ENG 112: Conclusions

ENG 112: Conclusions

Reflective Essay
Part I: An Introduction

BelovedThis portfolio contains my collection of work focusing on Toni Morrison’s novel, Beloved. I chose to include this particular collection because each stage of rewriting, from thesis inception through final analysis, demonstrates a systematic increase in understanding of Paul D’s continuous journey toward his sense of “manhood.” My literary scholarship has been furthered through close reading of the novel and two peer reviewed research sources while carefully revisiting and expanding support for my thesis.

The final draft of this paper has been improved technically by addressing two considerations. Initially, euphemistic language was used to describe the difference in cultural issues. Gaining confidence in handling these issues openly, the terms “black” and “white” are used more frequently as appropriate. Also, the previous drafts seemed to address my concepts well enough, but the paper would not appeal to some one who had never read Beloved. Because my audience may someday include the uninitiated, more description was used to illustrate the points. Close attention and reworking of the overall sentence structure removed wandering verbiage, keeping my thoughts concise and poignant. This new version achieved the desired effect on my test subject as I read the paper aloud. This entire process allowed me to see how effectively my thoughts were conveyed.

Conceptual additions to the final draft move beyond a cursory glance at how Paul D is stripped of the label “man” and offer further analysis on his diminishing sense of self. In a half page of text on 125 in the novel, a new close reading reveals vivid details and important events in Paul D’s deconstructive history. Incorporating the transfer of Paul D’s ownership from schoolteacher to Brandywine, his attempt on Brandywine’s life, and time spent on the Alfred, Georgia chain gang demonstrates Morrison’s quick depiction of how Paul D is whisked from one place to another and also allows for the inclusion of Sitter’s theory on Morrison’s tree imagery. Having found Sitter’s ideas intriguing, I was unsure how to work them into my existing paper. The addition of two new pages opens the door, using her theory as complimentary support for my examination into the significance of Paul D’s trembling. This new material also equates white culture’s power with guns, spanning beyond previously argued examples of how Garner gives guns to his “men” and schoolteacher takes them away. By discussing Paul D’s inferred and repeated oral rape at the mercy of the barrel, sobering description adds weight to “the enormity of Paul D’s degradation in the irresponsible hands of white authority” (Clune 4). And lastly, as described in the rain scene in Georgia, I break through my original assessment of Paul D’s treatment as an animal, realizing that “his life is worth less here than that of an animal, and only slightly more than the dead” (Clune 4). These inclusions strengthen the support of my thesis by allowing for deeper analysis.

Because I have received the highest grade possible in all stages of this developmental process, I found that discovering new directions in which to move is more difficult than reworking something known to have failed. This challenge has forced me to exceed my best effort. It has also taught me the importance of keeping notes on possible exploration and revisiting abandoned ideas. As this final paper comes to a close, I would still like to examine how Paul D encounters the feminine embrace of “white” manhood from the point of view of Baby Suggs, Sethe and Denver and the eventual abandonment of that interpretation by Sethe and Denver. I would also like to inspect the shift in Paul D’s sense of identity beginning with his own introduction to Denver as “Paul D Garner” and his eventual acceptance of himself as his own man, in the end, as she calls him “Mr. D.” That, unfortunately, will have to wait for another paper. Having surprised myself with the amount of my own interpretations and conclusions I will really enjoy writing it some day.

Part II: Understanding the Guidelines and Objectives

At the start of the semester, I only vaguely understood the objectives of the course. Unfamiliar with certain concepts and terms in relation to literature, I was unable to define what made literature worthy of study. Even as we began to address that question early on, I had no idea what my answer would be. I used to determine whether a book was good by how it made me feel, but that has since changed. The past few months of study have taught me that literature reaches far beyond emotion. Reading back on my first essay, I can see how wide my eyes have opened.

tempestDoubtful that I could say something new, I have discovered that my original interpretation is worthy of analytical study and expansion through research. I was fascinated by the new meaning historical documentation provided when reading Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” and the types of critical approaches developed from its study, particularly New Colonialism. In reading and writing about Morrison’s Beloved, I was glad to engage with an alternative text to the traditional canon. This expansion of the canon offers a greater opportunity for students/scholars to dialogue with the text about relevant issues facing marginalized portions of society. Marginalization and diversification, the most prevalent topics in all my classes, are a grand departure from what was taught even in the late eighties. I enjoyed venturing into the world of research for Beloved after first using “The Tempest’s” training-wheel criticism because it gave me the chance to explore so many credible and relevant sources. This was one of the goals I had hoped to reach as mentioned in my first essay. Also, as much as the aforementioned facets applied to the poetry explication, I found that identification, understanding and employment of literary terminology reinforced its meaning. Now these terms are always close at hand for future projects.

