sinclair’s wife, who had gone to school and was tough. But the others were these little pansy types in flowered hippie dresses just cooking and serving their men. I don’t know if Fred was married then, but they all had ‘women.’ You couldn’t tell one from the other. They were like nonpeople’” (221).

Part Four: Blacks and Whites

[margin note: racism]

“Photographic images of the black male nude, however, were relatively rare. Of the 134 images in Constance Sullivan’s Nude: Photographs 1850-1980, the black male is not represented at all. Given the taboo against male nudity in general, white heterosexuals were not inclined to celebrate the erotic properties of the black male body. And since blacks rarely had the financial resources to become art photographers, it was left to gay white men to present their vision of the black male nude” (237).

“It was a dramatic reversal from the days of Max’s Kansas City, where famous artists had traded their work for a bar tab. But Max’s had been replaced as an artists’ hangout by the elegant Mr. Chow’s on the Upper East Side, and the art stars of the eighties were not reclusive intellectuals, but people such as Keith Haring, who would later open a shop that sold T-shirts, shoelaces, and wallpaper that featured his trademark doodle designs” (285).

“…a Warhol silkscreen portrait of Mapplethorpe himself”  (297).

Part Five: the Perfect Moment

“…and certainly one of the most macabre images was the photograph he took of a human skull. It was, for him, the purest sculptural image of all; neither hair nor flesh spoiled its clean lines, and everything, literally , was stripped to the bone.

“He had been drawn to skull imagery from the time he first turned his pet monkey, Scratch, into a musical instrument, but never before had he used the death’s head symbol to make such a powerful statement about the terrifying process of bodily decay. He returned to the same theme in a more personal way with Self Portrait, 1988, one of his finest photographs, and certainly the most intimate. At first he had only intended to take a picture of one of his walking canes, which had a carved skull at the top, but while Ed Maxey and Brian English were busy setting up the shot, he suddenly disappeared into the bedroom and emerged, five minutes later, in a black turtleneck. He knew that by dressing in black the body could be made to appear almost invisible–he had used the same technique to great effect in his portraits of Doris Saatchi and Roy Cohn. Intuitively, Ed understood what Robert was trying to do, and as he photographed his brother, he focused the camera on the hand holding the skull cane, leaving Robert’s blurred face to drift into the darkness” (335).

Epilogue

Chronology of the “Perfect Moment” Controversy

“The AFA targeted a New York artist named Andres Serrano, whose Piss Christ, an image of a crucifix submerged in a yellow liquid, had been exhibited several months earlier at the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art in Winston-Salem. (Serrano described Piss Christ as a protest against the commercialization of sacred imagery.)

[I had always mistakenly associated Piss Christ with Mapplethorpe]

Woolgathering/Just Kids

Woolgathering By Patti Smith

A New Directions Book  1992

The Woolgatherers

“And the image of the woolgatherers in that sleepy field drew me to sleep as well. And I wandered among them, through thistle and thorn, with no task more exceptional than to rescue a fleeting thought, as a tuft of wool, from the comb of the wind” (12).

Just Kids

By Patti Smith

HarperCollinsPublishers  2010  New York

I read this book in tandem with Patricia Morrisroe’s biography of Robert Mapplethorpe. I was interested to see if any of the stories collided. They were obviously different works with Patti writing from first person and Mapplethorpe being a biography. Patti focuses her work, Just Kids, on the friendship between Mapplethorpe and herself, mythologizing along the way about both of their personas. I often felt like Patti was working to appear stranger and more quirky than perhaps was actually her true self. Morrisroe’s Mapplethorpe biography did not focus on the friendship, for its target is Robert himself. Whereas the Mapplethorpe biography (to be summarized in a separate piece) does not shy away from the decadent details of sexual exploration pre-and-inside the AIDS epidemic, Smith engages in very little discussion of Mapplethorpe’s twisted sexual proclivities. It feels as if she wanted his focus to remain on her as muse rather than face the harsh reality that she was simply another stepping-stone to Mapplethorpe’s promotion of his outsized ego. 

Monday’s Children

“On one such day, limping back to the home front beneath the anvil of the su, I was accosted by my mother.

“‘Patricia,’ my mother scolded, ‘put a shirt one!’

“‘It’s too hot,’ I moaned. ‘No one else has one on.’

“‘Hot or not, it’s time you started wearing a shirt. You’re about to become a young lady.’ I protested vehemently and announced that I was never going to become anything but myself, that I was of the clan of Peter Pan and we did not grow up” (10).

“I’m certain, as we filed down the great staircase, that I appeared the same as ever, a moping twelve-year-old, all arms and legs. But secretly I knew I had been transformed, moved by the revelation that human beings create art, that to be an artist was to see what others could not” (11).

Of Mapplethorpe she writes: “The light fell upon the pages of his coloring book, across his child’s hands. Coloring excited him, not the act of filling in space, but choosing colors that no one else would select. In the green of the hills he saw red. Purple snow, green skin, silver sun. He liked the effect it had on others, that it distrurbed his siblings. He discovered he had a talent for sketching. He was a natural draftsman and secretly he twisted and abstracted his images, feeling his growing powers. He was an artist, and he knew it. It was not a childish notion. He merely acknowledged what was his” (13).

“No one expected me. Everything awaited me” (25).

“We piled the best leaves on the bread and happily ate.

“‘A real prison breakfast,’ I said.

“‘Yeah, but we are free.’

“And that summed it up” (28).

“When it got really rough, I would go back to Pratt, occasionally bumping into someone I knew who would let me shower and sleep a night. Or else I would sleep in the hall near a familiar door. That wasn’t much fun, but I had my mantra, ‘I’m free, I’m free.’ Although after several days, my other mantra, ‘I’m hungry, I’m hungry,’ seemed to be in the forefront. I wasn’t worried, though. I just needed a break and I wasn’t going to give up. I dragged my plaid suitcase from stoop to stoop, trying not to wear out my unwelcome.

“It was the summer Coltrane died. The summer of ‘Crystal Ship.’ Flower children raised their empty arms and China exploded the H-bomb. Jimi Hendrix set his guitar in flames in Monterey. AM radio played ‘Ode to Billie Joe.’ There were riots in Newark, Milwaukee, and Detroit. It was the summer of Elvira Madigan, the summer of love. And in this shifting, inhospitable atmosphere, a chance encounter changed the course of my life” (31).  She meets Robert Mapplethorpe.

Just Kids

“But Robert, wishing to shed his Catholic yoke, delved into another side of the spirit, reigned over by the Angel of Light. The image of Lucifer, the fallen angel, came to eclipse the saints he used in his collages and varnished onto boxes. On one small wooden box, he applied the face of Christ; inside, a Mother and Child with a tiny white rose; and in the inner lid, I was surprised to find the face of the Devil, with his extended tongue.

“I would return home to find Robert in brown monk’s cloth, a Jesuit robe he had found in a thrift store, poring over pamphlets on alchemy and magic. He asked me to bring him books slanted toward the occult. At first he didn’t read these books so much as utilize their pentagrams and satanic images, deconstructing and refiguring them. He was not evil, though as darker elements infused his work, he became more silent.

“He grew interested in creating visual spells, which might serve to call up Satan, like one would a genie. He imagined if he could make a pact that accessed Satan’s purest self, the self of the light, he would recognize a kindred soul, and that Satan would grant him fame and fortune. He did not have to ask for greatness, for the ability to be an artist, because he believed he already had that” (62-3).

“Robert was cutting out sideshow freaks from an oversized paperback on Tod Browning. Hermaphrodites, pinheads, and Siamese twins were scattered everywhere. It threw me, for I couldn’t see a connection between these images and Robert’s recent preoccupation with magic and religion” (67).

“It was in that spirit that we would go to Coney Island to visit the sideshows. We had looked for Hubert’s on Forty-second Street, which had featured Snake Princess Wago and a flea circus, but it had closed in 1965. We did find a small museum that had body parts and human embryos in specimen jars, and Robert got fixated on the idea to use something of that sort in an assemblage. He asked around where he might find something of that sort, and a friend told him about the ruins of the old City Hospital on Welfare (later Roosevelt) Island.”

