Week Forty-Five: The Works of Jamaica Kincaid






Excerpts from “A Small Place”

This week The Wonderlings will take a look at both physical and emotional landscapes, through the eyes of well-known Antiguan author, Jamaica Kincaid.

First up is an excerpt from A Small Place, a work of creative nonfiction published in 1988. A book-length essay drawing on Kincaid’s experiences growing up in Antigua, it can be read as an indictment of the Antiguan government, the tourist industry and Antigua’s British colonial legacy.

Susan Sontag once described Kincaid’s writing as “poignant, but it’s poignant because it’s so truthful and it’s so complicated … She doesn’t treat these things in a sentimental or facile way.”¹

Here’s an excerpt from A Small Place.

The work has received great praise for it’s no-nonsense-let-me-spell-it-out-for-you prose style, but has also been a source of controversy and criticism from both the white, western community as well as from native antiguans.  Let us know what YOU think, as well.




A study question: 

Why does Kincaid’s narrator employ the second person point of view, addressing the reader as “You?”


“Girl” by Jamaica Kincaid


Once you’ve encountered Kincaid’s  often seething view of the tourist industry on Antigua, her birthplace, it’s worthwhile to explore a very brief (600 word?) but well-known exploration of Kincaid’s emotional territory, in a memoir of her mother.

Here is “Girl” by Jamaica Kincaid.


The life lesson narrated by the mother is a set of imperative instructions for how a young woman should conduct herself to be acceptable and agreeable to the world, to a husband and to society. It serves as a wonderful poetic prompt for writers to create their own lists and in a very short space serves as a narrative of what cisgender obedience should look like.


Kincaid’s tone is often described as sarcastic, sometimes even as “rant.” Yet what the author delivers is more a frank, low, steady sarcasm with a cynical undercurrent; often as much at the expense of Antigua as it is of tourists. Regarding criticism of her tone, Kincaid has said  “No one asked Norman Mailer why he was so angry or ranting. No one ever asked Philip Roth why he was so angry.” Her point is well-taken. The very sort of gender-based criticism she receives as a woman is ironically precisely what she caricatures in “Girl.” When her male counter-parts use a dry acerbic tone they are given awards.

Check out two interviews with the author,  here:






Other works by Jamaica Kincaid:




Kincaid is probably best known for Annie John, the biography of a girl growing up in Antigua.

Her writing explores such themes as colonialism and colonial legacy, post-colonialism and neo-colonialism, gender and sexuality, renaming, mother-daughter relationships, British and American imperialism, colonial education, writing, racism, class, power, and adolescence. In her most recent novel, See Now Then, Kincaid also first explores the theme of time.²


. . .A bit about Jamaica Kincaid . . .



Kincaid (Source: Pinterest)

Jamaica Kincaid was born Elaine Potter Richardson on Antigua in 1949.

In 1965 she left Antigua for New York to work as an au pair, then studied photography at the New York School for Social Research and attended Franconia College in New Hampshire.

In 1972 she changed her name to Jamaica Kincaid and was a staff writer for the New Yorker magazine from 1974-1996, publishing her first book, At the Bottom of the River, a collection of short stories, in 1983. Her first novel, Annie John, followed in 1985 – the story of a wilful 10-year-old growing up on Antigua. Further novels include Lucy (1990); The Autobiography of my Mother (1996), a novel set on Dominica and told by a 70-year-old woman looking back on her life; and Mr. Potter (2007). A Small Place (1988), is a short, powerful book about the effects of colonialism. My Brother (1997) chronicles her brother’s batlle with AIDS.

Her love of gardening has also led to several books on the subject, including My Garden (2000) and Among Flowers: A Walk in the Himalaya (2005), a memoir about a seed-gathering trek with three botanist friends. Her novel See Now Then (2013) won the Before Columbus Foundation America Book Award in 2014.

Jamaica Kincaid teaches in the English, African and African-American Studies Department at Harvard University and lives in Vermont.³










¹Writers Digest


3British Council on Literature


Week Forty-Three: “The Golem of Chelm” (traditional) and “By the Waters of Babylon” by Stephen Vincent Benét.


“The Golem of Chelm” (traditional, video)


Good morning!
This week we’re mixing storytelling forms, and we’re going to begin today with an eleven-minute animation.

We’ve studied a number of legends, fairy and folk tales . . .

Have you ever heard the story of the Golem? This particular Golem is The Golem of Rabbi Elijah; also known as the Golem of Chelm.

Listen as the story’s told, and let us know what you think.


For another Golem story everyone will enjoy, try Golem by David Wisniewski.

Golem is a 1996 picture book. With illustrations made of cut-paper collages, it is Wisniewski’s retelling of the Jewish folktale of the Golem (of Prague, this time, not Chelm) with a one-page background at the end.



This picture book won the Caldecott Medal in 1997


The story is set in year 1580, and the Jews are being persecuted. Judah Loew ben Bezalel, the town rabbi, can think of nothing more than creating a being out of mud and bringing it to life, using the holy name of God, to protect them. Once the Golem stops the persecution, Rabbi Loew erases the letters on the Golem’s head, making the Golem “sleep the dreamless sleep of clay”. The ending is ambiguous, ending with the words: “But many say he could awaken. Perhaps when the desperate need for justice is united with holy purpose, Golem will come to life once more.”


The book won the Caldecott Medal in 1997


. . .for movie fans . . .

Check out this old silent film:

The Golem (1920) by Paul Wegener


The 1920 silent film classic, The Golem

This film stars Wegener as the golem. The film was the third of three films that Wegener made featuring the golem, the other two being The Golem (1915) and the short comedy The Golem and the Dancing Girl (1917), in which Wegener dons the Golem make-up in order to frighten a young lady he is infatuated with. The Golem: How He Came into the World is a prequel to The Golem from 1915 and is the best known of the series, largely because it is the only one of the three films that has not been lost. One of the early horror films, the film was sensational upon its release and has left a lasting legacy within the film industry,[citation needed] alongside another early German expressionist horror film, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920).¹


“By the Waters of Babylon” by Stephen Vincent Benét



Painting, “By the Waters of Babylon,” Arthur Hacker, 1858-1919.



Looking for a second optional reading to pair with “The Golem of Chelm?”

John, the son of a priest, is one of the hill people. What will happen when he sets out on a spiritual quest to the forbidden place of the gods? Let’s find out in this often-anthologized science fiction story.

Here is “By the Waters of Babylon” by Stephen Vincent Benét.

How would you compare or contrast this to the tale of Rabbi Elijah’s Golem? Let us know!

HERE is Benét’s story



Image result for stephen vincent benet


Why do you suppose Stephen Vincent Benét chose this title for his short story?

