Stranger Than Fiction Review- Turner Schmidt #questusreviewus

Stranger Than Fiction is certainly a strange movie, and is about as close to a book as a movie can get considering the fact that the whole movie is narrated in the exact same way that a book is (I definitely understand why it was picked for this class). It is about an IRS auditor named Harold Crick (played by Will Ferrell) who has OCD. He pays extremely close attention to his watch, making sure that he does everything at the exact same time for the exact same amount of time each day. One day, he begins to hear a faceless narrator narrating his entire life which begins to drive him crazy. Also, at the same time, his watch begins to malfunction, and when he asks a stranger for the time, the narrator mentions that that act would result in his “imminent death.” In searching for answers as to who this narrator is and about his death, he meets Jules Hilbert, a literary professor. Jules tells him to figure out whether his “story” that the narrator is narrating is a tragedy or comedy, to which he decides it is a tragedy based off of his interactions with a baker, Ana Pascal, who he is both auditing and attracted to. Eventually, he finds his author, Karen Eiffel, who he learns has drafted his death already. Afraid to read the draft, Harold gives it to Jules to read, who proclaims that it is a masterpiece and says that he must let the ending persist, claiming that death is inevitable. At the end, Eiffel decides not to kill Harold, and instead has his watch destroyed, which was basically its own character throughout the movie.

First of all, Will Ferrell was a strange pick for the lead of this movie. I’m used to seeing him in movies like Stepbrothers, Elf, and Anchorman, so when I saw him in Stranger Than Fiction, I wasn’t particularly pleased. Seeing him as a sad, lonely, and frankly not very funny character was a bit of a bummer to me personally, which kind of put a damper on the movie at first for me. But, he eventually grew on me as the movie progressed, and by the end I was ok with his kind and loving character, especially once he sang that song at Ana’s house. Really, his whole relationship with Ana made him a much more likable character. Looking back on it, his transformation from the strange OCD hermit to the kind person he was in the end was heartwarming.

One thing that bothered me particularly was the humanization of the watch. I didn’t like that the writers tried to make it into some sort of “character” that had a mind of its own. I guess that it helped the ending come together, but I think the watch could have been less of a focus in the movie.

I did enjoy the whole narration bit of the movie. Many movies are narrated, but not in the way that this movie is- it really was meant to sound like a book rather than pure movie narration. Not only that, the whole concept of the movie- that Harold could actually helplessly hear his narration, was an interesting concept to explore. I think it would be interesting to read a book where the characters in the book could hear the narration of the book, although that might start to get extremely confusing. It would have also been humorous to hear the narrator from a comedy book narrate his life, or really just have a narrator that was positive and would say something like, “Then, Harold bought a winning lottery ticket” or something like that. Perhaps that would have been a better use of Will Ferrell as a main character- having the narrator be a comedic one.

The one thing that really bothered me about this movie was the fact that his death was so inevitable. Just because Jules said that the ending was a masterpiece, it meant that Harold had to die in the way that Eiffel wrote it. Really? This is a human life we are talking about. Surely just because a book’s ending is a masterpiece doesn’t mean that someone actually has to DIE. It would have been much more realistic in my mind if Eiffel didn’t even hurt Harold in the first place. But, I guess it makes for a good ending. In my eyes, it was just a silly that just because Jules thought it was a masterpiece, Harold had to die.

All in all, I give this movie a 4 out of 5 stars. Perhaps if the narrator was comedic, this movie could have been a major hit. It would have been hilarious to watch a funny narrator put Will Ferrell through a bunch of funny scenes. Regardless, the plot and characters of Stranger Than Fiction were interesting, and it was a good watch.

Russian Doll Review by Wei Chee Chen #QuestusReviewus

Russian Doll is a comedy-drama television show that aired in 2019. The entire television show is about two protagonists named Nadia and Alan. They are both reliving the same day(s) over and over again, and they realized later on that they were dying at the same time. The plot to this television show isn’t unique, taking the idea from other shows and movies. Some examples are Happy Death Day (2017) and Groundhog Day (1993). However, the show has some unique twists that these other movies don’t have.