“We went from room to room and saw shelves of medical specimens in their glass jars. Many were broken, vandalized by visiting rodents. Robert combed each room until he found what he was looking for, an embryo swimming in formaldehyde within a womb of glass.

“We all had to agree that Robert would most likely make great use of it. He clutched the precious find on the journey home. Even in his silence, I could feel his excitement and anticipation, imagining how he could make it work as art” (68).

“In early June, Valerie Solanas shot Andy Warhol” (69).

“In response I made a collage drawing for him called My Hustler, where I used one of his letters as a component. Even as he reassured me that I had nothing to worry about, he seemed to be moving deeper into the sexual underworld that he was portraying in his art. He seemed to be attracted to S&M imagery–’I’m not sure what that all means–just know it’s good’–and described to me works titled Tight Fucking Pants, and drawings in which he lacerated S&M characters with a matte knife. ‘I have a hook coming out of where his prick should be, where I’m gonna hang that chain with dice and skulls from it.’ He spoke of using bloody bandages and starred patches of gauze.

“He wasn’t merely jerking off. He was filtering this world through his own aesthetic, criticizing a movie called Male Magazine as ‘nothing more than an exploitation film using an all male cast.’ When he visited the Tool Box, and S&M bar, he felt it was ‘just a bunch of big chains and shit on the wall, nothing really exciting,’ and wished he could design a place like that.

“As the weeks went on, I worried that he wasn’t doing well. It wasn’t like him to complain about his physical condition. ‘My mouth is sick,’ he wrote, ‘my gums are white and achy.’ He sometimes didn’t have enough money to eat.

“His P.S. was still filled with Robert bravado. ‘I’ve been accused of dressing like a hustler, having the mind of a hustler and the body of one” (84). [Well…if it looks, sounds and walks like a duck…]

Hotel Chelsea

“I’m in Mike Hammer mode, puffing on Kools reading cheap detective novels sitting in the lobby waiting for William Burroughs. He comes in dressed to the nines in a dark gabardine overcoat, gray suit, and tie. I sit for a few hours at my post scribbling poems. He comes stumbling out of the El Quixote a bit drunk and disheveled. I straighten his tie and hail him a cab. It’s our unspoken routine.

“In between I clock the action. Eyeing the traffic circulating the lobby hung with bad art. Big invasive stuff unloaded on Stanley Bard in exchange for rent. The hotel is an energetic, desperate haven for scores of gifted hustling children from every rung of the ladder. Guitar bums and stoned-out beauties in Victorian dresses. Junkie poets, playwrights, broke-down filmmakers, and French actors. Everybody passing through here is somebody, if nobody in the outside world.

“The elevator is slowgoing. I get off at the seventh floor to see if Harry Smith is around. I place my hand on the doorknob, sensing nothing but silence. The yellow walls have an institutional feel like a middle school prison. I use the stairs and return to our room. I take a piss in the hall bathroom we share with unknown inmates. I unlock our door. No sign of Robert save a note on the mirror. Went to big 42nd street. Love you. Blue. I see he straightened his stuff. Men’s magazines neatly piled. The chicken wire rolled and tied and the spray cans lined in a row under the sink.

“I fire up the hot plate. Get some water from the tap. You got to let it run for a while as it comes out brown. It’s just minerals and rust, so Harry says. My stuff is in the bottom drawer. Tarot cards, silk ribbons, a jar of Nescafe, and my own cup–a childhood relic with the likeness of Uncle Wiggly, rabbit gentleman. I drag my Remington from under the bed, adjust the ribbon, and insert a fresh sheet of foolscap. There’s a lot to report” (91).

Stanley Bard is the hotel manager. They have Room 1017 for 55 dollars a week to live at the Chelsea Hotel.

“Twenty-third Street between Seventh and Eighth Avenues still had a postwar feel” (96).

The Manson murders occur.

“A week or two later I waltzed into the El Quixote looking for Harry and Peggy. It was a bar-restaurant adjacent to the hotel, connected to the lobby by its own door, which made it feel like our bar, as it had been for decades. Dylan Thomas, Terry Southern, Eugene O’Neill, and Thomas Wolfe were among those who had raised one too many a glass there.

“I was wearing a long rayon navy dress with white polka dots and a straw hat, my East of Eden outfit. At the table to my left, Janis Joplin was holding court with her band. To my far right were Grace Slick and the Jefferson Airplane, along with members of Country Joe and the Fish. At the last table facing the door was Jimi Hendrix, his head lowered, eating with his hat on, across from a blonde. There were musicians everywhere, sitting before tables laid with mounds of shrimp with green sauce, paella, pitchers of sangria, and bottles of tequila” (105).

“The Chelsea was like a doll’s house in the Twilight Zone, with a hundred rooms, each a small universe. I wandered the halls seeking its spirits, dead or alive. My adventures were mildly mischievous, tapping open a door slightly ajar and getting a glimpse of Virgil Thomson’s grand piano, or loitering before the nameplate of Arthur C. Clarke, hoping he might suddenly emerge. Occasionally I would bump into Gert Schiff, the German scholar, armed with volumes on Picasso, or Viva in Eau Sauvage. Everyone had something to offer and nobody appeared to have much money. Even the successful seemed to have just enough to live like extravagant bums. 

“I loved this place, its shabby elegance, and the history it held so possessively. There were rumors of Oscar Wilde’s trunks languishing in the hull of the oft-flooded basement. Here Dylan Thomas, submerged in poetry and alcohol, spent his last hours. Thomas Wolfe plowed through hundreds of pages of manuscript that formed You Can’t Go Home Again. Bob Dylan composed ‘Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands’ on our floor, and a speeding Edie Sedgwick was said to have set her room on fire while gluing on her thick false eyelashes by candlelight.

“So many had written, conversed, and convulsed in these Victorian dollhouse rooms. So many skirts had swished these worn marble stairs. So many transient souls had espoused, made a mark, and succumbed here. I sniffed out their spirits as I silently scurried from floor to floor, longing for discourse with a gone procession of smoking caterpillars” (112-3).

“This mission led us to the city’s Bermuda Triangle: Brownie’s, Max’s Kansas City, and the Factory had moved from its original location on Forty-seventh Street to 33 Union Square. Brownie’s was a health food restaurant around the corner where the Warhol people ate lunch, and Max’s where they spent their nights.”

“Max’s Kansas City was on Eighteenth Street and Park Avenue South. It was supposedly a restaurant, though few of us actually had the money to eat there. The owner, Mickey Ruskin, was notoriously artist-friendly, even offering a free cocktail-hour buffet for those with the price of a drink. It was said that this buffet, which included Buffalo wings, kept a lot of struggling artists and drag queens alive. I never frequented it as I was working and Robert, who didn’t drink, was too proud to go.

“There was a big black-and-white awning flanked by a bigger sign announcing that you were about to enter Max’s Kansas City. It was casual and sparse, adorned with large abstract pieces of art given to Mickey by artists who ran up supernatural bar tabs. Everything, save the white walls, was red: booths, tablecloths, napkins. Even their signature chickpeas were served in little red bowls. The big draw was surf and turf: steak and lobster. The back room, bathed in red light, was Robert’s objective, and the definitive target was the legendary round table that still harbored the rose-colored aura of the absent silver king.

“On our first visit we only made it as far as the front section. We sat in a booth and split a salad and ate the inedible chickpeas. Robert and Sandy ordered Cokes. I had a coffee.The place was fairly dead. Sandy had experienced Max’s at the time when it was the social hub of the subterranean universe, when Andy Warhol passively reigned over the round table with his charismatic ermine queen, Edie Sedgwick. The ladies-in-waiting were beautiful, and the circulating knights were the likes of Ondine, Donald Lyons, Rauschenberg, Dali, Billy Name, Lichtenstein, Gerard Malanga, and John Chamberlain. In recent memory the round table had seated such royalty as Bob Dylan, Bob Neuwirth, Nico, Tim Buckley, Janis Joplin, Viva, and the Velvet underground. It was as darkly glamorous as one could wish for. But running through the primary artery, the thing that ultimately accelerated their world and then took them down, was speed. Amphetamine magnified their paranoia, robbed some of their innate powers, drained their confidence, and ravaged their beauty” (116-7).