Benét wrote the story in response to the April 25, 1937 bombing of Guernica, in which Fascist military forces destroyed the majority of the Basque town of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War.[5] This story took place before the public knowledge of nuclear weapons, but Benét’s description of “The Great Burning” is similar to later descriptions of the effects of the atomic bombings at Nagasaki and Hiroshima. His “deadly mist” and “fire falling from the sky” seem eerily prescient of the descriptions of the aftermath of nuclear blasts. However, the “deadly mist” may also be a reference to chemical weapons in World War I, particularly mustard gas, a feared weapon of war that Benét’s generation was very familiar with. The story was written in 1937, two years before the Manhattan Project started, and eight years before there was widespread public knowledge of the project.

Elements of the plot and themes of By the Waters of Babylon appear in the 1970 feature film Beneath the Planet of the Apes.

The psalm is a hymn expressing the yearnings of the Jewish people in exile following the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem in 607 BCE. The rivers of Babylon are the Euphrates river, its tributaries, and the Tigris river. In its whole form of nine verses, the psalm reflects the yearning for Jerusalem as well as hatred for the Holy City’s enemies with sometimes violent imagery. Rabbinical sources attributed the poem to the prophet Jeremiah,[1] and the Septuagint version of the psalm bears the superscription: “For David. By Jeremias, in the Captivity.”[2]

  1. By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion.
  2. We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof.
  3. For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song; and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion.
  4. How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?
  5. If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning.
  6. If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy.
  7. Remember, O Lord, the children of Edom in the day of Jerusalem; who said, Rase it, rase it, even to the foundation thereof.
  8. O daughter of Babylon, who art to be destroyed; happy shall he be, that rewardeth thee as thou hast served us.
  9. Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones.

The early lines of the psalm describe the sadness of the Israelites in exile, weeping and hanging their harps on trees. Asked to “sing the Lord’s song in a strange land”, they refuse. The speaker turns into self-exhortation to remember Jerusalem: “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning.” (אִם-אֶשְׁכָּחֵךְ יְרוּשָׁלִָם–תִּשְׁכַּח יְמִינִי). The psalm ends with prophetic predictions of violent revenge.



 . . .A bit about Stephen Vincent Benét . . .



Stephen Vincent Benét (July 22, 1898 – March 13, 1943) was an American poet, short story writer, and novelist. He is best known for his book-length narrative poem of the American Civil War John Brown’s Body (1928), for which he won a Pulitzer Prize in 1929, and for the short stories “The Devil and Daniel Webster” (1936) and “By the Waters of Babylon” (1937). In 2009, The Library of America selected Benét’s story “The King of the Cats” (1929) for inclusion in its two-century retrospective of American Fantastic Tales edited by Peter Straub.







Week Forty-Two: “The Shawl” by Cynthia Ozick and “The Watch” by Eli Wiesel




“The Shawl” Cynthia Ozick


Stella, cold, cold, the coldness of hell.”


Thus begins Cynthia Ozick’s short (just five pages) yet riveting story, “The Shawl.”

“Ozick wrote it, she says, in a way she has never written anything, before or since. “I’m not a mystic, I don’t believe in any of that. I’ve been on the side of rationalism. I had an experience, just the first five pages – I hate to say it, it’s the kind of absurd thing that I mock – that I wasn’t writing it, that it was dictated. Just for those five pages.”

For International Holocaust Remembrance Day. I hope you will consider reading Ozick’s award-winning short story, which was chosen for The Big Read by The National Endowment for the Arts.

At less than 2000 words, here is “The Shawl” by Cynthia Ozick.


Should you prefer to hear the story read aloud, check out this instalment of Yiddish Story Time, introduced by Leonard Nimoy:



Major Characters in the Book

Rosa Lublin
As a young woman, Rosa is raped by a German soldier, confined in the Warsaw Ghetto, and sent to a Nazi concentration camp in German-occupied Poland with her niece, Stella, and her infant daughter, Magda. Almost four decades later, Rosa lives in Miami, haunted by the memory of her daughter’s death. “Rosa Lublin, a madwoman and a scavenger, gave up her store—she smashed it up herself—and moved to Miami. It was a mad thing to do. … Her niece in New York sent her money and she lived among the elderly, in a dark hole, a single room in a ‘hotel.'”

Teenage Stella’s theft of the shawl leads to her cousin Magda’s death. As an adult, Stella provides Rosa with financial support, but she cannot understand her aunt’s inability to let go of the past. “Stella liked everything from Rosa’s junkshop, everything used, old, lacy with other people’s history.”

A baby hidden in her mother’s shawl, Magda survives infancy in a concentration camp in Nazi German-occupied Poland but is murdered by a guard at fifteen months old.
“The face, very round, a pocket mirror of a face: but it was not Rosa’s bleak complexion, dark like cholera, it was another kind of face altogether, eyes blue as air, smooth feathers of hair nearly as yellow as the Star sewn into Rosa’s coat. You could think she was one of their babies.”

Simon Persky
A retiree whose wife is hospitalized in a mental institution, Simon is a comic character in a tragic situation. His persistent kindness begins to break through some of Rosa’s barriers. “Two whole long rows of glinting dentures smiled at her; he was proud to be a flirt.”

How The Shawl Came to Be Written

The Shawl began with a line, one sentence in The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William Shirer. This one sentence told of a real event, about a baby being thrown against an electrified fence. And that stayed with me and stayed with me, and that was the very explicit origin of The Shawl.

“It began with those very short five pages. We read now and again that a person sits down to write and there’s a sense that some mystical hand is guiding you and you’re not writing out of yourself. I think reasonably, if you’re a rational person, you can’t accept that. But I did have the sense—I did this one time in my life—that I was suddenly extraordinarily fluent, and I’m never fluent. I wrote those five pages as if I heard a voice. In a sense, I have no entitlement to this part because it’s an experience in a death camp. I was not there. I did not experience it.”

“I wrote the second half because I wanted to know what happened to Rosa afterward. I was curious to enter the mind of such an unhappy, traumatized person and see how that person would cope with the time afterward—rescued, saved, safe, and yet not rescued, not safe, not normal, abnormal.”

—Excerpted from Cynthia Ozick’s interview with former NEA Chairman Dana Gioia¹


. . .A bit about Cynthia Ozick . . .



Cynthia Ozick

Cynthia Ozick, (born April 17, 1928, New York, N.Y., U.S.), American novelist, short-story writer, essayist, and intellectual whose works seek to define the challenge of remaining Jewish in contemporary American life. By delving into the oldest religious sources of Judaism, Ozick explored much new territory.