Since the plot wasn’t unique to me, I didn’t find the show interesting—even found it a little slow—for the first few episodes when it was just about Nadia. Once Alan was introduced for the first time in the elevator, I was finally eager to binge watch the show and learn about the new twist to the plot. Although I found Nadia’s personality annoying, I enjoyed the idea of completely different personalities for the two protagonists: one was completely carefree and another cared too much. Nadia was completely carefree and always smoking or drinking; Alan was very detail-oriented and clean, making the viewers assume that he was OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder). Nadia had a complicated past with her dead mother, and the audience only catches glimpses of the past that accumulate into what actually happened between them. Alan would recite affirmations every morning such as “I am beautiful. I am loved,” making it seem as though he doesn’t believe he’s loved or beautiful. Nadia’s death was mostly ironic and funny, and the first death was getting hit by a car because she wanted to get her lost cat. Alan’s first death was suicide by jumping off of a building since he was so sad that he was dumped by his girlfriend.

Another aspect of the show that should’ve been better was the change in the point of view (POV). Since the plot was building, I was aware of all the small details and one of them was the change in the point of view. I mainly noticed it with Nadia when she started to relive her day(s) in the beginning of the death loop. The two main point of views were first-person and third-person point of views. Nadia would walk on the street and then the POV would switch to first-person point of view, so the audience could notice the people or items that Nadia was observing. I liked the idea of letting the audience figure out about items and living organisms rotting, dying, and disappearing, even if the point of view made it obvious with the flowers drooping. I can see how the POV can be helpful if the audience thinks back to what happened in the show such as seeing the flower drooping or noticing Alan drunk at the store in the first episode.

One small improvement should be more character development with Alan. I understand that he has a girlfriend that wants to end the relationship, but I want to know why he needs to recite affirmations and why he’s depressed. Did something happen in his past with his family? The audience figures out Nadia’s relationship with her mom, but they don’t know much about Alan’s past relationship.

I enjoyed the distortion of time in the Russian Doll. Most shows have a timeline, but in the show, it would flash back into Nadia’s past life as a young girl. The audience would never know when they would be flashed back into the past, but the flashbacks helped fill in some past information about Nadia for the audience. Another distortion of time in the Russian Doll is when the two characters would live for longer by a day or two, which made me interested to see if the two main characters finally figured out how to stay alive. Some examples were when Nadia saved Ruth from the gas leak or visited her ex-boyfriend’s daughter for the first time. At other times, they would die ironically, which was sometimes funny and fit into the “comedy” genre of the show.

Overall, after I got past the first few episodes, I was hooked on the show and binged watch the rest of the episodes. I had to keep watching to figure out why two characters were stuck in the same death loop. As a comedy should, I ended up laughing towards the end after I realized how ironic Nadia’s death were. I loved the balance between the two main characters’ life, and I like how Russian Doll changed the idea of a death loop by adding two characters that live through the death loops.

S-Town Review

I really enjoyed listening to S-Town. Brian Reed digs deep into the life of John B. and Woodstock, Alabama and reveals a lot about the nature of people. Specifically, I was surprised by how much insight the podcast gives into the difference between truth and personal knowledge and how we try to reconcile this discrepancy. This can be seen most apparently when the narrative follows the conflict between Tyler and Reta.

Brian confirms that Tyler and Reta consistently report the same facts in their retellings of the story. However, the two parties walk away from each incident with different conclusions. This paradox occurs because a person’s knowledge of the external world is always filtered through past knowledge, experiences, and personal biases. Tyler established a very close relationship with John and his mother before John’s death, but Reta sees a stranger seemingly taking advantage of her relatives. Neither side has all the information, so they fill in the blanks with assumptions. People base their beliefs on the world as they know it, and not the world as it is.