“We drew on everything from Butterfield 8 to the French New Wave. She shot the stills from our imagined movies. Although I didn’t smoke, I would pocket a few of Robert’s Kools to achieve a certain look. For our Blaise Cendrars shots we needed thick smoke, for our Jeanne Moreau a black slip and a cigarette.

“When I showed him Judy’s prints, Robert was amused by my personas. ‘Patti, you don’t smoke,’ he’d say, tickling me. ‘Are you stealing my cigarettes?’ I thought he would be annoyed, since cigarettes were expensive, but the next time I went to Judy’s, he surprised me with the last couple from his battered pack.

“‘I know I’m a fake smoker,’ I would say, ‘but I’m not hurting anybody and besides I gotta enhance my image.’ It was all for Jeanne Moreau” (125).

“I looked around at everyone bathed in the blood light of the back room. Dan Flavin had conceived his installation in response to the mounting death toll of the war in Vietnam. No one in the back room was slated to die in Vietnam, though few would survive the cruel plagues of a generation” (127).

Gregory made lists of books for me to read, told me the best dictionary to own, encouraged and challenged me. Gregory Corso, Allen Ginsberg, and William Burroughs were all my teachers, each one passing through the lobby of the Chelsea Hotel, my new university” (138).

“‘I don’t want to sing. I just want to write songs for him. I want to be a poet, not a singer’” (142).

“Memento mori. It means ‘Remember we are mortal’” (155).

I call my granddaughter LouLou, so this next passage stood out to me: “I liked Loulou, a charismatic redhead who was the celebrated muse of Yves Saint Laurent, the daughter of a Schiaparelli model and a French count. She wore a heavy African bracelet, and when she unclasped it, there was a red string tied around her tiny wrist, placed there, she said, by Brian Jones” (156).

“Michael Pollard was usually by her side. They were like adoring twins, both with the same speech patterns, punctuating each sentence with man. I sat on the floor as Kris Kristofferson sang her ‘Me and Bobby McGee,’ Janis joining in the chorus. I was there for these moments, but so young and preoccupied with my own thoughts that I hardly recognized them as moments” (159).

“It was an infamous address, having housed the Film Guild Cinema in the twenties, and a raucous country-western club hosted by Rudy Vallee in the thirties. The great abstract expressionist artist and teacher Hans Hoffman had a small school on the third floor through the forties and fifties, preaching to the likes of Jackson Pollock, Lee Krasner, and Willem de Kooning. In the sixties it housed the Generation Club, where Jimi Hendrix used to hang out, and when it closed he took over the space and built a state-of-the-art studio in the bowels of 52 Eighth Street” (168).

“I was excited to go. I put on my straw hat and walked downtown, but when I got there, I couldn’t bring myself to go in. By chance, Jimi Hendrix came up the stairs and found me sitting there like some hick wallflower and ginned. He had to catch a plane to London to do the Isle of Wight Festival. When I told him I was too chicken to go in, he laughed solely and said that contrary to what people might think, he was shy, and parties made him nervous. He spent a little time with me on the stairs and told me his vision of what he wanted to do with the studio. He dreamed of amassing musicians from all over the world in Woodstock and they would sit in a field in a circle and play and play. It didn’t matter what key or tempo or what melody, they would keep on playing through their discordance until they found a common language. Eventually they would record this abstract universal language of music in his new studio.

“‘The language of peace. You dig?’ I did.

“I can’t remember if I actually went into the studio, but Jimi never accomplished his dream. In September I went with my sister and Annie to Paris. Sandy Daley had an airline connection and helped us get cheap tickets. Paris had already changed ina year, as had I. It seemed as if the whole of the world was slowly being stripped of innocence. Or maybe I was seeing a little too clearly.

“As we walked down the boulevard Montparnasse I saw a headline that filled me with sorrow: Jimi Hendrix est mort. 27 ans. I knew what the words meant” (169).

“But the next night we would meet in Johnny’s room to console one another again. I wrote but two words in my diary: Janis Joplin. For she had died of an overdose in room 105 of the Landmark Hotel in Los Angeles, twenty-seven years old” (170).

Holy Modal Rounders

“It was like being at an Arabian hoedown with a band of psychedelic hillbillies. I fixed on the drummer, who seemed as if he was on the lam and had slid behind the drums while the cops looked elsewhere. Toward the end of their set he sang a song called ‘Blind Rage,’ and as he slammed the drums, I thought, This guy truly embodies the heart and soul of rock and roll. He had beauty, energy, animal magnetism” (171). That man turned out to be Sam Shepard “the biggest playwright off-Broadway. He had a play at Lincoln Center. He won five Obies!”

“I was also writing more pieces for rock magazines–Crawdaddy, Circus, Rolling Stone. This was a time when the vocation of a music journalist could be an elevated pursuit. Paul Williams, Nick Tosches, Richard Meltzer, and Sandy Pearlman were some of the writers I held in esteem. I modeled myself after Baudelaire, who wrote some of the great idiosyncratic critiques of nineteenth-century art and literature” (178).

“I wanted to infuse the written word with the immediacy and frontal attack of rock and roll” (180).

…”but then I remembered Lenny Kaye had said he played electric guitar. I went to see him.”

“With a nod to Brecht, I decided to open the reading singing ‘Mack the Knife.’ Lenny played along” (181).

“We finished with ‘Ballad of a Bad Boy’ accompanied by Lenny’s strong rhythmic chords and electric feedback. It was the first time an electric guitar had been played in St. Mark’s Church, provoking cheers and jeers. As this was hallowed ground for poetry, some objected, but Gregory was jubilant.”


“I was bombarded with offers stemming from my poetry reading. Creem magazine agreed to publish a suite of my poems; there were proposed readings in London and Philadelphia; a chapbook of poems for Middle Earth Books; and a possible record contract with Steve Paul’s Blue Sky Records. At first this was flattering, and then seemed embarrassing. It was a more extreme reaction than had greeted my haircut” (182).

“I thought of something I learned from reading Crazy Horse: The Strange Man of the Oglalas by Mari Sandoz. Crazy Horse believes that he will be victorious in battle, but if he stops to take spoils from the battlefield, he will be defeated. He tattoos lightning bolts on the ears of his horses so the sight of them will remind him of this as he rides. I tried to apply this lesson to the things at hand, careful not to take spoils that were not rightfully mine” (183).

“When we got to the part where we had to improvise an argument in a poetic language, I got cold feet. ‘I can’t do this,’ I said. ‘I don’t know what to say.’

“‘Say anything,’ he said. ‘You can’t make a mistake when you improvise.’

“‘What if I mess it up> What if I screw up the rhythm?’

“‘You can’t,’ he said. ‘It’s like drumming. If you miss a beat, you create another.’

“In this simple exchange, Sam taught me the secret of improvisation, one that I have accessed my whole life” (185).

“An important new presence entered Robert’s life. David had introduced Robert to the curator of photography at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. John McKendry was married to Maxime de la Falaise, a leading figure in New York’s high society. John and Maxime provided Robert with an entrance into a world that was as glamorous as he could have wished for. Maxime was an accomplished cook and hosted elaborate dinner parties where she served obscure dishes taken from her knowledge of centuries of English cooking. For every sophisticated course presented, there was equally well-spiced repartee served up by her guests. Those typically seated at her table: Bianca Jagger, Marisa and Berry Berenson, Tony Perkins, George Plimpton, Henry Geldzahler, Diane and Prince Egon von Furstenberg” (189).

“Being allowed to lift the tissues from these photographs, actually touch them and get a sense of the paper and the hand of the artist, made an enormous impact on Robert. He studied them intently–the paper, the process, the composition, and the intensity of the blacks. ‘It’s really all about light,’ he said” (190).

“I never anticipated Robert’s complete surrender to its powers. I had encouraged him to take photographs to integrate into his collages and installation, hoping to see him assume the mantle of Duchamp. But Robert had shifted his focus. The photograph was not a means to an end, but the object itself. Hovering over all of this was Warhol, who seemed to both excite and paralyze him.