Ozick received a B.A. in English in 1949 from New York University and an M.A. in 1950 from Ohio State University. Her first novel, Trust (1966), is the story of a woman’s rejection of her wealthy American Jewish family and her search for her renegade father in Europe. It has echoes of Henry James in its juxtaposition of American and European settings. In subsequent books, such as Bloodshed and Three Novellas (1976), Ozick struggled with the idea that the creation of art (a pagan activity) is in direct opposition to principles of Judaism, which forbids the creation of idols. The psychological aftermath of the Holocaust is another theme of her work, especially in Levitation: Five Fictions (1982) and the novels The Cannibal Galaxy (1983) and The Shawl (1989). She often drew upon traditional Jewish mysticism to expand upon her themes. One of her recurring characters is Ruth Puttermesser. In 1997 Ozick published The Puttermesser Papers, a short novel consisting of narratives and false memories of the aging Puttermesser, who in one story brings a female golem to life in order to save New York City, with disastrous results.


Ozick’s later works turn away from the theme of the sacred and the profane. Her novel The Messiah of Stockholm (1987) is, in part, a meditation on the nature of writing. Heir to the Glimmering World (2004; also published as The Bear Boy) tells the story of a young woman hired as a nanny in the home of two Jewish-German academics exiled to New York City in the 1930s. Diction: A Quartet, a collection of four short stories, was published in 2008.


Many of Ozick’s essays have been collected in Art & Ardor (1983), Metaphor & Memory (1989), Fame & Folly (1996), Quarrel & Quandary (2000), and The Din in the Head (2006).




“The Watch” by Eli Wiesel


Can we return to the past? Get beyond the past?

When we survive horror, does time heal us?


Eli Wiesel interviewed by Oprah Winfrey

If you would like a second optional piece to pair with Ozick’s “The Shawl,”  we suggest “The Watch,” by Elie Wiesel.

The shawl had great symbolism in Ozick’s tale. What will the watch represent, in Wiesel’s?


HERE is “The Watch” by Eli Wiesel.


  1. What sort of feelings does the protagonist have towards the people of the town in the beginning of the story? The end of the story?
  2. What does the watch symbolize, if anything?



. . .A bit about Eli Wiesel . . .

Elie Wiesel was born in 1928 in Sighet, Transylvania, which is now part of Romania. He was fifteen years old when he and his family were deported by the Nazis to Auschwitz. His mother and younger sister perished, his two older sisters survived. Elie and his father were later transported to Buchenwald, where his father died shortly before the camp was liberated in April 1945. elie-wiesel

After the war, Elie Wiesel studied in Paris and later became a journalist. During an interview with the distinguished French writer, Francois Mauriac, he was persuaded to write about his experiences in the death camps. The result was his internationally acclaimed memoir, Night (La Nuit), which has since been translated into more than thirty languages.

In 1978, President Jimmy Carter appointed Elie Wiesel as Chairman of the President’s Commission on the Holocaust. In 1980, he became the Founding Chairman of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council. He is President of The Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity, an organization he and his wife created to fight indifference, intolerance and injustice. Elie Wiesel has received more than 100 honorary degrees from institutions of higher learning.

A devoted supporter of Israel, Elie Wiesel has also defended the cause of Soviet Jews, Nicaragua’s Miskito Indians, Argentina’s Desaparecidos, Cambodian refugees, the Kurds, victims of famine and genocide in Africa, of apartheid in South Africa, and victims of war in the former Yugoslavia. For more than fifteen years, Elie and his wife Marion have been especially devoted to the cause of Ethiopian-born Israeli youth through the Foundation’s Beit Tzipora Centers for Study and Enrichment.

Teaching has always been central to Elie Wiesel’s work. Since 1976, he has been the Andrew W. Mellon Professor in the Humanities at Boston University, where he also holds the title of University Professor. He is a member of the Faculty in the Department of Religion as well as the Department of Philosophy. Previously, he served as Distinguished Professor of Judaic Studies at the City University of New York (1972-76) and the first Henry Luce Visiting Scholar in Humanities and Social Thought at Yale University (1982-83).

Elie Wiesel is the author of more than sixty books of fiction and non-fiction, including A Beggar in Jerusalem (Prix Médicis winner), The Testament (Prix Livre Inter winner), The Fifth Son (winner of the Grand Prize in Literature from the City of Paris), two volumes of his memoirs, All Rivers Run to the Sea and And the Sea is Never Full, and most recently The Sonderberg Case.

For his literary and human rights activities, he has received numerous awards including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the U.S. Congressional Gold Medal, the National Humanities Medal, the Medal of Liberty, and the rank of Grand-Croix in the French Legion of Honor. In 1986, Elie Wiesel won the Nobel Prize for Peace, and soon after, Marion and Elie Wiesel established The Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity.

Elie Wiesel died on July 2, 2016 in Manhattan.²









¹ The Big Read, NEA website

² The Eli Wiesel Foundation





Week Thirty-Seven and Thirty-Eight: “The Dead” by James Joyce


Cover of the Penguin edition of James Joyce’s Dubliners, of which “The Dead” is the last story-novella.



It’s time for our Winter Novella Challenge! The votes are in and our book club members have decided to study “The Dead” by James Joyce, so get ready to visit the city of Dublin, just after the turn of the century!

Dubliners is a book of short stories penned by Joyce at the height of Irish Nationalism, published in 1914 . . . the beginning of the first world war.

“The Dead,” often considered a novella in its own right, is the culminating tale in Joyce’s book.

The stories depict a myriad of characters from everyday life. In order, the stories are:


  • “The Sisters” – A priest, Father Flynn dies, and a young boy deals with it.
  • “An Encounter” – Two schoolboys playing truant encounter an elderly man.
  • “Araby” – A boy falls in love with the sister of his friend,.
  • “Eveline” – A young woman weighs her decision to flee Ireland.
  • “After the Race” – College student Jimmy Doyle tries to fit in with his wealthy friends.
  • “Two Gallants” – Two con men, Lenehan and Corley, and their deeds.
  • “The Boarding House” – Mrs Mooney successfully maneuvers her daughter Polly.
  • “A Little Cloud” – Little Chandler’s dinner with his old friend Ignatius Gallaher casts fresh light on his own failed literary dreams.
  • “Counterparts” – Farrington, a lumbering alcoholic scrivener, takes out his frustration in pubs and on his son Tom.
  • “Clay” – The old maid Maria, a laundress, celebrates Halloween with her former foster child Joe Donnelly and his family.
  • “A Painful Case” – Mr Duffy rebuffs Mrs Sinico.
  • “Ivy Day in the Committee Room” – Minor politicians try to live up to the memory of Charles Stewart Parnell.
  • “A Mother” – Mrs Kearney tries to win a place of pride for her daughter, Kathleen.
  • “Grace” – Mr Kernan injures himself falling down the stairs in a bar.
  • “The Dead” – Gabriel Conroy attends a party, and later, as he speaks with his wife, has an epiphany about the nature of life and death. At 15–16,000 words this story has also been classified as a novella. The Dead was adapted into a film by John Huston, written for the screen by his son Tony and starring his daughter Anjelica as Mrs. Conroy.


HERE is the text of Joyce’s novella, “The Dead,” Enjoy!

