Perdue, Theda, and Michael D. Green. The Cherokee Nation and the Trail of Tears. New York: Viking, 2007. Print. 189 pp. ISBN: 978-0-14-311367-6

Themes of Empowerment and Victimization

The Cherokee Nation and the Trail of Tears was written by Theda Perdue and Michael D. Green,  professors of history at University of North Carolina and the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill respectively, and edited by Professor Colin G. Calloway of Dartmouth College. Both Perdue and Green have written other books. In the case of Perdue, she wrote  Cherokee Women, in which she “examine[d] the roles and responsibilities of Cherokee women during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries,”(“Cherokee Women – University of Nebraska Press.”) and Sifters, a “rich collection of biographical essays on Native American women”(“Sifters”).  Green is the author of The Politics of Indian Removal, a book about the Creek Indians that is “ based heavily on a wide variety of primary sources” (“Politics of Indian Removal – University of Nebraska Press.”). It sounds like a powerhouse combination, one author steeped in Cherokee history, the other apparently knowledgeable about the politics involved in the subject. One would have hoped to be informed through first-person narratives and vivacious prose, since this is not the authors first try at writing a book and you can only get better with practice.


The Cherokee Nation and the Trail of Tears starts in the fourteenth century and ostensibly ends in 2005, though really it stops in the nineteenth century with a brief overview of events occurring after that point. Its focus is not on the horror of the Trail of Tears, as the title suggests, but on the politics and events leading up to this event. It utilizes a full 115 pages doing this, sparing the last 49 pages for the Trail of Tears and its aftermath. It does little to draw the reader’s attention, an appalling lapse when dealing with such an important topic, especially when it claims it is an “American story” and that “ we should make sure that it is a lesson well learned”(P. 164). If it is as important as they claim, and it is, they would have done well to make it more accessible and engaging. This is, after all, the history of the very foundation of this country and therefore the tale of where we all have come from, and, if we are not careful, the tale of where we are also heading. The point of looking into the past is not to merely spectate, it is to take admonition and learn lessons. However, as any teacher worth their salt will tell you those lessons must be made accessible to the students.


A dreary monologue on the land and its people frames the story, probably meant to draw the reader in by dropping them down in the middle of the Cherokee cosmology. It reeks of fluff, seeming more an attempt at showing the authors’ deep knowledge of the subject as opposed to the offering up of useful information. If it was meant to engender sympathy and humanize the victims portrayed later on, they would have been better served opening up with a firsthand account of the aftermath of the Trail of Tears, and then backing up to the causes leading up to what had been described. Or if they found it important to show the deep connection the Cherokee had to the land and a first-person narrative was not available, a reader might excuse them if they started off by writing “Farming in the Southeast probably began about 3000 B.C.E.”(Page. 8)


Although it does a good job at pointing out the injustices being heaped upon the Cherokees, it has an undercurrent that seems to whisper, ‘but it was their fault’. Take for instance the “group of Lower Town chiefs led by Doublehead”(p.37) who “ceded the last Cherokee hunting grounds.”(p. 37) One may well argue that  this was just a “legacy perhaps of the individualistic ethos of warriors.” However, it should be noted that in doing so blame is shifted from those trying to get their grubby hands on the land in the first place. While it is a known fact that Africans didn’t get into massive boats bound for the New World without a little help from their fellow Africans, it is something altogether different to say that the European who bought those people did so with pure intentions and clean hands, having done nothing to instigate and help along the exchange of flesh for commodities. In a similar manner, to point out the greed of certain chiefs who stupidly sold off lands their people had lived on for centuries cannot so nicely sweep under the rug the fact that the people trying to get their hands on the land did not have ‘pure hearts’. It may have been far better to point out that the people buying the land at times purchased it from short-sighted chiefs. Wording is everything.


In the end, while the information contained in the book is interesting enough, pointing out the Cherokee’s consolidation in an attempt to fight off the encroaching Americans, the publishing of their own paper, one that had “a very salutary & happy effect” (P. 76), and the humorous way they adopted what suited them when it came to “civilization”, to get to it one must wade through prose as lively as a mummy, and paragraphs whose bare starkness assault the eye. When held up to the likes of Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, Where White Men Fear to Tread, Mankiller, or Crow Dog this book withers. Where they paint a harsh picture of reality through vivid first-person narratives, and, yes, sometimes pictures that tugs at ones heart and makes one think, wonder, and gasp in horror, this book falls short. This could be excused as the constraints of an academic work more concerned with portraying facts, but its epilogue is a travesty. To end a tale of genocide and forced exile with the upbeat speech of some chief proclaiming, “We are not a people of the past. We are a people of the present, and for many centuries, we will be a people of the future,”(P. 164) smells like a large paint brush being brought down over the reader’s mind. “Forget what passed before,” it whispers. “They live on!”

It would be in the readers best interest to ask what kind of Nation survived into the present century? In what areas have they been completely cut off from their traditions? Where they were cut off was the loss compensated by a gain of, at least, equal proportions? How have their children’s worldview been shaped, and to what extent will that mold the future of this once proud tribe? Are they bitter, self-hating drunkards who root for the cowboys as they chase down Mexicans masquerading as Native Americans? Was this the best way to treat the themes of empowerment and victimization that it deals with?

