My English-literature learning log The best companion to bring along for English literature classes throughout the school year to share thoughts, feelings, emotions and everything else poets and writers trigger in my mind through their works

By Matteo Chivilò

4ªDLIN Liceo linguistico M.Grigoletti, Pordenone

THE AIM OF KEEPING A LEARNING LOG

Dear readers,

It has been two years now since I began attending English literature classes at my school. The first impact was not the best I would have imagined, but then, as time went by, studying literature little by little, a whole world opened to me. The study of literature had a strong influence on my personality and my thoughts. It made my brain work more, prompted deeper reflections in me. Literature, above all English literature, sparks those intellectual processes which otherwise would not ever be triggered. I think studying literature has a double contribution: the former, we get to know how people lived in the past, their customs and traditions, their way of thinking and everything else we could ask to know; the latter, we get to know even how modern society is organized and why things work in a certain way. Everything is the result of the past, we ourselves are the result of the previous generations. Therefore, in order to know who we are, we must know who we were and literature is the best way to achieve that knowledge. This is the reason why I keep a digital log and share with the world my musings, my thoughts and everything that passes through my mind about what I read during English literature classes.

Want to discover more about my learning log? Swipe up!

MARY SHELLEY

The first author we analyzed in class at the beginning of the year is Mary Shelley. Never heard about her before? She was and still is one of the most famous and unforgettable English female writers of all time. Known as an outspoken feminist and the bearer of revolution to the writing field, she was the first woman to write science fiction novels and the most famous representative of the Gothic novel. Let me tell you just a few things about her life, her works and what she made me think.

Biography

Her complete name was Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin Shelley. She was born in 1797 and was the daughter of the two famous English philosophers: her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, is to be considered the pioneer liberal feminist and her father, William Godwin, a radical thinker. It is important to know who her parents were because they had a great influence on her personality: if it had not been for her parents, she would not have written such meaningful works like ''Frankenstein''. From the onset of her life, she got in touch with the most important English men of letters of that time, such as William Blake, Samuel Coleridge and Percy Bisse Shelley. That let her have a wide culture which, for a woman of that time, was pretty rare. Her mother died just ten days after giving birth to her and that affected her writing as well: it's not by chance that she investigates the meaning of life in such a deep way. At the age of 17, she fled with Shelley to Switzerland, where she got inspired for ''Frankenstein''. Shelley, which later became her husband, set sail in a storm and died. She came back to England where she died in 1851.

Her works

''Frankenstein'', her most famous work, tells the story of Victor Frankenstein, a Swiss doctor and scientist, who creates a human being by putting together parts of corpses. His creation is called ''Monster'' by Frankenstein himself because he finds it disgusting and revolting. As long as the Monster lives in complete loneliness, he becomes evil, a murderer and Victor's worst enemy. At the end of the story, when Frankenstein dies, he decides to put and end to his life too.

Frankenstein

''The Education of the Creature" is the title of one of the most important passages of Mary Shelley's work "Frankenstein". It helps us to get to know better the feelings and the thoughts of the creature: this is the reason why it is so important. Through the Monster's considerations of life, we get to criticize, have a wider sight on human beings and modern life. In fact, the human society described by Mary Shelley through her work is very similar to the current one. This is the reason why it is useful to compare my considerations of life and the monster's ones, in order to find the common point between the current society and the one in nineteenth century.

First of all, it is important to mention some of the creature's thoughts about human beings. In the story, the Monster gets in touch with human society attending the life of two cottagers who are teaching their language to an Arabian woman. That way he learns how to speak and to comprehend humans, but he even finds out human nature, which he is not happy with. "Sorrow only increased with knowledge" is what he says in order to tell us that, at this stage, if he had known it, he would have been rather ignorant than discovering how evil humans are. He has a pretty pessimistic conception of life. In his opinion, human beings are capable of magnificence, great feats, kindness, gentle manners, virtues, good feelings and every other quality, but above all of whatever could be considered evil, such as the fact that they are selfish, cruel, superficial, have prejudices. We would never stop listing men's virtues and vices, but what we have to focus on is that he gets to know that humans consider him just a monster and not their fellow. Therefore, it makes him feel a wretch, a blot in this world.

