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Please note that Berger uses the term “man” instead of humankind (because it was standard when he published that essay; in your own writing, use the gender-neutral humankind or humans or humanity).

2.For this topic, please read Timothy Morton’s short study of plants and humans (as well as of living and dying) in Dark Ecology: For a Logic of Future Coexistence (the full text is on line at umanitoba.ca/libraries) and discuss how it is useful for analyzing the setting and imagery of Rainer Maria Rilke’s poem “Orpheus, Eurydice, Hermes.”

OR: Read Timothy Morton’s short study of plants and humans (as well as of living and dying) in Dark Ecology: For a Logic of Future Coexistence (the full text is on line at umanitoba.ca/libraries) and make a case for how it enables a way of comparing H.D.’s “Eurydice” and Rilke’s “Orpheus, Eurydice, Hermes.”

3.Read Judith Halberstam’s short book The Queer Art of Failure (available at umanitoba.ca/libraries) and consider how Halberstam’s ideas and terminology illuminate anxiety surrounding school and studying in Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend.

4.Read Judith Halberstam’s A Queer Time and Place: Transgender Bodies, Subcultural Lives (available at umanitoba.ca/libraries) and consider how Halberstam’s argument and terminology illuminate Ivan Coyote’s self-creation in “Tomboy’s Still.”

5.Compare the representation of self-awareness (or anger, hope, betrayal—or a concept you find interesting) in Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend and H.D.’s “Eurydice” and/or Rilke’s “Orpheus, Eurydice, Hermes.”

6.Compare the weird, mythical landscapes in Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend and Rilke’s “Orpheus, Eurydice, Hermes.”  Make a case for why both texts place their characters in similarly mythical, defamiliarized spaces.

7.For this topic, please read Piero Boitani’s Looking Upward: Stars in Ancient and Medieval Cultures and/or J.C. Bergon’s Essays on Medieval Computational Astronomy and discuss how they illuminate The Exeter Book’s Riddle 91 (below)

Self-awareness in Elena Ferrante’s “My Brilliant Friend”

As opined by Dickens and Fontana, literature is commonly seen as a medium or the vehicle through which the authors or the writers express their opinions as well as the things that are of great interest to them in a subtle manner. Heynders has noted that this is perhaps one of the major reasons why in the majority of the literary works the lead characters not only try to understand the relationship that they share with their immediate surroundings but at the same time their inner feelings as well. This in turn had given rise to the concept of ‘self-awareness’ which as a matter of fact manifests itself in the majority of the literary works that have been composed over the years. In this regard, two important works whose fulcrum point is the theme of self-awareness are Elena Ferrante’s “My Brilliant Friend” and H.D’s “Eurydice”. Both of these literary works use the theme of self-awareness to render in an effective manner the feelings of the lead characters round whom the entire work revolves and also to making the work more moving. The aim of this essay is to analyse the theme of self-awareness in Elena Ferrante’s “My Brilliant Friend” and H.D’s “Eurydice” and show how the effective usage of this theme makes these two works a moving one for the readers.

Elena Ferrante’s “My Brilliant Friend” narrates the friendship that two girls, namely, Lily and Elena share with each other over the years (Milkova). Elena comes to know that Lily had been able to fulfil her childhood dream of disappearing and this actually leads Elena to walk down the memory lane and narrate the entire story in retrospect (Bullaro). For example, she reveals how the two girls came to know each, the manner in which their friendship blossomed, the economic as well as social backgrounds from which both of them came as well as the choices that they made in their lives. One of the most important aspects of the story that Elena narrates is the fact that while narrating the story of her friend Lily she shows a high level of self-awareness and thus rather than speaking explicitly about her friend she ends up revealing a great deal about her feelings as well as her life as well (Milkova). For example, in the initial pages of the novel while commenting on the meaning of nature of life that the children lead she is found saying “Children don’t know the meaning of yesterday, of the day before yesterday, or even of tomorrow, everything is this, now: the street is this, the doorway is this, the stairs are this, this is Mamma, this is Papa, this is the day, this the night” (Ferrante). This is an indicative of the high level of self-awareness which she depicts all through the novel.

Importance of self-awareness in Elena Ferrante’s “My Brilliant Friend”

The entire novel under discussion here is redolent with instances wherein Elena shows a high level of self-awareness, which as a matter of fact forms the central theme of the work (Bullaro). The self-awareness of Elena becomes apparent in the fact that she very well understands the privilege that she holds within the society in which she lives because of the fact that she is the only girl in her entire school who goes to middle-school (Milkova). This is important from the fact that in the post-war society which the novel under discussion here depicts the women of the society had very little educational opportunities and people considered that the women are good only for household work. This is actually the main reason why the best friend of Elena, namely, Lily drops out of school because her mother thinks that she would be better off doing the household works and thereby contributing in an effective manner towards the family. In this regard, the she even remembers the comment Lily that had made about her “Not for you…you’re my brilliant friend, you have to be the best of all, boys and girls” (Ferrante).

