'A Separate Peace' by John Knowles
Gene Forrester is a quiet, intellectual student at the Devon School in New Hampshire. During the summer session of 1942, he becomes close friends with his daredevil roommate Finny, whose innate charisma consistently allows him to get away with mischief. Finny prods Gene into making a dangerous jump out of a tree into a river, and the two start a secret society based on this ritual. Gene gradually begins to envy Finny’s astonishing athletic abilities, manifested in Finny’s breaking a school swimming record on his first try. He thinks that Finny, in turn, envies his superior academic achievements, and he suspects that his friend has been taking steps to distract him from his studies. Gene’s suspicions transform into resentful hatred, but he nevertheless carefully maintains an appearance of friendship.
Gene realizes that he has been grievously mistaken about the existence of any rivalry between them when, one day, Finny expresses a sincere desire to see Gene succeed. While still in a state of shock from the force of his realization, he accompanies Finny to the tree for their jumping ritual. When Finny reaches the edge of the branch, Gene’s knees bend, shaking the branch and causing Finny to fall to the bank and shatter his leg. The tragedy is generally considered an accident, and no one thinks to blame Gene—especially not Finny. But when the doctor tells Gene that Finny’s athletic days are over, Gene feels a piercing sense of guilt. He goes to see Finny and begins to admit his part in Finny’s fall, but the doctor interrupts him, and Finny is sent home before Gene gets another chance to confess.
The summer session ends, and Gene goes home to the South for a brief vacation. On his way back to school, he stops by Finny’s house and explains to his friend that he shook the branch on purpose. Finny refuses to listen to him, and Gene rescinds his confession and continues on to school. There, Gene attempts to avoid true athletic activity by becoming assistant manager of the crew team, but he feuds with the crew manager and quits. World War II is in full swing and the boys at Devon are all eager to enlist in the military. Brinker Hadley, a prominent class politician, suggests to Gene that they enlist together, and Gene agrees. That night, however, he finds Finny has returned to school. He consequently abandons his plans to enlist, as does Brinker. Finny expects Gene to take his place as the school’s sports star now that he is injured. When Gene protests that sports no longer seem important in the midst of the war, Finny declares that the war is nothing but a conspiracy to keep young men from eclipsing the older authorities.
Finny tells Gene that he once had aspirations to go to the Olympics, and Gene agrees to train for the 1944 Olympics in his place. All the boys are surprised when a gentle, nature-loving boy named Leper Lepellier becomes the first one in their class to enlist. Gene and Finny go on training, shielded within their private vision of world events. During a winter carnival, which Finny has organized, a telegram arrives for Gene from Leper, saying that he has “escaped” and desperately needs Gene to come to his home in Vermont. Gene goes to Vermont and finds that Leper has gone slightly mad. Leper, who was present at Finny’s accident, reveals that he knows the truth about what happened. Leper’s ranting frightens Gene and makes him anxious about how he himself might react to military life. He runs away back to Devon. When Brinker hears of what has happened to Leper, he laments in front of Finny that Devon has already lost two of its potential soldiers—Leper and the crippled Finny. Gene, afraid that Finny will be hurt by this remark, tries to raise his spirits by getting him to discuss his conspiracy theory again, but Finny now denies the war only ironically.
Brinker, who has harbored suspicions that Gene might have been partly responsible for Finny’s accident, wants to prove or disprove them definitively. He organizes an after-hours tribunal of schoolboys and has Gene and Finny summoned without warning. The boys on the makeshift tribunal question the two about the circumstances surrounding the fall. Finny’s perceptions of the incident remain so blurred that he cannot speak conclusively on the matter; Gene maintains that he doesn’t remember the details of it. The boys now bring in Leper, who was sighted earlier in the day skulking about the bushes, and Leper begins to implicate Gene. Finny declares that he does not care about the facts and rushes out of the room. Hurrying on the stairs, he falls and breaks his leg again.
Gene sneaks over to the school’s infirmary that night to see Finny, who angrily sends him away. Gene wanders the campus until he falls asleep under the football stadium. The next morning, he goes to see Finny again, takes full blame for the tragedy, apologizes, and tries to explain that his action did not arise from hatred. Finny accepts these statements and the two are reconciled. Later, as the doctor is operating on Finny’s leg, some marrow detaches from the bone and enters Finny’s bloodstream, going directly to his heart and killing him. Gene receives the news with relative tranquility; he feels that he has become a part of Finny and will always be with him. The rest of the boys graduate and go off to enlist in relatively safe branches of the military. Gene reflects on the constant enmity that plagues the human heart—a curse from which he believes that only Finny was immune.
'A Doll’s House' by Henrik Ibsen
A Doll’s House opens on Christmas Eve. Nora Helmer enters her well-furnished living room—the setting of the entire play—carrying several packages. Torvald Helmer, Nora’s husband, comes out of his study when he hears her arrive. He greets her playfully and affectionately, but then chides her for spending so much money on Christmas gifts. Their conversation reveals that the Helmers have had to be careful with money for many years, but that Torvald has recently obtained a new position at the bank where he works that will afford them a more comfortable lifestyle.
Helene, the maid, announces that the Helmers’ dear friend Dr. Rank has come to visit. At the same time, another visitor has arrived, this one unknown. To Nora’s great surprise, Kristine Linde, a former school friend, comes into the room. The two have not seen each other for years, but Nora mentions having read that Mrs. Linde’s husband passed away a few years earlier. Mrs. Linde tells Nora that when her husband died, she was left with no money and no children. Nora tells Mrs. Linde about her first year of marriage to Torvald. She explains that they were very poor and both had to work long hours. Torvald became sick, she adds, and the couple had to travel to Italy so that Torvald could recover.
Nora inquires further about Mrs. Linde’s life, and Mrs. Linde explains that for years she had to care for her sick mother and her two younger brothers. She states that her mother has passed away, though, and that the brothers are too old to need her. Instead of feeling relief, Mrs. Linde says she feels empty because she has no occupation; she hopes that Torvald may be able to help her obtain employment. Nora promises to speak to Torvald and then reveals a great secret to Mrs. Linde—without Torvald’s knowledge, Nora illegally borrowed money for the trip that she and Torvald took to Italy; she told Torvald that the money had come from her father. For years, Nora reveals, she has worked and saved in secret, slowly repaying the debt, and soon it will be fully repaid.
Krogstad, a low-level employee at the bank where Torvald works, arrives and proceeds into Torvald’s study. Nora reacts uneasily to Krogstad’s presence, and Dr. Rank, coming out of the study, says Krogstad is “morally sick.” Once he has finished meeting with Krogstad, Torvald comes into the living room and says that he can probably hire Mrs. Linde at the bank. Dr. Rank, Torvald, and Mrs. Linde then depart, leaving Nora by herself. Nora’s children return with their nanny, Anne-Marie, and Nora plays with them until she notices Krogstad’s presence in the room. The two converse, and Krogstad is revealed to be the source of Nora’s secret loan.
Krogstad states that Torvald wants to fire him from his position at the bank and alludes to his own poor reputation. He asks Nora to use her influence to ensure that his position remains secure. When she refuses, Krogstad points out that he has in his possession a contract that contains Nora’s forgery of her father’s signature. Krogstad blackmails Nora, threatening to reveal her crime and to bring shame and disgrace on both Nora and her husband if she does not prevent Torvald from firing him. Krogstad leaves, and when Torvald returns, Nora tries to convince him not to fire Krogstad, but Torvald will hear nothing of it. He declares Krogstad an immoral man and states that he feels physically ill in the presence of such people.
