The Odyssey

Homer

The Odyssey by Homer
My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

The crafty hero of The Iliad is in the last leg of his long ten year journey home, but it not only his story that Homer relates to the reader in this sequel to the first war epic in literature. The Odyssey describes the Odysseus’ return to Ithaca after twenty years along with the emergence of his son Telemachus as a new hero while his faithful wife Penelope staves off suitors who are crowding their home and eating their wealth daily.

Although the poem is named after his father, Telemachus’ “arc” begins first as the reader learns about the situation on Ithaca around Odysseus’ home and the search he begins for information on his father’s whereabouts. Then we shift to Odysseus on a beach longing to return home when he is informed his long sojourn is about to end and he sets off on a raft and eventually arrives among the Phaeacians, who he relates the previous ten years of his life to before they take him back home. On Ithaca, Odysseus and his son eventually meet and begin planning their revenge on the Penelope’s suitors that results in slaughter and a long-awaited family reunion with Penelope.

First and foremost The Odyssey is about coming home, in both Telemachus’ and Odysseus’ arcs there are tales of successful homecomings, unsuccessful homecomings, and homecoming that never happen of heroes from The Iliad. Going hand-in-hand with homecomings is the wanderings of other heroes whose adventures are not as exciting or as long as Odysseus’. Interwoven throughout the poem with homecomings and wanderings is the relationship between guests and hosts along with the difference between good and bad for both that has long reaching consequences. And finally throughout Odysseus’ long journey there are tests everywhere of all types for him to overcome or fail, but the most important are Penelope’s both physical and intimate.

Even though it is a sequel, The Odyssey is in complete contrast to The Iliad as instead of epic battle this poem focuses on a hero overcoming everything even the gods to return home. Suddenly the poet who gave readers a first-hand account of war shows his readers the importance of returning from war from the perspective of warriors and their families. Although they are completely different, The Odyssey in fact compliments The Iliad as well as completing it which means if you read one you have to read the other.

The Iliad

HomerThe Iliad by Homer
My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

The wrath of Achilles not only begins the oldest piece of Western literature, but is also its premise. The Iliad has been the basis of numerous clichés in literature, but at its root it is a story of a war that for centuries was told orally before being put down by Homer in which the great heroes of Greece fought for honor and glory that the men of Homer’s day could only imagine achieving.

The story of the Trojan War is well known and most people who have not read The Iliad assume they know what happens, but in fact at the end of the poem the city of Troy still stands and a wooden horse has not been mentioned. The Iliad tells of several weeks in the last year of the war that revolve around the dishonorable actions of Agamemnon that leads to Achilles refusing to fight with the rest of the Greeks and the disaster it causes in the resulting engagements against the Trojans. But then Achilles allows his friend Patroclus to lead his men into battle to save the Greek ships from being put to the torch only for Patroclus to advance to the walls of Troy and be slain by Hector. The wrath of Achilles turns from Agamemnon to Hector and the Trojans, leading to the death of Troy’s greatest warrior and the poem ending with his funeral.

Although the actions of Achilles and Hector take prominence, there are several other notable “storylines” one doesn’t know unless you’ve read epic. First and foremost is Diomedes, the second greatest fighter amongst the Greeks but oftentimes overlooked when it comes to adaptations especially to other important individuals like Odysseus, Menelaus, and the pivotal Patroclus. The second is how much the Olympians and other minor deities are thought to influence the events during this stretch of the war and how both mortals and immortals had to bow to Fate in all circumstances. The third is how ‘nationalistic’ the epic is in the Greek perspective because even though Hector is acknowledged the greatest mortal-born warrior in the war on both sides, as a Trojan he has to have moments of cowardice that none of the Greek heroes are allowed to exhibit and his most famous kill is enabled by Apollo instead of all by himself. And yet, even though Homer writes The Iliad as a triumphant Greek narrative the sections that have Hector’s flaws almost seem hollow as if Homer and his audience both subconsciously know that his epic is not the heroic wrath of Achilles but the tragic death of Hector.

The Iliad is the ultimate classic literature and no matter your reading tastes one must read it to have a better appreciation for all of literature as a whole. Although the it was first written over 2500 years ago, it shows the duality of heroic feats and complete tragedy that is war.

The Poetry of Robert Frost

The Poetry of Robert FrostThe Poetry of Robert Frost by Robert Frost

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

The Poetry of Robert Frost is the entirety of the great American poet’s published work, an authoritative volume that is structured to show his progression from his earliest work to his last—with a little exception at the end. However for those who have only read Frost in school, like me, you will be in for a surprise because the poems in English and/or Literature class are a deceptive selection of his complete works. While this complete book of Robert Frost’s work is wonderful for poetry enthusiasts, for the more general reader I would suggest you look through this volume and decide if you want a smaller, more select volume of his work.

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Fahrenheit 451: A Novel

Fahrenheit 451Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Written in the early 1950s, “Fahrenheit 451” is both a speculative work of the future while also a semi-prophetic piece by Ray Bradbury.  A fireman of the future who burns down homes, instead of saving them, because they possess books begins to question his profession and society after he begins reading.

Guy Montag, a professional fireman, has been secretly hoarding books he’s suppose to be burning when he meets Clarisee a young neighbor that asks a lot of Why? questions.  Then after his wife’s suicide attempt and Clarisee’s sudden disappearance, Guy begins questioning his profession and society openly leading him to lose both his wife and home then being condemned as a public threat because of his love of books.