This information asymmetry also reveals the failings of S-Town’s journalism (and journalism in general). Brian’s goal in the beginning is to uncover the truth behind a potential murder and its coverup in Woodstock. In the end, he realizes that no murder ever occured, despite almost everyone in the town telling him that the suspected killer confessed to the crime. After hearing snippets and rumors, the townspeople transform a story about a fight into something much more sinister through a big game of telephone. Journalism is based in large part on interviews with people, but S-Town reveals that these testimonials can be wildly inaccurate.

Sometimes, despite Brian’s best efforts, a conclusion can’t be reached. Did John leave behind gold and where is it? Who is right, Tyler or Reta? Did John have mercury poisoning? All of these questions are left unanswered because conclusive evidence couldn’t be gathered. In the case of mercury poisoning, we have testimonials from John’s horologist friends and professional opinions, but it’s been too long since John’s death to verify his mercury levels for sure. I think Brian realizes the danger of giving the reader incomplete information. He tries to remind the reader of alternative possibilities whenever an outcome is uncertain and admits when he doesn’t know something. In this way, he allows readers to fill in the blanks, but also makes them aware that they’re doing so.

Brian’s apparent awareness of how his journalism might be misinterpreted also leads me to the problems I have with the podcast. At one point Brian reveals John’s off-the-record story about his relationship with a specific man. Brian decides to tell this story and states several reasons for doing so. He says:

First, since John died, two other people who knew him well have told me the same information on the record. Also, John was very clear that he did not believe in God or an afterlife. So John, in his own view, is worm dirt now, unaffected by this. And lastly, what John disclosed, and where it led me after he died, helped me understand him so much more. And I think trying to understand another person is a worthwhile thing to do.

The first point seems obviously flawed. Just because John shared the information privately with two close friends does not mean John is ok with sharing the information publicly. The second reason has some validity, but while John may be dead and unaffected, other people’s memory of John is very much alive and can be affected. I think the third point is valid, but also subjective. Additionally, Brian seems to tell this story with little care for the other man’s well being. He publicly reveals that a married man living in the southern US had, at one point, a romantic relationship with John. This is obviously dangerous and could ruin his life. I don’t believe Brian adequately protected the man’s identity, and I don’t think Brian could have except by omitting this section from S-Town. It’s not difficult to imagine the man’s wife, upon listening to S-Town, could deduce that her husband was the “anonymous” individual that Brian interviewed. At this point, Brian should be well aware of how giving away even a little bit of information about someone can lead way to dangerously inaccurate rumors.

I also think Brian imposes too much of his own opinion into some parts of John’s life. Brian paints John’s tattoo (church) sessions as a form of cutting – indicative of some sort of mental illness. In a Vox review of the podcast, Aja Romano talks about needle play as a sexual fetish. In this context, John’s ritual could be seen as an act of pleasure rather than a form of self-harm. However, Brian uncharacteristically fails to mention alternatives to his assumption.

S-Town demonstrates that truth is easily distorted and beliefs don’t run parallel to facts. It also shows how this makes S-Town’s very own journalism a challenge. Though Brian Reed does his best to overcome these issues, S-Town still fails in some aspects.

Vox review:


Russian Doll Review – Farris Al-Quqa

With the rise of streaming services like Netflix and Hulu, we have seen a dramatic shift in the way TV shows are produced and released. Namely, as opposed to the more discontinuous, traditional style of releasing a new episode every week, full TV show seasons are now made available all at once, allowing viewers to binge watch whole seasons within a matter of days. In keeping with this new means of content delivery, “Russian Doll” embraces the growth of binge culture in television, as it tailors its storyline and production to create a more movie-like experience in the form of a television show.