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Textual Criticism & Psychoanalysis

This paper will attempt to summarize some of the points mentioned by Petter Berry in the chapter of his book, Beginning Theory, that deals with Psychoanalytical criticism. Some areas, specifically those dealing with Lacan, are supplemented with quotations from The Critical Imagination In African Literature in order to flesh out certain concepts mentioned by Berry. The paper gives a brief overview of the architects of these two strands of psychoanalytic theory: Freudian and Lacanian, compares and contrasts their methodologies, and looks at how they view literature. This paper closes with a cautionary note on the limitations of psychoanalytical criticism.

Before diving into what psychoanalytic criticism it would be proper to first define formalist literary criticism. Literary criticism, as embodied in formalism, used to focus on the text itself, word choice, character development, plot, etc. This is not the case in post-structuralist criticism which “derives ultimately from philosophy” and emphasizes “the difficulty of achieving secure knowledge”(Berry 61). One of the forms of criticism that arises from this field is Psychoanalytic criticism, which Berry describes as “a form of literary criticism which uses the techniques of psychoanalysis in the interpretation of literature”(92). Psychoanalysis itself is “based on specific theories of how the mind, the instincts and sexuality work”(Berry 92). Initially developed by Sigmund Freud, it would later be challenged by Jaques Lacan who “called to a ‘back-to-basics’ Freudianism”(Berry 92,104). This type of criticism is of two types: Freudian and Lacanian.

Berry alleges that all of Freud’s ideas depend “upon the notion of the unconscious” which  “has a strong influence upon our actions”(92). That is, Freud claims that our actions are influenced by urges that are beyond the human perception. Freud, it seems, views the unconscious as merely a storage space for socially unacceptable drives with the conscious self “regarded as the primary self”(Berry 107). He developed the notion of “repression”,  “sublimation”, “the Oedipus Complex”, “libido”, “Eros”, and “Thanatos”(Berry 92-93). While these terms attempt to describe human conditions, they are also used to explore literature which “is not involved with making direction explicit statements about life, but with showing and expressing experience through imagery, symbolism, metaphor, and so on”(Berry 98). Thus, Freudian analysis is adept at digging up hidden meanings and conflicts buried within literary works.

Though Jaques Lacan started “training in psychiatry in the 1920s”(Berry 104), and “learned about Freud’s theories for the first time in 1923… nine years before he defended his doctoral thesis”(Obiwu 77), he never had “any physical contact with Freud”(Obiwu 75). Lacan’s works emphasized “the unconscious itself, as ‘the nucleus of our being’”(Berry 104). This is one of the differences between Lacan and Freud: the importance placed on the unconscious, with Lacan claiming true selfhood lies in the unconscious (Berry  104, 108). Notorious for what Obiwu describes as “linguistic obscurantism”(78), Lacan is noted for expressing his ideas in an “often intimidatingly obscure”(Berry 105) manner. Nevertheless, Lacan alleges, that language is “a matter of contrasts between words and other words, not between words and things”(Berry 106). He claims that uncovering the truth of the unconscious, and thus underlying meanings in literary works, “def[ies] penetration without knowledge of their provenance, and traditions and legends”(Obiwu 85).

The idea of the unconscious manifesting itself through symbols is probably best illustrated through the “dream work, the process by which real events or desires are transformed into dream images”(Berry 94). From this idea springs the concepts of displacement and condensation. The former is “one person or event” being “ represented by another which is in some way linked or associated with it”, while the latter is “a number of people, events, or meanings” consolidated into “a single image in the dream”(Berry 94). Lacan likens these Freudian terms to “the basic poles of the language identified by the linguist Roman Jakobson, that is, to metaphor and metonym, respectively”(Berry 107). What is not mentioned by Berry is the African influence on this area of psychoanalysis, especially in Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams which is a “trove of African ethnographic materials”(Obiwu 77). In fact,  Jacques Lacan “compares Freud (especially in The Interpretation of Dreams) with the French  Jean-Francois Champollion, who reputedly deciphered the Egyptian hieroglyphics”(Obiwu 90)  In any case, “since dreams do not show things, they say things…they are very like literature. Hence the interest of literary critics in Freudian methods of interpretation”(Berry 95).

Literature often includes conflict between characters, a device that is sometimes used for dramatic effect. These conflicts can be read by Freudians “as having Oedipal overtones…reproducing the competition between siblings for parental favour”(Berry 93). In describing the various stages of human development, Lacan lists a stage of “socialization, with its prohibitions and restraints, associated with the figure of the father”(Berry 109). This concern with the role of parents, and specifically the father, is “a recognition of the father in human experience as an essential sublimation toward the apprehension of reality”(Obiwu 85). From this, it would seem that the father in literature may have a symbolic role and can be seen as an antagonist who drives the protagonist forward through the plot, especially when using Laconian psychoanalysis. This is explained by Berry, who writes:

“…[A] major consequence of accepting the Lacanian position would be to reject the conventional view of characterization in literature. Since Lacan deconstructs the idea of the subject as a stable amalgam of consciousness, we can hardly accept novelistic characters as people but must hold them in abeyance, as it were, and see them as assemblages of signifiers clustering round a proper name”(108).

