Download PDF by Mary Hufford: American Folklife: A Commonwealth of Cultures

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The harmony of prelapsarian Eden was that of man's acquiescent ignorance; the disharmony of the natural world, to fallen man, is that of its uncontrollability. His selfhood defies nature and battles with it but at the last must sink defeated. Abel's attempt to return symbolically to the unfallen state takes the form of a conscious imitation of nature's unconscious cruelty; he grafts human motives upon the indifferent. Abel's sacrifice of a ram is wrong because consciousness cannot atone with unconsciousness.

It is left for Cain to vindicate reason against superstition; that he has to do so by murder is ironic, to say the least. At any rate none of the four characters comprehends the meaning of these actions. It is for the reader to understand in terms, primarily, of acceptance and rejection. So long as man believed himself to be simply part of nature, he lived in a paradise. Death was there already, the biological cycle had begun, but man had not yet taken it personally —it was still objective. When man became selfconscious, his acceptance of nature changed into resistance, and with its normal machinery of death it seemed a threat to him.

The tragic fate awaiting this life has already been revealed in The Pot of Earth. "Einstein" is not tragic; it is not even precisely critical. It is an intellectual celebration of an intellectual triumph, attended by a voice bidding the triumphator remember that he is dust. MacLeish's tragic sense of the buried life, exposed in the impersonal symbolism of The Pot of Earth, is deeply sounded in The Hamlet of A. MacLeish (1928). An observation by MacLeish more than a decade later, in his essay "Poetry and the Public World," was made to introduce a kind of renunciation of this poem or at least of the attitudes it expresses: "The Hamlet of Shakespeare was the acceptance of a difficult age and the demonstration of the place, in that age, of poetry.

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American Folklife: A Commonwealth of Cultures by Mary Hufford


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