(sub)Text: The Fool Gets Hurt in Fellini’s “La Strada” (1954)

Fellini called his film “La Strada” a dangerous representation of his identity, and had a nervous breakdown just before completing its shooting. Perhaps this identity, and its vulnerability, have something to do with the film’s portrayal of a disappointed hope that love might vanquish pride, if properly assisted by the forces of playfulness and creativity. The problem is that  Continue Reading …

(sub)Text: False Roles and Fictitious Selves in “The Awakening” by Kate Chopin

In the late 19th century, the “New Woman” was a term coined by Henry James for a particular kind of feminist who demanded freedom of behavior, dress, education, and sexuality. Out of that paradigm came “The Awakening,” a novel that scandalized critics upon its publication with its tale of New Orleans society wife Edna Pointellier, who tries to throw off the shackles of  Continue Reading …

(sub)Text: Time, Pressure, and Good Will in “The Shawshank Redemption”

The Shawshank Redemption (1994, directed by Frank Darabont) was not a box office hit, it is now routinely near the top of many greatest movies lists. That’s a suitable result for a story that is in part about the redemptive possibilities of endurance and perseverance. And the film’s appeal lies partly in the hope that this idea inspires. It convincingly argues that there is a  Continue Reading …

(sub)Text: Business Gets Personal in “The Godfather”

Out of the darkness of the opening frames comes a supplicant— Buonasera the undertaker. He pleads for the justice that the American legal system denied him. As the camera draws back, we see the outline of a face, a hand... Don Corleone holds court at the confluence of loyalty and duress, generosity and calculation, power and fragility. It is not money, but friendship that he  Continue Reading …

(sub)Text: Love and Nostalgia in Woody Allen’s “Annie Hall”

Alvy Singer is not, he tells us, a depressive character. It’s just that as a child he always worried that the expanding universe would one day break apart; and as an adult that romantic relationships must always fall apart. With Annie Hall, he thought he had finally found something that would last, in part because she could -- like the audiences of Woody Allen -- endure and  Continue Reading …

(sub)Text: Yielding to Suggestion in Shakespeare’s “Macbeth”

On the moors of medieval Scotland, three witches hail the nobleman Macbeth as the future king—despite the fact that King Duncan is very much alive, and Macbeth is not in line to the throne. At the suggestion of power, Macbeth’s mind leaps to murder. Later, he fancies he sees a floating dagger leading him to Duncan, and after more bloodshed, believes he is haunted by the ghost  Continue Reading …

(sub)Text: Clever Hopes in W. H. Auden’s “September 1, 1939”

W. H. Auden hated this poem. He called it the most dishonest he had ever written, and eventually had it excluded from collections of his poetry. And yet it quickly became one of his most popular poems. And after the attacks of September 11, it was published in several national newspapers and widely discussed. This might seem to be a strange result, given that the poem is not a  Continue Reading …

(sub)Text: The “Human Position” of Suffering in W.H. Auden’s “Musée des Beaux Arts”

As war loomed in Europe, the poet W.H. Auden left Britain for the United States. One of the poems he wrote just before leaving is about the nature of human suffering—or as Auden puts it, the “human position” of suffering: for the most part, it happens invisibly, and the procession of ordinary life leaves it unacknowledged. Yet, the representation and transcendence of suffering  Continue Reading …

(sub)Text: Against Specialization in Ibsen’s “Hedda Gabler”

Hedda Gabler is not a fan of specialization: not in the professor she has married, and his esoteric scholarly interests; not in domesticity, and the specialized affections required by marriage and motherhood; not in any lover’s infatuated specialization in her; and perhaps not in the form of specialization arguably required by life itself, with its finite and confining  Continue Reading …

(sub)Text: Order and Innocence in Melville’s “Billy Budd”

