Tag Archives: Cameron G

The Test

9 Feb

I’ve only ever been in real trouble twice during my time at school. We used to make substitute teachers cry, but that was more as a class rather than me by myself. The first time was when I helped my friend cheat on her science test. It was a poorly planned, and worse executed affair. We were sitting opposite each other. She lifted her paper, pointing at a question and raised her eyebrows.

“Mitochondrion”, I whispered.

In my head I had said it quietly and we’d gotten away with it and everyone was happy. We were criminal masterminds. At that moment we were Bonnie and Clyde, and this biology question about the powerhouse of a cell was a bank we had robbed. Unfortunately I had forgotten how Bonnie and Clyde had met their end: gunned to death by law enforcement.

I looked up at my science teacher and saw her face, scrunched up like a pug terrier.

“What?”, I asked her with my eyes.

“Give me your test and get of my classroom”, she replied with her mouth.


The morning of February 12th was cold and gray and a mist had descended upon the school. It was where it had all started.

We were sitting a test, the students of second year biology. The teacher leered over us, her hawk-like eyes darting from student to student.

Julia saw her moment and took it. She coughed and I looked up. I knew what she wanted immediately. I knew what getting caught would mean.

I opened my mouth, and knew it was already too late. The teacher walked slowly towards me, her shoes scuffing the sterile laminate flooring as she did so. Everyone looked up toward her.

“Eyes down”, she commanded. They immediately obliged.

I put down my pen. I was resigned to my fate. She bent down to my level.

“What were you doing”, she asked through clenched teeth, failing to disguise her disgust.

“ I was just…”

“Just what?”, she interrupted. Her eyes reminded me of the fog outside and I was afraid.

“Just what?”


9 Mar

William Cowper was a poet (1731-1800). He was an Evangelical Christian, raised by his father John Cowper, a priest. His Christian way of life was reflected in his many hymns and poems. Cowper suffered an attack of insanity in 1773, believing he was condemned to hell and believing that God wanted him to kill himself. His repeated suicide attempts in previous years reflected his unstable state. Cowper’s obsession with death and the afterlife, particularly imagery of hell, as well as his descent into madness is apparent in his work, ‘The Castaway’. The final stanza reads:

“We perish’d, each alone:

But I beneath a rougher sea,

And whelm’d in deeper gulfs than he.”


Cowper’s loneliness is evident in his mentioning that he believes we each die alone. His comparison with his own suffering and a man drowning and his stating that his sea is rougher than the sailors, suggests that he believes madness is a fate worse than any physical act.

Hawk Roosting

4 Feb

            The hawk in Ted Hughes’ poem, ‘Hawk Roosting’ could be said to be a representation of power, and this in turn, the arrogance of power. The poet writes that the hawk sits on the ‘rough bark’ above everything, symbolic of his power and strength. The hawk’s arrogance is shown in line 14 when the narrator remarks that, “I kill where I please because it is all mine.” This quote shows the arrogance of the hawk. He believes that he can do anything he wants, without boundaries because of his power. This presents to the reader that power can corrupt a person, and leads to them becoming arrogant and believing they can do whatever they want: the arrogance of power.

            As well as showing how power can lead to a person believing they are superior, it is also shown that in order to remain powerful, there are conditions. The narrator observes;

The convenience of the high trees! 
The air’s buoyancy and the sun’s ray 
Are of advantage to me; 

All of these are conditions necessary for the hawk to remain powerful. Without this assistance, the hawk would not be as authoritative as he is. It is shown that the hawk is reluctant to discuss this, only adding that the conditions are an advantage, not definitive of his power.