Bradbury wrote about a futuristic society that lived through television, or interactive media, a world only like our own.  However, Bradbury’s world has outlawed books because they make people feel bad or are contradictory or are lies or the actual truth; taking “political correctness” to a extreme and creating a society that indulges people’s self-esteem.  Bradbury then questioned what if one of the men charged with preserving that society leading to Guy Montag’s challenging his society, in particular his wife and his boss.

Bradbury explores this speculative world and society through a narrative that reads both as a short story and a novella, but comes off as something in the middle.  Overall the entire narrative is good, however it’s not without it’s flaws especially when it comes to the death of Clarisee, the introduction of Faber, the entity of the Hound, and the sudden ending of Montag’s society through mutually assured destruction.  But in balance the foolishness of Captain Beatty at taunting a man holding a flamethrower and Bradbury’s correct assumption of the future entertainment value of the highway chase are strong additions.

“Fahrenheit 451” is both a speculative story of the future from time of it’s first publication as well as important warning for us today about the over-protection of an individual’s feelings.  Bradbury worried that radio and television would be used to control people’s opinions and lifestyle to their own determent, especially if there was nothing to compete with them like books.  Although Bradbury doesn’t say it, one has the feeling that just after World War II he thought that the idea that it was a small step between burning books to burning people was still something to fear because only the instruments had changed.

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Brave New World

Brave New WorldBrave New World by Aldous Huxley
My rating: 2.5 of 5 stars

Aldous Huxley’s cautionary tale of the price of contentment has been lauded as his prophetic masterpiece, unfortunately upon finishing “Brave New World” I found neither a masterpiece nor junk it was just an average book that didn’t seem to have a clear story.

Huxley constructs a blissful world in which no person has connections with anyone else and everyone has a place in society, on the surface the potential introduction of a nonconformist or an individual whose worldview is totally counter to Huxley’s World State seems to be the perfect material for a story.  Unfortunately Huxley’s narrative is rich on world building and societal construction, but not on plot or character development.  In fact after finishing the book, I still had not figured out what the central conflict was.

While others might find great meaning in this book, I was left looking for something to hang an opinion on and could only find it with one word, meh.

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1984

19841984 by George Orwell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The dystopian literature classic “1984” by George Orwell is known today by the general public through catchphrases and Super Bowl commercials, however the introduction of the “Orwellian nightmare” this novel presented in the late 1940s were eye-opening at the time.

The novel begins with Winston Smith making his way to his apartment and putting his crimethink into practice by starting a diary.  We then follow Winston as continues his one-man rebellion against Big Brother and the Party.  Soon Winston finds a comrade in Julia, a rebel from the waist down, and the two begin an affair.  The affair and their rebellion ends when the Thought Police arrest them, led by Inner Party leader O’Brien, who Winston believed to be a rebel as well.  Then Winston is tortured and brainwashed into becoming a loving member of the Party, happy to return Big Brother’s love and can not wait to announce his crimes.

The broken and oppressive world in which Winston lives is a stunning contrast to what the reader is accustomed to as well as the contradictory political language that the Party uses in its rule.  These foundational constructions by Orwell using Winston’s internal thoughts help the reader understand the Oceania of 1984 as well as Winston’s acceptance of already being dead.  The misunderstanding by Winston of who was his friend and who was his enemy is done expertly by Orwell, giving the novel breathe as well as some added character depth.  Orwell’s unsettling writing of Winston’s imprisonment, torture, and brainwashing make the last third of the book the most powerful as we see the character we’ve gotten to know for almost 200 pages change in front of our eyes.

However, Orwell’s Party doesn’t seem that bright given what O’Brien states during Winston’s torture.  The Thought Police had been following Winston for seven years, which meant they were allowing Winston to potentially infect other Party members with his crimethink.  The fact that they were able to capture Julia, a rebel of her own, seems like an attempt by Orwell to save the Party’s face but it only makes it more glaring.  For all their talk of power, they seemed pretty powerless to just let Winston keep walking around free for seven years.  This one flaw leads to the reader noticing some others less egregious flaws in the overall work, but nothing that doesn’t effect the overall quality of the writing.

In the end, the themes and ideas that Orwell introduced continue to be debated even today with government surveillance and media manipulation.  However what Orwell could never have imagined was the individual people could compete with the government and media in distorting the truth by way of Photoshop.  “1984” is a warning about how man could be robbed of his human nature either through passive education or more extreme persuasion, the story of Winston Smith keeps reminding the reader that everyone needs to fight to keep their basic nature.

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The Catcher in the Rye

The Catcher in the RyeThe Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I knew when I started “The Catcher in the Rye” that I might miss some of the meaning given that I was probably reading it 15 years too late.  However, I soon found out that I might have completely given up on the book during high school because Holden Caulfield is so annoying that I cheered when first his roommate and then the pimp beat him up.  Getting through this book wasn’t a chore, but having waited for over a year with this book on my shelf I felt the need to finish just to see what all the hype was about.  Frankly by the end, the only character in the book I had any sympathy for was Phoebe given that she had no clue that her brother was nuts.

I attempted to think deeply about various symbols or themes in the book, but I soon found myself with a headache trying to figuring how critics could think anything of importance was being written.  After 214 pages, I can say without a doubt this book is all hype and will soon be sold to my local used book store.

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