Together, the abilities gained through this class have offered me a confidence I had not otherwise possessed when discussing various aspects of literature. Class discussion and development of papers has been a great exercise in abstract thinking and the feedback to my work has been a wonderful reward. One thing I have learned is that, while getting an A is nice, even an A is not the end of the road. Room for improvement always exists and I can still use much of that in public speaking. While my poetry explication was fraught with a case of nerves, it was a great personal triumph just to stand at the head of the class, particularly since I chose to speak at the podium rather than my seat. Since I remember very little about the experience, the most intriguing part of the presentation, for me, was the preparation. Next time can only be better. Overall, with the small exception of public speaking, this semester has broadened my skills and my enjoyment of reading and writing.

Prospero’s Power of Conversation

Prospero’s Power of Conversation

this-thing-of-darkness-snipIn Act I of “The Tempest,” William Shakespeare paints Prospero as a character who possesses a great deal of power, quite analogous to that of the King of England. Attributing this power to his education in “liberal arts,” Prospero’s enchanting abilities appear to stem from his study of books, the donning of a magical cloak, and by carrying a magical staff, much as the King’s crown and vestiges, although not powerful themselves, lend to the visual definition of his authority. While each of these items do supply Prospero with the ability to cast spells, it is his “art” of conversation that affords him the most power.

As Paul Brown remarks in “‘This Thing of Darkness I Acknowledge Mine’: The Tempest and the Discourse of Colonialism,” Prospero calls to his various listeners “and invites them to recognize themselves as subjects of his discourse, as beneficiaries of his civil largess.” (Brown 218) The technique with which Prospero bestows his “civil largess” upon his daughter, Miranda, and his servant, Ariel, varies in degree of applied patience, yet it conclusively achieves the desired effect as each bend to his will. While Caliban, Prospero’s slave, offers the vilest resistance, Prospero demands compliance by employing the use of painful threats, only occasionally requiring additional reinforcement through action. Prospero?s command of language, ultimately his most useful tool, influences and manipulates the thoughts, ideas and behaviors of all the play’s participants, including those of the audience.

Miranda’s character is akin to the citizens of England, each governed by the power and guidance of their rulers. Through suggestive conversation, Prospero educates Miranda on the subject of their history, molding her perspective to ready her for a future orchestration of events. As he begins the tale, Prospero asks Miranda to, “pluck my magic garment from me. So, [laying down his magic cloak and staff] Lie there my art.” (Shakespeare 14, 24) Here Prospero engages in conversation exclusively, making a point to shed all other forms of power. With this simple action, Shakespeare demonstrates the innate power of Prospero’s persuasion and how it is used to educate and thus govern Miranda with the provision of a singular perspective. This directly reflects England’s own normative view as colonizer, enforcing the belief that English culture is superior both within and beyond the country’s borders.

Prospero takes pride in his ability to educate. He speaks passionately of this role in regard to Miranda, “Here have I, thy schoolmaster, made thee more profit than other princess’ can, that have more time for vainer hours and tutors not so careful.” (Shakespeare 19, 171) Prospero has been grooming Miranda to be obedient all her life, and she, a naive student, exclaims, “Heavens thank you for ‘t!” (Shakespeare 20, 175) In his technique of reinforcing his daughter’s loyalty and attention by repeatedly asking, “Dost thou attend me?” (Shakespeare 16, 78) requires Miranda to engage in the dialogue and actively confirm, “Your tale, sir, would cure deafness,” (Shakespeare 17, 107) In this way, Miranda reflects the desired perspective as it is presented to her, satisfying Prospero’s need for loyalty and support in his plot to resume his dukedom. As Brown explains, ?A major strategy of this scheme is to engineer another courtship between Miranda and the son of his enemy “his daughter having been duly educated for such a role.” (Brown 219) In grooming Miranda to marry Ferdinand, Prospero intends to place her like a pawn among royalty, ensuring his ties to political authority.

