Critics don't know whether William Blake is romantic or not. He was about freedom of people in their bodies and minds, he was against marriage, because it was an institution, and slavery. He was about women rights and equality. He believed the first prison we have is our body, because we have limitations. The only thing we have in order to be free is imagination. He composed poetry and drawings, which he attached to his works. The poems are collected in two collections: Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience. The first one contains the poems written through the perspective of a child (characterized by innocence). The second one contains the poems written through the perspective of aN adult (characterized by his experience of the world). William Blake was Christian, but not religious. He was spiritual, he believed in values but he did not attach them a God. He had a dualistic view of man's life, which he called "complementary opposites": good and evil, male or female, cruelty and kindness. Even God has good and negative aspects. We need all these ingredients to be human. If I have multiple choices and streets, there is progress. A contrary state does not prevail on the other one.
Also Blake was much concerned with political and social problems of his time. He focused on the victims of industrialization: all the poor people and families who lived in work houses (institutions set up by the government for poor people. Poor families resorted to it for accommodation and food, but they had to work for free. The parishes exploited the poor, they were paid to look after them, to buy them food. But the priests held a half for themselves. Without enough food, children did not grow up well).
This poem belongs to the Songs of Experience. We read the description of the city, seen through the eyes of an adult. We see the black aspects of it, also seen through the perspective of poor people: there are chimney sweepers, torn down buildings and a land crammed with people, especially in the slums, in the outskirts of London. It's a overcrowded, disease-ridden and inhuman place, symbolic of the materialism of the age. Here, Blake walks through the streets of the city. He marks the harshness of lies, using a gloomy and dreary tone. The pace of the poem is slow. This is rendered by repetitions, that make the suffering seem to last forever. We have rhymes with words with long sounds. The description is realistic because the poet becomes the eyewitness, and the spokesperson for the poor, downtrodden, invisible people. The author criticizes the Church, because the parsons did not take care of the paupers. He criticizes also the Royals, talking about the poor soldier, who spilt his blood to protect the Royal Family. The royals lived in luxury and did not work to earn their own living, and all citizens paid taxes to support the royal families. The perfect walls of the Palace hide the blood of people who sacrificed their lives for the Kingdom. Blake attacks the Nation, because it should take care of its citizens. At the end of the poem, Blake talks about a curse: he tells us that at the time if you were born in those conditions of poverty, from the very beginning of your life as a child you were doomed to death. I think that this poem could be linked to nowadays, because even in 2017 we have people in appalling conditions, but Italy does not do anything to help them.
The Chimney Sweeper (taken from Songs of Experience)
This poem deals with the appalling conditions the little Chimney Sweepers live in. We have a slow pace, and low-pitched rhymes. The poet is walking on a street covered by snow, and he sees a little black thing among it. He is the Chimney Sweeper, all covered in soot. They start a conversation, and we have two voices: the one of the poet and the one of the child. He told Blake that in the past the snow was happiness for him, but now it's not. His parents obliged him to work, and have gone to the Church to praise God and the King.
Here, Blake criticizes some parents. We are made to think that parents love us, but it is not so. Some parents cause misery to their children, as it happens here in the poem. The parents abandoned their child in the snow. They should have made the child wear the clothes of happiness, instead they dressed him of sadness and sorrow, they taught him only the language of pain. And they pray God and King, ignoring the duties a parent has. This means bigotry. You live for God only, but you don't follow God's teachings. There would not be a Heaven without a Hell. Unfortunately the children are in Hell, but they should stay in Heaven.
The Chimney Sweeper (taken from Songs of Innocence)
This is the parallel poem of the previous one. We have high-pitched rhymes and a child like language. The eyewitness is the Chimney sweeper, who's trying to comfort a friend, Tom. His curly head has been shaved, and his friend is playing the role of the father, comforting him. That night, the Chimney Sweeper's friend dreamt of all his "colleagues" sweepers who were locked up in coffins made of soot. Then an angel came and set them all free. The children get rid of the soot, and were now free to play and be happy in Heaven. When Tom woke up, he was happy and full of bliss, and all the Chimney sweepers began to work, early in the morning.
