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Asist. univ. drd. CLAUDIA PISOSCHI
Modul: Curs practic Interpretări texte (proză scurtă, teatru)
Specializarea: Română- Engleză
Anul III,
Semestrul II
Titularul disciplinei: asist. univ. drd. Claudia Pisoschi
I. Introducere:
Cursul practic îşi propune următoarele obiective:
 Aplicarea cunoştinţelor acumulate anterior de studenţi în cadrul cursurilor de
literatură, semantică şi pragmatică.
 Sesizarea nuanţelor stilistice în cadrul unor fragmente de texte specifice unor diferite
genuri şi curente literare.
 Manifestarea creativităţii în modul de înţelegere şi comentare, stabilind corelaţii şi
echivalenţe interdisciplinare şi multiculturale.
II. Cuprinsul modulului
1. John Millington Synge
1.1. J. Millington Synge’s Life
1.2. J. Millington Synge’s Works
1.3. The Playboy of the Western World (1907)
2. Eugene Gladstone O’Neill
2.1. O’Neill’s Life.
2.2. O’Neill’s Works.
2.3. Long Day's Journey into Night (1940)
3. Doris Lessing (1919- )
3.1. Doris Lessing’s Life.
3.2. Doris Lessing’s Works.
3.3. A Woman on a Roof.
4. Gertrude Stein (1874-1946)
4.1. Stein’s Life.
4.2. Stein’s Works.
4.3. Three Lives (1909)
5. Ernest Miller Hemingway (1899-1961)
5.1. E. Hemingway’s Life.
5.2. E. Hemingway’s Works.
5.3. The Hanging of Sam Cardinella
6. John Osborne (1929-1994)
6.1. J. Osborne’s Life.
6.2. J. Osborne’s Works.
6.3. Look Bach in Anger (1956)
III. Metode şi instrumente de evaluare:
Criterii de evaluare:
gradul de înţelegere şi aplicare corectă în traducere a noţiunilor şi conceptelor
specifice domeniului teoriei şi criticii literare ;
abilităţile de comentare a conţinutului ideatic şi a trăsăturilor stilistice ale unui text
din perspectivele studiate ;
capacitatea de a stabili corelaţii interdisciplinare şi multiculturale care să permită
comentarii originale şi pertinente, în spiritul originalului.
Modalităţi de evaluare :
evaluare continuă în cadrul întâlnirilor tutoriale (scris/oral) 25% din valoarea
evaluării finale
evaluare continuă prin teste de autoevaluare (scris) 25% din valoarea evaluării finale
examen (scris + oral) 50% din valoarea evaluării finale.
IV. Bibliografie generală:
Allen, D. R. et ali. 2003. Words. Words. Words. A Historz of Literatures in English. Milan:
La spiga languages
Gower, R., Pearson, M. 1990. Reading literature. Longman.
Maingueneau, D. 2007. Discursul literar. Iaşi: Institutul European.
John Millington Synge (1871-1909)
Obiectivele învăţării:
- studenţii vor fi capabili să încadreze teatrul lui Synge în contextul socio-politic şi cultural al
- vor putea să ofere comentarii originale şi pertinente din punctul de vedere al ideilor
exprimate şi al stilului scriiturii.
Timpul mediu de studiu: 5 ore.
1.3. J. Millington Synge’s Life
1.4. J. Millington Synge’s Works
1.3. The Playboy of the Western World (1907)
1.1. J. Millington Synge’s Life.
Along with Yeats, the most significant dramatist of the early Irish theatre was John
Millington Synge. Born near Dublin of Protestant parents, Synge went to Germany as a
young man to study music, and later lived in Paris where he wrote literary criticism. It was
while he was in Paris that Synge met and struck up a friendship with W.B. Yeats. Yeats
persuaded him to spend some time in the Aran Islands before returning to Dublin to devote
himself to his creative work. His experience in the Aran Islands had a strong effect on
Synge's work and The Aran Islands (1907) is the journal he wrote while there. In these
notebooks, Synge makes much of his debt to the old men whose tales he noted down. All his
plays while being intense and poetic in style, depict the bleak and tragic lives of Irish
peasants and fisherfolk.
1.2. J. Millington Synge’s Works.
His first two one-act plays - In The Shadow of the Qlen (1903) is a comedy and Riders to
the Sea (1904) a tragedy - were presented by the Irish National Theatre Society. In The
Shadow of the Qlen he depicts the story of an ageing husband who pretends to be dead so
that he can spy on his younger wife, Mora, and catch her with her lover. At the end of the
play, Mora elopes not with her lover but with a passing tramp. Although the situation of
supposed death was not new to drama, what distinguished Synge's play was his use of
language. Rather than documenting real Irish dialect he managed to create an effective rural
stage Irish that derived its impetus from rhythm, syntax and intonation.
In The Well of Saints (1905) and The Tinker's Wedding (1909) Synge employed a similarly
rich language. In a preface to The Tinker's Wedding he wrote, 'The drama is made serious in the French sense of the word - not by the degree in which it is taken up with problems that
are serious in themselves, but by the degree in which it gives the nourishment, not very easy
to define, on which our imaginations live. We should not go to the theatre as we go to a
chemist's or a dram-shop, but as we go to a dinner where the food we need is taken with
pleasure and excitement.' (J.M. Synge, Plays, Poems, and Prose, Dent, 1946, p. 33)
Two of Synge's comedies, The Well of the Saints and The Playboy of the Western World
(1907) were presented at the Abbey Theatre. The latter provoked riots amongst the
audience, however, as many patriots were outraged by Synge's farcical presentation of heroic
ideals and nationalism. The play did not quite fit in with the aim of the Abbey group, which
was to promote drama that spoke positively for the Irish people and for their quest for
independent statehood. Synge's last play, Deidre of the Sorrows, remained unfinished at the
time of his death in 1909, but was presented by the Abbey players in 1910. The tragedy took
for its subject matter the kind of legendary material Yeats was using. Yeats wrote of this last
play that, had Synge lived to finish the text, it would undoubtedly have been his masterpiece
- 'so much beauty is there in its course, and such wild nobleness in its end – and so poignant
the emotion and wisdom that were his own preparation for death.' (Quoted in J.M. Synge,
Plays, Poems, and Prose, Dent, 1946, p. ix)
1.3. The Playboy of the Western World (1907)
The action of the play takes place in a rough public house on a wild coast of Mayo. The pub
is run by Pegeen, 'a wild-looking but fine girl, of about twenty' and her father. Pegeen is
soon to be married to Shawn, a fearful, cowardly youth, but she changes her mind when
Christy Mahon walks in, tired and worn from a long journey, with the story that he has just
killed his old father with a blow to the head. Christy immediately becomes something of a
hero and several women come to see him and fall in love with him. Flattered by all the
attention, Christy rises to the occasion and begins to show off and swagger, especially when
he is given some new clothes to wear. He wins a mule race and apparently can do no wrong,
even managing to make Pegeen fall in love with him. Things take a turn for the worse when
Old Mahon, his father, who was not killed after all, comes in search of him, describing him
as a lazy, cowardly good for nothing. When Pegeen discovers that Christy is not in fact
guilty of parricide, she immediately falls out of love with him. Outraged by his father's
reappearance, Christy attacks him again before all the villagers and 'kills' him for the second
time. This time his deed does not meet with approval and the peasants tie him up with the
idea of handing him over to the police. Christy is saved when his old father, who is still
alive, crawls into the pub. He is so moved by Christy's 'courage', that he forgives him and
unties him and tells him to come home, saying we'll have great times from this out telling
stories of the villainy of Mayo.' His confidence restored, Christy orders his father out of the
house and marches after him. Impressed once again, Pegeen sighs that she has 'lost the only
Playboy of the Western World.'
Synge's achievement is to show how a creative story can cause a real transformation.
Christy is allowed to become a hero, not only because of his narration of the murder of his
father, nor from the encouragement and embellishment that the tale receives from the
peasants who hear it, but from a creative collaboration of the two. As Christy is encouraged,
his tale becomes more and more heroic. It is only when he apparently kills his father for the
second time, that the brutal nature of the crime is revealed. As Pegeen comments 'there's a
gap between a gallous (swaggering) story and a dirty deed'. Old Mahon's newly awakened
respect for Christy changes him again and, by the end of the play Christy, a worthless youth
before, really has been transformed into the Playboy of the Western World.
The simplicity and gullibility of the peasants offended many. Some felt that Synge was
making fun of the Irish peasantry in a similar way to the British depiction of 'stage Irish' - in
London at the turn of the century it was not uncommon to see the Irish depicted in
newspaper cartoons as tramps or even monkeys. On the first night of the play, after the
audience had rioted, Synge responded irritably to his critics, ‘I wrote the play because it
pleased me, and it just happens that I know Irish life best, so I made my methods Irish.'
Christy's Crime is Revealed
At this point in the play Christy has entered the public house and is drinking quietly by the
fire. He has told the people present - Pegeen; her father, Michael; Philly and Jimmy, small
farmers and Shawn - that he is wanted by the police. Fascinated, they question him to find
out what crime he has committed.
Pre-Reading Exercises
1. How and why do you think Christy killed his father?
2.Look quickly at the text below. How many examples can you find of ‘bad English'?
(They all draw near with delighted curiosity)
PHILLY: Well, that lad's a puzzle-the-world.
JIMMY: He'd beat Dan Davies's circus, or the holy missioners making sermons on the villainy
of man. Try him again, Philly.
PHILLY: Did you strike golden guineas out of solder', young fellow, or shilling coins
CHRISTY: I did not, mister, nor sixpence, nor a farthing coin. JIMMY: Did you marry three
wives maybe? I'm told there's a sprinkling have done that among the holy Luthers of the
preaching north.
CHRISTY: (Shyly) I never married with one, let alone with a couple or three.
PHILLY: Maybe he went fighting for the Boers, the like of the man beyond, was judged to be
hanged, quartered and drawn. Were you off east, young fellow, fighting bloody wars for
Kruger and the freedom of the Boers?
CHRISTY: I never left my own parish till Tuesday was a week.
PEGEEN: (Corning from counter.) He's done nothing, so. (To Christy.) If you didn't commit
murder or a bad, nasty thing; or false coining, or robbery, or butchery, or the like of them,
there isn't anything that would be worth your troubling for to run from now. You did nothing
at all.
CHRISTY: (His feelings hurt.) That's an unkindly thing to be saying to a poor orphaned
traveller, has a prison behind him, and hanging before, and hell's gap gaping below.
PEGEEN: (With a sign to the men to be quiet.) You're only saying it. You did nothing at all. A
soft lad the like of you wouldn't slit the windpipe of a screeching sow.
CHRISTY: (Offended.) You're not speaking the truth.
PEGEEN: (In mock rage.) Not speaking the truth, is it? Would you have me knock
the head
of you with the butt of the broom?
CHRISTY: (Twisting round on her with a sharp cry of horror.) Don't strike me. I killed my
poor father, Tuesday was a week, for doing the like of that.
PEGEEN: (With blank amazement.) Is it killed your father?
CHRISTY: (Subsiding.) With the help of God I did, surely, and that the Holy Immaculate
Mother may intercede for his soul.
PHILLY: (Retreating with Jimmy.) There's a daring fellow.
JIMMY: Oh, glory be to God!
MICHAEL: (With great respect.) That was a hanging crime, mister honey. You should have
had good reason for doing the like of that.
CHRISTY: (In a very reasonable tone.) He was a dirty man, God forgive him, and he getting
old and crusty, the way I couldn' t put up with him at all.
PEGEEN: And you shot him dead?
CHRISTY: (Shaking his head.) I never used weapons. I've no licence, and I'm a law- fearing
Post-Reading Exercises
What three different crimes do Jimmy and Philly think Christy might have committed?
1.What do we learn about Christy's character?
2.How does Pegeen manage to get Christy to say what crime he has committed?
3.How do the three men react to Christy's confession?