“Robert was determined to do something Andy had not yet done. He had defaced Catholic images of the Madonna and Christ; he had introduced physical freaks and S&M imagery into his collages. But where Andy had seen himself as a passive observer, Robert would eventually insert himself into the action. He would participate in and document that which he had previously only been able to approximate through magazine imagery.

“He began to branch out, photographing those he met through his complex social life, the infamous and the famous, from Marianne Faithfull to a young tattooed hustler. But he always returned to his muse. I no longer felt that I was the right model for him, but he would wave my objections away. He saw in me more than I could see in myself. Whenever he peeled the image from the Polaroid negative, he would say, ‘With you I can’t miss’” (192).

Separate Ways Together

“It seemed like Allen was always on the road with Blue Oyster Cult…”(213).

Todd Rundgren and Bebe Buell  [We now know what this coupling produced]

Holding Hands With God

Madame Bovary

Madame Bovary

by Gustave Flaubert

A Norton Critical Edition Trans. Paul De Man New York  1965

I can tell I read this book long ago because my reading note style has changed significantly since then. There were no end-of-chapter summaries which I incorporate now. The best bits were marked in highlighter which I find fades over the years. I caught up with plot twists by writing in pencil in very small lettering in the margins. Now I write in pen as long as the ink doesn’t seep through to the other side. I didn’t even write my name inside the front cover which I do now along with the season and year in which I completed the read. I wasn’t sure there would be enough material to share, but some of these lines are wonderful. I know I read this during the time before I’d read the intro or preface thinking it unnecessary and boring; it is not. I also did not read any of the critical reflections on the work afterward. If I were doing a serious college paper on Madame Bovary I would read all the critical works provided in the back of the book. Madame Bovary was first printed in 1857 and was originally written in French. At the time it was seen as scandalous and in need of censors.

“He grew thin, his figure became taller, his face took a saddened look that made it almost interesting” (7).

“For him the universe did not extend beyond the silky circumference of her petticoat” (24).

“This nature, positive in the midst of its enthusiasms, that had loved the church for the sake of the flowers, and music for the words of the songs, and literature for the passions it excites, rebelled against the mysteries of faith as it had rebelled against discipline, as something alien to her constitution” (28).

“Perhaps she would have liked to confide all these things to some one. But how tell an undefinable uneasiness, changing as the clouds, unstable as the winds? Words failed her and, by the same token, the opportunity, the courage” (29).

About the baby: “Thus she did not amuse herself with those preparations that stimulate the tenderness of mothers, and so her affection was perhaps impaired from the start” (63).

Because he is not the jealous type, Charles thinks nothing of Leon spending time with Emma. “Wasn’t the husband also a part of her after all” (71)?

Emma is praising Charles to Leon…out of nervousness? Charles is late and is due any minute. This irritates Leon.

Charles becomes the representation of her unfulfilled dreams: “What exasperated her was that Charles did not seem to be aware of her torment. His conviction that he was making her happy looked to her a stupid insult, and his self-assurance of this point sheer ingratitude. For whom, then, was she being virtuous? Was it not for him, the obstacle to all happiness, the cause of all misery, and, as it were, the sharp clasp of that complex strap that buckled her in all sides” (77)?

Emma meets Monsieur Rodolphe Boulanger who wants her, but only for an affair: “‘I think he is very stupid. She must be tired of him, no doubt. He has dirty nails, and hasn’t shaven for three days. While he is trotting after his patients, she sits there mending socks. How bored she gets! How she’d want to be in the city and go dancing every night! Poor little woman! She is gaping after love like a carp on the kitchen table after water. Three gallant words and she’d adore me, I’m sure of it. She’d be tender, charming. Yes; but how get rid of her afterwards’ (93)? He plans his strategy to use her.

By page 117, Emma and Rodolphe do the nasty.

The first thing Rodolphe does to slow things down: “‘What is wrong?’ she said. ‘Are you ill? Tell me!’

“He ended up declaring earnestly that her visits were too dangerous and that she was compromising herself” (118). 

There is regret and more regret.

When Charles was at his lowest Emma rejected him. She hates his existence. 

Uh-oh! Now the shop man knows Emma is having an affair! Emma begins to change and become more bold.

The shop man now knows she is planning to run away. The closer they get to their escape, the more Rodolphe understands this will be a mistake.

Although he was a womanizer, Emma regrets not being a man.

Another regret: “All her attempts at critical detachment were swept away by the poetic power of the acting, and, drawn to the man by the illusion of the part, she tried to imagine his life–extraordinary, magnificent, notorious, the life that could have been hers if fate had willed it. If only they had met! He would have loved her, they would have travelled together through all the kingdoms of Europe from capital to capital, sharing in his success and in his hardships, picking up the flowers thrown to him, mending his clothes” (163).

They see Leon at the opera. She is so easily swayed by the moment that it is pathetic!

Charles is absolutely oblivious to the motives of other men.

Charles puts even his grief for his own father’s death behind him for Emma.

Emma wants power of attorney in order to manage Charles’s inheritance.

Emma stays out all night…BRAZEN!

“One must not touch one’s idols, a little of the gilt always comes off on one’s fingers” (205).

“Besides, nothing was worth the trouble of seeking it; everything was a lie. Every smile concealed a yawn of boredom, every joy a curse, every pleasure its own disgust, and the sweetest kisses left upon your lips only the unattainable desire for a greater delight” (206).

Since Leon does not show with the money, Emma, at the last minute, thinks of Rodolphe.

You will have to read the novel to find how it ends!

The Norton Edition includes:

Earlier Versions of Madame Bovary 

“Structures of Imagery in Madame Bovary” by D. L. Demorest

“On Rereading Madame Bovary” by Albert Beguin

Biographical Sources:

“The Real Source of Madame Bovary” by Rene Dumesnil

“Flaubert and Madame Bovary: Outline of a New Method” by Jean-Paul Sartre

“Letters about Madame Bovary” by Gustave Flaubert

Essays in Criticism:

Contemporary Reactions:

By Charles Augustin Sainte-Beuve

By Charles Baudelaire

Stylistic Studies:

“Style and Morality in Madame Bovary” by Henry James

“The Craft of Fiction in Madame Bovary” by Percy Lubbock

“Flaubert’s Language” by W. Von Wartburg

Thematic Studies:

“On the ‘Inner Environment’ in the Work of Flaubert” by Charles Du Bos

Madame Bovary” by Albert Thibaudet

“The Realism of Flaubert” by Erich Auerback

“The Circle and the Center: Reality and Madame Bovary” by Georges Poulet

Madame Bovary: the Cathedral and the Hospital” by Harry Levin

“Love and Memory in Madame Bovary” by Jean Pierre Richard

Madame Bovary: Flaubert’s Anti-Novel” by Jean Rousset

Selected Bibliography

Pictures From an Institution

A Comedy

By Randall Jarrell

This book has been on my shelf for years. The paper cover is pretty battered and the colors are drab and boring. From the title and the cover, I assumed Jarrell had taken notes on various patients in a mental institution, perhaps in the 1950s or ‘60s. None of those things could be further from the hilarity that is this story. If I would have known it was about professors at a small girls college I would have read it a decade ago! The writing style is so lyrical and poetic that I had to look up Randall Jarrell. It all came to make sense when I found out he was a real-life poet! As you know, I like to share “the best bits” by transcribing the most beautiful, touching, joyous or heartbreaking lines, but the language in this book is so off-the-charts that I would have had to mark every line. I had to stop. If you are a professor, a lover of poetry, comedy or spot-on scathing character sketches, you must read this book!

Meridian Fiction  New York  1960

Randall Jarrell was born on May 6, 1914, in Nashville, Tennessee. He was educated at Vanderbilt University and has distinguished himself as poet, critic, novelist, and teacher. He has taught at various colleges, including Princeton, and has been poetry consultant to the Library of Congress. Jarrell has published five volumes of poetry; a book of criticism, and edited an anthology of short stories.

  1. The President Mrs., and Derik Robbins

It is Constance Morgan’s last day as assistant to the secretary. 

“…her features, as far as one could distinguish them, were undistinguished” (5).