In Ariel, Prospero’s servant, Shakespeare depicts an English colonizer, one sympathetic toward the American Indians. Ariel proves useful in forging a foundation for Prospero’s new world order but must be commanded to continue in the face of unpleasant tasks, particularly those he believes will cause harm. Applying the approach used with Miranda, Prospero begins to question “Dost thou forget from what torment I did free thee?” (Shakespeare 22, 250) Ariel challenges that he has not. With this exchange Prospero begins a detailed call and response, “Hast thou forgot the foul witch Sycorax? Thou hast. Where was she born?” (Shakespeare 23, 261) Recounting this story of how Prospero freed Ariel from the witch’s curse actively recalls the details of Arial’s torment and debt to Prospero for release. Ironically, this freedom from the pine has merely released him into a new form of bondage. (Brown, 220) According to Brown, “This operation of constant reminding acts as ‘symbolic violence.’¬†What is really at issue is the underlining of a power relation.” (Brown 220) Illustrating a bending will, Ariel replies, ?Pardon, master. I will be correspondent to command and do my spriting gently.” (Shakespeare 24) As Ariel submits, Prospero is able to expand his power to that of the spritely realm with Ariel to do his bidding.

Caliban, having occupied the island long before Prospero, represents the idea of “savage” as it exists within the colonization of Ireland and America. Prospero tries in vain to educate Caliban, to civilize him in the ways in which Prospero is accustomed. Miranda too, as an extension of Prospero, teaches Caliban the language common to her and her father. In regard to this education, Caliban is not grateful for their “gift,” but rather feels enslaved by it. “You taught me language and my profit on ‘t is I know how to curse. The red plague rid you for learning me your language!” (Shakespeare 27, 367) Before the arrival of Prospero and Miranda, Caliban understands his thoughts perfectly well, explaining that they didn’t give him knowledge, but only the means to express what he already knows in a way they understand. He too can understand their demands as they bark orders at him. Brown believes Caliban “recognizes himself as a linguistic subject of the master language. Caliban’s refusal marks him as obdurate yet he must voice this in a curse in the language of civility … Whatever Caliban does with this gift announces his capture by it.” (Brown 220) In his unwillingness to easily submit, Caliban poses a real challenge for Prospero. While still embracing his mastery over communication, Prospero must change his approach. Keeping the upper hand, he incorporates the use of threats backed by real action, making Caliban submit out of fear.

At the play’s end, as so ordered by Shakespeare, the shipwrecked aristocrats suffer to Prospero’s content, extracting sufficient remorse from their maddened state with no lasting harm dealt by his hand. His daughter, too, is arranged neatly in the arms of King Alonzo’s son, assuring her royal future and his. Ariel is freed for a job well done, and even the stubborn Caliban all too easily sees the light after falling further from grace, accepting Prospero as a more desirable master than Stephano. Each fragment is neatly tied up with one exception. In what way does Shakespeare deal with Prospero?

By educating the island inhabitants as he sees fit, Prospero gets an unforeseen education of his own. During the marriage of Miranda and Ferdinand, Prospero is startled with the realization of his aloneness without her. Fiedler with the idea that Shakespeare “appears more and more to divest himself of the very power he has so relentlessly sought. … even as Prospero’s game plan succeeds he himself is played out, left without a move as power over his daughter slips away.” (Brown 226) Prospero speaks of this dissolve of power, as well as the erasure of existence when he says, “We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded in sleep.” (Shakespeare 70, 156) Caliban’s attempt on Prospero’s life leads Prospero to look more closely at his inability to civilize the savage. He raves, “A Devil, born a Devil, on whose nature nurture can never stick; on whom my pains, humanely taken, all, all lost, quite lost!” (Shakespeare 71, 188) And lastly, in an effort of revenge on his brother, Prospero learns compassion, characterized by his epiphany that “The rarer action is in virtue than in vengeance.” (Shakespeare 75, 28) Brown believes, “At the ‘close’ of the play Prospero is in danger of becoming the other to the narrative declaration of his own project, which is precisely the ambivalent position Caliban occupies.” (Brown 228) and is unsatisfied with how Shakespeare handles Prospero’s abandonment of magical external power with no “triumph for colonialism” (Brown 228). With this I disagree.

