A Predisposition for Suspicion

“I said, ‘The man took us for fools and had a good laugh at our expense. The story was all made up from beginning to end.’ The argument that followed led to a lifelong rupture between me and my theosophist cousin.”

Tagore, Rabindranath, et al. The Essential Tagore, The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 2014, p. 552.

This short excerpt perfectly depicts the narrator’s stance on the man who has told them this story on the train–that is, one of instinctual distrust. I think that this is an especially interesting thing to note given the storyteller’s social position. The narrator’s sentiment of distrust is expressed right after the man leaves them to go to first class. On top of this, it is no accident that the man is a tax collector, often a symbol of a greedy, manipulative figure. The narrator’s distrust of the storyteller, in this sense, seems to stem from a division of class and social standing, not just from the strange nature of the story that he told.

The Paradox of Class

“The town had a basketful of feelings good and bad about Joe’s positions and possessions, but none had the temerity to challenge him. They bowed down to him rather, because he was all of these things, and then again he was all of these things because the town bowed down.” (Hurston 50)

Hurston, Zora Neale. Their Eyes Were Watching God. Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2013.

This passage stood out to me because it demonstrated how the social division between classes in American society is not truly an inherent superiority of one class over another, but rather, an artificial construction used by the upper classes to exploit the lower classes. The town isn’t bowing to Joe because he is actually “better” than them, but because they fear the repercussions of standing against someone who has more material wealth than them–proving how the class system in America is one based on abuse and exploitation. The upper class’ power stems purely from fear and oppression, not from any real difference in the people who inhabit those classes.

A Cold Moral Code

“…You’re lying if you say you don’t know down in your heart that, in spite of anything I’ve done, I love you.”
Spade made a short abrupt bow. His eyes were becoming bloodshot, but there was no other change in his damp and yellowish fixedly smiling face. “Maybe I do,” he said. “What of it? I should trust you? You who arranged that nice little trick for – for my predecessor, Thursby? You who knocked off Miles, a man you had nothing against, in cold blood, just like swatting a fly, for the sake of double-crossing Thursby?”

Hammett, Dashiell. The Maltese Falcon (New York: Vintage Books, 1992), 212.

This quote quite succinctly sums up how Sam Spade operates at a basic level. Above all else, self-preservation is key for him. He is always looking out for himself alone, willing to drop anything and everyone to keep himself afloat. This section shows just how far he is willing to go, willing to surrender someone who he might truly love because he knows it will be safer for him in the long run. His moral code dictates that nothing is worth more than his own well-being.

Darl’s Limited Vision

“Vernon has been to town. I have never seen him go to town in overalls. His wife, they say. She taught school too, once.”

Faulkner, William. As I Lay Dying: The Corrected Text Vintage Books, 1990, pg. 11.

Here Darl rather explicitly comments on the limits of his vision. Darl, in saying that Vernon has been to town but that he hasn’t seen him go to town in overalls establishes immediately for the reader that we are bound to the thoughts and vision of Darl here, privy only to what he knows. There are experiences around him that he has no knowledge of, and we as readers must be aware of that throughout.

Culture of Identity

“He was undecided about the lines from Robert Browning for he feared they would be above the heads of his hearers. Some quotation that they could recognize from Shakespeare or from the Melodies would be better. The indelicate clacking of the men’s heels and the shuffling of their soles reminded him that their grade of culture differed from his.”

Joyce, J. (1996). “The Dead” from Dubliners. Penguin Books, pg. 179

“The Dead” highlights how people (like Gabriel) feel the need to change their identity so they might better fit in with the culture of those around them. Gabriel worries that he will appear too sophisticated if he uses a certain quote, so he intentionally changes his speech so that he might not appear of too high a class for those around him, shifting his very identity in order to please his companions for the evening.