Gertrude had been teaching at the college. Constance listens to Gertrude and President Robbins as they say goodbye.

“Gertrude and the President’s Friendship at First Sight had lasted only until they took a second look at each other. After this look Gertrude no longer felt as if she had just taken a drink, but felt as if she had a long time ago taken a great many: that look awoke both of them from their amicable slumbers.

“What a pity it was that that party had ever been given! –the party that brought with it their first terrible quarrel, a quarrel that ended their friendship after eleven days. Without the party, they both felt bitterly, it might have lasted for weeks. One could not help blaming Gertrude a little more than one blamed the President; the President, like most people, behaved in a different way after he had a great deal to drink, but Gertrude, knowing no other, behaved as she always behaved. But the drinks at the party, the almost unavoidable intimacies at the party, what they had said and what Mrs. Robbins had said and what people had said they all of them had said at the party–these, the memory of these, made Gertrude and the President look narrowly at each other, and their eyes widened at what they saw. George looked at the dragon and thought, Why, that woman’s a dragon; and the dragon looked at George and thought, That’s no man, that’s an institution” (7).

A very fun description of the novelist, Gertrude Johnson, who is leaving.

Who could explain President Robbin’s marriage?

“People did not like Mrs. Robbins, Mrs. Robbins did not like people; and neither was sorry.”

“Often, when you have met a true Englishwoman–the false ones are sometimes delightful–you feel that God himself could go no further, that way. Mrs. Robbins existed to show what he could do if he tried” (11).

“To hear her was to be beginning to despair” (13).

Mrs. Robbins’s horrid personality. Later in the book I began to realize that most of the text is description of character. Not much actually happens; therefore, chapter summaries became less and less frequent.

President Robbins has illusions about himself. There is the thought that only some people are very important. Derek is the president’s son and he is kind of odd.

President Benton is a slick orator, good at raising funds, and different than us.

“Not to have given him what he asked, they felt, would have been to mine the bridge that bears the train that carries the supply of this year’s Norman Rockwell Boy Scout Calendars. They felt this; it seems far-fetched to me” (27).

Did Gertrude go on to write lies about President Robbins in her next novel?

  1. The Whittakers and Gertrude

Couples attend a party at Gertrude’s house.

“People say that conversation is a lost art: how often I have wished it were” (41)!

“Gertrude didn’t want conversation, she wanted an audience” at the dinner party.

“…she was so thin you could have recognized her skeleton. Sometimes it seemed to you that she was not a person, not a thing, but an idea, and a mistaken one at that. A badly mistaken one: she always said not the wrong but the wrongest, the most wrongest thing–language won’t express it” (44).

“When well-dressed woman met Flo they looked at her as though they couldn’t believe it. She looked as if she had waked up and found herself dressed–as if her clothes had come together by chance and involved her, an innocent onlooker, in the accident. If a dress had made her look better than she really did, she would have felt guilty; but she had never had such a dress” (45).

“In the classroom, where Dr. Whittaker was almost as much at home as in his study, this would not have happened; there each sentence lived its appointed term, died mourned by its people, and was succeeded by a legitimate heir” (50).

There are hilarious descriptions of Flo and others and a dinner party at which no one ate. Gertrude disparages the South from which she still keeps an accent. How Gertrude feels about the music teacher. We meet Gertrude’s devoted husband, Sidney.

  1. Miss Batterson and Benton

Miss Batterson was an earlier creative writing teacher.

The teaching philosophy and life at Benton.

“Benton was, all in all, a surprisingly contented place. The people who weren’t contented got jobs elsewhere–as did, usually, any very exceptional people–and the others stayed. They didn’t need to be exceptional: they were at Benton. One felt that they felt that all they had to do was say, “I’m at Benton,’ and their hearer would say, raising his hand: ‘Enough!’” (105).

We learn why Benton is the subject of Gertrude’s novel. Miss Batterson got a better job but soon died. There is a funeral.

How the Rosenbaums live; very European. The narrator recalls a story told by Miss Batterson about her father.

  1. Constance and The Rosenbaums

Gertrude looks at life as fodder for her novels.

Dr. Rosenbaum’s wife and Constance’s friendship with the Rosenbaums.

“Old faces are forbidding or beautiful for what is expressed in them; in a face that is young enough almost everything but the youth is hidden, so that it is beautiful both for what is there and what cannot yet be there. Constance’s face was a question mark that you looked at and did not want to find an answer for” (146).

Constance and her music. Colleagues talking about home with the Rosenbaums. Irene singing. Constance is upset about the portrayal of the Rosenbaums in Gertrude’s story. The Rosenbaums’ personalities are described.

“…it is better to entertain an idea than to take it home to live with you for the rest of your life” (173).

How Americans are different from Europeans. Irene and her personality.

  1. Gertrude and Sidney

Gertrude was filled with anger she couldn’t understand. The narrator is dropping some work from a student at Gertrude’s. Gertrude takes care of her sick husband.

“But now that she saw she could not possibly get along without Sidney, her trust was shaken. When Sidney found out that she was in his power–if he found out, her heart substituted hastily–what would he do? How could you trust anyone with such power” (206)?

“…if Sidney had come home from work some evening and had said to her, ‘I’m not interested in you any more, Gertrude,’ she would have thought this a disastrous but perfectly reasonable, perfectly predictable thing for him to say–he would simply have come to his senses” (207).

“…she was like a magic sword that is content only as it comes shining from the scabbard” (209).

Gertrude can do without all others, except Sidney.

  1. Art Night

Gertrude is drunk as they head to Art Night.

“Mr. Daudier had a queer look on his face, as if he were a box of mixed nuts, but mostly peanuts…” (242).

  1. They All Go

If you are a teacher and/or love lines that run like crazy poetry, please read this book!

Mama Day

By Gloria Naylor

Vintage Books 1993  312 pages

Naylor was born in New York City in 1950. She is the author of The Women of Brewster Place and Bailey’s Cafe among other works. Pay special attention to the ever-changing narrator; people take turns telling this story. A tip: once you figure out who is speaking, jot their name at the top of the section. 

Sapphira Wade, a true conjure woman, who in 1823, “smothered Bascombe Wade in his very bed and lived to tell the story…”. Had seven sons. “…ain’t Miss Abigail and Mama Day the granddaughters of that seventh boy” (3).

[Legends of the original matriarch: a slave.]

“…18 & 23 at all–was really 81 & 32, which just so happened to be the lines of longitude and latitude marking off where Willow Springs sits on the map. And we were just so damned dumb that we turned the whole thing around” (8).

“Cocoa is like her very own, Mama Day tells him, since she never had no children” (9).

[Section one opens with a chapter about Cocoa.] She is in New York City. [The narrator is the office man, George, telling about his childhood.] 

“It only takes time for a man to grow older, but how many of them grow up” (27)?

[George Andrews and Ophelia (Cocoa) meet at a job interview.] Cocoa tells George that after her cousin and family were lost that she is the only grandchild left. The Linden Hills Christmas fire had claimed cousin Willa, her husband and her son.

[In this chapter we are joined by a third narrator: Great Aunt Miranda, or Mama Day. She describes when Peace died.] “She will see Peace breathing too, at the bottom of the open well, long after her daddy carves the box and they wrap her in white flannel” (36).

“But coming on down to them, it was just her, Abigail, and Peace. And out of them just another three girls, and out of them, two. Three generations of nothing but girls, and only one left alive in this last generation to keep the Days going–the child of Grace” (39).

[A theme emerges of things falling apart.]

“Dr. Buzzard’s pickup truck is missing both fenders and the wheels wobble inward on loose axles; there are so many dents along its side, it’s hard to tell that it was blue at one time. He’s sitting alone behind the wheel, but he’s wearing his beyond-the-bridge clothes…” (46).

“‘Buzzard, I oughta kill you.’ Abigail hugs her granddaughter. ‘My heart almost stopped’” (47).

“Home. It’s being new and old all rolled into one. Measuring your new against old friends, old ways, old places. Knowing that as long as the old survives, you can keep changing as much as you want without the nightmare of waking up to a total stranger” (49).