“Russian Doll” follows a woman named Nadia who celebrates her 36th birthday at a party hosted by her friend Maxine in New York City. On that night, she is killed in a car accident, but instead of outright dying, she ends up reliving her 36th birthday from the beginning again. With this, she finds herself stuck in a loop where she repeatedly dies and is forced to relive her birthday party from the beginning. As she investigates this phenomenon, she meets a man named Alan who, like Nadia, is also stuck in a repeating death loop, except he continues to relive the day that his girlfriend of nine years breaks up with him. The two characters then work together to unravel this mysterious occurrence and to figure out how to escape their never-ending time loops.

While “Russian Doll’s” plot may sound very repetitious and hollow at the surface, the show deeply develops the background and personality of the main characters. Nadia is portrayed as a tough, cynical, and egotistical chain-smoker who lives largely in the moment and pushes away her problems, such as her guilt over her mother’s death. In contrast, Alan is portrayed as a caring, shy, and feeble man who struggles to get over his girlfriend Beatrice and the context behind their breakup. This foil between the two main characters creates a compelling duo that helps the story flow and makes the ending all the more satisfying. Supplementary characters like Mike and Horse also help keep the story dynamic and interesting by fleshing out their environment and creating complex relationships between the characters that help us learn more about Nadia and Alan’s true selves. Additionally, the ambiance and aesthetic from environments like Maxine’s apartment, paired with the show’s melancholic violin music and the repetition of the song “Gotta Get Out,” create an eerie mood that well suits the situation that the characters find themselves in. “Russian Doll” is not just a story about two characters who experience multiple deaths and find themselves stuck in a time loop, but rather, it is a story which explores underlying themes on friendship and on overcoming each other’s flaws.

Additionally, aided by Netflix’s ad-free viewing experience and the release of the entire first season in one day, “Russian Doll’s” overall structure very much felt like a long movie that was broken into eight individual episodes, which, funnily enough, I found to be very effective. While, in a sense, the storyline was made discrete by breaking it down into shorter episodes, the lengths of the episodes made the viewing experience feel less intimidating and less like a chore, and the plot’s overall continuity made for a very entertaining show to watch in one sitting.

Although binge watching TV shows has become more commonplace nowadays, personally, I’m not a big fan of binge watching shows. To me, binge watching a TV show is akin to scarfing down a meal as quickly as possible; you don’t have enough time to truly enjoy and appreciate its taste. I feel like it’s better to leave some time in between watching episodes of a TV show to allow you to really internalize and think through the meaning and the significance of the events in the story before continuing. However, “Russian Doll’s” premise and overall movie-like feel left me captivated, and I couldn’t help but binge watch the entire first season in a day. Its intriguing storyline, deep character development, nice mix of comedy and drama, and meticulous attention to detail keep you engrossed and leave you wanting to know what will happen next. I couldn’t recommend it enough.

Amazon Review: The OA, by Turner Schmidt

If you can handle a show with an interesting concept but somewhat confusing organization, then Brit Marling’s first season of The OA is right for you. This Netflix Original is about Prairie (otherwise known as The OA) and her troubling and strange life story. She grew up in Russia with her father where she experienced a near death experience which blinded her. She was then subsequently put up for adoption and later adopted by an American couple. She decided later in life to run from her adopted parents while blind, in search of her Russian biological father. On her return home to her adopted parents seven years later, Prairie had full eyesight, and an extremely troubling story to tell to a select few.

While missing, Prairie was (allegedly, according to her telling) kidnapped by the evil Dr. Happ, who was obsessed with studying near death experiences. In order to study his obsession, Dr. Happ kidnapped and enslaved people who had near death experiences and put them through countless near-death experiences in order to study what happened after death. Along with Prairie were a handful of other enslaved people who Dr. Happ was studying. Through their numerous trips to the afterlife and back, Prairie and her other enslaved friends picked up a series of movements that when put together, had the power to heal, send people to other dimensions, and (spoiler alert) stop school shootings. After Dr. Happ caught on to the movements and learned them himself, he freed Prairie, leaving her with the mission of teaching a group of friends in her hometown the movements in order to free her friends that were still trapped by Dr. Happ, or worse, in another dimension.

