Tutor profile: Briana N.
In philosophy, in what ways is death good and bad?
As a culture, we are brought up to view death negatively, to view it as something we should be terribly afraid of. The idea of death is often associated with unpleasant emotions, like sadness, grief, pain, depression, and a multitude of others, none of them very uplifting. These feelings are usually present when thinking of our own death, as well as when thinking about the death of others close to us. Some might argue that death isn’t always negative, but can foster positivity. For instance, death might be a welcome relief to someone who is suffering or in great physical pain. So fundamentally for this person, the desire to be finished with this terrible, physical experience overrides the uncertainty of death. In general though, death does not come as a relief for most of us. It is possible, of course, to encounter the rebel, the person who likes to “go against the grain,” and who insists that there is nothing to be afraid of regarding his or her own death. I would argue that these cases should be viewed on a subject-by-subject basis, and evaluated to see if there is any consistency among them. I would imagine that each of these is a deviation from the “normal,” and should be considered an abnormality or anomaly in its own right. In this paper I will argue that because death is the embodiment of uncertainty, fear is an appropriate response to death and thoughts of death. If we can think of life as the embodiment of certainty, then death can be said to be the embodiment of uncertainty. We regard death as something that is bad for us because of the way our minds perceive our present reality. We think of death as bad for us because it immediately eliminates the option of certainty for its subject, and instantly creates uncertainty. Our very existence as living beings is something that is irrefutable. Someone cannot argue that we are not alive at the present moment (if we are awake and breathing). In order for something to be true, it must be rooted in fact; we consider our “aliveness” to be true, backed up by factual evidence, such as our ability to feel (both physically and emotionally), our ability to reason, to see, and so on. We trust that specific information about the world and our environment is true because we experience it, like the fact that we live on planet Earth or that the sun provides us with warmth (or that too much sun can cause skin disease). We can say that these things are certain, in the ways that we know them to be true, and that this certainty is formed through our experience of being alive. In this way, our human experiences create certainty. If these experiences create certainty for us, and death would establish a lack of possible experiences, then death would effectively rob us of some kind of satisfaction, happiness, or contentment. In this model, certainty leads to these positive feelings; therefore, without the certainty of our existence (our experiences) we do not achieve this satisfaction, happiness, and contentment. Why is certainty so important to us? It is what makes being alive good. For instance, we know that the house where we live exists; we are certain of this fact. The experience of living in this house creates certainty in our lives, resulting in our satisfaction. Certainty, then, is what is good about being alive. The opposite can be said about not being alive, or of being dead. Death creates uncertainty and, as a result, produces dissatisfaction, unhappiness, and discontentment. Death is also bad because it prevents the certainty of possible human experiences, whether positive or negative. It is perhaps feasible that the realm of death provides yet another authentic environment where we can have experiences that are real, effectually creating the same certainty that life supports. However, because we have no way of knowing or proving this is the case (simply because one cannot travel back to life from death and explain to others what the environment is like), we are left with uncertainty as it relates to death. If we need normal human experiences (whether they are good or bad) in order to achieve contentment, and if we are not certain whether we will have these same experiences in death, then death is intrinsically bad. Death negates the certainty of the opportunity for these human experiences to happen. Therefore, when we think about death, we envision the absence of experiences. In other words, we cannot envision a perceived reality similar to the reality we are in presently. The uncertainty of whether or not these experiences will still happen in death is what makes death bad (or difficult to accept positively) for us. Our own reality is certain to us; therefore, reality equals certainty, and the absence of reality (the death realm) represents uncertainty. Fearing death, then, is a rational and appropriate response to thoughts of not living, of mortality. If we are traveling to a faraway country but it’s completely unfamiliar to us, we may have some trepidation about the journey, some fear. We may have even read or heard various stories about this country, yet we are still a bit afraid to go there. A friend may tell us