Freudian critics “make large scale applications of psychoanalytic concepts to literary history in general… [identifying] a ‘psychic’ context for the literary work, at the expense of social or historical context”(Berry 101).  When viewing a literary work, they give priority to the “‘covert’ content” which is linked to the unconscious, taking it “as being what the work is ‘really’ about, and aiming to disentangle the two”(Berry 100). On the other hand, Laconian criticism pays “close attention to unconscious motives and feelings, but instead of excavating for those of the author or characters, they search out those of the text itself”(Berry 110). This methodology “results in favoring the anti-realist text which challenges the conventions of literary representation”(Berry 110).

An interesting point is hinted at when Berry describes how Lacanian criticism handles “the literary text in terms of a series of broader Laconian orientations, towards such concepts as lack or desire”(Berry 110). The concept of desire, or lack thereof, brings up the issue of “jouissance” which Lacan alleges “is at the core of the ego of frustration and the alienation of desire”(Obiwu 93). Jouissance, analogous perhaps to the nafs with its insatiable appetite, is seen “as a place of anguish and defect”(Obiwu 93).  Obiwu describes the “scehma of jouissance” as being what “enables Lacan to arrive at the meconnaissance of the notorious discontent and ‘aggressivity of the slave whose response to the frustration of his labor is a desire for death’”(93). Where it seems that Freudian notions of “Eros (the Greek word for ‘love’), which roughly means the life instinct, the opposite of which is Thanatos (the Greek word for ‘death’) which roughly means the death instinct”(Berry 93) are universals, jouissance is not.

This brings up the final point. Psychoanalytic criticism is ‘culturally relative’. That is, symbols and words that may carry a specific connotation in one culture may not, and often do not, mean the same thing in another culture. Thus, one should utilize caution, and avoid overextending this tool beyond its true capabilities. Berry does not mention this explicitly in his chapter on psychoanalytic criticism, but it is alluded to when Obiwu states that  Lacan “insists that the… European mode of jouissance should not be imposed on the jouissance of the other”(92). If the “primary language is that which the subject negates or elides in his discourse with the analyst”(Obiwu 90), then care should be taken that the analyst is acquainted with the true language of the subject’s unconscious and the cultural framework which it rests on, else they may slip and misinterpret the text according to their own cultural norms and not that of the subject.

Eros Scorned

Andrew Marvell the “son of a Church of England clergyman, […] grew up in Yorkshire, attended Trinity College, Cambridge” and eventually “took his degree in 1639.”(Abrams 678) “In 1641 […] his father drowned in the Tide of Humber—the estuary at Hull, made famous by ‘To His Coy Mistress’”(“Andrew Marvell.”). “To His Coy Mistress”  presents as an argument, seeking to persuade a lover to give in to his demands before death steals this opportunity. Stuffed with themes of mortality, eternity, Judgement Day, and lust, the poem can be read as a religious poem that censures overindulgence in Eros through its usage of contrasting imagery, allusion, and sarcasm. It strives to reawaken the flickering flames of spirituality beset by an oncoming hurricane of secularism.
 
Language, particularly poetic language, is notable for its usage of metaphor. Often times the literal meaning of words is not meant, and only context clues allow one to pick up on the speaker’s true intent. Ostensibly a seduction poem, Marvell opens with the theme of timelessness couched in wishful thinking: “Had we but worlds enough and time,/ This coyness, lady, were no crime”(1-2) and contrasts it with imagery out of sync with the literal meaning.

This contrasting imagery takes place throughout the poem with jovial imagery preceded by, or bracketed between, far more serious imagery. Here, he imagines an idyllic scene, ‘romantic’ and upbeat, of two lovers on opposite rivers. Marvell writes, “Thou by the Indian Gages’ side/ Shouldest rubies find; I by the tide/ Of Humber would complain”(5-7). Marvel’s father drowned in the estuary fed by Humber, and while that is not Humber itself, it is close enough to awaken traumatic memories as anyone who has experienced the death of a loved one can attest. Despite being near to this watery grave, he is not contemplating his own mortality, rather he is wasting what precious time he has writing “poems of plaintive, unavailing love”(Abrams 680).

This foolish action is further juxtaposed by more water imagery in the form of an allusion to the Flood of Nūḥ (Noah), peace be upon him, a flood notable for drowning people who did not listen. The Qur’ān describes the efforts of Nūḥ, peace be upon him, and the response he received in the following manner: wa innī kulamā dacawṭuhum li ṭaghfira lahum jacalū aṣābcahum fī ādhānihim was ṭaghshow thiyābahum wa aṣarrū was ṭakbarus ṭikbara [And indeed, every time I invite them so that You would forgive them they place their fingers in their ears, cover themselves with their clothes, and persist and are arrogant](71:7). With the hint of his father’s watery death and religious imagery evoking the destruction of the heedless, another image is brought to mind: Judgement Day. Would one ignoring the signs around them in order to pass valuable time in idle pursuits that have no benefit in this world, nor the hereafter, be able to answer with ease on such a day, or would they be up the river without a paddle?

