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The Independent Artist in The Awakening and Narcissus and Goldmund

The Independent Artist in The Awakening and Narcissus and Goldmund

One of the great themes of the modern Western literary tradition is that of the artist’s independence. Writers throughout history have struggled with this problem in their own lives. Often coming from the upper classes, they may decide to give up a life of relative comfort and financial security in order to explore the wilds of the human spirit through literature. They must choose between financial and emotional satisfaction. This is the decision made by the protagonists of both Hermann Hesse’s Narcissus and Goldmund and Kate Chopin’s The Awakening. In both of these novels, the protagonist leaves mainstream society behind in order to become an artist, perhaps mirroring the lives of the authors themselves. But it is not the mere physical departure from mainstream society that is the most important factor in these novels. What is most important is the emotional and mental distance that Goldmund and Edna place between themselves and their respective cultures. In both of these novels, the artist is portrayed as a renegade spirit, leaving behind the strictures of their cultures of birth in order to pursue art.

These cultural strictures come in a number of forms. First, the artist attacks intellectual conformity, choosing art over all other means of self-expression even though it is not widespread in his or her society. Though it is not explicitly stated – and is perhaps even subconscious – the artist chooses art over either academe or high society. The artist questions society’s customs, making this choice explicit in their daily actions. The artist rejects ostentatious displays of wealth and the cultural emphasis on money, replacing it with a frugal simplicity more conducive to authentic experience. Finally, the artist calls into question the cultural construct most important to any understanding of human interaction – the binary conception of gender.

Attacks on conformity

In Narcissus and Goldmund, Goldmund begins the novel at a medieval cloister, a bulwark of classical – that is, Greek and Roman – culture against the backdrop of a backward Europe. Hesse emphasizes the unchanging nature and relative permanence of the cloister and its population: “Generations of cloister boys passed beneath the foreign tree… There were always newcomers; and the faces changed every few years, yet most of them resembled one another, if only for their blond and curly hair” (3-4; ch.

Comparing Mood and Atmosphere of The Pity of Love, Broken Dreams, and The Fisherman

Mood and Atmosphere of The Pity of Love, Broken Dreams, and The Fisherman

The Pity of Love is a short, relatively simple poem, yet it still manages to create a feeling of anxiousness, of desperate worry. Yeats achieves this in only eight lines of average length by extremely careful and precise use of language and structure. The poem begins with the line “A pity beyond all telling•, immediately setting the general tone and basic point of the piece, elevating his despair to its highest levels and plunging the poem into the depths of depression and failure; before it has barely begun, Yeats is already admitting defeat, after a fashion, claiming that this pity is so terrible he is unable to properly describe it.

The folk who are buying and selling,

The clouds on their journey above,

The cold wet winds ever blowing,

And the shadowy hazel grove

Where mouse-grey waters are flowing,

These pastoral images are all part of an ordinary rural life, something for which Yeats always strived. However, unlike his usual praising of these elements of life, this time he presents them in a distinctly downbeat way, emphasising the negative aspects, and becoming darker and darker in tone with every successive example – the wind is “cold• and “wet•; the clouds are assumed to be storm clouds from the juxtaposition of the description of the wind straight after the description of the clouds; the hazel grove is “shadowy• and the water is “mouse-grey•. These are all very washed-out, colourless, cold adjectives that refect the depressed nature of the narrator. The image of somewhat frantic movement conveyed by the use of the words “buying and selling•, “journey above•, “ever blowing• and “?owing• represent the inner …

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…anza helps to contribute to the unplanned feeling, and the constantly shifting focus gives an almost ‘stream-of-consciousness’ feel to the proceedings. As indicated by the title, this is a sombre poem, due to its subject matter, but it is not a bitter poem; in fact, in places, it is very romantic, particularly the third stanza:

The certainty that I shall see that lady

Leaning or standing or walking

In the first loveliness of womanhood,

And with the fervour of my youthful eyes,

Has set me muttering like a fool.

It is as if Yeats has finally accepted Gonne’s rejection and is no longer tormented by it. He is much more at peace writing Broken Dreams than with his other Maud Gonne poems. Whilst he still finds his life understandably sad, he no longer expects her to change her mind and, accordingly, he does not write a depressingly bitter poem.

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