Essay: Get Smart with Social Media

This essay is about how social media can be used for educational purposes.  It was originally turned in on April 4, 2010.  Please note that the works cited are published in the old style, and the rules for formatting the works cited page have since changed (so don’t imitate the formatting when you do your own paper). 🙂

Get Smart with Social Media
by Edie Montgomery-Pool

Think of what it must have been like long ago when the knife was invented and what people must have thought of that “new technology.”  On one hand, it made life much easier (hunting, cooking, crafting items); on the other hand, it could be used for terrible things (destruction, fighting, murder).  This leads to the question:  is the knife good or evil?  The answer is, of course, neither.  Like all human inventions, it can be used for both.  Similarly, social media can be used for helpful or harmful purposes.  It is not the internet or websites themselves that are either good or evil, but the user’s intention which defines their use and their usefulness.

is the internet evil?Since there seems to be an abundance of media proclaiming the evils of the internet, let us focus our attention today on one of the good things that have come out of this new technology.  Specifically, one of the good ways in which people are using social media today is for educational purposes.  There are many sites that can be used for education.  I, personally, have found to be helpful this semester for my Speech class.  In particular, I have gotten extremely useful information from Scott of via his Expert Village videos.  Scott’s videos are usually less than two minutes long and address a number of critical elements one needs to be aware of when giving a speech.  Subjects include how to prepare, use openers, use body language, use one’s voice, engage an audience, and end a speech.

hello my name is scottSome of the things I learned from watching Scott’s videos have not yet been covered in class.  I feel that having viewed the videos gives me a major advantage when delivering my speeches and improves my grade.  The friendly, informal tone of the videos also engages me and holds my attention more than a formal lecture or dry textbook.  Speech tips are just one of many things that can be learned from this site.  There are numerous videos on virtually any educational topic one can think of.  A search for the keyword “grammar” turned up 13,600 videos, including those fun little School House Rock cartoons that use catchy songs to teach while entertaining.  If a student is struggling with their algebra assignment, a search for “algebra help” turns up over 5,000 videos.  The possibilities go on from there.  What student wouldn’t benefit from utilizing this great resource?

internet for educationAdditionally, the people who run YouTube, recognizing the value of education in social media, just launched a companion site called YouTube EDU.  According to The Official YouTube Blog (, the EDU site will be hosting videos from various colleges, including MIT and Yale.  Among other things, the videos will consist of “cutting-edge research and lectures by professors and world-renowned thought leaders.”  The potential benefits of bringing together great academic minds from all over the world are endless.  It has the potential to generate new ideas, speed up research, and promote cross-cultural cooperation in academic areas.  As technology expands more and more, so, too, does the circle in which scientists and other intellectuals work.  The leading thinkers of our time increasingly have the world at their fingertips, and the new YouTube EDU site will add yet another layer to that amazing process.

internet for educationYouTube isn’t the only social media site that can and has been used for education.  An article published in March 2008 on entitled “The Facebook Classroom: 25 Facebook Apps That Are Perfect for Online Education” lists software applications, known as “apps,” that can help students have a more productive school life.  The apps include Flashcards which allows students to create customized flashcards on FaceBook; Notely which organizes a student’s calendar, notes, and assignments; and Study Groups which allows students to form online study groups.  These are only a few of the many educational apps that are available on FaceBook to students around the world.  While it is true that students can choose to use FaceBook as a means to chat with their friends or entertain themselves rather than do their homework, they also have the option to use it to enhance their school experience, knowledge, and, consequently, their grades.  It is up to them to choose how to best utilize this social media site to benefit them.

internet good or evilLike YouTube and FaceBook, Twitter can also be used as an educational tool.  People might overlook Twitter’s education potential because of the fact that it is a “microblog,” meaning that users can only post very short messages (140 characters or less).  However, great things often come in small packages.  Many prestigious institutions already use Twitter, and a quick subscription to these accounts could prove to be extremely educational.  For instance, The Library of Congress, the largest library in the world according to their Twitter page (@librarycongress), tweets links to their blog posts about such things as book discussions and lectures, new collections being added to or displayed at the library, and online exhibits.  (Twitter accounts are identified by an “@” symbol in front of the user name, and when someone puts information on the internet via Twitter, it is called “tweeting.”)

nasa twitterNASA, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (@nasa), links back to educational material on their website via Twitter.  They also tweet mission updates and launch countdowns (“T minus 5 minutes and counting”), which put the subscriber right in the middle of the action.  The Grammar Girl Twitter page (@grammargirl) is run by Mignon Fogarty who wrote “Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing” a New York Times bestselling book about grammar.  She offers quick tips like, “You shouldn’t have semicolons in your list unless the list items themselves contain commas.” She also answers specific questions from people regarding grammar.

Twitter has made large institutions, authors, and other educational sources easily accessible to average people around the world.  Twitter’s educational potential doesn’t stop there, either.  Some instructors are starting to use it as an active part of their classroom:  instructors like David Parry, an assistant professor at the University of Texas at Dallas.  According to a January 2008 article in Wired Campus titled “A Professor’s Tips for Using Twitter in the Classroom,” Parry felt that the instantly accessible Twitter messages brought his classroom together as a community.  He stated, “It was the single thing that changed the classroom dynamics more than anything I’ve ever done teaching.”

In a related blog post by Parry in January 2008 on the website academHack, Parry lists the ways in which Twitter could be potentially useful to the academic world.  These include tracking words, events, conferences, and people (such as professionals in a given field); instant feedback for students wanting clarification on a subject or assignment (other students can respond instantly to their question); and as a public notepad which Parry states is particularly useful for creative-type classes.

computers in schoolAdditionally, Twitter in the classroom is not just for higher education.  According to a June 2008 article in Education Week titled “Educators Test the Limits of Twitter Microblogging Tool,” George Mayo, an eighth grade English teacher in Maryland, is also using Twitter as an education tool.  He used Twitter to create a collaborative story written by his students, as well as students from six different countries around the world.  Mike Ice, a second grade teacher from Kentucky, uses Twitter in the classroom and has students prepare brief reports about their daily activities that their parents can then see, according to an article titled “Districts Change Policies to Embrace Twitter, Facebook” in Education Week.  Although the number of schools embracing social media is relatively low right now, it is likely to expand as more and more faculty members become aware of the educational bonuses in implementing all of the educational tools they have at hand.  Our schools and students cannot help but benefit when technology is put to use as a force for good.

Fortunately, people with a strong desire to learn do not have to wait for their local schools to catch up.  There is a wealth of educational information already available online through sites like YouTube, FaceBook, and Twitter.  Although the rapid growth of technology can sometimes feel like it is going to overwhelm us, by focusing in on the ways we can use it to our benefit, we can educate ourselves as to the opportunities all around us.

How do you use social media and the internet to improve your life?  Comments welcome.

Works Cited

 “Higher Education for All “. “The Official YouTube Blog”. YouTube. March 27, 2010 <;.

“The Facebook Classroom: 25 Facebook Apps That Are Perfect for Online Education”. “”. Accredited Online Colleges. March 26, 2010 <;.

“@LibraryCongress”. Library of Congress. March 27, 2010 <;.

“@NASA”. National Aeronautics and Space Administration. March 27, 2010 <;.

“@GrammarGirl”. The Grammar Girl. March 27, 2010 <;.

Young, Jeff. “A Professor’s Tips for Using Twitter in the Classroom”. Wired Campus. March 25, 2010 <;.