Compared to, say, the multi-faceted love between a husband and wife who have decided to face the vicissitudes of time together, the ‘love’ which Marvell speaks of is an impure one, rooted firmly in Eros and the pornographic objectification of the female form. Marvel imagines the consuming of thirty thousand five hundred years and “[an] age at least to every part”(17) in describing his lover’s physical form as a just act. After all, he saves one solitary age for what really matters: her heart. This corporeal admiration, is just what she deserves, as Marvell declares, “For, lady, you deserve this state,/ Nor would I love at lower rate.”(19-20)

In the face of such carnal lust, one may wonder what fate would await the lover unlucky enough to be assailed by some physical deformity, or whose outward form was eclipsed by the brilliance of another, more comely, maiden. The ‘love’ depicted by Marvell is in reality only the burning coals of lascivious intent which die just as easily as they are ignited. And if it does not die out, one of them will die, a point Marvel wryly brings up directly after the above lines, as he personifies Death as “Time’s winged chariot hurrying near”(22).

Once the winged chariot catches them, and it will catch them, the physical beauty being chased and praised will no longer exist. To drive home his point, Marvell utilizes irony and necrophilic imagery. While the previous lines speak of the adoration of the beloved’s mortal form, there is no mention of the physical consumption that would be the natural outcome of the aforementioned lust. When that imagery is brought forth, it is in the most disgusting manner possible, as though he were deliberately trying to play some psychological trick on the reader in the vein of Pavlov’s dog, only it’s not saliva he wishes to exit our mouths. Marvell writes, “then worms shall try/ That long-preserved virginity,/ And your quaint honor turn to dust”(27-29)  Even the long ages spent praising the beloved will not last. A poet rightly noted:

And if you think you may live longer yet
At least as a name alive on the lips of men,
When your last day takes even this from you,
There’s still to come
That second death.(Henderson)

Marvell seems to be encouraging his beloved to choose mortal flesh, sin, and unfathomable pain should one decide not to repent, over the eternal interests of their own soul. After all, there is no talk here of weddings and marriage. Therefore, the only thing he could be seeking is an extramarital relationship sunk fathoms deep in an ocean of sin. Would a sane individual choose to live for the moment, screaming, “YOLO!” and ignore what Marvell describes as “Deserts of vast eternity”(24)? Does that seem like a wise choice? Doesn’t the Qur’ān censure humanity when it states: bal ṭu’cthirūnal ḥayāṭad dunyā wal ākhiraṭu khairun wa abqā [Nay, you prefer the life of the world, but the hereafter is better and more lasting](87:16-17)?

The last two lines appear to sum up the poem, conveying a message especially relevant in this day when narcissism and secularism seem to hold sway over vast swathes of the population. Marvel writes, “Thus, though we cannot make our sun,/ Stand still, yet we will make him run”(45-46). The first line may be a reference to Yūshac ibn Nūn (Joshua), peace be upon him, and a miracle given to him.(Abrams 680) However, Marvell does not appear to be suggesting the mundane utilization of time to “tear our pleasures with rough strife/ Through the iron gates of life”(43-44)? It’s an odd message given the fact that miracles are granted to prophets in order to confirm their truthfulness. That is, miracles  are shown by prophets to prove that they are authentic couriers conveying a message from the Creator, and the core of this message is the same from one prophet to the next: obey the One who created you and eternal bliss is yours. The first line brings in this idea of obedience and eternity that makes it difficult to take the subsequent idea at face value. Yes, the present moment should be utilized before death or misfortune befalls one, but in a manner that will bring, to borrow an economic term, maximum profit. It is rightly said, “Carpe diem quam minimum credual postero”(“Q. Horatius Flaccus (Horace), Odes John Conington, Ed.”).


Works Cited

“Andrew Marvell.” Poetry Foundation. Poetry Foundation. Web. 27 Oct. 2015. 

Henderson, Jeffery. “BOETHIUS, The Consolation of Philosophy | Loeb Classical Library.” Loeb Classical Library. Harvard Press. Web. 27 Oct. 2015.

Marvell, Andrew. “To His Coy Mistress.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. M. H. Abrams and Stephen Greenblatt. 7th ed. New York: Norton, 2001. 679-680. Print.

“Q. Horatius Flaccus (Horace), Odes John Conington, Ed.” Q. Horatius Flaccus (Horace), Odes, Book 1, Poem 11. Ed. John Conington. Web. 27 Oct. 2015.

Quran. Karachi, Pakistan. N.P. 1994. Print.

The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. M. H. Abrams and Stephen Greenblatt. 7th ed. New York: Norton, 2001. Print.

Handy Nicholas

Handy Nicholas

Born almost halfway through the 1300’s to “a prosperous wine merchant,” Geoffrey Chaucer would later write one of the “most famous medieval  frame tale[s],” The Cantebruy Tales. (Abrams 173, 176) Contained within that work is “The Miller’s Tale” which can be read as a meditation on the ills of knowledge not used for the benefit of society. Through the characterization of ‘hende Nicholas’, readers are made aware of the depths to which an individual may sink when scholarship is subject to carnal desires, and are shown the harrowing outcome of such perversion, the effects of which are not limited to a single individual.

