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Pillars of the Earth

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Literature Essay: The Pillars of the Earth
Shannen Guerra
12th Grade B

Life and humanity’s real essence is such a complex topic to cover. To try to do so in a book would imply a carefully thought over work and its extension would obviously not be short. There is a very large amount of aspects, each with a singular characteristic or particularity, that the person in question to develop the topic has to have a very good way of conveying the message in order for the public (in this case, the readers) to fully comprehend. There are so many things to take into consideration, all of which are to be further developed. The Pillars of the Earth, a historic-fictional novel situated on a specific area of the 12th century England and written by Ken Follet, is the work to be talked about. Let’s take a better look into it, with all the regard and carefulness it deserves. As a point of departing, the first literary element to be discussed about is the characters. To start, there is Jack Jackson, the son of Jacques Cherbourg and Ellen. He’s a red-headed, blue-eyed, smart, instinctive, passionate young architect, the stepson to Tom Builder. He adores Aliena as a kid and throughout his life, and dreams of building a cathedral with the different styles he has seen in France and Spain. Jack Jackson is a round character because he’s a fully developed character throughout the story and because one would feel Jack is real. We have Tom Builder, as well, who’s a tall architect, thorough worker, a concerned and somewhat ingenuous father who looks forward to the welfare of his family; loving of both Agnes, his dead wife, and Ellen, his lover. He’s a round character because on his account the storyline of the book changes. Then, there’s Ellen, a beautiful, athletic, determined, wild, unreserved, amber-eyed woman, mother to Jack Jackson. Early in her life, she was hurt by other people and then accused of witchcraft. She’s an outlaw, and fiercely defends her son before all; she’s also a round character because her own story is intertwined with that of the book. After, we have Prior Philip, the most important and favorite character in the story---for me, at least. Prior Philip is a warm hearted, somewhat naïve, determined, energetic, clever, piteous, devoted, righteous, small-sized and intense blue-eyed monk who becomes prior of Kingsbridge and, later, Bishop of Kingsbridge. His determination to transform Kingsbridge into a prosperous town is, to me, the central point to this book, and that’s why he’s a round character. Then we got Aliena, daughter to the Earl of Shiring and sister to Richard of Kingsbridge, a decided, altruistic, beautiful woman that, due to some bad decisions she takes, suffers a lot throughout the story; only at the last part is when she sees herself truly realized with herself, after being terrorized by William Hamleigh through all her life and after giving herself to a vow she made to her father. She becomes the lover and wife of Jack Jackson and bears him two children. Now, let’s proceed with the antagonists, the evil characters of the story. There’s William Hamleigh, an evil, cruel, demented, sadistic, and son of a minor landowner. He thinks himself of noble ascent and stalks Aliena till the day of his death; he’s a round character because many of his actions alter the course of the story. After, we got Bishop Waleran Bigod, a covetous, sly, sick of greed for power, manipulative and corrupt cleric, the responsible for many of the catastrophes that happened to Kingsbridge, along with William. He tries throughout the story to overpower Philip’s actions in order to get what he wants. He’s, as well, a round character, because his actions totally affect the story; he changes whenever it is convenient for him. I don’t agree with what we discussed in class that characters such as Richard, Martha and Alfred (daughter and son of Tom Builder and Agnes), Agnes, Jonathan, and Lord Percy and Lady Regan Hamleigh (William Hamleigh’s parents) are major characters; I think they’re more of minor characters. I do accept that some of their actions are representative for the storyline; nevertheless, they’re not as relevant as the ones previously listed are. Out of that list I can maybe exclude Alfred Builder, dumb, cruel and envious of Jack, and Regan Hamleigh, whose wit and greed are similar to that of Waleran Bigod’s, but that’s it. I dare say they’re the other only round characters, but the rest, they’re minor. Martha doesn’t really play an important role here, and we don’t know much about her, only that she lives in a kind of loving-worshipping adoration to Jack through all her life; about Agnes, we know that she was a determined and strong willed woman, but she dies on part one, so we don’t really discover anything more about her; as for Richard, we know he becomes a skilled knight, but actually he’s a good-for-nothing who just laid back and waited for things to happen (actually, he waited for Aliena to resolve everything); and, finally, we got Jonathan, the abandoned son of Tom Builder who’s raised up by Johnny Eightpence , instructed by Philip, and who becomes Prior of Kingsbridge after Philip. I think the four of them are really flat characters, because they don’t really change throughout the story. To continue, we have the setting. The majority of the story is set up in Kingsbridge----a fictional place---and, some of it, in Shiring. Kingsbridge city (or town) suffers a lot of changes throughout the story. I would like to join in this point, the setting, to Imagery because they have things in common. With the permission of the reader, both is these topics are to