'A View from the Bridge' by Arthur Miller
Alfieri, an Italian-American lawyer in his fifties, enters the stage and sits in his office. Talking from his desk to the audience, he introduces the story of Eddie Carbone. Alfieri compares himself to a lawyer in Caesar's time, powerless to watch as the events of history run their bloody course.
Eddie Carbone walks down the street to his house. As Eddie enters the home two fellow Longshoremen, Mike and Louis greet him. Eddie's niece, Catherine, reaches out the window and waves to Eddie and Louis. When Eddie enters the house he gently scolds Catherine for flirting with the boys so blatantly. Eddie thinks she should be more reserved and not "walk so wavy." Beatrice, Eddie's wife, is also home. While Beatrice and Catherine set the table for dinner, they convince Eddie to let Catherine take a job as a stenographer down by the docks. Eddie informs Beatrice that her cousins, Marco and Rodolpho, will be arriving early from Italy and will probably be at the house that night. Beatrice and Eddie plan to hide Marco and Rodolpho while they work in the country illegally to send money home.
Marco and Rodolpho arrive at the house and have a brief reunion. They are both very gracious for the hospitality. Marco tells the Carbone's that he has three children and a wife back home that he will be sending money to. Rodolpho, the young blonde brother, has no family and intends to stay in the country as long as possible. Rodolpho entertains everyone with his version of the jazz tune, "Paper Doll."
In the coming weeks, Rodolpho and Catherine spend a great deal of time together, which worries Eddie. Eddie thinks that Rodolpho is untrustworthy and Eddie becomes jealous of the time he spends with Catherine. Eddie tells Catherine that Rodolpho just wants to marry her to become a citizen, but she does not listen. Rodolpho develops a reputation at the docks for being quite a joker, which further embarrasses Eddie. Beatrice, more aware than ever of the attention Eddie is giving Catherine, talks to Catherine about being a woman and tells her she must grown up and make her own decisions. Beatrice encourages Catherine to get married to Rodolpho if that is what she wants to do. Catherine agrees to try. Eddie, still frustrated with Rodolpho and Catherine, even visits Alfieri and asks if there is any way he can get rid of Rodolpho by law, but Alfieri assures him there is not. Alfieri tells Eddie that he needs to let Catherine go.
The situation escalates and Eddie becomes increasingly jealous of Rodolpho. Eddie resents the fact that Rodolpho thinks Catherine is looser than Italian girls. Eddie threatens Rodolpho in a pretend boxing match held in the living room of the house, stopped by Catherine and Beatrice.
As Act II begins, Alfieri narrates and it is evident that time has passed. Rodolpho and Catherine are left alone in the house and have sex in the bedroom. As they are leaving the bedroom, Eddie comes home drunk. Eddie violently kisses Catherine, pins Rodolpho to the floor and kisses him also. Eddie visits Alfieri once again, who repeatedly tells him to let Catherine go. Immediately after leaving Alfieri's office, Eddie calls the Immigration Bureau and reports Marco and Rodolpho.
Immigration comes and arrests Marco and Rodolpho. As he is being taken away, Marco spits in Eddie's face. Alfieri pays bail for the two men and arranges the marriage of Catherine and Rodolpho. On the wedding day, Marco returns to the house for revenge. Eddie lunges into Marco with a knife. Marco turns Eddie's arm and kills Eddie with Eddie's own knife. Eddie dies in Beatrice's arms.
'Anthony and Cleopatra' by W. Shakespeare
Mark Antony, one of the three rulers of the Roman Empire, spends his time in Egypt, living a life of decadence and conducting an affair with the country’s beautiful queen, Cleopatra. When a message arrives informing him that his wife, Fulvia, is dead and that Pompey is raising an army to rebel against the triumvirate, Antony decides to return to Rome. In Antony’s absence, Octavius Caesar and Lepidus, his fellow triumvirs, worry about Pompey’s increasing strength. Caesar condemns Antony for neglecting his duties as a statesman and military officer in order to live a decadent life by Cleopatra’s side.
The news of his wife’s death and imminent battle pricks Antony’s sense of duty, and he feels compelled to return to Rome. Upon his arrival, he and Caesar quarrel, while Lepidus ineffectually tries to make peace. Realizing that an alliance is necessary to defeat Pompey, Antony and Caesar agree that Antony will marry Caesar’s sister, Octavia, who will solidify their loyalty to one another. Enobarbus, Antony’s closest friend, predicts to Caesar’s men that, despite the marriage, Antony will surely return to Cleopatra.
In Egypt, Cleopatra learns of Antony’s marriage and flies into a jealous rage. However, when a messenger delivers word that Octavia is plain and unimpressive, Cleopatra becomes confident that she will win Antony back. The triumvirs meet Pompey and settle their differences without going to battle. Pompey agrees to keep peace in exchange for rule over Sicily and Sardinia. That evening, the four men drink to celebrate their truce. One of Pompey’s soldiers discloses to him a plan to assassinate the triumvirs, thereby delivering world power into Pompey’s hands, but Pompey dismisses the scheme as an affront to his honor. Meanwhile, one of Antony’s -generals wins a victory over the kingdom of Parthia.
Antony and Octavia depart for Athens. Once they are gone, Caesar breaks his truce, wages war against Pompey, and defeats him. After using Lepidus’s army to secure a victory, he accuses Lepidus of treason, imprisons him, and confiscates his land and possessions. This news angers Antony, as do the rumors that Caesar has been speaking out against him in public. Octavia pleads with Antony to maintain a peaceful relationship with her brother. Should Antony and Caesar fight, she says, her affections would be painfully divided. Antony dispatches her to Rome on a peace mission, and quickly returns to Egypt and Cleopatra. There, he raises a large army to fight Caesar, and Caesar, incensed over Antony’s treatment of his sister, responds in kind. Caesar commands his army and navy to Egypt. Ignoring all advice to the contrary, Antony elects to fight him at sea, allowing Cleopatra to command a ship despite Enobarbus’s strong objections. Antony’s forces lose the battle when Cleopatra’s ship flees and Antony’s follows, leaving the rest of the fleet vulnerable.
'Edward II' by Christopher Marlowe
Edward II, a play based on the life of the English king Edward II, was written in 1593 by Christopher Marlowe, a contemporary of Shakespeare’s, and published after Marlowe’s untimely death in a tavern brawl that same year. The play’s material closely follows the account depicted by chronicler Raphael Holinshed in his Chronicles, though Marlowe adds his own artistic license and flair for the dramatic. Like most Elizabethan plays, Edward II is written in five acts, which are themselves divided into 4-6 scenes.
In Act I, we are introduced to the principal characters. Edward I, Edward II’s father, has recently died and his son has ascended to the throne. In the first scene, Piers Gaveston, an ambitious nobleman exiled by the late king, who accused him of corrupting Edward, reads a letter from informing him of the old king’s death. Gaveston may return to court and to Edward. The two are very close, and it is implied that they are romantically involved. Upon his return to court, Gaveston overhears two other lords, Mortimer and Lancaster, counseling the king to get rid of Gaveston, which Edward refuses. He grants Gaveston land and titles and banishes those responsible for Gaveston’s prior banishment. Mortimer and Lancaster are joined by a lord named Warwick and the Bishop of Canterbury, who all seek to remove Gaveston from power. They force Edward to banish Gaveston again, though Edward tempers this by making Gaveston the governor of Ireland and accompanies him to Ireland. Queen Isabella, lonely, persuades the lords to recall Gaveston from Ireland so that the king will return, as well. They do so, but only so that they can plot to murder him, finally breaking his spell on Edward.