In this poem, the poet emphasizes the enormous number of children used as Chimney Sweepers. He also mentions some names, to render things more realistic.
Both the first and the second poem deal with an issue that is common nowadays: child labour. In many poor countries, people are obliged to work in striking conditions of poverty and famine. Their parents oblige them to work either for free, or for very little money.
ENGLISH OVER THE SUMMER
Heart of Darkness of Joseph Conrad-personal response
After reading a novel it's very useful and important watching its film adaptation, in order to render the story more vivid and realistic, in the novel composed by letters and words printed on the paper, adding images, colors and sounds. While reading a novel a process of transformation stars and words turn into images, that grow in our mind. The reader is catapulted into the story and identifies himself with the protagonist, the narrator or the other characters. It's like the reader becomes the director of his own movie: he imagines the setting of the story, the aspect of the characters and the perfect soundtrack, depending on what is happening. Afterwards, while watching the film adaptation, the spectator makes a comparison between his personal movie and the film adaptation. During the summer I read "Heart of darkness" of Joseph Conrad. Then, I watched its film adaptation "Apocalypse now", directed by Francis Ford Coppola. The novel was not easy at all because the level of English was really high, but it was an eye-opener to me. Something that will help me dealing with the issue of colonialism. Here's my personal comparison between the novel and the film adaptation. Enjoy.
At the beginning I was a little confused, because the film seemed to be utterly different from the novel. Different places, different setting in time, different nationality and names of the characters (except Kurtz). Going onwards watching the movie I grew more and more concentrated, to find all the similarities that link the novel and the film adaptation together. I would watch again this film, even if it lasts more than three hours. I think that it's a wonderful movie, with stunning scenery and gorgeous soundtracks. And the story is really interesting, full of suspence. In my opinion, we all interpret things differently. And this film can be freely interpreted too, depending on the age, the gender or the ethnic background of the spectators. For example, a child would be scared of the violence, the wars and the mutilations that are present in the film. Children and their mothers could consider the movie too violent, and can be really impressed. If a Cambodian child, who did not experience the civil war, watches this movie, he could gain knowledge about the past of his country and of his ancestors. This can cause a huge impact on his personality, because he discovers a piece of history that belongs to his reality. An European child/adolescent may not have this impact (because the story does not concern with the history of his country), but he could build personal culture.
The place of this film within the culture
This film is considered the most popular epic war movie ever. Apocalypse Now was honored with the Palme d'Or at Cannes, nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture, and the Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture – Drama. Today it is considered to be one of the greatest films ever made. It ranked No. 14 in Sight & Sound's greatest films poll in 2012. In 2000, the film was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being culturally, historically or aesthetically significant. The budget available for the film production was 31.5 million dollars. The profits at the box office amounted to 150 million dollars. The film adaptation is not much faithful to the novel. The story takes place in Cambodia, whereas in the novel it takes place in Congo. We are in different epochs: the film is set at the end of the eighteenth century, whereas the novel is set in the end of the seventeenth century. The main characters of the movie are American, whereas in the novel they are English. The mission of Captain Marlow in the novel is to save Kurtz and take him back to England because he was ill. The mission of Captain Willard in the movie is to kill Kurtz, to stop his supremacy on the savages, inhabitants of the place. The question is: why did the director of the film make so many changes? In my opinion, because he wanted to bring the film closer to the war genre, putting helicopters, handguns, soldiers and blood spilling into the plot. These are the elements that intrigue all spectators. This is what the average spectator wants to see when watching an epic war film.
How well has the film been made?