be fused into one. The story of Tom, Ellen, Jack, Philip, Aliena and other minor characters all converge into Kingsbridge town, while William’s, Waleran’s, Regan’s and other minor characters converge into Shiring. Nevertheless, all of the things that occur have to do inwardly with all of the characters’ stories. We find a society ruled by the power of the Church and in times of the Anarchy when King Henry dies and succeeds a battle for the acquisition of England’s throne between Maud, legitimate daughter, and Stephen, illegitimate son---here’s where the historical part takes action. In regard to the imagery, there are many examples to take into consideration. One of them is when Kingsbridge is burnt down. The fire makes everything seem hellish, chaotic, and evil. This event is, for me, the climax of the story because it marks a milestone; after it, the town is desolate and an air of abandonment saturates everything: the whole town is in ashes, and even the weather conditions affect the mood of the townspeople (this was when the famine occurred and there was neither work nor money). Nevertheless, due to Prior Philip’s achievements, the town did thrive after this and became more organized ad more prosperous. So, we see here how the imagery in both cases influences the events in both situations. Having these elements, it is necessary to proceed into telling the plot of the story. It starts off with an event, the hanging of a man, and a pregnant young girl cursing three men. Part one starts with the description of Tom Builder and his situation. He works building a house but, then, is fired from it and haves problems finding a job. His family gets poorer and start starving as he can’t get money to buy food, and winter is coming, plus Agnes becomes pregnant. Her due date is near, and she’s forced to give birth in the cold forest; she then dies of bleeding. Tom decides to abandon the baby as he can’t sustain him, but then regrets it and comes back only to find the baby disappeared. He sets forth an infructuous search and, in the middle of delirium, meets Ellen again and they get together. They then find out the baby has been taken to a monastery and is been looked after. Alternate to this story, we get to know Philip and his past, as in the present narration he’s at St-John-In-The-Woods monastery. Philip is a Welsh young man who looks forward to the renovation of the place he’s in, and then is promoted to the Kingsbridge priory where he gains the Prior title. His brother Francis brought in Jonathan, the baby, and tells him of a conspiracy in which Earl Bartholomew takes part---he supported Maud instead of Stephen. Philip then recurs to Waleran Bigod, who uses this information to set up Percy Hamleigh against Earl Bartholomew in revenge for Aliena’s refusal to marry William. Waleran manipulates Philip in order to become Bishop of Kingsbridge and he succeeds, leaving Philip as a fool and as an enemy. Meanwhile, Percy Hamleigh invades Shiring, takes Bartholomew, leaving Aliena and Richard unprotected. William arrives with his groom and they both rape Aliena, as Richard watched it all. She escapes with Richard and sets up a search to find her father, and when she does, he made her vow that she wouldn’t rest until Richard gained back the earldom of Shiring. Aliena then starts with a wool-selling business where she slowly, patiently, starts prospering. In the meantime, Tom Builder has arrived at Kingsbridge to ask for work, but none is found, so Jack burns down the cathedral and, now, Tom got a fixed job. They needed stone, so Philip went to the stone quarry only to find the Hamleighs had taken over it. He then makes a plan to scare off the workers at the quarry and take control of it, and succeeds. Waleran tries to stop the construction of Kingsbridge’s new cathedral by befriending bishop Henry, King Stephen’s brother, by telling him that instead the cathedral was to be built at Shiring. Philip learns about this and gathers a mass of people to show the King and the Bishop that his plans were succeeding. When Tom settled down, Philip imposed as a rule that he couldn’t live with Ellen, so she left, but then at this gathering she comes back and accepts to be married to Tom. Aliena keeps prospering at her wool merchandising with the help of Philip, and is able to cope with Richard’s knighthood’s expenses. William goes off to fight at the civil war at which Richard id valiantly fighting too. He then returns to Shiring to find its economy diminished and then proceeds to terrorize the town. He learns that Kingsbridge is flourishing with markets and resolves to take back the quarry, on Waleran’s advice, but fails. Philip goes to King Stephen to ask for license for his market, and almost gets it, but just at that moment William arrives with armed men and the fight begins again, so Philip goes to Maud. She wins the battle, and William swears allegiance to her. She then gives the license to the market but leaves an expensive fee and grants the quarry to William. Philip then comes up with the idea to hold a fleece fair to raise more funds in order to build the cathedral. Jack develops into a well accomplished young man and befriends Aliena, who’s now rich and prosperous in her wool merchandising and is also impressed with Jack’s many talents---in fact, realizes he’s in love with her. Aliena and Alfred team up for the construction of the cathedral and he proposes to her, but she refuses. Jack builds up a mill to ease Aliena’s work, and he kisses her, which makes her treat him stiffly after that. One day, Alfred discovers some of Jack’s father’s story and uses it to infuriate Jack, provoking a fight to which Philip does not approve and would result in Jack leaving the town, but Ellen pleads to him