Act II opens with Edward’s naïve young niece swooning over Gaveston, who she believes loves her. Meanwhile, Edward’s noble subjects are up in arms. Edward has failed to pay ransom for Mortimer’s father, who has been captured by Scots while defending the border. Edward has also allowed the Irish and the Danes to encroach upon England’s safety, and English soldiers are being driven from France. Edward’s disinterest in the military has wreaked havoc on foreign relations. Kent, Edward’s brother, turns against him and joins Warwick and the other conspiring nobles. Edward promises his niece to Gaveston, a match that would further improve Gaveston’s social standing. The rebel nobles attack Gaveston and Edward, who try to flee but are betrayed by Isabella. Gaveston is captured, and Edward begs to see Gaveston one last time.
In Act III, as he waits for the king’s visit, Gaveston is taken away by Warwick and murdered off-stage. Hugh Spencer, a powerful lord, comes to defend Edward with 400 soldiers. Edward bestows a title on Hugh Spencer’s son, also called Hugh Spencer. Isabella enters to informEdward that England has lost Normandy to the French, and Edward sends Isabella and their teenage son, Edward III, to deal with the matter, as he must deal with the rebel noblemen. After learning of Gaveston’s death, he turns his affections to the younger Spencer, whom the nobles also dislike. In Scene ii, Edward’s forces meet with the rebel nobles’ and Edward wins, executing Warwick and Lancaster.
Act IV begins in France, where Isabella and her son are joined by Mortimer and Kent. They ally with a sympathetic French lord to depose Edward. They return to England and attack Edward, who flees for Ireland, hiding in a northern England monastery, where he is eventually found by the rebel nobles. Both Spencers are executed.
'Hard Times' by Charles Dickens
Thomas Gradgrind, a wealthy, retired merchant in the industrial city of Coketown, England, devotes his life to a philosophy of rationalism, self-interest, and fact. He raises his oldest children, Louisa and Tom, according to this philosophy and never allows them to engage in fanciful or imaginative pursuits. He founds a school and charitably takes in one of the students, the kindly and imaginative Sissy Jupe, after the disappearance of her father, a circus entertainer.
As the Gradgrind children grow older, Tom becomes a dissipated, self-interested hedonist, and Louisa struggles with deep inner confusion, feeling as though she is missing something important in her life. Eventually Louisa marries Gradgrind’s friend Josiah Bounderby, a wealthy factory owner and banker more than twice her age. Bounderby continually trumpets his role as a self-made man who was abandoned in the gutter by his mother as an infant. Tom is apprenticed at the Bounderby bank, and Sissy remains at the Gradgrind home to care for the younger children.
In the meantime, an impoverished “Hand”—Dickens’s term for the lowest laborers in Coketown’s factories—named Stephen Blackpool struggles with his love for Rachael, another poor factory worker. He is unable to marry her because he is already married to a horrible, drunken woman who disappears for months and even years at a time. Stephen visits Bounderby to ask about a divorce but learns that only the wealthy can obtain them. Outside Bounderby’s home, he meets Mrs. Pegler, a strange old woman with an inexplicable devotion to Bounderby.
James Harthouse, a wealthy young sophisticate from London, arrives in Coketown to begin a political career as a disciple of Gradgrind, who is now a Member of Parliament. He immediately takes an interest in Louisa and decides to try to seduce her. With the unspoken aid of Mrs. Sparsit, a former aristocrat who has fallen on hard times and now works for Bounderby, he sets about trying to corrupt Louisa.
The Hands, exhorted by a crooked union spokesman named Slackbridge, try to form a union. Only Stephen refuses to join because he feels that a union strike would only increase tensions between employers and employees. He is cast out by the other Hands and fired by Bounderby when he refuses to spy on them. Louisa, impressed with Stephen’s integrity, visits him before he leaves Coketown and helps him with some money. Tom accompanies her and tells Stephen that if he waits outside the bank for several consecutive nights, help will come to him. Stephen does so, but no help arrives. Eventually he packs up and leaves Coketown, hoping to find agricultural work in the country. Not long after that, the bank is robbed, and the lone suspect is Stephen, the vanished Hand who was seen loitering outside the bank for several nights just before disappearing from the city.
Mrs. Sparsit witnesses Harthouse declaring his love for Louisa, and Louisa agrees to meet him in Coketown later that night. However, Louisa instead flees to her father’s house, where she miserably confides to Gradgrind that her upbringing has left her married to a man she does not love, disconnected from her feelings, deeply unhappy, and possibly in love with Harthouse. She collapses to the floor, and Gradgrind, struck dumb with self-reproach, begins to realize the imperfections in his philosophy of rational self-interest.
'Henry V' by William Shakespeare
The play is set in England in the early fifteenth century. The political situation in England is tense: King Henry IV has died, and his son, the young King Henry V, has just assumed the throne. Several bitter civil wars have left the people of England restless and dissatisfied. Furthermore, in order to gain the respect of the English people and the court, Henry must live down his wild adolescent past, when he used to consort with thieves and drunkards at the Boar’s Head Tavern on the seedy side of London.
Henry lays claim to certain parts of France, based on his distant roots in the French royal family and on a very technical interpretation of ancient land laws. When the young prince, or Dauphin, of France sends Henry an insulting message in response to these claims, Henry decides to invade France. Supported by the English noblemen and clergy, Henry gathers his troops for war.
Henry’s decision to invade France trickles down to affect the common people he rules. In the Boar’s Head Tavern in Eastcheap, some of the king’s former friends—whom he rejected when he rose to the throne—prepare to leave their homes and families. Bardolph, Pistol, and Nim are common lowlifes and part-time criminals, on the opposite end of the social spectrum from their royal former companion. As they prepare for the war, they remark on the death of Falstaff, an elderly knight who was once King Henry’s closest friend.
Just before his fleet sets sail, King Henry learns of a conspiracy against his life. The three traitors working for the French beg for mercy, but Henry denies their request. He orders that the trio, which includes a former friend named Scrope, be executed. The English sail for France, where they fight their way across the country. Against incredible odds, they continue to win after conquering the town of Harfleur, where Henry gives an impassioned speech to motivate his soldiers to victory. Among the officers in King Henry’s army are men from all parts of Britain, such as Fluellen, a Welsh captain. As the English advance, Nim and Bardolph are caught looting and are hanged at King Henry’s command.
The climax of the war comes at the famous Battle of Agincourt, at which the English are outnumbered by the French five to one. The night before the battle, King Henry disguises himself as a common soldier and talks to many of the soldiers in his camp, learning who they are and what they think of the great battle in which they have been swept up. When he is by himself, he laments his ever-present responsibilities as king. In the morning, he prays to God and gives a powerful, inspiring speech to his soldiers. Miraculously, the English win the battle, and the proud French must surrender at last. Some time later, peace negotiations are finally worked out: Henry will marry Catherine, the daughter of the French king. Henry’s son will be the king of France, and the marriage will unite the two kingdoms.
'Mrs. Dalloway' by Virginia Woolf
Mrs. Dalloway covers one day from morning to night in one woman’s life. Clarissa Dalloway, an upper-class housewife, walks through her London neighborhood to prepare for the party she will host that evening. When she returns from flower shopping, an old suitor and friend, Peter Walsh, drops by her house unexpectedly. The two have always judged each other harshly, and their meeting in the present intertwines with their thoughts of the past. Years earlier, Clarissa refused Peter’s marriage proposal, and Peter has never quite gotten over it. Peter asks Clarissa if she is happy with her husband, Richard, but before she can answer, her daughter, Elizabeth, enters the room. Peter leaves and goes to Regent’s Park. He thinks about Clarissa’s refusal, which still obsesses him.