Parry, David. “Twitter for Academia”. academHack. March 25, 2010 <;.

Ash, Katie. “Educators Test the Limits of Twitter Microblogging Tool”. Education Week. March 25, 2010 <;.

“Districts Change Policies to Embrace Twitter, Facebook “. Education Week. March 25, 2010 <;.

Global Warming: Fact or Fiction?


global warming

Photo courtesy Bartek Ambrozik, Stock.Xchange

I was originally going to re-write this in a more informal, blog style, but I decided to post it in its current essay form.  I wrote this for a college composition course.  Students working on similar projects will hopefully get a lot ouf of it, and I think the subject is one that will appeal to the general public, as well.  Additionally, leaving in the references to scientific sites and studies backs up my potentially controversial point of view.

Global Warming:  Fact or Fiction?
by Edie Montgomery-Pool

Global warming is a “hot” topic right now.  News anchors, documentaries, newspapers, the internet, and even petition-waving Greenpeace advocates standing outside of Trader Joe’s and other grocery stores and establishments across the United States–all warn of the dire consequences of global warming.  According to an article titled “Why Bother?” published in The New York Times Magazine in April 2008 and reprinted in the book Beyond Words Cultural Texts for Reading and Writing in 2009, “Climate change is upon us…” (Pollan 507).  The concern is that man-made greenhouse emissions will continue to warm, and eventually possibly even destroy, our planet.

I used to work in an environmental geology firm.  The environmental geologists I talked to about global warming all had two things in common.  1) They were highly educated regarding the earth, its structures and processes, and its climate, and 2) they were of the opinion that global warming was a myth.  The disagreement was not about the fact that the earth is getting warmer, which is a universally accepted fact among global warming proponents and opponents, alike, but the claim that the warming is being caused by humans.

In a December 2009 article in The New York Times, the author observes, “…warnings from the scientific community are becoming louder, as an increasing body of science points to rising dangers from the ongoing buildup of human-related greenhouse gases — produced mainly by the burning of fossil fuels and forests” (Revkin).  However, in the book Unstoppable Global Warming: Every 1,500 Years, the authors, S. Fred Singer and Dennis T. Avery, state that, “The Earth is warming but physical evidence from around the world tells us that human-emitted CO2 (carbon dioxide) has played only a minor role in it.  Instead, the mild warming seems to be part of a natural 1,500-year climate cycle (plus or minus 500 years) that goes back at least one million years” (1).

Dr. Singer is an atmospheric and space physicist and professor emeritus of environmental science at the University of Virginia.  Avery is a former agricultural analyst for the United States Department of State.  They go on to say in their book that, “The Earth continually warms and cools.  The cycle is undeniable, ancient, often abrupt, and global.  It is also unstoppable.  Isotopes in the ice and sediment cores, ancient tree rings, and stalagmites tell us it is linked to small changes in the irradiance of the sun….The cycle shifts have occurred roughly on schedule whether  CO2  levels were high or low” (2).

There is evidence that the earth’s temperature is prone to cyclical fluctuations.  Even those scientists who warn against man-made greenhouse emissions do not dispute this fact.  Historical documents written by people experiencing climate change in history, as well as scientific data gathered from the sources stated above (ice, sediment, tree rings, etc.) show this to be true.  The United States Environmental Protection Agency’s website supports this assertion:  “The Earth’s climate has changed throughout history. From glacial periods (or “ice ages”) where ice covered significant portions of the Earth to interglacial periods where ice retreated to the poles or melted entirely – the climate has continuously changed” (USEPA).

Physicist Spencer Weart is the former Director of the Center for History of Physics of the American Institute of Physics and the author of the book The Discovery of Global Warming, as well as the website by the same name.  In the 2009 article “Past Climate Cycles: Ice Age Speculations,” he states, “Toward the end of the 19th century, field studies by geologists turned up [a] fact…There had been not one Ice Age but several…The series of glacial periods had alternated with times of warmer climate, each cycle lasting many tens of thousands of years” (Weart).   He then goes on to say, “Most geologists concluded that the planet’s climate had at least two possible states. The most common condition was long temperate epochs, like the balmy times of the dinosaurs. Much rarer were glacial epochs like our own, lasting a few millions of years, in which periods of glaciation alternated with warmer ‘interglacial’ periods like the present.”

There are historical recordings of climactic warming in Roman times (200 B.C.-A.D. 600), a medieval warm period (also known as the medieval climate optimum or the medieval climatic anomaly) (900-1300), and a cooling in what is commonly referred to as the “Little Ice Age” (1300-1850)  (Singer and Avery 2). 

The Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change catalogs publications from the scientific community regarding “the climatic and biological consequences of the ongoing rise in the air’s CO2 content” on their website,  Run by Craig D. Idso, who has an M.S. in agronomy (the science of soil management and the production of field crops), a Ph.D. in geography, and is the author of three books and the producer of three documentaries on carbon dioxide and the climate, the organization attempts to “separate reality from rhetoric” in the ongoing global warming debate.  Reports referenced by The Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change, from different experts in different fields of study, point time and again to the same conclusion:  global warming is not a new thing.  For example, in a study of sediment core from Lake Redon in Spain, the medieval warm period was categorized “with temperatures about 0.25°C warmer than it is currently” (Pla, S. and Catalan, J. 24: 263-278).  In a separate study in Apennines, Italy, on soil periglacial and glacial processes, it was estimated that temperatures in this area during the medieval warm period were “at least 0.9°C higher” than present day (Giraudi, C. 64: 176-184).   The people of the medieval era did not possess the technology or the population to impact greenhouse emissions like we do today.  So if it is not us, then what is causing this repetitive change in earth’s temperature?

The reason for global warming, many scientists exert, is not greenhouse emissions, but solar activity.  A Wall Street Journal article called “Science Has Spoken: Global Warming is a Myth,” explains:

“The temperature of the atmosphere fluctuates over a wide range, the result of solar activity and other influences. During the past 3,000 years, there have been five extended periods when it was distinctly warmer than today. One of the two coldest periods, known as the Little Ice Age, occurred 300 years ago. Atmospheric temperatures have been rising from that low for the past 300 years, but remain below the 3,000-year average (A. Robinson and Z. Robinson 2).”

That is not to say that the greenhouse effect is not a real thing.  Even without humans on the planet, plants and animals would contribute to the greenhouse effect, which is part of a natural cycle.  The National Climatic Data Center website states that:

The greenhouse effect is unquestionably real and helps to regulate the temperature of our planet. It is essential for life on Earth and is one of Earth’s natural processes. It is the result of heat absorption by certain gases in the atmosphere (called greenhouse gases because they effectively ‘trap’ heat in the lower atmosphere) and re-radiation downward of some of that heat. Water vapor is the most abundant greenhouse gas, followed by carbon dioxide and other trace gases. Without a natural greenhouse effect, the temperature of the Earth would be about zero degrees F (-18°C) instead of its present 57°F (14°C). So, the concern is not with the fact that we have a greenhouse effect, but whether human activities are leading to an enhancement of the greenhouse effect by the emission of greenhouse gases through fossil fuel combustion and deforestation (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration).”

The facts surrounding global warming have often been distorted or misrepresented.  It has been portrayed as the cause of all our current climactic catastrophes and the imminent cause of our doom.   Roy W. Spencer sums it up best in his book Climate Confusion: How Global Warming Hysteria Leads to Bad Science, Pandering Politicians and Misguided Policies That Hurt the Poor.  “Dramatic video of weather events that occur naturally every day suddenly becomes evidence for global warming.  Floods?  Global warming.  Droughts?  Global warming.  Ice calving off of glaciers and falling into the ocean?  Global warming.  Hurricanes?  Global warming.  Do you see a pattern here?  Global warming” (xiii).

