Monday, October 24, 2011

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

Another wonderful tale to add to this October collection is the short story by Washington Irving, "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow."  Yet again, this story has permeated popular culture, and we are all very familiar with terms like "The Headless Horseman," even if we don't know its source.  This story is well-known, full of great description, and a fun and easy read.

Irving first published "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" in 1820.  Apparently, he did not invent the Headless Horseman but borrowed the character from German folklore.  Nevertheless, I do believe Irving is responsible for making it such a popular haunted figure, and the long, lean, awkward Ichabod Crane was certainly his own creation.  In a twist among "horror stories," the narrator does not present the story very seriously but maintains a sense of humor in the undertone of the text.  Rather than trying to convince readers to be terrified of Ichabod's fate, he instead hints at its incredulity.

I just love the narration of this story.  Similar to The Turn of the Screw, the characters in the story love to sit around and swap their best ghost stories.  (I have to wonder, does this happen anymore?  Where are these storytelling parties by the fireplace?  We know even Lord Byron and Mary Shelley did this in real life.  I would love to be a part of a ghost story competition.  Anyway, I digress...)  Once again, this is not a standard third-person narration in which the voice of the text is detached and omniscient.  Instead, the narrator offers an interesting perspective because he engages with the story enough to have visited Sleepy Hollow but not so intimately to consider himself one of the people.  With his detailed description and amusing commentary, he can convince us that his story is true, but we can almost see the twinkle in his eye as he doubts its supernatural implications.  Moreover, the story itself is said to be "found among the papers of Mr. Knickerbocker," who records the story but does not narrate except for a comment in the postscript.  Thus, the theme of multi-level narration in October stories continues.

As I said, the narration of the story is rich with description and amusing.  We do not need a movie to picture the skinny, long limbs of Ichabod spilling awkwardly around the old horse, as he rides gallantly to woo the pretty girl.  We can likewise smile to ourselves as we imagine this grasshopper-like man bounce energetically around the dance floor and sweep everyone away.  The narrator also offers funny commentary about men and women, and sets up the rivalry between Ichabod Crane and Brom Bones - such great names! - with the ironically silly comparison of combating knights.  Yet at the crux of the story, we can also feel Ichabod's panic as he encounters the terrors of the darkness, and we are left in suspense without truly knowing what happened.

In my opinion, this is a perfect story to read in the fall.  To avoid spoiling anything, I'll stick to these descriptions rather than focusing on the plot too much.  We are exposed to all the sensory joys of a crackling fire, a brisk autumn wind, crisp warm apples, and an enormous feast of seasonal food.  In fact, the narrator nearly collapses into himself as he details the myriad meats, fruits, cakes, and pies which are "all mingled higgedly-piggedly" in a grant feast.  As I drooled through the descriptions, I found myself eager for Thanksgiving and my own fair share of pumpkin pie and an excess of side dishes.

I don't want to spend much more time on this story because I want it to keep this post as light and fun as the story itself.  Truly, this should not be taken too seriously, and I would be remiss if I skipped the humor in an attempt to dig too deeply.  So if you like autumn-themed descriptions and famous old tales, take a few moments to read "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" for yourself.  In fact, here's a convenient link for a full online version.  Now if only I had some pumpkin pie right now...

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Dracula - Group Read

I am so glad I finally read Bram Stoker's Dracula!  Friends have been telling me to read it for a while, and when I saw that Allie at A Literary Odyssey was hosting it for a group read, I just had to participate.  I didn't think I would necessarily like a story about Transylvanian vampires, but I completely misjudged it.  Dracula is well-written, thoughtful, and exciting.  It's just a really fun read, and I can't remember the last time I read a book for pure enjoyment.  I usually spend so much time analyzing books and searching for all the significance within the content that I don't often get swept up in the plot.  But Dracula did take me away and remind me that reading Classics can be fun as well as thought-provoking.

Once again, this October-themed story was not written in the traditional perspective of a third-person omniscient narrator.  I am so intrigued by the fact that Frankenstein, The Turn of the Screw, and Dracula are all written in the form of letters/diaries.  What is it about horror stories that inspire authors to write in this form?  I guess it must be the best way to maintain the suspense, for the narrator doesn't know what's going to happen either if he or she is part of the story as it is happening.  Likewise, it allows the author to jump in his timeline and withhold information which a different kind of narration might require.