The point of view then shifts to Septimus, a veteran of World War I who was injured in trench warfare and now suffers from shell shock. Septimus and his Italian wife, Lucrezia, pass time in Regent’s Park. They are waiting for Septimus’s appointment with Sir William Bradshaw, a celebrated psychiatrist. Before the war, Septimus was a budding young poet and lover of Shakespeare; when the war broke out, he enlisted immediately for romantic patriotic reasons. He became numb to the horrors of war and its aftermath: when his friend Evans died, he felt little sadness. Now Septimus sees nothing of worth in the England he fought for, and he has lost the desire to preserve either his society or himself. Suicidal, he believes his lack of feeling is a crime. Clearly Septimus’s experiences in the war have permanently scarred him, and he has serious mental problems. However, Sir William does not listen to what Septimus says and diagnoses “a lack of proportion.” Sir William plans to separate Septimus from Lucrezia and send him to a mental institution in the country.
Richard Dalloway eats lunch with Hugh Whitbread and Lady Bruton, members of high society. The men help Lady Bruton write a letter to the Times, London's largest newspaper. After lunch, Richard returns home to Clarissa with a large bunch of roses. He intends to tell her that he loves her but finds that he cannot, because it has been so long since he last said it. Clarissa considers the void that exists between people, even between husband and wife. Even though she values the privacy she is able to maintain in her marriage, considering it vital to the success of the relationship, at the same time she finds slightly disturbing the fact that Richard doesn’t know everything about her. Clarissa sees off Elizabeth and her history teacher, Miss Kilman, who are going shopping. The two older women despise one another passionately, each believing the other to be an oppressive force over Elizabeth. Meanwhile, Septimus and Lucrezia are in their apartment, enjoying a moment of happiness together before the men come to take Septimus to the asylum. One of Septimus’s doctors, Dr. Holmes, arrives, and Septimus fears the doctor will destroy his soul. In order to avoid this fate, he jumps from a window to his death.
Peter hears the ambulance go by to pick up Septimus’s body and marvels ironically at the level of London’s civilization. He goes to Clarissa’s party, where most of the novel’s major characters are assembled. Clarissa works hard to make her party a success but feels dissatisfied by her own role and acutely conscious of Peter’s critical eye. All the partygoers, but especially Peter and Sally Seton, have, to some degree, failed to accomplish the dreams of their youth. Though the social order is undoubtedly changing, Elizabeth and the members of her generation will probably repeat the errors of Clarissa’s generation. Sir William Bradshaw arrives late, and his wife explains that one of his patients, the young veteran (Septimus), has committed suicide. Clarissa retreats to the privacy of a small room to consider Septimus’s death. She understands that he was overwhelmed by life and that men like Sir William make life intolerable. She identifies with Septimus, admiring him for having taken the plunge and for not compromising his soul. She feels, with her comfortable position as a society hostess, responsible for his death. The party nears its close as guests begin to leave. Clarissa enters the room, and her presence fills Peter with a great excitement.
'Never let me go' by Kazuo Ishiguro
Never Let Me Go takes place in a dystopian version of late 1990s England, where the lives of ordinary citizens are prolonged through a state-sanctioned program of human cloning. The clones, referred to as students, grow up in special institutions away from the outside world. As young adults, they begin to donate their vital organs. All “donors” receive care from designated “carers,” clones who have not yet begun the donation process. The clones continue to donate organs until they “complete,” which is a euphemism for death after the donation of three or four organs. However, this premise is not immediately apparent to the reader. At the start of the novel, narrator Kathy H. merely introduces herself as a thirty-one-year-old carer. She has been a carer for nearly twelve years, but will leave her role in a few months. Kathy explains that she wants to revisit her memories of Tommy and Ruth, two friends who grew up with her at the Hailsham school. Kathy does not explain the donation program, or mention that Hailsham students are clones.
Although Kathy’s narration is often nonlinear, the novel’s three parts roughly align with three stages in her life. In Part One, Kathy remembers her childhood at Hailsham. She describes her friendship with Ruth, whose temperamental personality contrasts with her own quiet demeanor. At Hailsham, Ruth often annoys Kathy by pretending to have special knowledge and privileges. Kathy also describes Tommy, a student known for throwing violent temper tantrums. Tommy is initially an outcast among his peers because he lacks artistic ability, which the Hailsham staff (part teacher, part parent figures known as “guardians”), and its students value highly. Kathy sympathizes with Tommy, and tries to calm him down during one of his tantrums. Tommy later learns to control his temper after a guardian named Miss Lucy assures him that it is not necessary for him to be creative.
Although the students learn vaguely about the donation program, their guardians shield them from a full understanding of their future. Miss Lucy disagrees with this indirect approach, and often exhibits strange behavior in front of the students as a result, in one instance telling them explicitly about their futures. After Miss Lucy speaks with Tommy about his artwork, he and Kathy theorize that creativity may be connected to donations. They speculate about Madame, a woman who visits Hailsham to collect the best student artwork. Madame is rumored to keep this art in a personal gallery. Kathy later encounters Madame in the girls’ dormitory, while Kathy dances to the song “Never Let Me Go.” The song is Kathy’s favorite track on Songs After Dark, a Judy Bridgewater album that is one of her most prized possessions. When the song ends, Kathy sees Madame crying in the doorway. Shortly afterwards, Kathy loses her tape. Tommy’s temper returns during their last summer at Hailsham. Kathy thinks he is upset about his recent breakup with Ruth, whom he has dated for six months. But Tommy is upset about Miss Lucy, who recently told him that she was wrong to dismiss the importance of creativity. Miss Lucy departs Hailsham abruptly, and Tommy mends his relationship with Ruth.
In Part Two, Kathy moves with Ruth and Tommy to a transitional housing facility known as the Cottages. They adjust to their new lives, becoming acquainted with the “veteran” students living there already. Ruth often ignores Tommy and Kathy in her efforts to blend in with the veterans, who are not from Hailsham. Kathy notices that the veterans regard the Hailsham students with awe. One couple, Chrissie and Rodney, are especially interested in Hailsham. They convince Ruth to go with them to Norfolk, where Rodney claims to have seen Ruth’s “possible” in an open-plan office (a “possible” is a human that resembles a specific clone and from whom that clone's DNA may have been copied). Kathy is skeptical of Rodney’s story, especially since it features Ruth’s “dream future” of working in an open-plan office. In the end, Kathy, Tommy, Ruth, Rodney, and Chrissie all drive to Norfolk.
'No Longer At Ease' by Chinua Achebe
Obi Okonkwo is a young man, about twenty-six years old, who returns to Nigeria after studying in England at a university for four years. No Longer At Ease, begins with a trial against Obi that takes place a while after his return, and the novel then works its way backward to explain how Obi has come to be charged with accepting a bribe.
The Umuofia Progressive Union (U.P.U) has given Obi a scholarship to study law in England, a scholarship that Obi has to pay back upon his return. And, thus, he leaves for England, stopping in Lagos on the way out. While in England, several things happen to him. First, he changes his course of study to English and abandons law. Secondly, he finds himself nostalgic for home, writing poems about Nigeria. Finally, he meets a girl named Clara at a dance in London but fails to make a good impression. However, the girl is Nigerian also, and on Obi's boat ride back home, after nearly four years in England, he meets Clara once again. This time, they begin a relationship.
Once back in Nigeria, Obi stays, once again, in Lagos with his friend Joseph, trying to find a job and a place of his own. He also visits his own home village of Umuofia. Obi is quickly given a post on the Scholarship Board of the Civil Service and is also quickly introduced to the world of bribery, which is a world he wholeheartedly rejects with a strong idealism at first. This is indicated early on when a man offers Obi money in order for Obi to "pull strings" for his little sister's scholarship. Obi is appalled and rejects the offer, only later to be met at home by the little sister herself who offers Obi her body in return for the scholarship favor. Again, Obi rejects this offer.