4.How do Synge's stage directions contribute to the comedy?
5.How are the peasants made to seem ignorant?
6.In what other way(s) is the situation made comic?
Self-Assessing Test:
The following statements are true or false?
1.Synge's achievement is to show how a creative story can cause a real transformation.
2. Synge admitted that his intention was to make fun of the Irish peasantry.
3. Christy denies being looked for by the police not to stir people’s interest.
4. The play style is highly elevated and the words used belong to the formal register.
5. The play is a situation comedy in which characters, the language used and, last but not
least, stage directions achieve the comic effect.
Correct answers:
1. True; 2.False; 3. False; 4. False; 5. True.
Obiectivele învăţării:
- studenţii vor fi capabili să încadreze teatrul lui O’Neill în contextul socio-politic şi
cultural al vremii;
- vor putea să ofere comentarii originale şi pertinente din punctul de vedere al ideilor
exprimate şi al stilului scriiturii.
Timpul mediu de studiu: 5 ore.
2.1. O’Neill’s Life.
2.2. O’Neill’s Works.
2.3. Long Day's Journey into Night
2.1. O’Neill’s Life. Eugene Gladstone O'Neill, generally regarded as the playwright
who kick-started American theatre in the 20th century, was born in a Mew York hotel on
October 16, 1888. He was the third son of an Irish immigrant, James O'Neill, whose early
years in the New World had been ones of great hardship and poverty. As a young man
James had discovered his talent for acting and gone on to become a leading
Shakespearean actor, but ultimately he used his gift to make money rather than great art.
For the first seven years of his life, Eugene travelled continuously. This was because his
father was touring in a stage version of the novel The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre
Dumas pere. While this production made James wealthy, his concentration on
melodramatic commercial theatre of this kind ruined his reputation as a serious actor.
Eugene's mother, Ella, came from a well-to-do Irish Catholic family and was thus of
less humble beginnings than her husband. Dutifully, she accompanied James on all his
tours, but, uncomfortable with theatre people, she led a very lonely life. Eugene O'Neill
himself later remarked: "The first seven years of my life were spent mostly in hotels and
railroad trains, my mother accompanying my father on his tours of the United States,
although she never was an actress, disliked the theater, and held aloof from its people."
His mother was also afflicted by a series of other problems. She was addicted to
morphine, a drug first administered to her during childbirth. She also suffered the tragedy
of losing her second son, Edmund, in infancy. The baby caught measles from James and
Ella's older son, Jamie -something for which Jamie was to feel an enduring sense
of guilt and for which his mother was never truly able to forgive him. Eugene was born a
few years after this tragic incident. Ella withdrew from life and Jamie developed a tough
streak. Indeed, Eugene was largely brought up under the hardened tutelage of his cynical
older brother.
Because of his parents' itinerant life, Eugene was sent to a Catholic school, and later, at
his own insistence, to a non-sectarian prep school. His revolt against Catholicism derived
in part from the conflict between his father's peasant Irish Catholicism and his mother's
more genteel convent-girl Catholicism. His readings of Victor Hugo and other Romantic
writers further fuelled his rejection of religion.
Eugene went to Princeton University for one year (1906-07), but was expelled
following a drunken spree. He himself recounts some of the many events of the next six
"After expulsion from Princeton I led a restless, wandering life for several years, working
at various occupations. Was secretary of a small mail order house in New York for a
while, then went on a gold prospecting expedition in the wilds of Spanish Honduras.
Found no gold but contracted malarial fever. Returned to the United States and worked
for a time as assistant manager of a theatrical company on tour. After this, a period in
which I went to sea, and also worked in Buenos Aires for the Westinghouse Electrical Co.,
Swift Facking Co., and Singer Sewing Machine Co. Never held a job long. Was either
fired quickly or left quickly. Finished my experience as a sailor as able-bodied seaman on
the American Line of transatlantic liners. After this, was an performer in vaudeville for a
short time, and reporter on a small town newspaper. At the end of 1912 my health broke
down and I spent six months in a tuberculosis sanatorium."
He leaves out that in 1909 he married Kathleen Jenkins, who was already pregnant with
his first son, and that in this period he also lived the life of a derelict on the waterfronts of
Buenos Aires, Liverpool and New York City.
O'Neill's stay in the sanatorium was the first time that he really stopped moving and took
a proper look at himself. It was also the period in which he first read the Swedish
dramatist August Strindberg, "who first gave me the vision of what modern drama could
Once O'Neill had decided to express his experiences, already many and varied, in plays,
he moved quickly. Having attended a workshop at Harvard with Pierce Baker, he started
to write for the stage, never, however, feeling the need to conform to accepted dramatic
methods and conventions.
In 1916, Eugene O'Neill met a group of young artists who were forming an
experimental theatre company, known as the Provincetown Players. In the autumn of the
same year, the group, which also performed works by Theodore Dreiser, Wallace Stevens,
John Reed and Djuna Barnes, put on his play Bound East for Cardiff in Mew York City.
Between then and 1920, the Playwrights' Theater, as the Provincetown Players came to be
known, were to perform all of O'Neill's one-act sea plays.
The year 1920 saw O'Neill emerging from the world of avant-garde theatre and starting
to become known to, and appreciated, by the general theatre-going public. His first fulllength play, Beyond the Horizon, was performed on Broadway at the Morosco Theater on
February 2nd, 1920. The critics admired the tragic realism of this play, for which he was
awarded the first of four Pulitzer Prizes.
The second half of O'Neill’s life was just as eventful as the first. Between 1920 and
1943 he wrote twenty full-length plays, several of them two or three times the length of a
normal play. O'Neill often rewrote his plays half a dozen times before he was satisfied. He
also included copious stage directions, which demonstrate what a conscientious craftsman
he was. In 1936, growing international recognition of his work culminated in his winning
the Nobel Prize for literature. This, however, marked something of a turning point, as it
was from around this time that the tide of literary criticism started to turn against him.
Ironically, it was in the relative obscurity of his latter years that O'Neill produced the more
mature works - for example, The Iceman Cometh and Long Day's Journey into Night - that
that were later to be acknowledged as his real masterpieces.
On a personal level, O'Neill's life was sad and often tragic. His elder son by Kathleen
Jenkins -he was married three times in all - committed suicide at the age of 40, and his
second son, Shane, by his second wife, Agnes Boulton, was emotionally unstable; finally,
he became estranged from his daughter, Oona, also by his second wife, when she married
Charlie Chaplin, who was O'Neill’s age. By 1940, O'Neill himself was a severe alcoholic
and afflicted by a nervous disorder akin to Parkinson's disease. In his later years, O'Neill
was popularly perceived as a once-great playwright who was allowing his talent to
become drowned in drink and sentimentality. In 1956 Carlotta, O'Neill’s third wife, (either
because she knew it needed to be seen or because she needed the money - or probably for
both reasons) broke the conditions of her husband's will and allowed the Royal Swedish
Theatre to stage, in Stockholm, the first-ever production of A Long Day's Journey into
Night. The production was a great success and opened the way for many successful
renditions of his later works, in both Europe and America.
The critic Lionel Trillings tells us why many were so struck by Eugene O'Neill's first
To the audience of the Twenties, however, it was O'Neill 's style rather than the content
of his plays that was of first importance. Style, indeed, was sufficient content: the language
of Anna Christie, the crude color, the drumbeats and the phantasmagoria of The Emperor
Jones, the engine rhythms, the masks, the ballet movements of The Hairy Ape, all
constituted a denial of the neat proprieties, all spoke of a life more colorful and terrible
than the American theater had ever thought of representing. It was at first the mechanical
inventiveness of Eugene O'Neill, his daring subjects and language which caught the public
2.2. O’Neill’s Works. O'Neill's work constituted a break with most contemporary
American theatre, which sought solely to entertain. O'Neill, on the other hand, saw theatre
as a means of communicating what he knew, thought and felt about the human condition.
As indicated above, one of the most significant changes introduced by Eugene O'Neill
was linguistic. In his very first short sea plays, like Bound East for Cardiff (1916), the
main characters speak in the vernacular, not in the language of the middle classes. Some
of O'Neill's plays even contained several different kinds of American English, and this
gave them a rich linguistic texture.
Not only was the language realistic, so were the characters. Rejecting the melodramatic
or comic puppets of tradiţional theatre, O'Neill presented theatre-goers with real people characters with whom they could identify. His hugely successful Beyond the Horizon
(1920), for example, depicts the lives of two brothers from a poor New England Farm.
O'Neill's next major success, the tragedy The Emperor Jones (1920), besides being one of
the first plays to give a leading role to an African-American, adopted striking
expressionist techniques, such as tom-toms to reveal the mounting fear of its character. In
what was a prolific period for O'Neill, these plays were quickly followed by Anna Christie
(1921), which deals with the redemption of a New York prostitute, the strongly symbolic
The Hairy Ape (1922), All God's Chillun's Got Wings (1924), which examines the
problems of a racially mixed marriage
- marital
being a recurring
theme in O'Neill – and Desire Under the Elms (1925), which tells the story of a lustful
father, a weak son and an adulterous wife who murders her infant son. This play, too,
makes use of the New England vernacular, and sheds light on O'Neill's interpretation of
tragedy. In his view, tragedy has a precise source: those inherited, biological and historical
forces that lead humans to destruction, and he was always aware of "the Force behind Fate, God, our biological past creating our present, whatever one calls it -Mystery
certainly - and of the one eternal tragedy of Man in his glorious, self-destructive
O'Neill continued to experiment with new techniques, particularly in The Great God
Brown (1926), in which the characters don and doff masks to reveal their changing
natures, and in the highly experimental, incredibly long and surprisingly successful
Strange Interlude (1927), which tells the story of Nina Leeds from a number of angles: as
daughter, fiancee, lover, wife and mother. In this play the aside, a familiar device in
English theatre since Elizabethan times, is used as an instrument to reveal to the audience
exactly what the characters are thinking. During the delivery of these asides, all the other
actors on stage are required to freeze. This play won O'Neill his second Pulitzer Prize.
Mourning Becomes Electra (1931) is a trilogy based on Aeschylus's The Oresteia. Set
right at the end of the Civil War, it tells of a heroic soldier returning from the war, who is
murdered by his adulterous wife. Their strong-willed daughter gets the son to murder the
mother in revenge. The tragedy is shown to lie in the characters' inability to extricate
themselves from their past, their family's past and their unconscious impulses.
Despite O'Neill's profound and tragic view of life, he did have comic vision, too, as can
be seen in his highly successful comedy Ah, Wilderness! (1933). He called this play about
the growing up of a sensitive young man in a small New England town "the other side of
the coin", meaning the happy, light, comic side of himself. As a result of the failure of
Days Without End (1934), O'Neill's next major play, The Iceman Cometh (1939), was not
produced until 1946, but even then it was not well-received - in fact, it was not to be
successfully staged until after the playwright's death. The play revolves around a group
of men discussing life in a New York saloon; all have distinctive and realistic ways of
talking. It soon emerges that it is only their illusions that keep them going, illusions that,
in the course of the play, are gradually shattered by an obtrusive salesman.
O’Neill poured all his hard-won artistic and personal experience into his masterpiece,
Long Day's Journey Into Night (1940-1). Not produced or published until 1956, this play
is, superficially, a rendering of the experiences of his own family, but it is also a masterly
exercising of the techniques for which the playwright had become renowned: his realism,
expressionism and symbolism, not to mention his use of the vernacular. O'Neill's last play
was Moon for the Misbegotten (1943), this time a humoristic exploration of human
2.3. Long Day's Journey into Night (1940)
Although O'Neill's other plays contain many elements drawn from his own experiences,
Long Day's Journey into Night is certainly the most strikingly autobiographical. The four
members of the Tyrone family are clearly modelled on the four O'Neills.
As the title indicates, all the action of the play takes place in the course of a single day,
August 12, 1912. The setting is the Tyrones' summer house on the coast of Connecticut.