One of the main components of this show was time and how it was broken up. We learned all about Prairie’s story of kidnapping and enslavement through her telling of her story to others- the show was not played out in chronological order, but rather through a series of flashbacks that could sometimes leave viewers confused. Especially at the beginning of the show, viewers had absolutely no clue of what is going on. But, as the show progressed, everything became clearer until the end, when most questions were answered and the plot began to make sense. I believe that the structure of time in this show was a double-edged sword. On one hand, the breakup of time and the confusion that came with it kept viewers interested and invested in the show, wanting to find out what happened to Prairie and why she brought together a strange group of people to tell her story to. On the other hand, the confusion due to the breakup of time could make viewers disinterested and annoyed.

Another component of the show which bothered me particularly was how silly the dance moves were that Prairie learned in the afterlife. Up until the first dance moves, I was invested and interested in the show. But once Prairie started doing the movements, I immediately lost interest. Really? Of all things she could have learned in the afterlife, she learned those silly dance moves that had magical powers? The dance moves had me rolling my eyes and shaking my head. As I watched them for the first time, I cringed the entire time, and the last scene of the show pretty much ruined the entire thing for me due to the dance movements.

Lastly, I thought the concept of the show, near death experiences and the afterlife, was a very interesting topic to explore (although I didn’t like that the dance moves were what came out of the afterlife). To me, the afterlife is the number one biggest mystery in the universe, which is really what kept me invested in this somewhat confusing show. Hopefully the next season of the show will get rid of the dance moves and explore the afterlife in a more mature and less silly manner.

All in all, I give The OA a 3.6 out of 5 stars. The topic of the show was interesting and the characters were deep and well developed, but a few flaws such as the order of time and the silly dance moves could deter viewers from watching. Hopefully the second season will have a less confused sense of time and ditch the silly dance moves in favor of a deeper look into the afterlife.

#TheOA #neardeathexperiences #review #english #netflix #afterlife

The OA Review – Farris Al-Quqa


In a time where streaming services like Netflix and Hulu offer us thousands of shows and movies to watch at the tips of our fingers, it’s easy for some shows to get lost in the crowd, and with how frequently new shows release, it can be difficult to watch everything you want. Staying true to this, Netflix’s original show “The OA” remains largely overshadowed by similar mystery dramas like Stranger Things, but nonetheless, it brings to the table a unique take on the traditional science fiction mystery genre.

“The OA” is a supernatural mystery show that follows a blind girl named Prairie Johnson who went missing seven years ago but mysteriously reappears in her hometown, now with the ability to see and with a set of odd scars on her back. Referring to herself as “The OA” and refusing to explain to her adopted parents or the FBI what happened to her, Prairie gathers a group of five people, a high school teacher (Betty Broderick-Allen, or “BBA”) and four high school boys (Steve, French, Buck, and Jesse), and tells them her life story in an abandoned house. In her story, she explains how she was born to a Russian oligarch and had a near-death experience after a tragic school bus crash. Following the near-death experience, she lost her sight and had to move to the US with her aunts for safety. In the US, she learned that her father died in Russia, leaving her frustrated and in denial. After her aunt allowed her to be adopted by another family (Nancy and Abel Johnson), she ran off to New York, believing that she would meet her father there. Instead, she met a scientist named Hap who imprisoned her and studied her and four other people (Homer, Scott, Rachel, and Renata) who had near-death experiences. While imprisoned, these five people discover “the movements” that open a portal to a new dimension, and after Prairie escapes Hap’s island, Prairie teaches these movements to the group of five people she gathered in the abandoned house to rescue the other prisoners.