Although Obi begins his life in Nigeria in an honest way, events do not go as he has planned. First, Clara tells him that she cannot marry him because she is an osu, an outcast. Obi decides to ignore this and go against what most of his fellow countrymen believe to be a major transgression of custom, and he decides he will marry her anyway. Still, his economic hardship worsens, given that he has to send money home and that he is in debt. Obi then receives a letter from his father telling him that he must go home. When he arrives at home he sees that his mother is very ill. And, his parents tell him he must not marry Clara because she is an osu. In fact, Obi's dying mother gives him an ultimatum: she tells him that if he insists on marrying Clara, he must wait until she is dead because if he marries Clara while she is alive, she will kill herself.
Obi, therefore returns back to Lagos and tells Clara all that has transpired. Clara becomes angry and breaks off the engagement, afterwards hinting at the fact that she is pregnant. It is at this point when Obi arranges an abortion. He does not have the money and needs to borrow it. Complications arise out of the operation, and Clara is hospitalized, after which she refuses to see Obi.
Obi then returns to work, only to be notified that his mother has died. He does not go home for the funeral, and the U.P.U. discusses this failure on Obi's behalf as a sign of his not having cared about his mother's death. The truth, however, is that he was terribly saddened by her death, feels terrible remorse and guilt, and has entered into a state of mental unrest. However, Obi awakes from this unrest with a new sense of calm. He feels like a new man, and it is at this point that he takes his first bribe, not without a certain degree of guilt.
Obi allows this acceptance of bribes to become habitual. He continues to take bribes until the end of the novel, when Obi decides he cannot stand it anymore. He has paid off all of his debts and can no longer be a part of the corruption. It is at this moment, however, when he has taken his last bribe, that he is caught, which brings us back to the beginning of the novel.
'Othello' by W. Shakespeare
Othello begins on a street in Venice, in the midst of an argument between Roderigo, a rich man, and Iago. Roderigo has been paying Iago to help him in his suit to Desdemona. But Roderigo has just learned that Desdemona has married Othello, a general whom Iago begrudgingly serves as ensign. Iago says he hates Othello, who recently passed him over for the position of lieutenant in favor of the inexperienced soldier Michael Cassio.
Unseen, Iago and Roderigo cry out to Brabanzio that his daughter Desdemona has been stolen by and married to Othello, the Moor. Brabanzio finds that his daughter is indeed missing, and he gathers some officers to find Othello. Not wanting his hatred of Othello to be known, Iago leaves Roderigo and hurries back to Othello before Brabanzio sees him. At Othello’s lodgings, Cassio arrives with an urgent message from the duke: Othello’s help is needed in the matter of the imminent Turkish invasion of Cyprus. Not long afterward, Brabanzio arrives with Roderigo and others, and accuses Othello of stealing his daughter by witchcraft. When he finds out that Othello is on his way to speak with the duke, -Brabanzio decides to go along and accuse Othello before the assembled senate.
Brabanzio’s plan backfires. The duke and senate are very sympathetic toward Othello. Given a chance to speak for himself, Othello explains that he wooed and won Desdemona not by witchcraft but with the stories of his adventures in travel and war. The duke finds Othello’s explanation convincing, and Desdemona herself enters at this point to defend her choice in marriage and to announce to her father that her allegiance is now to her husband. Brabanzio is frustrated, but acquiesces and allows the senate meeting to resume. The duke says that Othello must go to Cyprus to aid in the defense against the Turks, who are headed for the island. Desdemona insists that she accompany her husband on his trip, and preparations are made for them to depart that night.
In Cyprus the following day, two gentlemen stand on the shore with Montano, the governor of Cyprus. A third gentleman arrives and reports that the Turkish fleet has been wrecked in a storm at sea. Cassio, whose ship did not suffer the same fate, arrives soon after, followed by a second ship carrying Iago, Roderigo, Desdemona, and Emilia, Iago’s wife. Once they have landed, Othello’s ship is sighted, and the group goes to the harbor. As they wait for Othello, Cassio greets Desdemona by clasping her hand. Watching them, Iago tells the audience that he will use “as little a web as this” hand-holding to ensnare Cassio (II.i.169).
Othello arrives, greets his wife, and announces that there will be reveling that evening to celebrate Cyprus’s safety from the Turks. Once everyone has left, Roderigo complains to Iago that he has no chance of breaking up Othello’s marriage. Iago assures Roderigo that as soon as Desdemona’s “blood is made dull with the act of sport,” she will lose interest in Othello and seek sexual satisfaction elsewhere (II.i.222). However, Iago warns that “elsewhere” will likely be with Cassio. Iago counsels Roderigo that he should cast Cassio into disgrace by starting a fight with Cassio at the evening’s revels. In a soliloquy, Iago explains to the audience that eliminating Cassio is the first crucial step in his plan to ruin Othello. That night, Iago gets Cassio drunk and then sends Roderigo to start a fight with him. Apparently provoked by Roderigo, Cassio chases Roderigo across the stage. Governor Montano attempts to hold Cassio down, and Cassio stabs him. Iago sends Roderigo to raise alarm in the town.
The alarm is rung, and Othello, who had left earlier with plans to consummate his marriage, soon arrives to still the commotion. When Othello demands to know who began the fight, Iago feigns reluctance to implicate his “friend” Cassio, but he ultimately tells the whole story. Othello then strips Cassio of his rank of lieutenant. Cassio is extremely upset, and he laments to Iago, once everyone else has gone, that his reputation has been ruined forever. Iago assures Cassio that he can get back into Othello’s good graces by using Desdemona as an intermediary. In a soliloquy, Iago tells us that he will frame Cassio and Desdemona as lovers to make -Othello jealous.
'Pigeon English' by Stephen Kelman
At the book’s beginning we are in media res: in the middle of the action.
A young boy has been killed outside “Chicken Joe’s.”
The narrator (Harrison / Harri) is talking to his friend, Jordan.
We learn that they are also both young boys. The narrator goes tells us that the “dead boy’s mamma” is at the scene guarding the blood and he sees a pigeon walk into the blood.
We are told the narrator lives in a block of flats in London.
He then goes on to describe the differences in language between England and his home in Ghana. We are introduced to Connor Green (one of the narrator’s friends) and X-Fire who has graffitied his name onto the wall of Stockholm House where the narrator lives.
We learn that Harrison lives with his Mother and sister Lydia.
Harrison’s father, younger sister Agnes and Grandma Ama are still in Ghana as they do not have the means to travel over yet.
Harrison tells us about a pigeon that landed on the window sill of the apartment. He fed him some flour and he made him his “special pigeon”.
Harrison, Lydia and their mother attend Church and say a prayer for the dead boy.
Harrison tells us about his friend Manik. He tells us that Manik’s papa helped him tie his tie and how he protected Manik as he walked to school.
We are introduced for the first time to the Dell Farm Crew (DFC) who stole Manik’s trainers as he walked to school.
Harrison describes life at school. In his old school in Ghana they used to sing songs but here they don’t; he used to sit with Lydia but they now sit with their respective friends.
X-Fire teaches Harrison and his friends how to “chook” (stab) somebody with Harrison playing the part of the victim. Dizzy and Clipz (other members of the DFC) are also there and describe what it is like to stab somebody and the best parts of the body to target.
Harrison goes to the market on Saturday with his Mama and sister as his Mama is looking for a “pigeon net”. Harrison asserts the pigeon is only hungry and wants him to come back. He then describes how he watched Jordan, X-Fire and Dizzy steal a lady’s phone and how he didn’t tell his Mama.
