Wider Reading (AQA Literature, A2, Spec A)

HideShow resource information

Memoirs of a Geisha

Suggestion that we love symbols rather than the real identity of a person: Sayuri falls in love with Mr Tanaka who is a symbol of her past and her "tipsy house" little fishing village she is from. Tanaka is the symbol of warmth and kindness from her childhood. Sayuri later falls in love with the Minister who is the symbol of hope and the encouragement Sayuri needed to become a successful Geisha.

Competing ideas about love: there is a constant battle between real love and false love (The Danna) and the idea that a Geisha should love and idolise her Danna whereas his duty is only to provide her with beautiful material gifts and pay her way. The woman may only have one Danna but a man can be a Danna to any number of Geisha. Gender inequality is explored through the idea that a woman has to dress up, put on a mask (her make up) and parade herself in a manner which encourages people to like her whereas a man can be himself as long as he has enough money.

1 of 9


Butterfields: Images of and references to butterflies and lepidopterology appear throughout the novel, emphasizing not only the physical similarities between the fragile insect and young Lolita but also the distant and clinical way in which Humbert views his lovely prey. He effectively studies, captures, and pins them down, destroying the very delicate, living quality he so adores. Virtually every time Humbert describes a nymphet, he uses such terms as frail, fragile, supple, silky, or fairy-like, all of which could just as easily describe butterflies. Like butterflies, nymphets are elusive, becoming ordinary teenagers in the blink of an eye. Lolita, in particular, undergoes a significant metamorphosis, changing from innocent girl-child to exhausted wife and mother-to-be. Next to such delicate and mercurial creatures, Humbert becomes aware of his own monstrosity, often referring to himself as a lumbering brute.
Games: All the characters part take in games which sometimes consist of innocent amusement, such as when Humbert tries to interest Lolita in tennis and dreams of making her a tennis star. Humbert also plays many silly games with Lolita to get her attention and to keep her compliant. This sense of play reinforces the fact that Lolita is still a child and that Humbert must constantly entertain her. Games also distract characters from more serious issues and allow them to hide sinister motives. Humbert and Godin play chess so that they can pass the time without revealing their true selves. Quilty, in particular, plays word games with his hotel aliases, leaving puzzles for Humbert to decipher. The characters play games to hide the feelings they cannot reveal, to further their own ends, and to dissuade those who seek to discover the truth, including readers. Though the games start out as innocuous and childlike, they soon become deadly manipulations.
2 of 9

Lolita (Continued)

The Theater: The theater becomes a symbol of artifice and artistry in Lolita. Humbert blames Lolita’s newfound ability to lie on her experience in the school play. Quilty uses the same school play to bring Lolita to him, and Lolita is awed by the theater because of Quilty’s influence. This is particularly poignant for Humbert, as he himself was never able to interest Lolita in any artistic endeavors. Ultimately, Lolita itself can be seen as a marvel of stagecraft: using language, theater requires an audience to willingly suspend its collective disbelief, in order to place themselves imaginatively in the world of the play. Like a theater audience, a reader may be aware of the craft and artifice involved in the narrative’s construction, but he or she nonetheless becomes a willing participant in the illusion. This involvement takes on a darker tone for the reader of Lolita, as the force of Nabokov’s artistry manages to make an incestuous ********* not only understandable but also oddly sympathetic.
3 of 9

Wuthering Heights

The Destructiveness of a Love That Never Changes: The book is actually structured around two parallel love stories, the first half of the novel centering on the love between Catherine and Heathcliff, while the less dramatic second half features the developing love between young Catherine and Hareton. In contrast to the first, the latter tale ends happily, restoring peace and order to Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange.

The most important feature of young Catherine and Hareton’s love story is that it involves growth and change. Early in the novel Hareton seems irredeemably brutal, savage, and illiterate, but over time he becomes a loyal friend to young Catherine and learns to read.