and Philip agrees only letting Jack stay as a novice. Meanwhile, the organization of the fleece fair is looking good and the very same day of the event, William arrives with his men, sets on fire the whole town, kills many citizens---Tom Builder included--- and leaves Kingsbridge in chaos and desolation; Aliena, too, loses her fortune. Kingsbridge then struggles to keep afloat, and Alfred becomes master builder, where he prospers. He proposes to Aliena and she was forced to accept as she was penniless and needed to finance Richard’s knighthood. Jack learns this, tries to escape and fails. Ellen then rescues him in the punishment cell he has been put into, and reveals what she knew about Jack’s father to him. The night before Aliena’s marriage, Jack goes to her house and they make love. She then tells him they can’t be together, and Jack storms off and leaves Kingsbridge. Ellen curses Alfred’s and Aliena’s marriage, and in effect, they could never consummate their marriage. To her utter disbelief, Aliena discovers she’s pregnant and figures out how to be so without Alfred noticing, as he would notice the infidelity. Kingsbridge’s ecnomy seems to go on a downfall, and the town’s morale is on the grounds. Philip resolves to speed up the construction and to open, at least the chancel, by Whitsun, and he invited several dignitaries. William then uses this opportunity to announce his Earldom, on Waleran’s advise on him changing allegiance to Stephen. By Alfred’s bad design, the chancel’s roof breaks down, killing many people; among this chaos, Aliena gives birth and moves in with Richard, making the infidelity obvious as the kid is ginger as Jack. She then sets to look for Jack, who said something about leaving to Spain. She finds him in France and they get together again. Jack had studied mathematics and had seen the different architectural designs. He befriended a Muslim converted to Catholic and almost married his daughter. On his return, Jack learns more about his father as he arrives to his father’s natal town. He brings back a Weeping Madonna and gathers money with it to help Kingsbridge. At his arrival, he mounts up a show to rise up the people’s morale; Philip finds out and enrages, but he sees it works on people, so he forgives it. Kingsbridge starts developing again as people come to visit the Weeping Madonna. Aliena and Jack are prohibited to live together meanwhile the marriage annulment arrives. But William talks Waleran out of this so Jack and Aliena are obliged to live apart and see each other once a week and she gets pregnant again. William marries Elizabeth, a teenage girl, who later meets Aliena and befriends her. William hears of Kingsbridge’s prosperity and resolves to raid Kingsbridge once again, but fails because they had already heard about it and were already armed and ready to fight---they had built a surrounding wall, too. Bad weather causes famine, and Alfred comes from Shiring asking for work. A storm diminishes Kigsbridge, and the priory’s finances collapse, which causes Philip to tell Jack the salaries will be cut off. The workers leave then to Shiring with Alfred. A group of outlaws try to sack Kingsbridge, whose citizens were alerted previously by Ellen. They outmaneuver the outlaws, but Richard calls them and convinced them to break into Shiring into an organized mob; they succeed at this, and William almost dies at Richard’s hands. Francis carries news to Philip about a Henry of Anjou, a strong leader capable of gaining the throne of England back with his huge army. Apparently, they had reached to an agreement: Stephen will rule until his death, and then Henry would take charge. They then announce that the earldoms would be restored to their original masters, but Aliena and Richard take the matter on their own hands and, with Elizabeth’s help, they take control of Shiring again. Waleran then promises William the Sheriff title if he built the cathedral at Shiring. HE makes it so, and William becomes Sheriff. In a festival, Alfred tries to rape Aliena, Richard discovers him and kills him. William is coming after him, so he resolves to go to fight in the Holy Lands, leaving Aliena in charge of Richard’s mismanaged earldom. Aliena marries Jack and they live happily now on. As a last resort, William involves in a complot to kill Thomas Beckett, enemy of King Henry, gets caught with the rest of the perpetrators and is killed---Philip sees everything and organizes a procession to honour Thomas Beckett. Philip becomes Bishop of Kingsbridge, Jack finished the magnificent cathedral, Aliena gives the earldom to her son, and the book finished with the symbolical whipping of King Henry’s. The recurrent theme throughout the book is definitely human nature, humanity. This book goes into each of human’s aspects, on their feelings, on the society conformed by us… It is a book that generally covers humanity’s struggle between good and evil, much of a universal theme. It is the consummation, the convergence of human’s conscience against their acts. The title, I think it refers to the four major forces that move humans: greed, love, faith, and evil; the four major pillars of the Earth. Waleran would be the major agent to greed, while the uncountable love expressions throughout the book are just vain to mention; faith, In Philip’s and Jack’s perseverance in the building of the cathedral, and William as sheer evil’s representative. In regard to the figures of speech, in the chapter when Thomas Beckett is killed, there´s a line that recites: ‘’When the killers had gone, there was a moment of frozen silence’’. This is a metaphor, because the silence cannot have such attribute; it really means that, due to the intensity of the moment, everything became still and time