Introduction – Prose

The search is what anyone would undertake if he were not sunk in the everydayness of his own life.  –Walker Percy

By revisiting great works of literature, we can deepen our understanding of the human condition by changing the context of the work. By shifting our perspective, we can gain new insights into the process of Self-realization.  In some of our essays we will use standard elements of literary structure and content to analyze, synthesize and evaluate the prose that we are responding to. The following definitions will support that process:


  • Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, or literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes.
  • Themes are the fundamental and often universal ideas explored in a literary work.
  • Symbols are objects, characters, figures, or colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.
  • Sentimental comedy was a part of Sensibility, a movement which characterized much literature after 1740. Sensibility invited readers and audiences to prove their humanity by sympathizing with the plight of fictional or dramatic heroes and heroines; it promised that their sympathy would be rewarded because all would work out in the end, leaving viewers with emotions stirred, teased, and satisfied.

Upton Sinclair said of fiction that “its true purpose is to alter reality.”

On the self-reliance of writers. “Strikingly original, quirky individual—‘creative’—‘nonconformist’—would not be admitted to most competitive universities and colleges. Great American writers—Faulkner, Fitzgerald, Whitman, Dickinson, Poe, et al—would surely be rejected by “top” universities today.”

“One writer by nature is conventional and holds that art may best find expression when governed by rules; him we designate the classicist. Another is equally convinced that it is the purpose of literature or painting to portray a better-than-known world—he wants to idealize; him a few call the romantic. And a third, who alike scorns the formality of the classicist and the idealization of the romantic; him we call the realist. And when a whole period, such as the first part of the eighteenth century in England, is under the influence of literary conventions, we have a ‘classical’ period; when Coleridge, Shelley, Hugo idealize life we speak of a ‘romantic’ movement; when Flaubert, Dostoevsky, Theodore Dreiser search deep into the souls of Emma Bovary, or Raskolnikoff, or Clyde Griffiths, we find ourselves in a ‘realistic’ epoch.”

And finally, in our introduction we give the last word to James Joyce who has Stephen Daedalus’s mother in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man praying that some day her son would learn “What the heart is and what it feels.”


Introduction Continued


References and notes are available for this essay.
Find a much more in-depth discussion on this blog and in books by Roy Charles Henry.

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