The real skill of this book is Stoker's incredible ability to continually provide climactic points that keep you interested.  First, we have Jonathan Harker trapped in Dracula's castle.  This interaction becomes increasingly intense, as Jonathan realizes how serious the situation is and then acts courageously to overcome it.  As time ticks by, Jonathan knows a showdown is coming, and I couldn't believe it was the day before his face-off with Dracula a mere 24% into the story!  (I read this on my Kindle...)   Yet when Stoker suddenly switches to Lucy's story and leaves Jonathan hanging, I found I was equally interested in her predicament.  Once again, I thought this would be the main plot, but after another intense climax, this portion of the story also ends.  So he follows up by creating a new challenge, and it is time for the epic hunt for Dracula together with the danger surrounding Mina.  If I heard about these developments without actually reading the story, I would probably assume that the writing was unskilled and the transitions to multiple climaxes would be clumsy and sudden.  However, Stoker weaves them together seamlessly, and they interact and overlap to create one continuous, action-packed story.

But my favorite thing about the novel is the vampire-fighting dream team.  I can't think of another story that so successfully puts together a team of equal contributors who band together to defeat their foe.  (Ok, ok, I can hear Lord of the Rings fans screaming in my ear, but I personally enjoyed the teamwork of these vampire slayers better.)  Arthur, Quincey, John, Jonathan, Mina, and Van Helsing form such a great team.  I love the characterization Stoker gives to each person, and I especially love that he includes Mina as a vital and intelligent member.  Keep in mind that this was written in 1897, long before "Buffy" and female characters who were capable of discussing such a dangerous adventure, let alone acting in one! 

And yet, I'm not sure I can say that Mina is my favorite.  I love the good, brave heart of Quincey Morris and was thrilled to see him give Americans a good name.  All of the characters balance each other in wits, looks, skills, and personalities so that they form a fairly eclectic crew.  But I think my favorite of all is Professor Van Helsing.  I just love that the leader of this group is an old Dutch professor who has the tenacity and intelligence to do what needs to be done and conquer Count Dracula.  (I also couldn't help thinking that he and fellow professor Indiana Jones might be great friends...)

With eloquent writing and stimulating descriptions, Stoker creates a fascinating story which was destined to survive countless generations.  My heart was pounding as I neared the end of the novel, and it sets up such a perfect final image to conclude the epic tale.  So please, do yourself a favor and read Dracula this month for an exciting October Classic.  And be sure to check out the other posts in the group read!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Turn of the Screw

The next book I have chosen for my October reading is The Turn of the Screw by Henry James.  This well-known novella is a classic ghost story that people seem to love or hate.  It begins with a group of people swapping scary stories around a fireplace when one man claims that he knows a story so horrible that nothing else could possibly compare to it.  The group convinces him to share the story, and he reluctantly retrieves the ancient diary of a once-loved governess and begins to read.

The setting is perfect for a ghost story - a young, naive governess is sent to a mysterious and isolated English country home that is wrapped in mystery from the day she arrives.  She is told never to communicate with the legal guardian and attends to two recently orphaned children with only the housekeeper for company.  The children themselves are so beautiful and so well-behaved that it is suspicious, and she constantly guesses at their real thoughts and motivations.  Before long, she begins to see two eerie apparitions and then spends the rest of the story fretting about what to do as they repeatedly appear. 

I recently read James for the first time with Portrait of a Lady, but the only similarity I see in his writing is the ambiguous and sudden ending.  However, I think this is an extremely important thing for James, and so I want to concentrate on the concept of ambiguity in this story.  The main debate readers have with this tale is whether the ghosts were real or the governess was imagining them.  Truly, there is a legitimate argument for each interpretation.  It is never obvious that other people see the ghosts, and yet it is strongly suggested that she is not the only one.  She is able to perfectly describe the deceased people she claims to have never met, but it is conceivable that she may have known them or heard them described before.  Nevertheless, no one in the story doubts her, and we are largely inclined to believe that this is a straight-forward ghost story.

