Jamaica Kincaid’s “What I Have Been Doing Lately” and Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan” by comparison seem to share a similar theme. The narrators in both stories take the reader with them as they travel through a realm of delusion. Both authors give a depiction of a dream using vivid imagery, in which they both tell his or her story from a first-person point of view, giving the reader a fantastical description of the landscape.
One of the most noticeable elements in kincaid’s short story is that of reality versus fantasy. The story begins with the narrator in bed, which perhaps implies that the story is a capricious dream. There are many details in this short story that depicts this idea. The narrator gives many descriptions that support this idea such as, the narrator describes how the landscape changes as the narrator passes through it and includes the detail that years passed as the narrator waited on the banks of the body of water. The narrator tells the reader of “Looking at the horizon again, I saw a lone figure coming toward me, but I wasn’t frightened because I was sure it was my mother” (244). The narrator discovered that the figure was a woman, and not the narrator’s mother. The woman said “’it’s you. Just look at that. It’s you’” (244). Although the woman recognized the narrator, the narrator did not recognize her. The woman asked, “’ and what have you been doing lately?’” (244). The narrator contemplated on how to answer the question and comes up with several different answers including, “I could have said,” “’I have been praying not to grow any taller’” (244), which implies that the narrator is tall. One answer in which the narrator contemplates finally tells the gender of the narrator, “I could have said,” “’ I have been listening carefully to my mother’s words, so as to make a good imitation of a dutiful daughter’” (244); this statement concludes to the reader that the narrator is a woman. Rather than answer the woman’s question using one of these answers she has conjured up in her mind, the narrator decides to tell the woman her story from the beginning, in which starts in the bed. The narrator essentially covers the same story twice: first when the recounted events ostensibly happen to the narrator and then when she answers the woman who asks her what it is she has been doing lately. However, the story does not place any of the events that take place within any specific time periods or national boundaries. The story carries the reader through diverse terrain, which may in fact exist only within a dream.
In comparison, the narrator in Coleridge’s poem takes the reader on a drug-induced trip through Paradise in a dream. Referring to Paradise as Xanadu the narrator speaks of
In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea. (1-5)
This passage imparts that the narrator is describing a place he has imagined in his mind, a place that he has imagined in a state of euphoria. In the next passage the narrator uses vivid imagery to describe to the reader the landscape surrounding him:
So twice five miles of fertile ground
With walls and towers were girdled round:
And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills,
Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree;
And here were forests ancient as the hills,
Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.(6-11)
Furthermore the speaker is repeating the contrasting images of the “sunny pleasure-dome”, and the “caves of ice” (36). The speaker gives his evaluation of the phenomenon depicted in the preceding lines; he terms it as a “miracle” (35), an unexpected event of a super- natural kind, and, at the same time, as based upon a very strange kind of design or plan “of rare device” (35). The poem contrasts a man-made, earthly paradise, which proves unable to resist demonic forces and is destined to be destroyed, with a “true” form of Paradise. The contradiction comes in the “sunny pleasure-dome with caves of ice.” Because light is associated with heat, and ice with winter and death, this contradiction is both mystical and confounding. By using this fantastic image, the dome becomes once again a prison of nature, where the dome is warm, yet amidst the frigid caverns that lay beyond it or even as a part of it. From this point on, the pleasure dome becomes a point of nostalgia for the speaker, and will be a point of reference to describe the extraordinary and ultimately unobtainable in the real world.
In comparison both narrators speak of the beautiful landscape that surrounds them, however using vivid imagery they also describe dark places perhaps even demonic places that they visited in their dreams. In a sense the reader of Kincaid’s short story and Coleridge’s poem might get the impression that both authors are describing Heaven and Hell here on Earth. Both narrators’ language reflects a detachment from bizarre events in which they tell in a reportorial fashion. In the same way both authors use symbols and allegory to depict to the reader a fantastical dream. In Kincaid’s short story and Coleridge’s poem it is hard for the reader to pinpoint a specific theme, each tell a tale of supernatural events and describe mystical landscapes in which gives the reader a clear vision of surreal happenings. I have concluded that the only theme for both the story and the poem is that each author is describing a whimsical dream. In both the story and poem each author take the reader on a journey through their imagination.
Kincaid , Jamaica. “What I Have Been Doing Lately.”
Literature: An Introduction to Reading and Writing. Ed, Edgar V. Roberts and Henry E. Jacobs. 8th ed. Upper Saddle River Pearson, 2007. 243-245.
Coleridge, Taylor, Samuel. “Kubla Khan.”
Literature: An Introduction to Reading and Writing. Ed. Edgar V. Roberts and Henry E. Jacobs. 8th ed. Upper Saddle River Pearson, 2007. 767-768.