At the time Shakespeare writes “The Tempest,” no societal answers existed in response to the play’s questions. Shakespeare appears to synthesize the culmination of Prospero’s lessons to demonstrate the hope for England of one day being wiser, more accepting of others, and willing to forfeit control where it already exists rather than to attempt the civilization of the world. As the rest of Prospero’s powers fade, his reign over language is not lost. “Now my charms are all o’erthrown, and what strength I have ‘s mine own.” (Shakespeare 86, 1) The power of persuasion has always been an innate part of his being only to fade when Prospero himself expires. He uses his remaining capacity for language to appeal to the audience. He seeks their applause and thus forgiveness for his character flaws. This may also be a plea from Shakespeare himself to forgive weak plot point. The questions raised are left to us, the audience to ponder and answer for ourselves.

Works Cited:

Shakespeare, William, et al. “The Tempest” Ed. Gerald Graff and James Phelan. William Shakespeare, The Tempest; A Case Study in Critical Controversy, Boston: Bedford/St. Martin?s, 2000, 10-87

Brown, Paul. “‘This Thing of Darkness I Acknowledge Mine”; The Tempest as the Discourse of Colonialism” William Shakespeare, “The Tempest;” A Case Study in Critical Controversy, Boston: Bedford/St. Martin?s, 2000, 205-229

Summary of Paul Brown’s “‘This Thing of Darkness…”

Summary of Paul Brown’s “‘This Thing of Darkness…”

this-thing-of-darkness-snipA Summary of Paul Brown’s “‘This Thing of Darkness I Acknowledge Mine’: The Tempest and the Discourse of Colonialism”

In his essay, Paul Brown explains that Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” reaches beyond mere contemplation of colonialism and more toward “intervention in an ambivalent and even contradictory discourse” (205). Brown feels that Shakespeare attempts, in his narrative, to suitably redefine the power relations between classes, gender and cultures, but fails to accomplish this task.

Three connections within complex colonial discourse, according to Brown, are “class discourse (masterlessness), a race discourse (savagism) and a politically and courtly sexual discourse” (209) as illustrated by the desire of John Rolf, a Virginia planter, for Pocahontas, the daughter of Powhatan, chief-of-chiefs. Using Rolf’s letter asking for the Governor’s blessing over their marriage, Brown shows Rolf’s belief that the power of British civility can transform the “other” or American Indian, even if sexual desire may threaten to undermine that mastery. (207) This, in turn, is compared with Prospero’s narrative in which his ruling power is determined by his control over his subjects’ sexuality, particularly Miranda’s and Caliban’s. Brown argues that the colonizer seeks to control, repress and exploit the “other” even as the “other” has beneficial offerings that may erode that civil order.

Moving beyond the American example, Brown examines British counterculture and Irish “others” to illustrate the colossal range of contemporary colonialist discourse. He discusses the perceived threat within England of anti-social man, the masterless who require “surveillance, classification, expulsion and punishment” (210) as Brown believes is embodied in “The Tempest” by Stephano and Trunculo. Their threat of counter-order serves to unify rulers in their authority, channeling a positive civil service. (211) Brown next points out evidence of this within the context of Ireland. It was in need of reordering and of “a colony where the savage other needed to be civilized conquered and dispossessed.” (214) Masterless Irish were especially targeted, and jesters like Trinculo were exemplary of that lot. (210) To further tie Ireland to “The Tempest,” Brown offers the idea that the uninhabited island (of civility) offered not only the opportunity for the expansion of civility, but the undoing of it as well, freedom being a temptation. (216)

Brown says the narrative of the play “is always related to questions of power.” (218) The tempestuous storm was produced by Shakespeare to show Prospero’s mastery over the island. He demonstrates his control over his listeners as he narrates, establishing himself as father and educator of Miranda, rescuer of Ariel, colonizer of Caliban, and corrector of errant aristocrats. Prospero’s function is to divide the characters along gender lines as with the malleable Miranda and irreformable Caliban, and along class lines such as in the usurping aristocrats versus unmastered plebians, conjuring colonial discourse. (221)

This binarism is accompanied by the aesthetic ordering of power through “narrative to maintain social control.” (223) “Euphemistic” use of romantic rhetoric as well as gifts of freedom and education underline the non-exploitive representation of power as when Caliban is taught to speak Prospero’s language. (223) This language is seen by Caliban as linguistic capture and restraint, not a gift. (220) Alternately, to “denigrate the masterless” (225), as with Trinculo and Stephano, Caliban is placed in a more positive light. His eloquence is revealed when describing the island and how its music causes him to dream. This dream, according to Brown, is the apothesis of colonial discourse, a wish for release, a desire for utopian powerlessness. (225)