The high level of self-awareness that Elena has also becomes apparent from her effective understanding of her heart’s desire and also her understanding of the emotions or the feelings that she have for Nino Sarratore (Bullaro). Explaining her feelings for Nino and also why she have those feelings for him, she says “Nino has something that's eating him inside, like Lila, and it's a gift and a suffering; they aren't content, they never give in, they fear what is happening around them” (Ferrante). These instances clearly point towards the high level of self-awareness that she has and this in turn contributes in an effective manner towards the appeal of the novel under discussion among the readers. Dickens and Fontana have articulated the viewpoint that the modern readers do not like the kind of stories in which there are flat characters rather they like the kind of stories in which the protagonists or the central characters show a high level of self-awareness. This as a matter of fact is one of the major reasons why the novel under discussion here had much appreciated as well as liked by the readers as well.

Hilda "H.D." Doolittle’s famous poem “Eurydice” is a retelling of the ancient myth of Eurydice and Orpheus from the perspective of Eurydice and the manner in which she feels during her stay at Hades, the kingdom of Pluto (Annart). It is pertinent to note that the entire poem is being narrated from a feministic perspective and the narrator shows a high level of self-awareness regarding her condition and also the things which are happening to her (Spentzou). This is important because of the fact that almost all the works which have been written on the Greek myth of Orpheus have discussed the myth from the perspective of Orpheus and there have been very instances in which the feelings or the emotions of Eurydice have been taken into effective consideration (Annart). It is precisely herein that the importance as well as the strength point of the work under discussion here lies.        

Self-awareness in H.D’s “Eurydice”

The portrayal of Eurydice in the poem under discussion here differs from the ones which have been offered by the other poets or dramatists or authors because of the fact that rather than showing Eurydice as a salient suffering H.D. shows her as a character who is highly aware of her own surroundings as well as plight (Spentzou). In this regard, it needs to be said that the theme of self-awareness is integral to the poem under discussion and this becomes apparent from the high level of self-awareness that the central character or the narrator of the poem shows. For example, commenting on the drastic changes that had taken place in the surroundings in which she resides presently, she says “So you have swept me back, /I who could have walked with the live souls…..at last” (Poetryfoundation.org). This is an indicative of the fact that unlike the earlier portrayals of Eurydice she is a highly self-aware character. In addition to this, rather than passively suffering at the hands of her oppressors she not only articulates her anger or frustration against him but at the same time protests as well. In this regard, the lines of the poem “so for your arrogance….who was almost forgot” are important to note (Poetryfoundation.org). More importantly, she not only longs for the earthly life that she once led but at the same time is aware of the reason why she had to dwell in the kingdom of Hades with no apparent fault of hers (Annart). Furthermore, although she is presently residing in Hades yet she had deep desires to return back to the earth and lead a normal life and also to die a natural death rather than the forced death that she had been offered. The highly self-aware narrator and the feministic rendering of the classic myth which had been retold several times from the perspective of Orpheus are the two most important factors which have greatly contributed towards the appeal of the poem in the present times.

A critical analysis of both the literary works under discussion clearly reveals the fact that self-awareness is the major theme of both of these works. More importantly, a common factor between both of these which tell different stories is the fact that the central characters of both of these works show a high level of self-awareness. Furthermore, it is seen that this high level of self-awareness which both of these literary works show is one of the major reasons for the popularity as well as the appeal that these two literary works have even in the present times.

To conclude, the concept of self-awareness had formed the central theme of a great many literary works since the traditional times and is still being used by the different authors or writers. Furthermore, it is seen that one of the major reasons for the extensive usage of this theme is the fact that the readers like to read about the characters who are dynamic in nature and have a high level of self-awareness rather than merely read about flat characters. This in turn not only enhances the appeal of the literary works but at the same time the pleasure of the text as well. This becomes apparent from the above discussion of Elena Ferrante’s “My Brilliant Friend” and H.D’s “Eurydice” and the analysis of their main theme, that is, self-awareness.

References

Annart, Florence. The Medusa Figure in the Works of Hilda Doolittle, Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton. Diss. Universiteit Antwerpen, 2015.

Bullaro, Grace Russo. "The Era of the “Economic Miracle” and the Force of Context in Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend." The Works of Elena Ferrante. Palgrave Macmillan, New York, 2016. 15-44.

Dickens, David R., and Andrea Fontana. Postmodernism and social inquiry. Routledge, 2015.

Ferrante, Elena. My brilliant friend. Europa Editions UK, 2012.

Heynders, Odile. Writers as public intellectuals: Literature, celebrity, democracy. Springer, 2016.

Milkova, Stiliana. "Elena Ferrante’s Visual Poetics: Ekphrasis in Troubling Love, My Brilliant Friend, and The Story of a New Name." The Works of Elena Ferrante. Palgrave Macmillan, New York, 2016. 159-182.

Poetryfoundation.org. "Eurydice By H. D.". Poetry Foundation, 2019, https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/51869/eurydice-56d22fe6d049d.

Spentzou, Efrossini. "Many Un/happy Returns from Eurydice." Life, Love and Death in Latin Poetry 61 (2018): 295.

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