Unlike traditional storytelling in TV shows, “The OA” takes a unique approach to the development of its main plot, combining traditional aspects of storytelling in TV where the plot develops as different events unfold with oral storytelling akin to that of ancient times. Much of the plot is revealed when Prairie describes her life story to the five people she assembled in the abandoned house, and due to the unusual nature of her story, it creates a sense of doubt among the people she knows in the modern day that influences her future actions. Paired with its on-point acting, well-suited casting, and immaculately filmed scenes, this combination creates a greater sense of depth and complexity that leaves even the audience wondering whether her story is true. Throughout the season, each episode felt very carefully planned (though there are some issues that will be addressed later) and made great use of foreshadowing and allusion (particularly to “The Odyssey” with Homer and to Jesus with Scott’s death and resurrection) to progress the story and keep it exciting and thought-provoking. The environments, while sometimes appearing artificial (ex: the space Khatun was in), created an immersive atmosphere with a very ominous and melancholic tone (see the end of episode three or Prairie’s neighborhood) that made the story very captivating. These characteristics of “The OA” come together to create a very engaging and well put viewing experience that captures your interest and maintains it throughout the entirety of the season.

As detailed and enjoyable as the season was, however, it left behind some loose ends and questionable scenes that just made it feel, for the lack of a better word, hallow or out of line at times. For example, episode three depicts Prairie attempting to poison Hap with her homemade stew, only for him to have an allergic reaction to the tomato paste in the ingredients she used. While the scene leaves you at the edge of your seat, it seemed strange that this would be an issue in the first place for a man as cautious and sharp as Hap. If he knew about his allergy to tomato paste, why wasn’t he more careful when purchasing the ingredients for the stew in the first place, and how did he not have any reaction to the sleeping pills Prairie laced the stew with? Certain scenes, like the scenes with Steve and Angie in the computer lab or the scenes with French and his scholarship, didn’t have enough development and felt lacking overall. While it’s great that the writers tried to give these characters greater depth to help them connect with the audience and feel more realistic, these plotlines needed to be more fleshed out, as we never saw what happened to French after his scholarship dinner or what happened to Steve after he and Angie kissed in the computer lab. As of now, they felt rather pointless, though, perhaps, they may become more relevant in season 2. The ending, in particular, where a school shooter breaks into the school and the group of five that Prairie originally assembled performs the movements she taught them, felt very contrived and phoned in, as if the show writers had to find any excuse to end the season and create some sort of drama or suspense that loosely related to the plot. If school shootings weren’t as common as they have been recently in the US, then the scene may have felt more shocking or suspenseful, but with how increasingly common school shootings are becoming and how random and out of left field the scene was, I couldn’t help but feel underwhelmed and turned off.

As a person who barely watches TV shows anymore and would have never heard of “The OA” had it not been for my English class, I have to say that “The OA” was a great show. Although I have some grievances with the first season, particularly its ending, its overall attention to detail, fitting cast of characters, phenomenal filming and acting, ominous tone, and allusions to other works make it a very intriguing and captivating show which leaves you wanting more.

With season 2 right around the corner, I’m hopeful that “The OA” will continue to impress and improve upon the already fantastic season 1, and for those who are considering giving the show a try, I would highly recommend it.


A review of Melville’s writing and language in Pierre (2 stars out of 5)

Melville’s writing in Pierre is like the rambling of a small child. Sentences run off in bouts of senseless drivel, meaning obscures itself in language reminiscent of third grade thesaurus abuse, and uninteresting points repeat themselves over and over again. The long and winding sentences made me constantly lose focus. Here are some selected examples that really grind my gears:

“And now, by irresistible intuitions, all that had been inexplicably mysterious to him in the portrait, and all that had been inexplicably familiar in the face, most magically these now coincided; the merriness of the one not inharmonious with the mournfulness of the other, but by some ineffable correlativeness, they reciprocally identified each other, and, as it were, melted into each other, and thus interpenetratingly uniting, presented lineaments of an added supernaturalness.” (IV, V)

“laterally obstructed by insinuated misgivings as to the ultimate utilitarian advisability of the enthusiast resolution that was his” (VI, I)


