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Lizzie Blair-Finlay
Section C - “Literature is at its best when the heart conflicts with the brain”
Discuss this statement with reference to a range of literature you have experienced.
It has been said that, “Literature is at its best when the heart conflicts with the brain.” The
conflict between heart and head has been used successfully in much of literature, for
example Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre and George Orwell’s Keep
the Aspidistra Flying. Much of Hamlet is dedicated to the Danish Prince’s tribulations over
the conflict between his emotional need for revenge and his intellectual nature, while Eyre
loves Rochester but thinks herself morally obligated to leave him because of her social
status and the discovery of Bertha Mason. In Aspidistra, Gordon Comstock hates the way
his society relies on money, but finds himself unable to separate his thoughts from this
society. These three works are examples of great literature which use this conflict to affect
the reader.
The question of Hamlet’s delay has been a source of much discussion throughout the
history of Shakespearean scholarship. This delay is undoubtedably partially due to the
conflict between Hamlet’s heart and brain. As T.S. Eliot points out in his essay, “Hamlet
and His Problems,” the complexity of Hamlet’s emotions is such that his mind cannot
understand them. Hamlet’s long soliloquies, which take up a large portion of the play, are
an attempt to express through his head what is happening in his heart. Eliot attributes
Hamlet’s failure to do this as a failure of Shakespeare’s, prompting him to refer to the
entire play as an “artistic failure,” however the fact that Hamlet cannot express his
emotions only serves to further the understanding of the audience, making them aware of
the complexity of these emotions.clear understanding of Q
Hamlet has an emotional need for revenge which his mind will not allow him to fulfil. While
Hamlet feels anger at Claudius for murdering his father, he is aware, as he identifies in his
third soliloquy, that “this spirit I have seen may be a devil...and perhaps in my weakness
and my melancholy abuses me to damn me.” In his efforts to “have grounds more relative
than this” Hamlet embarks on the unnecessarily complex scheme with his feigned
madness and the mousetrap play. These complex attempts to prove Claudius’ guilt are
further evidence of Hamlet’s intellectual nature, which prevents him from taking action.
Hamlet is too absorbed in scheming and contemplation to perform his revenge in any real
way. Hamlet only achieves his revenge at all as a result of the king’s own plot with Laertes.
That Hamlet is very frequently considered to be the greatest work of the greatest English
writer is a testament to the effectiveness of this use of conflict between the heart and
Jane Eyre is another classic text which deals successfully with the conflict between the
heart and head. Jane is in love with Rochester, and if she were ruled purely by her heart
she would no doubt have stayed with him. Although Jane is, and is frequently described
as, “a passionate creature,” she is also, like Hamlet, a thinker, good linking and her
knowledge of her social status and the discovery of Bertha Mason hidden in the attic
prevents her from immediately reaching emotional wellbeing with Rochester, instead
running away. Jane has to fight with her mind against her heart to make herself do this,
however her brain is shown to be the stronger organ. This is also an example of Jane as a
representative feminist figure. The traditional Victorian view of women was as emotional
creatures incapable of complex or deep thought. In Chaucer’s “The Wife of Bath’s
Prologue”, the Wife makes reference to a common medieval belief that women were a
danger to scholarly men, as they would prevent them from working. Jane subverts these
ideas by relying as much on her mind as on her emotions, an example of feminism in the
text. In the end of Jane Eyre, Jane’s happiness is a result of her being both emotionally
Lizzie Blair-Finlay
and mentally satisfied, as there is no longer any conflict between the two. Once again,
Jane Eyre is a highly regarded piece of literature which is effective because of it’s
expression of conflict between the heart and head.again, a detsiledd discussion
Keep the Aspidistra Flying is a lesser-known novel by George Orwell which also involves
conflict between the heart and mind. Gordon Comstock feels angry about the way his
society seems to worship money, and so attempts to separate himself from this society
and live without money. However, he becomes increasingly obsessed with money as he
has less of it, and so his thoughts do not reflect his heart. This conflict is also seen in
Gordon’s wealthier friend Ravelston. This is seen most strongly in the line, “Ravelston
knew that life under capitalism is deathly and meaningless. But this knowledge was only
theoretical. You can’t really feel that kind of thing when your income is eight hundred a
year.” Ravelston, then, has conflict between his heart and head because he theoretically
knows something which, according to Orwell, he cannot understand without experiencing.
Orwell himself experienced the ideas of this text in the events described in his non-fiction
novel Down and Out in Paris and London, events which greatly influenced this text. The
conflict between heart and brain is perhaps not as strong in Keep the Aspidistra Flying as
in Jane Eyre and Hamlet, and perhaps this is partially why the novel is not as highly
regarded as those texts.
Conflict in any form can make literature great. Hamlet, Jane Eyre, and Keep the Aspidistra
Flying are three texts in which the heart conflicts with the brain, and are also amongst the
greatest English literature. This conflict allows for the communication and development of
complex ideas, as do other forms of conflict. Conflict is after all the interaction between
disagreeing ideas, and it is this interaction which prompts the reader to both think and feel.
Conflict between the heart and brain makes the best literature as the reader is affected
both emotionally and intellectually by such texts.
Not sure how else you could have organised this – it seems to work fine – y0u know the
texts very well – and have integrated evidence well