Glossing over the initial three lines setting the stage, The Miller’s Tale starts off with a thirty-one line description of a ‘poor scoler’(82) living ‘After his friends finding and his rente’ which we are told means ‘In accordance with his friends’ provision and his own income’.(Abrams 201) This scholarly individual is depicted as having ‘lerned art’(83), that is ‘completed the first stage of university education (the trivium)’.(Abrams 200) We are further told of his interest in ‘astrologye’(84), and his ability to extrapolate future outcomes from ‘interrgaciouns’(86). His scholarly aptitude is fleshed out by the description of his chamber where:
His Almageste and books grete and small,
His astrelabye, longing for his art,
His augrim stones, layen faire apart
On shelves couched at his beddes heed. (100-104)

He has no house of his own and his landlord, in interesting juxtaposition, is an old carpenter painted as a ’rich gnof that gestes held to boorde’(80) who lacks book learning. We are told “He knew nat Canton”(119), a reference to “Dionysious Cato, the supposed author of a book of maxims used in elementary education”.(Abrams 201) This old, ignorant carpenter “hadde wedded newe a wif”(113), and not just any wife, but one that was “wilde and young”(117).

Nine different times we are told that this poor scholar is ‘hende’, a word which means “courteous, handy, attractive”.(Abrams 201) The first time the word is used is when we are told that “This clerk was clepped hende Nicholas”(91) and in the subsequent line we are informed that “Of dene love he coude, and of solas”(92), meaning that he “knew about secret love and pleasurable practices”(Abrams 201). Despite his good looks, erudition, and “his merye throte”(110), but probably due to his lack of finances, this pauper is ‘Allone, without any compaignye’(96), an interesting contrast to his old, rich, ignorant landlord who is wedded to a beautiful young wife. We might be allowed to overlook this disparity since knowledge is the crown of humanity, as Ibn Kathīr writes “fa sharafuhu wa karamuhu bil cilm wa huwa al-qadr alladhī imṭāẓa bihi abū al-barriyyah ādam calā al-malā’ikah (the honor of mankind is because of knowledge, an ability that distinguished the father of mankind, Adam, from the angels)”.(8:437) An individual, thus distinguished might be considered just as well off as a person blessed with other gifts.

In spite of his education, Nicholas does not seem to have acquired moral uprightness. The knowledge which he has attainted has not penetrated into his heart and caused a transformation of his character in a manner that would give benefit to himself and his society. The second time we are introduced to ‘hende Nicholas’, he is engaged in a flagrant act of betrayal and violation as he attempts to flirt with his landlord’s wife while the latter is away. We are told “[t]hat on a day this hende Nicholas/ Fil with this yonge wif to rage and play,/ while that hir housebonde was at Oseneye”(164-166) In the absence of his landlord, Nicholas commits such actions that border on rape, and can certainly be described as molestation, as he physically “caughte hire by the queinte”(168) and “heeld hire harde by the haunche-bones”.(171) Only the wife’s physical efforts and verbal pleas to let go or she would “crye ‘Out, harrow, and allas!’”(178) bring his foul physical assault to an abrupt halt. Though he lets her go, he does not desist from his sinful actions, instead switching tactics, now attacking with words until “she hir love him granted atte laste”.(182) The carpenter has given Nicholas a place to stay, and he has repaid this kindness with treachery unbecoming even an ignoramus, to say nothing of a learned person.

We are again introduced to ‘hende Nicholas’ after the eyes of another immoral individual have fallen upon the carpenter’s wife, Alisoun. This individual, “a parissh clerk,/ The which that was yceleped Absolon”(203-205), is described in a lecherous manner. He goes about on “the holiday/ Cencing the wives of the parissh/ And many a lovely look on hem he caste”.(232-234) This Absolon attempts to seduce Alison with songs, and sends her gifts “For some folk woo be won for riches, And som for strokes, and som for gentilesse”.(274-275) However, his efforts go in vain because Alisoun “loveth so this hende Nicholas”.(278) So much greater is Alisoun’s love for the traitorous scholar that we are given a proverb to explain why Absolon’s efforts are futile. “Men saith right thus: ‘Alway the nye slye/ Maketh the ferry leve to be loth.’”(284-285) In plain English it would be rendered thus “Always the sly man at hand makes the distant dear one hated”.(205) Courteous, handy, attractive Nicholas is a sly serpent at Alisoun’s side who has used his knowledge and keen mind to blind her so that she sees good in no one but him. So manipulative is ‘hende Nicholas’ that he has turned Alisoun against her own husband, the man who has taken vows in the name of God to protect and provide for her, vows which Nicholas has not taken, and has expressed no intention of taking.

Another case of that scholarly acumen being bent to evil purposes is portrayed as we are told that “hende Nicholas and Alisoun”(293) have decided “[t]hat Nicholas shal shape hem a wile/ This sely jalous housbonde to bigile”(294-295), after all “A clerke had litherly beset his while,/ But if he coude a carpenter bigile”.(191-192) Nicholas would have “[p]oorly used his time”(203), we are told, if he could not pull the wool over that ignorant carpenter’s eyes. Not content with merely isolating Alisoun, Nicholas is intent on moving the carpenter out of the way so that they can consummate their illicit affair, “[f]or this was his desir and hire also”.(199) Given the devious nature so far exhibited by Nicholas it is questionable whether this desire on Alisoun’s part is a natural one bubbling up out of her subconscious or a superimposing of Nicholas’ will on her own. After all, the evidence of her adulterous actions will show on her in the form of a pregnancy. No such visible sign will appear on Nicholas, thus he can ‘afford’ to sow his oats without fear of repercussions, to a certain extent.