Catherine and Heathcliff’s love, on the other hand, is rooted in their childhood and is marked by the refusal to change. In choosing to marry Edgar, Catherine seeks a more genteel life, but she refuses to adapt to her role as wife, either by sacrificing Heathcliff or embracing Edgar. In Chapter XII she suggests to Nelly that she longs to return to the moors of her childhood. Heathcliff, for his part, possesses a seemingly superhuman ability to maintain the same attitude and to nurse the same grudges over many years. Moreover, Catherine and Heathcliff’s love is based on their shared perception that they are identical. Catherine declares, famously, “I am Heathcliff,” while Heathcliff, upon Catherine’s death, wails that he cannot live without his “soul,” meaning Catherine. Their love denies difference, and is strangely asexual. The two do not kiss in dark corners or arrange secret trysts, as adulterers do. Given that Catherine and Heathcliff’s love is based upon their refusal to change over time or embrace difference in others, it is fitting that the disastrous problems of their generation are overcome not by some climactic reversal, but simply by the inexorable passage of time, and the rise of a new and distinct generation.

4 of 9

Wuthering Heights (Continued)

The Precariousness of Social Class

As members of the gentry, the Earnshaws and the Lintons occupy a somewhat precarious place within the hierarchy of late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century British society. At the top of British society was the royalty, followed by the aristocracy, then by the gentry, and then by the lower classes, who made up the vast majority of the population. Although the gentry, or upper middle class, possessed servants and often large estates, they held a nonetheless fragile social position. The social status of aristocrats was a formal and settled matter, because aristocrats had official titles. Members of the gentry, however, held no titles, and their status was thus subject to change. A man might see himself as a gentleman but find, to his embarrassment, that his neighbors did not share this view. A discussion of whether or not a man was really a gentleman would consider such questions as how much land he owned, how many tenants and servants he had, how he spoke, whether he kept horses and a carriage, and whether his money came from land or “trade”—gentlemen scorned banking and commercial activities.

Considerations of class status often crucially inform the characters’ motivations in Wuthering Heights.

Catherine’s decision to marry Edgar so that she will be “the greatest woman of the neighborhood” is only the most obvious example. The Lintons are relatively firm in their gentry status but nonetheless take great pains to prove this status through their behaviors. The Earnshaws, on the other hand, rest on much shakier ground socially. They do not have a carriage, they have less land, and their house, as Lockwood remarks with great puzzlement, resembles that of a “homely, northern farmer” and not that of a gentleman. The shifting nature of social status is demonstrated most strikingly in Heathcliff’s trajectory from homeless waif to young gentleman-by-adoption to common laborer to gentleman again (although the status-conscious Lockwood remarks that Heathcliff is only a gentleman in “dress and manners”).

5 of 9

Wuthering Heights (Continued)

The Conflict Between Nature and Culture

Brontë constantly plays nature and culture against each other. Nature is represented by the Earnshaw family, and by Catherine and Heathcliff in particular. These characters are governed by their passions, not by reflection or ideals of civility. Correspondingly, the house where they live—Wuthering Heights—comes to symbolize a similar wildness. On the other hand, Thrushcross Grange and the Linton family represent culture, refinement, convention, and cultivation.

In Chapter VI, Catherine is bitten by the Lintons’ dog and brought into Thrushcross Grange, the two sides are brought onto the collision course that structures the majority of the novel’s plot. At the time of that first meeting between the Linton and Earnshaw households, chaos has already begun to erupt at Wuthering Heights, where Hindley’s cruelty and injustice reign, whereas all seems to be fine and peaceful at Thrushcross Grange. However, the influence of Wuthering Heights soon proves overpowering, and the inhabitants of Thrushcross Grange are drawn into Catherine, Hindley, and Heathcliff’s drama. Thus the reader almost may interpret Wuthering Heights’s impact on the Linton family as an allegory for the corruption of culture by nature, creating a curious reversal of the more traditional story of the corruption of nature by culture.

However, Brontë tells her story in such a way as to prevent our interest and sympathy from straying too far from the wilder characters, and often portrays the more civilized characters as despicably weak and silly. This method of characterization prevents the novel from flattening out into a simple privileging of culture over nature, or vice versa. Thus in the end the reader must acknowledge that the novel is no mere allegory.