Personally, mine and creature's thoughts and considerations about humanity are almost the same, but unfortunately, in this case, I'm a human being too. This is the reason why I like saying that human beings do not have the power to focus on their personality and correct it. Instead, we all tend to accept ourselves with the excuse that we are human, therefore we are in some way "justified" for anything wrong we do. And this is what upsets me the most about humans: we all know to be selfish, cruel, superficial and to have prejudices ( and this is nothing compared to the infinite vices of human beings), but we constantly go on mistaking justifying ourselves and doing nothing to improve. Not for nothing the latin proposition "Errare humanum est, perseverare autem diabolicum" became so famous. Maybe, this is a sour consideration of mine, but maybe humans are meant to be more evil than kind. Thinking this way I just feel like I am surrendering to human nature, like everyone else. Now you see how important it was to explicate the fact that I am a human being too.

Here are some diary pages I wrote as if I were the Monster. I feel like sharing them is the only way to express what Mary Shelley made me think with her work. After all, is there a better way to get a different point of view of life than "living" literature?

Dear diary,

or I'd better say "Dear first diary". I decided to start writing my own diary as I wanted to give birth to my creature in the same way my inventor decided to give birth to me. Obviously you are wondering why I am using the words "creature" and "inventor", but I think you have the right to know perfectly who I am, just make sure you won't judge me. That is the reason why I'm trying to have a conversation with a piece of paper, but it is very hard for me, almost impossible, to have a conversation with a human being. Because you perhaps don't know that in humans' world what is 'different' is always seen as something dangerous and not to get in touch with. Unfortunately, I'm not a human being, then there is no way to interact with the world I come from, but it is even true that it was a human to create me. The first thing I will tell you about me to introduce myself to you is that they call me "monster", whereas I'm just a different human being: in fact, I was created with parts of corpses. Nevertheless, I look very different from them: I'm bigger, uglier and I think they all find me disgusting. The fact that they call me monster makes you immediately understand why I feel so excluded and sad. They do not know how it feels to be excluded and hated like that when you have not done anything to anyone. Nobody is born evil, for sure, there is always something that makes you develop the worst part of yourself, which actually anyone has. I hope you won't judge me and stop at first sight, but I'm sure that once you get to know me, you will fear me less than human beings.

Thanks for listening to me, your beloved "creator"

Dear diary,

Some days ago I started to believe that it is impossible to know, to foresee who you will become. Sometimes things happen and you do not even know why. I mean things that have the power to change you completely inside, even if you deep down, actually, do not want to. I feel very guilty for what I did, but I also think that it was my worst part who encouraged me to be so evil and revengeful. It was something I could not stop inside me. If I had had the possibility to, I would not have done that huge mistake, the biggest of my life for sure. You must be curious at this point, but I am not going to tell you today exactly what I did. I need some time to reflect upon it.

Dear diary,

I decided this is the right day to share with you my burden, my dear, even if it is so hard for me. I am going to be direct with you, with you I have no fear. But the only word I can pronounce now is "murder". It may sound incredible to you, because I told you I was good, I tried to develop the best part of my character, not like humans. But no, they were all the words of a deceiver. I found out not to be that different from them. I did murder a child and did something else much more evil after. That child was my creator's brother. He did not do anything to me personally, in fact he was not my objective. My objective was Frankenstein, my creator: I wanted to hit him in his weakest spot, his family, which actually was his happiness. Killing that young boy was so difficult, but the instinct of revenge for the man who gave me birth in this wrong way was too strong. So strong that I made his maide get the blame for the murder, so she was headed. Now I understand I might sound evil and diabolic, but this would not have happened if my creator did not give birth to me. I think humans do things without thinking about the consequences.

