The Corrupting Influence of Power: The Felowship of the Ring

The most prominent theme throughout J.R. Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring, and much of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, is the corrupting influence of power. When the dark lord Sauron forged the One Ring he poured, “his cruelty, his malice, and his will to dominate all life”. Whoever wields the Ring has access to Sauron’s power. Although the nature of Ring’s power is never specified, the way the characters react and interact with the Ring resonates a power, almost limitless, and quite corrupting.

The Ring severely clouds the minds of characters, making it extremely difficult for many characters to resist the temptation to take the Ring for themselves and use it for their own ends. Boromir is an obvious example. During the Council of Eldron when discussing the fate of the Ring, Boromir expresses to the council his desire to use the ring against Sauron, rather than destroying it:

            “It is a gift. A gift to the foes of Mordor. Why not use this Ring? Long has my father, the Steward of Gondor, kept the forces of Mordor at Bay. By the blood of our people are your lands kept safe! Give Gondor the weapon of the enemy. Let us use it against him!”

Boromir sees the potential that the Ring’s power has, and puts a foolish belief that his people of Gondor could defeat Sauron by wielding the ring in battle, even though it is said the Ring has a will of it’s own and will stop at nothing to get back to it’s master and the idea to dominate all life.

Boromir’s desire for the Ring increases as the fellowship travels the road. When they travel along the snow, Frodo falls over and drops the Ring. Boromir pick it up, and appears to have glaring desirably at Ring, unable to give it back to Frodo.

Even worse, Boromir is picking up wood for a fire when he sees Frodo alone. After much confrontation, Boromir loses all rational thought and tries to attack Frodo and take the Ring:

            “It is not yours, save by unhappy chance. It could have been mine! It should be mine! Give it too me!

It seems the Ring’s power of temptation is a tactic to manipulate minds to make it’s way to Sauron.

We also see a glimpse of how the ring would corrupt Gandalf the Grey, the wisest character in in the trilogy.

When Frodo and Gandalf find out that the ring Frodo possesses is the One Ring, Frodo panics and demands Gandalf to take it:

“Don’t tempt me Frodo! I dare not take it. Not even to keep it safe. Understand Frodo, I would use this Ring from a desire to do good. But through me, it would wield a power too great and terrible to imagine.”

Even the wisest of men will fall to the temptation of the Ring.



Gollum, who once was a young hobbit named Smeagol, killed his friend Deagol for the Ring. After years of possessing the Ring, constantly calling it his “precious”, he slowly turned into a demented, crouching, troll-like creature who desired nothing but holding the Ring.

Also the Ringwraiths were poisoned by the power of the Ring. Once human kings, they were transformed into ghastly Black Riders who serve Sauron in battle and retrieving the Ring.

Through the power of temptation, the Ring resembles the true source of evil, and evil that will stop at nothing to dominate all, and will manipulate, torment, any to get what it desires. For many, the Ring overrides all rational thought. The Ring answers to no one; it is the greatest temptation of Middle-earth, therefor the greatest threat.

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Genesis and The Magician’s Nephew

“Child,” he (Aslan) replied, “that is why all the rest are now a horror to her. That is what happens to those who pluck and eat fruits at the wrong time and in the wrong way. The fruit is good, but you loath it ever after” – The Magician’s Nephew

Although The Magician’s Nephew was the sixth book written in the seven book series The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis, it takes place several decades before the first published book in the series, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

The Magician’s Newphew describes the creation of the land of Narnia, and how humans came to be associated to the world. Geared towards a younger audience, the narrative draws heavy allegories from the creation story of Genesis.

Lewis created the main young characters Digory and Polly as a literary technique to appeal to a young audience. When Narnia is created in the novel, it is seen through the perspective of these two children.

In fact, children are used throughout the entire series of Narnia to echo Jesus’ teaching, reflecting that in order to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, one must become and accept creation like children.

The creation of Narnia by the lion Aslan in The Magician’s Nephew represents the Biblical creation story. In Genesis, God spoke the world into being, just like Aslan sings and everything comes to life.

In the novel, Polly and Digory enter a pool that transports them into a lightless dimension (Narnia):

“We do seem to be somewhere, said Digory, “At least I’m standing on something solid.” – p.91

This dialogue represents the beginning of Narnia. In Genesis, God creates the heavens and earth then He created light. This is directly correlated to Aslan creating Narnia.