While often they are overbearing and nonsensical, children sometimes possess a powerful simplicity. They can cut through the crap, and deliver often-overlooked ideas. For example, Hold On by Tom Waits is inspired by this line from his young daughter: “But it’s so hard to dance that way / When it’s cold and there’s no music.” Similarly, Melville sometimes provides direct and meaningful messages with simple language. Here are a few examples of my favorite lines in Pierre:

“For, whatever some lovers may sometimes say, love does not always abhor a secret, as nature is said to abhor a vacuum. Love is built upon secrets, as lovely Venice upon invisible and incorruptible piles in the sea” (IV, IV)

“then Pierre’s enthusiastic heart sunk in and in, and caved clean away in him, as he so poignantly felt his first feeling of the dreary heart-vacancies of the conventional life” (V, I)

“while vaguely to his secret self Pierre revolved these strange revealings; but now he was all attention again as Isabel resumed.” (VIII, IV)

^(I really just like the alliteration here)

“For there is no faith, and no stoicism, and no philosophy, that a mortal man can possibly evoke, which will stand the final test of a real impassioned onset of Life and Passion upon him… For Faith and philosophy are air, but events are brass. Amidst his gray philosophizings, Life breaks upon a man like a morning.” (XXI, II)

The love deep as death—what mean those five words, but that such love can not live, and be continually remembering that the loved one is no more?” (XXIII, I)


I loved Pierre and I hated it. I wished Melville wrote less ambiguously and more directly. Underneath the grotesque word choice and lengthy incoherence, there were a few meaningful and inspiring ideas.

The Man of the Crowd – Farris Al-Quqa

“’Er lasst sich nicht lesen’ – it does not permit itself to be read.”

Au contraire.

In a time where industrialization and urbanization was in full force in the United States, American society rapidly changed as people began to move from rural America to cities. Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Man of the Crowd” explores this change from an unusual perspective, making for a rather interesting take on the world we live in.

“The Man of the Crowd” describes an unknown man in a coffee shop in London who observes the crowds of people walking by outside, categorizing these people into different types and investigating their collective and individual characteristics. Among these people, one man, in particular, described as “a decrepid old man, some sixty-five or seventy years of age,” catches the narrator’s interest, as, unlike the rest of the crowd, the narrator could not easily classify this man. The narrator’s intrigue over the man’s unusual mannerisms and appearance persuades him to follow the old man and observe him in detail. Roaming throughout London and its many bazaars and shops, the old man leads the narrator on a chase spanning the entire night. By the next morning, the narrator, weary and exhausted, presents himself to the old man, only for the old man to not even notice him and continue along.

Throughout the story, Edgar Allan Poe highlights characteristics of the crowd that remain very relevant in American society today even as the world has become more interconnected – namely, the ideas of anonymity, isolation, and social class. As urban centers developed in the United States in the 1800s, people increasingly began to move from their tightly knit villages and groups where everybody knew each other to massive cities with millions of people in search of the “American Dream” and greater opportunities. With this shift, many people experienced a newfound sense of privacy and seclusion, as they left behind everybody they knew and entered an entirely new world. Independence and individuality, rather than collectivism and togetherness, were highly valued during this period and worked to stratify society. “The Man of the Crowd” explores these themes, highlighting how, even though the people were not physically lonely or isolated, they were still fairly separate and unknown, something that is becoming increasingly more prevalent in the modern day even though we are more interconnected than ever with the Internet. The narrator’s categorization of the people into groups like the “upper clerks” and the “pick-pockets” further demonstrates how social stratification contributed to the level of individualism and isolation that permeated during this period. These underlying ideas give the narrator’s actions greater significance, making what seems like him watching and following people like a stalker become something more meaningful.

While, at first glance, “The Man of the Crowd” may seem like nothing more than a dull or pointless story, its unique perspective and well-paced storytelling make for a rather enjoyable read. Its relevancy to the modern day and its underlying themes on American society during the 1800s make it interesting for anybody remotely interested in US history or the social sciences.

For those who are unsure of whether they should read this or not, I would highly recommend it.