Dear diary,

Today happened something that hurt me a lot. It is not so simple to be the one I am. When I think about what happened to me today, I start thinking that humans have the power to be so rude and disrespectful, even with the ones who help them in some way. For a long time I have been observing a family, here in France. They seemed so kind and helpful to each other. So it was natural for me to help them , but without letting them know I was helping them when they needed. Therefore for some time I took them firewood and vegetables when they did not have them. I thought I have been kind and supportive to them, so I decided to show up and get to know them better. I thought they would have helped me offering me somewhere to sleep. Instead when I let them see me, they got frightened, they started worrying about me and all in a hurry they ran away. They did not even let me speak or say something to introduce myself. I felt very sorry , but for me, not for them. I thought humans tried to develop their best part, instead they do the exact opposite: they encourage themselves to make their worst part prevail on the best. By doing so, it seems that they force me to do the same with myself, then I'm not that different from them.

Dear diary,

It has been a long time since I wrote to you. Now I feel like it is the right moment to tell you everything that happened since last time we talked. This will be also the last time I write to you because it has come the time to put an end to this unfair life. I asked my creator to create another monster, who would have been my woman, and I promised him I would not have bothered him any more. At first he accepted but then refused to. I did not want to be evil, I just wanted to be happy and let him be happy. Why do humans think about the worst side of things, why do they think with prejudice, why are they so narrow-minded? Why do they persist mistaking instead of trying to put right to something? Yesterday he died. I mean, Frankenstein died on a boat. I do not know why, the only thing I know is that I am going to die very soon. I have committed too horrible things, my evil part is "consuming" me inside. Therefore I do not want to suffer anymore. There is not a reason why I should live. This life was a complete conflict between me and my creator, but this conflict made me feel alive, it was like an attachment to life. It made me feel above all human, like anyone in this world. Then now I feel I do not belong anymore to this world, to this life, which was unfair with Frankenstein, but above all with me. If I do not find peace in life, I will certainly find it in death.

JOHN MILTON

Who was John Milton?

He was an English writer, poet and philosopher. Although John Milton is not as famous as e.g. William Shakespeare or Mary Shelley, he played and still plays a fundamental role in English literature and, in my opinion, must be considered one of the spokespersons of what being a writer and speaking out your thoughts means. In fact, he was a politically engaged writer and rufused all forms of tyranny. Thanks to his experience, he was able to create in his main work "Paradise Lost" a character who embodies perfectly the figure of the rebel against authority. It is not by chance that his quotation "Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heaven" has become very popular among anglophone people and not only.

His life

John Milton was born in 1608 in London, where he died in 1674. Actually it is very important to know in which period he lived because that is crucial to understand his words. He lived during the Civil war and after the monarchy was abolished, coherently to his refusal of every form of tyranny, he worked for the new republican government. When the monarchy was restored, he ended up in prison and all his works were condemned and burnt. Fortunately "Paradise Lost" was written after he was realesed so that we can still nowadays enjoy one of the most fascinating works of all time.

Paradise Lost

Paradise Lost is an epic poem in blank verse inspired by the biblical story of Adam and Eve, with God and Satan. In the poem, Satan, who is the most beautiful of God's Angels, is thrown out of Heaven and therefore hurled into Hell. He later tries to corrupt and take control of humankind, which is God's favorite creation, to take revenge on him. Specifically, the author tells us how Eve and later Adam are attacked. Have you ever heard of Eve eating the poisoned apple encouraged by the snake? Of course you have: that is exactly what John Milton focuses on in Paradise Lost.

