All compelling papers begin with a compelling observation about a text. If you notice a repeated theme within a text, parse it out to find nuances in the repitition. How does the theme develop over the novel, how does it change? Why is that shift important? Take Gulliver's Travels for example. Misanthropy is a prominent theme in the novel, but how does Jonathan Swift complicate and enhance his diatribe against mankind?
Through irony and satire, Jonathan Swift mocks his contemporary society by invoking allegories of miniscule and giant lands. In these lands he amplifies the faults of humanity, subtly mocking its corruption through exaggerated depictions of differing societies. His subtle yet persistent condemnation of society lends itself to a tone of detachment and heartlessness. But to view Swift’s project only as an emotionless attack on humanity is an oversimplification. The novel contains many moments of tenderness, most prominent in the many instances when Gulliver is treated well by his captors and welcomed into their families as one of their own. But it’s important to understand that moments of tenderness are not a reprieve from Swift’s polemic against mankind, rather they’re a vehicle to intensify it. Swift often illustrates tenderness as an expression of violence, especially in Brobdingnag where the Queen and King are only able to show their love through acts of violence. These scenes of tenderness are working in conjunction with the satire to strengthen it. By juxtaposing scenes of genuine kindness with grotesque instances of violence, Swift paints a binary of humanity. Tenderness and violence are inseparable parts of humanity that cannot be understood without the other. Illustrating tenderness and violence as indistinguishable parts of humanity, propels Swift’s misanthropy, ultimately reaffirming his notion that humanity is irreversibly corrupt.
The Lyrical Ballads by William Wordsworth and S.T. Coleridge were poetic experiments that pushed the boundaries of poetry in the 18th century. But many of the poems, especially those written by Wordsworth lack the typical excitement and structure associated with "great poetry." So what constitutes "great poetry"? Is it the duty of the poet to make a poem extraordinary? The reader?
“Simon Lee, The Old Huntsman” by William Wordsworth is one of the most prominent examples in the Lyrical Ballads that a poet is not the sole facilitator of a reader’s engagement. The poem deconstructs the false belief that a poet must write enthralling, exciting, morally insightful poetry to procure engagement from their audience. Not only does this notion assign a disproportionate amount of responsibility and power to the speaker, it reduces the role of the reader to a passive, complicit listener. As an antithesis to this claim, Wordsworth offers a poem that is purposefully uneventful with a speaker that is intentionally incapable of mastering stylistic complexity as well as persuasive storytelling. Yet somehow, the reader remains engaged. This seems to suggest that the poem’s simplicity is ironically the feature that encourages and promotes a consistent rapport between the speaker and the reader. The bleak subject matter, minimal technical and stylistic devices, and plain diction encourages the reader to partake in the act of storytelling as it unfolds in the poetry. It is this persistent implication of the reader throughout “Simon Lee” that suggests the onus to create meaningful, engaging poetry depends on the active collaboration between the speaker and the reader. The poem successfully achieves this dynamic through its syntactic and thematic deficiencies. Its minimalism ejects the reader from a comfortable position of consumption, and forces them into an authoritative position alongside the speaker.
What is "defamiliarization" and how is it used in 20th century poetry?
De-familiarization is the poetic practice that makes a perceived object newly strange. Many 20th century poems recycle the tropes and themes of 19th century poems, but offer new interpretations to familiar concepts. W.B. Yeats, W.H. Auden, Langston Hughes and T.S. Eliot are some of the great 20th century poets, providing fresh takes on love, nature, poetry, and even history. In Hughes, "Afro American Fragment" for example, Hughes de-familiarizes readers from a conventional understanding of Africa. Instead of describing Africa as a physical place, the poem interprets Africa as a fragmented memory that lives in the minds of African American descendants. Even though these recollections are immensely diluted from their original prominence, they are still highly valorized by the speaker, insinuating the significance of these fragments to the speaker's contemporary identity. De-familiarizing Africa from its geographical locus invites readers to consider African American identity as contingent on a collective memory rather than a shared physical origin. The repetition, rhythm, syntax, and diction of the poem make the jarring de-familiarization believable, and ultimately suggests that the fragmented memory of Africa within the minds of African Americans will inevitably fade away.