Penguin Random House summarizes Dubliners this way:

“Joyce casts a wide net, arranging the stories so they move from childhood to adulthood and from public to private. In his thoroughness, Joyce is as tender as he is fierce. The first Dubliners we meet are curious children hungry for adventure and love. There are young boys with romantic visions of chivalry and young women longing to escape. Yet (some) youthful dreams quickly fade for the adults in later stories,”. . .culminating in the character of Gabriel in “The Dead.”

What do you make of Gabriel? How would you describe his character?


Some other thoughts to contemplate, as the snow falls and the holidays approach:

In “The Dead,” the narrator describes Gretta listening to music on the stairs as “a symbol of something.” Is Gretta a symbol of anything? And, if so, of what?

Once Gretta falls asleep after telling Gabriel about Michael Furey, why does Gabriel feel so alienated from her?


“The Lass of Aughrim”

I am a poor young girl
That’s straight from Callander
I’m in search of Lord Gregory
Pray God I find him!
The rain beats my yellow locks
And the dew wets me still
My babe is cold in my arms
Lord Gregory, let me in!

Lord Gregory’s not here and
Henceforth can’t be seen
For he’s gone to bonny Scotland
For to bring home his new queen
So leave now these windows
And likewise this hall
For it’s deep in the sea
You should hide your downfall

Who’ll shoe my babe’s little feet?
Who’ll put gloves on her hand?
Who will tie my babe’s middle
With a long linen band?
Who’ll comb my babe’s yellow hair
With an ivory comb?
Who will be my babe’s father
Till Lord Gregory comes home?

Do you remember, love Gregory
That night in Callander
Where we changed pocket handkerchiefs
And me against my will?
For yours was pure linen, love
And mine but coarse cloth
For yours cost a guinea, love
And mine but one groat

Do you remember, love Gregory
That night in Callander
Where we changed rings on our fingers
And me against my will?
For yours was pure silver, love
And mine was but tin
For yours cost a guinea, love
And mine but one cent

And my curse on you, Mother
My curse being sore!
Sure, I dreamed the girl I love
Came a-knocking at my door

Sleep down you foolish son
Sleep down and sleep on
For it’s long ago that weary girl
Lies drownin’ in the sea

Well go saddle me the black horse
The brown, and the gray
Go saddle me the best horse
In my stable to-day!
And I’ll range over mountains
Over valleys so wide
Till I find the girl I love
And I’ll lay by her side


As member Jeri Harbers Thomson reminds us, ”’Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all” (Alfred Lord Tennyson.)

There is that moment of bleak epiphany when one realizes that something they’ve always thought of as a reality was never real, after all. So then you question everything else in your life that rests upon that. It’s worth reading Joyce’s “The Dead. ”  Of it, author Karl Knausgaard says ” The Dead is a perfect short story. The best short story ever written .”

“He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.”
James Joyce, The Dead

Thus Dublin, as Joyce depicts it through the eyes of Gabriel Conroy, is a snow-laden monument not only to appearance versus reality but the final scene in a drama which has progressed from the innocence of street children to the melancholic epiphany of everyone who has ever had a curtain of myth torn down from before their eyes.

And the snow keeps falling around our wiser hero, gently.

 . . .A bit about James Joyce . . .



From the James Joyce Center website:

“James Joyce (1882 – 1941) is one of Ireland’s most influential and celebrated writers. His most famous work is Ulysses (1922) which follows the movements of Leopold Bloom through a single day on June 16th, 1904. Ulysses is based on Homer’s The Odyssey.

Some of Joyce’s other major works include the short story collection Dubliners (1914), and novels A Potrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916) and Finnegans Wake (1939). Joyce was born in Dublin on 2nd February 1882 and attended school in Clongowes Wood College and Belvedere College (just up the road from the Centre) before going on to University College, then located on St Stephen’s Green, where he studied modern languages.

After graduating from university, Joyce went to Paris, ostensibly to study medicine, and was recalled to Dublin in April 1903 because of the illness and subsequent death of his mother. He stayed in Ireland until 1904, and in June that year he met Nora Barnacle, the Galway woman who was to become his partner and later his wife.

In August 1904 the first of Joyce’s short stories was published in the Irish Homestead magazine, followed by two others, but in October Joyce and Nora left Ireland going first to Pola (now Pula, Croatia) where Joyce got a job teaching English at a Berlitz school. After he left Ireland in 1904, Joyce only made four return visits, the last of those in 1912, after which he never returned to Ireland.

James Joyce with Nora Barnacle

James Joyce walking down a Dublin street with his wife Nora and a friend.

1914 proved a crucial year for Joyce. With Ezra Pound’s assistance, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Joyce’s first novel, began to appear in serial form in Harriet Weaver’s Egoist magazine in London. His collection of short stories, Dubliners, on which he had been working since 1904, was finally published, and he also wrote his only play, Exiles. It was after these successes that Joyce began to think seriously about writing the novel he had been formulating since 1907: Ulysses.

With the start of World War One, Joyce and Nora, along with their two children, Giorgio and Lucia, were forced to leave Trieste and arrived in Zurich where they lived for the duration of the war. It was during this time that Joyce worked on Ulysses and included many characteristics of those around him in the characters of the book. Though Joyce wanted to settle in Trieste again after the War, the poet Ezra Pound persuaded him to come to Paris for a while, and Joyce stayed there for the next twenty years.

It was in Paris that Joyce met Sylvia Beach, an American ex-pat who helped him to publish Ulysses for the first time in 1922. From 1930, after Beach had relinquished the rights to Ulysses, Joyce became very close with Paul Léon, another ex-pat living in Paris. Léon became Joyce’s business advisor and close friend and helped him to publish his final book Finnegans Wake in 1939.

In 1940, when Joyce fled to the south of France ahead of the Nazi invasion, Léon returned to the Joyces’ apartment in Paris to salvage their belongings and put them into safekeeping for the duration of the war. It’s thanks to Léon’s efforts that many of Joyce’s personal possessions and manuscripts still survive today. James Joyce died at the age of fifty-nine, on 13 January 1941 in Schwesterhaus vom Roten Kreuz in Zurich where he and his family had been given asylum. He is buried in Fluntern cemetery, Zurich.”


Week Thirty Three: “Stickeen” by John Muir


“Stickeen” by John Muir

The naturalist and author John Muir once wrote, “I have known many dogs, and many a story I could tell of their wisdom and devotion; but to none do I owe so much as to Stickeen. At first the least promising and least known of my dog-friends, he suddenly became the best known of them all. Our storm-battle for life brought him to light, and through him as through a window I have ever since been looking with deeper sympathy into all my fellow mortals.”

Here is “Stickeen” a well-known essay about an intrepid little dog, from the writer John Muir!