In addition, in a Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change article titled “Carbon Dioxide and Global Warming, Where We Stand on the Issue,” the authors state, “In…considering the seven greatest temperature transitions of the past half-million years–three glacial terminations and four glacial inceptions–we note that increases and decreases in atmospheric CO2 concentration not only did not precede the changes in air temperature, they followed them, and by hundreds to thousands of years” (C.D. Idso and K.E. Idso).

I am not saying that we should not focus on minimizing negative human impact upon the environment.  Environmental consciousness and activism are always good ideas, and a reduction of fossil fuel emissions can only be beneficial for us all.  However, while we continue to work toward contributing to a healthier planet, let us also get our facts straight.  And the facts are these:  the earth’s temperature is cyclical, global warming has happened before, and global warming will happen again, whether we humans are here to witness it or not. 


global warming myth

Photo courtesy Jan K., Stock.Xchange

What do you think?  Do you agree with me that global warming is not caused by man, or do you think I’m hopelessly deluded and uninformed?  Either way, I’d like to hear from you:  post a comment and tell me how you feel.


Works Cited

C.D. Idso and K.E. Idso. “Carbon Dioxide and Global Warming, Where We Stand on the Issue.” The Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change. 1998. Web. 8 May 2010.

Giraudi, C. “Middle to Late Holocene Glacial Variations, Periglacial Processes and Alluvial Sedimentation on the Higher Apennine Massifs (Italy).” Quaternary Research. 2005. The Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change. 2010. Web. 8 May 2010.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Climatic Data Center. “Global Warming Frequently Asked Questions.” 20 Aug. 2008. Web. 10 Apr. 2010.

Pla, S. and Catalan, J. “Chrysophyte Cysts from Lake Sediments Reveal the Submillennial Winter/Spring Climate Variability in the Northwestern Mediterranean Region throughout the Holocene.” Climate Dynamics. 2005. The Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change. 2010. Web. 8 May 2010.

Pollan, Michael. “Why Bother?” The New York Times Magazine. 20 Apr. 2008. Beyond Words Cultural Texts for Reading and Writing. Ed. Lynn M. Huddon, Katharine Glynn, and Donna Campion. 2nd ed. New York: Longman, 2009. 507. Print.

Revkin, Andrew C. “Global Warming.” The New York Times. 8 Dec. 2009. Web. 10 Apr. 2010.

Robinson Arthur B. and Robinson Zachary W. “Science Has Spoken:  Global Warming Is a Myth.” The Wall Street Journal. 4 Dec. 1997. Print.

Singer, Siegfried Fred and Avery, Dennis T. Unstoppable Global Warming: Every 1,500 Years. New York: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2007. Print.

Spencer, Roy W. Climate Confusion: How Global Warming Hysteria Leads to Bad Science, Pandering Politicians and Misguided Policies That Hurt the Poor. New York: Encounter Books, 2008. Print.

United States Environmental Protection Agency. “Climate Change – Science.” 28 Sep. 2009. Web. 10 Apr. 2010.

Weart, Spencer. “Past Climate Cycles: Ice Age Speculations.” The Discovery of Global Warming. Oct. 2009. Web. 7 May 2010.

Essay: Victorian British Patriotism in Literature

This is a compare/contrast essay written for a literature class.  It is about a song and a poem published in Britain in the Victorian era:  “Far, Far Upon the Sea” by Charles Mackay and “Opening of the Indian and Colonial Exhibition by the Queen” by Alfred Lord Tennyson.  It was originally turned in on February 4, 2011.

Imperfect Empire
by Edie Montgomery-Pool

british literature essayThe Victorian era was one of British imperialism, colonization, and a strong sense of national identity among the people of Great Britain.  That sense of national identity included a belief in the cultural imperative of the British Empire.  Even Scotland, a country acquired by the empire through marriage and traditionally not known for being a supporter of the English government, produced writers who sang the praises of the British Empire.  Many literary pieces from this time period reflect feelings of national pride and pro-imperialism.  However, a closer look at some of this literature reveals an underlying tone that strongly conflicts with the cheerful, pro-imperialist attitude with which it was written.  This underlying tone subtly reveals the inevitable dark side of imperialism.  Two pieces, one written by Scotsman Charles Mackay and the other by Englishman Alfred, Lord Tennyson, exemplify this conflicting message.  Although both Mackay’s song, “Far, Far Upon the Sea,” and Tennyson’s poem, “Opening of the Indian and Colonial Exhibition by the Queen,” seem to be written with the intent to show the glory and superiority of the British Empire, they both also expose its flaws.

Charles Mackay’s song is about a group of emigrants cheerfully taking passage across the sea to make new lives for themselves in another country, and Alfred Tennyson’s poem was written in praise of colonialism and read at the opening ceremony of a grand colonial exhibition; both reflect a pro-imperialist focus when taken at face value.  Mackay paints a jolly picture of British people from different countries of origin gathering in a circle to sing “with cheerful voices” (Far line 11).  Similarly, Tennyson opens his poem with the line, “Welcome, welcome with one voice! / In your welfare we rejoice” (Opening 1-2), also emphasizing joy and unity.  Other phrases within Mackay’s song that highlight joyfulness include a number of references to people singing, as well as lines like, “gaily goes the ship” (Far 12), and “sunshine on our lee” (14).  Additional phrases within Tennyson’s poem that highlight unity include, “sharers of our glorious past” (Opening 31), and “Britain’s myriad voices” (35).  He also makes a total of eleven separate references to family (sons, brothers, mother, fathers, kin) in this short poem when making comparisons between England and other countries within the empire.

english literature essayMackay’s piece, though joyful, is more sentimental than Tennyson’s; in “Far,” he writes about people on the boat remembering Britain in terms of “pleasant days when we were young” (15), “sweet melodies of home” (17), and “the songs of happy childhood” (18).  Tennyson briefly brings in a hint of sentimentality at the end of his poem when he speaks of the parts of Britain coming together as one “heart and soul” (Opening 38).

Mackay’s piece stresses sentimentality more than Tennyson’s, and Tennyson’s piece stresses strength more than Mackay’s.  Tennyson speaks of “That old strength and constancy / Which has made your fathers great” (Opening 14-15); he mentions strength directly, and Victorians viewed the father figure as one of strength, as well.  He also refers to the flag making “the might of Britain known” (Opening 19) and of welding the parts of the empire together.  Mackay portrays Britain as strong when he alludes to a refrain from the song, “Rule, Britannia,” and uses the lines, “Britons rule the waves / And never shall be slaves” (Far 22-23).

british imperialism essayDespite their depiction of the British Empire as a strong, unified, happy place, both pieces of literature also expose negative aspects of the imperialist system.  “Far, Far Upon the Sea” mentions “Scotland’s sons” (Far 28) and “the men of Erin’s Isle” (31), referring to Scottish and Irish people taking passage on the ship in order to emigrate to a new land.  It is interesting that these nationalities are mentioned directly since it is well known that problems such as poverty, famine, and political unrest prompted many Scottish and Irish people to emigrate.  Tennyson also shows the instability of the empire with the use of anaphora, placing the phrase, “Britons, hold your own!” at the end of each stanza.  Meant to be a rallying cry for unity, this also can come across as a desperate plea for the empire not to fall apart.  Mackay’s emigrants leave Britain “to return to it no more” (Far 20).  This is similar to another group referenced in Tennyson’s poem:

Britain fought her sons of yore—
Britain fail’d; and never more… (Opening 21-22)
Drove from out the mother’s nest
That young eagle from the West (Opening 27-28)

Tennyson speaks here about the United States, a place made up of emigrants who rebelled against the British Empire–an entire country that left the empire, never to return.