But there are still a few hang-ups, particularly in the character of the unnamed governess.  I don't think the readers are ever fully compelled to like the governess and embrace her as a heroic protagonist.  James certainly has the ability to create a lovable hero, (such as Isabel Archer), but I think he purposefully avoided that for the sake of the story.  One clear method of doing this was to keep the governess unnamed, thus hindering our connection with her.  Furthermore, she is quite emotional, and her speed in becoming attached to people questions the depth and validity of it.  In only two interviews with the guardian, she falls in love with him.  After just a few days with the children, she begins to refer to them as "my children", "my Miles", etc., which I personally find a bit disturbing.  She never comes across as particularly strong, and yet in her few moments of strength, she congratulates herself, thus diminishing our admiration.  Indeed, I have read some of book bloggers express their frustration with this story and their dislike of the protagonist.  But again, I think James did this intentionally.

Because we don't particularly like the protagonist, we are able to doubt her and maintain our suspense about the ending.  We never really trust her to do the right thing, nor can we predict her actions very well.  And the governess is certainly not the only source of ambiguity.  It is never really clear what the exact relationship was between the children and these two servants who are now haunting the premises.  It's also never clear why Miles was expelled from his school or even what happened to their parents in India.  And, of course, there's the ending.  What on earth happened?  More importantly, how did it happen??  All of these uncertainties can be very frustrating for readers who like everything to be spelled out, but James seems to think that the reader's imagination is more capable of creating scary and creepy plot lines than a detailed narrator could be.  I tend to agree with Henry James...

So yes, I liked The Turn of the Screw.  I like the fact that I don't really know what happened.  I like it when books compel me to keep thinking about them after I've finished.  I like that the protagonist may actually be the antagonist.  And I like reading a Victorian ghost story in October.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Masque of the Red Death

A literature lover cannot fully embrace the October reading season without devouring work by Edgar Allan Poe.  He truly captures a dark and suspenseful mood in his writing, and his eerie articulation is equally chilling and fascinating.  I will probably bring up more than one of his works, but I want to start with his short story, "The Masque of the Red Death."

I first read this story in high school, and even when I started to forget the details, I never forgot the essence of the story.  There was something about this story that really stuck with me, though I have never studied it closely or previously written about it.  But it's a quick read and easily accessible, so I reread it recently and encourage you to do the same.

In my opinion, Poe's real skill is his word choice.  He seems to carefully select every word in his writing so that it delivers precisely the feelings and connotations he wants to convey.  I am willing to bet that a remarkable number of the words he uses are only mentioned once each, thus creating a rich and diverse text to explore.  He is also a master of description, incorporating color, lighting, and sounds so thoughtfully that it delivers a distinct mood to readers.  In this story, Poe describes the eccentric castle of Prince Prospero, which is made of seven unique and symbolic rooms.  Each room is a different color and situated so that guests can only see one at a time.  The black room with blood-red windows is the most ominous, and everyone avoids it until they are forced to go there in retreat.

The setup of the story is that the country in which Prospero lives has been ravaged by the "Red Death," a plague gruesomely affecting a significant portion of the peasant population.  Yet rather than trying to help his citizens, Prospero hosts a masked party to cover up the ugliness with food, drink, and merriment.  He has invited all the important officials of the country and sealed off the walls of the castle so they can pretend the plague isn't really happening.  However, the Red Death enters the party amongst them and takes them all.  The final line of the story is awesome:

"And Darkness and Decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all."

However, this story is not good just because it is creepy and dark.  I would not include it in my blog if I thought its only merit was to offer a little October fun.  It is actually a thoughtful satire, and I think Poe sends a riveting and important message.  The easiest way to read this is to conclude that those in the highest class should share in the pain and desperation of the rest of citizens rather than pretend that they are immune to the country's problems.  (Maybe I'm overly exposed to "Occupy Wall Street," but this sounds eerily relevant right now.)  The Red Death invades their superficial pleasure-seeking and rips the false sense of security away from them in a stroke of righteous justice. 

