[Work: Othello, William Shakespeare, 1603]
Antagonism in Othello:

Subversive and Progressive Racial Attitudes in the Characters of Shakepeare’s Othello

 

Introduction:

The development of interpreting William Shakespeare’s plays for their progressive capabilities has been increasingly common in the modern era; Shylock, the Jewish character in The Merchant of Venice, portrayed on-stage for hundreds of years as a remorseless villain, is today played as a sympathetic and often ironic character whose persecuting is often shown to be more-or-less on-par with his persecution.

Similarly, the Othello seen in modern productions of OthelloOthello - William Shakespeare - Race, Iago is a sympathetic tragic hero, rather than a dangerous, violent, and easily manipulated caricature. Yet, while some ambiguity about the nature of the character of Othello is inherent to the text, and even in keeping with the academic sentiment that the interpretation of art is more reflective of the morality of the reader than of any ‘opinions’ one may find in the work, Othello seems to contain a far more progressive element than The Merchant of Venice—in its antagonist, who in Othello is (of course) not the racialized character, but Iago.

The character of Iago is unambiguously the antagonist of the play, and, beyond this, serves as both the catalyst to the events of the play and as the detractor or destroyer, either directly or by extension, of every character who falls in the play. Indeed, in Othello, the character of Iago does more to challenge racial stereotypes contemporary with Shakespeare’s writing thereof than does the character of Othello to affirm them.

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[Work: Othello, William Shakespeare, 1603]
Antagonism in Othello:

Subversive and Progressive Racial Attitudes in the Characters of Shakepeare’s Othello

was last modified: April 12th, 2016 by Daniel Podgorski

[Work: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Rebecca Skloot, 2010]
Creative Journalism:

American Race Politics, Perspective, and Shifting Culture in The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

 

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks book cover - Rebecca Skloot

Introduction:

An incident in literary history that I have previously covered for this series was when, about 40 years ago, an essay by Chinua Achebe was published that changed the way literary scholars talked about Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. In the essay, Achebe leveled claims of blatant, overarching, and thorough racism in Conrad’s time-tested classic about imperialism in Africa.

The ensuing devaluation of Conrad’s novella was not permanent, however, and Heart of Darkness is once again at the forefront of most higher-level high-school and lower-division university curricula. But the conversations about it have changed, and now its racism is discussed alongside the complexity of its visual imagery. Indeed, in high schools across America Heart of Darkness is taught in the same classrooms as Achebe’s own novel, Things Fall Apart, with its African perspective on imperialism.

The recent popular success of Rebecca Skloot’s work of creative nonfiction, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, may be seen as a further incident in the progressive recontextualization of historical objects and ideas; in Skloot’s case, the historical object is one of immense scientific importance: the HeLa cell. Just like Conrad’s novella, the importance of the HeLa cell is obviously not diminished by the exploitation in its history, but that exploitation has become an integral part of telling that history.

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[Work: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Rebecca Skloot, 2010]
Creative Journalism:

American Race Politics, Perspective, and Shifting Culture in The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

was last modified: October 18th, 2017 by Daniel Podgorski

[Work: Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, Frederick Douglass, 1845]
Acclaim Freely Given:

How Frederick Douglass’ Autobiography Communes with the Reader

 

Last week’s Tuesday Tome article considered Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography, and showcased the ways in which Franklin’s carefully crafted self-presentation acts as an extension of Franklin’s moralizing vanity. In contrast to Franklin’s project, I would like to put forward the perceptive thinker and stirring writer Frederick Douglass as a better candidate for the role of quintessential American.

The autobiography of Frederick DouglassNarrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, unlike that of Benjamin Franklin (which focuses entirely on self-improvement), seems to put forth the pressing concern of bringing about political and societal betterment. Douglass spends nearly all of his time decrying the atrocities and duplicities inherent to the system of slavery.

The nature of this article is such that it requires spoiling basic plot details of Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, so you should only continue reading after this paragraph if you either do not mind spoilers or have already read the book.

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[Work: Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, Frederick Douglass, 1845]
Acclaim Freely Given:

How Frederick Douglass’ Autobiography Communes with the Reader

was last modified: May 3rd, 2016 by Daniel Podgorski

[Work: Pudd’nhead Wilson, Mark Twain, 1894]
Nature, Nurture, Nightmare:

On Mark Twain’s Other Ironic Masterpiece, Pudd’nhead Wilson

 

Introduction:

Portrait of Mark Twain by James Carroll Beckwith - Pudd'nhead Wiilson - irony, satire

Portrait of Mark Twain by James Carroll Beckwith

Well, last week’s Tuesday Tome article set out to make a light recommendation of Breakfast on Pluto, then got side-tracked with a conversation about identity that led into a purely analytical Thursday Theater post on The Crying Game. I guess that when I found myself reading part of a dissertation on Irish art while writing the article, that should have been a good clue that the article was not going to end up light. With that failure to keep things light so fresh in my mind, I’m really (truly) going to make this one short, sweet, and enticing.

The book I want to convince you to read is a lesser-known work by an immensely famous author: Pudd’nhead Wilson by Mark TwainPudd'nhead Wilson - Mark Twain. This book has a little bit of everything, from ironic comedy to tragic twists to courtroom drama, and all of it is tied together by a core of biting satire as strong as Twain is known for. Not convinced? Let me tell you a bit more.

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[Work: Pudd’nhead Wilson, Mark Twain, 1894]
Nature, Nurture, Nightmare:

On Mark Twain’s Other Ironic Masterpiece, Pudd’nhead Wilson

was last modified: November 30th, 2016 by Daniel Podgorski

[Work: Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad, 1899]
A Controversy Worth Teaching:

Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and the Ethics of Stature

 

By far the most enduringly famous of Joseph Conrad’s literary works (with the possible exception of Lord Jim) is Heart of DarknessHeart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad - Chinua Achebe - An Image of Africa, a novella that has encountered boundless acclaim and boundless disdain in the century since its release. Its proponents highlight its contemporary progressivism; its impressionistic prose style; and its thematic depth. Its opponents highlight its confusing, vague, and slow-moving plot; its backgrounding of Africa and Africans behind a story about Europeans; and its intermittent direct characterizations of late 19th century Africa and Africans as primitive and uncivilized.

In my estimation, both camps are correct. Conrad was an English prose master as well as a confusingly vague writer. Conrad was a progressive as well as a racist. Heart of Darkness is a deeply troubled book. So, was professor and novelist Chinua Achebe correct when he wrote that, in light of its flaws, Heart of Darkness should not be so widely taught nor so highly lauded?

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[Work: Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad, 1899]
A Controversy Worth Teaching:

Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and the Ethics of Stature

was last modified: July 30th, 2016 by Daniel Podgorski