exam novels

the struggle for identity in the great gatsby and the curious incident of the dog in the night time from http://aggsliterature.wordpress.com/2009/03/15/novels-which-explore-the-struggle-for-modern-identity/

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the curious incident of the dog in the night time

“The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time” by Mark Haddon

            Christopher Boone, the main narrator in this book, is 15 years old and has Asberger’s Syndrome, a form of autism. This means that he has difficulty understanding other people’s behaviour and emotions, but at the same time has a flair for maths (he takes A Level maths at the age of 15) a photographic memory, and an inability to tell lies. He has an extreme attention to detail and lives his life through numbers, lists and timetables (eg. all chapter numbers in this book are prime numbers), whilst also harbouring irrational phobias of things that are brown or yellow. He also hates human contact, and screams if anyone touches him.

All events in the story are told through Christopher’s eyes. At the beginning of the book he finds his neighbour’s dog murdered. The main purpose of the story is to find the killer, but along the way Christopher discovers that his mother had had an affair with a neighbour and left to go his father, and that his father had concealed this by telling him that she was dead. It is also revealed that Christopher’s father killed the dog, and as a result Christopher becomes frightened of his father and runs away to find his mum in London. He travels from Swindon to London, overwhelmed by the number of people and the complexity of life, and finds his mum, who agrees that he can stay there for a while. The mum’s new relationship consequently breaks down, and the two return to Swindon, where Christopher gets an A in A-Level Maths, and the dad attempts to re-build his relationship with him.

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the curious incident of the dog in the night time

How this book relates to identity

 Mark Haddon shows some of the worst aspects of British society, in that Christopher finds it impossible to identify with other people, and as a result lives in his own little world. In many cases, people he meets are rude and inconsiderate regarding his disability. He finds other people weird and confusing, and prefers to be on his own. For example, his favourite dream is that everyone in the world that isn’t like him dies, and he lives on his own perfectly happy and without interference from others. His disconnection from other people is also physical, whereby he hates being touched and is even given a police caution for hitting a policeman who touched him on the arm. Haddon also makes Christopher stand out through his hobbies and his superstitions. For example, he relaxes by doing very hard maths questions, and judges how good his day will be according to how many red cars he sees in a row on the way to school. He hates films, because actors are “liars” and aren’t doing things that have really happened in life. He physically cannot lie, as when he thinks of one thing that might have happened instead, a million other possibilities crowd into his head and he feels overwhelmed. Through this book, Haddon also questions how much parenting impacts on your identity. Christopher has little understanding of “love”, and instead cares more for dogs and his pet rat Toby. He detaches himself from his parents very easily, not seeming too bothered when describing his mum’s “death” and running away from his dad. He refers to them as “mother” and “father”, which aren’t very affectionate terms. He also doesn’t realise the impact he has on other’s relationships, as both his parents and his mum and her boyfriend split up on account of him.

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important quotes - curious incident

My name is Christopher John Francis Boone. I know all the countries of the world and their capital cities and every prime number up to 7,507”

o       Introduction to narrator, 2nd chapter

o       Christoper defines himself through what he knows

o       Already makes him stand out, these aren’t normal things people know

·         “I sometimes think of my mind as a machine…it makes it easier to explain to other people what is going on inside it”

o       Describing when a policeman is asking him “too many questions”

o       “Machine” – Suggests removal of all abstract aspects of imagination etc , are concrete things (eg. knowledge, experience) the only crucial bit to the human mind?

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 “I think prime numbers are like life. They are very logical but you could never work out the rules, even if you spent all your time thinking about them”

All of the chapters are numbered using prime numbers

  Rules of life – are there any? Christopher lives his life by rules, gives reader another perspective on life etc

 “She didn’t have to stay at home and be his wife”

 Talking about when Mr Shears had an affair and left his wife; Mrs Shears is somewhat liberated

 Marriage = restricted? Are women still bound down and are supposed to act as housewives?

 Shows how deep-rooted in society these old-fashioned idea are, even Christopher (who doesn’t know the “rules” of society) is aware of them

“Everyone has learning difficulties because learning to speak French or understanding Relativity is difficult, and also everyone has special needs, like Father who has to carry a little packet of artificial sweetening tablets around with him to put in his coffee to stop him getting fat”

Christopher talking about being labelled as having “special needs” and “learning difficulties”

 Haddon shows how patronising these politically correct terms can be, even to those who do have the disabilities

 Everyone is “disabled” in some way, some (eg. Christopher) more extreme than other

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 “because loving someone is helping them when they get into trouble, and looking after them, and telling them the truth”

o       Christopher’s definition of love, he values concrete things eg. help and being truthful, disregard affection etc

o       What is the definition of love? Is there one?

·        “Most people are lazy. They never look at everything. They do what is called glancing which is the same word for bumping off something and carrying on in almost the same direction”

o       Christopher is extremely observant and doesn’t see why others aren’t

o       Represents fast culture of today, people are rushing everywhere and not appreciating the world around them

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 “People believe in God because the world is very complicated and they think it is very unlikely that anything as complicated as a flying squirrel or the human eye or a brain could happen by chance”

o       Christopher doesn’t believe in God/religion and is sceptical of those who do

o       Shows diversity of world and the complexity of the stuff around us. Evolution etc

·         “I didn’t know what you’ll catch your death meant”

o       When his mother tells him to come inside she uses this saying, and Christopher doesn’t understand metaphors etc at all (they don’t represent real things)

o       Highlights the amount of useless/meaningless phrases we use, do they add to the language as a whole?