"Satan's speech", the passage dealing with the arrival of Satan in Hell, has made me think about how important speaking out is, especially nowadays. As said before, literature mirrors every aspect of our contemporary life. History could be compared to a circle: sooner or later situations belonging to the past, even in a different place or context, become reality again. That is the reason why it is important to study literature: we can learn how to handle life taking as an example what people did in the past to solve their problems. Literature teaches us that keeping coherent to who we are and what we believe in will not ever be easy, actually will be one of the hardest things in life. It will not ever be simple to live life as we want it, in a fair way and without being impeded by people who control us. There could not be anything more contemporary than this: politicians and authorities, for example, are still nowadays controlling people to their benefit, unfortunately in every single part of the world, in some countries more and some others less. This is the reason why it is fundamental to speak our mind: nothing will ever change if we do not put forward our viewpoint. Moreover, the most powerful tool that every human being is provided with is the power of imagination and the use of the word. We are used to say that money controls the world: it is true, no one would say the contrary, I suppose, but the power of money is just a consequence of that of the word. I found a very impressive quotation of Yehuda Berg, a writer: “Words are singularly the most powerful force available to humanity. We can choose to use this force constructively with words of encouragement, or destructively using words of despair. Words have energy and power with the ability to help, to heal, to hinder, to hurt, to harm, to humiliate and to humble.” Even if Satan is considered evil and God is considered good, Satan explains how unfair God has been with him stating "The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a Heav'n of Hell, a Hell of Heav'n. What matter where, if I be still the same". In these few words, Satan expresses perfectly what I has been one of the principles of my mind: what society and , generally speaking, the system try to impose us shall not matter to us, whereas we ought to struggle to be who we are and not to become "another brick in the wall". Every human being has got a brain, which if used to the utmost has a great power. Many people say that the "variety is the spice of life". I say that too, because it is beautiful when people have got different opinions about life, its meaning, politics or any other issue. When you get to know several points of view, you come to see things more clearly and as they truly are going beyond their surface.

The Freedom of Press

"The Freedom of Press" is a passage written by John Milton about books and literature. In the text the author states that destroying a book could be considered as bad as killing a human being. It could seem that the author shows an exaggerated attitude comparing a book to a human being but, actually, he takes us to the naked truth. Books represent humanity in a way no other object could do. If humanity disappeared right now and some other intelligent/rational beings found books, they could build a world very similar to ours. Everything, from history to geography, from languages to tradition, from fashion to food and everything else is explained in books. Let's just think about the beginning of history. Historians have set a boundary between prehistory and history. History begins right when writing was developed. This is the proof that our existence is "collected" in books. This is the reason why destroying a book could be compared to a crime: that way we would delete our identity, who we truly are. In my opinion, it would not be like destroying a human being, but the entire humanity.

DANIEL DEFOE

Have you ever watched the movie "Cast Away" starring Tom Hanks? Well, Robert Zemeckis, the director, did not invent the story by himself. Actually that movie is based on "Robinson Crusoe", a novel by Daniel Defoe.

Who was Daniel Defoe?

Daniel Defoe was a English writer. He is known to have developed a new kind of novel, the realistic novel. At the beginning of the eighteenth century, the rise of the novel determined writers' profession: becoming profitable. They wanted to please a public of middle and upper-class which wanted to read about their own problems and experiences. Heroes, like John Milton's Satan, Homer, Ulysses did not matter so much anymore, they were totally replaced by practical, self-made, self-reliant and, above all, rich men. Therefore, Daniel Defoe tried to make the novel more realistic by introducing real "clock time", "physical setting" and tons of detailed descriptions of events and objects.

His life

Daniel Defoe was born in 1660 in London. He became soon a successful journalist, because he was given the opportunity to write a periodical intitled "The Review". He was very well paid to write political essays and pamphlets until Queen Anne came to the throne. She did not like his critical attitude and had him imprisoned and tried. He was saved by some of his friends who at the pillory threw at him flowers instead of rocks and rotten eggs. He later denied his Whig ideas in order to live in freedom again and became a secret agent for the new government. At the age of sixty, he began to write some of the most famous novels of English literature, first of all "Robinson Crusoe" and then "Captain Singleton", "Moll Flanders" and "Colonel Jack". Thanks to his works he could afford a comfortable standard of life but his old creditors haunted him until he died in 1731.

