UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

E.E. Cummings : the creative artist in "The Enormous Room" Murray, Patricia Mary


The Enormous Room is an autobiographical novel organized around the journey in The Pilgrim’s Progress. The links between the two works, however, do not end with the organization: both the novel and the allegory are based on prison experiences; both contain autobiographical and didactic elements. Furthermore, both novelist and allegorist use the journey as an image for the life of the spirit. Neither the path of Christian's journey nor that of Cummings’ is the way of the world. While Cummings does carry more than one of his themes by accommodating The Pilgrim’s Progress, he ironically inverts Bunyan’s ideas for the same purpose. The Puritan cleanliness ethic, for example, is inverted, placing cleanliness next to ungodliness in The Enormous Room. Whereas this inversion has given rise to great dispute, the individual character studies in the novel remain indisputably one of its greatest achievements. To a certain extent characterization in The Enormous Room depends upon animal imagery in The Pilgrim’s Progress; but where Bunyan's imagery is concentrated, Cummings’ is diffused; where Bunyan's animals evoke fear and horror, Cummings’ are humorous or merely picturesque. It is in the area of setting that Cummings and Bunyan are perhaps farthest apart. Bunyan's pilgrimage begins in the City of Destruction and extends across the earth, terminating in the Celestial City. Cummings' journey, on the other hand, is strictly circumscribed geographically, but within the geographical limits he creates a changing setting through precise descriptions of the prisoners at La Ferté. The comparison and contrast between the two works concludes with an examination of the excremental vision in the novel. Norman 0. Brown's link between excrement and death in Life Against Death: A Psychoanalytical Meaning of History is reapplied to illustrate the final connection between Bunyan’s allegory and Cummings’ novel. The topic of characterization examined in the first chapter appears for re-examination in Chapter II. There characterization is related to the humour in the novel and the role of games; both are then linked to the roles assumed by three of the main characters: Count Bragard, Jean le Nègre, and Surplice. In the third chapter the humorous situations of the novel, examined in Chapter II, are shown to be balanced by tense episodes. Just as the dramatic situations in the novel are balanced so too are the emotions of the narrator, fluctuating between anguish at the inhumane treatment in the prison and delight in the Delectable Mountains and the sight of New York upon his return to America. The sense of unity and mystery associated with the sight of New York is expanded in Chapter V, "The Fusion of Subject and Object in The Enormous Room." There the "mysterious" relationship between the individual perceiver and the external world is examined and an attempt is made to answer two fundamental questions deriving from this relationship: how can an external and material object be transmuted into the interior and immaterial self and how can this transmutation be expressed in words. Finally in Chapter V the partial visions of the first four chapters are related to the whole novel: the artist's vision is studied in terms of form and content, character and situation. We return to a genre study, claiming the term "novel" for Cummings, work and thematically linking it with the contemporary war novels. In form another claim is made for this novel - the claim to be like poetry, painting, and photography. For each of the five chapters an introductory remark or series of them have been selected to present in a meaningful way the issues expressed in the particular chapters The aim of presenting these remarks is twofold: to show precedents and antecedents for the ideas and their expression and to link the concerns of the novelist with those of other creative artists. Such a presentation is in keeping with a central concept in Cummings' artistic vision, that of unity.

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