'Richard III' by W. Shakespeare
After a long civil war between the royal family of York and the royal family of Lancaster, England enjoys a period of peace under King Edward IV and the victorious Yorks. But Edward’s younger brother, Richard, resents Edward’s power and the happiness of those around him. Malicious, power-hungry, and bitter about his physical deformity, Richard begins to aspire secretly to the throne—and decides to kill anyone he has to in order to become king.
Using his intelligence and his skills of deception and political manipulation, Richard begins his campaign for the throne. He manipulates a noblewoman, Lady Anne, into marrying him—even though she knows that he murdered her first husband. He has his own older brother, Clarence, executed, and shifts the burden of guilt onto his sick older brother King Edward in order to accelerate Edward’s illness and death. After King Edward dies, Richard becomes lord protector of England—the figure in charge until the elder of Edward’s two sons grows up.
Next Richard kills the court noblemen who are loyal to the princes, most notably Lord Hastings, the lord chamberlain of England. He then has the boys’ relatives on their mother’s side—the powerful kinsmen of Edward’s wife, Queen Elizabeth—arrested and executed. With Elizabeth and the princes now unprotected, Richard has his political allies, particularly his right-hand man, Lord Buckingham, campaign to have Richard crowned king. Richard then imprisons the young princes in the Tower and, in his bloodiest move yet, sends hired murderers to kill both children.
By this time, Richard’s reign of terror has caused the common people of England to fear and loathe him, and he has alienated nearly all the noblemen of the court—even the power-hungry Buckingham. When rumors begin to circulate about a challenger to the throne who is gathering forces in France, noblemen defect in droves to join his forces. The challenger is the earl of Richmond, a descendant of a secondary arm of the Lancaster family, and England is ready to welcome him.
Richard, in the meantime, tries to consolidate his power. He has his wife, Queen Anne, murdered, so that he can marry young Elizabeth, the daughter of the former Queen Elizabeth and the dead King Edward. Though young Elizabeth is his niece, the alliance would secure his claim to the throne. Nevertheless, Richard has begun to lose control of events, and Queen Elizabeth manages to forestall him. Meanwhile, she secretly promises to marry young Elizabeth to Richmond.
Richmond finally invades England. The night before the battle that will decide everything, Richard has a terrible dream in which the ghosts of all the people he has murdered appear and curse him, telling him that he will die the next day. In the battle on the following morning, Richard is killed, and Richmond is crowned King Henry VII. Promising a new era of peace for England, the new king is betrothed to young Elizabeth in order to unite the warring houses of Lancaster and York.
She Stoops To Conquer By Oliver Goldsmith
At their old-fashioned house in the country, the Hardcastles, a couple in their late 50s, discuss country life and city life. Mrs. Hardcastle mildly complains of "the rust" of routine in the country, while Mr. Hardcastle dismisses London's "follies" and "fopperies." Their talk turns to Tony Lumpkin, Mrs. Hardcastle's son by a former marriage. Mr. Hardcastle evidently considers Tony something of a wastrel. When the young man enters, he refuses his mother's request to refrain from going to the Three Pigeons, the local alehouse, or tavern, where his friends expect him.
In a conversation with his daughter, Kate Hardcastle, Mr. Hardcastle reveals he has invited Charles Marlow, the son of an old friend, to visit that very day as a potential husband for her. Kate assents, although she expresses some reservations to her cousin, Constance Neville. Constance's aunt and guardian, Mrs. Hardcastle, is eager for Constance to marry Tony Lumpkin as a means of keeping Constance's inheritance within the family.
At the Three Pigeons alehouse, Tony Lumpkin entertains his comrades with a rollicking drinking song. The landlord announces the arrival of two young visitors who seem to be from London. When the travelers confess they are lost, Tony plays a practical joke, giving them complex directions to the Hardcastles' house but leading them to believe the private residence is really an inn.
At the Hardcastles' house, Mr. Hardcastle is training his rather awkward servants to display good manners when visitors arrive, for the family is not used to entertaining guests. After some banter with the staff, Hardcastle hospitably receives the young travelers, Charles Marlow and George Hastings. The two visitors are under the impression Mr. Hardcastle is an innkeeper—a misunderstanding that gives occasion for some lightly comic asides.
Constance Neville, who is Hastings's sweetheart, enters and quickly realizes her cousin, Tony Lumpkin, has played another of his practical jokes. But she and Hastings decide not to clear up the matter with Marlow and thus continue pretending the house is an inn. The young man's first encounter with Kate Hardcastle develops awkwardly, with Marlow suffering acutely from bashfulness. He is timid and reserved with young ladies of high social status and far more at ease with young women from humbler backgrounds, like barmaids. This personality trait gives Kate the idea of impersonating the "inn's" barmaid because she finds Marlow appealing and because he has already mistaken her for that role. She will, as the title suggests, "stoop," socially, "to conquer."
Toward the end of the act, Mrs. Hardcastle indulges her fascination with London and fashionable ways by discussing the city and the latest style trends with Hastings. Unknown to her, Hastings plans to elope with Constance and to enlist Tony Lumpkin for the success of this project.
Hardcastle and Kate discuss their contrasting reactions to young Marlow. Kate's father finds the young man unaccountably impudent, but Kate reassures him she believes Marlow to be exemplary.
Tony rushes in to exclaim he has succeeded in filching the jewel casket that contains Constance's inheritance. The jewels should be a welcome resource for Constance and George Hastings in their elopement plan. Constance, in fact, has been pestering her aunt to give them to her, but Mrs. Hardcastle has refused, hoping to make a match between Constance and Tony and thus keep the jewels in the family. Now Mrs. Hardcastle is distraught upon discovering her bureau has been broken into and the jewels taken.
As Kate Hardcastle proceeds with her plan to masquerade as a barmaid, Marlow is enchanted with her, flirts openly, and attempts to embrace her. Kate's father witnesses this attempt and scolds his daughter. He is ready to ask the visitors to leave because of Marlow's impudence, but Kate says she will prove the young man's worth if her father will grant her one hour to do so.
'Taming of the Shrew' by Shakespeare
In the English countryside, a poor tinker named Christopher Sly becomes the target of a prank by a local lord. Finding Sly drunk out of his wits in front of an alehouse, the lord has his men take Sly to his manor, dress him in his finery, and treat him as a lord. When Sly recovers, the men tell him that he is a lord and that he only believes himself to be a tinker because he has been insane for the past several years. Waking in the lord’s bed, Sly at first refuses to accept the men’s story, but when he hears of his “wife,” a pageboy dressed in women’s clothing, he readily agrees that he is the lord they purport him to be. Sly wants to be left alone with his wife, but the servants tell him that a troupe of actors has arrived to present a play for him. The play that Sly watches makes up the main story of The Taming of the Shrew.
In the Italian city of Padua, a rich young man named Lucentio arrives with his servants, Tranio and Biondello, to attend the local university. Lucentio is excited to begin his studies, but his priorities change when he sees Bianca, a beautiful, mild young woman with whom Lucentio instantly falls in love. There are two problems: first, Bianca already has two suitors, Gremio and Hortensio; second, Bianca’s father, a wealthy old man named Baptista Minola, has declared that no one may court Bianca until first her older sister, the vicious, ill-tempered Katherine, is married. Lucentio decides to overcome this problem by disguising himself as Bianca’s Latin tutor to gain an excuse to be in her company. Hortensio disguises himself as her music teacher for the same reason. While Lucentio pretends to be Bianca’s tutor, Tranio dresses up as Lucentio and begins to confer with Baptista about the possibility of marrying his daughter.