Illustration from a Stickeen picture book

John Muir’s true story of what happened on an Alaskan glacier with a dog named Stickeen, in 1880, is one of Muir’s best-known writings, and is now considered a classic dog story. Although it can be read as a straight adventure story, it is much more than that. Muir’s story is most compelling because it revealed to Muir that man and dog were not so unlike each other. Stickeen was at first an unfriendly little dog, but after surviving a perilous journey across a glacier by crossing an ice bridge, Stickeen’s aloofness is replaced by rapturous emotion, revealing to Muir the fact that our “horizontal brothers” are not that much unlike us.



Muir with Stickeen

Some notes on “Stickeen” (From The Sierra Club):

Fort Wrangel:

Now generally spelled Wrangell. Any good map of Alaska will show its location.

Tail . . . shady as a squirrel’s:
The Greek word for squirrel, skiouros , from which our English word is derived, is formed from two words meaning “shadow” and “tail.” It is quite likely that Mr. Muir had this in mind.

The water was phosphorescent:
Some of the small and microscopic animal life of the sea becomes luminous at night when disturbed by the breaking of the waves, the churning of a boat’s propeller, the splashing of oars, the strokes of a swimmer, or any similar cause, as, in this case, the movements of the salmon. The surrounding water at such times glows and sparkles beautifully.

The salmon were running:
Salmon, though for most of the year living in the sea, spawn only in fresh running water, and every spring and summer they swarm up the streams to the breeding-grounds. This is the time when they are caught for sport and for the market,–in the East by rod and line, in Alaska, where they are found in vast numbers, with nets and spears. This migration up the streams is called “running.”

Panax horridus , or Fatsia horrida , a dangerously prickly araliaceous shrub commonly called devil’s-club. It is abundant in Alaska.


The genus of plants to which the blackberry, raspberry, cloudberry, and salmonberry belong.

One looks in the dictionaries in vain for this word, but the meaning is obvious. Mr. Muir was rather fond of coining playful words of this kind, such as are so common in his native Scotch.


A celebrated Greek Cynic philosopher who despised riches and is said to have lived in a tub. Plutarch relates that when Alexander the Great asked Diogenes whether he could do anything for him he replied, “Yes, I would have you stand from between me and the sun.”

“A spinxlike person; one of enigmatical or inscrutable character and purposes” (Webster’s New International Dictionary ). The Sphinx of Greek mythology propounded a riddle to all comers and, upon the failure of each one to guess it, speedily devoured him.

An Indian name, also spelled Taku.

Fountain ice-fields:
The ice-fields that formed the sources of the glaciers.

Glacier Bay:
The famous Muir Glacier , discovered by Mr. Muir in 1879, is at the head of this bay.

Narrow tacks:
The word “tacks” is used in the nautical sense, as when a sailing vessel “tacks” to windward, taking a zigzag course because it is impossible to sail directly against the wind. By “narrow tacks” the author evidently means tacks in which little real progress was made, the crevasses coming very close together.

In the sense of sources; in this case the sources of glaciers.

Power beyond our call or knowledge:
This has been the experience of many who have extricated themselves from imminent dangers by their own unaided efforts. The emergency calls forth hitherto unsuspected supplies of reserve energy.

Wee, hairy, sleekit beastie:
This reminds one of Burns’s poem “To a Mouse,” which begins “Wee, sleekit, cow’rin’, tim’rous beastie.” “Sleekit” is doubtless used in its original sense of sleek, smooth. It is the past participle of the verb “to sleek.” Muir was fond of dropping occasionally into his native Scotch, especially when an affectionate diminutive was called for.

We will get across safe:
Here and at the top of the next page Mr. Muir follows the Scotch custom of using the word “will” where the best English usage demands “shall.”

See note on Panax.




Quote at Denali National Park


As you make your way through the account of this unforgettable dog, consider this quote from the American Masters biography on Muir:

“Muir felt a spiritual connection to nature; he believed that mankind is just one part of an interconnected natural world, not its master, and that God is revealed through nature.”

What do you think?



Movie Trailer for John Muir in The New World (PBS, American Masters)



. . .A bit about John Muir from the Sierra Club Website . . .


john muir

In 1867, while working at a carriage parts shop in Indianapolis, Muir suffered a blinding eye injury that would change his life. When he regained his sight one month later, Muir resolved to turn his eyes to the fields and woods. There began his years of wanderlust. He walked a thousand miles from Indianapolis to the Gulf of Mexico. He sailed to Cuba , and later to Panama, where he crossed the Isthmus and sailed up the West Coast, landing in San Francisco in March, 1868. From that moment on, though he would travel around the world, California became his home.

It was California’s Sierra Nevada and Yosemite that truly claimed him. In 1868, he walked across the San Joaquin Valley through waist-high wildflowers and into the high country for the first time. Later he would write: “Then it seemed to me the Sierra should be called no the Nevada, or Snowy Range, but the Range of Light…the most divinely beautiful of all the mountain chains I have ever seen.” He herded sheep through that first summer and made his home in Yosemite.

By 1871 he had found living glaciers in the Sierra and had conceived his then-controversial theory of the glaciation of Yosemite Valley. He began to be known throughout the country. Famous men of the time – Joseph LeConte, Asa Gray and Ralph Waldo Emerson – made their way to the door of his pine cabin.

Beginning in 1874, a series of articles by Muir entitled “Studies in the Sierra” launched his successful career as a writer. He left the mountains and lived for awhile in Oakland, California. From there he took many trips, including his first to Alaska in 1879, where he discovered Glacier Bay. In 1880, he married Louie Wanda Strentzel and moved to Martinez, California , where they raised their two daughters, Wanda and Helen. Settling down to some measure of domestic life, Muir went into partnership with his father-in-law and managed the family fruit ranch with great success.

But ten years of active ranching did not quell Muir’s wanderlust. His travels took him to Alaska many more times, to Australia, South America, Africa, Europe, China, Japan, and of course, again and again to his beloved Sierra Nevada. .

In later years he turned more seriously to writing, publishing 300 articles and 10 major books that recounted his travels, expounded his naturalist philosophy, and beckoned everyone to “Climb the mountains and get their good tidings.” Muir’s love of the high country gave his writings a spiritual quality. His readers, whether they be presidents, congressmen, or plain folks, were inspired and often moved to action by the enthusiasm of Muir’s own unbounded love of nature.

Through a series of articles appearing in Century magazine, Muir drew attention to the devastation of mountain meadows and forests by sheep and cattle. With the help of Century‘s associate editor, Robert Underwood Johnson, Muir worked to remedy this destruction. In 1890, due in large part to the efforts of Muir and Johnson, an act of Congress created Yosemite National Park. Muir was also personally involved in the creation of Sequoia , Mount Rainier , Petrified Forest and Grand Canyon national parks. Muir deservedly is often called the “Father of Our National Park System “.

Johnson and others suggested to Muir that an association be formed to protect the newly created Yosemite National Park from the assaults of stockmen and others who would diminish its boundaries. In 1892, Muir and a number of his supporters founded the Sierra Club to, in Muir’s words, “do something for wildness and make the mountains glad.” Muir served as the Club’s president until his death in 1914.