The father, James Tyrone, is an actor who, despite making a fortune appearing in
melodramatic roles, still regrets sacrificing his career as a promising Shakespearean actor
in order to make money; also, the extreme poverty of his youth has made him mean. Mary
Tyrone, the mother, is a morphine addict; she came from an upper-class Irish Catholic
family. The family has two sons, the hard-drinking and cynical Jamie (James Tyrone, Jr.)
and his younger brother Edmund (who represents Eugene O'Neill), a sensitive and sickly
young man. The Eugene referred to in the play is a son (now deceased), who was born
after Jamie and before Edmund.
On this hot August day, the family has just learned that Edmund has consumption and
will have to go to a sanatorium; this news comes as a particularly severe blow to Mary,
whose father died of the same disease.
Mary Tyrone herself has recently been in a sanatorium because of her morphine
addiction, and for a while her husband and sons thought she had finally won her battle
with the drug, but on this day it becomes clear to them all that she has in fact started taking
morphine once again.
Act Two, Scene Two
In this scene James Tyrone finally has the courage to face the fact that his wife is once
again taking morphine. It is now just after lunch (Mary took a dose of the drug in the late
Pre-reading questions
1. Think of adjectives to describe the behaviour that, as far as you know, is typi-cal of
people suffering from forms of addiction (to drugs,alcohol,gambling,etc.)
2.Do you think drug addicts are to be pitied or condemned?
TYRONE: Mary! He suddenly hugs her to him—brokenly.
Dear Mary! For the love of God, for my sake and the boy's sake and your own, won't you
stop now?
MARY: Stammers in guilty confusion for a second. I— James!
Her strange stubborn defense comes back instantly. Stop what? What are you talking
about? He lets his arm fall to his side brokenly. She impulsively puts her arm around him.
James! We've loved each other! We always will! Let's remember only that, and not try to
understand what we cannot understand, or help things that cannot be helped—the things
life has done to us we cannot excuse or explain.
TYRONE: AS if he hadn't heard—bitterly. You won't even try?
MARY: Her arms drop helplessly and she turns away—with detachment. Try to go for a
drive this afternoon you mean? Why, yes, if you wish me to, although it makes me feel
lonelier than if I stayed here. There is no one I can invite to drive with me, and I never
know where to tell Smythe to go. If there was a friend's house where I could drop in and
laugh and gossip a while. But, of course, there isn't. There never has been.
Her manner becoming more and more remote. At the Convent I had so many friends.
Girls whose families lived in lovely homes. I used to visit them and they'd visit me in my
father's home. But, naturally, after I married an actor— you know how actors were
considered in those days—a lot of them gave me the cold shoulder. And then, after we
were married, there was the scandal of that woman who had been your mistress, suing
you. From then on, all my old friends either pitied me or cut me dead. I hated the ones
who cut me much less than the pitiers.
TYRONE: With guilty resentment. For God's sake, don't dig up what's long forgotten. If
you're that far gone in the past already, when it's only the beginning of the afternoon, what
will you be tonight?
MARY: Stares at him defiantly now. Come to think of it, I do have to drive uptown. There's
something I must get at the drugstore.
TYRONE: Bitterly scornful. Leave it to you to have some of the stuff hidden and
prescriptions for more! I hope you'll lay in a good stock ahead so we'll never have another
night like the one when you screamed for it, and ran out of the house in your nightdress
half crazy, to try and throw yourself off the dock!
MARY: Tries to ignore this. I have to get tooth powder and toilet soap and cold cream —
She breaks down pitiably. James! You mustn't remember! You mustn't humiliate me so!
TYRONE: Ashamed. I'm sorry. Forgive me, Mary!
MARY: Defensively detached again. It doesn't matter. Nothing like that ever happened.
You must have dreamed it.
He stares at her hopelessly. Her voice seems to drift farther and farther away. I was so
healthy before Edmund was born. You remember, James. There wasn't a nerve in my
body. Even traveling with you season after season, with week after week of one-night
stands, in trains without Pullmans, in dirty rooms of filthy hotels, eating bad food, bearing
children in hotel rooms, I still kept healthy. But bearing Edmund was the last straw. I was
so sick afterwards, and that ignorant quack of a cheap hotel doctor— All he knew was I
was in pain. It was easy for him to stop the pain.
TYRONE: Mary! For God's sake, forget the past!
MARY: With strange objective calm. Why? How can I? The past is the present, isn't it? It's
the future, too. We all try to lie out of that but life won't let us. Going on. I blame only
myself. I swore after Eugene died I would never have another baby. I was to blame for his
death. If I hadn't left him with my mother to join you on the road, because you wrote
telling me you missed me and were so lonely, Jamie would never have been allowed,
when he still had measles, to go in the baby's room.
Her face hardening. I've always believed Jamie did it on purpose. He was jealous of the
baby. He hated him. As Tyrone starts to protest. Oh, I know Jamie was only seven, but he
was never stupid. He'd been warned it might kill the baby. He knew. I've never been able
to forgive him for that.
TYRONE: With bitter sadness. Are you back with Eugene now? Can't you let our dead baby
rest in peace?
MARY: AS if she hadn 't heard him. It was my fault. I should have insisted on staying with
Eugene and not have let you persuade me to join you, just because I loved you. Above all,
I shouldn't have let you insist I have another baby to take Eugene's place, because you
thought that would make me forget his death. I knew from experience then that children
should have homes to be born in, if they are to be good children, and women need homes,
if they are to be good mothers. I was afraid all the time I carried Edmund. I knew
something terrible would happen. I knew I'd proved by the way I'd left Eugene that I
wasn't worthy to have another baby, and that God would punish me if I did. I never should
have borne Edmund.
TYRONE: With an uneasy glance through the front parlor. Mary! Be careful with your talk.
If he heard you he might think you never wanted him. He's feeling bad enough already
without —
MARY: Violently. It's a lie! I did want him! More than anything in the world! You don't
understand! I meant, for his sake. He has never been happy. He never will be. Nor healthy.
He was born nervous and too sensitive, and that's my fault. And now, ever since he's been
sick I've kept remembering Eugene and my father and I've been so frightened and guilty
— Then catching herself, with an instant change to stubborn denial. Oh, I know it's
foolish to imagine dreadful things when there's no reason for it. After all, everyone has
colds and gets over them.
Post-Readmg Exercises
1. Describe the different ways in which Mary reacts to Tyrone's accusation that she has
started taking morphine again.
2.What is Tyrone's attitude to his wife?
3.Are we given any indication of where the playwright's sympathies lie as
regards his characters' predicaments?
4.What, in Mary's view, is the connection between Eugene's death and Edmund now
having consumption? Do you think she is being rational?
5.Has Mary told Tyrone these things before? How do you know?
6.Imagine you were watching this scene in a theatre.What effect do you think it would
have on you?
Act Three
Mary Tyrone is talking with the Irish servant Cathleen about Mr. Tyrone.
MARY: If you think Mr. Tyrone is handsome now, Cathleen, you should have seen him
when I first met him. He had the reputation of being one of the best looking men in the
country. The girls in the Convent who had seen him act, or seen his photographs, used to
rave about him. He was a great matinee idol then, you know. Women used to wait at the
stage door just to see him come out. You can imagine how excited I was when my father
wrote me he and James Tyrone had become friends, and that I was to meet him when I
came home for Easter vacation. [...]
Coquettishly. I guess my eyes and nose couldn't have been red, after all. I was really very
pretty then, Cathleen. And he was the handsomer than my wildest dream, in his make-up
and his nobleman's costume that was so becoming to him. He was different from all
ordinary men, like someone from another world. At the same time he was simple, and
kind, and unassuming, not a bit stuck-up or vain. I fell in love right then. So did he, he told
me afterwards. I forgot all about becoming a nun or a concert pianist. All I wanted was to
be his wife.
Post-Reading Exercises
1.What was James Tyrone like when Mary met him?
2.Contrast the young Mary and the young James, as depicted in this extract,
with the Mary and James of later years (depicted in the first extract).
Self Assessing Test:
Mark the following statements as true or false:
1. O’Neill revolted against Catholicism because his parents’different views on the matter
and as a result of his reading the works of Romantic writers.
2. Strindberg gave him the vision of modern drama.
3. O’Neill conformed to accepted dramatic methods and conventions. Theatre was meant
to entertain, not to communicate convictions, thoughts anf feelings about the human
4. O’Neill’s inovation lies in his mechanical inventiveness, daring subjects and the
avoidance of the vernacular language.
5. The source of tragedy are the inherited, biological and historical forces that lead humans
to destruction.
Correct answers:
1. True; 2. True; 3. False; 4. False; 5. True.
Obiectivele învăţării:
- studenţii vor fi capabili să încadreze proza lui Lessing în contextul socio-politic şi
cultural al vremii;
- vor putea să ofere comentarii originale şi pertinente din punctul de vedere al ideilor
exprimate şi al stilului scriiturii.
Timpul mediu de studiu: 4 ore.
3.1. Doris Lessing’s Life.
3.2. Doris Lessing’s Works.
3.3. A Woman on a Roof.
3.1. Doris Lessing’s Life. Doris Lessing was born Doris May Taylor in Persia (now Iran)
on October 22, 1919 to British parents. Her father had been crippled during the First World
War and worked as a clerk in the Imperial Bank of Persia. Her mother had been a nurse
before the birth of her children. In 1925 the family moved to the British colony of Southern
Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) with the idea of taking up maize farming
fortune. Lessing's mother, a somewhat severe woman, soon adapted to the harsh conditions in
the settlement and did her best to recreate a 'civilized' Edwardian life among the 'savages'.
Lessing's father found the adjustment more difficult and as a result did not make a great
success of the thousand acres of bush he bought. Lessing has described her childhood as ‘an
uneven mix of some pleasure and much pain'. She managed to find some relief from an
otherwise miserable existence, however, by exploring the natural world with her brother
Harry. Her mother, who enforced a rigid system of rules and hygiene, sent the young Doris to
a convent school where the nuns terrified their charges with stories of hell and damnation.
Later she was sent to an equally rigid all-girls school in the capital Salisbury (now Harare).
She soon dropped out and her formal education came to an end when she was only thirteen.
However, Lessing managed to turn herself into a self-educated intellectual. Parcels of books
which arrived from London fed her imagination, and her early reading included Dickens,
Scott, Stevenson and Kipling. Later still she discovered Lawrence, Stendhal, Tolstoy and
Dostoevsky. Other input came from her mother's bedtime stories and her father's bitter
memories of the war. When she was fifteen, the pressure of living with her mother became
too great and she left home to find work as a nursemaid. Her employer fed her passion for
learning by giving her books on politics and sociology to read, while his young brother-inlaw attempted to give her lessons of a different kind. Creeping into her bed at night, he would
give her 'inept kisses' and his reserve left Lessing in what she has described as 'a fever
of erotic longing'. Frustrated by her backward lover, she indulged in romantic fantasies and
wrote stories, two of which she sold to magazines in South Africa. In 1937 she moved to
Salisbury where she worked as a telephone operator for a year. At 19 she met and married
Frank Wisdom by whom she had two children. In spite of herself, she was unable to escape
from the biological and cultural imperatives that forced both marriage and motherhood
upon her. Writing of her mother's era, she has commented: 'There is a whole generation of
women... and it was as if their lives came to a stop when they had children. Most of them got
pretty neurotic - because, I think, of the contrast between what they were taught at school
they were capable of being and what actually happened to them.'
A few years after her marriage to Wisdom, she herself began to feel trapped in the role of
wife and mother. Fearing that this adopted persona would eventually suffocate her, she left
her family, but remained in Salisbury. Soon she was drawn to the members of the
Communist Left Book Club, with whom she felt an affinity. She met her second husband,
Gottfried Lessing, a central member of the group, soon after she joined. They married and
had a son. During the post-war years, Lessing, like many writers, became disillusioned with
the Communist movement, which she abandoned altogether in 1954.
