Saturday, December 17, 2011

Changing self

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The topic of change is a particularly broad one, hence many authors use it as the focus for their texts. Focusing on

the different concepts of “changing self” four such examples include Miroslav Holubs “The Door”, Gwen

Harwoods poems “prize Giving” and “At Mornington” and the film “the Talented Mr Ripley”. Each text takes the

theme of changing self, and by using a number of different literary and visual techniques broaden our understanding

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of it and present us with different points of view.

Holubs “the Door” uses a simple and unregulated structure to contrast its deeper metaphoric meaning. The “door”

can be seen as a symbol of the barriers which deter and hold us back from instigating a change. Repetition of the

phrase “Go and open the door” at the beginning of each stanza creates an imperative tone. The poet is trying hard to

convince the responder to initiate a change, and urging the fact that change does not occur on its own; nothing is

going to happen unless we take the step to open the door and see whats on the other side.

Each stanza in “the door” provides the responder with a list of possibilities change could bring about; “a tree, or a

wood, a garden, or a magic city”. These images all hold positive connotations, and although some are quite

mundane, others are every bit fantastical and magical, and all propose a more prosperous outcome than the vast

nothingness found on the inside of the “door”.

This text points out that although we cannot predict what will come about upon the instigation of a change, benefit is

found in the process of seeking it. “even if nothing is least thery’ll be a draught” suggests that even if

nothing worthwhile comes of the venture nothing is lost, and the very least that is gained is a breath of fresh air.

In response to the concept of “changing self” Holubs “The Door” points out that the essence of change is found with

in the individual. The “door” can therfore be seen as a barrier to cange taking place or a gateway to oppurtunity,

depending on how it is percieved by the individual. Holub is saying that change is driven by intrinsic forces.

Harwood takes a very different angle to Holub in her poem “prize giving.” Still focusing on the theme of changing

self, but emphasising the change that occurs in individuals due to exterior and uncontrollable factors rather than

internal ones. Similarly to Holub however, Harwood also describes that change can occur in many shapes and forms

and often come from unexpected sources; The professor did not predict and could not help the change brought abput

in him by the titian haired girl.

The poem details professor Eisenbarts seemingly insignificant appearance at an ordinary schools prize giving

ceremony. Initially, the professor is conveyed as as a self absorbed academic - arrogant and dismissive of those he

feels are below his standard. His image of superiority and vanity is soon reversed by Harwood as she plays the

professors character into a situation where he comes into contact with a particularly gifted student, characterised by

her blaze of unmistakable titian hair. The girl is mocking of the posing professor, and reveals his weaknesses as she

unravels his seemingly controlled and powerful personality with her extraordinary musical talents.

The changes in self undergone by the professor are obvious. He falls from the grace of being the dignitary - the

pompous academic who is clearly too important for his scant surroundings. Following his encounter with the titian

haired girl the professor is jolted out of his smug self satisfaction by her electrifying music. This completely

unexpected source of change bruises his self image drastically as his inner world is literally turned upside down

“suspended his image upside down”, and he desperately tries hold onto his former sense of self assurance. This is

symbolised by his clutching onto his gown, which can also be seen to hold sexual connotations, as the professor tries

hard to disguise the effect the titian haired girl is having on him.

Harwood uses irony to show how Eisenbart, who expected to play the part of the learned master finds himself the

humble student, as the itian haired girl teaches him about passion, through her rendition of Mozart. Her arrogance as

she plays mirrors that of the professor earlier on. This further emphasises the changes in the profesors personality..

This suggests further change in self as the once composed professor can now control neither his mental or physical

state. He has found himself in a world which he cant understand, and is forced to look at himself in a new light and

acknowledge that he is no longer in control of himself or his surroundings.

Harwood takes a similar angle to this in her poem “at mornington” where she tells the story of a middle aged woman

struggling to come to terms with the changes brought about by death. This could be substituted with the professor in

“prize giving” who is also trying to come to terms with changes brought about by extrinsic forces.