Another negative aspect of imperialism presents itself when Mackay references the lyric “And never shall be slaves” (Far 23).  It brings an interesting question to mind:  why were the British concerned enough about ever becoming slaves to put this lyric into a patriotic song?  It was because they themselves had enslaved the people of countries they had taken by force and did not want that to happen to them.  Although slavery in England had been abolished in the 1830s, many people within the conquered areas of the empire were treated no better than slaves long after the official abolishment.  Tennyson’s poem also alludes to the taking of countries by force and a devaluing attitude by the conquerors toward the conquered people.  He writes of Britain that “wherever her flag fly” (Opening 17), it “makes the might of Britain known” (19), alluding to the fact that the flag flew over many places taken by might, or by force.  Additionally, an elitist attitude seeps through in these lines:

May we find, as ages run,
The mother featured in the son;
And may yours for ever be
That old strength and constancy
Which has made your fathers great (Opening 11-15)

The empire seeks not to nurture the “son” or conquered country into its own cultural, moral, political, or spiritual identity, but to remake it in the image of the mother, which in this case is England.  Also, the phrase “your fathers” here seems not to refer to the vast wealth of history many of the territories within the empire possessed, but solely to the great figures of English history.

british literature essayWhile both “Far, Far Upon the Sea” and “Opening of the Indian and Colonial Exhibition by the Queen” appear to portray a favorable picture of the British Empire during the Victorian era, the negative aspects of imperialist Britain are visible just below the surface of these works.  Glimpses of complex social and political issues are inevitably woven into the literary work of each generation, and this is especially apparent in these two pieces.  Although at first glance these texts appear to be about, alternately, a cheerful group of people crossing the sea and the coming together of many nations at an exhibition, closer inspection reveals underlying attitudes, beliefs, and concerns prevalent within the Victorian era and exposes less desirable aspects of imperialism.  Examining literature from throughout history can give the modern reader an insightful glimpse into the past, but taking the time to read between the lines can yield even more information and a deeper understanding of the era in which the text was written.

Have you read either of the pieces mentioned above?  What did you think of them?  Comments welcome.

Works Cited

Mackay, Charles. “Far, Far Upon the Sea.” The Norton Anthology of American Literature. 8th ed. Vol 2. Greenblatt, Stephen and M.H. Abrams, eds. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2006. 1617-1618. Print.

Tennyson, Alfred. “Opening of the Indian and Colonial Exhibition by the Queen.” The Norton Anthology of American Literature. 8th ed. Vol 2. Greenblatt, Stephen and M.H. Abrams, eds. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2006. 1626-1627. Print.

For more student essays, visit the Students tab at the top of the blog page.

Essay: A Farewell to Arms

I seriously hated this book (A Farewell to Arms).  Here is a copy of the research paper I wrote for my English class if it helps any other students struggling to write something about this craptastic novel.  I did the paper based on gender roles and homosexual references.

A Farewell to Gender Expectations
by Edie Montgomery-Pool

hemingway essayMany layers run through Ernest Hemingway’s novel, A Farewell to Arms. The story takes place during World War I; it is at once a war novel, a love story, a social commentary, and a glimpse into the past.  Hemingway fought in the war and so had firsthand knowledge of the war experience.  World War I, or “The Great War,” was like no other conflict that had come before.  Prior to The Great War, men could prove their manliness or define their masculinity by going to war and fighting.  However, in The Great War, men were being slaughtered at an alarming rate.  The old rules did not apply, and there was little glory to be had.  As Brian Bond puts it in his book, War and Society in Europe 1870-1970:

“The Great War…quickly acquired the reputation as the most terrible of all modern conflicts and retains it in spite all the horrors that have occurred since.  Some 10 million men died as a direct consequence of combat and perhaps as many more from indirect effects.  Whole nations had been subjected to the hardships associated with a prolonged siege…great dynasties had been overthrown… destroying social and political certainties” (135).

World War I

Entire countries and societies were left traumatized.  Additionally, with so many men at war, women on the home front had to step in and take over what were traditionally male roles.  Hemingway’s novel takes place in the midst of all this and focuses on Frederic Henry, an American, who joined the ambulance division of the Italian army, his love interest Catherine Barkley, and his friend and “war brother,” Rinaldi.  There is a certain chaos and craziness that runs throughout the plot and probably reflected, to a certain extent, the world around Hemingway at the time.  A Farewell to Arms illustrates a post World War I era where people’s world views had been so shaken that some questioned social norms and conventions, including those of masculine sexuality and socially assigned gender expectations.

To begin with, despite being hailed as a heterosexual love story, A Farewell to Arms has a large number of homosexual references throughout the book.  These references indicate the author’s questioning of traditional gender roles.  For instance, Henry says, “I will never forget Romulus suckling the Tiber” (Hemingway 76).  Hemingway refers here to the ancient Roman legend of the brothers Romulus and Remus whose great uncle, Amulius, killed their father and usurped the throne.  Amulius set the boys adrift in the Tiber River, which carried them ashore where they were suckled by a she-wolf, thus saving their lives (Abbott 32-33).  An infant could not be suckled by a river, but Tiber is also the name of an ancient Roman river God.  In Roman mythology, Tiber, of course, never suckled Romulus.  So, what appears to be an off-handed literary reference is actually a homo-erotic reference to one male suckling another (that is, one male with his mouth to another’s chest).  Another homosexual reference couched in literary terms is a statement by Rinaldi about Saint Paul. Rinaldi says, “That Saint Paul…He was a rounder and a chaser and then when he was no longer hot he said it was no good.  When he was finished he made the rules for us who are still hot” (Hemingway 173).  It is apparent that Rinaldi is speaking about sex here because of the use of the words “chaser” (pursuing others for sexual gratification) and “hot” (feeling lustful).  Where Saint Paul is quoted in the Bible as speaking out against lustfulness, he specifically mentions the prohibition against both heterosexual and homosexual acts (King James Bible, Corinthians 1-6:9).  Thus, it would make sense that Rinaldi, who appears to be bisexual (which will be discussed further in the following paragraphs), is annoyed by Saint Paul’s rules regarding both heterosexual and homosexual acts.  These are just two of the more obscure references to homosexuality in the book; other references seem move overt, although still subtle enough that some might not notice them upon the first reading.

