March 28, 2017

The Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan: Logic and Rhetoric Stage Inquiry


I've decided that I don't want to invest my time into reading the second part (Christiana's journey), as I've had enough preaching already in the first part. Bunyan is immensely irritating, and I think that reading the first part is more than enough to form an opinion of his novel.

I'm not sure why this novel has become so popular, but I admit that maybe I'm not seeing the appeal it might have to a religious person. Being a non-believer, I'm in no place to judge. So bear with me as I share my ignorant opinions here and correct me if I'm wrong :)

Is it a "fable" or a "chronicle"?

The Progress is a fable. Christian's sally is an allegory of a christian's spiritual journey to salvation

What does Christian want? What's in the way? What's he doing to overcome it?

Ch. wants to get to the Celestial City (reach salvation). In his way stand the usual temptations and difficulties facing a christian through life. Ch. overcomes the obstacles by reading scripture, following good advice and with some help from fellow pilgrims.

Who is telling the story?

Bunyan himself tells the story as if he's seen it in a dream. The novel is in 3d person omniscient - B. knows what all his characters think and explains the meaning of the terrain they cross to the reader.

Where is the story set?

The story is set on a fictional allegorical landscape. Locations represent either states of mind (Despond), temptations (Vanity Fair) or life lessons (forking paths, statues, etc.)

What style is it written in?

Lengthy sentenses with a lot of logical constructs (therefore, etc.) The dialogues are in the form of a debate or a lecture; sometimes Bunyan goes as far as to provide lists of "what is correct"

Images and metaphors

Is there anything but? The burden is an important metaphor representing sin. The path is an image of life. When it's forking, a choice must be made. Sometimes it's harsh to follow, sometimes pleasant, as life is.

Beginning and ending

B. begins and ends with pointing out to the reader that the story is his dream. He also reminds the reader of that regularly throughout the story. I think that's his way of underlining the allegorical and maybe even divine-inspired nature of the story. The ending is a resolution: Ch. reaches salvation.


Do you sympathize with the characters? Which ones? Why?

I sympathize with Ch. in the beginning of his journey, when he's desperate and lost and has no idea what to do. Every time he's unsure of himself or afraid, I can sympathize because I often feel like that about the future too. However, in the end Ch. turns into an overly-confident, preaching, gossipy and judgemental prick. See how he treated Talkative and Ignorant on the way? He's passed his judgement on them based on hearsay only and rudely dismisses them. This a truly shitty behavior.

Does technique hint at argument?

I think that the form of a similitude underlines the philosophical nature of the book. That author presents it as a dream ay hint that he wants to say it was "sent" to him and is thus undisputable.

Is the novel self-reflective?

A scroll with some divine writing helps Ch. a lot along the way. I think B. may hope that his book will be of similar help to somebody.

Is there an argument in this book?

That the life of a christian is full of challenges, but if he's adamant in his intentions and follows the scripture to a t, he'll find salvation.

Do you agree?

The picture Bunyan paints of the world is too brutal, unpardoning and unfair. I can't agree that a small misstep deserves a beating and that people with different world views should be shunned and despised. I don't need eternal glory if it means I have to be a boring prick. Maybe the novel worked in Bunyan's day, but it looks hopelessly outdated now.



All in all, reading The Progress this was not a pleasant experience. I hate being preached at, and Bunyan does it with teeth-wrenching boredom and self-righteousness. I gave it two stars only for the battle with Apollyon (still not sure what he was meant to represent). Now that was rather cool!

March 4, 2017

Don Quixote by Cervantes: Rhetoric-Stage Reading and Musings


Today I continue the analysis of D.Q. with the help of the rhetoric-stage questions in TWEM book. Again, analysis does not flow easily for me, but I've done my best :)

Do you sympathize with the characters? Which ones? Why?

I really relate to D.Q.'s desire to live his favorite books. Is there a bookworm who doesn't? Although his aspirations turn to delusions, his reason for committing all the outrages is very understandable. I also feel like S.P. pretty often - the urge to stop somebody talking about advanced moral matters by a down-to-earth sarcastic remark. And it pains me to miss lunch too! :)

Is the novel self-reflective?

Yes, and it's one of the central points of the novel. It explores how fiction can affect people, what happens to a book before (like writing a preface) and after the publication (public finds errors, imitators steal the idea). It poses questions of trustfulness of sources (Cide is "only an Arab", can he we believe what he writes?). It also looks at how the lives of people are changed once they become popular through books. Differences in the worthiness of books of different genres are underlined (novels vs. accounts of real events) and it's acknowledged that even literature for pleasure has a right to exist if well-written (book-burning scene).

Is there an argument in this book?

