Thursday, April 19, 2012

Heroes & Masculinity in "The Sun Also Rises"

The theme of masculinity is interesting to explore in this novel.  With Jake, you have a character who questions his masculinity due to the war injury that left him impotent.  He doesn't seem as openly aggressive and hostile as Bill, though, who is more vocal and obvious in his display of typical masculine characteristics such as an intolerance for seemingly weak or homosexual men.  Instead of trying to compensate for his castrating injury by becoming hyper-masculine in other areas, Jake retreats into himself, never opening up about his experience in the war or how his injury has left him feeling.  He goes through the motions of drinking and carousing with everyone else, but he can't enjoy it because the war and his injury have sapped the purpose and excitement out of his life.  While the feelings he's having and certainly the effects of his injury would be viewed by this group of people as feminine, he still handles them in a typically repressed, masculine way.  His feelings toward Romero are also interesting, since he represents more of the classic male hero, who fights bravely against his foe using a specialized set of skills and ends up getting the girl.  When placed next to a figure like this, it has to be extremely difficult for Jake to see him succeed in ways that he wants desperately, but can never achieve.  

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Babylon Revisited

I thought today's discussion about Babylon Revisited raised some interesting questions.  One thing in particular that was intriguing to me was whether Charlie was really ready to have Honoria back in his life.  While I think he's on his way, and that it's what he and Honoria both want, I have to say no.  I think he jumped the gun in asking that she come live with him.  The main concern is that he has his drinking under control, and I don't think he's quite there yet.  He says that he has one drink a day so that he won't obsess over it, but I think that if he assumes he'll be obsessing over having a drink if he goes cold turkey, then the problem is still there.  I also think that he needs to find a new place to hang out besides the bar, and start associating with some healthier people.  There are obviously some painful memories in the family's past, and issues that still need working out.  It's understandable that Charlie would want to expedite the process, but that would do more harm then good.  He needs to make sure that Honoria would be coming into a stable environment.  Another thing that I also noticed was how nice Lincoln was about the whole situation.  He really seemed to be rooting for Charlie, and he seems like a good person for him to have around on his road to recovery.  The parallels between the Charlie and Helen and Fitzgerald and Zelda are yet another compelling element to the story, and they give a heartbreaking insight into Fitzgerald's troubles.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Other Two

One thing that I found interesting when reading and discussing "The Other Two" by Edith Wharton was the fact that Waythorn was primarily concerned with handling the fact that his wife had been divorced twice, not the fact itself.  My impression of the time period in which the story was written is that divorce was still largely looked down upon, but that doesn't seem to be of much concern in the story.  It's mentioned that Alice has a bit of a reputation around town, but it's not the central problem facing the characters.  It's accepted that Varick and Haskett were both married to Alice, Haskett having fathered her child, and that all parties have moved on since then.  The story could give this impression because the reader isn't really given an insight into the situation from the outside, instead having a one-sided perspective of the people directly involved.  The story is comical in its depiction of the awkwardness of having exes still in the picture, but there's still a slightly feminist tone to it.  Alice may be characterized as a bit flighty and ditzy, but she's also able to navigate her marriages, past and present, with apparent ease.  She affects each of the men in such a way that they are unable to resist the chance to be in her company.  A conflicting argument might be that if Alice were truly a feminist figure, she would abandon her husbands altogether and make a life for herself and her daughter, but to move from man to man like she does is a highly modern practice for the time, and she doesn't seem to be constrained by the social norms that were in place.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

A Man Adrift

After considering the poem "A man adrift on a slim spar" by Steven Crane, the portrayal of nature reminded me of "To Build a Fire" by Jack London.  In the poem, the sea is characterized as a massive, fearful beast.  It froths, lashes, and growls - it sinks, heaves, and reels.  The horizon is so distant that it can barely be distinguished.  This vastness and danger is echoed in the description of the landscape in the short story.  There's nothing but ice and snow as far as the eye can see.  Both works employ a Naturalist image of the sublime - with nature as something that is awesome as well as fearsome.  The characters in both of the pieces are placed at the mercy of nature in one way or another, and both of them end up having their lives snuffed out by its power.  It's a dark and poignant image that makes these kinds of works fascinating to read.  