Bill Budd is a beautiful man. Not just good looking, but exquisitely good natured, something that costs him no effort and has required no instruction. And yet it is ultimately his beautiful soul and good nature that get Billy killed. Wes & Erin discuss Herman Melville’s final and unfinished work of fiction, and whether a good heart and good intentions are more important  Continue Reading …

(sub)Text: The American Dream in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby”

We all know this story, in part because it captures a period that will always have a special place in the American imagination. Prosperous and boozy, the Jazz Age seemed like one great party, held to celebrate the end of a terrible world war; the liberating promise of newly ubiquitous technologies, including electricity, the telephone, and the automobile; and a certain image of  Continue Reading …

(sub)Text: Worrying about the Future in Mike Nichols’ “The Graduate”

Benjamin Braddock is a little worried about his future. He’s a recent college graduate who moves back in with his upper-middle-class parents and feels smothered by their vapid, materialistic lifestyle. But he begins an affair with a woman from his parents’ circle… And then he falls in love with her daughter. Like Benjamin, we wonder what the future can and should hold for us.  Continue Reading …

(sub)Text: Slouching Towards Bethlehem in W.B. Yeats’ “The Second Coming”: Part 2

Wes and Erin continue their discussion of W.B. Yeats’ "The Second Coming." In Part 1, they analyzed the first stanza of the poem, in particular Yeats' use of "gyre"; the meaning of the phrases "things fall apart" and "the center cannot hold"; and the conflict between aristocratic and revolutionary values. In Part 2, they discuss -- with a little help from Nietzsche -- the  Continue Reading …

(sub)Text: Things Fall Apart in W.B. Yeats’ “The Second Coming”: Part 1

In 1919, the world seemed to have descended into anarchy. World War I had killed millions and profoundly altered the international order. Four empires, along with their aristocracies, had disintegrated. Russia was in a state of civil war, and Ireland was on the verge of its own. It’s these events that helped inspire William Butler Yeats’ poem “The Second Coming,” which famously  Continue Reading …

(sub)Text: Filial Ingratitude in in Shakespeare’s “King Lear”

Do we owe parents our gratitude for our upbringing? What if they haven’t done such a great job? And anyway, perhaps we inevitably resent all the forces that have shaped the characters that confine and limit us. If so, the quest for filial gratitude is ultimately hopeless. It could even be a kind of madness: a foolish attempt to transcend the same formative forces that we resent  Continue Reading …

(sub)Text: The “Intelligent Way to Approach Marriage” in Hitchcock’s “Rear Window”

L.B. Jefferies has the perfect girlfriend—beautiful, intelligent, wealthy—but too perfect, he insists, for marriage. And so he spends his time spying on the love lives of his neighbors, and ropes his girlfriend into this project as well. Which, strangely enough, turns out to be a really effective form of couples’ therapy. What’s the connection between voyeurism and what  Continue Reading …

(sub)Text: Truth as Beauty in Keats’ Ode on a “Grecian Urn”

The poet John Keats is famous for the concept of “negative capability,” his description of the ability to tolerate the world’s uncertainty without resorting to easy answers. Literary minds in particular should be more attuned to beauty than facts and reason. In fact, truth in the highest sense is the same thing as beauty, he tells us at the end of his poem Ode on a Grecian Urn.  Continue Reading …

(sub)Text: Love and Wit in Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing”

At the center of every courting ritual, there’s a great unknown. How do we know when we’ve met someone we can love? How do we know the other person is actually who they seem to be? In the beginning, all we have to go on is surface appearances, which amount to a kind of hearsay. The question is how to get beyond them. Wes and Erin discuss Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing,  Continue Reading …

(sub)Text: Mastery and Repetition in “Groundhog Day”

When egotistical weatherman Phil Connors gets trapped in a time loop in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, he gets drunk, steals money, manipulates women, binges on breakfast food, plays God… and finally grows up. The story charts Phil’s development over the course of thousands of repeated February 2nds. Along the way, it raises questions about our own capacity for growth. How do we  Continue Reading …