Human Suffering in the Works of W. Faulkner, S. Plath, T. Roethke, and W. Shakespeare
Literature is considered as one of humanity's powerful medium of expression. Different forms of expression are used in literature, such as poetry, plays, novels, and short stories. As a medium of expression, literature becomes the primary vehicle in expressing the human experience. Take as an example the theme of human suffering in literature. Numerous poems and stories have been made that depicts the human experience of suffering in society, particularly the suffering of people as depicted in Western literature. This paper will analyze the works of William Faulkner, Sylvia Plath, Theodore Roethke, and William Shakespeare. These literary authors effectively depict suffering through social oppression, gender stratification, physical abuse, and emotional abuse and torment.
These themes will be discussed in the analysis of the works of the authors mentioned, which are the following: "A Rose for Emily" by William Faulkner, "Daddy" by Sylvia Plath, "My Papa's Waltz" by Theodore Roethke, and "Hamlet" by William Shakespeare. Faulkner's piece is a short story depicting the life of Emily Grierson and the suffering that she had experienced surrounded by her neighbors who are constant witnesses to the sufferings she had endured as a repressed woman in her society; Plath's poem illustrates a woman's recollection of her father who was patterned and described after the likeness of Nazi soldiers, illustrating the violent and cold nature of her father; Roethke's poem discusses the physical abuse that the poet or Voice had experienced in his childhood years; and Shakespeare's play reflects the character's emotional turmoil as he decides whether to revenge his father's death or not.
The first literary piece that will be analyzed is William Faulkner's "A Rose for Emily." The short story depicts the life of Emily Grierson, wherein the life story of the woman was narrated by the voice of an individual who has been acquainted with Emily's life through the years. Narrated through the eyes of a spectator, "A Rose for Emily" reflects effectively the suffering of Emily as she lived her life in emotional repression and loneliness in life. The narrator's opening lines in the short story shows how Emily's life was a form of 'entertainment' for Emily's community, wherein Emily's death was shown as 'curiosity': "When Miss Emily Grierson died, our whole town went to her funeral: the men through a sort of respectful affection for a fallen monument, the women mostly out of curiosity to see the inside of her house..." This passage shows how her life had been an open book for the community, and as her life descended from being one of the town's richest families to being the poorest one, Emily's community played a big part in illustrating the woman's suffering through life.
Throughout the story, Emily was portrayed as a woman who had experienced the harshness of the conventions and rules set forth by her family and community: while Emily's father forbade her to have the luxury to enjoy her life as a young woman, her community, meanwhile, continually condemns the hostility of Emily's family, that is why they also behave that way towards Emily's family even after her father died. Evidence of Emily's repression in matters of love and close social relationships are illustrated through the following lines: "None of the young men were quite good enough to Miss Emily and such... So when she got to be thirty and was still single, we were not pleased exactly, but vindicated..." These lines are reflections of the hostility of Emily's family and community towards the main character. Although Emily is characterized as "dear, inescapable, impervious, tranquil, and perverse," she is nevertheless illustrated as a sorry figure, especially when she descended from wealth to poverty after her father died: "Being left alone, and a pauper, she had become humanized. Now she too would know the old thrill and the old despair of a penny more or less." Thus, because of the society that surrounds and constantly 'watching' her, Emily in Faulkner's story shows how her social and family oppression through degradation has molded Emily into the image of what the society imagined her to be: a proud and obstinate woman within a mutually hostile society/community.
The second unit of analysis is the poem "Daddy" by Sylvia Plath. This poem shows how woman repression is also a prevailing theme in the poem, although Plath illustrates the speaker of the poem as a brave and outspoken individual, who was able to express the repression she had for so long kept within herself. Unlike Emily, who was not given the opportunity to speak out her real thoughts because of her hostile environment, Plath's speaker in the poem was given the opportunity how she had suffered under her father's domineering character, and how the speaker was able to cope with the oppression she felt.
The first lines of the poem establish the repression she had felt under her father's authority: "You do not do, you do not do / Any more, black shoe / In which I have lived like a foot... Barely daring to breathe or Achoo." These lines are symbolic of the feelings Plath has for her father, which is represented by the "black shoe." Plath expresses her freedom from her father's authority (implying the repression that she had been subjected into) by saying that she "lived like a foot" 'inside' the 'black shoe.' Contained under her father's authority, Plath's speaker reflects on her life with her father, where she cannot be herself ("Barely daring to breathe or Achoo"). During the development of the poem, Plath finally speaks out against her father in a direct manner, illustrating her newfound courage: "I have always been scared of you / With your Luftwaffe, your gobbledygook / And your neat mustache / And your Aryan eye, bright blue." The emotional hardship that Plath's speaker had felt towards her father was likened to the dangerous and cold character of the Germans, which brings to mind the fact that the Nazi soldiers originated from Germany. Also, like the Nazi soldiers, Plath's speaker felt like a Jew because of the oppression that she felt and her father did to her: "...a swastika... Brute heart of a brute like you..." Having described the violent character of her father, Plath's speaker finally lets her emotional suffering reflect her true feelings towards her father, who had been like a Nazi soldier oppressing a Jew just because the poem's speaker is a young child who happened to be a female. Her analogy of their situation shows how Plath attempts to extend to her audience the degree of suffering the speaker felt and underwent because of her father's rigid and hostile character. Finally, in an outpouring of emotion and expression of finality, Plath's speaker finally states the bravest statement and (revelation) she has against her father: "the villagers never liked you / They are dancing and stamping on you / They always knew it was you / Daddy, daddy, you bastard, I'm through." These final lines show how the speaker reveals herself as an individual who has been changed because of her father: likening herself to a vampire that has been inflicted with its blood, the speaker becomes like her father, who is brutish, harsh, and oppressive. Thus, Plath illustrates through the poem "Daddy" the lasting effects of emotional and physical abuse, which, in the speaker's case, had an effect of influencing and being like what her father once was.
The third piece for analysis is Theodore Roethke's "My Papa's Waltz," which is the story of the poet's life as a victim of his father's physical abuse. The poem uses symbols in order to express effectively the nature of the poet's relationship with his father. The first stanza of the poem shows the problem of alcoholism of the speaker's father, and the poet provides the readers a first look of the abusive and violent behavior of the father: "The whiskey on your breath / Could make a small boy dizzy / But I hung on like death / Such waltzing was not easy." By using the word "death" in connection with the word "whiskey" conveys the violence that can happen during times wherein his father is intoxicated. Roethke's reference to "waltzing" is the relationship between him and his father, which is like the feeling of intoxication, characterized as uncertain and dizzying. The second stanza is a further reiteration of the father's abuse not only to his child, but to his wife as well. The lines, "We romped until the pans / Slid from the kitchen shelf / My mother's countenance / Could not unfrown itself," illustrates that the poet's family is an unhappy one, which is evidently the result of the father's alcoholism. Finally, the third stanza directly shows the existence of violence in the poet's family. The lines "The hand that held my wrist / Was battered on one knuckle... My right ear scraped a buckle," are illustrative of the physical abuse…