Intertextuality- The Canto of Ulysses

26 Nov

        In Chapter 11 of Primo Levi’s If this is a Man, the author introduces intertextuality with reference to the following texts: The Divine Comedy and Homer’s Odyssey. The Canto of Ulysses (the 26th Canto) is mentioned in Dante’s Inferno, which is part of The Divine Comedy. Dante’s Inferno describes Dante’s journey down the circles of hell, guided by Virgil.  In Canto 26, Dante describes his encounter with Ulysses (otherwise known as “Odysseus” in Homer’s Odyssey) in hell. The story of Ulysses describes his long journey back home after the Trojan War. In the poem, Dante condemns Ulysses to the eighth circle (fraudulence), who won the Trojan War by means of deceit (with the Trojan Horse trick).
        The intertextuality is initiated due to Levi’s sudden desperate attempt to retain his humanity, as the texts represent Italian literature and Italian is his native language. Moreover, his intent of reciting the Canto is to send a message to Jean the Pikolo, who, despite his acquaintance with Levi, is still a prominent of the camp, part of its hierarchy. Thus, there is some peculiarity as to why Levi chose this piece of literature in particular to recite, especially in teaching what should be simple Italian. It appears that Levi is trying to urge Jean to hold on to as much of his humanity as possible, especially because, “…tomorrow he or I might be dead”. Thus, he implies that if they are to die, they should at least die as men. In the end, what was supposed to help Jean ended up being for Levi’s own good as well, as he wanted to remember his native language, a shred of his humanity. The reader can also grasp this when Levi writes, “Here, listen Pikolo…you have to understand, for my sake” (119).  Of course, trying to remember each of these excerpts proved to be a difficult, agonizing task for Levi, as his recitals were sketchy. This is because it required him to tap into memories of his past, memories of his humanity and home, when he was human.      
       The concept of Dante’s Inferno essentially describes the descent to hell, and this is where the most significant connection is made to Levi’s novel, as it describes what Levi states as being “on the bottom”. In other words, the Lager is to Levi as hell is to Dante. In the Lager, the prisoners are put through hell, enduring harsh labor, deprived of their needs and on the brink of death on a daily basis.
         In his testimony, Levi also portrays the loss of identity the prisoners of the Lager undergo, reduced to nothing but numbered slaves treated like dogs. This is where another excerpt of the Canto fits in, as in Ulysses’ speech, he says, “You weren’t born to live like brutes” (line 119), or the translated version in Levi’s novel, “Your mettle was not made; you were made men…”(119). This speech is intended to encourage the prisoners of the Lager, to ultimately defy the influence of the camp.
         The last line of the chapter, which is also recited from the canto, is also very profound, carrying a similar effect to that of a “stand-alone line” in a poem.  It is also in stark contrast to the emotion that seemed to be building up in Levi’s words up until this point, as he runs out of time to recite the canto, and consequently, relish his memories. It refers back to one of the previous chapters where Levi introduces the concept of the “drowned” and the “saved”. While it is obvious Levi was one of the “saved”, in this particular moment where he recites the line, he is implying that he, as well as the other prisoners (“’And over our heads…”), is one of the “drowned”, as the water envelops them (“’…seas closed up.’”).

Statement of Intent

25 Nov

In picture one, the sign displaced outside Auschwitz is portrayed; it reads ‘Arebeit Macht Frei’ or, work will set you free. In chapter ten of the novel, Levi explains the necessity of work inside the Lager. In order to survive, he must become a specialist in some subject, and chapter ten describes the importance of getting a job in order to become ‘free’. Picture two shows an aquarium with people peering into the glass. In ‘Chemical Examination’, Levi described how Doctor Panawitz looks at him as if he is an animal in an aquarium, as if the two are completely different entities, not united by a common humanity. Levi’s description of what he feels from the Doctor describes the state of the camp as a whole. Two different types of humans separated by one’s views towards the others. In Nazi Germany, Untermensch, (subhuman) was the term used to describe those who they looked down upon. In the third picture, Henry Fuseli’s painting, “Nightmare” , is shown. This picture attempts to deal with the guilt that guards and those working with the Nazis feel. In Chapter Ten, Levi asks the reader how Doctor Panawitz is able to live with himself, knowing what he has done. In a sense, the demon the back, as portrayed in the painting, is symbolic of the psychological effects of trauma.