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Human Interaction in C.P. Snow s Novels
In “Strangers and Brothers” series, C.P. Snow presents the many facets of interaction between individuals and groups on many different levels. The “Strangers and Brothers” is a sequence of ten novels that follows the life of Eliot Lewis, the narrator of all the books. The two novels that are included in the “Strangers and Brothers” series that are the best representation of Snow s analysis of human relations are The New Men and The Affair. Both books deal with situations that require there to be a conflict in interests, opinions, and motives among the characters involved. The characters Snow involves are put into such conflict that their true motives and ideals must be brought to the surface and relationships are at their most volatile and active points. These conflicts allow for the interactions to be easily observed and studied.
Snow has many aspects to his character that help to give insight into the subjects and views he wishes to deal with in his writing. He was born into a family of lower economic standing. His father was a shoemaker with four sons to support. Snow worked his way up the social and economic ladder to such accomplishments as a knighthood (in 1957) and a Commandership awarded by order of the British Empire (1943). Since he required financial aid to attend college he chose to follow a life of science, because that was the only background that was financially profitable at that time. He received a Ph.D. and was viewed by other scientist as an up-and-coming mind in the field. But because a piece of research had gone wrong Snow was burdened enough to question his place in the scientific community. Shortly after Snow decided to turn to a life of literature for many reasons, one of them being financial security. His roots in science allowed him to offer a distinct style of writing that has more of a social analysis angle rather than entertainment of the issues on the surface.
In both The New Men and The Affair there are many different layers of social and personal interaction occurring. The New Men is set during World War II, and deals with the implications of creating the Atom bomb. The title “New Men” refers to the scientists who try to harness atomic power and use it for warfare. “What should these lords of science, these modern Pygmalions, these new men do when they realize the startling truth: that their Galatea possesses frightening implications for humankind?” (Davis, pg. 87). These men dispute the morality of building such a destructive device against the necessity for building the bomb, which is determined by the political and military powers. This broad and encompassing topic allows for conflicts to arise in views on politics, morality, an obligation to scientific advancement, and even mortality. There are contrasting individual characters, contrasting political group and ideologies, and contrasting objectives in The New Men. Snow s art is to meld multiple conflicts into one situation. The Affair deals with the same elements as The New Men, but the situation takes place inside a college community, and there are no monumental repercussions for the results of the situation. This allows for there to be more focus on the individual interactions rather than the slightly broader focus of a scientific development that caused changes in warfare, political relations, and science itself. The Affair, at its most basic and general level, studies the relation between objectivity in light of opposing political views, while The New Men studies the growing relation between scientific advancement and the morals of humanity.
The narrator, Eliot, is developed in such a way that even though he is personally involved in the situations presented, he still retains an aspect of objectivity. While the reader can see that Eliot does have opinions and judgments about the events and persons around him, he is detached in a way that there is never a concern for whether the information he presents is tainted or biased. “One of the first things we notice is the effect of distancing of impartiality, fairness” (Shusterman, pg. 102). In both novels Eliot has some major aspect that detaches and removes him from being personally affected. In The New Men the focus is on the scientific community, and Eliot is a civil servant who must oversee the progress of the race to build the bomb. He is not a scientist and knows little of the scientific aspects of the project, therefore, he can relate only to the situations he can understand. And since he is in the field of politics the reader can concentrate on the interactions instead of getting caught up in the scientific nature of the issue. He is detached, and it is easy for the reader to relate to him because he does not understand the scientific implications of the project. This detachment is also apparent in The Affair. Eliot, who no longer is officially affiliated with the college community, is dragged into an issue of judgment, as a person who has a right to know all the information (because he is respected by the community) but he is not obligated to take sides. Eliot always has the ability to appear as totally detached and objective.
The title of the series, “Strangers and Brothers” is appropriate because Snow examines, on a literal level, the relationship between brothers and strangers, and on a more encompassing level, man tries to be the stranger but is tied to his human brothers no matter what. The relationship between strangers is shown by parties and groups misunderstanding or conflicting with ideals of another group. The relationship between brothers is shown by the close relationships that Lewis has with his friends. Snow s style allows for there to be many different interactions at once like a shell that has many different levels. “With Lewis Eliot presenting the situation, our interest focuses almost entirely on the lively play of personalities, not on substantial issues…Every casual meeting is a contest. Private conversations, especially between opposite factions, arouse curiosity and suspicion” (Shusterman, pg. 32). The important thing is the interaction between people and the issues, which would overshadow any issue in any other realm, and become mere bait for new interactions that are to be brought to the surface.