Rinaldi appears to be, at the very least, bisexual; perhaps he is even a homosexual man trying too hard to appear heterosexual by making himself into the biggest womanizer in a town full of womanizers.  Peter Cohen puts it best in his essay, “‘I Won’t Kiss You … I’ll Send Your English Girl’: Homoerotic Desire in ‘A Farewell to Arms,’” when he says, “What [many] critics…have ignored…is that Rinaldi’s interactions with Frederic largely revolve around trying to get Frederic to agree to a kiss” (1).  The first time Rinaldi appears in the book, he greets Henry in the following way:  “We shook hands and he put his arm around my neck and kissed me.  ‘Oughf,’ I said” (Hemingway 11).  Cohen states that “Frederic’s noted disgust” is evidence that Frederic Henry knows that “Rinaldi’s kisses are somehow tainted” (2).  Shortly after this exchange, Henry proceeds to bathe himself while Rinaldi lies on the bed in the same room; Henry actually bathes himself with Rinaldi in the room on two separate occasions (Hemingway 12, 17).  There is another exchange between Rinaldi and Henry where they discuss Catherine while Rinaldi lies in bed, and later there is an exchange between Rinaldi and Henry while Henry is undressing (Hemingway 27, 32).  It would be easy to say that this is a natural result of their being roommates.  However, Henry goes on to state, “While I rubbed myself with a towel I looked…at Rinaldi lying with his eyes closed on the bed.  He was good-looking…” (Hemingway 12).  As one literary critic notes, “The sexual images of the nakedness and the bed characterize Frederic’s gaze as erotic” (Takeuchi 3).  Additionally, further on in the book, Henry sleeps in Rinaldi’s bed instead of his own (Hemingway 191).  According to Debra Moddelmog in her essay, “The Queer Sensibility of A Farewell to Arms,” this “might be interpreted as his effort to experience a physical closeness to the man he loves and has missed” (9).  It seems apparent that there is more to their relationship than what is on the surface.

hemingway essayThere is much more evidence in the book that Rinaldi is written as a character whose feelings toward Henry are more than brotherly.  Rinaldi is an individual who does not follow the usual sexual or social gender roles that the reader would expect to see in a male character.  Rinaldi frequently refers to Henry as “baby,” a term usually used by lovers.  While it can be argued that the term “baby” could be a cultural misunderstanding by Rinaldi, whose first language is not English, it should be noted that no other Italian characters in the book call other men “baby,” and even Rinaldi himself does not refer to anyone else as “baby,” except for Henry.  As mentioned earlier, Rinaldi is consistently either kissing Henry or attempting to kiss Henry.  Rinaldi kisses or attempts to kiss Henry in their room (Hemingway 11), in the hospital (Hemingway 63, 67), before Henry goes to Milan (Hemingway 77), and when Henry is in bed, again sharing a room with Rinaldi after his stay in the hospital (Hemingway 168). There is never a mention of how the kiss is delivered (the cheek?, the forehead? the lips?), and the reader is left to make his or her own interpretations.  The most telling passage regarding the underlying nature of both Rinaldi and Henry is the scene where Rinaldi visits Henry in the hospital.  Rinaldi says to Henry, “Sometimes I think you and he are a little that way.  You know” (Hemingway 65).  Rinaldi then goes on to say, “Oh I love to tease you, baby.  With your priest and your English girl, and really you are just like me underneath” (Hemingway 66).  Rinaldi then explains that he means they are both Italian, but there seems to be an allusion to sexual preferences beneath the surface of the conversation.  Rinaldi also says he loves Henry twice in this conversation:  “We are brothers and we love each other” (Hemingway 66) and “We won’t quarrel, baby.  I love you too much” (Hemingway 67).   At one point, Henry says of Rinaldi, “I was glad to see Rinaldi again.  He had spent two years teasing me and I had always liked it” (Hemingway 169).  When the subject of Henry’s relationship with Catherine Barkley comes up, Rinaldi says that he is jealous.  Henry says “No, you’re not,” and Rinaldi replies, “I don’t mean like that.  I mean something else” (Hemingway 170).  Cohen draws the conclusion that “his behavior towards Frederic might…suggest that we look for two love stories in A Farewell to Arms instead of the usual one” (10).

Rinaldi is not the only person in the book with hints of sexual tension between himself and the main character; the priest also has a complex relationship with Henry.  When Rinaldi visits Henry in the hospital, he tells him that the priest is coming to see him and has made “big preparations” (Hemingway 65).  It is Henry’s relationship with the priest that causes Rinaldi to accuse him of being “a little that way” (Hemingway 65).  When he comes to see Henry, the priest looks “…out of the window embarrassedly,” (Hemingway 68).  Moddelmog states that his behavior “seems more the response of an awkward teenager with a crush than that of a friend or even of a priest, whose job it is to give comfort to the wounded” (9).  The priest also buys Henry presents, some of them hard to come by (he has to send away to another town for the newspapers that he brings), and seems extremely pleased when he sees that Henry likes the gifts (Hemingway 69).  The priest is even disappointed when one of his gifts, a bottle of vermouth, is partially ruined when the orderly breaks the cork on the bottle, which results in the cork having to be shoved down into the vermouth.  This, again, is more consistent with the behavior of someone with a crush than someone who is visiting out of duty or mere friendship.  When Henry is released from the hospital and returns to the front, Rinaldi makes a comment about the priest that, “If he knew Frederico was here he would be here” (Hemingway 172).   Later, Henry and the priest talk in Henry’s room; the priest sits on Henry’s cot while Henry lies on Rinaldi’s bed and strokes the blanket with his hand (Hemingway 178).  All of these things taken together seem to point to an attraction between the priest and Henry.

Slang from the time period opens up further questions as to the layers of meaning within Hemingway’s novel regarding sexual preference.  The word use in the novel shows that the author is flirting with cultural bounds.  Take, for instance, the word “beard,” a slang term for a “woman who dates or marries a gay man to provide cover for his homosexuality” (Dickson 263).  While the men are sitting around drinking, they joke about nurses with beards.  Henry says, “I don’t mind their beards…If any man wants to raise a beard let him” (Hemingway 77).  Right after the discussion regarding beards, Catherine Barkley is mentioned by Rinaldi.  Another slang word for “homosexual” in the early 1900s was “boy” (Cornyn).  The word “boy” is used over a dozen times in the book to describe various people.  One might argue that in the armed services, many of the men were very young, perhaps around 18 years old, which could explain the use of the term.  While most of the characters’ ages are not mentioned, the term “boy” is used to describe Ettore whose age is given as twenty-three (Hemingway 124).  This is somewhat older than what people would usually refer to as a “boy.”  Also, Henry once refers to the priest as “boy” after the priest states that he has “never loved any woman” (Hemingway 72).  The priest replies, “I am a boy…But you call me father” (Hemingway 72).  Perhaps this statement by the priest is a way to acknowledge his homosexuality while reminding Henry of his station—that of a priest who has given up all sexual aspects of his life.  Slang is another method Hemingway uses to incorporate double meaning into his novel.

Hemingway essayOne other occurrence that might suggest an interest in homosexuality or bisexuality is the fantasy Henry has during the early stage of his romance with Catherine Barkley; he daydreams about going to a hotel with her (Hemingway 37-38).  The fantasy starts off with an elevator ride up to the room and the mention of the elevator boy opening the door.  Moreover, Henry also mentions or implies the presence of four separate men during this fantasy:  the porter, the concierge, the elevator boy, and the boy who brings the ice bucket to their room while he and Catherine are inside and unclothed.  Why would he not just start the fantasy with him and Catherine in the room and why mention all these other people and details?  Perhaps the sexual element of his fantasy included more than just Catherine.