Cervantes states himself in the preface and in the end that the purpose of D.Q. is to mock and condemn chivalrous romances, but I don't think that's the real point of the book. First, the novel is much bigger than would be necessary for this one argument, and second, it defies this argument by being too true to the original that it's supposed to ridicule. I tend to think that what Cervantes wants to say is that books have real power, but this power is not rooted in reality, so too much immersion into books can disconnect you from the real world. And, after all, there is no getting away from the real world.



I'm really glad that TWEM list made me read this. As I've mentioned, I enjoyed it much more than I'd expected. Somehow, someway, the novel does not feel outdated at all (well except for the humor), and the characters really come to life on its pages. I'm not surprised at its immense popularity now, as it's a true classic. So if you're afraid of its size (you can easily kill somebody with the tome by just dropping it on them), don't be! Although it does take a lot of time to get through it, it's still very accessible, and you would not regret the effort!

One down, 30 more to go! Now on to Bunyan!

February 28, 2017

Don Quixote by Cervantes: Grammar and Logic-Stage Reading

Yay, I've finished my first Well-Educated Mind title! What a huge thing it was, I'm really proud of myself. Although long, it turned out to be much less scary than I'd thought. I'd feared it would be primitive, repetitive and didactic, but instead, it was engaging, touching and sometimes (not in the intended places) even funny. Especially the second part impressed me by being a full-blown grown-up novel with character development and what not.

I didn't find it problematic to keep notes while reading, but answering the logic-stage questions felt a little awkward and a bit like high-school literature classes. However, I've made an effort to relax and not sweat about these answers too much. It's the first book, after all, I can't be a perfect critic yet) So here are my thoughts, and logic-stage analysis will follow in the next post. If you have some thoughts, please share :)

A Story of the Adventures and Mishaps of Don Quixote,

who, driven by a desire to revive the order of knights-errant, of which he's read so much and to honor his lady Dulcinea (a simple peasant girl not acquainted with him in reality), ventures out to battle evil together with his faithful and wordy squire Sancho Panza. After a series of unfortunate adventures and following a disappointing defeat, he comes to his senses and dies having renounced his "madness".


Is it a "fable" or a "chronicle"?

The novel is obviously a fable. First, Cervantes never hides that it's him behind the story, inserting his comments from time to time. Second, the coincidences in the story are so wild that nobody would believe they could really happen. Cervantes invents a chronicler, Cide Hamete, do deepen his make-belief, but it's for the reader's fun, no to enforce the plausibility. I think that Cervantes write in the fable style to underline parallels between the knightly romances and the adventures of D.Q., who is trying to imitate them. The similarity of both worlds helps deepen the contrast with reality, which hits D.Q. often and hard.

What does D.Q. want? What's in the way? What's he doing to overcome it?

D.Q. desperately wants to be part of the magical world that he finds in his books. His aspirations are doomed, first, because hey, reality! and second, because some of his friends plot to bring him home against his will in order to "cure" him. In his mind, however, all these obstacles take the form of the vague "magicians" that pester him and keep him from glory. To achieve his heart's desire, D.Q. keeps to all the rules of chivalry to a "t" and strives to always behave valiantly and to seek adventures.

Who is telling the story?

The story is told from the omniscient point of view. This allows the author to jump between the main characters and explain to the reader what these characters themselves don't understand, but totally undermines any pretense at a chronicle. Cervantes starts telling the story himself, then invents the Arabic historian who had put it all down and whose work Cervantes is only translating. Cervantes allows himself to comment in Cide and the book when he feels like it, and Cide adds his comments too. A lot of sub-stories are told by different side characters, also from the omniscient point of view.

Where is the story set?

In Cervantes's time Spain. Real events like the eviction of the Moriscos and wars are mentioned. The real world is cruel and unwelcoming towards D.Q., mostly because he denies it. Nature alone is kind and welcoming for the knight.

What style is it written in?

D.Q. is written in lengthy and windy sentences with a lot of clauses, providing a lot of details and embellishments. Dialogues are much better written than the descriptions, and main characters have very recognizable voices (D.Q.'s educated speech, Sancho's proverbs).

Images and metaphors

The magicians that are always pestering D.Q. (at least in his mind) stand for the real life that comes crushing all of D.Q.'s fantasies. The cave of Montesinos of a metaphor for the whole journey of D.Q. He asks repeatedly (the monkey and the stone head) if what he's witnessed in the cave is read or not, and the answer both times is that some of it was real and some of it not. As this one adventure, all of his adventures are an amalgam of reality and imagination. D.Q. and S.P. stand for different social classes and behave accordingly. Inns represent normality and society. S.P. is always for them (in spite of the thrashings) but D.Q. prefers to sleep in the forest. The famous windmills that D.Q. battled are also symbols of the dream-crushing reality.

Beginning and ending

The beginning introduces D.Q. as Alonso Quixana and in the end, he returns to positioning himself as such after his adventures are finished. It's as if he was reborn as Don Quixote the knight in the beginning of the novel and dies in the end because he loses his identity.

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