(sub)Text: Realism as Cruelty in “A Streetcar Named Desire” by Tennessee Williams

In the transition from stage to screen, A Streetcar Named Desire retained its long-running Broadway cast with a single exception: the role of Blanche Dubois, which passed from Jessica Tandy to Vivien Leigh. Like Blanche, Leigh was the odd woman out. A symbol of the glories of the studio system, married to the symbol of English stage acting, her classical training ran  Continue Reading …

(sub)Text: Prestidigitocracy in “The Wizard of Oz” (1939)

The Wizard of Oz is supposed by the land’s inhabitants to be its most powerful magician. But far from having any actual power, he is not even native to the place in which real magic is in plentiful supply. Oddly, this supernatural world seems to be secretly governed by mundane sleight of hand, and growing up, for Dorothy, involves uncovering the flimsy basis of adult authority.  Continue Reading …

Formulated Phrases in “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” by T. S. Eliot: Part 2

It was T. S. Eliot’s first published poem. Written when he was only in his early 20s, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” rode the crest of the wave of literary Modernism, predated World War I, and presaged an age of indecision and anxiety. The poem is the dramatic interior monologue of the title character, a middle-aged man whose passivity and ambivalence are threaded with  Continue Reading …

(sub)Text: Disturbing the Universe in “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” by T. S. Eliot: Part 1

It was T. S. Eliot’s first published poem. Written when he was only in his early 20s, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” rode the crest of the wave of literary Modernism, predated World War I, and presaged an age of indecision and anxiety. The poem is the dramatic interior monologue of the title character, a middle-aged man whose passivity and ambivalence are threaded with  Continue Reading …

(sub)Text: At Home with War in “Apocalypse Now” (1979) by Francis Ford Coppola

Lieutenant Colonel Bill Kilgore doesn’t flinch for enemy fire, loves the smell of napalm in the morning, and would literally kill for good surfing and a beachside barbecue. His attempts to recreate home within the theater of war render him the perfect foil to a certain upriver madman, who seems intent on making high culture serve the purposes of primitive horror. And yet Kurtz  Continue Reading …

(sub)Text: Unsound Methods in Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness”

On his journey to the heart of the Congo, Marlow learns of a famed ivory trader named Kurtz— a remarkable man; a “universal genius;” a painter, poet, and musician; a man whose success in his trade has been unparalleled, but whose “unsound methods” have put him at odds with local bureaucrats. When Marlow finally meets Kurtz, he hears firsthand the trader’s essential  Continue Reading …

(sub)Text: On the Lam with “Thelma & Louise” (1991)

Two women—one a straight-laced waitress, the other a naive housewife—leave town for a quiet weekend getaway. But after a deadly encounter with a rapist, the two become unlikely…and then increasingly confident…outlaws. Though a kindly police officer tries to convince the women to turn themselves in, their refusal to surrender to a future scripted by forces more powerful than  Continue Reading …

(sub)Text: Spiritual Matters in Chekhov’s “The Student” and “A Medical Case”

In Chekhov’s stories, beautiful natural surroundings are often a setting for unnatural lives and ugly social conditions. This sets the stage for a reflection on the relationship between physical and spiritual needs. His story “The Student” suggests that material deprivation–whether it is the exhaustion of the apostle Peter or the poverty of the Russian peasant–can undermine the  Continue Reading …

Art and Action in Chekhov’s “The House with the Mezzanine”

In this story, there are two sisters: one introverted, frail, and bookish; the other dominant, opinionated, and politically active. In meeting them, an accomplished artist seems to be confronted with a dilemma. Should art subordinate itself to the project of creating a just society? Or should it focus on serving more spiritual needs? These questions make Chekhov’s “The House  Continue Reading …

(sub)Text: Nipped by Love in Chekhov’s “The Lady with the Little Dog”

Dmitri Gurov does not take love seriously. His wife annoys him, long-term relationships scare him, and his love life consists of brief affairs with women he meets at vacation resorts. In Anna, he finds someone who appears to be the usual victim—traveling alone, tired of her husband, and unlikely to make any effective demands for intimacy, something that seems to be revealed in  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 …