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Comparing God in Daisy Miller, Huck Finn, and Country of the Pointed Firs

Eliminating God in Daisy Miller, Huckleberry Finn, and The Country of the Pointed Firs

The evils of the Civil War and the rise of empiricism caused many to doubt in an omniscient, all-powerful God. Under empiricism, any statements about metaphysical entities (e.g. God, Unicorns, Love, and Beauty) would be meaningless terms because they cannot be proven by the scientific method. But with a loss of faith in God, what becomes of morality? This essay will examine how Emily Dickinson, Sarah Orne Jewett, Henry James and Mark Twain wrote literature in this age coupled with war, inhumanity and despair in God. This essay will show that: (1) Dickinson destroys any reliance on the Bible and a possibility of knowing God, but argues that one should instead praise Nature, which is tangible; (2) Jewett eliminates the omniscient narrator (or God-like figure) in The Country of the Poited Firs , and instead makes readers see life as valuable only through human experiences and reveals the comfort of Nature; (3) Henry James eliminates God in Daisy Miller by removing the omniscient narrator and instead causing readers to play god, by being the judge of Daisy and Winterbourne; (4) Mark Twain uses Huckleberry Finn to question any reliance on God, by poking fun of prayer and church revivals, and instead encouraging one to seek morality in one’s conscience.

Emily Dickinson learned versification through studying her church hymnal. But rather than praise a God that has “hid his rare life” (338), she turned to praise Nature which was tangible and empirical. Dickinson seemed to believe in a God: “I know that He exists” but the belief was greatly hindered by the existence of evil (primarily the atrocities brought on by the Civil War) wherein she penned that His right hand “is amputated now/ And God cannot be found” (1551). This statement may not be as severe as Nietzche’s “God is Dead,” but one can probably imagine that Dickinson penned these words in tears. Because she believed that God could not be found, she attacked the Bible’s ability to convey notions of God: “The Bible is an antique Volume–/ Written by faded Men” (1545). Dickinson found more companionship in her trusty dictionary (which helped define words) than a Bible (which was to define life). To Dickinson, Nature was supreme; Nature was tangible; Nature was real. Dickinson needed empirical evidence and Nature provided it for her: “‘Nature’ is what we see/ .

Reclaiming the Voice in So Long a Letter

Reclaiming the Voice in Bâ’s So Long a Letter

Peter Barry identifies as one of the major aims of Postcolonial criticism the rejection of “the claims to universalism made on behalf of canonical Western literature” and more specifically “to show its limitations of outlook, especially its general inability to empathize across boundaries of cultural and ethnic difference” (198). Although Bâ’s intentions are not primarily anti-colonial, her novel So Long a Letter exemplifies how African literature provides a different perspective of their culture, and despite not fitting the model of the English canon, is valuable and significant on its own terms. Bâ is not writing in defence of Africa. She is writing about Africa, and gender and class are much more fundamental to her work than race. It can be argued that rather than writing back to Empire, she is writing back to African male authors on behalf of African women, reclaiming the voice that has been previously denied to them.

Mariama Bâ was born into an influential Senegalese family in 1929. She was one of the first women to receive a Western education in Senegal. Reared by her maternal grandparents in a traditional Muslim household, she attended school only by the grace of her father, who had a strong vision of the future for his daughter. Bâ attended the French School in Dakar and went on to study at the École Normal in Rufisque, entering with the highest exam score in all of French West Africa, graduating in 1947. She experienced life under colonialism, and also witnessed firsthand the events surrounding Senegal’s independence from France, which was granted on April 4, 1960.1 Taking the social and political context from which Bâ is writing into consideration, it i…

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…Bâ’s Fiction.” Ngambika: Studies of Women in African Literature. Eds. Carole Boyce Davies and Anne Adams Graves. Trenton, NJ: African World Press, 1986. 161-71.

Carole Boyce, and Elaine Savory Fido. “African Women Writers: Toward a Literary History.” A History of Twentieth-Century African Literatures. Ed. Oyekan Owomoyela. Lincoln: U. of Nebraska P., 1993. 311-46.

Rueschmann, Eva. “Female Self-Definition and the African Community in Mariama Bâ’s Epistolary Novel So Long a Letter.” International Women’s Writing: New Landscapes of Identity. Eds. Anne E. Brown and Marjanne E. Goozé. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1995. 3-18.

Yousaf, Nahem, “The ‘Public’ versus the ‘Private’ in Mariama Bâ’s Novels.” The Journal of Commonwealth Literature 30.2 (1995): 85-98.

Zell, Hans, et al. A New Reader’s Guide to African Literature. New York: Heinemann, 1983.

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