Two other recurring themes within Hemingway’s works are the woman in the dominant sexual role and penetration of the male body, according to Richard Fantina’s article titled “Hemingway’s Masochism, Sodomy, and the Dominant Woman.”   The penetration can either be sexual or symbolic, as in penetration of the body by way of a wound.  Fantina includes the three following examples of the implied sodomy:  first, in the dream sequence in Islands in the Stream (Jan possibly sodomizes Thomas with a gun); second, the possible sodomy of Jake by Brett when they perform some unspecified sex act while he lies with his face away from her in The Sun Also Rises; and third, the description of the sodomy of David by his wife Catherine in The Garden of Eden (10-14).  In A Farewell to Arms, Henry is wounded.  It also appears that Henry is penetrated by Catherine when she has to get him ready for surgery, presumably by giving him an enema, although the enema itself is never directly mentioned.  When Henry asks Catherine, “What do you have to do to get me ready for Valentini?” she replies, “Not much.  But quite unpleasant” (Hemingway 103).  Shortly afterward, she tells him, “There, darling.  Now you’re all clean inside and out” (Hemingway 104).  When Henry and Catherine stay in Switzerland, Catherine tells him, “I want you so much I want to be you.”  She says she wishes she had “stayed with all your girls so I could make fun of them to you,” and wants to cut her hair short while Henry grows his hair longer, which suggests a reversal of roles with Catherine in the dominant, traditionally male position (Hemingway 299).  Therefore, the events in A Farewell to Arms are consistent with Fantina’s theory regarding dominant females and male penetration as recurring themes in Hemingway’s work.

Hemingway essayIn spite of the homosexual references, there are many examples of the socially accepted, traditional male role in the book, although adhering to these roles does not always prove to be beneficial.  First and probably most often mentioned in the book, is the fact that most men in the novel, at least the manly ones, are heavy drinkers.  In fact, there is a house doctor who is described as “a thin quiet little man who seemed disturbed by the war” who removes the foreign bodies from Henry’s leg with “delicate and refined distaste” (Hemingway 94).  He is one of the three doctors whose incompetence Henry remarks upon (Hemingway 95).  Henry offers the house doctor a drink, to which he replies, “No thank you.  I never drink alcohol” (Hemingway 98).  This is in direct juxtaposition to Dr. Valentini, the very competent surgeon who operates right away and repairs Henry’s knee and who also flirts with Catherine.  When Valentini is offered a drink, he says, “A drink?  Certainly.  I will have ten drinks.  Where are they?” (Hemingway 99).  The implication is clear that the incompetent, delicate, and nondrinking house doctor is unmanly, and the competent, boisterous, and presumably virile surgeon, Dr. Valentini, is very manly, so that it logically follows that he is an enthusiastic drinker.  Secondly, Henry repeatedly exhibits stoicism.  He sustains a very serious injury to his leg, yet never panics or complains.  He even insists that other men be treated by the doctors before he is (Hemingway 58).  Third, Henry is a take charge kind of guy, as when the road is blocked during the retreat and he looks for a side road (Hemingway 198).  He is a good leader, and his men look up to him and rely on him to tell them what to do.  Henry also exhibits the traditional male role of being brave:  he leaves the trench to go find food for his men, and he goes first across the railway bridge in case it is mined (Hemingway 51, 210).  Lastly, he is sexually experienced with women, something that is seen as reinforcing masculinity.  In the beginning of the story, it is evident that he has visited the town prostitutes, and later on, he confesses to Catherine that he has been with a lot of women (Hemingway 104).  All of these things reinforce the typical and expected male role, but not necessarily the continuance of those roles.  In her article, “Invalid Masculinity:  Silence, Hospitals, and Anesthesia in A Farewell to Arms,” Diane Herndle quotes essayist Elaine Showalter as saying, “If the essence of manliness was not to complain…then shell shock was the body language of masculine complaint, a disguised male protest not only against the war but against the concept of ‘manliness’ itself” (4).  Thus Henry’s stoicism, similar to shell shock in that he does not express his pain whether it be physical or emotional, does not necessarily serve him well.  The heavy drinking certainly does not serve most of the men well, as Henry ends up getting jaundice and Rinaldi drinks so much his hands begin to shake—not a good thing for someone whose occupation is that of a surgeon.  Leadership is also shown to be not as desirable as one would think:  the Italian battle police shoot their own officers without any logical reason or provocation (Hemingway 224).  Lastly, womanizing has its downfalls, as evidenced by Rinaldi who might have syphilis.

Hemingway’s depiction of men and masculinity in the story, while reinforcing certain male stereotypes, simultaneously shows men who exhibit behaviors that are unexpected or that even directly contradict those of the traditionally held views of masculinity at that time.  For example, Henry carries a gun around.  He practices and becomes quite skilled with it.  What could be more masculine?  Yet he is uncomfortable.  He calls the act of carrying a gun “ridiculous” and says that he feels shame (Hemingway 29).  Alex Vernon, in “War, Gender, and Ernest Hemingway,” sheds light on why a soldier in World War I might feel it was ridiculous to carry a gun around town and explains the military impotence of many of the soldiers of that era:

“One historical consensus about World War I is the unprecedented degree to which its soldiers were rendered passive by the new technology of machine guns, indirect fire artillery, and mustard gas. Soldiers rarely had the opportunity to fight the enemy, not in any classic sense in which one’s own agency and skill might affect the outcome” (10).

Perhaps Henry is aware of these effects of modern warfare and that is why the gun does not reinforce his own sense of secure masculinity.  Henry is also an ambulance driver, a service similar to that of the Red Cross.  This was not seen as a masculine endeavor.  Vernon goes on to say that “war posters clearly depicted Red Cross work as a feminine endeavor. The threat of Red Cross service to a man’s male image was widespread and persistent” (5).  His role within the war effort and his uneasiness with the gun are not traditionally thought of as masculine traits, yet, in many ways, the character of Frederic Henry is one of the most masculine characters within the book.

Indeed, many of the “manly” stereotypes mentioned earlier are contradicted within A Farewell to Arms, giving the reader a well-rounded view regarding the diversity of possible male experiences.  Although Henry starts out as a man who only wants sex as opposed to love, it is not long before he desires a deeper connection.  He says of his visits with Catherine, “This was better than going every evening to the house for officers where the girls climbed all over you and put your cap on backward as a sign of affection between their trips upstairs with brother officers” (Hemingway 30).  Additionally, while there is a definite message in many parts of the book that manly men drink alcohol, the character of Ettore is in direct opposition to both the heavy drinking and womanizing male images of masculinity.  Ettore is a brave, decorated war hero who says of himself, “I don’t drink and I don’t run around.  I’m no boozer and whorehound.  I know what’s good for me” (Hemingway 123).  Then again, the image of the brave warrior is not always upheld within the book because there are many instances where men are not brave and it is in no way held against them.  When Henry is sent into the field, he sees a crew that is scared, and later he talks about seeing the wounded come in and mentions how scared they are, as well (Hemingway 51, 186).  He even goes to the extent of helping a man purposely injure himself so as to get out of fighting in the war (Hemingway 34).  These men are not portrayed as unmanly, just merely caught in an undesirable situation and doing the best they can to cope.   Ultimately, even Henry’s stoicism cannot withstand the senseless slaying of the officers by the battle police, and he desserts.  While initially he flees to save his own life, he could have reported back in at a different location once he got away.  However, he does not do that; he portrays a complex personality that encompasses the act of desertion while still maintaining a male mode of behavior in which his masculinity is in no way reduced.