“At Mornington” is written from the perspective of a lady who shares a visit to the cemetery with a dear friend of

hers which leads her to reflect on childhood memories of indestructibility and the realisation that in time she too will

pass. The woman finally concludes how worthwhile friendship and love have made her life and that death doesn’t

now seem so unbearable.

The poem opens as a reflection, as the woman relives some precious childhood memories who’s importance is

asserted later on in the poem when she says “memories..irridescent..fugitive.” The predominant memory of the

woman is that of the ocean and how she once tryed to walk upon its forceful waters after assuming herself immortal.

The vulnerable child was “rolled like a doll” which, in actual fact expresses her extreme mortality at the hands of a

much stronger force. As a child she has no comprehension of death or mortality, particularly that of herself.

The innocent childs perspective of eternal life is later corrected as the new middle aged friends stand at the graves of

their previous role models and comforters. This realisation of death is made apparent to the woman as the previous

generation begins to pass on, and so too one day will she. The contrast between the lifeless granite and marble of the

tombstones and the vibrance and life of the “autumn grasses” makes the woman appreciate the worth each day holds.

The reference to the pumpkins growing to abnormal heights in clear defiance of nature represent the human desire to

cheat death, however the words “bones begin to wear us” suggests that the woman has come to terms with the fact

that she will one day pass away, in clear opposition to her previous childhood feelings of immortality and eternal life

described earlier in the poem.

Minghella’s film “The Talented Mr Ripley” also focuses on the changes in self a person can experience and, like

Harwood in “At Mornington” uses death as the vehicle to portray these changes. However, more predominantly, The

Talented Mr Ripley asks the viewer to identify with a young man who undergoes extensive character changes when

placed in the unfamiliar environment of Italy’s 150’s aristocracy.

Tom Ripley is a calculating young man who believes its “better to be a fake somebody than a real nobody”. He starts

the film as a poor shlub, but desperate to disguise his past as a humble mens room menial acquires a fraudulent

Princeton blazer and quickly works his way up into the beautiful world of seaside Italy where he meets thr rich and

beautiful Diskie and Marge Greenleaf.

Minghella first introduces the audience to Dickie and Marge through binoculars. This technique allows the viewer to

see the world through Toms eyes and emphasises his desire to acquire their lifestyle. This affluent and self absorbed

lifestyle inspires Tom to change his identity to become one of them.

In the opening scene of the film the viewer is shown a list of flashing adjectives before the final word “talented” is

decided upon. This represents everything Tom could have done with his life before his character underwent such a

drastic change and his past goals became corrupt. In this scene, Toms figure is also revealed bit by bit by broken

mirrors, reinforcing the idea that his personality is fractured and constantly changing. The eerie music playing in the

background introduces the viewer with the thriller genre of the film.

Apart from Ripleys obvious transition between social classes, the most predominant change apparent in this film is

that which Ripleys character undergoes. In his quest to acquire the perfect life he has to resort to terrible methods, as

drastic as murder. Tom is so dissatisfied with his life that he is willing to give up everything he has to become

someone else. He ends up living a solitary existence, as symbolised by the long shot of him lying alone and

vulnerable in the boat after he kills Dickie, his life is an ongoing charade as he covers up his true identity with mask

after mask . In his bizarre and twisted quest to change his life and himself, he has misunderstood money for bliss “If I

could just go back I would rub out everything beginning with myself” suggests that Tom is unhappy with the changes

he has brought about in himself.

The fact that Tom is often seen reflected in mirrors and water suggests that he is surreal - merely an image of what he

tried so hard to become.

Through these four examples, it can be clearly percieved that change, particularly those in ones self, come in many

ways, shapes and forms. They can be expressed as positive or negative, trivial or consequential. The composers of

each of these four examples delve into different concepts of changing self and use a number of different techniques

and mediums to portray their ideas. Although some similarities can be seen between the texts, the results are

predominantly different.

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