In 1949 she moved to London with her son and her first novel The Grass is Singing was
published in the same year. This point marked the beginning of her career as a professional
3.2. Doris Lessing’s Works. Lessing's fiction is often deeply autobiographical and draws
upon her personal experiences. Her childhood memories of Africa, her involvement with
politics and her serious social concerns are all woven into her novels, as is her interest in
psychology. She focuses particularly on the fragmentary and opposing elements that can
exist in one individual's personality, as well as the conflict between the individual conscience
and the collective good.
She has written openly about the injustice of racial inequality and in 1956 she was declared
a prohibited alien both in Southern Rhodesia and South Africa for her courageous
outspokenness. Her stories and novellas of the 1950s and early 1960s, which are set in
Africa, frequently expose the sterility of white culture in southern Africa and speak out
against the dispossession of the black Africans. She has also been praised by feminists for her
radical presentations of the female viewpoint, which at times have shocked her reading
Her interest in psychology is apparent in the sequence of novels known as Children of
Violence, four of which are set in Rhodesia before independence and which follow the life of
Martha Quest (the title of the first novel, published in 1952). At the start of Martha Quest we
learn that Martha is 'adolescent, and therefore bound to be unhappy; British, and therefore
uneasy and defensive; in the fourth decade of the twentieth century, and therefore
inescapably beset with problems of race and class; female, and obliged to repudiate the
shackled women of the past.' Perhaps the most disturbing element of the novels is that as
Martha grows up, her problems change but do not go away. These problems - of a sexual,
psychological and political nature - are recorded in merciless detail but are never resolved.
The reason for this is that the typical Lessing female cherishes her resentments and tries to
preserve her sense of herself at all costs, even at the cost of suffering. It often seems that the
female protagonists have a curious kind of dependence on their problems and their
inevitability and that they are almost defined by them.
By the time Martha is ready to leave Africa in Landlocked (1965) she is older and more
experienced, but in many ways no more mature. Lessing is very honest about her characters nothing deepens them - and they are at their truest when they are at their most shallow. It is
the frightening shallowness and banality of nervous breakdown that Lessing manages to
An even closer examination of the disintegration of the self is given in Lessing's most
famous novel, The Golden notebook (1962). The work is a daring narrative experiment in
which the multiple selves of her heroine, Anna Wulf, are rendered in astonishing depth and
detail. The first inset in the novel is a narrative called 'Free Women' in which Anna and her
friend Molly are in a London flat in 1957. The narrative offers us the following definition: the
women lead 'what is known as free lives, that is lives like men.' This intermittent narrative
acts as a framework for four huge sections which are devoted to Anna's notebooks of the
1950s. The black notebook deals with Anna's experience in Africa, from which she has drawn
the material for her only novel; the red notebook deals with politics and Anna's
disillusionment with the Communist myth; the blue notebook is a record of her relations with
men and of sessions with her analyst, and the yellow notebook is used for making up stories,
mostly drafts of a novel, in which the protagonist 'Ella' re-enacts a large part of Anna's
In all this, the idea of what it really means to be a free woman is thoroughly explored. The
freedom of choice that paralyses her as a writer, the freedom allowed by the impersonal state
of the world, and the ironical freedom of a woman who is condemned to act at random to find
out what her actions mean. ‘Free woman' implies a fragmentary self, here made up of
Marxism, literary ambition, sexuality, maternal feelings and relationships with other women.
The notebooks are an attempt to keep control of this chaotic fragmentation but they reach a
dead end of confusion and frustration.
Attacked as being unfeminine in her depiction of female anger and aggression, Lessing
responded, 'Apparently what many women were thinking, feeling, experiencing came as a
great surprise.'
In The Four-Gated City (1969) however, the fragmented self or 'schizophrenia' is no longer
an understandable reaction to the multiple and conflicting roles women are forced to play and
the rules they are forced to obey, but rather it is seen as a higher capacity of the female mind;
a capacity which has been suppressed by a ruthless psychiatric power. This novel launches a
much harsher attack on the psychiatric establishment than The Golden notebook. Its
protagonist, Lynda Coldridge, is a telepathic who has been diagnosed as schizophrenic. She is
given insulin treatment, electric shock treatment, and is shut up in an institution until she is
psychologically crippled and nearly destroyed by her doctors. Lessing suggests that what the
psychiatrists call 'schizophrenia' is a form of extrasensory perception, a gift that can be
cultivated or suppressed.
In the 1970s and 80s Lessing began to explore more fully the quasi mystical insight Anna
Wulf seems to reach by the end of The Golden notebook. Her 'inner-space fiction' deals with
cosmic fantasies (Briefing for a Descent into hell, 1971), dreamscapes and other dimensions
(Memoirs of a Survivor, 1974) and science fiction (Canopus in Argos: Archives 1979-1983).
These reflect Lessing's interest, dating back to the 1960s, in the work of the Afghan
philosopher and writer, Idries Shah (1924-96), whose writings on Sufi mysticism stress the
evolution of consciousness and the belief that individual liberation can come about only if
people understand the link between their own fates and the fate of society. In June 1995
Lessing received an Honorary Degree from Harvard University and in the same year she
returned to South Africa to visit her daughter and grandchildren and to promote her
autobiography. It was her first visit since she was banned from that country in 1956 for her
political views. Ironically, she is now welcomed as a writer acclaimed for the very topics for
which she was banished forty years ago.
3.3. A Woman on a Roof
This excerpt is the end of a story that portrays three men at work on a roof. Harry is
the eldest of the three and is also the most mature. Stanley is a young man who has recently
been married and Tom is a young boy. The story is set during a particularly hot week in
June. Every day the men come to work and they notice an attractive woman lying almost
naked in the sun on a roof a little way away. Stanley and Tom whistle and shout at her,
thinking that her near nudity is an open invitation for such behaviour. The more sober Harry
is embarrassed by his companions. The woman takes no notice of them, a fact which seems
to infuriate Stanley. As the days go by, the men observe the woman on the roof. Young Tom
soon falls in love with her and dreams at night that she invites him to her flat and takes him
to bed. Stanley becomes increasingly angry with the woman. He feels insulted by her
apparent indifference to him. Some days the woman conceals herself on another part of the
roof that is hidden from their view, and this seems to make Stanley even more angry, as
though she has in some way tricked him. At last, the extreme heat and Stanley's growing
anger bring matters to a crisis.
Pre-Reading Exercises
1.Why do you think the men whistle at the woman?
2.Why do you think she takes no notice of them? What
message does her indifference give?
They had to wrench another length of guttering that ran beside a parapet out of its bed, so that they
could replace it. Stanley took it in his two hands, tugged, swore, stood up. 'Fuck it,' he said, and sat
down under a chimney. He lit a cigarette. 'Fuck them,' he said. 'What do they think we are, lizards?
I've got blisters all over my hands.' Then he jumped up and climbed over the roofs and stood with
his back to them. He put his fingers either side of his mouth and let out a shrill whistle. Tom and
Harry squatted, not looking at each other, watching him. They could just see the woman's head, the
beginnings of her brown shoulders. Stanley whistled again. Then he began stamping with his feet,
and whistled and yelled and screamed at the woman, his face getting scarlet. He seemed quite mad
as he stamped and whistled, while the woman did not move, she did not move a muscle. 'Barmy,'
said Tom. 'Yes,' said Harry, disapproving. Suddenly the older man came to a decision. It was, Tom
knew, to save some sort of scandal or real trouble over the woman. Harry stood up and began
packing tools into a length of oily cloth. 'Stanley,' he said, commanding. At first Stanley took no
notice, but Harry said: 'Stanley, we're packing it in, I'll tell Matthew.' Stanley came back, cheeks
mottled, eyes glaring.
'Can't go on like this,' said Harry. 'It'll break in a day or so. I'm going to tell Matthew we've got
sunstroke, and if he doesn't like it, it's too bad.' Even Harry sounded aggrieved, Tom noted. The
small, competent man, the family man with his grey hair, who was never at a loss, sounded really
off balance. 'Come on,' he said, angry. He fitted himself into the open square in the roof, and went
down, watching his feet on the ladder. Then Stanley went, with not a glance at the woman. Then
Tom who, his throat beating with excitement, silently promised her in a backward glance: Wait for
me, wait, I'm coming. On the pavement Stanley said: 'I'm going home.' He looked white now, so
perhaps he really did have sunstroke. Harry went off to find the foreman who was at work on the
plumbing of some flats down the street. Tom slipped back, not into the building they had been
working on, but the building on whose roof the woman lay. He went straight up, no one stopping
him. The skylight stood open, with an iron ladder leading up. He emerged onto the roof a couple of
yards from her. She sat up, pushing back her black hair with both hands. The scarf across her
breasts bound them tight, and brown flesh bulged around it. Her legs were brown and smooth. She
stared at him in silence. The boy stood grinning, foolish, claiming the tenderness he expected from
'What do you want?' she asked.
'I... I came to... make your acquaintance,' he stammered, grinning, pleading with her. They
looked at each other, the slight, scarlet-faced excited boy, and the serious, nearly naked woman.
Then, without a word, she lay down on her brown blanket, ignoring him.
'You like the sun, do you?' he enquired of her glistening back.
Not a word. He felt panic, thinking of how she had held him in her arms, stroked his hair, brought
him where he sat, lordly, in her bed, a glass of some exhilarating liquor he had never tasted in life.
He felt he knelt down, stroked her shoulders, her hair, she would turn and clasp him in her arms.
He said: 'The sun's all right for you, isn't it?'
She raised her head, set her chin on two small fists. 'Go away,’ she said. He did not move.
'Listen,' she said, in a slow reasonable voice, where anger was kept in check, though with
difficulty; looking at him, her face weary with anger: 'If you get a kick out of seeing women in
bikinis, why don't you take a sixpenny bus ride to the Lido? You'd see dozens of them, without all
this mountaineering.’
She hadn't understood him. He felt her unfairness pale him. He stammered: 'But I like you, I've
been watching you and…
'Thanks,' she said, and dropped her face again, turned away from him. She lay there. He stood
there. She said nothing. She had simply shut him out. He stood, saying nothing at all, for some
minutes. He thought: she'll have to say something if I stay. But
the minutes went past, with no
sign of them in her, except in the tension of her back, her thighs, her arms - the tension of waiting
for him to go. He look at the sky, where the sun seemed to spin in heat; and over the roofs where he
and his mates had been earlier. He could see the heat quavering where they had worked 'And they
expect us to work in these conditions!' he thought, filled with righteous indignation. The woman
hadn't moved. A bit of hot wind blew her black hair softly, it shone and was iridescent. He
remembered how he had stroked it last night. Resentment of her at last moved him off and away
down the ladder, through the building, into the street. He got drunk then, in hatred of her.
Post-Reading Exercises
1.Why do you think Stanley screams and yells at the woman?
2.Why does Harry decide to leave the roof?
3.Why does Tom expect tenderness from the woman?
4.How does the woman react to Tom's appearance on the roof?
5.Why do you think the woman's face is 'weary with anger'?
6.In the end both Stanley and Tom are offended by the woman's indifference. Why should
this be so offensive to them? Does their reaction illustrate Lessing's feminist message?
Self Assessing Test:
Mark the next statements as true or false:
1. Lessing writes autobiographical fiction, drawing attention on her personal experiences:
childhood memories of Africa, involvement with politics and serious social concern, her
interest in psychology.
2. There are no opposing and fragmentary elements existing in one individual’s personality,
no conflict between individual conscience and collective good.
3. Lessing’s female characters cherish their resentments, trying to preserve their sense of
themselves at all costs; they become defined by their problems.
4. In A Woman on a Roof indifference becomes a symbol, interpreted in opposite ways.
5. The male characters of the story reflect psychological archetypes in point of perspectives
on life, reality and human relationships.