stopped as if it was frozen. We also have this sentence, ‘’ He was an intimidating man anyway, with his broad shoulders and deep chest and huge head; but when he was angry his blue-grey eyes became bloodshot, his freckled face went red, and his customary restlessness turned into the furious pacing of a captive bear’’, on referring to King Henry II. The last phrase is a comparison of King Henry’s behavior to that of a bear, and it’s a metaphor, too. And we have a simile here in ‘’ She spoke in a voice that rang like a trumpet, and echoed from the clerestory of her son's church’’, when It refers to Ellen in the last part of the book in the moment she entered the church. It’s comparing Ellen’s voice to a trumpet’s sound, which means it was probably loud and musical. The point of view of this novel is third person omniscient. The narrator does not take part in the story, but know the character’s feelings and thoughts, things that normally other characters wouldn’t have known if it hadn’t been said. To read a narrative like this one is pretty easy and easy to understand; it’s a surplus because we find ourselves knowing more than we should. The narrator tells us what he wants to know and at its given time, and a noticeable advantage to this is that we get to know more easily the characters in the story. If the story had been narrated from, let’s say, Prior Phlip’s point of view, it would’ve been less clear to us because we would only get to know and see the work throughout Philip’s eyes, and maybe even judge things as Philip did because we would be immersed in his own being. To continue, we have the tone, which I find it to be realistic, straight-faced and point-blank, because the author never portrays things in an unrealistic manner; for example, the scenes where people got killed were ultra-graphic, it left nothing to imagination, but it didn’t fall into morbidity. The same with the sexual scenes: they were so graphically described, but I didn’t feel it like morbid or obscene. I think the author used this tone to make this novel more believable, for people to really relate themselves with the characters and the events; that is, to approach the reader to the story, and because I don’t think people like to be deceived anyways. As to my opinion of this book, it’s a pleasure for me not to have a limit of pages for this essay, because there are so many things I would like to express, and I will. To start, the time the author took to write this book (ten years, I think they were) totally compensates the work. This is an epically, masterfully and carefully polished work of art. As I said before, it’s a portrait of humanity and its universality. The theme it covers is broad and, to my opinion, the author does achieve it successfully, although there are some things I disagreed with, for example, that I thought it mainstream that the scene of Jacques Cherbourg’s hanging had phrases in common with that of William Hamleigh’s hanging; too, I did not like much the love dialogue between Aliena and Jack. I felt there was something missing, or some other phrases were like mainstream, but there wasn’t something to make me fall for that couple; instead, I kind of fell for Philip (such a strange thing). I thought the author did this maybe because he didn’t want us to idealize love through carefully thought love phrases; but, really, I didn’t ‘’sighed of love’’ when love scenes between Aliena and Jack were presented. Again, the author did wonderful in his research on architecture, although I didn’t appreciate this and I skipped those parts because I had trouble imagining those scenarios. I’ve always thought of something: yet there hasn’t been an evil character that I wouldn’t hate, all but Cathy Ames in East of Eden. The evil characters here were just odious people, and I hated them. My point with this is that I don’t know with what purpose the author made William Hamleigh so evil, as an example. Passing on to another point, I found the suspense parts the most exciting ones because they left me at the very edge of emotions; after that, I felt either relieved or pained, depending on the outcome. In regard to recommendation to somebody else, I wouldn’t doubt it a second: it’s a book with an easy narrative, suspense, catching story, precise description, strong characters, an understandable yet neither simple nor not too common language… In fine, it has got all the elements to make this novel a best-seller, a thriller. It’s a novel of easy digestion. And if they complain about the length of the book, I would gladly say that it’s totally worth it; not in vain it was written in a 10-year span. The producers of the series based on this novel totally twisted the whole meaning of it. On the works cited, I can only say I based myself, on the description of the characters, with the annotations previously taken in class. And, just to remember and describe accurately the events in regard to the storyline, I browsed the following webpage: http://www.richardwarrenfield.com/essaypillarsofearthsynopsis.htm. As a conclusion to this essay, I beg forgiveness if I sinned of being too informal or too subjective in some parts. The Pillars of the Earth is a book I would probably reread in a couple of years when I have forgotten all of it. It’s definitely a story to be remembered. As an afterthought, I ought to say that the fact that it’s situated in the 12th century does not necessarily make it less applicable to these days’ events. Human beings will always be ambitious, will always love, and will always have the evil by their sides, tempting them. But, although some of us think it sometimes to be idle and corny, faith is what keeps this world from falling apart.

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