In 1901, Muir published Our National Parks , the book that brought him to the attention of President Theodore Roosevelt. In 1903, Roosevelt visited Muir in Yosemite. There, together, beneath the trees, they laid the foundation of Roosevelt’s innovative and notable conservation programs.

Muir and the Sierra Club fought many battles to protect Yosemite and the Sierra Nevada, the most dramatic being the campaign to prevent the damming of the Hetch Hetchy Valley within Yosemite National Park. In 1913, after years of effort, the battle was lost and the valley that Muir likened to Yosemite itself was doomed to become a reservoir to supply the water needs of a growing San Francisco. The following year, after a short illness, Muir died in a Los Angeles hospital after visiting his daughter Wanda.

John Muir was perhaps this country’s most famous and influential naturalist and conservationist. He taught the people of his time and ours the importance of experiencing and protecting our natural heritage. His words have heightened our perception of nature. His personal and determined involvement in the great conservation questions of the day was and remains an inspiration for environmental activists everywhere. (Sierra Club)





Week Twenty Eight: “Shooting an Elephant” and “Why I Write” by George Orwell




“Shooting an Elephant” by George Orwell

Eric A. Blair, better known as George Orwell, is today best known for his last two novels, the anti-totalitarian works Animal Farm and 1984. He was also an accomplished and experienced essayist, writing on topics as diverse as anti-Semitism in England, Rudyard Kipling, Salvador Dali, and nationalism.¹
Among his most powerful essays is the 1931 autobiographical essay “Shooting an Elephant,” which Orwell based on his experience as a police officer in colonial Burma.
It’s often found in “Best of” anthologies, and can be read on several different levels.
Please share your observations after reading Orwell’s essay- we’d love to hear from you

You can read Orwell’s essay here.

A point for discussion one might find worthwhile is the difference between connotation and denotation in “Shooting an Elephant.”

Connotation and Denotation

Denotative meanings are generally the literal meaning of the word, while connotative meanings are the “coloring” attached to words beyond their literal meaning. For example, the “army of people” Orwell refers to in his essay bring to mind not only a large group of people, but also a military and oppositional force. Explain the connotative and denotative meanings of the following words or phrases using this organizational chart.²

Another point for discussion . . . saving face

What is the process of saving face? Read and discuss this passage from Orwell’s essay:

It was perfectly clear to me what I ought to do. I ought to walk up to within, say, twenty-five yards of the elephant and test his behavior. If he charged, I could shoot; if he took no notice of me, it would be safe to leave him until the mahout came back. But also I knew that I was going to do no such thing. I was a poor shot with a rifle and the ground was soft mud into which one would sink at every step. If the elephant charged and I missed him, I should have about as much chance as a toad under a steam-roller. But even then I was not thinking particularly of my own skin, only the watchful yellow faces behind. For at that moment, with the crowd watching me, I was not afraid in the ordinary sense, as I would have been if I had been alone … The sole thought in my mind was that if anything went wrong those two thousand Burmans would see me pursued, caught, trampled on and reduced to a grinning corpse like that Indian up the hill. And if that happened it was quite probably that some of them would laugh. That would never do.


“Why I Write” by George Orwell




Looking for a reading pairing for our week of Orwell? Have a look at his essay, “Why I Write.”




On video . . .


Here’s a worthwhile Book TV interview about Orwell with astute literary critic Christopher Hitchens and author/editor George Packer.




For Further Reading:





George Packer’s seminal collections of Orwell’s essays


George Orwell was first and foremost an essayist, producing throughout his life an extraordinary array of short nonfiction that reflected–and illuminated–the fraught times in which he lived. “As soon as he began to write something,” comments George Packer in his foreword, “it was as natural for Orwell to propose, generalize, qualify, argue, judge–in short, to think–as it was for Yeats to versify or Dickens to invent.”

Facing Unpleasant Facts charts Orwell’s development as a master of the narrative-essay form and unites such classics as “Shooting an Elephant” with lesser-known journalism and passages from his wartime diary. Whether detailing the horrors of Orwell’s boyhood in an English boarding school or bringing to life the sights, sounds, and smells of the Spanish Civil War, these essays weave together the personal and the political in an unmistakable style that is at once plainspoken and brilliantly complex.


As a critic, George Orwell cast a wide net. Equally at home discussing Charles Dickens and Charlie Chaplin, he moved back and forth across the porous borders between essay and journalism, high art and low. A frequent commentator on literature, language, film, and drama throughout his career, Orwell turned increasingly to the critical essay in the 1940s, when his most important experiences were behind him and some of his most incisive writing lay ahead. All Art Is Propaganda follows Orwell as he demonstrates in piece after piece how intent analysis of a work or body of work gives rise to trenchant aesthetic and philosophical commentary. With masterpieces such as “Politics and the English Language” and “Rudyard Kipling” and gems such as “Good Bad Books,” here is an unrivaled education in, as George Packer puts it, “how to be interesting, line after line.”³


. . .A bit about George Orwell . . .



Eric Arthur Blair  (25 June 1903 – 21 January 1950),better known by his pen name George Orwell, was an English novelist, essayist, journalist, and critic. His work is marked by lucid prose, awareness of social injustice, opposition to totalitarianism, and outspoken support of democratic socialism.

Orwell wrote literary criticism, poetry, fiction, and polemical journalism. He is best known for the allegorical novella Animal Farm (1945) and the dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949). His non-fiction works, including The Road to Wigan Pier (1937), documenting his experience of working class life in the north of England, and Homage to Catalonia (1938), an account of his experiences in the Spanish Civil War, are widely acclaimed, as are his essays on politics, literature, language, and culture. In 2008, The Times ranked him second on a list of “The 50 greatest British writers since 1945”.

Orwell’s work continues to influence popular and political culture, and the term Orwellian – descriptive of totalitarian or authoritarian social practices – has entered the language together with many of his neologisms, including Big Brother, Thought Police, Room 101, memory hole, newspeak, doublethink, proles, unperson, and thoughtcrime.


¹From the National Endowment for the Humanities.


³ Amazon.Com


Weeks Twenty Five and Twenty Six: The Crucible by Arthur Miller and Trumbo by Bruce Cook

The Crucible by Arthur Miller

The Crucible is a play in 4 acts by the author Arthur Miller. It is a dramatized and partially fictionalized story of the Salem witch trials that took place in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in the 1690’s.

Considered a classic of American Literature, the play is required reading for most high school students.

Miller wrote the play as an allegory for McCarthyism, when the United States government ostracized people for being communists. In 1956, Miller himself was questioned by the House of Representatives’ Committee on Un-American Activities and convicted of contempt of Congress for refusing to identify others present at meetings he had attended.