6. Male characters’ reactions don’t imply Lessing’s feminist view.
Correct answers:
1. True; 2. False; 3. True; 4. True; 5. True; 6. False.
GERTRUDE STEIN (1874-1946)
Obiectivele învăţării:
- studenţii vor fi capabili să încadreze proza lui Stein în contextul socio-politic şi cultural
al vremii;
- vor putea să ofere comentarii originale şi pertinente din punctul de vedere al ideilor
exprimate şi al stilului scriiturii.
Timpul mediu de studiu: 5 ore.
4.1. Stein’s Life.
4.2. Stein’s Works.
4.3. Three Lives (1909)
4.1. Stein’s Life. Poet, novelist and literary critic, Gertrude Stein was born in Pittsburgh,
Pennsylvania. Her father, a German-jewish immigrant, returned to Europe with his famiiy
when Gertrude was a baby. The family lived mainly in Vienna and Paris. Consequently,
Stein spent her early childhood speaking as much German and French as English. The
family later returned to the US, settling in Oakland, California. Stein spent her some of her
childhood and all of her adolescence there. Stein lost both her parents before the age of
twenty. Her father had died a wealthy man, however, leaving Gertrude, along with her
brothers and sisters, well provided for.
Her brother Leo, who was two years older than Gertrude, decided to go East, where he
attended Harvard University in Boston. Gertrude followed, studying psychology at Radcliffe
College for Women, which was at that time affiliated to Harvard. She was a brilliant student,
attracting the attention of Harvard's most famous philosopher and psychologist, William
James, the brother of the novelist Henry James. Under William James, Stein studied aspects
of perception and consciousness.
Stein was particularly interested in the workings of the human brain. Later she began to
research the subject, publishing a number of scientific papers. After Radcliffe she enrolled in
the leading medical school of the time, the John Hopkins Medical School in Baltimore.
There she continued to research the human mental process. Before gaining her final degree
she left for Paris, settling there in 1903. There she wrote, befriended painters like Picasso
and became a member of the artistic and literary circles on the Left Bank. Apart from one
trip to the States in1934 she remained in Paris until her death in 1946.
4.2. Stein’s Works. In 1905, Stein began her first book, which consisted of three stories
outlining the lives of three simple, uneducated woman. The stories concentrated almost
exclusively on the mental processes of these women. Stein developed a writing style to
express the slow, incremental repetitions that she believed best represented the way they
thought. In part it is an example of primitivistic writing, a style which was in many ways too
innovative to be readily accepted by the public.
Publishers too rejected her book. Stein
finally paid for its publication out of her own money, in 1909, under the title Three Lives. It is
considered by many critics to be her finest work. Despite the public's incomprehension, Stein
confidently went ahead with book after book in which she developed her repetitive,
incremental style. She published half a dozen works of fiction, several plays and numerous
essays. In 1925 The Making of Americans was finally published, twenty years after it was
written. Of her later works, the best known are: "Yes" is for Yes for a Very Young Mart (1946)
and Four in America (1947).
4.3. Three Lives (1909)
One of the three lives is that of Melanctha Herbert, an intelligent black girl in the
Southern states of the US. A beautiful girl, Melanctha is in reality part white and part black.
She comes from a simple family and has a limited education. She lives alone with her
mother. Her father is a tough, brutal, uneducated man, who only occasionally visits them.
Pre-Reading Questions
The extract below describes Melanctha, between the age of twelve and sixteen. In what
ways do young men and women change when they reach adolescence? What things do they
Melanctha now really was beginning as a woman. She was ready, and she began to search
in the streets and in dark corners to discover men and to learn their natures and their various
ways of working.
In these next years Melanctha learned many ways that lead to wisdom. She learned the
ways, and dimly in the distance she saw wisdom. These years of learning led very straight
to trouble for Melanctha, though in these years Melanctha never did or meant anything that
was really wrong. Girls who are brought up with care and watching can always find
moments to escape into the world, where they may learn the ways that lead to wisdom. For
a girl raised like Melanctha Herbert, such escape was always very simple. Often she was
alone, sometimes she was with a fellow seeker, and she strayed: and stood, sometimes by
railroad yards, sometimes on the docks or around new buildings where many men were
working. Then when the darkness covered everything all over, she would begin to learn to
know this man or that. She would advance, they would respond, and then she would
withdraw a little, dimly, and always she did not know what it was that really held her.
Sometimes she would almost go over, and then the strength in her of not really knowing,
would stop the average man in his endeavor. It was a strange experience of ignorance and
power and desire. Melanctha did not know what it was that she so badly wanted. She was
afraid, and yet she did not understand that here she really was a coward. Boys had never
meant much to Melanctha. They had always been too young to content her.Melanctha had a strong
respect for any kind of successful power. It was this that always kept Melanctha nearer, in her
feeling toward her virile and unendurable black father, than she ever was in her feeling for her pale
yellow, sweet-appearing mother. The things she had in her of her mother, never made her feel
In these young days, it was only men that for Melanctha hold anything there was of knowledge and
power. It was not from men however that Melanctha learned to really understand this power. From
the time that Melanctha was twelve until she was sixteen she wandered, always seeking but never
more than very dimly seeing wisdom. AII this time Melanctha went on with her school learning; she
went to school rather longer than do most of the colored children. Melanctha's wanderings after
wisdom she always had to do in secret and by snatches, for her mother was then still living and 'Mis'
Herbert always did some watching, and Melanctha with all her hard courage dreaded that there
should be much telling to her father, who came now quite often to where Melanctha lived with her
In these days Melanctha talked and stood and walked with many kinds of men, but she did not
learn to know any of them very deeply. They all supposed her to have world knowledge and
experience. They, believing that she knew all, told her nothing, and thinking that she was deciding
with them, asked for nothing, and so though Melanctha wandered widely, she was really very safe
with all the wandering. It was a very wonderful experience this safety of Melanctha in these days of
her attempted learning. Melanctha herself did not feel the wonder, she only knew that for her it all
had no real value.Melanctha all her life was very keen in her sense for real experience. She knew she
was not getting what she so badly wanted, but with all her break neck courage Melanctha here was a
coward, and so she could not learn to really understand.
Melanctha liked to wander, and to stand by the rail-road yard, and watch the men and the engines
and the switches and everything that was busy there, working. Railroad yards are a ceaseless
fascination. They satisfy every kind of nature. For the lazy man whose blood flows very slowly, it is
a steady soothing world of motion which supplies him with the sense of a strong moving power. He
need not work and yet he has it very deeply; he has it even better than the man who works in it or
owns it. Then for natures that like to feel emotion without the trouble of having any suffering, it is
very nice to get the swelling in the throat, and the fullness, and the heart beats, and all the flutter of
excitement that comes as one watches the people come and go, and hears the engine pound and give
a long drawn whistle. For a child watching through a hole in the fence above the yard, it is a wonder
world of mystery and movement. The child loves all the noise, and then it loves the silence of the
wind that comes before the full rush of the pounding train, that bursts out from the tunnel where it
lost itself and all its noise in darkness, and the child loves all the smoke, that sometimes comes in
rings, and always puffs with fire and blue color.
For Melanctha the yard was full of the excitement of many men, and perhaps a free and whirling
future. Melanctha came here very often and watched the men and all the things that were so busy
working. The men always had time for, "Hullo sis", do you want to sit on my engine?" and, "Hullo,
that's a pretty lookin' yaller girl, do you want to come and see him cookin'?" All the colored porters
liked Melanctha. They often told her exciting things that had happened; how in the West they went
through big tunnels where there was no air to breathe, and then out and winding around edges of
great canyons on thin high spindling trestles, and sometimes cars, and sometimes whole trains fell
from the narrow bridges, and always up from the dark places death and all kinds of queer devils
looked up and laughed in their faces. And then they would tell how sometimes when the train went
pounding down steep slippery mountains, great rocks would racket and roll down around them, and
sometimes would smash in the car and kill men; and as the porters told these stories their round,
black, shining faces would grow solemn, and their color would go grey beneath the greasy black,
and their eyes would roll white in the fear and wonder of the things they could scare themselves by
telling. There was one, big, serious, melancholy, light brown porter who often told Melanctha
stories, for he liked the way she had of listening with intelligence and sympathetic feeling, when he
told how the white men in the far South tried to kill him because he made one of them who was
drunk and called him a damned nigger, and who refused to pay money for his chair to a nigger, get
off the train between stations. And then this porter had to give up going to that part of the Southern
country, for all the white men swore that if he ever came there again they would surely kill him.
Melanctha liked this serious, melancholy light brown negro very well, and all her life Melanctha
wanted and respected gentleness and goodness, and this man always gave her good advice and
serious kindness, and Melanctha felt such things very deeply, but she could never let them help her
or affect her to change the ways that always made her keep herself in trouble.
Melanctha spent many of the last hours of the day light with the porters and with other men who
worked hard, but when darkness came it was always different. Then Melanctha would find herself
with the, for her, gentlemanly classes. A clerk, or a young express agent would begin to know her,
and they would stand, or perhaps, walk a little while together. Melanctha always made herself
escape but often it was with an effort. She did not know what it was that she so badly wanted, but
with all her courage Melanctha here was a coward, and so she could not learn to understand.
Melanctha and some man would stand in the evening and would talk together. Sometimes Melanctha
would be with another girl and then it was much easier to stay or to escape, for then they could make
way for themselves together, and by throwing words and laughter to each other, could keep a man
from getting too strong in his attention. But when Melanctha was alone, and she was so, very often,
she would sometimes come very near to making a long step on the road that leads to wisdom. Some
man would learn a good deal about her in the talk, never altogether truly, for Melanctha all her life
did not know how to tell a story wholly. She always, and yet not with intention, managed to leave
out big pieces which make a story very different, for when it came to what had happened and what
she had said and what it was that she had really done, Melanctha never could remember right. The
man would sometimes come a little nearer, would detain her, would hold her arm or make his jokes
a little clearer, and then Melanctha would always make herself escape. The man thinking that she
really had world wisdom would not make his meaning clear, and believing that she was deciding
with him he never went so fast that he could stop her when at last she made herself escape. And so
Melanctha wandered on the edge of wisdom. "Say, Sis, why don't you when you come here stay a
little longer?" they would all ask her, and they would hold her for an answer, and she would laugh,
and sometimes she did stay longer, but always just in time she made herself escape. Melanctha
Herbert wanted very much to know and yet she feared the knowledge. As she grew older she often
stayed a good deal longer, and sometimes it was almost a balanced struggle, but she always made
herself escape. Next to the railroad yard it was the shipping docks that Melanctha loved best when
she wandered. Often she was alone, sometimes she was with some better kind of black girl, and she
would stand a long time and watch the men working at unload-ing, and see the steamers do their
coaling, and she would listen with full feeling to the yowling of the free swinging negroes, as they
ran, with their powerful loose jointed bodies and their child-ish savage yelling, pushing, carrying,
pulling great loads from the ships to the warehouses. The men would call out, "Say, Sis, look out or
we'll come and catch yer," or "Hi, there, you yaller girl, come here and we'll take ou saillin'." And
then, too, Melanctha would learn to know some of the serious foreign sailors who told her all sorts
of wonders, and a cook would sometimes take her and her friends over a ship and show where he
made his messes and where the men slept, and where the shops were, and how everything was made
by themselves, right there, on ship board.
Melanctha loved to see these dark and smelly places. She always loved to watch and talk and listen
with men who worked hard. But it was never from these rougher people that Melanctha tried to
learn the ways that lead to wisdom. In the daylight she always liked to talk with rough men and to
listen to their lives and about their work and their various ways of doing, but when the darkness
covered everything all over, Melanctha would meet, and stand, and talk with a clerk or a young
shipping agent who had seen her watching, and so it was that she would try to learn to understand.