The next time we see ‘hende Nicholas’ he has ensconced himself in his room so long that his landlord has become worried and sought him out to enquire after his condition. This well-wisher is met with perfidy as “hende Nicholas/ Gan for to sike sore, and saide, ‘Allas,/ Shal al the world be lost eftsoones now?”(379-381) Nicholas does not immediately unveil his plot, but works a subtle web, drawing the carpenter in inch by slow inch, baiting the poor man with a question meant to perk his interest, then withholding the answer to his riddle by ordering the man to “Fecche me drinke,/ And after woo I speke in privetee”.(384-385) His machinations are designed to beguile the unwary, and it is here that we see his wicked mind and awful craft on full display. Before it was merely alluded to, but now the author uses nearly two hundred lines fleshing out this scene, ending with the carpenter’s reaction to, so to say, sign off on this masterful trickery. We are shown how skillful Nicholas is by the effect his words have on the carpenter even after leaving his company. Having left Nicholas “[t]his sely carpenter biginneth quake”(506), but his reaction is not due to fear for his own imminent demise, rather “[h]im thinketh verrailiche that he may see/ Noees flood come walwing as the see/ To drenched Alison, his hony dere”(507-509), and these thoughts cause him to “weepth, waileth, maketh sory cheere”.(510)

The last time ‘hende Nicholas’ is presented to the listeners he is shown to be a heartless rogue concerned only about his own reputation. Confronted with the townspeople and the imminent exposure of his ill deeds by Alisoun’s husband, he reveals the true extent of his depravity. “For whan [the landlord] spak he was anoon bore down/ With hende Nicholas and Alisoun:/ They tolden every man that he was wood”.(723-725) Faced with a chance to confess and right the wrongs he has wrought, courteous Nicholas chooses instead to conceal the truth in order to protect his reputation by calling his benefactor ‘wood’ or “crazy”.(Abrams 214) Throughout the tale, ‘hende Nicholas’ is depicted as a slimy libertine, unrefined by the bookish learning that he has been blessed with, and as we leave him his character development has only made this point more poignant. Nicholas raises the question of whether or not knowledge that is not applied for the betterment of oneself and one’s environs is worth acquiring, especially when it is used to beguile the innocent, conceal the truth, and wreck marriages, one of the foundational pillars of a health society.


Works Cited


Chaucer, Geoffery. “The Miller’s Tale.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature.

Ed. M. H. Abrams and Stephen Greenblatt. 7th ed. New York: Norton, 2001. 679-680. Print.

Ibn Kathīr, Abū Ismacīl Ibn Umar. Tafsīr Al-Qur’ān Al-Adhīm. Riyadh, K.S.A. Dar Tayyibah. n.d. Electronic.

The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. M. H. Abrams and Stephen Greenblatt. 7th ed. New York: Norton, 2001. Print.

Echerou: Language and Service

“Amongst His signs [i.e. of His massive power] are the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the difference of your languages and complexions; indeed, in that are signs for the people of knowledge.”(Quran 30:22)

Classical Muslim scholarship emphasizes the student-teacher relationship over a student-book relationship. In our tradition, the bond between living students and teachers is more important, since it is through the medium of the teacher that inanimate books are unlocked. This is not saying that the student can never acquire the principles and intellectual resources to venture forth on his own, but is meant to highlight the importance of teachers in the educational process. I have had the privilege of studying two essays in this book under Dr. Iwuanyanwu last year and will attempt to present a few ideas that came to me while I was trying to figure out how to approach this paper.


In the first essay of this book, entitled “Cultural Icon: Michael J. Echeruo and the African Academy”, Dr. Iwuanyanwu notes Dr. Echeruo’s “love of language” and gives us a definition of what Dr. Echeruo sees as the role of the scholar. It is these two points that I would like to focus on while looking at this book (i.e. language and scholastic responsibility).


A poet once said: اِنَّ الكلامَ لفي الفؤادِ و انما\جُعِلَ اللسانُ على الفؤادِ دليلاََ [words are in the heart, and the tongue is only made as a guide to what is in the heart]. That is, the heart has within it certain meanings and ideas which it manifests in the physical world through the tongue, regardless of whether what is manifested is meant to deceive or not. Language, the ability to communicate our thoughts, is one of the greatest gifts that we have been given. Words are our link to the outside world. They allow us to inspire, to uplift, to bring solace to broken hearts, and to convey the wisdom of past generations. What then are we to do when the words strung together defy our intellect? Lacan once remarked during a seminar, “If they knew what I was saying, they would never have let me say it.”(86) The words Lacan uses are deliberately meant to bewilder. Assistance is needed to untangle them, which leads to the second point.