The play was first performed at the Martin Beck Theatre on Broadway on January 22, 1953, starring E. G. Marshall, Beatrice Straight and Madeleine Sherwood. Miller felt that this production was too stylized and cold and the reviews for it were largely hostile (although The New York Times noted “a powerful play [in a] driving performance.”) Nonetheless, the production won the 1953 Tony Award for Best Play. A year later a new production succeeded and the play became a classic.[5] It is regarded as a central work in the canon of American drama.¹

What are your thoughts about Miller’s play? And how does the depiction of the characters compare to those penned in I, Tituba? Enjoy!



Poster for the original Broadway production of TheCrucible at The Martin Beck Theater, 1953.

The Cast of Characters:

Reverend Parris: Minister in Salem. He believes a faction plans to force him to leave Salem, so he attempts to strengthen his authority through the witch trial proceedings.

Betty Parris: Parris’ daughter. Her father discovers her dancing in the woods, and she later accuses individuals of practicing witchcraft.

Abigail Williams: Parris’ niece. She instigates the witch trials by falsely accusing others of witchcraft. She pretends to see spirits and instructs the other girls to pretend as well.

Tituba: Parris’ slave. Parris discovers her casting spells and making potions with the girls in the woods.

Mrs. Ann Putnam: Wife of Thomas Putnam. She believes that a witch is responsible for the deaths of her seven infant children. Her jealousy of Rebecca Nurse leads her to accuse Goody Nurse of being a witch.

Thomas Putnam: A greedy landowner in Salem. He systematically accuses his neighbors of witchcraft so that he might purchase their lands after they hang.

Ruth Putnam: The Putnams’ daughter. She accuses individuals of practicing witchcraft. A witness claims to have heard Putnam say Ruth’s accusations helped him obtain land.

Mary Warren: Servant to the Proctors. She goes along with Abigail and the girls by falsely accusing others of witchcraft; however, she later admits that she was lying.

Mercy Lewis: Servant to the Putnams and friend to Abigail. She participates in the witch trials by pretending to see spirits and falsely accusing individuals of witchcraft.

John Proctor: Salem farmer and former lover of Abigail’s. He openly denounces Parris and does not attend church.

Elizabeth Proctor: Wife of John Proctor. She is a decent and honest woman, who dismissed Abigail because of her affair with John Proctor.

Reverend Hale: Minister in Beverly. The people of Salem summon him to investigate Betty’s condition and determine if witchcraft is responsible. He supports the witch trials, but later denounces them when he learns that Abigail is lying.

Rebecca Nurse: Wife of Francis Nurse. She is one of the most respected individuals in Salem because of her kindness and charity. She argues against the witch trial investigations. Mrs. Putnam accuses her of witchcraft.

Francis Nurse: Farmer and landowner in Salem. He is a respected member of the community often called upon to settle disagreements between individuals.

Susanna Walcott: Friend to Abigail. She also takes part in the trials by falsely accusing others of witchcraft.

Giles Corey: Elderly inhabitant of Salem. He challenges the court in an attempt to defend his wife who has been convicted of witchcraft. He is pressed to death as a result.

Sarah Good: Beggar in Salem. She is the first individual accused of witchcraft.

Judge Hathorne: A judge in the Salem court.

Deputy Governor Danforth: A special judge serving in the Salem court during the witch trials. He signs the death sentences for those individuals who refuse to confess their crimes. He refuses to delay any execution for fear that he will appear weak and irresolute.

Ezekial Cheever: Appointed by the court to assist in arresting accused individuals.

Marshal Herrick: Appointed by the court to arrest the accused individuals.


The original cast of The Crucible. Film and television influenced the play’s narration, direction and staging.

Here’s the original theater review of The Crucible, after it was first performed at The Martin Beck Theater in 1953. Miller’s play would eventually become required reading in most high school English curricula.


The opening overture narration explains the context of Salem and the Puritan colonists of Massachusetts, which the narrator depicts as an isolated theocratic society in constant conflict with Native Americans. The narrator speculates that the lack of civil liberties, isolation from civilization, and lack of stability in the colony caused latent internal tensions which would contribute to the events depicted in the play.

Act Two offers a second narration, where the narrator compares the Colony to post-World War II society. The narrator compares the Puritan fundamentalism to cultural norms in both the United States and the Soviet Union. Additionally, fears of Satanism taking place after incidents in Europe and the colonies are compared to fears of Communism following its implementation in Eastern Europe and China during the Cold War.

And of course, there are always the themes of fear of women as a potential source of evil in the world which must be “kept down,” as well as the fear of “the other” as illustrated in treatment of disenfranchised groups such as slaves, Jewish people, Native Americans, etc.

A quote from Miller’s play:

”  . .But the people of Salem in 1692 were not quite the dedicated folk that arrived on the Mayflower. A vast differentiation had taken place, and in their own time a revolution had unseated the royal government and substituted a junta which was at this moment in power. The times, to their eyes, must have been out of joint, and to the common folk must have seemed as insoluble and complicated as do ours today. It is not hard to see how easily many could have been led to believe that the time of confusion had been brought upon them by deep and darkling forces. No hint of such speculation appears on the court record, but social disorder in any age breeds such mystical suspicions, and when, as in Salem, wonders are brought forth from below the social surface, it is too much to expect people to hold back very long from laying on the victims with all the force of their frustrations.

The Salem tragedy, which is about to begin in these pages, developed from a paradox. It is a paradox in whose grip we still live, and there is no prospect yet that we will discover its res-olution. Simply, it was this: for good purposes, even high pur-poses, the people of Salem developed a theocracy, a combine of state and religious power whose function was to keep the community together, and to prevent any kind of disunity that might open it to destruction by material or ideological enemies. It was forged for a necessary purpose and accomplished that purpose. But all organization is and must be grounded on the idea of exclusion and prohibition, just as two objects cannot occupy the same space.

Evidently the time came in New England when the repressions of order were heavier than seemed warranted by the dangers against which the order was organized. The witch-hunt was a perverse manifestation of the panic which set in among all classes when the balance began to turn toward greater individual freedom. When one rises above the individual villainy displayed, one can only pity them all, just as we shall be pitied someday. It is still impossible for man to organize his social life without repressions, and the balance has yet to be struck between order and freedom.

The witch-hunt was not, however, a mere repression. It was also, and as importantly, a long overdue opportunity for every-one so inclined to express publicly his guilt and sins, under the cover of accusations against the victims. It suddenly became possible – and patriotic and holy – for a man to say that Martha Corey had come into his bedroom at night, and that, while his wife was sleeping at his side, Martha laid herself down on his chest and nearly suffocated him.” Of course it was her spirit only, but his satisfaction at confessing himself was no lighter than if it had been Martha herself. One could not ordinarily speak such things in public.

Long-held hatreds of neighbors could now be openly ex-pressed, and vengeance taken, despite the Bible’s charitable injunctions.