And then Melanctha was fond of watching men work on new buildings. She loved to see them
hoisting, digging, sawing and stone cutting. Here, too, in the daylight, she always learned to know
the common workmen. "Heh, Sis, look out or that rock will fall on you and smash you all up into
little pieces. Do you think you would make a nice jelly?" And then they would all laugh and feel
that their jokes were very funny. And "Say, you pretty yaller girl, would it scare you bad to stand up
here on top where I be? See if you've got grit and come up here where I can hold you. All you got to
do is to sit still on that there rock that they're just hoistin', and then when you get here I’II hold you
tight, don't you be scared, Sis." Sometimes Melanctha would do some of these things that had much
danger, and always with such men, she showed her power and her break neck courage. Once she
slipped and fell from a high place. A workman caught her and so she was not killed, but her left arm
was badly broken. All the men crowded around her. They admired her boldness in doing and in
bearing pain when her arm was broken. They all went along with her with great respect to the
doctor, and then they took her home in triumph and all of them were bragging about her not
squealing. James Herbert was home where his wife lived, that day. He was furious when he saw the
workmen and Melanctha. He drove the men away with curses so that they were all very nearly
fighting, and he would not let a doctor come in to attend Melanctha.
"Why don't you see to that girl better, you, you're her mother."James Herbert did not fight things
out now any more with his daughter. He feared her tongue, and her school learning, and the way
she had of saying things that were very nasty to a brutal black man who knew nothing. And
Melanctha just then hated
him very badly in her suffering. And so this was the way Melanctha
lived the four years of her beginning as a woman. And many things happened to Melanctha,
but she knew very well that none of them had led her on to the right way, that certain way
that was to lead her to world wisdom.
Post-Reading Exercises
1. Where did Melanctha begin to discover men?
2.What kind of men did she meet at first?
3.What do "wisdom" and "wandering" mean in this story?
4.What do you think is meant by the phrase, her strength "would stop the average man in
his endeavour"?
5.Underline words/phrases in the text that describe Melanctha's differing views of men
and boys.
6.How did the men she knew during the day differ to those she knew at night?
7.Melanctha loved to visit the docks. Underline the adjectives that the author uses to
describe the young negro boys working there.What impression of the boys do you
8.Why did Melanctha's father not like to confront his daughter and the way she behaved?
9.Several times the author calls Melanctha a coward.What do you think the author means
by this?
Self Assessing Test:
Decide whether the following statements are true or false:
1. G. Stein studied aspects of perception and consciousness with Harvard’s most
famous philosopher and psychologist, William Jones, Henry James’ brother.
2. Beginning with Three Lives Stein developed a writing style to express the slow,
incremental repetitions that she believed best represented the way they thought.
3. Stein considered that one cannot learn the ways to wisdom by escaping into the
world, far from strict watching.
4. Melanctha experiences a combination of ignorance, power and desire.
5. Wisdom and wandering symbolize Melanctha’s growing-up process, the stages she is
going through from childhood and adolescence to adulthood.
Correct answers:
1. True; 2. True; 3. False; 4. True; 5. True.
Obiectivele învăţării:
- studenţii vor fi capabili să încadreze proza lui Hemingway în contextul socio-politic
şi cultural al vremii;
- vor putea să ofere comentarii originale şi pertinente din punctul de vedere al ideilor
exprimate şi al stilului scriiturii.
Timpul mediu de studiu: 5 ore.
5.1. E. Hemingway’s Life.
5.2. E. Hemingway’s Works.
5.3. The Hanging of Sam Cardinella.
5.1. E. Hemingway’s Life. Ernest Hemingway was born, the second of six children, on
21 July, 1899, in Oak Park, Illinois, an upper middle-class suburb of Chicago. His mother
was a music teacher, who had wanted to become an opera singer, and his father a
successful doctor with a great passion for hunting and
fishing. The family spent their
summers in their cottage on Walloon Lake in northern Michigan; many of the events of
these summers are recorded in Hemingway's short stories.
After graduating from high school in 1917, Hemingway became a reporter for a newspaper,
the 'Kansas City Star'. He did not stay in the job long, however, because in April 1917,
America entered the war against Germany and Austria, and Hemingway, as soon as he
turned 18, went to enlist in the army. Deemed unfit for active service because of a bad left
eye, he joined the ambulance corps in Italy. On the very day he arrived in Milan, a
munitions factory blew up, and Hemingway was immediately put to work transporting
mutilated bodies and body parts to a makeshift morgue. On 9 July, 1918, while distributing
cigarettes and chocolate to Italian soldiers along the Piave River, Hemingway was severely
wounded by shrapnel. He was later awarded the Italian Silver Medal for Valour, with
the citation that read: "Bravely wounded by numerous pieces of shrapnel from an enemy
shell, with an admirable spirit of brotherhood, before taking care of himself, he rendered
generous assistance to the Italian soldiers more seriously wounded by the same explosion
and did not allow himself to be carried elsewhere until after they had been evacuated."
Hemingway himself later recalled the incident as follows: "There was one of those big
noises you sometimes hear at the front. I died then. I felt my soul or something coming right
out of my body, like you'd pull a silk handkerchief out of a pocket by one corner. It flew all
around and then came back and went in again and I wasn't dead any more."
After spending 6 months recovering in a Milan hospital, Hemingway returned home a
decorated hero of just 19 years of age. Finding it difficult to adjust to the Chicago suburbs
and feeling increasingly estranged from his family, especially his mother, the young
Hemingway was happy to take a job as a journalist with the Toronto Star, and in 1920
moved to Chicago. There he met and fell in love with Hadley Richardson. They were
married in September 1921 and the following December moved to Paris, where Hemingway
was a European correspondent for the Star. He was an active journalist, covering the
Geneva Conference in April 1922, the Greek-Turkish War in the October of that year and
the Lausanne Conference in the November, as well as writing on a variety of subjects
including lifestyle, fishing, bullfighting, social life in Europe and skiing.
When Hadley became pregnant the couple decided to return to America, so that their
child could be born there, but in 1924, after the arrival of their son, John Hadley Nicanor
Hemingway, the couple returned to Paris. The next five years proved to be Hemingway's
most productive and the ones in which he established his literary reputation and became a
In 1927 Hemingway married his second wife Pauline Pfeiffer (for whom he had left
Hadley) and the following year left Paris for his new home in Key West in Florida, where
he was to stay for almost 12 years. The year 1928 also brought the death, by suicide, of
Hemingway's father as a result of severe problems, financial, emotional and physical.
Even though Hemingway loved Key West, he continued to travel. In 1933, he and his
wife went on a big-game safari in Africa, and in March 1937 Hemingway went to Spain as a
correspondent to cover the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). When this ended, Hemingway
divorced his second wife and married Martha Gellhorn, whom he had met in Key West.
Together they moved to a large house outside Havana, Cuba. During the Second World
War, Hemingway went back to Europe, again as a war correspondent, afterwards returning
to his old wandering lifestyle and various active pursuits. In 1954, during a big-game hunt
in Uganda, he suffered severe multiple injuries in a plane crash. Although he eventually
recovered from these injuries and indeed continued writing, his health, particularly his
mental health, was severely compromised.
In 1953, Ernest Hemingway won the Pulitzer Prize for his short novei The Old Man and
the Sea, and in 1954 he won the Nobel Prize for literature. But the latter years of
Hemingway's life were marred by his failing memory and by increasing bouts of extreme
despair and paranoia. Finally in 1961, just two weeks before his 62nd birthday, he
committed suicide.
5.2. E.Hemingway’s Works. Ernest Hemingway, like Lord Byron, Mark Twain
and, in his time, F. Scott Fitzgerald, was not only a fine writer, but also a great celebrity. He
was keen to cultivate his public image, often referring to himself as 'Papa' and always ready
to display his knowledge of bullfighting, prize fighting, big-game hunting, fishing and other
quintes-sentially masculine pursuits. Even his writing style seems part and parcel of this
overall image. But behind this facade, Ernest Hemingway was a serious and sensitive writer
who recorded the fears, anguish, atrocities and general moral uncertainties of his time with
extreme accuracy and honesty. He achieved this by recording carefully his own direct
experiences. Hemingway's best stories and novels are those in which he records what he
really knows and what he has really felt; in Hemingway's view, to stray outside the realm of
his own experience was to falsify. While reminiscent of the Romantics, who sought to
record only the motions of their own souls, Hemingway was also very much within the
mainstream of American literature, in which writers from Emerson onwards have regarded
their own soul and its life in this world as the only things that really count.
Ernest Hemingway's distinctive style, telegraphic and characterised by short sentences
with hardly an adjective or adverb, owes much to his journalistic background. Indeed, while
at the Kansas City Star, he learned the rules of short sentences and paragraphs, active verbs,
authenticity, compression, clarity and immediacy. He himself commented, ‚Those were the
best rules I ever learned for the business of writing. I've never forgotten them.' However, the
style also reflects the various literary ideas and theories circulating in Paris at the time. In
short, writers were not supposed to comment on or analyse feelings (their own or those of
their characters), but simply to reveal them through well-chosen words and images,
avoiding all forms of rhetoric. In this, Hemingway's style indeed reflects an attitude shared
by many of his contemporaries: a rejection of all rhetoric in the wake of the debacle of the
First World War. The hero of his novel A Farewell to Arms, Frederick Henry spoke for a
whole generation of young men when he said:
I was always embarrassed by the words sacred, glorious and sacrificed and the
expression in vain. We had heard them sometimes standing in the rain almost out of
earshot, so that only the shouted words came through, and had read them, on proclamations
that were slapped up by billposters over other proclamations, now for a long time, and I
had seen nothing sacred, and the things that were glorious had no glory and the sacrifices
were like the stockyards at Chicago if nothing was done with the meat except to bury it.
There were many words you could not stand to hear and finally only the names of places
had dignity... Abstract words such as glory, honor, courage or hallow were obscene...
It can also be observed that Hemingway's writing style lends itself best to the short story
genre. Many critics have indeed remarked that his novels could easily be broken down into
single short stories, since there is no overall intellectual idea or reasoned structure that binds
them together.
Hemingway's themes and style emerge strikingly and beautifully in his first work to be
printed in America: In Our Time (1924) is a collection of semi-autobiographical short
stories about Hemingway's youth in the woods of northern Michigan, interspersed with
vignettes about war, criminals and bullfighting.
Three years later he published his first important novel, The Sun Also Rises (1926), which
firmly established his reputation, while also introducing the general public both to the Lost
Generation and to bullfighting.
Hemingway's next important work was another collection of short stories, Men Without
Women. (1927) It contains 'The Killers', a wonderful story made up almost entirely of
dialogue between two hired killers who are portrayed as a grotesque comic duo.
In 1929, Hemingway published A Farewell to Arms, a love story between an American
officer and his nurse, Catherine Barkley, who try to divorce themselves from the war
around them and make a 'separate peace'. This highly successful novel was based on
Hemingway's own experience in hospital in Milan, where he had had a love affair with a
nurse. This work was followed by another collection of short stories set in Europe, Winner
Take nothing (1933) and by his non-fiction accounts of bullfighting, Death in the Afternoon
(1932) and of big-game hunting, Green Hills of Africa (1935).
In the late 30s, Hemingway became increasingly interested in left-wing politics and To
Have and Have Not, the first of his political novels, appeared in 1937, followed not long
afterwards by the best-selling For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940), which dealt with the Spanish
Civil war. Although Hemingway continued to write, it was not until 1952, and the
publication of his short novel The Old Man and the Sea in the popular photographic weekly
'Life' that his work won wide acclaim.
5.3. The Hanging of Sam Cardinella
The following vignette, which constitutes a complete short story in miniature and is taken
from In Our Time (1924), illustrates well the main features of Hemingway's writing. The
prose is characteristically clipped, but its purpose is crystal clear. to record the things that
really count, that really strike the observer in a moment of intense emotion - in this case, the
hanging of a man named Sam Cardinella.
Pre-reading questions
1.What emotions would you expect to experience witnessing the death of a man by
2.What details do you imagine you would notice?