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Blue Vein Society

After reading "The Wife of His Youth" and thinking about Ryder's position in the Blue Vein Society, the idea of what being a member of a group like that would entail and connote started to interest me further.  We talked in class about how the purpose of these groups was to provide a place for mixed race citizens of a certain social pedigree to convene and establish a feeling of unity.  When I first looked at it for the group presentation, I saw this concept in a rather negative way.  As people of mixed races, it seemed like they should be more sensitive to the plight of the African American slaves instead of distancing themselves from them and suppressing that part of their heritage.  The function of the society seemed basically to be to allow the members to remind themselves and each other of how special and important they were.  But there's another side that didn't immediately occur to me.  People of mixed race can't have had an easy time of it in that moment in history.  Having even a trace of African heritage could cause people to associate you with the slave community and therefore view you as an inferior being.  Though each case was surely different, it had to have taken a good amount of struggle and hard work somewhere along the line to achieve the social standing of people in the Blue Vein Society.  Why wouldn't they want to recognize and celebrate that?  Identifying with the slave community would mean risking your position in society in addition to other things, including your own personal safety.  Speaking from a personal standpoint, I think that I've come to expect a lot from the protagonists in whatever pieces I'm reading, and it's easy to expect them all to act heroically.  The reality is that these are human characters with their own stories and flaws.  It may be frustrating at times, but it's what keeps literature interesting.  

Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Plantation Tradition in Children's Literature

I though that our discussion today in class brought up some interesting topics regarding the Uncle Remus stories and their portrayal in children's books and the Disney movie Song of the South.  When I was growing up, I remember reading the book Br'er Rabbit Saves His Skin and thinking it was just another storybook telling a story about rambunctious forest creatures.  The Br'er Rabbit story we analyzed in class today could be looked at in the same way, but the metaphors it contained about the relationship between master and slave in the South prior to the Civil War sheds new light on the subject.  When I was researching Br'er Rabbit and Song of the South, particularly looking at clips of the film on YouTube, many of the comments were incredulous as to how the film could be seen as racist.  It makes me think that people either aren't aware of the race issues at play, or simply write them off because of the context.  The fact that the film is perpetuating the "happy slave" stereotype and casting the Old South in a nostalgic light a la Gone With the Wind isn't necessarily something that a viewer might peg as blatantly racist, but I think it's a problem if people simply allow themselves to be spoon-fed entertainment and don't put any effort into looking deeper into the details.  Looking back at Br'er Rabbit, one element in particular, the tar pit and referring to a character as "tar-baby," stood out to me as an obvious racist red-flag.  I'm hesitant to say that children shouldn't be exposed to this kind of material, because when I read the story as a child I did simply take it at face value, and didn't end up a racist bigot.  It's like how in elementary school we celebrated Columbus Day as the day that America was discovered, and it's not until later in our education that we learned how awful Columbus really was to the Native Americans (at least that was my experience).  It's a knotty topic, but the reality is that these kinds of stories and events are a part of our country's history whether we like it or not.  I think that the best thing to do is to not necessarily pretend like they're evil or that they don't exist, but just be honest about their origins and history.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Sarah Fairbanks & Lizzie Borden

It was interesting to me that the story The Long Arm was based on/inspired by the Lizzie Borden murders.  After refreshing my memory on what the exact events were in that case, though, I only see a few similarities.  In both cases, there are young women who are at one point accused of murdering one or both of their parents.  Both women alter/destroy dresses after the murders take place.  Both had wealthy fathers and stood to inherit a good deal of money after they died.  Both were acquitted of the crimes, but still remained figures of suspicion.   The main difference is that the murder in The Long Arm was eventually solved, while the Borden case is still under much speculation.  Another thing the two stories have in common is that they're highly intriguing.  I had never read a mystery from this time period, and it was interesting to see how the plot was set up and how the female author and protagonist went about handling the situation.  The story had most of the conventions we expect from a murder mystery:  multiple suspects, various clues, and hidden motivations that don't come to the surface until the very end.  I have to say, though, that I wasn't overly surprised that the culprit ended up being Phoebe Dole.  She was cast in a suspicious light from the beginning, and her confession ended up being her most shocking action.  The women in the story were definitely identifiable to the time period; Sarah was obedient to her father, Maria Woods is reduced to hysterics and fainting spells, and neither Sarah nor Phoebe is able to muster the strength to pull the trigger of a gun.  The situation Sarah finds herself in is definitely something new, but other than that the characterizations of the characters, both male and female, in the story seem very "of the times".  I think that the story of The Long Arm could have been more successful as a mystery had it more resembled the Lizzy Borden case, in that so many of the questions remain unanswered, which heightens the interest and tension.  Because The Long Arm is written in the form of Sarah Fairbanks's journal, the reader is more just given the facts instead of much plot.  The story is there, but the mystery and suspense is lacking.