The frist thing Digory sees when light is introduced into Narnia is the stars:

“If you had seen and heard it, as Digory did, you would have felt quite certain that it was the stars themselves which were singing” p. 93-94

This is drawn from a Biblical image in Genesis:

“Let them serve as signs to mark the seasons and days and years, and there be lights in expanse of the sky…” Gen 1:14-15

While Genesis appeals to adult sensibility, referring to the stars as a calendar, Lewis establishes a creative way of expressing creation, connecting it with the youthful reader.

In Genesis, God creates animals that inhabit on the 5th day:

“God said, ‘Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: livestock, creatures that move along ground, and wild animals, each according to its kind.’ and it was so.” Gen. 1:24-25

This verse may be the inspiration for Lewis to write his creation of Narnia and his idea for talking animals and magical creatures.

In The Magician’s Nephew, the animals are produced by the land, out of the ground:

“In all direction it was swelling into humps. They were of very different sizes no bigger than mole-hills, some big as wheel-barrows, two the size of cottages. And the humps move and swelled until they burst, and the crumbled earth poured out them, and each hump there came out an animal.” p.105

Another apparent allegory of Lewis’s creation is the character Aslan the Lion:

“The Lion opened his mouth…he was breathing out a long, warm breath; it seemed to sway all the beasts as the wind sways the tress.” p.108

This image correlates to a passage in Genesis:

“The Lord God formed the man form the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” Gen. 2:7

Through numerous allegories and imaginative narrative, Lewis is a able to show the creation story of Genesis in a fictional setting, appealing to a child’s imagination and innocence.

The Absurdity of Franz Kafka

People who have read Kafka often bicker over what kind of philosophy he believed in. Jean-Paul Sartre recognized him as an existentialist and Albert Camus considered him an absurdist — two prominent figures of the modernist movement.

Franz Kafka wasn’t “trained” into any certain philosophy nor was he considered a disciplined writer; he never wrote a lengthy novel. His bizarre literary universe never expresses an objective philosophical theory. He was writing his observations of human nature. To Kafka, the world seemed absurd, a common element for existentialists and absurdists. Kafka was a disoriented individual who faced a confused world that he could not accept or understand. When writing, his characters accept their fates and embrace the absurdity of nature.

Many Marxists critics say postmodernism is the cause of capitalism and the alienation caused by materialism. Kafka often portrays this in his writing as degradation on the soul. While the modernist Marxist believed in an eschatological movement where humanity will reach a utopian society free from government, Kafka does not theorize this.  Most of his writings dealt with a hopeless alienation. He believed that evil is too difficult to distinguish.

“For Kafka, the absurdity of sin and guilt lies not in the indifferent world but rather in the very indistinguishability of the subjective and the objective. “Existentialism by Robert Solomon, p. 166

In Kafka’s diaries and letter, he considered Gregor Samsa’s alienated fate in “The Metamorphosis”, to be the fate of anyone. The life of a salesmen and Gregor’s inhabitance in his one room as a bug are both the same lives of solitude. He believes “the cares we have to struggle with every day” is emotional torture. William Hubben in his book “Dostoevsky, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche & Kafka” writes, “It is interesting that Kafka was one of the first to touch upon the despair of a key figure in the economic system that is now engaged in a life and death struggle in Europe, the salesmen whose function in free enterprise is that of a missionary.”  If there is one objective viewpoint of Kafka, it would be the absurdness of man’s contemporary placement in society.

Kafka suffered an internal conflict for the desire of a universal truth and tried to convince himself that his belief that truth was a lie was not true. In Max Brod’s biography of Kafka he summed his fundamental outlook on life:

“Kafka’s fundamental outlook may be summarized in some such formula as this: almost everything is uncertain, but once one has a certain degree of understanding one never loses the way anymore. 
” P. 173

“Kafka’s fundamental principle: pity for a mankind that finds it so hard a task to do what’s right. Pity, half-smiling, half-weeping, pity.”
 P. 180

Franz Kafka’s innovation, imagery and symbolism

Coining the term “Kafkaesque”, his innovation

Doodles drawn by Franz Kafka. According to Max Brod, a close colleague of his, Kafka would sketch drawings alongside his scripts during college.

To begin understanding Kafka’s form and style of writing, one must prepare for a voyage through a whirlpool of ambiguity. The first struggle in comprehending Kafka is translating his German writing into English and other languages. His elaborate sentences that sometime progress into an entire page comes from a unique trait of the German language. He utilizes this style and delivers a build-up to the very end of the sentence, finalizing his meaning and focus. This is accomplished by a German style where the verb — or action — is placed towards the end of the sentence.  This craft makes it difficult for translators to provide the reader with the same meaning Kafka intended, which is a reason why so many critics have different interpretations of his work.