They hanged Sam Cardinella at six o'clock in the morning in the corridor of the county
jail. The corridor was high and narrow with tiers of cells on either side. All the cells were
occupied. The prisoners had been brought in for the hanging. Five men sentenced to be
hanged were in the top cells. Three of the men to be hanged were negroes. They were very
frightened. One of the white men sat on his cot with his head in his hands. The other lay
flat on his cot with a blanket wrapped around his head.
They came out on to the gallows' through a door in the wall. There were six or seven of
them including the two priests. They were carrying Sam Cardinella. He had been like that
since about four o'clock in the morning.
While they were strapping his legs together two guards held him up and the two priests
were whispering to him. 'Be a man, my son,' said one priest. When they came toward him
with the cap to go over his head Sam Cardinella lost control of his sphincter muscles. The
guards who had been holding him up dropped him. They were disgusted. 'How about a
chair, Will?' asked one of the guards. 'Better get one,' said a man in a derby hat.
When they all stepped back on the scaffolding back of the drop, which was heavy, built
of oak and steel and swung on ball bearings, Sam Cardinella was left sitting there strapped
tight with the rope around his neck, the younger of the two priests kneeling beside the chair
holding up a little crucifix. The priest skipped back on to the scaffolding just before the
drop fell.
Post-Reading Exercises
1.Do you think the narrator of this story experienced the emotions you might expect him
to experience? How can you tell?
2.The passage is a straightforward record of what happened when Sam Cardinella was
hung. Does the fact that the author makes no personal comment add to the impact of
the passage or detract from it?
Self-Assessing Test:
Mark the next statements as true or false:
1. Ernest Hemingway was a serious and sensitive writer who recorded the fears, anguish,
atrocities and general moral uncertainties of his time with extreme accuracy and honesty.
2. In Hemingway's view, to stray outside the realm of his own experience was to falsify.
One’s own soul and its life in this world are the only things that really count.
3.Ernest Hemingway's distinctive style, telegraphic and characterised by short sentences
with hardly an adjective or adverb, owes much to his journalistic background.
4. One of the literary ideas circulating in Paris at the time when the First World began was
that writers were supposed to comment on and analyse feelings (their own or those of
their characters); they shouldn’t simply reveal them through well-chosen words and
images, avoiding all forms of rhetoric.
Correct answers:
1. True; 2. True; 3. True; 4. False.
JOHN OSBORNE (1929-1994)
Obiectivele învăţării:
- studenţii vor fi capabili să încadreze dramaturgia lui Osborne în contextul sociopolitic şi cultural al vremii;
- vor putea să ofere comentarii originale şi pertinente din punctul de vedere al ideilor
exprimate şi al stilului scriiturii.
Timpul mediu de studiu: 5 ore.
6.1. J. Osborne’s Life.
6.2. J. Osborne’s Works.
6.3. Look Bach in Anger (1956)
6.4. The Entertainer.
6.1. J. Osborne’s Life. John Osborne was born in London in 1929, the son of an
advertizing copywriter. His father died in 1941, leaving the young Osborne an insurance
settlement which he used to finance a boarding school education at Belmont College in
Devon. The loss of his father had been a great blow, however, and he was unable to
concentrate on school, and went back to London to live briefly with his mother, a barmaid.
This was about the time when, taking a job tutoring a touring company of young actors,
he first became involved in the theatre. The theatre environment suited him very well, and
Osborne went on to serve as actor-manager for a string of repertory companies before
deciding to try his hand at writing a play. His third play, Look Back in Anger (1956), was
written in response to an advertisement in the theatre magazine, Stage, seeking new plays
on contemporary themes and particularly new plays by new writers. Osborne's play turned
out to be so new that it is considered by many to be a turning point in post-war British
theatre. Hitherto British theatre had consisted mainly of melodramas and drawing-room
comedies. His protagonist, Jimmy Porter, captured the angry and rebellious nature of a
generation that was clearly unhappy with things as they were in the decades following the
Second World War. The play became linked with a new wave of socially conscious
novelists, under the collective label of 'Angry Young Men'. Both critics and public were
soon convinced that post-war Britain had at last found a voice, albeit the abrasive voice of
Jimmy Porter.
Lawrence Olivier was so impressed with Look Back in Anger that he commissioned
Osborne to write a play for him. The result was The Entertainer (1957). In this play
Osborne continued to examine the state of the country, this time using three generations of
a family of entertainers to symbolize the decline of England after the war. The leading role,
that of the protagonist Archie Rice, is considered one of the greatest and most challenging
parts in late twentieth century drama. In 1957 it was played by Olivier himself and is
remembered as one of his most famous performances.
Although most critics agreed that The Entertainer was of the same high quality as Look
Back in Anger Osborne's subsequent output proved to be erratic. He produced a number of
hits including Luther (1961), a play about the leader of the Reformation, and Inadmissible
Evidence (1965), the study of a frustrated solicitor at a law firm; but he also produced a
string of unimportant works and some critics began to accuse him of not fulfilling his early
potential. Osborne's rage seemed no longer to affect his audiences and in recognition of
this he described himself in his last play as 'a churling, grating note, a spokesman for no
one but myself, with deadening effect, cruelly abusive, unable to be coherent about my
despair’. Several of Osborne's plays were also adapted for film including Look Back in
Anger and Entertainer. In 1963, he won an Academy Award for his screenplay for Tom
Jones. He died in 1994 as a result of complications from diabetes, leaving behind him a
large body of works, including 21 stage plays and two acclaimed volumes of
Iautobiography, A Better Class of Person (1981) and Almost a Gentleman (1991).
6.2. J. Osborne’s Works. Any examination of Osborne's work-especially with regard
to the impact that his play Look Back in Anger had on British theatre - must take into
account the social situation in which that play was written and the way in which it was
presented to the public. In 1955 a small group of people with widely differing backgrounds
and aims joined together to establish a new theatre in London. The aim of this theatre was
to encourage new English plays and contemporary ‘classics' from abroad. The group called
themselves the English Stage Company and negotiated the lease on a small Victorian
playhouse known as the Royal Court Theatre in Sloane Square. From that time on, the
company became known to its theatre-going public as the 'Royal Court' or simply the
Osborne's Look Back in Anger was one of the first plays to be performed at the Court. The
play had arrived along with 700 others in response to the advertisement placed in The
Stage, and the director of the Court, George Devine, responded immediately and
instinctively to the view of society and personal relationships presented in the work and to
its use of abrasive language. Theatrical impact and how that might be the vehicle for social,
moral and political commitments was Devine's main concern. Look Back in Anger was
perfectly suited to this ethos.
Its protagonist, Jimmy Porter, is an out-of-work actor who is forced to run a sweet stall to
make ends meet. He has come to the realization that the brave new society promised to his
generation and class in 1945 is mindlessly grinding to a halt and is angry and frustrated as
a result. In fact, in 1944 the Education Act had, for the first time, provided grants for a
limited number or working-class and lower-middle-class students at schools of acting.
These young actors, conscious of developments in post-war European cinema, and of
alternative kinds of theatre in England, felt that both they, and the theatre, were full of
potential. But it was a potential that no one seemed to want. The new society, which
everyone had been looking forward to in 1945, seemed, in 1956, just to be picking up the
threads of the thirties. Porter perfectly articulates what a small but growing section of
society really felt: a sense of complete uselessness and of exclusion from any position of
real power because of their inferior social class. This inferiority was perfectly underlined
by the shabby attic setting and drab atmosphere of the play.
Not only was Osborne giving voice to this discontented section of society, but the
dissident middle-class audience of the Court was eager to listen at the time. Although many
of Osborne's later plays were stronger, from a structural point of view, they never had the
same impact as Look Back in Anger. The mood of the audiences changed and they were no
longer as responsive to the anger Osborne proclaimed. Many critics have accused Osborne
of not living up to his early promise, but it is possible that it was, rather, his public who
were unable to sustain their enthusiasm.
The voice Osborne established with Jimmy Porter is to be found consistently throughout
his work, although it appears in different guises. His central characters are driven by
furious energy directed towards a void. In a world where there are no new brave causes
left, they try to discover a role, or to endure the one they have been born to play. But they
do so passionately and turbulently. His characters do not inhabit the elegant drawing-rooms
and country houses which are the settings for plays by writers such as Noel Coward and
Terrence Rattigan. Osborne, and other writers that were influenced by him, were looking at
the working class or the lower-middle class, struggling with their existence in bed sits or
terraces. This style of domestic realism, became known as 'kitchen sink' drama. All manner
of writers, actors, artists, and musicians (including The Beatles) soon reflected the
influence of Osborne's 'angry young man.'
Another poignant image of a man doing his best to hold himself together in a void is
offered by Archie Rice, the failed music hall host of The Entertainer (1957). A charismatic
man who has had many lovers and has not paid income tax for twenty years, Archie toys
with the idea of divorcing his wife and marrying his twenty-year-old girlfriend. But things
are falling apart. Night after night, he tells his bad jokes to dwindling audiences then drinks
himself into a stupor with the rest of his family. As the limelight goes out at the end of the
last scene, we are aware that something is dying out along with types like Archie. In the
introductory note to the play Osborne wrote: 'The music hall is dying, and, with it, a
significant part of England. Some of the heart of England has gone; something that once
belonged to everyone, for this was truly a folk art.' Some critics have equated this dying
light with the fading of the British Empire. Others have seen it as a more general loss of
hope for the future.
In Inadmissible Evidence (1965), Osborne attempted to extend the bounds of his
basically naturalistic style. The protagonist, Bill Maitland, is a solicitor who cannot
distinguish between fantasy and reality, and is the prisoner of his own dream -a dream
which is a vision of his own helplessness: 1 am not equal to any of it. But I can't escape it.
I can't forget it. And I can't begin again. You see?' (Act I)
In A Patriot for Me (1966) Osborne is again concerned with a man who is the prisoner of
his own personality: in this case a homosexual chief of intelligence in the Imperial Army of
Austria who is blackmailed into passing information to the Russians. Osborne provides a
powerful sense of theatricality (for example the transvestites' ball in this play) together
with the individual's need to find a context of expression in a world where it is increasingly
unable to provide one. The contradictions of this struggle give rise to the anger that is
typical of all Osborne's work and is in fact its driving force.
6.3. Look Bach in Anger (1956)
This three-act play takes place in a one-bedroom flat in the Midlands. Out-of-work actor,
Jimmy Porter, belongs to that new breed of lower middle-class people who have been
university educated and turned loose in a world in which the old system of social classes
remains intact. He lives with his wife, Alison, the daughter of a retired Colonel in the
British Army in India. With them lives Cliff Lewis, a friend who helps Jimmy run a sweet
stall. Jimmy is intelligent, but intellectually frustrated. He reads the papers and then argues
and taunts his companions over their acceptance of the world around them. Alison's friends
and family belong to the ruling class and Jimmy's violent rages are at their most bitter
when aimed at them, as he sees them to be the cause of his and society's problems as a
The situation deteriorates with the arrival of Helena, an actress and schoolfriend of Alison.
Helena apparently finds Jimmy's behaviour atrocious and Alison's living conditions
unacceptable. She telegrams Alison's father to come and take her away from the flat. With
Alison gone, however, Helena moves into her place as Jimmy's wife. Alison returns to
visit, having lost Jimmy's baby. Helena feels she has made a mistake and decides to leave
Jimmy immediately. Alison, having been woken up to reality by the loss of the child,
returns to Jimmy and his angry life.
Some of the imagery and language of the play has dated. It is difficult for a modern-day
audience to appreciate just how exotic Jimmy's jazz playing is, for example. Similarly, the
intellectual courage of saying about a gay man, ‘He's like a man with a strawberry mark he keeps thrusting it in your face because he can't believe it doesn't interest or horrify you
particularly. As if I give a damn which way he likes his meat served up' may be lost on us.
At the time homosexuality was still illegal in Britain and Jimmy's words would have had a
much more startling effect.
Nevertheless the play still has the power to shock, particularly when the abandoned
Jimmy falls into Helena's arms. Osborne's portrayal of Alison's father is also revelatory.