hemingway essayThe text within any book is, of course, open to the subjective interpretation of the reader, and some might refute, for example, that the interpretation of the exchanges between Rinaldi and Henry are homosexual in nature.  One might pose the rebuttal that the Rinaldi/Henry relationship demonstrates homosociality rather than an undertone of homosexuality.   The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines homosociality as, “of, relating to, or involving social relationships between persons of the same sex and especially between men.”  Rebecca Gould gives a more focused view of homosociality in an article she wrote that appeared in the journal, “Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900,” when she speaks of the formation of “successful relationships with other men and thus access to women” (4).   Could Rinaldi and Henry’s relationship be a successful male social bond that gives both men access to greater success, including success in regards to exploits with women?  At first glance, it might seem that way.  Rinaldi is the first to meet Catherine Barkley and essentially procures her for Frederic Henry, who then successfully courts and beds her.  Additionally, one could argue that the relationship seems to be homosexual from the point of view of an American due to the fact that many European cultures, including Italian, are traditionally more demonstrative than the culture of the United States.  Indeed, if one were to look at these things one at a time, the case for homosociality would seem to be rather strong.  One soldier might jokingly or even affectionately refer to another as “baby,” military bunkmates might have to bathe in front of one another as a matter of convenience, a man might stroke a blanket (as Henry did when he was lying on Rinaldi’s bed while talking to the priest) as a way to comfort himself in the midst of a terrible war, and an Italian might be culturally inclined to kiss another male without it being a big deal.   However, if the reader takes into account all of the Rinaldi/Henry references mentioned above combined with the other homosexual references throughout the novel, including those pertaining to the priest, the case for homosexuality is overwhelming.  Additionally and tellingly, Hemingway’s publisher, Max Perkins, exchanged letters with Hemingway in which Perkins expressed the desire to remove the scene between Rinaldi and Henry in the hospital (the one where Rinaldi tells Henry he always thought Henry and the priest were “a little that way”) in the serialized version of the novel.  Moddelmog writes of this exchange, “Why wouldn’t the editors of a respected publishing house and magazine prefer to eliminate a reference that might raise not only eyebrows but ire? What is strange is that Hemingway included the homosexual allusion in the first place and then insisted it not be touched” (1).  Given this evidence, it is clear that homosexuality is a definite and intentional subtext within the book.

In conclusion, the exploration of the boundaries of conventions regarding sex and gender are distinct themes within A Farewell to Arms.   As Patrick Blair Bonds puts it in his article, “Hemingway, Gender Identity, and the ‘Paris 1922’ Apprenticeship,” “For many observers, the boundary between ‘male’ and ‘female’ was the most significant casualty of the war” (4).  The overall topics of the book are love and war, and just below the surface are an assortment of questions and observations about the nature of these two things, especially as they relate to masculinity.  The novel not only tells a narrative about war, but shows the reader how modern warfare can dispossess a man of his masculinity rather than reinforce it.  The book tells the story of a man and woman who profess their love for one another, but also provides glimpses into the affectionate and possibly sexually charged relationships between men.  Written during an era of great social and political change, Hemingway’s novel is multi-leveled and complex.  The reader is taken through a storyline where the model of masculinity is concurrently dominant and passive, ruthless and deeply caring, insanely brave and completely terrified, and so on.  Hemingway paints a picture, not of black and white, but of the many shades of gray that reflect real life.  Through his work, the reader is able to put together a true example of the male gender, with all its variety and complexity, within this period of time.

What did you think of the novel?  Love it?  Hate it?  Completely ambivalent?  Comments welcome.

Works Cited

Abbott, Frank Frost. A Short History of Rome. New York: Scott, Foresman and Company, 1906. Print.

Bond, Brian. War and Society in Europe 1870-1970. Canada: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2003. Print.

Bonds, Patrick Blair. “Hemingway, Gender Identity, and the ‘Paris 1922’ Apprenticeship.” The Hemingway Review 29.1 (2009): 123+. Literature Resource Center. Web. 6 Nov. 2011.

Cohen, Peter F. “‘I Won’t Kiss You … I’ll Send Your English Girl’: Homoerotic Desire in ‘A Farewell to Arms.’.” The Hemingway Review 15.1 (1995): 42+. Literature Resource Center. Web. 13 Nov. 2011.

Cornyn, William Stewart. “American Speech: Hotel Slang (1939).” The New York Times 19 Oct. 2010. Web. 13 Nov. 2011.

Dickson, Paul. Slang: The Topical Dictionary of Americanisms. New York: Walker Publishing Company Inc., 2006. Print.

Fantina, Richard. “Hemingway’s Masochism, Sodomy, and the Dominant Woman.” The Hemingway Review 23.1 (2003): 84+. Literature Resource Center. Web. 6 Nov. 2011.

Gould, Rebecca. “Sterne’s Sentimental Yorick as Male Hysteric.” Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900 36.3 (1996): 641+. Literature Resource Center. Web. 25 Nov. 2011.

Hemingway, Ernest. A Farewell to Arms. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1957. Print.

Herndl, Diane Price. “Invalid Masculinity: Silence, Hospitals, and Anesthesia in A Farewell to Arms. (Articles).” The Hemingway Review 21.1 (2001): 38+. Literature Resource Center. Web. 22 Nov. 2011.

King James Bible. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1984.

Merriam-Webster. Encyclopedia Britannica Company. Web. 20 Nov. 2011.

Moddelmog, Debra A. “‘We Live in a Country Where Nothing Makes Any Difference’: The Queer Sensibility of A Farewell to Arms.” The Hemingway Review 28.2 (2009): 7+. Literature Resource Center. Web. 13 Nov. 2011.

Takeuchi, Masaya. “Frederic’s Conflict Between Homosociality and Heterosexuality: War, Marvell, and Sculpture in A Farewell to Arms.” Midwest Quarterly Vol. 53 Issue 1 (2011): Academic Search Premier. Web. 14 Nov. 2011.

Vernon, Alex. “War, Gender, and Ernest Hemingway.” The Hemingway Review 22.1 (2002): 34+. Literature Resource Center. Web. 20 Nov. 2011.

Essay: Death and Beauty and Edgar Allan Poe

This is a compare and contrast essay about two of Edgar Allan Poe’s poems: For Annie and The Sleeper.

Death and Beauty and Edgar Allan Poe
by Edie Montgomery-Pool

Photo Courtesy caffeinedrunk at

Edgar Allan Poe wrote many superb poems about various subjects, but one of his favorite subjects seemed to be death. Poe was no stranger to death. His parents died before he was three years old, and he was raised by foster parents (the Allans), separate from his two siblings. His brother, wife, and foster mother all died of tuberculosis, a common and fatal illness during Poe’s time. Poe himself, sadly, only lived to be forty years old. The cause of his demise is unknown, but officially it was given as “congestion of the brain,” although it is unclear what that means (The Edgar Allan Poe Society). Fortunately, his work lives on and has been passed down through the ages for all to enjoy. Two poems that show his poetic fascination with death are “For Annie” and “The Sleeper.” “For Annie” is a poem about a man who apparently dies after dosing himself with poison. “The Sleeper” is about a beautiful woman who is dead. It is interesting that in these poems, Poe treats death not as a horrible, ugly thing, but as something of beauty. The subject of the beautiful maiden who would never awaken was, in fact, a common romantic theme of many stories and poems of Poe’s era. Although the two poems mentioned above are clearly from the same author, each has a distinct style all its own. While Edgar Allan Poe’s poems, “For Annie” and “The Sleeper,” mostly differ in form, they share the common themes of death and beauty, and in particular, the beauty of death.