Although I recognize this condemnation of the rich and selfish, I want to take this to a more personal level.  I think that this is actually the way we all live our lives.  We can easily fool ourselves into thinking that we have control in our lives, and it gives us a sense of security.  We build our own castles around us, made up of school, work, friends, family, and endless future plans.  However, the reality of life is that something can creep in among all of these things we have built and take them down in an instant.  I have had this happen a couple times in my life already, and it shows me just how vulnerable I am to circumstances outside of my control.  Moreover, we can also easily present ourselves with a mask on our faces, painted to look like the person we wish others to see.  I am often no better than the partiers in Prospero's castle, as I laugh nervously whenever hints of trouble sound around me and dive back into comfort and ease.  But then a time comes when we can no longer ignore the striking clock and must face the Masque of the Red Death or whatever it is that gets in our way.  Despite the morose nature of this, I think it is useful to recognize how true this can be so we can humble ourselves and appreciate the depth in the things we have while we do have them.

This is turning out to be kind of a strange post for me, as I can feel myself being influenced by the current cultural movement as well as some things going on in my personal life as I write this.  If I had created this post just a month ago, I'm sure I would have said something much different.  And while I feel a little more exposed than usual, I'm going to post this anyway, because I think it's cathartic and there's a chance it may be relevant to someone reading this as well.  Nevertheless, I can still appreciate this story as a creepy addition to a collection of October reading, and I hope you can too.

Friday, October 7, 2011


Yesterday, we learned that Tomas Tranströmer is the new Nobel Prize for Literature winner.  Because he's a poet and I know nothing about him, I will happily note it but move on.  I'm excited to be able to launch into the October reading season with Frankenstein by Mary Shelley.  During a blog hop several months ago, I asked you all what I should read next on my book list.  The majority of votes went to Sons and Lovers, which I dutifully read and enjoyed, and then the second highest vote was Frankenstein.   So I read it, liked it, and saved my comments for October. 

In some ways, I'm surprised it has taken me this long to read this classic.  It's one of those famous titles that absolutely everyone knows, even people who never read.  Yet in general, we have the wrong idea about the book.  In high school, I remember being surprised to learn that it was written by a woman and the character Frankenstein was actually the scientist and not the monster.  Yet because I knew these details, I considered myself to be adequately familiar with what I would expect in the text, and that was certainly not the case once I began reading.  Somehow, despite its presence in pop culture, I didn't know how the story was going to end and none of the plot twists were spoiled for me.  It's not like Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde, which has a twist ending that is nearly impossible to be ignorant of.  Moreover, I did not realize that the story was written in a sort of metanarrative, with at least three layers of narrator perspective. 

I don't think I would be spoiling anything to discuss this last concept.  The story is written in correspondance, as we read letters that Captain Robert Wallace wrote for his sister.  Captain Wallace is on a voyage to explore the North Pole when he discovers Frankenstein, the miserable and ailing scientist.  Wallace then relates Frankenstein's tale in his letters from Frankenstein's first-person perspective.  Thus, most of the story seems to have Frankenstein as the narrator, but the true narrator is Wallace.  However, since it is written in letters, the actual narrator is the recipient of the letters - Wallace's sister, or more profoundly, us.  Moreover, there is also a fair amount of text that is directed from the monster's first-person narration, tossing us even further down this spell of shifting perspectives.  I think this is a crucial element of the story, predating the post modern metanarrative philosophy we are experiencing now with writers like Salman Rushdie.

Because I think this is the greatest merit in her novel, I want to explain what I mean a little further.  (Plus, this also allows me to discuss the story without ruining any plot lines.)  The basic premise of the story is that Frankenstein created a living being out of nothing, left it on its own, and this creation unavoidably turned to evil.  I find this to be a pessimistic critique of human nature, saying that our most natural instincts lead us to evil, much like Lord of the Flies, Animal Farm, and other similar works.  In fact, I read somewhere that Shelley referred to the monster as "Adam," alluding to the original fall of man.  With the character of the monster, Shelley continuously shows us that people's perspectives subjectively shape their perception.  Even when he is trying to do good, people assume that the monster is evil because his appearance is so ghastly.  They don't allow a moment's hesitation to consider that he might have pure intentions.  Eventually, he becomes so embittered by this reception that he feels the need to fulfill their expectations of him and match the horror of his looks with the horror of his deeds.  In the end, the monster reveals that not even Frankenstein, his creator, understood him as well as he supposed.