The film had a huge success among the spectators. I think this is due especially to the stunning special effects that wonderfully reproduce the actions of war. The soundtrack is something powerful and fundamental, too. It underlines the nuance of glory that every battle seems to have. And, of course it captures the attention of the spectators, keeping them stuck in front of the TV screen and making them prick up their ears to listen to the music. The brilliant and famous film director Francis Ford Coppola did a wonderful job in directing this film. Reading his name on the DVD created in me many positive expectations concerning the direction, that have been obviously satisfied. In my opinion the casting played an important role in the movie and contributed to its success, too. This because it contains important names from Hollywood, such as Harrison Ford and Marlon Brando. I think he was a wonderful actor, and he created some expectations when I saw his name on the DVD. I remembered he played the role of Don Vito Corleone in "The Godfather", and in "Apocalypse now" he interpreted the character of Kurtz. I noticed that these two people have something in common: they are both authoritative, bossy and a little evil. They have their own purposes, and the guts to achieve their goals. They are strong, mighty men, and I think these roles were the right ones for an actor like Marlon Brando, who interpreted them gorgeously. The film was made in 1979, 4 years after the end of Cambodian civil war. I don't think the movie can be considered as a challenge to war, or a hymn to colonialism. I think it just shows the conditions of those gloomy years of civil war in Cambodia, to throw in our faces the biggest flaw of mankind: we are often inhuman, we treat other people so bad, just because we think they are inferior because of their ethnical background or their complexion. An indigenous population has different traditions from the ones of mine. But this does not mean that it is superior or inferior. It's only different. But being different means being rich.
"Apocalypse now" belongs of course to the war genre. Every genre has its own features and elements. Here, we have bloodshed, many scenes of violence, every kind of weapon (handguns, guns, etc.) and of course killers and killings. These elements are reinforced by special effects and the soundtrack, too. These two elements combined together make the spectators imagine they live in the story. They play a fundamental role because they contribute to the identification of the spectators with the main characters.
The story takes place both in Cambodia and in Vietnam during the Cambodian civil war (1967-1975). In 1969, during the Vietnam War, United States Army Special Forces Colonel Walter E. Kurtz has gone insane and now commands his own Montagnard (indigenous Cambodian population) troops, inside neutral Cambodia, as a living God. Colonel Lucas and General Corman, increasingly concerned with Kurtz's operations, assign Captain Benjamin L. Willard to kill Kurtz "with extreme prejudice", in order to stop his supremacy on the local population. Willard, initially ambivalent, joins a group commanded by Chief, with crewmen Lance, "Chef", and "Mr Clean" to head upriver. They rendezvous with surfing enthusiast Lieutenant Colonel Bill Kilgore, commander, to discuss going up the river to reach Kurtz. They start going upriver and the cameras follow this journey and all the adventures of the crew. But the harshnesses are round the corner, and the group has to cope with many difficulties, from the attacks of the natives to the death of almost all the members of the crew. Mr Clean is killed by an enemy, and the Chief is killed by an arrow, during an attack. Before he dies, he tries to kill Willard by impaling him with the arrow, but the Captain manages to suffocate him. Willard, Lance and Chef manage to arrive at the final station. Willard and Lance leave Chef alone on the boat, and start looking for Kurtz. They meet an American freelance photographer, who praised Kurtz's greatness. In the camp, Willard is subdued, bound, and brought before Kurtz in a gloomy temple. Tortured and imprisoned for several days, Willard is released and given the freedom of the compound. Kurtz lectures him on his theories of war, the human condition, and civilization while praising the ruthlessness and dedication of the natives. Kurtz discusses his family, and asks that Willard tell his son about him after his death. While Willard is released, Chef is beheaded by Kurtz. That night Captain Willard stealthily enters Kurtz's chamber. As he is making a record, Willard hits him with a machete. Kurtz is only able to whisper "The horror.... The horror..." and dies. The natives see Willard go away, and bow down to him, because he rescued an entire population from Kurtz's slavery. The events of the story are presented as a chain of cause and effect, but there are unpredictable events, too, for example the killing of most of