As far as form goes, both pieces are lyrical, rhyming, and beautifully written; however, beyond that, their styles are vastly different. Both “For Annie” and “The Sleeper” emphasize mood and feeling. The rhyme scheme of “For Annie” is not consistent for even lines, but the odd lines of each stanza all rhyme or near rhyme. The rhyme scheme of “The Sleeper” is also somewhat loose, but consists of sets of mostly rhyming couplets with some rhyming tercets interspersed throughout and mostly occurring at or near the ends of stanzas, as in: “Strange is thy pallor! strange thy dress!/Strange, above all, thy length of tress,/And this all solemn silentness!” (lines 34-36). The meter is different in each poem, as well. “For Annie” consists of dactylic dimeter, whereas “The Sleeper” is written in iambic tetrameter. The point of view differs, too. While “For Annie” is told from the point of view of the person who appears to be dead, “The Sleeper” is told from the perspective of an observer. The diction for each poem is probably the most dissimilar. “For Annie” consists of short lines of commonly used words and is the simpler of the two styles. “The Sleeper” employs more complex sentence structures. Thus, these two poems have some distinct differences as far as format goes.

Photo Courtesy Noehill Travels

This difference in formats is evident in the tone of each of the poems; the tone differs from one poem to the other. “For Annie” has a lighter tone than “The Sleeper.” While “For Annie” is overall a serious poem, it does, at times, become somewhat comedic. For example, in the first stanza, Poe speaks of life as a fever, which makes sense as one is very warm when alive and cools off when dead. The paradox is that one must die in order to conquer the fever. He also uses a play on words when he writes of at last being rid of that “horrible throbbing,” which is actually the beating of the narrator’s heart (22). “The Sleeper,” on the other hand, has a heavier tone, and the wording within this poem sometimes alludes to classic mythology. The poem refers to Lethë (a river in Hades associated with oblivion) and “her Destinies,” which have the connotation of the Greek Fates, the deities who spun, measured, and ended life (13, 17). Poe does enlist a play on words in this poem, as well, when he writes of “pale sheeted ghosts” that are actually the shadows made by curtains fluttering in the wind, but the overall feeling of this section of the poem is not light and comical but dark and heavy, as if the narrator really does not want the dead woman to awaken and be frightened by the ghost-like shadows (44). Other techniques Poe employs in “For Annie” which add to the lighter tone of the piece are internal rhyme and alliteration. An example of internal rhyme can be found in the lines “Forgetting, or never/Regretting its roses” (forgetting/regretting) (55-56). Examples of alliteration are “And no muscle I move” (muscle/move) and “And, to sleep, you must slumber” (sleep/slumber) (9, 51). Another technique Poe employs in “The Sleeper” is apostrophe when the narrator of the piece addresses the dead woman directly as if he is having a conversation and she can hear him. Poe is very adept at using poetic techniques to his advantage in order to provoke the feeling he wants the reader to experience, and this is evident in the differing tones within these two poems.

While expressed in different ways, both of these poems are very much about death. In “For Annie,” the narrator says that “the fever is past” and states that “the fever called ‘living’” has been conquered (2, 5-6). In the next two stanzas, he speaks of not being able to move and of resting composedly (9, 13). Life is portrayed as unbearable; throughout the first part of poem, the narrator speaks of moaning, groaning, sobbing, sickness, nausea, pain, and torture. Shortly after that, napthaline is mentioned. Napthaline (or naphthalene as it is more commonly spelled today) is a substance that is and was used in the making of dyes, explosives, and mothballs, and would be poisonous if swallowed. Thus, it seems that the narrator of the poem has perhaps poisoned himself with napthaline and died. Death is seen as a good thing—a relief. In “The Sleeper,” the lines “Above the closed and fringéd lid/’Neath which thy slumb’ring soul lies hid” show that the speaker is talking about a coffin or tomb (26-27). There is more evidence that this poem is about a dead woman in the line “Heaven have her in its sacred keep!” (39). Unlike “For Annie,” the reader does not know much about the woman’s past in “The Sleeper” other than that she is from a foreign land since she has strange clothing and a strange hairstyle. So, the reader does not know if death was a welcome thing, like in the other poem, but it appears that death, once it has come, is experienced as a pleasant thing in both poems.

Both “For Annie” and “The Sleeper” portray death as something beautiful. In “For Annie,” the lines “For the napthaline river/Of Passion accurst: —/I have drank of a water/That quenches all thirst” imply that the speaker has a passion that cannot be quenched (an unattainable woman) and the only way to satisfy that thirst or that passion is by drinking the napthaline poison (35-38). The poem takes a turn in the middle of the piece. It goes from using many negative words to describe life, to using positive and beautiful words to describe the state of the narrator after death, words like “roses,” “quietly,” “holier,” “happily,” and “beauty.” Additionally, Annie is not mentioned until after the napthaline. The poem has a romantic feel and theme, at least in part. The narrator addresses either the reader or some unknown third party when he says, “That you shudder to look at me,/Thinking me dead,” but then goes on to say that his heart is brighter than the stars in the sky and glows with the love of his Annie (93-100). The implication is that he is much happier after death and that somehow, in death, he has attained the love in some deep, spiritual way of the previously unattainable woman, Annie. “The Sleeper” also portrays death as beautiful. When the speaker first comes upon the grave or tomb, he describes it as such: “The rosemary nods upon the grave;/The lily lolls upon the wave;/Wrapping the fog about its breast,/The ruin moulders into rest” (9-12). This is a lovely depiction of the setting. Additionally, death is shown as being beautiful from the perspective of the deceased even though it might not seem that way to the living. This is evident in the lines “Far in the forest, dim and old,/For her may some tall vault unfold —/Some vault that oft hath flung its black/And wingéd pannels fluttering back,/Triumphant, o’er the crested palls,/Of her grand family funerals” (49-53). The setting is beautiful and almost fairytale-like (dim, old forest); also, the family has a sad funeral, but the spirit, on the other hand, is triumphant. In both poems, death is a welcome and lovely thing.

In conclusion, both “For Annie” and “The Sleeper” portray death as a beautiful event. “For Annie,” in particular, juxtaposes the agony of life with the ecstasy of death. The Sleeper’s history and life events are unknown, but the setting where her body lies has a picturesque quality. Additionally, her experience after death is pondered by the speaker. This description has a lovely and positive feel, implying that though her body is dead, her soul lives on. While the poems do have differences in format, Poe used the tools of his craft skillfully in both poems to evoke the desired emotions in the reader. These skills include, among other things, the use of meter, rhythm, rhyme, diction, paradox, connotation, and alliteration. Not only does Poe give a brief but forceful glimpse into a moment in time in both stories, but the words themselves flow together in such a way as to reinforce the worlds Poe has created with each of these poems. The quick, sing-song lines of “For Annie” make the reader feel one way while the longer, heavier, mellifluous verses of “The Sleeper” evoke a different response, even as they relay a similar message. One final similarity that should be pointed out: Edgar Allan Poe’s genius shows through in both of these skillfully written poems about beauty and death.

How do these poems make you feel? What do you think is happening in them? Do you have a different interpretation than I do? Comments welcome.

For more information about Poe, his life, and his work, visit The Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore.

Works Cited

Poe, Edgar Allan. “For Annie.” The Complete Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe. Quinn, Arthur Hobson, Edward H. O’Neill. New York: Dorset Press, 1989. Print.

Poe, Edgar Allan. “The Sleeper.” The Complete Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe. Quinn, Arthur Hobson, Edward H. O’Neill. New York: Dorset Press, 1989. Print.

The Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore, 1997. Web. 8 Dec. 2011.