Yet the monster is not the only misunderstood character in the novel.  There are similarly very few moments in the story when characters truly understand Frankenstein's actions.  Because he keeps his creation a secret to everyone, no one understands the source of his suffering.  To compensate, each person imagines a different cause for it and ineffectively attempts to alleviate his pain.  Following this theme, I would suggest that we probably don't understand what Frankenstein's family and friends really feel, nor do we receive a complete view of Wallace.  After all, Wallace is writing to his sister and may very well try to present himself in a fashion that least worries and disturbs her.

I think Shelley wanted to play with the dimensions of perspective and show us the ways it can be misconstrued and distorted.  Naturally, I realize she also wanted to produce a good horror story.  (According to research, she penned Frankenstein in a contest with Lord Byron and others for the best ghost story).  It's quite possible I'm over-thinking this, but I cannot read these dynamic perspectives without finding them to be essential to the meaning of the text.  Moreover, a fairly obvious theme is the way that one's appearance affects people's judgment of him or her.  I don't think it's unreasonable to push this a bit further and note that even "normal" appearances are subject to one's individual interpretation, which makes us all liable to misunderstanding.  Perhaps Shelley is suggesting that we incontrollably act to meet people's expectations.  Frankenstein may only have been a scientific genius because he was striving to meet his parents' and colleagues' view of his intellect.  In some way or another, every character is a slave to his or her perceived destiny, even Wallace in his desire to achieve famed exploration of the North Pole. 

I realize that I am getting a bit carried away here, and I hope I haven't lost you.  As I am writing this, I am uncovering more depth to this story and getting increasingly interested in what it may represent.  However, I will spare you from further ramblings and continue the musings on my own.  If you want to continue the conversation, feel free to comment below.  Happy October, everyone.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Nobel Prizes: A List of Greats

If you are following the Nobel Prize excitement, you may know that they have finally set the date for the literature announcement... and it's tomorrow!  Thursday, October 6 will welcome a new author to join the ranks of the Nobel legends of the past.  Part of the reason I find this exciting is because I'm really not very good at keeping up with contemporary literature.  It's easy to concentrate on the beloved literature of past eras, and I find it difficult to wade through the plethora of books that are being published today.  Yet I do believe that contemporary literature can be just as brilliant and valuable as that of the past, though it is more difficult to identify.  Time is quite helpful in highlighting great work of the past and gives us a clue as to what we should read.  Nevertheless, I think it is so important to keep our eyes open for today's generation of remarkable authors. 

So when the Nobel panel announces a contemporary author worthy of this prize, I will pay attention and add him or her to my list of authors to read.  They seem to have remarkable foresight, as many of their winners in the past are tightly bound in the tome of Classic Literature.  About a year ago, I did a short series on Contemporary Literature that I think will or should be recognized as great literature for years to come.  The series has turned out to be very popular, and I am planning to continue the series in November with a few new ones.  The only way I've found any of these contemporary authors it through suggestions of friends, so I want to return the favor in the blogosphere.  In the meantime, I would be very excited if Cormac McCarthy or Salman Rushdie were announced tomorrow, but I'm not holding my breath. 

Before we add a new member to the select Nobel Laureates, let's take one more day to reflect on those of the past.  Initially, I intended to discuss Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Samuel Beckett, two past winners I've never mentioned, as part of the series.  However, when I was looking over their material, I realized that I will need to completely reread their work before I can adequately discuss it.  And since I have a lot planned for October already, this will have to wait.  But stay tuned...

Anyway, if you have Nobel Prize fever, here are links to past winners I've previously discussed:

Seamus Heaney (1995) - Poetry in general; it was actually a blog hop

William Golding (1983) - Lord of the Flies

Alexander Solzhenitzyn (1970) - One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

John Steinbeck  (1962) - East of Eden

William Faulkner (1949) - As I Lay Dying

T.S. Eliot (1948) - The Waste Land

Although he didn't win it for literature, Elie Wiesel won the Nobel Prize in 1986 and I have actually discussed two of his works:  Night and The Trial of God.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Nobel Prizes: Albert Camus

Today marks the first announcement of the 2011 Nobel Prizes!  And it is already up and running with controversy.  In case you haven't heard, they awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine to a man who passed away a few days ago, unknowingly breaking their rule against posthumous awards.  Whoops!  It will be interesting to see how this turns out.

When I wrote my first Nobel Prize entry, I thought it was a nice idea that would move us toward the upcoming awards.  But then I had an extremely busy week and I've sort of missed my chance to do this in a timely manner.  But I'm hoping you are a forgiving audience and will let me discuss at least one more Nobel laureate I haven't mentioned before.