6 of 9

A Streetcar Named Desire

Dependence on Men: Williams uses Blanche’s and Stella’s dependence on men to expose and critique the treatment of women during the transition from the old to the new South. Both Blanche and Stella see male companions as their only means to achieve happiness, and they depend on men for both their sustenance and their self-image. Blanche recognizes that Stella could be happier without her physically abusive husband, Stanley. Yet, the alternative Blanche proposes—contacting Shep Huntleigh for financial support—still involves complete dependence on men. When Stella chooses to remain with Stanley, she chooses to rely on, love, and believe in a man instead of her sister. Williams does not necessarily criticize Stella—he makes it quite clear that Stanley represents a much more secure future than Blanche does. For herself, Blanche sees marriage to Mitch as her means of escaping destitution. Men’s exploitation of Blanche’s sexuality has left her with a poor reputation. This reputation makes Blanche an unattractive marriage prospect, but, because she is destitute, Blanche sees marriage as her only possibility for survival. When Mitch rejects Blanche because of Stanley’s gossip about her reputation, Blanche immediately thinks of another man—the millionaire Shep Huntleigh—who might rescue her. Because Blanche cannot see around her dependence on men, she has no realistic conception of how to rescue herself. Blanche does not realize that her dependence on men will lead to her downfall rather than her salvation. By relying on men, Blanche puts her fate in the hands of others.

7 of 9

A Streetcar Named Desire (Continued)

The Varsouviana Polka :
The Varsouviana is the polka tune to which Blanche and her young husband, Allen Grey, were dancing when she last saw him alive. Earlier that day, she had walked in on him in bed with an older male friend. The three of them then went out dancing together, pretending that nothing had happened. In the middle of the Varsouviana, Blanche turned to Allen and told him that he “disgusted” her. He ran away and shot himself in the head. The polka music plays at various points in A Streetcar Named Desire, when Blanche is feeling remorse for Allen’s death. The first time we hear it is in Scene One, when Stanley meets Blanche and asks her about her husband. Its second appearance occurs when Blanche tells Mitch the story of Allen Grey. From this point on, the polka plays increasingly often, and it always drives Blanche to distraction. She tells Mitch that it ends only after she hears the sound of a gunshot in her head. The polka and the moment it evokes represent Blanche’s loss of innocence. The suicide of the young husband Blanche loved dearly was the event that triggered her mental decline. Since then, Blanche hears the Varsouviana whenever she panics and loses her grip on reality.
“It’s Only a Paper Moon” :
In Scene Seven, Blanche sings this popular ballad while she bathes. The song’s lyrics describe the way love turns the world into a “phony” fantasy. The speaker in the song says that if both lovers believe in their imagined reality, then it’s no longer “make-believe.” These lyrics sum up Blanche’s approach to life. She believes that her fibbing is only her means of enjoying a better way of life and is therefore essentially harmless. As Blanche sits in the tub singing “It’s Only a Paper Moon,” Stanley tells Stella the details of Blanche’s sexually corrupt past. Williams ironically juxtaposes Blanche’s fantastical understanding of herself with Stanley’s description of Blanche’s real nature. In reality, Blanche is a sham who feigns propriety and sexual modesty. Once Mitch learns the truth about Blanche, he can no longer believe in Blanche’s tricks and lies.
8 of 9

A Streetcar Named Desire (Continued)


Throughout the play, Blanche avoids appearing in direct, bright light, especially in front of her suitor, Mitch. She also refuses to reveal her age, and it is clear that she avoids light in order to prevent him from seeing the reality of her fading beauty. In general, light also symbolizes the reality of Blanche’s past. She is haunted by the ghosts of what she has lost—her first love, her purpose in life, her dignity, and the genteel society (real or imagined) of her ancestors.

Blanche covers the exposed lightbulb in the Kowalski apartment with a Chinese paper lantern, and she refuses to go on dates with Mitch during the daytime or to well-lit locations. Mitch points out Blanche’s avoidance of light in Scene Nine, when he confronts her with the stories Stanley has told him of her past. Mitch then forces Blanche to stand under the direct light. When he tells her that he doesn’t mind her age, just her deceitfulness, Blanche responds by saying that she doesn’t mean any harm. She believes that magic, rather than reality, represents life as it ought to be. Blanche’s inability to tolerate light means that her grasp on reality is also nearing its end.

In Scene Six, Blanche tells Mitch that being in love with her husband, Allan Grey, was like having the world revealed in bright, vivid light. Since Allan’s suicide, Blanche says, the bright light has been missing. Through all of Blanche’s inconsequential sexual affairs with other men, she has experienced only dim light. Bright light, therefore, represents Blanche’s youthful sexual innocence, while poor light represents her sexual maturity and disillusionment.

9 of 9


No comments have yet been made

Similar English Literature resources:

See all English Literature resources »See all resources »