we have nothing to worry about, that the place we are going is completely safe, but we are still afraid. These fears will never be mitigated because the experience is unknown. We have no prior knowledge of what this experience will entail, and therefore, we lack truth, certainty, and contentment (when thinking about this upcoming event) as a result. This idea is similar to the way we think about, and fear, our own mortality. If we often fear and view negatively what is unknown, it makes sense that we would fear death and view it negatively. Alternatively, someone with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease may not fear death because that person’s perceptions of reality are skewed; the line between what is certain and uncertain now becomes blurred. A family member one day becomes a complete stranger the next. Reality is constantly changing, with certainties becoming uncertainties at any moment, and vice versa. This altered state of reality might actually allow the patient not to fear death in the same way that someone who is completely healthy might. Fundamentally, because the patient’s experiences (his or her reality) are never rooted in certainty there never exists a concrete break between life and death, or certainty and uncertainty. In this case, life and death join to become a kind of hybrid that is never fixed. We might say, then, that it is logical for the Alzheimer’s patient not to fear death, but instead to view it the same way he or she views life. It is also reasonable for us to fear death because death is a certainty with an end result that is undefined. Philosopher Shelly Kagan argues that in order for fear to be an appropriate response to anything, three conditions must be met: the object of the fear must be bad, the bad thing must have the possibility of happening, and there cannot be certainty that the bad thing will indeed happen (Kagan 294). Because the occurrence of human death does not satisfy all three of these conditions (for instance, we are certain that death will indeed happen at some point), Kagan maintains that it is inappropriate for us to fear death. However, I would argue that it is precisely because death is certain that it becomes something to fear. Death is irrefutable and our knowledge of death is decidedly imperfect; therefore, it is because the uncertainty of death is undeniable that we fear it, as we fear other things we do not know or have not experienced. For instance, a person who has never traveled on an airplane may be terribly afraid of flying. However, in this model, the event would be certain to take place – the person would have a scheduled date and time for their flight and barring any significant changes, the flight would indeed take off at that prescribed time. But in this case, the traveler (who has never flown previously) would be afraid of the experience of flying because he or she would not have the familiarity of the process of flying. For this traveler, the process of flying and its end result is uncertain. To fear flying in this case is completely reasonable, despite there being certainty of the event happening beforehand. Ultimately, as Thomas Nagel suggests, we often view death as “an abrupt cancellation of indefinitely extensive possible goods” (Nagel 10). In this case, death takes away the experiences (the goods) with which we are so familiar and which we know to be authentic. It is a rational (and in fact natural) concept to be afraid of that to which we do not have definitive answers. We can surmise, imagine, and presume what the end of life might be like; however, if we remain in any kind of uncertainty regarding the experience of death, we should be able to reserve the right to fear death and/or to view it negatively. Death embodies an indecipherability that awakens a primal sense of alarm within us. Through this embodiment, our reality becomes sacred, and our mortality becomes disturbing. Works Cited Kagan, Shelly. Death. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2012. Print. Nagel, Thomas. Mortal Questions. Bridge: Cambridge University press, 1979. Print.
Describe the role of the femme fatale in Modern American Literature using detailed examples.
Both Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby tell compelling and intricate stories with a strong male figure at the center of each. Sam Spade and Jay Gatsby are both powerful, independent, intelligent, and driven individuals; however, neither character is able to prevent an even stronger female counterpart from turning their worlds upside down. Brigid O’Shaughnessy, in Hammett’s text, and Daisy Buchanan, in Fitzgerald’s text, each represent the femme fatale idea; they are the sirens that lead the men down paths of their choosing. These women direct and manipulate the male characters into acting and behaving in ways that benefit them. It is also important to note that the men act of their own free will, but are heavily influenced by the actions and behaviors of their female counterparts. As author Mary Ann Doane writes of the femme fatale, “she is an ambivalent figure because she is not the subject of power but its carrier” (Doane 11). In this way, the femme fatale almost escapes culpability