“‘No, you didn’t have to, but it speaks right well of you that you did. You the only one Abigail’s got left now, with Hope’s child gone’” (50).

[Cocoa loves coming home. She catches up on gossip and Momma Day mixes her up some herbal remedies. For this next scene we have to wonder if George is just a dick:]

“I worked especially late that night, never allowing myself to think about the rationale for any of this. There wasn’t any. I hadn’t done you a favor. I hadn’t felt sorry for a black woman out there up against it looking for a job. I hadn’t thought you the best person for the position. I hadn’t thought at all, not even two weeks later when I sent the roses” (56).

“Well, so much for you, buddy, and your call-me-George. Now, I’m managing the accounts of the man you’re working for. Life goes ‘round, doesn’t it” (57)?

[Mama Day hates to be wrong and doesn’t believe in cuddling. Between grandma and aunt, Cocoa describes the perfect mother.]

“I couldn’t imagine how an evening alone with you and that twelfth rose could be anything but a total downer. I was never in that camp of a night out with someone is better than a night alone. I was someone, and there was always something to do with me” (58).

“It was like when a kid labors over a package–the wrapping paper is poorly glued, the ribbon is half tied–and all of his attention is directed toward that space between the hands that offer and the hands poised to receive. It’s the gesture that holds the heart of the child” (59).

[Wow. That one brings a tear.]

[George and Cocoa’s first date goes horribly, but he asks her out again anyway.]

[The following reminds me of me:]

“‘More than one way to skin a cat. We wouldn’t have to be trying to figure all this out if you’d let her call more often.’

“‘Daddy always said no news is good news. My heart would be pounding every time that phone rang, so I’d rather have her write, if nothing important’s happening.’ Abigail continues her letter” (67).

“‘I guess you qualify as a widow, even though you murdered your first husband.’

“‘Ruby did no such thing.’

“‘She did.’

“The man drowned, Miranda.’

“‘You would, too, if someone hit you in the head with a two-by-four and pushed you off your boat. She told him she was gonna kill him if he kept messing with that little loose gal of Reema’s” (69).

“Miranda kinda blooms when the evening air hits her skin. She stands for a moment watching what the last of the sunlight does to the sky down by The Sound. They say every blessing hides a curse, and every curse a blessing. And with all of the aggravation belonging to a slow fall, it’ll give you a sunset to stop your breath, no matter how long you been on the island. It seems like God reached way down into his box of paints, found the purest reds, the deepest purples, and a dab of midnight blue, then just kinda trailed His fingers along the curve of the horizon and let ‘em all bleed down. And when them streaks of color hit the hush-a-by green of the marsh grass with the blue of The Sound behind ‘em, you ain’t never had to set foot in a church to know you looking at a living prayer” (78).

[This next quote reminds me of my father]

“A bramble scratches her on the face, and a few feet on she trips over a creeper from a sweet bay. No point in cussing, she hears her daddy’s voice. Little Mama, these woods been here before you and me, so why should they get out your way–learn to move around ‘em” (78). [Yes, this is why I keep Kleenex on my desk. Shut up.]

“Daddy, you said live on, didn’t you? Just live on” (88).

[Mama Day never had children, but she has delivered everyone else’s. Frances and Ruby fight over Junior Lee.]

“‘A man don’t leave you unless he wants to go, Frances. And if he’s made up his mind to go, there ain’t nothing you, me, or anybody else can do about that’” (90).

“‘I raised me some decent, Christian children.’

“‘Miracles do happen,’ Miranda says, turning her back. She walks off before Pearl has the chance to take another deep breath; she can keep talking half an hour on just three lungfuls” (94).

Abigail and Miranda are talking when in Miranda’s mind she thinks “She’s thinking of the child she gave to Mother. But I begged her not to do it. She couldn’t put her own guilt to rest by naming her first baby Peace. Peace was gone, I told her. And now Peace is gone again. She only lost one of her babies to Mother, I lost them all. She’s got much less to forgive than me” (95).

Cocoa thinks “I had seen Mama Day do a lot of things out at the other place, and when I told the kids at school they called me a liar” (97).

[Cocoa seems confused by platonic friendship. She learns that George has a girlfriend. George tells Cocoa they are going to renew their commitment (at the same time George and Cocoa are falling in love).]

[The fake world of dating is discussed from a man’s point of view on pages 104-5]

[George and Cocoa seal the deal.]

[The “other place” is mentioned again when Mama Day tells Abigail she should start storing her gifts there.]

[Remembrances of Dad, below:]

“And Miranda says that her daddy, John-Paul, said that in his time Candle Walk was different still. Said people kinda worshipped his grandmother, a slave woman who took her freedom in 1823. Left behind seven sons and a dead master as she walked down the main road, candle held high to light her way to the east bluff over the ocean. Folks in John-Paul’s time would line the main road with candles, food, and slivers of ginger to help her spirit along…And even the youngsters who’ve begun complaining about having no Christmas instead of this ‘old 18 & 23 night’ don’t upset Miranda. It’ll take generations, she says, for Willow Springs to stop doing it at all” (111).

[A friend brings Mama Day a rocking chair that she says is destined for the “other place.” Maranda’s dad and his six brothers are buried on their own land. Her grandfather and his six brothers are there. Peace, Grace, Hope and Peace again. They never found Maranda’s mother’s body.]

[Speaking of the “other place”:]

“Where do folks get things in their head? It’s an old house with a big garden, that’s all. Me and Abigail and Peace was born there. My daddy and his brothers as well. And it’s where my mama sat, rocking herself to death. Folks can get the craziest things in their head. But then again there was the other place, where she was gonna bring Bernice in the spring. Will she see just an old house with a big garden” (118)?

[A bit about ghosts:]

“She tries to listen under the wind. The sound of a long wool skirt passing. Then the tread of heavy leather boots, heading straight for the main road, heading on toward the east bluff over the ocean. It couldn’t be Mother, she died in The Sound. Miranda’s head feels like it’s gonna burst. The candles, food, and slivers of ginger, lining the main road. A long wool skirt passing. Heavy leather boots. And the humming–humming of some lost and ancient song. Quiet tears start rolling down Miranda’s face. Oh, precious Jesus, the light wasn’t for her–it was for him. The tombstone out by Chevy’s Pass. How long did he search for her? Up and down this path. What had daddy said his daddy said about Candle Walk? She was trying too hard, she couldn’t remember. But she’d bring out the rocking chair. Maybe move back here herself after spring. Lord knows, she’d be back in that garden enough come then. And summer, it’d be real pleasant. Listen to the wind from The Sound. Maybe it would come to her. Yes–it just might come to her. Up and down this path, somehow, a man dies from a broken heart” (118).

[Cocoa:]

“George, I was frightened. Can you understand that? Things were going so well between us that I dreaded the day when it would be over. Grown women aren’t supposed to believe in Prince Charmings and happily-ever-afters. Real life isn’t about that–so bring on the clouds. And each day that it was exhilarating and wonderful; each time you’d call unexpectedly just to say, I was thinking about you; each little funny card in the mail or moment in a restaurant when you’d reach over for no reason and squeeze my hand–each of those times, George, I’d feel this underlying panic: when will it end? And it was worse when we were in bed. You’d take me in your arms with such a hunger and tenderness, demanding only that I be pleased, that I’d feel a melting away of places in my body I hadn’t realized were frozen voids. Your touch was slowly making new and alive openings within me and I would lie there warm and weak, listening to you sleep, thinking, What will I do when he’s not here? How will I handle all this space he’s creating without him to fill it?

“And you–you would be so cheerful the mornings after you slept over. Running down to the deli to get us fresh rolls and orange juice. Circling some announcement in the paper for a show we could catch that weekend. Never understanding that it was three whole days until the weekend and my seeing you again. Three days was time enough to settle into what my girlfriends were saying: ‘He sounds too good to be true.’ I’d look around that empty apartment and yes, it had to be that–untrue. You were only part of some vision, or at best a temporary visitor in my life. Too good to be true. Too good to last” (119).

