It is well known what a paradox means. In general, it is a statement that is self-contradictory or even absurd. But its main feature is that this statement still keeps a part of the truth in it. This term came from the Greek word “paradoxos”, which means “contrary to received opinion” or “expectation”. The paradox is often used in literature in order to make a reader confused and view the point in the other new way. It attracts attention of the reader or of the listener.
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There are also semantic paradoxes which depend on the language structure. This type is mostly used as a rhetorical sleight in the poetry or epigrams. In literature there are two defined forms: the particular (local) one and the general (structural) one. The second type is more complex in both poetry and in prose. Some critics even have a suggestion that the language of poetry might be called a language of paradox.
The most usual and known example which is frequently used by teachers or lecturers in order to explain the paradox and its idea, is a “jumbo shrimp”. It is obvious, that “jumbo” and “shrimp” are the statements of contradiction. There are also a lot of examples in literature, such as “The beginning of the end”, “Bittersweet”, “Be cruel to be kind”. Or a joke in an everyday conversation: “If you didn’t get this message, call me”. There are plenty of other examples which show the frequent usage of this device.
It may seem that paradox has an amusing or ingenious meaning, but indeed it has a serious meaning in the literature world. It is so, as it involves to the summation of the main idea in the literary work. The reason of usage such a statement instead of direct explanation of everything is following the purpose to prevent the work of being boring. It is much more interesting for the reader or the listener to search for the right meaning and to find it out, as it would be given and fed from the silver platter. The reader likes to think and to guess the implicit sense. Furthermore, the paradox statements are easier to remember and very soon they become the quotes which everyone uses, but not everyone knows where they come from.
Valerie Martin shows her audacity in the novel Property, where she explores from the inner and the outer point of view the lives of two women caught up in the slavery of the historical fact. Everything takes place on a sugar plantation in Louisiana. This is a story about a slave owner’s wife Mrs. Manon Gaudet and her personal maid Sarah. The irony is that Manon is childless and her husband rapes Sarah. Later Sarah bore two children. The author describes the relationships of these two women, their complicated psychological condition.
Both characters are totally unhappy with their destinies for different reasons. The story ends up with them becoming ultimately similar to each other. From the very beginning their lives are completely different, whereas not only Sarah is an unhappy person, because she is a slave raped many times by her owner; but also Manon is not satisfied with her life, because life with her rude husband would be very difficult even for a woman who would love him. For her, a person who does not love her husband, this is a double challenge. This novel shows how the slavery can kill humanity in the slaves. The paradoxical situation is also shown with the white women within the cruel world of slavery. The paradox of the whole story is that both women do not depend on their status, money or race; they are unhappy because of their life.
The saddest thing is that even when Sarah runs away and gets a chance finally to become free, she returns back to her owner. It seems that now she will live her own life, she will be her owner and no one else, but she cannot move forward to free life. First of all, it is due to her race and gender. As all the slaves, she does not have any right of voice. She is just used to work unremittingly and she does not imagine how she can live another life. Her consciousness became enslaved at the same moment when she adopted her destiny and even does not dream about any changes. Moreover, she does not know how it is to live a normal life, to be free and to do what she wants. She has never had such a freedom. So, her freedom becomes a problem for her and she does not find the better solution as to turn back to her owner. She accepts her role. She is a property.
The opposite side of the paradox is Manon and her lifestyle. She is also very unhappy because she is a woman and that means that she also does not have any rights. The only difference is that she does not have to serve, as Sarah does. It also may be said that Manon was a property, too. The cause is her physiological nature of being a woman. She also does not have any rights to live and work as a free person. She is also a victim of the slavery world. At the same moment she is blinded by her strong racism to the servants, especially to Sarah. Her inner monologues show the reader her attitude to the life in a big house with the man she does not love. She is not jealous of Sarah’s relationship with her husband and of the children that she could never have.
Sarah depends on her owners because Manon gives her everything for living: accommodation as for a slave, some food. Actually, she does not need much because of her enslaved consciousness. On the other hand, Manon is not able to live without a servant. She is dependent too, but on the other level.
The paradox situation in lives of both women shows that there is no matter whether the woman is a slave or not. In the period of slavery even wealthy women and wives of wealthy husbands had not much more rights as compared to their own slaves and servants. This is the feature of this historical period. The most interesting thing in this novel is that this is a kind of the “slave fiction” genre that is retold by the slave owner and not by the third person. The ironical and paradoxical tendency of the plot fascinates the reader and keeps the suspense of the real events.
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