by merely being the messenger of power rather than its genesis. We can then examine the ways in which both Brigid (as well as other female characters in the novel) and Daisy deliver power and control to their male counterparts in both obvious and subversive manners. In The Maltese Falcon, one of the most important aspects of Brigid O’Shaughnessy’s character is her ability to utilize a type of cunning innocence to influence Sam Spade. By erecting a shield of virtue and purity around herself, Brigid successfully lures Spade further and further into the emotional and psychological maze that she has created. From the very start of the novel we can identify the specific language and physical actions Brigid employs in order to draw Spade into her web of manipulation. When Spade first meets Brigid (under the pseudonym “Miss Wonderly”) in his office, Hammett describes her as looking “at the bag in her lap and pick[ing] nervously at it with a gloved finger. Spade winked at his partner” (7, italics added). Here, Brigid allows for Spade’s immediate conjecture that he is in control and that he understands her disposition. By exhibiting timidity and uneasiness, Brigid has instantly allowed Spade to assume a falsity about her. Later, when Spade learns more about the two initial murders and that she has been untruthful with him, he asks: “‘Is your name Wonderly or Leblanc?’ She blushed and murmured: ‘It’s really O’Shaughnessy-Brigid O’Shaughnessy’” (33). Here, once she recognizes that she has been caught in a lie, she continues her innocent act and seems to overemphasize the idea that she is a “weak woman.” Next, feeling as though she is losing Spade’s trust, she proceeds to describe her unbearable life in a lengthy, dramatic monologue. ‘I haven’t had a good life,” she cried. ‘I’ve been bad…but I’m not all bad. Look at me, Mr. Spade. You know I’ve got nobody to help me…Help me because I need help so badly, and because if you don’t where will I find anyone who can…?’(35) Here, Brigid emphasizes the idea of trust and attempts to appeal to Spade’s softer side, hoping that he will forgive her for lying to him, and once again play into her “hand.” Even towards the end of the narrative, as we see some of the loose ends in the thickened plot to uncover the Maltese Falcon come together, and even after Spade has unearthed evidence that would point to Brigid’s deceitfulness, she maintains this mask of feigned naiveté. As the five main characters linger anxiously in Spade’s living room he asks Brigid, “’How do you feel now, angel? Any better?”’ and she responds: “‘yes, much better, only…I’m frightened”’ (179). Once again, Brigid draws Spade into her artificial world of innocence, and once again, he is distracted and enticed by this fabricated world despite the imminent danger that Cairo, Gutman, and Wilmer present. In his essay on hard-boiled crime fiction, Frank Krutnik describes the noir novel as “a sequence of scenes structured around principles of masculine testing where the hero defines himself through the conflict with various sets of adversaries (criminals, women)” (Krutnik 40). Reading the text through this lens, we can see how Spade’s journey to uncover the Maltese Falcon takes an almost secondary role to his journey to subconsciously (find himself) through his struggles against the female characters in the novel. If we examine the women in the novel, we can identify the ways in which Hammett structures his female characters around the central male figure, creating a type of “woman’s world” where the hero is unwittingly directed and managed by the women around him. Brigid O’Shaughnessy, Effie Perrine, Iva Archer, and Rhea Gutman all contribute to the configuration of this female world as well as to the environment by which Spade conducts himself throughout the novel. As Spade responds to a call from Brigid, he encounters Rhea Gutman at the Alexandria Hotel. There he is compelled to help her recover from a drug-induced episode, despite the fact that he must chase down the facts needed to solve the puzzle of the Maltese Falcon. As he attempts to keep her conscious so that the drugs will lessen in intensity, he tenderly maneuvers her around the hotel corridor: Spade made her walk. …he walked her up and down the green-carpeted room… One of his arms around her small body, that hand under her armpit, his other hand gripping her other arm, held her erect when she stumbled, checked her swaying, kept urging her forward… They walked…the girl falteringly…Spade surely on the balls of his feet (162) Here, Hammett presents an alternative to the characteristically hard-boiled Sam Spade. Although Rhea is connected to the presumable antagonist of the novel, Spade unselfishly provides the care and attention that is required for her to recover. In a similar manner, Spade relies so heavily on his assistant Effie that he considers her opinion to be the ultimate factor in much of his decision-making. Of Brigid, Spade asks Effie: “’Does your woman’s intuition still tell you that she’s a Madonna or something?”’ to which Effie replies: “’I still believe that no matter what kind of trouble she’s gotten into she’s all right”’ (100). With Effie’s opinion stated, Spade does not question Brigid’s actions in the manner that he might have had Effie been skeptical of her demeanor. In addition, the entire scheme revolving around the Maltese Falcon would never have come to fruition without Effie’s involvement in transporting it to Spade’s apartment. In this way, Effie acts as a kind of guardian angel for Spade; she is a vehicle that allows for desired events to happen when and how he wishes. Finally, at the end of the novel we see that although Spade has triumphed over Brigid, he is still trapped in a “woman’s world” as Effie announces at the office: “‘Iva is here”’ and almost as if he has lost a battle Spade responds, “‘Yes,’ he said, and shivered. ‘Well, send her in’” (217). Despite the idea that Brigid manipulates Spade in a way that renders him at a loss for control, and despite the fact that he is surrounded by a world of women, Spade is ultimately allowed an introspective look at his values and moral systems because of Brigid’s fundamental behavior. Directly after Spade uncovers the truth about Brigid, that she is the murderer and that she knew information pertaining to the authentic Maltese Falcon, he makes a decision to turn her in despite his love for her. Simply, he chooses an ethical, clean conscience over a type of selfish, self-indulgent, earthly love. He does the right thing, and upholds the values of the classic, honorable, moral protagonist. He lists his reasons for turning her in to the police and never allows his feeling for her to interfere with his “male” intuition. His vision is clear for the first time in the novel: “His voice was soft, gentle. ‘I’m going to send you over…You’ll be out again in twenty years. You’re an angel. I’ll wait for you.’ He cleared his throat. ‘If they hang you I’ll always remember you’” (211). In essence, Brigid acts as the agent for Spade’s virtual understanding of himself, and therefore, she serves a very important purpose within the novel. Krutnik explains that the hard-boiled detective in crime fiction “seeks to prove his masculine professionalism…by triumphing over the dangers presented by the feminine” (Krutnik 42). At the end of the novel, it appears that Spade has certainly triumphed over Brigid as a person as well as triumphed over his own fascination with her. As Spade commands Brigid to undress so that he can find out whether she stole Gutman’s envelope of money or not, Gutman comments:”’ It never occurred to me that you’d hit on such a simple and direct way of getting at the truth’” (197). Although the statement pertains to the events at hand, it seems to ring true of Spade’s ultimate behavior regarding his discovery of every kind of truth by the end of the novel. Dashiell Hammett offers a number of alternative views in relation to the roles of men and women in the novel, and in relation to the way we might perceive and examine gender roles, as readers, in The Maltese Falcon. Fundamentally, it is important to consider the ways in which the femme fatale, as well as the supporting cast of women, influence the main protagonist’s behavior and judgment as the novel progresses. Specifically, in The Maltese Falcon, Brigid O’Shaughnessy manipulates Sam Spade to the point where he cannot distinguish between her “innocence” and her true character. Brigid, Effie, Iva, and Rhea all contribute to the creation of a “woman’s world” through which Spade must navigate his course. And finally, Spade is allowed an introspective look at the truth about his current situation and about his basic values in general, because of the decision that he must make concerning Brigid O’Shaughnessy’s arrest. Through all this, we can safely say that Sam Spade learns a little something about himself along the way. Unlike Brigid, Daisy Buchanan’s ulterior motives are much less transparent. Rather than use something physical and of immense value (like the Maltese falcon as an object) to influence her male counterpart, Daisy uses her own love as a method by which to control Jay Gatsby. According to authors Dominique Mainon and James Ursini, who write about the femme fatale in cinema and fiction, “a femme fatale is not complete without being surrounded by males who succumb to her whims…She tortures them by never giving confirmation of her true love” (Mainon and Ursini 11). This is true of Daisy in The Great Gatsby because she is only giving Gatsby the smallest amount of affection, and not giving him true confidence in the future of their relationship. Daisy is able to control Gatsby by perpetually promising a future, but also perpetually withholding her love from him. Daisy’s love is constantly conditional; when Daisy, Tom, Nick, Jordan, and Gatsby are having a heated discussion in a suite at the Plaza Hotel in New York City, Daisy exemplifies this idea, at one moment admitting her love for Gatsby and the next moment taking it away again. After much pressure from Gatsby to admit her love for him, Daisy cries in front of everyone: “‘Oh, you want too much!...I love you now-Isn’t that enough?...I did love [Tom] once-but I loved you too’” (121). It seems like Daisy is acting torn between Tom and Gatsby, but as a true femme fatale, she doesn’t give herself wholly to either one of them. Throughout the