George discusses how easy it is to make a woman think he cares for her. Come over when she calls. Send random Hallmark cards. Cocoa discusses real sharing; personal things she has shared that meant a lot. George gives Cocoa a speech on the difference between being a son of a whore and a son of a bitch. He was the son of a whore who abandoned him and was found washed near a pier near Bailey’s Cafe (131).

“Small places live on small talk, but sometimes the happenings can be too lean for everybody to get enough fat out of it to chew over” (132).

“Trunks and boxes from the other place gave up enough for twenty quilts: corduroy from her uncles, broadcloth from her great-uncles” (137).

Mama Day performs a hoodoo ritual on Bernice so she will become pregnant. “But she wasn’t changing the natural course of nothing, she couldn’t if she tried. Just using what’s there. And couldn’t be nothing wrong in helping Bernice to believe that there’s something more than there is. It’s an old house with a big garden, and it done seen its share of pain. And I’m just an old woman who’ll be waiting in a rocking chair…” [like her mother] (139).

“There’s a lesson in gratitude floating around here somewhere, but it looks like it’s gonna be a while before it settles” (149).

Mama Day refuses to let Cocoa go out and party with her male friends.

There is a wonderful soliloquy on the passing of time on page 158. Four years later, George and Cocoa are still married.

“When you raise a god instead of a child, you’re bound to be serving him for the rest of your days” (162).

“A sow takes better care of her young. And don’t be sitting there whining about a no-good daddy–if he ain’t never here, it means he ain’t stopped you from cleaning this house. And he ain’t the cause of you stuffing this child with white bread and sugar lard to keep him quiet while you’re watching them soap operas. That’s right, cry, you oughta cry. And while you at it, use them tears to water the truck garden you’re gonna start growing with a dollar’s worth of seeds and a little work. Chickens will eat anything you won’t eat–even their own mess–and give you eggs for breakfast to boot. God don’t like ugly” (193-4).

Mama Day and George make a fishing date.

“I know I ain’t giving her credit. Maranda laughs. She done mellowed plenty since this marriage. Soft around the edges without getting too soft at the center. You fear that sometimes for women, that they would just fold up and melt away. She’d seen it happen so much in her time, too much for her to head on into it without thinking. Yes, that one time when she was way, way young. But after that, looking at all the beating, the badgering, the shriveling away from a lack of true touching was enough to give her pause. Not that she mighta hooked up with one of those. And not that any man–even if he tried–coulda ever soaked up the best in her. But who needed to wake up each morning cussing the day just to be sure you still had your voice? A woman shouldn’t have to fight her man to be what she was; he should be fighting that battle for her. It weren’t so in her time, though, and from what these young women tell her, it’s rare to find it now. So a lot of ‘em is waking up like me, except they’re waking up young and alone” (203).

Here’s a bit of brilliance:

“But you wouldn’t have believed me because they never said a word as they sat at that kitchen table chatting away with you retching in the background. But I knew them: idle hands are the devil’s workshop, and you had come home reeking with his brew. There was a soul in that bathroom to be saved with hard work. They were going to demand practically every minute of your day while you would think you were volunteering your butt off. When she puts her mind to it, no one can beat a southern woman at manipulating a man. And these women had been around long enough to take it to the level of art.

“They were much too skilled to honey, sweetheart, or sugar you into anything. On the contrary, you would be told to run off, to rest, to leave them alone with their work. But context would be their masterstroke and versatility their finishing touch. So Grandma starts out talking about her age. This will probably be the last year she’d fool with that garden. Her appetite is hardly what it used to be–why worry about growing beans? More there than she’ll ever use and even too many to give away. A long, long sigh. She’ll just go on up to the store and buy a few old frozen packages of something. She’s a lot better off than them other old people she reads about in the newspapers having to eat cat food. You see, then she totally drops that subject. Goes on to something else, and finally with another long, long sigh, she says that since these beans are already growing, she’ll go through the last hurrah and get out there and tie them up. To grab at her back when she stands up would be a bit too much, so she just shuffles slowly toward the rear porch. And, of course, you volunteer. That’s gentle pity. 

“Mama Day jumps in by the afternoon and uses fierce pride. She waits until she spies you on the porch before dragging that heavy rag rug out to the clothesline. She lets it rail along the ground, stopping several times to hoist it up in her arms. That gives you the time to get across the road with an offer of help that’s flatly and emphatically refused as she struggles unsuccessfully–much too unsuccessfully–to swing it over the line. You get begrudging thanks for insisting that you do it and finally several pointers on the most effective way to beat out the dust. But she’ll keep you supplied with lemonade for your dry throat–at least she ain’t too old and decrepit to squeeze a few lemons. They exchange tactics on the second day and by the third, none are needed. You’ve been allowed to overhear the quiet whispers about how marvelous you are, to witness glimpses of melting awe at the strength of your back, your arms. Yeah, they could lie back now, your ego would take over.

“I guess if I’d really taken those lessons to heart, we could have gotten along better. They had you under their heels and you were purring. But I found treating a grown man like a five-year-old a little nauseating. If they had just come out and said, We want you to help around the house, you would have. As a matter of fact, you would have done it for the remainder of your vacation and not have resented it. That was more my style: Hey, look, keep your tail here and help me. But like I said, they were artists. And they wove the illusion that you were doing more than helping, you were in charge. You wanted to do all those chores. You even thought of things to be done that hadn’t crossed their minds. The fact that you weren’t in charge had absolutely nothing to do with the results: Grandma’s roof got painted, the garden got weeded, Mama Day’s rugs were spotless. And you were too tired to go anywhere. If you only knew, I thought, watching you laughing and talking with them on the porch at night. Grandma shelling boiled peanuts for you, Mama Day rubbing liniment into your sore shoulders. And maybe you did know, but it was what you believed that counted” (216-7).

In the woods Cocoa hears the whispers of ghosts that George can’t hear. They say she is going to break his heart. We learn some more history of the other place. 224-5

“Well, the Scriptures do say it: man was the last thing the Lord made.”

“He shoulda quit while He was ahead.”

“Just letting things crumble apart, ‘cause everybody wants to be right in a world where they ain’t no right or wrong to be found. My side. He don’t listen to my side. She don’t listen to my side. Just like that chicken coop, everything got four sides: his side, her side, an outside, and an inside. All of it is the truth. But that takes a lot of work and young folks ain’t about working heard no more. When getting at the truth starts to hurt, it’s easier to turn away” (230).

Junior Lee puts the moves on Cocoa and Ruby sees him.

“Miranda shakes her head and takes a final look around her garden before she turns her face to the sky. Gray. The color you’d get from blending a bridal dress and a funeral veil” (243).

Little Caesar dies. The poison Ruby plants in Cocoa has begun to take effect.

“There’ll be no redemption for that. She ain’t gotta worry about going on to hell. Hell was right now. Daddy always said that folks misread the Bible. Couldn’t be no punishment worse than having to live here on ear, he said” (261).

Lightning hits Ruby’s house twice and it explodes after Mama Day had turned some hoodoo on her.

“And if you’re worried about us, you can stop. We’re going to be fine because I believe in myself.”

“That’s where folks start, boy–not where they finish up. Yes, I said boy. ‘Cause a man would have grown enough to know that really believing in himself means that he ain’t gotta be afraid to admit there’s some things he just can’t do alone.”

Read the book to find out all the twists and turns!