Writers, poets and artists are known as the ones who amaze us with their works of art. Daniel Defoe amazed me even more with his biography. One thing in particular impressed me a lot. As said before, he had been at the pillory for three times and was supposed to be humiliated by other people throwing at him rocks and rotten eggs, That did not happen thanks to his friends who supported him, believed in his innocence and threw flowers at him. This episode impressed me so much because it made me think about real friendship and how that is fundamental in a person's life. No time could be considered more valuable than the one spent with your family and your friends. A true friend is someone who will always have your back, help and support you no matter what. This is the proof of how vast the range of issues which writers and, generally speaking, artists make us reflect upon and thus the demonstration of how good to the soul reading or any other creative interest is.

Robinson Crusoe

"Robinson Crusoe" is Daniel Defoe's main work. It is a novel based on the real experiences of Alexander Selkirk, a seaman who was shipwrecked and then rescued at the beginning of the eighteenth century. The novel tells the story of a man, whose name is Robinson Crusoe, who at the age of ninteen years leaves England and goes to sea to make his fortune. After some time, he lands in Brazil where he sets a successful plantation which will later make him rich. During a trip to Africa to buy some slaves for his plantations, he is shipwrecked on a desert island on which he spends twenty-eight years. During his shipwreck on the island, he is able to recreate the world he has left behind him and saves a young "savage" from a group of cannibals. The savage becomes soon his slave and his named by Crusoe "Man Friday". In fact, the day the savage is rescued by Robinson is friday. At the end, he is saved by an English ship and later becomes aware of how rich his plantation has made him.

European colonialism and racism in "Robinson Crusoe"

Daniel Defoe wrote "Robinson Crusoe" right at the beginning of the eighteenth century, a period characterized by a strong spirit of colonialism and exploitation, above all spread among English people. Generally speaking, Europeans tended and, unfortunately, still tend to consider themselves superior to other races. This is clearly highlighted in the story when Robinson Crusoe saves the savage from a group of cannibals who want to eat him. Actually he later becomes his slave and is named "Man Friday" just because he is rescued on friday. Moreover, the protagonist seems surprised when he notices that the so called "savage" looks strong, good-looking and shows an intelligent, clever behavior, like any other human being. As a colonizer, Robinson sees colonized people as inferior to him and his race. "Race" is the concept on which the European supremacy was and is still based. The Macmillan Dictionary writes that race is "a group of people who are similar because they speak the same language or have the same history and customs". But actually race does not exist. From my point of view, we, human beings, are at the same time different and equal. There is no one in this world who is the exact copy of another person, therefore there is no reason why a group of people should be identified if we all are different from each other. Moreover, for the same concept, no human being is superior to another one, because we are all human, have a body, an heart, a mind to think, the same blood which flows in our organism, we all have to eat and drink in order to live and we all are born from a mother. Race, therefore, was just an evil, but astute invention of the European society which wanted to impose itself all over the world. We cannot deny that, without the contribution of other societies, Europe would not be as powerful and advanced as it is nowadays. It is all their credit if we live now in a such organized, wealthy society. But these countries are still paying a high price for our happiness. Too many people in South America, North America, Asia, Australia and Africa were exploited, were dehumanized. Their dignity, therefore their moral values, what they believed in and their lives were sold just for the wellness of a small part of the world, whereas those people are still suffering hunger, thirst, persecutions, child labor, violence, wars. This process of dehumanizations makes us complete oppressors: we have treated for ages million and million of men and women as animals to take over them. What is even more shameful, is that when tons of men, women and children, like refugees, ask for help to our society, in order to stay alive, we reject them and we would prefer them out of our borders, whereas We were the oppressors that kept them in poverty and We are the ones who put up wars to invade their countries. Everyone deserves a chance in life and we should give refugees at least one, especially if we are the ones who took away their own chances, possibilities from their lives. After all, everyone desires to be valued, we all desire to matter, like every human being. This is, in my opinion, the value we all should give to Daniel Defoe's work: we should consider it as a way to get out of the talons of racism and become better persons struggling to create a different and equal world.