The Katherine problem is solved for Bianca’s suitors when Hortensio’s friend Petruchio, a brash young man from Verona, arrives in Padua to find a wife. He intends to marry a rich woman, and does not care what she is like as long as she will bring him a fortune. He agrees to marry Katherine sight unseen. The next day, he goes to Baptista’s house to meet her, and they have a tremendous duel of words. As Katherine insults Petruchio repeatedly, Petruchio tells her that he will marry her whether she agrees or not. He tells Baptista, falsely, that Katherine has consented to marry him on Sunday. Hearing this claim, Katherine is strangely silent, and the wedding is set.
On Sunday, Petruchio is late to his own wedding, leaving Katherine to fear she will become an old maid. When Petruchio arrives, he is dressed in a ridiculous outfit and rides on a broken-down horse. After the wedding, Petruchio forces Katherine to leave for his country house before the feast, telling all in earshot that she is now his property and that he may do with her as he pleases. Once they reach his country house, Petruchio continues the process of “taming” Katherine by keeping her from eating or sleeping for several days—he pretends that he loves her so much he cannot allow her to eat his inferior food or to sleep in his poorly made bed.
In Padua, Lucentio wins Bianca’s heart by wooing her with a Latin translation that declares his love. Hortensio makes the same attempt with a music lesson, but Bianca loves Lucentio, and Hortensio resolves to marry a wealthy widow. Tranio secures Baptista’s approval for Lucentio to marry Bianca by proposing a huge sum of money to lavish on her. Baptista agrees but says that he must have this sum confirmed by Lucentio’s father before the marriage can take place. Tranio and Lucentio, still in their respective disguises, feel there is nothing left to do but find an old man to play the role of Lucentio’s father. Tranio enlists the help of an old pedant, or schoolmaster, but as the pedant speaks to Baptista, Lucentio and Bianca decide to circumvent the complex situation by eloping.
'The Duchess of Malfi' by John Webster
The Duchess of Malfi is a young widow whose two brothers, a cardinal and Ferdinand, the duke of Calabria, are desperately anxious lest she marry again, for they want to inherit her title and her estates. Their spy in her household is Bosola, her master of horse.
The duchess falls in love with her steward, Antonio, and marries him secretly. Later, she secretly bears a son. When the happy father writes out the child’s horoscope according to the rules of astrology and then loses the paper, Bosola finds the document and learns about the child. He dispatches a letter immediately to Rome to inform the brothers. The duke swears that only her blood can quench his anger, and he threatens that once he knows the identity of the duchess’s lover, he will ruin her completely.
The years pass and the duchess bears Antonio two more children, a second son and a daughter. Antonio tells his friend Delio that he is worried because Duke Ferdinand is too quiet about the matter and because the people of Malfi, not aware of their duchess’s marriage, are calling her a common strumpet.
Duke Ferdinand comes to the court to propose Count Malateste as a second husband for the duchess. She refuses. Bosola is not able to discover the father of the duchess’s children. Impatient with his informer, the duke decides on a bolder course of action. He determines to gain entrance to the duchess’s private chamber and there to wring a confession from her. That night, using a key Bosola gives him, the duke goes to her bedroom. Under his threats, she confesses to her second marriage, but she refuses to reveal Antonio’s name. After the duke leaves, she calls Antonio and her loyal servant Cariola to her chamber. They plan Antonio’s escape from Malfi before his identity can become known to the duchess’s brothers.
The duchess calls Bosola and tells him that Antonio falsified some accounts. As soon as Bosola leaves, she recalls Antonio and tells him of the feigned crime of which she accused him to shield both their honors, and then bids him flee to the town of Ancona, where they will meet later. In the presence of Bosola and the officers of her guard she accuses Antonio of stealing money and banishes him from Malfi. With feigned indignation, Antonio replies that such is the treatment of thankless masters, and he leaves for Ancona. When the duped Bosola upholds Antonio in an argument with the duchess, she feels she can trust him with the secret of her marriage and asks him to take jewels and money to her husband at Ancona. Bosola, in return, advises her to make her own departure from the court more seemly by going to Ancona by way of the shrine of Loretto, so that the flight might look like a religious pilgrimage.
Bosola immediately travels to Rome, where he betrays the plans of Antonio and the duchess to Duke Ferdinand and the cardinal. They thereupon promptly have the lovers banished from Ancona.
'The Kite Runner' by Khaled Hosseini
The Kite Runner is the story of Amir, a Sunni Muslim, who struggles to find his place in the world because of the aftereffects and fallout from a series of traumatic childhood events. An adult Amir opens the novel in the present-day United States with a vague reference to one of these events, and then the novel flashes back to Amir's childhood in Afghanistan. In addition to typical childhood experiences, Amir struggles with forging a closer relationship with his father, Baba; with determining the exact nature of his relationship with Hassan, his Shi'a Muslim servant; and eventually with finding a way to atone for pre-adolescent decisions that have lasting repercussions. Along the way, readers are able to experience growing up in Afghanistan in a single-parent home, a situation that bears remarkable similarities to many contemporary households.
One of the biggest struggles for Amir is learning to navigate the complex socioeconomic culture he faces, growing up in Afghanistan as a member of the privileged class yet not feeling like a privileged member of his own family. Hassan and his father, Ali, are servants, yet at times, Amir's relationship with them is more like that of family members. And Amir's father, Baba, who does not consistently adhere to the tenets of his culture, confuses rather than clarifies things for young Amir. Many of the ruling-class elite in Afghanistan view the world as black and white, yet Amir identifies many shades of gray.
In addition to the issues affecting his personal life, Amir must also contend with the instability of the Afghan political system in the 1970s. During a crucial episode, which takes place during an important kite flying tournament, Amir decides not to act — he decides not to confront bullies and aggressors when he has the chance — and this conscious choice of inaction sets off a chain reaction that leads to guilt, lies, and betrayals. Eventually, because of the changing political climate, Amir and his father are forced to flee Afghanistan. Amir views coming to America as an opportunity to leave his past behind.
Although Amir and Baba toil to create a new life for themselves in the United States, the past is unable to stay buried. When it rears its ugly head, Amir is forced to return to his homeland to face the demons and decisions of his youth, with only a slim hope to make amends.
Ultimately, The Kite Runner is a novel about relationships — specifically the relationships between Amir and Hassan, Baba, Rahim Khan, Soraya, and Sohrab — and how the complex relationships in our lives overlap and connect to make us the people we are.
'The Pardonner’s Tale' by Geoffrey Chaucer
After getting a drink, the Pardoner begins his Prologue. He tells the company about his occupation—a combination of itinerant preaching and selling promises of salvation. His sermon topic always remains the same: Radix malorum est Cupiditas, or “greed is the root of all evil.” He gives a similar sermon to every congregation and then breaks out his bag of “relics”—which, he readily admits to the listening pilgrims, are fake. He will take a sheep’s bone and claim it has miraculous healing powers for all kinds of ailments. The parishioners always believe him and make their offerings to the relics, which the Pardoner quickly pockets.
The Pardoner admits that he preaches solely to get money, not to correct sin. He argues that many sermons are the product of evil intentions. By preaching, the Pardoner can get back at anyone who has offended him or his brethren. In his sermon, he always preaches about covetousness, the very vice that he himself is gripped by. His one and only interest is to fill his ever-deepening pockets. He would rather take the last penny from a widow and her starving family than give up his money, and the good cheeses, breads, and wines that such income brings him. Speaking of alcohol, he notes, he has now finished his drink of “corny ale” and is ready to begin his tale.