Gwendolyn Brooks

1917-2000

[Study Notes]

Brooks wanted to write poems that called to all black people. Poems to teach, entertain and illuminate. She used elegant spare rhythms. Through activism, she showed her passionate commitment to making her work available to black people everywhere believing poetry was not the sole province of the privileged, educated few.
Born in Kansas and moved to Chicago where she spent most of her life. Published her first poem at thirteen in American Child magazine. Graduated from high school and was a regular contributor to the weekly variety column of the Chicago Defender. Attended Wilson Junior College and joined Chicago’s NAACP Youth Council. Got married.
Brooks had a child and met a pivotal teacher.
Won the Midwestern Writers’ Conference poetry award in 1943. Approached by Emily Morison of Knopf for a book of poems. A Street in Bronzeville was published in 1945. Followed by Annie Allen (1949), winner of the 1950 Pulitzer Prize. Maud Martha (1953); and The Bean Eaters (1960). Brooks’s poetry of this period is solidly based in the stuff of everyday life.
1967 was the year of the Second Black Writers’ conference at Nashville’s Fisk University. Brooks was exposed to cultural activists and artists who would fashion the outline of a new black cultural nationalism. Much of Brooks’s subsequent activity was inspired by her experience at Fisk, including the creative writing class that she conducted with some of Chicago’s Blackstone Rangers, a teenage gang. In 1968, she published In the Mecca, with its brilliant closing pieces: the “sermons” on the Warpland.
Brooks’s poetry has several distinctive traits: a stunning juxtaposition of disparate objects and words, masterful control of rhyme and meters, sophisticated use of formal and thematic irony, translation of public events into memorable poetic detail. A poet’s primary concern–to hammer out a portrait of and for African Americans–remained unaltered.
Fiction Maud Martha: a female subject’s ruminations before, during, and after World War II. One of the few works by a black woman writer written between the Harlem Renaissance and the civil rights era. Not marked by the ideological debates or ugliness of racism, classism, and sexism. Narrates the most difficult, or unspeakable, of human failings–those that occur on the level of intimacy. Generous, sensitive, and tough.

“the mother” relates the inner thoughts of a woman who has experienced abortion.

“The Chicago Defender Sends a Man to Little Rock”: Federal intervention was necessary to implement school desegregation in Little Rock. The poem opens with a picture of domestic life in the suburbs. People going to church and performing their after-church rituals. Little Rock at Christmas, in summer, outdoor concerts, romance. The expected norms. Phone calls, polite manners. I got to Little Rock to find the news of school desegregation…but it’s so normal here. Then: the spitting, the throwing of rocks, garbage, and fruit. Girls and boys alike were engaged in this behavior. One of the little brown boys was bleeding. So did Christ.

“We Real Cool”: Running with the bad crowd at the pool hall. Drop out, stay out late, sing, drink, dance and die.

Realism, Naturalism, Modernism

1940-1960

[Study Notes]

Literary historians arbitrarily carve out the decades between 1940 to 1960 as “realism, naturalism and modernism” as an extraordinarily fertile moment in the development of African American writing. This era produced a rich and complex collection of writings and many diverse pieces for literary and cultural magazines although standard literary histories tend to obscure those writers.
The era produced serious novels, detective stories, pulp (or escapist) fiction, popular novels. There was also a confrontation of modern existence: atomic explosions, fascism, social revolution, the crumbling of colonialism, the death throwes of Jim Crow.
Authors and critics often engaged in bitter disagreements over the form and functions of African American expression, over the obligations of black writers to their reading publics, and even over how such publics were to be identified. The situation was no better overseas.
Realism refers broadly to a faithful representation of material “reality. Naturalism is a franker, harsher treatment of the power of the social environment cum jungle on individual psychology. Modernism is a break with the familiar functions of language and conventions of form.

War, Migration, Desegregation, and Social Revolution
We use World War II as the outer boundary of this period, during the second wave of the Great Migration. Many African Americans headed for economic opportunity in the major war industries or went abroad to fight. Truman created the Commission on Civil Rights in 1947. In 1954 there was Brown v. the Topeka Board of Education which desegregated public schools. In 1955 Alabama saw the Bus Boycott which began the “nonviolent protest movement.”
African American literary production from the 1940s to the 1960s is emphatically northern, urban, and set mainly in the black American culture capitals: Chicago, Boston, and Harlem. White youth copied the zoot suit vogue, along with many elements of bop, or hip talk. This language of hip, or the “new poetry of the proletariat” introduced a distinctly black urban idiom into the American language. Urban sensibility pervades the literature with the signs, sights, and sounds of the city. Setting the tone was Richard Wright’s 1940 publishing sensation Native Son.

Urban Realism
At least in strictly literary terms, Wright’s novel christened the 1940s decade. A book of the Month Club selection, Native Son made Wright the first African American writer to receive both critical acclaim and commercial success simultaneously. After him, other black writers began to be noticed.
Wright is credited with having set the stage for these successes and creating publishing opportunities for many black writers.
Native Son greatly transformed American culture and African American letters of the post-World War II era. Wright, along with Alain Locke and others, set a tone that black writers should no longer care for or serve their white audience. Their work should be focused on true self-expression for their own people about their own issues.
Wright used ingredients from Marxism, social protest, urban and secular ideas. Native Son shaped a radically new agenda and established for African American writing a new center of gravity, one that documented the gritty realities of urban living for black Americans filtered through the lenses of urban sociology and the conventions of naturalism.
Wright began investigating the Chicago School of Urban Sociology, especially its theories about juvenile delinquency and the urban environment. What forces and powers were at play in the social environment? He used his character of Bigger Thomas to show how the environment affects the mind, body, and spirit and this technique was seen as a form of social protest.
Social protest writing did not begin with Wright; it was there in the fugitive slave narrative, the abolitionist orator, poets, essays, pamphlets, letters, and in the novels of racial uplift. With the emergence of Richard Wright, black art and social protest were one and the same. Protest not only blended optimally with the aesthetics of naturalism and the reportorial practices of journalism and urban sociology but worked organically with a range of cultural activity–including grassroots organizing–underpinning a self-styled radical literary and intellectual movement.
Other writers have been associated with the Wright style. William Attaway’s Blood on the Forge, Chester Himes’s The Lonely Crusade and If He Hollers Let Him Go, Ann Petry’s The Street.

Ellison and Black Modernist Fiction
There was a burgeoning vision of integration as a social ideal that called for minimizing emphatically racial subject matter with an “integrationist” temper. There was a call for “non-Negro” or nonracial subject matter, especially in the novel. Black characters and black urban setting seemed no longer central. For most critics, though, the turn from urban realism had less to do with integrationist ideals than with the exhaustion of the mode itself.
It took the success of Invisible Man to further liberate those African American writers already chafing under the narrative straitjacket of realism and naturalism and thus breaking free of the pressures to protest injustice. Invisible Man had an experimental attitude and a commitment to social responsibility. It was the novel as artistic form and not primarily concerned with injustice, but with art.
Modernism was being explored before Ellison. There was much debate over his work.
Centering the plots of African American literary history, from 1940 to 1960, on the Wright-Baldwin-Ellison controversy and the paradigm of protest writing has resulted in a brotherhood narrative, which marginalizes women. Women writers were largely ignored.

Poetry
The poetry published between 1940 and 1960 challenges the debates about social protest. There were stanzaic forms and word collages, folk ballads, etc.
A confluence of poetic forms. Gwendolyn Brooks’s “folksy narrative” and conventions of Italian and English sonnet forms. Realism and naturalism. Global realities of war and the spreading shadow of fascism.
Extensive experimentation. The lyric, ballad, and sonnet.
Brooks’s studied attention to form and technical craftsmanship links her with melvin Tolson and Robert Hayden. The three are frequently grouped together as highly technical poets in the tradition of modern experimentalists.
Paragraphs on Melvin B. Tolson, WWII poetry and movement into the Black Arts Movement.

Drama
Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun began the longest run on Broadway of any drama written by a black American up to that time, but throughout the 1930s and 1940s, blacks had demonstrated a talent for drama as theatergoers and ensuring sizable financial returns. The establishment of the American Negro Theater (ANT) in 1940 was a milestone in African American theater history.
A Raisin in the Sun won the New York Drama Critics Award and anticipated many of the defining concerns of a soon-to-be black arts movement, which exploded in the 1960s. It took on a pan-Africanist, anticolonialist agenda.
In 1957 writers and intellectuals sought to establish the intricate connections between anti-colonialism and the movements for black civil rights for social and economic justice.

Prophets of a New Day
Malcolm X, the “fire prophet,” and one of the writers who would force social revolution “by any means necessary.” Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones), whose signature poem, “Black Art, from his volume Black Magic Poetry, set much of the pace, form, and violent tone of the “new” black literature of the 1960s. Baraka’s had a desire for “killing poems” and “words as weapons” for art in the service of a struggle for human liberation.
The 1940s to 1960s brought forth the first full crop of African American writers. The writers of this period were bolder, more militant. Black readers in particular were summoned to confront new literary realities.