The New Men is a perfect example of Snow s use of issues and personalities to show interaction. The fact that these scientists are contemplating such a historic matter creates an ideal scenario for Snow s multi-leveled interaction.
“On the first it is a delicate, psychological probing into the relationship between two brothers; on the other it dramatizes the moral dilemma created in many men’s minds by the invention of the atomic bomb and its use at Hiroshima… The upshot of the book is that the new men are unable to withstand the clever manipulations of the old men (not in the chronological sense of personal age) who have always been in the government saddle, particularly in the foreign affairs offices and in the military” (Magill, pg. 3210).
On the broad and encompassing level, this group must interact with the world of science, the world of politics, and the world of the military. On the lower, more specific level, the scientist must choose which method of creating the bomb and whether they should even waste resources if the Americans were bound to develop it first. Even more specific, there is the interaction between the scientists in the group who are of different political factions. And finally at the most personal and specific level, is the narrator s interaction with certain people, the focus being Martin Eliot, Lewis brother.
The scientists at Barford are the group that is focused on throughout the novel. They are the “New Men” for many reasons: no one before them has had to deal with the moral issues involved with such a weapon as the bomb, they are pitted against politicians or the old men, and by the time the novel ends many of them have changed from their former selves. “By the title The New Men Snow probably means to suggest that the nuclear physicists may be the vanguard of a race of human beings sometime in the future who will be able to manipulate with greater proficiency than heretofore the technological advances that our knowledge will achieve” (Davis, pg. 88) . Examining the group of scientists as a whole requires that the situation that they faced must also be examined. No one ever before had to face such a dilemma. These scientists were asked by the government to build a weapon. The problem arises that no one but the scientist could imagine what devastation this weapon could create. While their first inclination was to refuse to build it, they had to keep in mind that the enemy was trying to do the same thing with no moral limitations. Francis Getliffe, one of the head scientists in the novel, even stated before the research started, “I hope it s never possible” (Snow, pg. 18).
When the Americans first test the bomb and then drop it on Hiroshima, many things change in the English political and scientific realm. Those scientists who did support the production of the bomb now had seen the destruction caused by it and swung from full support to private condemnation of the United States for using it. The politicians changed from weak support for Barford to almost no support at all for the nuclear research effort. Many of the scientists, including and lead by Martin Eliot, were ready to display their outrage but then turn their attention towards a spy situation. Because the government loses interest in the project, the fact that the old men , or the politicians and military leaders, had used “the new men”, is clearly brought into the foreground of the plot.
On a personal level there are many different relationships involved, with the focus being Martin s and Eliot s brotherly ties. From the beginning it is obvious that Eliot has a domineering, elder-brother relationship with his brother. And it is obvious that Martin has not been as fortunate in the political ring as Eliot has.
“Martin’s dilemma is that he has been so much under the domination of Eliot that he feels he must independently do something of sufficient magnitude to help him escape from under this yoke. At the same time, he recognizes in himself… his own excessive desire for power” (Davis, pg.88).
The more Eliot uses his brotherly influence, the more antipathy Martin has for his elder brother. And concurrently, the more Martin establishes himself, the more Eliot feels the loss of influence and power.
The conflict between Eliot and Martin occurs because Eliot s motivations are based on the personal aspect of everyday interaction while Martin s motivations, to this point, are based only on his political or social advancement. Martin has little respect for whom he has to step on to advance another rung on the political ladder. His final display to receive recognition is the hunting down of a suspected spy that none of the scientific community finds to be very threatening.
” Lewis accuses Martin of cold, ruthless, calculating ambition, though Martin strikes the reader as impetuous and variable, shifting from one extreme position to its opposite… Lewis angrily accuses Martin of playing this role to curry official favor and be made next head of Barford instead of Walter Luke, who scorns what he considers American-style fanaticism about security and Soviet spies” (Davis, pg. 27).
Even though Martin is an intricate part of this little scientific community he takes an almost violent initiative in flushing out this spy while the scientists believe that discovery is universal and should be shared. This apparent contradiction with the group is an obvious attempt to gain respect from political realms. But Eliot is not perfect in his passionate view towards the people around him. “Martin accuses Lewis of being too self-indulgent in personal relations, of wasting himself in them, just at the time when Lewis is most rapidly and forcefully moving into a position of influence” (Davis, pg. 27). Eliot is too involved in the people around him and tends to lose focus on important matters that require less passion. The two are character foils for each other and if they were combined would be the perfect politician.