The Pardoner describes a group of young Flemish people who spend their time drinking and reveling, indulging in all forms of excess. After commenting on their lifestyle of debauchery, the Pardoner enters into a tirade against the vices that they practice. First and foremost is gluttony, which he identifies as the sin that first caused the fall of mankind in Eden. Next, he attacks drunkenness, which makes a man seem mad and witless. Next is gambling, the temptation that ruins men of power and wealth. Finally, he denounces swearing. He argues that it so offends God that he forbade swearing in the Second Commandment—placing it higher up on the list than homicide. After almost two hundred lines of sermonizing, the Pardoner finally returns to his story of the lecherous Flemish youngsters.
As three of these rioters sit drinking, they hear a funeral knell. One of the revelers’ servants tells the group that an old friend of theirs was slain that very night by a mysterious figure named Death. The rioters are outraged and, in their drunkenness, decide to find and kill Death to avenge their friend. Traveling down the road, they meet an old man who appears sorrowful. He says his sorrow stems from old age—he has been waiting for Death to come and take him for some time, and he has wandered all over the world. The youths, hearing the name of Death, demand to know where they can find him. The old man directs them into a grove, where he says he just left Death under an oak tree. The rioters rush to the tree, underneath which they find not Death but eight bushels of gold coins with no owner in sight.
At first, they are speechless, but, then, the slyest of the three reminds them that if they carry the gold into town in daylight, they will be taken for thieves. They must transport the gold under cover of night, and so someone must run into town to fetch bread and wine in the meantime. They draw lots, and the youngest of the three loses and runs off toward town. As soon as he is gone, the sly plotter turns to his friend and divulges his plan: when their friend returns from town, they will kill him and therefore receive greater shares of the wealth. The second rioter agrees, and they prepare their trap. Back in town, the youngest vagrant is having similar thoughts. He could easily be the richest man in town, he realizes, if he could have all the gold to himself. He goes to the apothecary and buys the strongest poison available, then puts the poison into two bottles of wine, leaving a third bottle pure for himself. He returns to the tree, but the other two rioters leap out and kill him.
'The White Tiger' by Aravind Adiga
The White Tiger is the story of Balram Halwai’s life as a self-declared “self-made entrepreneur”: a rickshaw driver’s son who skillfully climbs India’s social ladder to become a chauffer and later a successful businessman. Balram recounts his life story in a letter to visiting Chinese official Premier Wen Jiabao, with the goal of educating the premier about entrepreneurship in India.
Balram writes from his luxurious office in the city of Bangalore, but the story begins in his rural ancestral village of Laxmangahr. Throughout his childhood, Balram’s destitute family lives at the mercy of four cruel, exploitative landlords, referred to as “The Animals”: The Raven, The Stork, The Buffalo, and The Wild Boar. Despite the difficult life he is born into, Balram excels in school. His academic potential and personal integrity distinguish him from his classmates, bringing him to the attention of a visiting school inspector who nicknames him “the White Tiger,” after the most rare and intelligent creature in the jungle.
Balram’s parents recognize his potential and want him to complete his education, but his grandmother Kusum removes him from school early on so that he can work to support the family. Balram is determined to continue his education however he can. When he and his brother Kishan begin working in a teashop in nearby Dhanbad, Balram neglects his duties and spends his days listening to customers’ conversations. He overhears one customer speaking wistfully about the high earnings and easy life that India’s private chauffeurs enjoy, and begs his grandmother to send him to driving school. Kusum agrees, but Balram must promise to send home his wages once he finds a job.
His training complete, Balram knocks on the doors of Dhanbad’s rich families, offering his services. By a stroke of luck, he arrives at the mansion of the Stork (one of Laxmangahr’s animal landlords) one day after the Stork’s son, Mr. Ashok, returns from America with his wife Pinky Madam. The family hires Balram to become Ashok’s driver. In reality, Balram is more of a general servant to the family, while another servant, Ram Persad, has the privilege of driving them.
Balram learns that the Stork’s family fortune comes from illegally selling coal out of government mines. They bribe ministers to turn a blind eye to their fraudulent business and allow the family to avoid paying income tax. Unfortunately, the family recently had a disagreement with the region’s ruling politician, referred to as the Great Socialist. The family dispatches Ashok and Pinky to Delhi, where Ashok will distribute more bribes to make amends. When Balram learns that the couple will need a driver in Delhi, he schemes to have Ram Persad dismissed, and goes in his place.
Once in Delhi, Balram witnesses Pinky and Ashok’s marriage rapidly fall apart. Pinky returns to the US and leaves her husband after she kills a young child in a drunken, hit-and-run accident. In her absence, Ashok goes out to bars and clubs, hiring a prostitute one night, and reconnecting with a former lover on another. Observing his master’s gradual corruption and driving him through Dehli’s seedier districts, Balram becomes disillusioned and resentful. Although Ashok is a relatively kind master, Balram realizes that whatever generosity Ashok has shown him is only a fraction of what he can afford. Ashok has no real interest in helping Balram achieve a better life, or in changing the status quo.
'The Wife Of Bath's Tale' By Geoffrey Chaucer
In the days of King Arthur, the Wife of Bath begins, the isle of Britain was full of fairies and elves. Now, those creatures are gone because their spots have been taken by the friars and other mendicants that seem to fill every nook and cranny of the isle. And though the friars rape women, just as the incubi did in the days of the fairies, the friars only cause women dishonor—the incubi always got them pregnant.
In Arthur’s court, however, a young, lusty knight comes across a beautiful young maiden one day. Overcome by lust and his sense of his own power, he rapes her. The court is scandalized by the crime and decrees that the knight should be put to death by decapitation. However, Arthur’s queen and other ladies of the court intercede on his behalf and ask the king to give him one chance to save his own life. Arthur, wisely obedient to wifely counsel, grants their request. The queen presents the knight with the following challenge: if, within one year, he can discover what women want most in the world and report his findings back to the court, he will keep his life. If he cannot find the answer to the queen’s question, or if his answer is wrong, he will lose his head.
The knight sets forth in sorrow. He roams throughout the country, posing the question to every woman he meets. To the knight’s dismay, nearly every one of them answers differently. Some claim that women love money best, some honor, some jolliness, some looks, some sex, some remarriage, some flattery, and some say that women most want to be free to do as they wish. Finally, says the Wife, some say that women most want to be considered discreet and secretive, although she argues that such an answer is clearly untrue, since no woman can keep a secret. As proof, she retells Ovid’s story of Midas. Midas had two ass’s ears growing under his hair, which he concealed from everybody except his wife, whom he begged not to disclose his secret. She swore she would not, but the secret burned so much inside her that she ran down to a marsh and whispered her husband’s secret to the water. The Wife then says that if her listeners would like to hear how the tale ends, they should read Ovid.
She returns to her story of the knight. When his day of judgment draws near, the knight sorrowfully heads for home. As he rides near a forest, he sees a large group of women dancing and decides to approach them to ask his question. But as he approaches, the group vanishes, and all he can see is an ugly old woman. The woman asks if she can be of help, and the knight explains his predicament and promises to reward her if she can help him. The woman tells the knight that he must pledge himself to her in return for her help, and the knight, having no options left, gladly consents. She then guarantees that his life will be saved.
The knight and the old woman travel together to the court, where, in front of a large audience, the knight tells the queen the answer with which the old woman supplied him: what women most desire is to be in charge of their husbands and lovers. The women agree resoundingly that this is the answer, and the queen spares the knight’s life. The old hag comes forth and publicly asks the knight to marry her. The knight cries out in horror. He begs her to take his material possessions rather than his body, but she refuses to yield, and in the end he is forced to consent. The two are married in a small, private wedding and go to bed together the same night. Throughout the entire ordeal, the knight remains miserable.