Willard's crew. Time is linear, the facts are showed in chronological order. There are neither flashbacks nor flash forwards. The invented reality of the story is absolutely coherent with the historical facts that have really happened in time (the Cambodian civil war): conflicts, the clash between natives and soldiers, violence and many other things. The protagonist of the story is Captain Willard. Kurtz is the antagonist, but his presence in the film is not much significant, because he appears just in the final moments of the movie. The movie shows some key-aspects of Willard's personality: in fact, we can see he is a strong and tenacious man. He has a mission and he wants to succeed in it, to bring peace to the natives. The antagonists represent a particular worldview: colonialism and exploitation of other populations, that are considered inferior. In fact, the character of Kurtz is feared by the indigenous population of Cambodia. He has the supremacy on them and on the whole territory. My favorite character is Chief, because I liked the fact that he is considered the protector of Mr Glean, younger than him, with less experience in war and life. Chief has been a second father to him. I loved the parental bond that links the two men together. This is the behavior we should all have with our closest friends, a bond made of complicity and unconditioned love. In the end of the movie, all the problems are solved. Willard's mission is completed, and the goal (Kurtz's death) is achieved. But three innocent people died, because of the insanity of Kurtz and the indigenous population subjected to him. I don't know whether it has been worthwhile or not, because the life of three innocent people cannot possibly be compared to the one of a twisted-minded person.
The movie deals with three fundamental issues:-freedom, because the mission of Captain Willard is aimed to free the Cambodian population from Kurtz's slavery.
-morality, because we have the clash between Willard's morality and humanity (he wants to succeed in his mission to provide peace and freedom to enslaved population) and Kurtz's immorality and inhumanity (he wants to exploit indigenous population, making them believe he is a living God). -the violence a war implies, because the movie beautifully renders the horrors and turmoils every war brings about. Blood, mutilations, suffering and screams are some key-words of the semantic field of war genre. -the colonialism, as already explained
In my opinion we have a pessimistic view of human nature, because in the movie all the characters did bad actions, Captain Willard too. The aim of his mission was peace, but he has killed a man, and that's not a good action. Peace cannot be reached or kept by force, but it can be achieved by understanding. Moreover, Kurtz embodies the dark side of human nature: selfishness, violence and despotism. In the movie all characters are subjected to something or someone beyond their control, they are not truly free. Captain Willard is subjected to the two Colonels who have a superior grade in the army: in fact, they ordered him to complete this mission. The members of the crew are subjected to the Captain, Willard. They have to obey all his orders and cannot rebel or say something. The Natives are subjected to Kurtz's supremacy, they believe he is a living God, and they do whatever he wants. And what about Kurtz? At first we can think he is completely free. But reflecting a minute upon this gloomy character, we notice that he is not free, too. We can assume he is the character who is the least free of all the story. Why? Well, because he is completely subjected to his personality and his flaws. His thirst for power and for richness have literally made him slave. Slave of himself.
Truth, error and implications
Every film has many contents. Some of them are absolutely true, but some other are errors, and we have not to take them for granted. For example, Apocalypse now contains a theory that must be classified in the category of the errors: Kurtz is convinced that the Americans are superior to the Cambodian natives. Well, we know that this is not the truth. We are all equal, we have equal rights and duties. Our complexion, ethnical background, habits, culture and traditions must not be walls, but bridges to link us all together, to enrich our lives. And if we build walls with our ignorance, someone must break them with his humanity. I believe that one day the walls that separate us will shatter. And this is what the viewers should think after watching the film: they should all have learnt an important lesson about humanity and race. I think this film will inspire more hope and faith in mankind, people will believe that there will be someone who can break the walls of ignorance and build the bridges of humanity. But at the same time it could enflame the fears, too, because in the world there are many inhuman people who care only about their personal interests and thirst for richness and power.