Prospero too desires to “divest himself of the very power he has so relentlessly sought” (226), as is the plausible threat of freedom to the civilized. After losing his power over his daughter, the play ends not with his resumption of public duty but his retirement. Brown asks, “Is this final distancing from the narrative an unraveling of Prospero’s project?” (227) The disruption of the marriage masque by Caliban’s plot leads to Prospero’s declaration that all representation is illusory, yet he “goes on to meet the threat and triumphs, and thus completes his narrative.” (227) Brown is troubled by the “ambivalence” here between narrative declaration and dramatic struggle. “The threat must be present to validate colonial discourse; yet if present it cannot but impel the narrative to further action. The process is interminable. And yet the play has to end.” (228) It is for this reason, Brown believes, that “The Tempest” declares no triumph for colonialism but simply offers up it’s characteristic operations.


Paul Brown aligns himself with the post-colonial school of criticism. This is demonstrated by his use of intertextuality and his goal to show the oppression of colonized peoples. He talks not only of language as a binding factor in colonization as given to Caliban by Prospero and Miranda, but he also examines the euphemistic manipulation of language by Prospero to establish and maintain dominance. In exploration of the colonized people’s reaction, Brown studies Caliban and in what ways he speaks out against his plight. In the end, he looks for ways to change the system of colonization and finds ambivalent answers in Shakespeare’s interpretation of order.

I am interested in this essay because it supports my initial interpretation of Prospero’s role in “The Tempest.” Paul Brown’s exploration of Prospero’s art of conversation and the power he holds over his fellow characters resonates with my assessment of that power. In addition, I have learned much from Brown’s essay in the context of colonization. This information has influenced me to push beyond my limited interpretation based on New Criticism and complicate it within the context of events occurring at the time the play was written. For me, this legitimizes and expands the themes present in my original assessment of Prospero.

Work Cited:

Brown, Paul. This Thing of Darkness I Acknowledge Mine; “The Tempest” as the Discourse of Colonialism; William Shakespeare, “The Tempest;” A Case Study in Critical Controversy, Boston: Bedford/St. Martin?s, 2000, 205-229

Prospero in Shakespeare’s “The Tempest”

tempestIn reading Act I of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest,” Prospero’s character is complex, making him an interesting element to focus on. He orchestrates many of the Act’s events, exhibiting many facets, from deriving great pleasure from his daughter’s smile to how demanding he can be on those who serve him.

While Prospero loses his rightful ruling position over Milan at the hand of his brother and is exiled to an island with his daughter, Miranda, he still seems to hold power, both influential and magical. By way of fate, a ship carries his brother and others near to the island and, through the shear will of Prospero, it is tossed about the sea, caught in a Tempest as reparation for the pains he has suffered. This retribution appears to be warranted, leaving me, the reader, glad for Prospero’s chance to demonstrate to his brother the ways he has suffered. But the question remains, how far will Prospero go? When a distraught Miranda asks the same question and it is revealed that none aboard the ship are physically harmed, Prospero appears to be a fair and just soul.

By enslaving the island’s only native inhabitant, Caliban, the animal-like son of a witch, as well as Ariel, an ethereal sprite he released from the holdings of a curse, Prospero’s duality is revealed. He may be too kind hearted to fully destroy the ship’s men, but he has certainly bound others to serve him with an unrelenting exhibition of power. Where does this fit within the ideals of a man who desires to serve his people and who desires to serve his daughter’s best interests? Perhaps he truly believes he helped Caliban by teaching him to communicate, but he is unwilling to see how he might be usurping Caliban’s rightful place as King of the island. He certainly freed Ariel from the pine tree but, as Ariel fulfills each of Prospero’s requests to repay this debt, he finds yet another request awaiting him.

What do these inconsistencies say about Prospero’s character as a whole? Is he really at such odds with himself, or does the text later reveal what ties these traits together? Perhaps these servants are used to show dedication from an earthly as well as spiritual world as each continues to server Prospero regardless of his brother’s refusal to do so. Even the old wise man Gonzales seems eager to help him by sending him to the island with provisions.