novel, she is constantly in control of both Tom and Gatsby through the refusal and also the confirmation of her own love for them. After Daisy accidentally runs down Myrtle on their way home from the city, Gatsby is explaining to the group what happened. Fitzgerald writes that “he spoke as if Daisy’s reaction was the only thing that mattered” (131). Even when death is involved, Gatsby still only cares about what Daisy thinks about him. Daisy and Tom return to their house after the harrowing day, and Nick sees Gatsby outside of their house keeping a protective gaze over Daisy. As Nick leaves, he states, “so I walked away and left him standing there in the moonlight--watching over nothing” (134). In a sense, the fact that Daisy has become unavailable to Gatsby (her deepest emotions and love have also become unavailable) leaves him with nothing. There is literally no purpose for Gatsby to be watching over her, as the watching has become pointless. Daisy’s character seems also to influence the very environment in which the people around her exist. Doane argues that the femme fatale "is associated with the styles of Decadence, Symbolism, and Art Nouveau as well as with the attention to decoration and excessive detail” (Doane 11). This characterization applies to Daisy as she is constantly lounging on expensive furniture, driving expensive cars, and generally living a life of excess. Her character also is described as controlling the external environments where she and the other characters are. She appears to have a passive aloofness, but in reality, as an active femme fatale she controls everything around her. During the immense summer heat wave, Nick visits the Buchanans at their home. As he enters, he describes the following: “Daisy and Jordan lay upon an enormous couch, like silver idols weighing down their own white dresses against the singing breeze of the fans” (105). In this scene, Daisy is an idol who is placed on a pedestal and who influences even the material things she touches, such as the white dress she wears and the couch on which she lies. The fan acts as an object that Daisy can elevate; she makes the fan special, influencing it to sing as it cools her. She effortlessly makes people and even objects do whatever she wants, whether she knows it or not: “They were here, and they accepted Tom and me, making only a polite pleasant effort to entertain or to be entertained” (14). It is as if Daisy and Jordan are merely tolerating the presence of the men in the room. The narrator and cousin to Daisy, Nick, explains “I’ve heard it said that Daisy’s murmur was only to make people lean toward her; an irrelevant criticism that made it no less charming” (11). Everything about Daisy, even the way that she speaks, is oddly hypnotizing to everyone that comes into contact with her. Her voice is tantalizing, compelling. Just after Nick describes her murmur, he refers to the way the light falls on her face: “For a moment the last sunshine fell with romantic affection upon her glowing face; her voice compelled me forward breathlessly as I listened” (16). Here, it is as if Nick is not even in control of his own actions as Daisy’s voice is influencing him to act without his consent. Her voice seems to control the behavior of everyone who comes into contact with her. Later in the novel, Nick illustrates this point again, “Daisy began to sing with the music in a husky, rhythmic whisper, bringing out a meaning in each word that it had never had before and would never have again” (99). Once more, Daisy’s voice is the captivating vehicle that supplies meaning for those listening to it. No matter what relationship each character has with Daisy, they are still drawn into her world. When Gatsby invites Daisy into his home for the fist time, he is hyper-aware of her reaction to his environment: “He hadn’t once ceased looking at Daisy, and I think he revalued everything in his house according to the measure of response it drew from her well-loved eyes. Sometimes, too, he stared around at his possessions in a dazed way, as though in her actual and astounding presence none of it was any longer real” (83). Gatsby has essentially custom designed his environment around what he thinks Daisy would appreciate. He doesn’t seem to care at all for his own desires; his wants come second to Daisy’s. She is simultaneously Gatsby’s judge and his inspiration -- his possessions do not mean anything without her approval, but they also do not exist without her judgment. Later, as Gatsby and Daisy continue their romantic relationship, Gatsby gets rid of his house staff so that no one will gossip about their meetings. Nick explains this drastic measure: “The whole caravansary had fallen in like a card house at the disapproval in her eyes” (104). One gets the sense that even without words Daisy can communicate a powerful desire that influences Gatsby’s actions. Just one glance can dictate the fate of someone’s existence. Though not directly, but indirectly, Daisy is responsible for Gatsby’s inevitable death at the end of the novel. She uses the tools of the classic femme fatale to reel Gatsby in and eventually, to spit him out. Author Carlyle Van Thompson illustrates this idea, “Daisy