But this is mere trivial language translation. Kafka’s greatest innovation comes from his ability to twist the meaning of his sentences with his use imagery, symbolism and parabolic morals. His fiction examines a universe in literature that has yet to be explored by any preceding him, a world crowded with implications that enters the remote regions of the human psychology. Kafka’s universe has different rules, ones unfamiliar to the rules that govern our reality.

Yet, reading a parable created by Kafka resonates with who we are, and who we’ve become. It is here where he coins the term “Kafkaesque” and has puzzled readers around the world regardless if read in German or English.

One of Kafka’s greatest innovations was his belief that bourgeois labor destroys the soul. In his fable “Poseidon”, the god of the sea is consumed with tedious, endless paperwork. Kafka’s literature predicted the trajectory of bureaucracy and painted the corporate world we live in today.

 

 

The daunt imagery of Kafka

 

Kafka reflected his view of man’s anxiety in a dehumanized world with constant dark imagery in narrative, setting and character development. Whether it is an artist who starves himself, a man being transformed into a big, or a giant machine used for a military tortuous capital punishment device, Kafka’s plots are surrounded by the absurd. He immediately sets the alienated stark mood in the opening to “The Metamorphosis”:

 

           

Image taken from a scene in a short animated film by Caroline Leaf in 1978 called "The Metamorphosis of Mr. Samsa".

As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning out of restless dreams, he found himself in bed, transformed into a gargantuan pest. He lay on his hard, armored back and saw, as he raised his head a little, his domed, brown belly, divided into arched segments; he could hardly keep the bed sheets from sliding from his stomach’s height completely to the floor. His numerous legs, lamentably thin in comparison to his new girth, flickered helplessly before his eyes.”

 

Here he sets the mood of the story within one paragraph with the imagery of Gregor’s transformation into a pest. An image that most people would find repulsive, the reader will begin to understand through this imagery, the alienation Gregor will receive from this first paragraph.

 

“In the Penal Colony”, Kafka describes a mysterious machine in vivid detail, yet he still manages to make this machine seem incomprehensible. This machine is a torture device used to execute soldiers and in the story a traveler is invited to watch how the machine works as a soldier is chained to the apparatus. This again, promotes a dark atmosphere of suspense and absurdness. He writes:

 

“In any event, the only persons present besides the officer and the traveler in this small but deep and sandy valley, surrounded by barren slopes on all sides, were the condemned man — a dull, thick-lipped creature with a disheveled appearance — and a soldier, who held the heavy chagrin that controlled the smaller chains attached to the condemned man’s ankles, wrists, and neck, chains that were also linked together. But the condemned man looked so submissively doglike that it seemed as if he might have been allowed to run free on the slopes and would only need to be whistled for when the execution was due to begin.”

 

The imagery captured in this scene, which plays throughout the story, has a consistent sense of lurid mystery. This place seems to be an odd setting for an execution. Why is there only a few people attending this execution? Why doesn’t anyone have names? What has this condemned man done? These types of questions trigger anticipation, suspense and mystery. These three elements make the reader want to read on.

 

Kafka’s ambiguous symbolism

 

Kafka’s stories are filled with symbolism making yet another reason why so many readers re-read his stories multiple times and have various interpretations.

Symbolism in particular is a great strength for Kafka.

In the “The Metamorphosis”, Gregor Samsa’s transformation not only creates dark imagery, but also symbolizes the main theme of the story — alienation — and more importantly, Kafka himself.  Throughout the story lies symbolism in many material objects placed in the narrative.

A great example of Kafka’s use of symbolism is the picture of the woman in furs that reappears in the story. In the beginning, just after he finds himself turned into a bug Kafka writes:

 

“Above the desk, on which a collection of fabric samples was unpacked and spread out — Samsa was a traveling salesman — hung the picture that he recently cut out of an illustrated magazine and put in a pretty frame. It showed a lady, sitting upright, dressed in a fur hat and fur boa; her entire forearm had vanished into a thick fur muff which she held out to the viewer.”

 

This picture symbols Gregor’s former humanity, before turning into a bug. The picture resonates Gregor’s desire of an attractive woman living in wealth.  Later in the story, we see him cling to this picture when Grete and the mother start clearing out his bedroom representing the importance the picture is to him.

In Kafka’s short story, “A Hunger Artist” — about a professional hunger artist, a performer who starves himself for many day— it has great use of symbolism. The cage, which is where the hunger artist performs in, is symbolic of the artist’s alienation from society. Being inside the cage, the spectators can never go in themselves and understand what he is doing. This suggests the separation between spectacle and spectators and the barrier that prevents the true understanding of an artist. In the story he writes:

 

Painting of a hunger artist — someone who doesn't eat for a long period of time — by Shawn Yu.