The conflict between the two is finally resolved at the end. Martin feels he should make a public statement of condemnation against the United States for dropping the bomb but Eliot influences him for the last time into not writing it because it may ruin his career. After Martin succumbs to Eliot this one last time he achieves his goal of recognition and is offered an office of high stature. “When the post is offered him, Martin Eliot at the last moment turns it down. He wants to be free to think and speak as a man, not an official. The decision also shows that he is free of his youthful need to rival his older brother” (Davis, pg. 28). This relationship between the two brothers could be discussed much more intricately but it is only one of the sub-plot interactions that make the issue of nuclear weapons even more intriguing and exciting.
The Affair has many of the same conflicts as The New Men but the element of the worldly matter is excluded. In The Affair,the setting is much more enclosed and controlled than the World War pressures that the new men had to deal with. Instead of dealing with political issues the characters are free to pursue justice, which is the focus of the novel. “In The Affair…he [Eliot] is concerned with the nature of moral responsibility and the ways in which men react to this responsibility under pressure” (Magill, pg. 59). The same battle between old men and new men arises in The Affair. Howard is a scientist who is removed from a college because it has been found that he had falsified research in a paper. Howard also believes in an extreme leftist ideology which goes against the grain of the college masters who are very conservative and right-wing. To add to the situation, Howard is a very outspoken and disliked person who was not accepted very warmly at the college in the first place. Howard s wife, Laura, is set on trying to prove his innocence. When it is discovered that a reopening of the case should take place, this situation allows for the problem to be totally contained within the college doors.
Again, the focus of this novel is the interaction between the people rather than the issue at hand. “Partly, The Affair is a convincing account of the complexity of human motivation and of the conflicts within and between personalities” (Magill, pg. 61). Since the facts of the matter are very vague, Snow is apparently trying to keep a final judgment from falling on his characters too early, so that there will be polarity in opinions and eventually a conflict. When the decision is made to remove Howard, no one protests at all, except Mrs. Howard. But Skeffington, one of the two men who wrote the report on Howard s vice, discovers that because there is nothing substantial, the evidence is not conclusive enough to have removed Howard. Therefore, a conflict arises for the officials of the college. They can either open Howard s investigation, or they could stay with their decision that was as fair as it could be at the time it was made. The “New Men” of the college, who are actually the younger chronologically, have stronger impulses to seek justice then the “old men” who feel that justice can be shaded to suit the needs of the college organization. The new and younger men of the college are represented and lead by Skeffington, a professor who gets caught up in the investigation. “As soon as he discovers that Howard may be innocent, Skeffington is determined to see justice done, even though he despises the man concerned” (Magilll, pg. 60).
These encompassing issues are solved through a court case where all parties are partially satisfied. Eliot, because of his legal background, defends Howard in the courtroom finale. Howard is actually very detrimental to his own case as a witness and it ends up that one of the more predominant scientists has to backup his story in order for him to be reinstated. This way Howard never loses his bad image to the reader, but justice still finds a way to the surface even though the antipathy for this man is never gone. Howard is reinstated for the few months left in his contract, so the college doesn t have to deal with him for much longer and Howard is justified.
There is one relationship, that between Laura Howard and Eliot, that comes to the foreground in the sub-plot interaction. Since the conflict between Eliot and Martin had already been resolved early there doesn t seem to be much of a close relationship between the brothers at all during this period. Laura Howard is the one person who pursues the search for justice even though everyone else had closed and resolved the case. She pesters anyone who has a tie to the college and is willing to listen. Since Eliot was once a member of the college society and still had close ties, Laura s ends up directing her efforts to convincing him. Their relationship symbolizes the conflict that occurs in the college with Howard. Eliot finds Laura s tactics deplorable and feels resentment towards her and her attitude, just as the college found Howard s tactics and personality deplorable. Elliot s constant compassion for every being forces him listen to Laura and start to search for the truth – Just like the “New Men”, Skeffington and the other younger professors, of the college have a compassion and love for the truth. This relationship is finally resolved when Laura finally lets Eliot handle the matter without any annoyance.
Snow s handling of matters and relationships can be viewed very differently from person to person. His style of skirting the details of the topics in order to focus on the interactions caused by those topics is either completely accepted or rejected. If the reader can only focus on what is happening on a broad scale, there will be much disappointment. This is because Snow doesn t feel that the topics are important and therefore does not give all the information, and sometimes purposely withholding it, so that the focus remains on the interactions. If it is understood that the purpose the novels hold is to examine the interactions and relationship of the people and groups involved, these novels serve their purpose perfectly.
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