My take on Melville’s Pierre: dense, difficult, but interestingly constructed (by A. S.)

Pierre, or the Ambiguities, comes across to me as a showcase of the creative and expressive inner-workings of Melville’s mind, but it took me a while into the book to realize that. While beginning to read it, I was struck by how dense and heavy the style of writing was, and I found it often difficult to follow and focus on because of the overly detailed, rambling quality of the writing — at first, I wasn’t appreciative of it at all. And to be quite honest, I could hardly get through it without taking several breaks throughout my reading sessions. But after discussing the concepts of Pierre in class and continuing to read it, I began to realize that the rambling quality of the writing is an art form in a sense.

When the idea in class was brought up to me that the stylistic choice was possibly a purposeful decision to convey the idea of a “stream of consciousness”, or to help characterize the insanity of Pierre as a person, or even not on purpose, and could portray the unusual mechanisms of the literary mind of Melville, I realized that it was a fascinating literary choice. It began to interest me that the fact that the writing style comes across as insane and nonsensical reflects the character of Pierre in the sense that he and his ideals truly do not fit in with the world he is in. Overall, I would not go as far as to say that the writing style of Pierre, or the Ambiguities, was enjoyable or engaging to read at all, but I will say that it had more depth and creativity than what my first impression of it was, in an artistic and interesting manner. And I do understand why some would describe the language as elegant, sprawling, and beautiful sentences strung together which creates a never-ending, yet reflective and symbolic, psychological stream of consciousness.

Furthermore, the idea of time and how it is represented and spread out over the course of the story was also fascinating to me, and interestingly constructed by Melville. This slow-moving and drawn out organization of time reminded me of when I was a child, when a single day would feel much longer than a day in my life would be today, as a young adult. Something about childhood and growing up makes time run differently, and this book reflected that youthful “coming-of-age” characteristic. Even though this organization of time did make it much more difficult to read and follow the direction of the plot, it was still a unique facet of the story which I grew to appreciate. I feel that way about the book as a whole — even though it isn’t easy to read, and not always understandable or necessarily “enjoyable” in the typical sense, it was abstract, unique, interesting, and brilliantly constructed to reflect the symbols of abnormality throughout the story, such as Pierre’s familial and romantic relationships (which don’t seem to differ much to Pierre), his personality, his decisions, and his overly-romantic and strange outlook on life compared to the societal standards of the time as his life unravels as the book goes on.

Would I recommend this to a friend for an enjoyable read? No.

But would I recommend this to a fellow student to experience an interesting way of thinking, like a scholarly puzzle in a literary form? Perhaps.

Overall Rate: 3 stars / 5 stars

Melville – Literary Genius or Failed Author

Review: Pierre, or the Ambiguities by Herman Melville

In short, if you want to be taken on a literary adventure for its references rather than its tale or themes, give this book a shot. If not, I would consider skipping on this torturous narrative. To give the novel some credit, the way Melville writes the chronicle allows it to be at times enjoyable, if you read just for the sake of reading some descriptive imagery and the mentions of famous literary works and art.  As a reader that cherishes the analysis of the “so what?” question following the end of a good read, Pierre leaves you too tired to even ask.

Pierre plays with the concept of time in a way that is no longer enjoyable for the reader, drawing out single, irrelevant moments of time and jumping into unnecessary background context for a whole book. One theme that I can show some appreciation for is difficult communication. It is evident how difficult it is for the narrative to communicate with us, the readers, even some of the most simple plot developments. There are tons of ambiguities, and maybe this was Melville’s intention to challenge the mode of literature. How could a novel potentially be masterful in philosophy but completely horrendous in plot? Was the way Melville pained his readers an act of art or just bad authorship? Either way, my final thoughts is that any message that Melville was trying to convey could have been done in an easier and more impactful way that wouldn’t make me question whether his ambiguities were enticing or just the outcome of bad writing.

Final Review : 3/5

Read Again? : No