Uncertainty in Literature

Uncertainty is a tool that many authors use to keep the reader in suspense. Shakespeare did this in his work Hamlet. In the play, the main character Hamlet aims to avenge his father who was killed by his brother Claudius who then married Hamlet’s father’s wife Gertrude. Hamlet is supposed to kill Claudius because that is what his father’s ghost came and told him to do. And so the reader must wait in suspense for many acts, waiting for Hamlet to finally do the deed. For he had many opportunities, though at first he did nothing more than walk around in a daze and make everyone suspicious. But still, the suspense for the reader, waiting for the big murder scene, is excruciating. At one point, in Act III scene iii, the reader thinks it will happen finally:

“Now might I do it pat, now he is praying;
And now I’ll do’t. And so he goes to heaven;
And so am I revenged. That would be scann’d:
A villain kills my father; and for that,
I, his sole son, do this same villain send
To heaven.
O, this is hire and salary, not revenge.
He took my father grossly, full of bread;
With all his crimes broad blown, as flush as May;
And how his audit stands who knows save heaven?
But in our circumstance and course of thought,
‘Tis heavy with him: and am I then revenged,
To take him in the purging of his soul,
When he is fit and season’d for his passage?

But alas- Hamlet backs off at the final moment, after going back and forth about killing Claudius. The reader is constantly sent on a roller coaster of emotions with Hamlet. Does he want to live or die? Does he love Ophelia or not? Is he crazy or not? You can never really tell what Hamlet will do next or what the devil the man is thinking. And so when it comes to whether he will kill Claudius in the end- I am uncertain he will do that as well. He keeps putting it off again and again. He keeps thinking about it more and more, and the murder thus becomes more premeditated. But still, as Hamlet pushes the murder off again and again, the reader can’t help but go a little crazy with suspense. Of course, the uncertainty of the murder does exist for the majority of the story and thus keeps reader and or watcher extremely interested. Thus Shakespeare is able to captivate his audience using uncertainty as a tool.

Overall, I believe though that Hamlet is almost a personification of uncertainty, or if uncertainty came to life, it would be Hamlet. He as a character is never certain in his emotions, and it constantly using opposites to contradict each other, which makes his believes and ideas even more vague. His vague tone and speech that can be exemplified by Hamlet’s great “To be or not to be” speech where he discusses whether to love or die (again, great opposites) helps Hamlet become the exemplary of uncertainty.

Sidenote: this is Kenneth Branagh who is basically the all-star in the shakespeare movies. He also was professor lockheart in Harry Potter and directored Thor. He is my new favorite person. But here he is acting as Hamlet.

Uncertainty in Literature…and other places…

Often in literature, the author might leave many things uncertain. Some authors like to bash the reader in the head with what they are trying to say. For example, Mary Shelly in her work Frankenstein or Milton’s Paradise Lost. That is not always the case however. In Toni Morrison’s Beloved, a story about a African American woman that escapes from slavery, there is much uncertainty. You can almost never figure out what is happening. There are so many ways to interpret the text and so many different feelings that the reader feels, that the reader just feels in a jumble. Not only is the action of the story uncertain- for the time of the book will shift back and forth until you feel like you are in the nightmare world that the main characters are in- but the feelings that the reader has are extremely uncertain. On one hand, you often feel sympathy for the horrors that the slaves go through. On the other hand, when you realize that the slave men are talking about having sex with cows and are fantasying about raping a young teenage girl, you still feel a little sympathetic to be honest, but you are really just disgusted and horrified, and confused and a little angry. To be honest, when reading the book, half the time I don’t know what to feel. The book is well written because I think that was what Morrison wanted to do. She wanted to focus on African American history and put it out in the open. This was what really happened and how slaves really lived and reacted. She was not trying to sugar coat it and make you just feel so sorry for the slaves. While you do sometimes, she also wanted you to feel other emotions- anger, disgust, wonder, confusion. She wanted you to feel these jumble of emotions and uncertainty in how you feel because that was often the life and mind of a slave. Plus, because you are uncertain of what you feel, you will want to keep reading- to try and figure out what is going on. She is not attempting to slap you in the face with what she is saying though- you are supposed to figure out her meaning. I may not have completely figured out what she is trying to say though. But I am sure that I feel uncertain in the text and in what is going on.

I can’t beleive
What you have done to me
My eyes they don’t deceive
Why aren’t you listening

We’re standing here
Your mouth stays closed
I’m still not clear
Why you left me standing here

You’re leaving me
Despite this tradgedy
My ears they don’t deceive
Why aren’t you coming clean

I always thought that you would always be a friend to me
I never thought that you would end up my worst enemy
Don’t trust the lies that’s leading us into uncertainties
So full of jelousy I trust for you not trusting me

Don’t be afraid to be yourself
Your confidence will always mend
Don’t be afraid to be yourself
Don’t be afraid to fight again

We’re standing here
Rejection; out of reach
It’s still not clear
Why you left me standing here