There is a term in Arabic for, what Dr. Rudolph Ware III calls clerics, that is مَوْلَانَا. This word has two meanings: (a) Master, and (b) Slave. It is the latter meaning that is intended when referring to Muslim scholars who are seen as servants to the community. Echeruo sees the scholar in this same light, as “an intellectual who is always in the service of the community”(2). The task of the scholar is to assist humanity and anyone who has read Lacan knows that his obscurantism is in need of translation back into standard English. Dr. Iwuanayanwu, an Igbo from Nigeria, has taken up this task in his essay.


Over the space of 19 pages, Dr. Iwuanyanwu has highlighted the role of the African continent in the formulation of Lacan’s psychoanalytic theory, something which has influenced the way literature is approached and critiqued. Among the numerous contacts Lacan made with Africa, we are told of two trips in which Lacan studied the hieroglyphics, and “‘scrupulously noted down the complicated genealogies’ of the [Sa
cdī] dynasty”(83). Dr. Iwuanyanwu links these to Lacan’s ideas concerning the symbolism of dreams, the importance of the father, etc.


In the same vein (i.e. love of language and scholastic service), Dr. Nwosu approaches the concept of African Literature in his essay: “The Figuration of the Un”. Though he does not give out answers and nicely packaged definitions, he does question what makes a literary work African (is it enough for a work to be set in Africa to make it African?), and offers comments on the universal bonds of humanity. That is, he points out the fact that while literature may be bound by geographical scenery, it has the ability to touch on universal themes that are experienced by everyone regardless of their location on this planet. Thus, a Nigerian, like Chinua Achebe, can write a novel spanning precolonial and colonial Nigeria and have Koreans see something in it that makes them say that “‘[it’s] our history’”(32).


People like to use the word ‘multicultural’ and act as though pluralist societies are a recent innovation in human history; that in the not so distant past we lived in isolated enclaves and were chained in the prison of relativity. I would like to think that these essays show that human beings have been bound together for a while now, and have always borrowed ideas, thoughts, and powerful words from one another in order to enrich their own lives. In the service of humanity, they prove that our differences are not causes for division, but a powerful source of innovation and ingenuity.

Jacques the Philosopher: A Lesson in Moderation

Jacques the Philosopher: A Lesson in Moderation

Love is usually depicted in literature as a period of all-consuming emotion that excludes all else. That is, it is depicted as a main theme to the exclusion of everything besides it. This resonates with the ḥadīth in Sunan Abū Dāwūd: ḥubuka al-shay yucmī wa yuṣim [your love of a thing makes you blind and deaf].

In placing  Jacques in the play a sense of gravity and realism is added to the play’s gaiety and frivolity. It is now not just a play depicting a series of lovers and their adventures against the backdrop of a little political intrigue, gender confusion, and sibling discontent. With the inclusion of Jacques these disparate threads are tied together. He provides context through which the plot and subplots are read. A symbol of realism, Jacques represents life as it is. He shows that love is part of the warp and weft of human experience. Love is a segment of existence but not the whole thing. It is merely one of the stages of life.

This idea is brought up by Jacques in one scene when he paints a metaphor of life calling the people populating it ‘actors on a stage’. He claims that “one man in his time plays many parts”(264), one of which is “the lover,/  sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad”(264). This description of his is in keeping with another description of love, given elsewhere when Rosalind declares: “Love is merely a madness.”(277) It is not /a/ madness, it is madness itself, through and through and has no other parts. Oddly, where Rosalind claims she can cure the fits of love, Jacques suggests there is no need for the procurement of potions and elixirs. According to him, the passage of time will nurse one slowly to a new stage of life.

Another place they differ, is that Rosalind alludes to a possible outcome of love: marriage. Bandying words with Orlando, she states that time “trots hard with a young maid between the contract of her marriage and the day it is solemnized”(275). Whereas, Jacques skips marriage altogether; after lovesick mooning there is war and the bombastic chivalry of soldiers seeking a name “in the cannon’s mouth”(264). Marriage, it would appear, does not have a place in the stages set forth by this somber philosopher. This may have something to do with his disbelief in that emotional attachment that is a soothing balm to the vagaries of life. He castigates love itself by saying, “The worse fault you have is to be in love.”(274)

Shakespeare balances out the seven ages proposed by Jacques by another seven, uttered by Touchstone who mentions seven degrees of a quarrel. The seventh degree seems to be the last before the interlocutors come to blows. However, it is possible to avoid this with an “If”, as Touchstone states, “but when the parties were met themselves, one of them thought but of an If… and they shook hands and swore brothers”(308). In this argument, the virtue of forgiveness is shown, something that will come to fruition later when Orlando and his brother are reconciled. Indeed, the need for magnanimity is extremely important in the political sphere where angry words can lead to entire countries being torn to shreds and soaked in blood.

Whereas, Jacques proposes a view of the world, he offers no concrete solutions. Touchstone, however, does. Balanced against these other seven points, Jacques’ habitation in the forest, away from court, appears to be an act of extremism. He was once as Duke Senior explains, “a libertine,/ As sensual as the brutish sting itself”(262). Like a pendulum he has swung from one extreme to the other. He is unbalanced and as Rosalind wisely pronounces, “Those that are in extremity are abominable fellows, and betray themselves to every modern censure worse than drunkards.”(287)

While he adds a counter balance to the play he also points to the harms of immoderate temperaments whether that be in love, hatred, joy, war, etc. “Love your beloved moderately,” the ḥadīth tells us, “perhaps [they may become] hated to you someday. And hate whom you hate moderately, perhaps [they may become] your beloved someday.”(Tirmidhī)

Dunbar & Chesnutt: The North-South Argument

This paper will attempt to look at the opening paragraphs of Charles Chesnutt’s The Marrow of Tradition and Paul Laurence Dunbar’s The Sport of the Gods, and explain how the two books shape the understanding of the latter, especially with respect to the themes employed by Dunbar.