Colonel Redfern's admiration for Jimmy's principles and amusement at Jimmy's
description of his wife as an 'overfed, overprivileged old bitch' are set against his total lack
of comprehension of what Jimmy's life actually means. Alison says to him 'You're hurt
because everything is changed. Jimmy is hurt because everything is the same. And neither
of you can face it. Something's gone wrong somewhere, hasn't it?'.
An article in the Daily Express from December 1959 declared that ‘Out of this decade has
come the illusion of comfort, and we have lost the sense of life's difficulty'. Osborne's play
makes it clear that there was no lack of a sense of life's difficulties at the time. The
difference was that the emphasis had shifted from the martyred expressions of the British
ruling class represented in Colonel Redfern, to a more serious appraisal of life for those
outside that ruling class.
Helena is Coming to Stay
The following scene is at the end of Act I. Jimmy, Alison and Cliff have been arguing as
usual, when Alison is called to the phone to speak to her friend Helena. Jimmy immediately
becomes angry as he dislikes Helena. He thinks of her as belonging to Alison's upper-class
background. While Jimmy and Cliff wait for Alison to come back into the room, Jimmy
begins to look through her handbag and Cliff reproves him. At this point in the play Alison
has already revealed to Cliff that she is pregnant, but Jimmy does not yet know.
Pre-Reading Exercises
1.What exactly do you understand by the term 'kitchen sink drama'?
2.How do you expect Alison to react when she comes back and finds Jimmy looking through
her bag?
CLIFF: (indicating Alison's handbag) Wouldn't you say that was her private property?
JIMMY: You're quite right. But do you know something? Living night and day with another
human being has made me predatory and suspicious. I know that the only way of finding
out exactly what's going on is to catch them when they don't know you're looking. When
she goes out, I go through everything - trunks, cases, drawers, bookcase, everything. Why?
To see if there is something of me somewhere, a reference to me. I want to know if I'm
being betrayed.
CLIFF: YOU look for trouble, don't you?
JIMMY: Only because I'm pretty certain of finding it. (He brings out a letter from the
handbag.) Look at that! Oh, I'm such a fool. This is happening every five minutes of the
day. She gets letters. (He holds it up.) Letters from her mother in which I'm not mentioned
at all because my name is a dirty word. And what does she do?
Enter Alison. He turns to look at her. She writes long letters back to Mummy, and never
mentions me at all, because I'm just a dirty word to her too.
He throws the letter down at her feet. Well, what did your friend want?
ALISON: She's at the station. She's - coming over.
JIMMY: I see. She said 'Can I come over?' And you said 'My husband, Jimmy - if you'
forgive me using such a dirty word, will be delighted to see you. He’ll kick your face in!'
(He stands up, unable to sustain his anger, poised on the table.)
ALISON: (quietly) She's playing with the company at the Hippodrome this week, and she's
got no digs. She can't find anywhere to stay -
JIMMY: That I don't believe!
ALISON: So I said she could come here until she fixes something else. Miss Drury's got a
spare room downstairs.
JIMMY: Why not have her in here? Did you tell her to bring her armour? Because she's
going to need it!
ALISON: (vehemently) Oh why don't you shut up, please!
JIMMY: Oh, my dear wife, you've got so much to learn. Only hope you learn it one day. If
only something – something would happen to you, and wake you out of your beauty sleep!
(coming in close to her) If you could have a child, and it would die. Let it grow, let a
recognizable human face emerge from that little mass of indiarubber and wrinkles. (She
retreats away from him.) Please - if only I could watch you face that. I wonder if you might
become a recognizable human being yourself. But I doubt it.
She moves away, stunned, and leans on the gas stove down left.
He stands rather helplessly on his own.
Do you know I have never known the great pleasure of love - making when I didn't desire
it myself. Oh, it's not that she hasn't her own kind of passion. She has the passion of a
python. She just devours me whole every time, as if I were some over-large rabbit. That's
me. That bulge around her navel - if you're wondering what it is - it's me. Me, buried alive
down there, and going mad, smothered in that peaceful looking coil. Not a sound, not a
flicker from her - she doesn't even rumble a little. You'd think that this indigestible mess
would stir up some kind of tremor in those distended overfed tripes - but not her! (crosses
up to the door) She'll go on sleeping and devouring until there's nothing left of me. (He
exits.) Alison 's head goes back as if she were about to make some sound. But her mouth
remains open and trembling, as Cliff looks on.
Post-Reading Exercises
1. Why does Jimmy look through everything when Alison goes out?
2.Why does Jimmy find Alison's letters offensive?
3.What do we learn about Alison from this excerpt?
4.What is particularly significant about the words That's me. That bulge around her navel?
5.How is Alison's behaviour offensive to Jimmy?
6.Does Jimmy have a high opinion of himself?
6.4. The Entertainer (1957)
John Osborne was always fascinated by end-of-pier music hall and vaudeville
entertainment. Vaudeville is variety entertainment and the music halls were once famous
for their performances of song and dance routines and comedy. Each sketch or dance
would be introduced by the compère or presenter, who would try to keep the audience
happy while they waited for the next turn. The audience was strictly lower middle class
and the jokes would often be smutty or risqué.
Osborne felt that the vaudeville not only represented a significant part of English culture
but also offered a useful solution to many problems facing dramatists. In the introductory
note to the play he wrote, '/ have not used some of the techniques of the music hall in order
to exploit an effective trick, but because I believe that these can solve some of the eternal
problems of time and space that face the dramatist, and, also, it has been relevant to the
story and setting. Not only has this technique its own traditions, its own convention and
symbol, its own mystique, it cuts right across the restrictions of the so-called naturalistic
stage. Its contact is immediate, vital and direct.'
In The Entertainer Osborne used vaudeville and its fading performer Archie Rice as a
metaphor for the post-war crisis in British society.
Archie's Last Appearance
This speech comes at the very end of the play. Archie's life is collapsing around him. His
son, Mick, has been killed in the war and his father has just died. Archie forced his father
to go back to work in the business as he needed the money, and his family now accuse him
of being the cause of his father's death. He has not paid income tax for twenty years and is
heavily in debt. It is only a matter of time before he will be arrested, unless he accepts his
successful brother's offer of a ticket to Canada and a new life. It is unlikely that Archie will
accept this, for, in spite of his refusal to accept any responsibility for his actions, or the
simple fact that he has failed, he still holds on to his pride, and jokes with the pathetic
audience as if he were performing to a full house. The stage blacks out and Archie appears
illuminated by a spotlight. He sings a few bars of a song, 'We're all out for good old
number One'. This is a significant choice as looking after number one, means looking after
yourself and your own interests - a thing that Archie has always tried, but failed, to do. He
then launches into his parting speech.
Pre-Reading Exercises
1.Music halls and variety shows at the end of the seaside piers were, and in some places
still are, an important part of lower-middle-class culture in Britain. Does an equivalent
exist in your country?
2.Osborne thought that the techniques of the music hall could resolve problems of time and
space for the dramatist. How might this be so?
ARCHIE: I've just come to tell you about the wife. She's gone back to her husband. She has,
straight. Don't clap too hard, we're all in a very old building. Yes, very old. Old. What
about That! What about her, eh - Madam with the helmet on? I reckon she's sagging a bit. If
you ask me. She needs some beef putting into her - the roast beef of old England. No.
nobody's asking me, never mind. Nice couple of fried eggs, anyway. She's a nice girl,
though - a nice girl. Going steady with Charlie here - isn't she Charlie? (To the conductor.)
She met him in a revolving door, and they've been going around together ever since. I'm
doing me nut, you know that, don't you? I'm doing me nut up here. Nudes, that's what they
call them, lady, nudes. Blimey, she's got more clothes on than I have. It's a lot of madam,
that's all it is. A lot of madam. Oh, I put a line in there. Never mind, it doesn't matter. I've
made a few tumbles in my time. I have, honest. You wouldn't think I was sexy to look at
me, would you? No, honestly, you wouldn't, would you, lady... Before I do go, ladies and
gentlemen, I should just like to tell you a little story, a little story. This story is about a
man, just a little, ordinary man, like you and me, and one day he woke up and found
himself in Paradise. Well, he looks up, you see, and he sees a feller standing next to him. It
turns out that this feller is a saint or something. Anyway, he's on the welcoming committee.
And the feller says to him - the Saint - says to him: "Well," he says, "you're now in
Paradise." "Am I?" he says. "You are," says the Saint. "What's more, you have earned
yourself eternal happiness." "Have I?" he says. "You most certainly have," says the Saint.
"Oh, you're well away," he says. "Can't you hear the multitudes? Why, everyone is singing,
everyone is joyful. What do you say, my son?" So the little man took a look around him at
all the multitudes of the earth, spread out against the universe. So he says to the Saint:
"Well, can I get up where you're standing, and take a proper look?" So the Saint says: "Of
course you can, my son," and makes way for him. And the little man stood up where the
Saint was and gazed up at the sight around him. At all the Hosts of Heaven, and all the rest
of it. "All the wonder and the joy of eternity is round about you," said the Saint. "You
mean, this is all eternity and I'm in Paradise?"
"That is so, my son. Well, what have you to say?" So the little man looks around again for
a bit, and the Saint says: "Well, my son?" "Well," he says, "I've often wondered what I'd
say if ever this happened to me. I couldn't think somehow." And the Saint smiled at him
kindly and says again: "And what do you say, my son?" "Only one thing I can say," says
the little man. And he said it! Well, the Saint looked as if he'd been struck across the face
by some great hand. The Hosts stopped singing and all the Angels hid their faces, and for a
tiny splash in eternity there was no sound at all in Paradise. The Saint couldn't speak for a
while, and then he threw his arms around the little man, and kissed him. And he said: "I
love you. My son. With all my soul, I shall love you always. I've been waiting to hear that
word ever since I came here." He's there with his little hook, I can see him". Oh, well, I
have a go, don't I? I 'ave a go. The cloth goes up, revealing a dark bare stage. The music
starts up softly, and ARCHIE RICE stands on the stage in a little round world of light, and
swaggers' gently into his song:
Why should I care
Why should I let it touch me,
Why shouldn't I sit down and cry
To let it pass over me?
He begins to falter a little.
Why should Why should I let it get me What's the use of despair?...
...He stops, the music goes on, as he walks over to PHOEBE, who helps him on with his coat,
and gives him his hat. He hesitates, comes back down to the floats. You've been a good
audience. Let me know where you're working tomorrow night - and I’ll come and see
He walks upstage with PHOEBE. The spotlight is hitting the apron, where ARCHIE has been
standing. The orchestra goes on playing: "Why should I care "; suddenly, the little world
of light snaps out, the stage is bare and dark. ARCHIE RICE has gone. There is only the
Post-Reading Exercises
1. How does the dialogue convey the idea that Archie is speaking to an audience?
2.When Archie is telling the story of the man in Paradise he sometimes switches to the
present tense, why is this?
3.What word do you think the man in the story said?
4.In what way is the man in the story like Archie?
5.How do the stage directions emphasize the finality of Archie's exit?
6.In what ways is Archie similar to Jimmy Porter?
Self-Assessing Test:
Mark the next statements as true or false:
1. Osborne's play Look Back in Anger turned out to be so new that it is considered by
many to be a turning point in post-war British theatre.
Jimmy Porter captured the angry and rebellious nature of a generation that was
clearly unhappy with things as they were in the decades following the Second
World War.
3. The director of the Court, George Devine was concerned about the theatrical impact
and how that might be the vehicle for social, moral and political commitments but
Look Back in Anger wasn’t suited to this ethos.
4. Porter perfectly articulates what a small but growing section of society really felt: a
sense of complete uselessness and of exclusion from any position of real power
because of their inferior social class, a feeling which is underlined by the shabby
attic setting and drab atmosphere of the play Look Back in Anger.
5. His central characters are driven by furious energy directed towards a void.
Correct answers:
1. True; 2. True; 3. False; 4. True; 5. True.