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Baruch Pelta 2.5

Baruch Pelta 2.5

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Published by Baruch Pelta

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Published by: Baruch Pelta on Jul 08, 2010
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Pelta 1
Baruch Pelta5/28/2010HerronLiteratureLiterature Rebels Against SocietyThe Enlightenment was formed against a background of changing values. As Professor Paul Brians has noted, ³the general trend is clear: individualism, freedom and change replacedcommunity, authority, and tradition as core European values.´ This emphasis on autonomy isseen in both Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment literature. In this paper, I will argue that theemphasis on autonomy from society as a positive literary theme became increasingly accentuatedas literature developed; Victorians sought to defy societal norms in order to redefine them,Realists attacked the social order as inherently flawed, and Modernists wrote about how societalvalues represent contempt for the truly virtuous.The Victorian era emphasized autonomy as a requisite to improve society; Henrik Ibsen¶s
 A Doll¶s House
is indicative of this trend. At the end of the play, protagonist Nora comes to therealization that her upbringing by her father and marriage to husband Torvald have not allowedher to develop as a person. As with her father, she protests to Torvald, ³I have existed merely to perform tricks for you [«] You and papa have committed a great sin against me. It is your faultthat I have made nothing of my life.´ Nora¶s comment is part of a critique of society¶s unfair treatment of women by Ibsen (Takkac 3); the emblematic Nora is explaining that women shouldsee their society as treating them with undue contempt and that they have formulated themselvesin accordance with society¶s low expectations.
Pelta 2
An important message of 
 A Doll¶s House
is that women must free themselves from theshackles of societal expectations ± as Nora does by leaving to ponder her existence -- in order totruly figure out how to actualize their potentials, and such assertive action on their part willreform society¶s
qua women. Such reform already begins near the end of the play, when Nora assertively demands that Torvald give her wedding ring back so that they may be free of their obligations to one another. While throughout the rest of the play, Torvald makesall of the important family decisions and treats his wife like a child, here he simply submits tothe newly assertive Nora¶s demand. Nora is not yet an autonomous woman, but she has begunher journey; similarly, Torvald has begun to understand that women deserve respect. Both Noraand Torvald express hope at the end of the play that they may get back together eventually. Thathope symbolizes the general hope that men and women will become more egalitarian. Thatgeneral hope is characteristic of Victorian literature¶s emphasis on the importance of shatteringsocietal norms in order to positively recreate the social order.Like Victorians, Realists saw autonomy from society as essential because they believedthe societal order was flawed. For example, in Leo Tolstoy¶s
The Death of Ivan Ilych
, whileseemingly achieving his goal to be a well-to-do judge in society, central character Ivan loses hissense of purpose. Ivan soul-searches and reflects on his situation with perfect hindsight: ³It is asif I had been going downhill while I imagined I was going up. And that is really what it was. Iwas going up in public opinion, but to the same extent life was ebbing away from me.´ While hehad gained respect from society, he had lost a sense of purpose in his life.The characters that surround Ivan in the story are generally apathetic and uncaring. AsIvan notes when he is ill but still working, they only wish to advance themselves; they distract
Pelta 3
from confronting Ivan¶s horrifying pain by having lighthearted but truly insensitiveconversations which really point to their own superficiality:It sometimes seemed to [Ivan] that people were watching him inquisitively as aman whose place might soon be vacant. Then again, his friends would suddenly begin to chaff him in a friendly way [«] as if the awful [«] thing that was goingon within him [«] was a very agreeable subject for jests.If the society which Ivan lives in is generally superficial, Ivan¶s acquaintance Schwartzrepresents the depths of its shallowness. While Ivan¶s general description of his so-called³friends´ and their trivial dispositions is less than flattering, he is
annoyed bySchwartz¶s ³jocularity, vivacity, and savoir-faire, which reminded him of what he himself had been ten years ago.´ Schwartz is paradigmatic of the superficial values inherent in the societyIvan is so frustrated with that he was once such a respected part of. Professor David Danaher hasshown in a compelling essay that while
The Death of Ivan Ilych
employs imagery relating toauthentic light which is meant to signify truth, imagery relating to artificial light or darkness isutilized when discussing the false values inherent in the surrounding society; the fact that thename Schwartz in German means ³black´ is not a coincidence but points to the total falseness of the ideals which he stands for. When at Ivan¶s funeral, acquaintance Peter becomes ³disturbed bythe truthful thought that death will come to him [too],´ he rushes out of the viewing room to avestibule to be comforted by the look of a Schwartz who does not care about Ivan¶s death at all, but looks as ready as ever to play a card game and have a good conversation; that is what the plain meaning of the passages are, but if the German and Russian are properly translated, it isseen that with regards to Peter, ³µBlack(ness) awaited him in the vestibule¶´ and ³µBlack(ness)refreshed [him]¶´ (232). Schwartz represents the pure evil of society¶s trivial worldview which

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