Land-lust which had been expressed before by constant bickering over boundaries and deeds, could now be elevated to the arena of morality; one could cry witch against one’s neighbor and feel perfectly justified in the bargain. Old scores could be settled on a plane of heavenly combat between Lucifer and the Lord; suspicions and the envy of the miserable toward the happy could and did burst out in the general revenge.”

-The Crucible, Act one Overature (pages 6-8)

Additional Resources:

A glossary, from the irrepressible Cliff’s Notes

A discussion guide for The Crucible, from Penguin

. . .A bit about Arthur Miller . . .


Arthur Miller

Arthur Asher Miller (October 17, 1915 – February 10, 2005) was an American playwright and essayist born of Polish-Jewish descent. Among his most popular plays are All My Sons (1947), Death of a Salesman (1949), The Crucible (1953) and A View from the Bridge (1955, revised 1956). He also wrote several screenplays and was most noted for his work on The Misfits (1961).
In 2001 the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) selected Miller for the Jefferson Lecture, the U.S. federal government’s highest honor for achievement in the humanities. Miller’s lecture was entitled “On Politics and the Art of Acting.” It analyzed political events (including the U.S. presidential election of 2000) in terms of the “arts of performance,” and it drew attacks from some politicians, who called it “a disgrace,” and George Will, who argued that Miller was not legitimately a “scholar.”Here is the rather long but quite provocative Jefferson Lecture, “On Politics and the Art of Acting” by Arthur Miller.


Trumbo by Bruce Cook


Have your ever heard of the Blacklist, the HUAC, or a man named Dalton Trumbo?

The United States saw a different kind of witch hunt in the mid-20th century.

Trumbo was an American screenwriter and novelist, who scripted films including Roman Holiday, Exodus, Spartacus, and Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo.

One of the Hollywood Ten, he refused to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) in 1947 during the committee’s investigation of Communist influences in the motion picture industry. He was subsequently blacklisted by that industry. He continued working clandestinely, producing work under other authors’ names.

His uncredited work won two Academy Awards; the one for Roman Holiday (1953) was given to a front writer, and the one for The Brave One (1956) was awarded to a pseudonym. The public crediting of him as the writer of both Exodus and Spartacus in 1960 marked the end of the Hollywood Blacklist. His earlier achievements were eventually credited to him by the Writers Guild, 60 years after the fact.

Here is Trumbo, testifying before the House Un-American Activities Committee. Let’s talk about the Hollywood Blacklist!

Dalton Trumbo was the central figure in the “Hollywood Ten,” the blacklisted and jailed screenwriters. One of several hundred writers, directors, producers, and actors who were deprived of the opportunity to work in the motion picture industry from 1947 to 1960, he was the first to see his name on the screen again. When that happened, it was Exodus, one of the year’s biggest movies.This intriguing biography shows that all his life Trumbo was a radical of the homegrown, independent variety. From his early days in Colorado, where his grandfather was a county sheriff, to Los Angeles, where he organized a bakery strike, to bootlegging, to Hollywood, where he was the highest-paid screenwriter when he was blacklisted.²

One of Bustle’s top books to read before Oscar season, Bruce Cook’s Trumbo is a gritty, realistic biography of a tough-as-nails artist working in a time of neo-witchhunting.


Cook’s Trumbo includes passages of original statement and testimony from the HUAC proceedings of October 27th, 1947.

Here’s a sample of what Trumbo had to say:

“The Committee throughout its hearing has approved even the grossest attacks upon the right of the artist to express his ideas freely and honestly in his work. Similarly, you have sought testimony attacking his right to function in craft organizations and trade unions for thc advancement of his interests. You are now attacking his right to think, and seeking by public inquisition to ferret out his innermost ideas and his most private and personal convictions. No institution on earth possesses this power over American citizens. You violate the most elementary principles of constitutional guarantees when you require anyone to parade for your approval his opinions upon race, religion, politics, or any other matter.

We must furthermore remember always that the defense of constitutional rights is not simply a convenience to be invoked in time of need, but a clear and continuous obligation imposed equally upon all of us at all times. We are, as citizens, literally commanded by its implications to defend the Constitution against even the slightest encroachment upon the protective barrier it interposes between the private citizen on one hand and the inquisitors of government on the other.”     – Dalton Trumbo, 10/1947

The quintessential photo of Trumbo working in his bathtub:



Here are three different film resources to learn more about blacklisting, Dalton Trumbo and the Hollywood Ten:

Storm Center

The first stars an adamant Bette Davis in the movie “Storm Center.” Davis stars as Alicia Hull, a widowed small town librarian dedicated to introducing children to the joy of reading. In exchange for fulfilling her request for a children’s wing, the city council asks her to withdraw the book ‘The Communist Dream’ from the library’s collection. When she refuses to comply with their demand, she is fired and branded as a subversive. Especially upset by this is young Freddie Slater, a boy with a deep love of books whom Alicia has closely mentored.

Here’s a scene where the demure but feisty librarian (yay, librarians!) explains her position:

Movies about Blacklisting:

Next up is a collection of super movie clips from films about blacklisting. Well worth the watch! The video is dedicated to actress/author/activist Lee Grant, herself a blacklisted actress, because her new autobiography “I Said ‘Yes’ To Everything” inspired the youtuber to make this video; and to Victory Navasky who wrote the book “Naming Names,” a book about the subject.

Full-length documentary about the Hollywood Blacklist. Fascinating.

Last but not least, for anyone who wants to delve further into this historically important topic, here is a good full-length documentary about the Hollywood Blacklist, using many authentic clips of famous actors, screenwriters and directors. We see Ronald Reagan, Gary Cooper, Walt Disney and many others. Check it out!

Also check out PBS American Masters for their special presentation on Trumbo.

. . .A bit about Bruce Cook . . .

Born in 1932, Bruce Cook grew up in California (Berkeley, Dunsmuir) and in his birthplace, Chicago, where he received a degree in English literature. He began his career as a journalist in the 1960s. He worked as critic-of-all-media-duties (with the National Observer from 1967 to 1975), then became film reporter, and book review editor (with the Los Angeles Daily News from 1984-1990), then followed his love of literature by writing many book reviews for The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, Detroit News, and USA Today.

At the same time, during the 1970s, Bruce Cook was writing books–The Beat Generation (1971), Listen to the Blues (1973), The Town that Country Built (1993), and two biographies, one of Dalton Trumbo (1977), the other of Bertolt Brecht (1983). His last book was a fictional biography of Shakespeare–Qualms of Conscience: The Confessions of William Shakespeare (2004).

As he liked to tell it, he developed an early interest in fiction.

He is perhaps best known (under the pseudonym of Bruce Alexander) as the author of the adventures of Sir John Fielding, his main work between 1994 and 2003. Though these ten novels of detection, translated into nine languages, brought him an international reputation, his bibliography includes twelve other books that appeared between 1979 and 2003, along with many hundreds of reviews and articles in many newspapers and magazines.³



³Bruce Cook’s official website