A LETTER TO MY MUM

Dear readers,

it is an entire school year so far that we have been dealing with literature. Literature can be seen by many different perspectives. One of them is love. It is, in fact, one of the most important, maybe the most important of all the themes that literature deals with. This is the reason why I decided to share with you a letter, which I wrote to my mum, who is the person I have loved the most so far, given as I am still young and I do not still know what love between partners is. But first, before making public my letter, I would like to share with you what love means to me and the reason why I feel like sharing such a personal letter.

Love has been so far not only one of literature's themes but even one of the most wondered interrogatives of all time. In fact no one knows exactly what love is, but we all look at it from a different point of view. I decided to share with you what I wrote to my mum because I thought it was necessary in order to make it possible to you to understand deeply my thoughts and considerations about literature that I have written so far in my learning log. Every single thought of ours is determined by our mentality, which is in turn determined by our life and how we love.

I have been wondering for long about what love is to me. In all honesty, it was a little bit hard to find an answer but I have come up with some thoughts. Love is something innate in human beings. We will never know what it scientifically is, because we tend to love from the very beginning of our life. We naturally tend to be connected to our mother first, then to the other members of the family and finally to many other people.

I personally consider love as the link which connects humanity. Sometimes this link is feeble, sometimes it is stronger than we could ever imagine. This bond makes us live, feel alive and give life (when speaking about love between partners). First thing first, it makes us live because loving a person becomes, more than sometimes, the purpose of someone's life. Secondly, love could be considered the fuel for our engine, which is our soul. And what about hate? Of course hate exists. At least I think so. But that is just a degenerate form of love which has been turned into a negative feeling by a negative attitude or event.

Dear mum,

or I’d better say ‘dear everything’ (do not worry I will still call you "mum"). I decided to write you a letter to tell you how fundamental and precious your presence has been over these 17 years, even if, deep down, I know a letter will not ever be enough to tell you how much I love you. I think I would not be the person I have become without you. As long as I am proud of who I have become, I must even say that I am beyond proud of who you are. You are the person who inspires me the most: you have been and still are the mentor of my life. It is just thanks to you if I know how things work in this world and how to live in it. I owe you my awareness, my knowledge. Thanks to you I know how to behave in every single situation that life has in store for everybody. But what I owe you the most is my life. As you know, I think love is something innate in human beings. We start loving from the very beginning of life and so did I with you. The first person you meet once on earth is your mother, because she is the one, along with your father, that gives you life. Giving life is the most amorous gesture a person can do. And you did it wonderfully. Not only you were able to beget me, stand me for 9 months in your belly, but even to raise me for 17 years in a way I hope I will emulate one day with my children.

What I fear the most of this life is the always decreasing time we are going to spend together. I could not ever think about my life without you one day. The time we spend together is worth thousand times more than the whole other time spent with other people. And, from this point of view, life represents the worst, the hardest and the most undeserved compromise: we are born from a mother, who, sooner or later, is going to never be here anymore when she has been for long our wisest guide, the one who rescues us in the most difficult situations, the one who gives us the love everybody needs. We feel lost, we do not know anymore where to go and what to choose. Unfortunately we got to accept these unjust workings of life and, in this awareness, until the last moment you are here, I am going to treasure the time we spend together. Over the years you have always had my best interest at heart and I cannot still believe how hard it is to be a mother, especially when you renounce to do what you like the most to prioritize me and my brother. I will always appreciate every single effort you made to make us grow up in safety, love, with moral values and a strong character. I have loved you, I love you and I'll love you forever. This is the best life I could ever ask for and this is just thanks to you. Thank you for everything mum! With love,

Matteo

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