Matthew Arnold: Helen Wallace

In Matthew Arnold’s “Culture and Anarchy”, Arnold makes the argument that modernism has completely taken over society in Europe and the new modern view may not be in the best interest of where society is headed. He mentions how “sweetness and light” may be the most important part of people in creating the beauty around them. The belief to “leaves things better than the way we came” is being taken over by society’s drive of curiosity which in turn, has both a negative and equally positive effect on people. The growth of a society is extremely important, however, the robotic like way of life also means less true interaction between each other and more use of mechanics and machinery. This is still completely applicable in today’s society because there is a constant curiosity and need to further technology, which arguably could be making us less and less social beings. The parallels between “Culture and Anarchy” and today’s society is evident.

In “Dover Beach”, the use of serene vocabulary and beautifully painted pictures for the reader automatically creates a different environment than that from, “Culture and Anarchy”. In his opening, “The sea is calm to-night. The tide is full, the moon lies fair, Upon the straits; on the French coast the light, Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand”. His appreciation for the natural beauty around him, as well as others, is what brings a foggy concept of happiness to this poem. This is because the “easiest” form of happiness comes from the beauty of nature in the world around you. It is not created the way that curiosity is pushing for all this new machinery and working life, but the admiring of beauty around you is enough. The last stanza really sets in the idea that there could be a connection between the two works, because he states, “And we are here as on a darkling plain; Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight; Where ignorant armies clash by night”. This leaves the reader with a little bit of mystery wondering where his tranquil world is headed.

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2 thoughts on “Matthew Arnold: Helen Wallace

  1. You said “there is a constant curiosity and need to further technology, which arguably could be making us less and less social beings.” about society today, and I was curious about this, because a lot of that technology is about globalizing the world and making people more easily connected, like with cell phones, webcams, and things like that. But I do agree with you that even those things make us less social. As more and more machines appear to replace human functions, such as normal conversation, we lose sight of what it means to have human contact. And as we make more conversations on cell phons, we have less need to make conversation in person, and I don’t like what the world might be down that road.

  2. *Modernity,* not modernism. Modernism was a 20th century response to the conditions of modernity.

    And yes, I think you’re both tapping into the same concern that Arnold had during the 19th Century. He continually refers to the fragmentation and disconnection, among people as well as between people and the natural world, which is somehow symptomatic of our outsourcing human activities to machinery.

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