The beginning of The Marrow of Tradition appears to be deliberately crafted to draw readers in with its suspenseful scene of hope mixed with fear. Chesnutt dangles a promise of new life, something most readers could connect with. This overt Romanticism tugs at the emotions, and while the reader is thus distracted, Chesnutt begins constructing his argument, which seems to be that harmony between the descendants of Europeans and African must be worked for or the country will not survive. Because of its delicate nature, he treads carefully, first offering characters he intends to besmirch in a sympathetic light (e.g. the worried future father whose life has not been a bed of roses and the ailing future mother who may not live to see her newborn grow old). He toys with the Plantation Myth by adding in Aunt Jane, a woman who appears to be the spitting image of every ugly ex-slave stereotype one could think of.

With this interesting dynamic setup, Chesnutt then deploys dialect to give the reader backstory that will be important later, as though mocking us. Imagine someone sending you a letter of grave importance in coded script. That is what Chesnutt does. The backstory is nigh unintelligible, deliberately drifts off into valleys and side paths that it, apparently, has no business delving into as evidenced by Doctor Price’s words, “..but you haven’t told me yet what happened to Mrs. Carteret to-day…”(Gutenburg.org.) The good doctor has to steer the story along, asking probing questions to keep the old nanny on track.  This opening scene ends with Dr. Price patronizingly inviting Aunt Jane, clearly his subordinate, to “come up”, an action mimicked in the closing scene, only this time it is a young doctor inviting someone who is clearly, at the very least, his equal. Notably, Aunt Jane’s obscurantist exposition of the family history mimics majority of the story written by Chesnutt. The Marrow of Tradition meanders, deliberately avoiding its main topic, the riot, while setting up scathing side arguments that barely manage to keep the reader flipping pages.

In stark contrast, Dunbar seems unwilling to hold anything back, opening The Sport of the Gods with a fiery salvo on the Plantation Myth. he does not appear to have any desire to placate his audience with sweet nothings while setting up an argument, not because he cannot (his word choice and plot structure point to a keen and well educated mind) but because he deems the subject entirely too grave to beat about the bush. In the opening scenes he toys with the idea of the Plantation Myth, having Berry living with his former master, but adds twist like describing Berry’s home as “…unlike the cabin of the elder day…” rather it is “…a neatly furnished, modern house, the home of a typical, good-living negro.”(archive.org)

Berry may mirror Aunt Jane in his devotion to his former master and their usage of dialect to express themselves but that is as far as the similarities go. Berry seems less attached than Aunt Jane, having “…wandered from place to place…. waiting, working, and struggling…”(archive.org) before returning to live near Mister Oakley. In this, Dunbar seems to be pointing to the fragile nature of the bonds connecting ex-slaves to their masters, as if he were saying that as soon as these ex-slaves were given the opportunity they got as far away from the plantations as possible. That is, he doesn’t bother setting up a straw man to beat, his argument is that the Plantation Myth is fallacious from the very first paragraph, and having stated that he then moves on to address the real issue: the error of believing the grass is greener on the other side of the fence.

These contrasting views appear to be the ‘stereotypical’ North-South arguments employed by De Bois and Washington, or Al-Ḥajj Malik Shabbāẓ and Martin Luther King. If Chesnutt, in the vein of de Bois, appears to be arguing for active change, Dunbar seems to be on the other side, arguing that leaving the South for the big city is not the answer. He vividly depicts the strong role that environment plays in molding and sculpting the character of individuals, and its sometimes pernicious influence in corrupting, or bringing out submerged bad qualities in, the innocent. The staunch Naturalist vein running through the work, as well as his well timed use of Romanticism to play on emotions, seem a deliberate attempt to persuade the reader that despite whatever problems one may be experiencing in the South, fleeing will not solve them. The entire book mimics the words of Washington in his famous “Cast Down Your Bucket Where You Are” speech: “To those of my race who depend on bettering their condition in a foreign land, or who underestimate the importance of preservating(sic) friendly relations with the southern white man who is their next door neighbor…” Especially as Dunbar closes the book by returning what is left of the family to their old house, as though saying, “See, you should have never left.”


Works Cited

Archive.org. ”Full Text of “The Sport of the Gods” Archive.org, 25 Feb. 2006. Web. 24 Feb. 2016.

“”Cast Down Your Bucket Where You Are”: Booker T. Washington’s Atlanta Compromise Speech.”History Matters. Web. 24 Feb. 2016.

Gutenburg.org. ”Project Gutenberg’s The Marrow of Tradition, by Charles W. Chesnutt.” Project Gutenberg Etext. Project Gutenberg, 22 Feb. 2004. Web. 24 Feb. 2016.