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 “And I started to feel a pain in my chest like I did on the underground because I thought I wasn’t going to be able to go back to Swindon and take my A Level”

o       His mother tells him he can’t go back and take his maths A Level

o       “pain in my chest” – emotion, sadness. He isn’t used to these feelings so he doesn’t know what they are or what they mean.


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the great gatsby

Nick moves to New York in the summer of 1922 to learn about the bond business. He rents a house in the West Egg district of Long Island. Nick’s next-door neighbour is a mysterious man named Jay Gatsby, who lives in a gigantic mansion and throws extravagant parties. Nick is unlike the other inhabitants of West Egg—he was educated at Yale and has social connections in East Egg, a fashionable area ofLong Island home to the established upper class. Nick drives out to East Egg one evening for dinner with his cousin, Daisy Buchanan, and her husband, Tom, an erstwhile classmate of Nick’s at Yale. Daisy and Tom introduce Nick to Jordan Baker, a beautiful, young woman with whom Nick begins a romantic relationship. Tom has a lover, Myrtle Wilson and Nick travels to New York City with Tom and Myrtle. At a vulgar, gaudy party in the apartment that Tom keeps for the affair, Myrtle begins to taunt Tom about Daisy, and Tom responds by breaking her nose. Nick goes to one of Gatsby’s legendary parties. He encounters Jordan Baker and they meet Gatsby. Gatsby asks to speak to Jordanalone, and tells Jordan that he knew Daisy and is deeply in love with her., Nick invites Daisy to have tea at his house, without telling her that Gatsby will also be there. Gatsby and Daisy re-establish their connection and begin an affair.Tom grows increasingly suspicious of his wife’s relationship with Gatsby. He forces the group to drive into New York City, where he confronts Gatsby. Daisy realizes that her allegiance is to Tom, and Tom sends her back with Gatsby. Gatsby’s car has struck and killed Myrtle, Tom’s lover. Nick learns that Daisy was driving the car when it struck Myrtle, but Gatsby intends to take the blame. Tom tells Myrtle’s husband that Gatsby was the driver. George finds Gatsby and shoots him dead then shoots himself.Nick stages a small funeral for Gatsby, ends his relationship with Jordan, and moves back to the Midwest.

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the great gatsby

How does it link to identity?

 In the great Gatsby, characters such as Jay Gatsby use various social settings to reject reality and present themselves as anything rather than who they truly are. Possessions seem very important to these characters and there whole identity is based around the name they have build up for them self. Gatsby throws extravagant parties in order to attract his first love Daisy and intrigue her back into his life. This shows the reader he can’t just be himself which might lead you into thinking that Gatsby is struggling with his identity and doesn’t know himself who he is and hasn’t reached self actualisation. Through out the text Fitzgerald has characters question Gatsby, how he came into his money, who he is and what he does, and this incisively make the reader question him. Fitzgerald might be doing this to show that Gatsby’s identity is perplexed and that people in the 20s in America didn’t know who they were.  Fitzgerald could be suggesting that the struggle for identity is damaging and shows this when Nick discovers that he is Gatsby’s one true friend and he finds himself “on Gatsby’s side and alone.” This shows that after everything Gatsby does to impress Daisy, even she deserts him. Social Class, money and wealth are all very important concepts of identity that are explored by Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald criticizes American society in the 1920′s for its emphasis on money, superficial relationships, and obsession over class as being the main parts of what make up someone identity.

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important quotes - great gatsby

“Whenever you feel like criticizing anyone,’ he told me, “just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had” page1. This is what Nicks (the narrator) fathers say to him when he was younger. Society has a great part to play in shaping the identities of individuals. From a young age Nick was taught to differentiate people by there wealth and this suggests that he shouldn’t criticise people in lower classes that him and that he is at an ‘advantage’ because he has come from a family with money and belongs to a higher social class. Throughout the novel, the characters that he comes into contact with were immediately associated with their money and their level of wealth. This shows that class and wealth are the most important parts of people identity.

“Shirts of sheer linen and thick silk and fine flannel” page89. When Daisy comes to Gatsby house. The narrator exceedingly describes materialistic aspects of Gatsby and all his belongings. This proves the ostentation associated with the characters identities and that Gatsby feels that showing off all his clothes and all his wealth will impress her, showing again the importance of possessions.

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oice full of money” page126. This is what Gatsby says about Daisy when he and Nick are discussing her. This shows how affected by money she is. Although she was infatuated and perhaps in love with Gatsby when she was younger she is now infatuated by his wealth and this shows that she identifies someone by how much money they have. Your voice is what lets you accent your opinions so it is very significant and if her voice is full of money it suggests it’s the only thing she cares about.  

Money has managed to shape the identity of Tom also. He is arrogant, self-confident and a totally careless and brutal man. He boasts about his home saying, I’ve got a nice place here” most of the conversation if not all is about who has what and the possessions of others, Fitzgerald is doing this to show the reader that people in American in the 20s were gripped by wealth as almost all the characters identities were summed up by what they owned, the character are know for what they own rather that who they are.

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  “Mr. Nobody from Nowhere” page 136, Gatsby says it when they are all at the Plaza hotel. Tom is mocking Gatsby’s lack of origins, as he has new money which is not a like and the fact that tom picks this as a criticism shows how important someone’s wealth is and how it makes up someone’s identity so strongly. Nowhere also suggests to the reader that he is lonely and desolate and confused about his own identity as no one knows truly who he really is and I believe neither does he.

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