Sample Essay – Module C – Ted Hughes’ Fulbright Scholars & the film Copenhagen

Here is a sample of the writing proficiency of my students after a year with me at Educare Sydney.

Hughes’ “Fulbright Scholars,” the opening to his anthology, is reflective of the struggle to authenticate memory and, how this creates conflicting perspectives surrounding perceptions of an individual. His post-modern form of poetry demonstrates the ambiguity of certainty where he acknowledges the fallibility of memory; “Where was it, in the Strand?” The rhetorical question establishes the low modal nature of the poem as a whole, reinforced through enjambment of “a display of new items.” This reveals the non-linear nature of memory, and in this sense, Hughes is attempting to ensure transparency in his writings, dispelling the notion that his representation of events has a purpose of manipulating our own perspective. Thus, even within the formal features of “Fulbright Scholars” there are residing conflicts between those who are critical of Hughes, and Hughes himself. However, the poem shifts towards a more probing tone; “your Veronica Lake bang, not what it hid.” Alluding to the glamorised Hollywood sex symbol during the late 40’s, Hughes conveys the perspective that Plath “hid” underneath a layer of facades, suggesting something sinister. This coincides with “Your Paris,” and the hopelessness of Hughes attempting to understand her. Interestingly, Hughes’ then states; “It would appear blonde.” The highly ambiguous nature of the quote evokes a conflicting perspective within the audience as we are unsure whether this viewpoint is a product of his fallibility, or her pretence – as represented through the nuance of “appear.” Moreover, there is in fact a deep conflict between present Hughes and a past, naïve Hughes, represented through the distortion of memory; “Your exaggerated American grin for the cameras, the judges, the strangers, the frighteners. Then I forgot.” Through contrast, and heightened by the truncated sentence, we are presented with the perspective that he was naïve to Plath’s dark and sinister undertones. Thus, Hughes’ representation of his own deeply subjective and distorted memory is itself an act of manipulation, highlighting the inaccuracy of his recollections, leaving readers questioning the existence of truth of human perception.

Similarly, the film Copenhagen explores the uncertainty that pervades the human condition, highlighting the profound impossibility of absolutism. Being a speculative historical re-enactment that highlights the seminal nature of prejudice in shaping individual perspectives, the film offers conflicting viewpoints on what took place in the Spring of 1941 between Neil’s Bohr and Heisenberg. Frayne immediately establishes Copenhagen’s preoccupation with human fallibility and the dissolution of certainty as a wide birds-eye camera shot underscores Bohr’s and Margrethe’s repetitive questioning; “By why? Why did he come to Copenhagen?” Coinciding with the rhetorical opening lines in “Fulbright Scholars,” we witness both composers attempting to quantify unreliability. Indeed, all three characters of the play reflect the way in which the perspectives held in the past do not correlate with current perspectives. This is captured through the manipulation of the visual form, where the shift in colour, from dark film noir lighting to vibrant colour, demonstrates how an individual’s perspective is influenced by the movement between past and present – revealing the fluid nature of representation and meaning Moreover, the film’s treatment of the plasticity of certainty is represented through the extended metaphor of “The Uncertainty Principle,” captured in the first lines of Heisenberg; “The more I’ve explained, the deeper the uncertainty has become.” Predicated on the fact that an observer must to choose what it is that he or she wishes to know exactly; whether this be the exact speed of the particle, or the exact position of the particle, Frayne attempts to parallel this with human reality, suggesting that our knowledge of an event as it unfolds is necessarily partial.

A consistent theme through Hughes’ anthology is his self-representation as an observer of Plath’s uncontrollable self-destructiveness, showing the importance of representation to an audience’s understanding of a situation and the inherent subjectivity of truth. Indeed, “Your Paris” explores the enormous cultural and philosophical disparity between Hughes and Plath whilst at the same time underscoring a pervading sense of hopelessness and despair on the part of Hughes. Relying on its poetic voice to represent the impact of emotion and ideology on individual perspectives of key personalities, the antithetical views of Hughes and Plath are represented through his distinct use of personal pronouns, where the divide between “Your Paris,” and “My Paris” reveals the exclusivity of individual perception. The poem is of a more confessional style to the others in Birthday Letters, impacting on the portrayal of the conflicting perspectives as immediately witnessed in the opening lines; “Your Paris, I thought, was American.” The nuance ascribed to the past tense “thought” reveals Hughes’ acknowledgement that in a post-modern society, individuals are a product of their cultural backdrop, affirming the complexity and fallibility of memory and experience. Moreover, his scathing satirical comment; “I was not much ravished by the roofs,” critiques Plath’s preoccupation with the Romantic Aestheticism of Paris, where his use of alliteration is representative of his anger and an inevitable spill over of emotion due to the poetic medium. This strongly contrasts against Hughes’ own vision; “My Paris was not only just German…I read each bullet scar in the Quai stonework with an eerie familiar feeling.” Hughes’ inability to disassociate Paris from its historical context heightens the tension between cultural paradigms. However, despite Hughes’ representation of Plath’s cultural insensitivity, there is a tone of lament and frustration stemming from her enigmatic and obscure nature; “It was a diesel aflame to the dog in me…that chamber, where you still hung waiting for your torturer.” Hughes’ representation of himself as a “dog,” with its connotations of loyalty and protection reaffirms his position as a protector of Plath from her own insecurities. Indeed, this perspective offered by Hughes suggests that Plath is a character who is both alienating yet alienated; “Your practiced lips, translated the spasms to what you excused, as your gushy burblings.” The connotations of “practiced lips” projects the view that Hughes’ attempt to understand is futile, reaffirming the notion of Plath’s mask; the mask which is alluded to in “Fulbright Scholars” and is represented to only serve as a foil to Hughes. Consequently, by giving representation to his own conflicting perspectives on Plath, Hughes registers his own disorientation within their relationship, where his increasingly ambiguous representation of Plath’s personality offers an insight to the deep complexity of human existence.

Moreover, Copenhagen similarly explores the quest for understanding, where Frayne emphasises the integral nature of cultural values in developing conflicting perspectives. Set against the backdrop of Nazi German occupation within Europe, Margrethe’s disdain and mistrust for Heisenberg is aroused by her inability to separate individuality from cultural contexts; “Heisenberg was German. We were Danes…He’s one of them!” The dichotomous language is indicative of how cultural paradigms shape rifts between perspectives on key personalities, and their detriment on relationships. Consequently, Frayne juxtaposes Margrethe’s representation of Heisenberg as a collaborator with the Nazi’s to Heisenberg’s own struggles of disassociating himself from the regime.

Indeed, despite Heisenberg’s attempts to candidly represent his moral struggles in reference to the development of the Atomic Bomb, and thus abstain from his involvement in Nazism, Margrethe’s perspective is still inherently coloured by her pre-existing cultural prejudices; “Germany is my wife…If the Allies are building a bomb, what am I choosing for my country?” …Frayne positions us to empathise with Heisenberg’s perspective, reinforcing his cultural ties with Germany and their influence in developing his motives. However captured through the rhetorical question, we witness how conflicting perspectives are formed through a deeper self-conflict between national identity and morality.

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