“At one time the whole town took a lively interest in the hunger artist; from day to day of his fast the excitement mounted; everybody wanted to see him at least once a day; there were people who bought season tickets for the last few days and sat from morning till night in front of his small barred cage; even in the nighttime there were visiting hours, when the whole effect was heightened by torch flares; on fine days the cage was set out in the open air, and then it was the children’s special treat to see the hunger artist; for their elders he was often just a joke that happened to be in fashion, but the children stood openmouthed, holding each other’s hands for greater security, marveling at him as he sat there pallid in black tights, with his ribs sticking out so prominently, not even on a seat but down among straw on the ground, sometimes giving a courteous nod, answering questions with a constrained smile, or perhaps stretching an arm through the bars so that one might feel how thin it was, and then again withdrawing deep into himself, paying no attention to anyone or anything, not even to the all-important striking of the clock that was the only piece of furniture in his cage, but merely staring into vacancy with half-shut eyes, now and then taking a sip from a tiny glass of water to moisten his lips.”

 

Works cited:

“The Metamorphosis” by Franz Kafka

“A Hunger Artist” by Franz Kafka

“In the Penal Colony” by Franz Kafka

“The Metamorphosis and Other Stories Franz Kafka” from Barnes and Nobles Classics with an introduction and notes by Jason Baker

http://www.online-literature.com/franz-kafka/

http://www.kafka.org/

The Kafkaesque Decorum

“The first sign of understanding is the wish to die” — Franz Kafka

Some people claim Franz Kafka’s fiction doesn’t make sense, that he writes with detailed precision and realism, while his craft walks you into an absurd labyrinth of logic — an incomprehensible world. This twisted combination of dualities may be the reason why he has remained one of the world’s most discussed and widely read authors today.  Jason Baker writes, in the introduction of Barnes and Nobles Classics series, “The Metamorphosis and Other Stories”, “Rather than a linear argument, Kafka writes a spiral one, which often makes readers dizzy.” For Kafka, he attempts to express the inexpressible.

The majority of his works contain the themes of man’s anxiety and alienation, as most of his characters are revolved around the middle and working classes. In his novella, “The Metamorphosis,” the main character Gregor Samsa awakes from sleep to find himself turned into a monstrous bug and must cope with the division it brings with his family and work. This theme in the story is said to portray Kafka’s life.

In his novel, “The Trial”, the main character Josef is an ordinary workingman who is arrested and is tried for execution and never learns why he was convicted.

Born into a middle-class, German-speaking Jewish family on July 3, 1883, in Prague, Bohemia (now Czech Republic), Kafka spent most of his life coming to terms with his domineering father and the oppressive lifestyle of his family. His father, Herman Kafka, was a strict business retailer of fancy men and women’s goods, while his mother, Julie, helped manage Herman’s business. Both of Kafka’s parents would work up to 12 hours a day.

After getting a degree in Doctor of Law in 1906, he started working graveyard shifts for an Italian insurance company in 1907, until his unhappiness led him to another insurance company, Worker’s Accident Insurance Institute . He worked there until 1922, when he discovered he had tuberculosis.

Kafka, throughout his life, suffered from clinical depression and social anxiety, which is said to have led him to his physical illnesses of insomnia, constipation and migraines — and ultimately died because of his tuberculosis on June 3rd,1924.

Whether Kafka’s personal life of suffrage ran parallel with his writing or not, what he accomplished in the literary and philosophical world, during his time, was somewhat prophetic. He was among the first to argue the degrading impact of bourgeois labor, as his literature predicted the post-modern corporate world we live in today and the alienation of modern man — he depicted the modernism movement.

Critics has hailed Kafka for his “universality” in his writing —able to be interpreted with many posibilities. “The Metamorphosis” has inspired Catholics, Freudians and even Marxists, each in a different way. He oscillates between allegory and realism, parabolic — a technique where he manages to make his parables succeed in distorting the moral.

Kafka remains as one of the leading figures of the modernist movement and a pioneer to the philosophical idea of existentialism, building off his greatest influences, Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Charles Dickens.

His most important works include:

“The Metamorphosis”
“The Trial”
“In the Penal Colony”
“A Hunger Artist”
“Before the Law”
“The Judgement”

Works cited: Barnes & Nobles Classics, “The Metamorphosis and Other Stories

http://www.kafka.org/

http://www.kafka-online.info/