So, I am going to talk about Albert Camus.  In the past, I thought I would omit Camus from my Classics collection, as I have only read The Stranger and I have mixed feelings about it.  However, I do recognize that he is a notable author and won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1957 for "his important literary production, which with clear-sighted earnestness illuminates the problems of the human conscience in our times."  Furthermore, I am fascinated by the concept of literary existentialism, which I think Camus embodies in his writing. 

The protagonist in The Stranger, (named Meursault), is rather disturbing.  The story is written from his first-person perspective, and his tone is utterly chilling.  At the beginning of the story, he receives word that his mother has passed away, and yet he shows very little emotion about it.  This unfeeling tone is steady throughout the novella and become increasingly more disturbing as the drama in the story intensifies. 

Before I go on too much further, I should probably take a moment to address the fancy pants term "existentialism."  I am not your best source for information about this, as I gain my understanding primarily from Kierkegaard, who is just one contributing philosopher.  Yet although my knowledge is a little shaky, I will try to explain it as best I can.

Existentialism is the examination of one's Self in essence, separate from the characteristics and personality we usually rely on for definition.  In this evaluation, the existentialist almost universally experiences despair, for he or she struggles painfully to find whether there is anything of consequence crucial to one's existence.  When he separates Self from Other, (such as society, family, and social roles), he is likely to experience a great chasm in his life and resort to despondent thoughts and reflection.  This often results in a person withdrawing from intimate relationships and past activities with the pervading attitude of, "What does it matter?"  When he thus identifies the futility of existence, he retreats from responsibility and social guidelines, including the acceptance of a moral code.  This is what is known as "existential angst."  A despairing existentialist is unable to bridge the gap between his true essence and the social qualifications of one's existence.  According to Kierkegaard, a personal in existential angst can only respond to this in two ways: 1. Resolution of the divide in one's Self, or 2. Irreparable Despair/Suicide.

It's a rather grim philosophical concept, but I cannot help being fascinated by the literary characters who show evidence of this angst.  Because I love character depth in stories more than anything else, I am taken in by the fascinating journey of a person working through his or her existential anxiety.  Raskolnikov from Crime and Punishment is my favorite example of this, and he falls into Kierkegaard's first category of response.  However, Meursault in The Stranger falls into the latter response, which is probably why I am uncomfortable with the story despite my fascination with existentialism.

Meursault's despondent behavior, which I believe is stemming from existential angst, is so contrary to our view of "normal" feelings and actions that he becomes an absurd "stranger" to readers.  He helps his friend Raymond set up a girl for the sole purpose of beating and raping her because he fails to see a reason to do otherwise.  He is unable to meaningfully connect to his own girlfriend, Marie, though she is kind and loving to him.  And in the most bizarre action of all, he murders an anonymous man, though he was carrying the gun in order to prevent Raymond from acting in violence.

As if this weren't enough, he never shows remorse for any of these actions.  He fails to believe that it is significant and doesn't even try to defend himself in court.  Through his narration, he expresses that the only reason he shot the man was because he was uncomfortable with the sun beating down on him and blinding his vision.  However, I think it is imperative to note that he proceeded to shoot the man four more times after the initial firing.  I believe that this was his dramatic action, which had been steadily building during his prolonged period of listless despondancy.  Once he took an action, he was swept up in the impact of it and kept shooting to maintain the feeling of finally acting out.  Yet his indifference in court prompts the jury to swiftly convict him.  Notably, when he receives this sentence, he shows us the first sign of emotion and is surprised by the result.  Ultimately, he draws his comfort from embracing the "benign indifference of the world" and retreats again from reconciling his feelings and thus his existence.

So why is this a Classic?  Why does this win the Nobel Prize?  I think Camus offers us something interesting and greatly stimulating.  He challenges the idea of one's conscience and resists offering a pleasant solution for it.  The Nobel committee praised Camus for his "earnestness" and the "illumination" of problems in humanity.  I agree that he embodies these things quite profoundly, and thus I suppose I too can add him to my shelf of Classics.  However, it is equally depressing as it is thought-provoking.  Let's hope that reality offers more hope than Camus does.