is a femme fatale who eventually lures the enraptured Gatsby to his doom” (Thompson 80). It seems that through a series of unfortunate events, Gatsby’s murder arises; however, it is Daisy who precipitates this chain of events. Nick discusses Daisy’s lack of remorse over, and even lack of attention to, Gatsby’s death: “I tried to think about Gatsby then for a moment but he was already too far away and I could only remember…that Daisy hadn’t sent a message or a flower” (160). Not only has Daisy abandoned Gatsby, but her control over him has now been transferred to her cousin Nick. Nick’s own thoughts about Gatsby are obscured by thoughts of Daisy. Daisy also acts as a femme fatale because she never truly gives herself to Gatsby. She creates an illusion of love for him that is merely temporary, and she controls when and how he is denied her love. One critic argues of Daisy that “the character that results is both cool innocent princess and sensual femme fatale, a combination that further enhances Daisy’s enigmatic charm” (Tredell 115). The way that Daisy handles and interacts with the men around her results in this dichotomy between cold temptress and loving paramour. The combination of these two sides is what captivates and enthralls the men that surround her. Fitzgerald describes Gatsby as being “consumed with wonder at her presence” (84). This wonder arises from the “charm” that is created by the culmination of these two opposing qualities. She is innocent, yet firm and gives Gatsby just enough hope and attention to keep him interested in her and in the idea of being once again finally reunited. Yet at the same time, she never fully gives him the satisfaction of being truly one with him. This is the perfect way to get whatever any femme fatale would want from any man. Both Daisy and Brigid have a unique naiveté that draws these very strong, masculine men into the women’s web. Then, once the men think that they are in control, they are side tracked into doing exactly what the women want or need the men to do. In a sense, the women have convinced the men that they are doing what they think is the right thing to do, or they are going down the proper path, but in all reality they are being steered in the direction the women want them to be steered in. The men, whether a macho detective like Spade or someone who has more money than anyone could ever ask for (like Gatsby), are completely turned around and are not always in control of their minds or of the things that they do. They are hypnotized by these women who know exactly how to stroke their egos, play their every move, or make them feel as if they are “the one” or “special,” In reality, these men are actually just pawns in a chess game that is never going to end well for them. They are utterly and completely hopeless. As De Lafayette states: “[The femme fatale]…directs men toward danger, perils, catastrophes, and disaster” (De Lafayette 13). These women control all the actions of the men. They end up having the men kill others that should not be killed, or end up being killed just in a ploy to do what they are asked of. The men are being sent unconsciously straight into the center of danger. Sometimes they know what they are doing, so therefore they think that they are being heroic; at other times, they are completely blindsided and have no idea what they are getting themselves into. These women control through seductive, yet innocent tactics to get exactly what they want. Works Cited De Lafayette, Maximillien. Hollywood Femmes Fatales and Film Noir. Times Square Press: New York, 2011. Print. Doane, Mary Ann. Femmes Fatale: Feminism, Film Theory, Psychoanalysis. Routledge: New York, 1991. Print. Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby. Scribner: New York, 1925. Print. Hammett, Dashiell. The Maltese Falcon. Alfred A. Knopf: New York, 1930. Print. Krutnik, Frank. In a Lonely Street: Film Noir, Genre, Masculinity. Routledge: London, 1991. Print. Mainon, Dominique and James Ursini. Femme Fatale: Cinema’s Most Unforgettable Lethal Ladies. Limelight: New York, 2009. Print. Tredell, Nicolas. F. Scott Fitzgerald: The Great Gatsby. Columbia University Press: New York, 1997. Print. Van Thompson, Carlyle. The Tragic Black Buck: Masquerading in the American Literary Imagination. Peter Lang Publishing, Inc.: New York, 2004. Print.
Subject: English as a Second Language
How, why, and in what contexts do we use the semi-colon in written English?
We can think of the semi-colon as another version of the period in a sentence, but one that conveys a stronger connection between the two ides on either side of the semi-colon. The most important thing to remember when utilizing the semi-colon is that the user must have a complete sentence or clause (with at least one subject and one verb) on either side of the punctuation. For instance, this is an example of correct usage: I went to the store today; I bought some candy. This is an example of incorrect usage: I went to the store today; candy. You also want to make sure the two ideas go together. For instance, you would not want to say: I went to the store today; it is supposed to rain later.
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