Author Archives: aeernst

The Symbolic Night

The action in Murakami’s After Dark takes place in one night, and the concept of night is both very literal and symbolic to the characters. Mari meets an interesting group of people throughout the night, and most of these characters are going through their symbolic night, or darkest place. Takahashi is very unhappy with focusing all of his energy on the band, and he is about to change that and hopefully bring about his figurative dawn. Throughout the night, he tells Mari how discontent and depressed he is, for he is in his figurative night. The Chinese prostitute is also in a very dark place, for she is only nineteen and is having to sell herself for the opportunity to be in Japan. Also, this particular night is especially bad for her, and there is not a much worse situation for Mari to find her in than beaten up and stripped of everything she had. Unfortunately, her figurative night may not be anywhere near ending, and we will never know what actually happens to her. Eri Asai might be in the darkest place of them all when we meet her. She has literally been sleeping for two months in a coma-like state with nothing physically wrong with her. We learn from Takahashi that Eri was extremely unhappy with life and had many regrets, but the kind of pain she must have been in to want to sleep for that long must have been severe. For her, the night has been continual for two months; she has not seen the literal or figurative dawn since then. For each of these people, the process to get to the dawn is very hard, and as the bartender said, “Time moves its own special way in the middle of the night. You can’t fight it.” (Murakami 78) However, each one will eventually get there because the night always comes to an end.

 

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Individual Freedom and the Power of Free Will in A Handmaid’s Tale and Anthem

As I was reading A Handmaid’s Tale, I noticed how prevalent the issue of freedom versus government control was. I am personally very interested in these kinds of issues and love discussing them, so that is why I decided to choose this as my topic. I have studied objectivism (Ayn Rand’s philosophy centered on individual rights) for many years now, and so I really enjoy reading texts that center around the individual and their power. I decided to bring in Ayn Rand’s Anthem into the discussion because it has some very similar concepts and incidences regarding the individual’s power as A Handmaid’s Tale, and I felt like it would strengthen my argument while incorporating a text that I love. Some moments that I am going to use from A Handmaid’s Tale are Offred’s relationship with the Commander as well as her multiple subversive acts throughout the work, including her creation of the tapes. I am also going to use examples from Anthem such as Equality 7-2521’s invention of the light bulb and discovery of the word “I”. These examples, as well as many more found in these works, show that free will cannot be suppressed by government and how important and powerful free will is.

Some things I would like to investigate further are:

  1. Are there any times where free will is overpowered? What were the circumstances?
  2. Is the distinction between intentional subversive acts and unintentional subversive acts important when discussing this topic?
  3. Is there another aspect of free will that I can bring to the discussion to strengthen my argument?

 

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Degradation of Education

Jamaica Kincaid obviously loves the library, and she makes this clear in the lengthy descriptions of it and the words she chooses to do so. Libraries are places of learning and knowledge, and that is why in this work the library represents the education system in Antigua. During the days of English colonization, the library was in pristine condition, absolutely beautiful, and a place of refuge for those, like Kincaid, who wanted to learn and do better for themselves. It was a sanctuary of learning and information until the earthquake, for the library was moved to a small, dingy building over a dry grocery. This change represents the change from a good, English education system to one governed by Antiguans. This education system was clearly inferior to the previous one, and Kincaid describes how people are basically illiterate and butcher the English language. Also there are limited opportunities for higher learning, besides the hospitality school, so the education system does not do its job, just as the library can no longer do its job. Most of the books are inaccessible either because they are packed away in boxes or the new librarians are incompetent.  Kincaid reflects on how it used to be, and say if you could see “the fairy tale of how we met you, your right to do the things you did, how beautiful you were, are and always will be, you would see why my heart would break at the dung heap that now passes for a library in Antigua.” (Kincaid 42) Just as her heart breaks at what now passes for a library in Antigua, her heart breaks for what passes for an education in Antigua.

 

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“Are there any questions?”

The historical notes section of The Handmaid’s Tale serves a very important purpose because it gives context to the story and answers some questions, while also asking more. The way that Offred’s account of her life ends on tape does not satisfy the reader, and so the historical notes give you that little bit more that the reader desperately wants.

Professor Pieixoto’s keynote address gives us more information about the larger society of the Republic of Gilead and the way it functioned, information that Offred would not know. We find out the larger context in which Offred and the rest of the people of Gilead lived, such as all of the civil wars and the theology and reasoning of many of the rules of the government. We also learn more details about the Underground Femaleroad and the large amount of resistance that Gilead faced. This information gives us a whole new set of circumstances in which to read Offred’s story.

We also find out answers to some questions in the historical notes, such as the fact that Nick must have been part of the Mayday group and orchestrated Offred’s escape because Offred’s tapes were found in a safe house of the Underground Femaleroad. We also most likely learn the Commander’s real identity, as well as his role in and contributions to the Republic of Gilead. Most importantly, we learn that the Republic is no longer a reality and is now something just to be studied. This brings the story to an absolute close because this society is no longer a threat to women and their freedom.

However much resolve the historical notes and Pieixoto’s address gives us, there are still questions that remain. We never learn Offred’s identity or her ultimate fate, along with those closest to her that she spoke so much about in her tapes. The fact that the address ends with Pieixoto saying “Are there any questions?” (Atwood 311) is represents how there are many more questions, but we do not get to learn the answers, for he stops the story there.

 

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Appreciating Freedom

Freedom can be defined in many different ways, and used for many different things. In our society, and the society that Offred used to be a part of, we have “freedom to”, freedom to do what we want with our time, money, and bodies. The Republic of Gilead, however, is a society based on “freedom from”, freedom from fear, choice, and control. This is what Aunt Lydia was referring to with the passage “There is more than one kind of freedom, said Aunt Lydia. Freedom to and freedom from.  In the days of anarchy, it was freedom to.  Now you are being given freedom from.  Don’t underrate it” (Atwood 24), and this is the central idea in the first half of this novel.

Offred’s narration of her life shows that she is now part of a society where she has very little freedom, but those adjusting her try to make it seem beneficial that she has freedom from control over her own body and actions, as well as freedom from thought. Offred describes how she “used to think of (her) body as an instrument, of pleasure, or a means of transportation, or an implement for the accomplishment of my will… one with me” (Atwood 72) but now she feels as if her body isn’t even hers. This shows how even the very basic freedom to control one’s own body has turned into a “freedom from”. She subjects to this control that is telling her this is right, thus turning herself into an object. She thinks back throughout this narration on her previous life, before The Republic of Gilead, when she had freedom to do with herself whatever she wished. As a young adult, she might have been promiscuous according to some standards, but she had the “freedom to”. I feel like Atwood’s message is everyone, especially women, should appreciate the freedoms we have over ourselves, because it can be too easy to turn the “freedom to” into the “freedom from”.

 

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The Apparatus and God’s Law

When reading “In the Penal Colony”, I could not help but think of the Old Commandant as the Old Testament God and the New Commandant as the New Testament God. This led me to view the apparatus as the Old Testament law and judgment, and the purpose of it breaking is to symbolize the end of Old Testament law.

When the Traveller asks about the Old Commandant he asks the Officer if he was “in his own person a combination of everything? Was he soldier, judge, engineer, chemist, and draftsman?” (Kafka par. 9) he gives the feeling that the Old Commandant was omnipotent, one of the characteristics of God. Also, the images of how the executions were in the days of the Old Commandant give the feeling of execution in the days of the Old Testament, when executions were a public spectacle. The Officer describes executions in the time of the Old Commandant as such “The entire valley was overflowing with people, even a day before the execution. They all came merely to watch” (Kafka par. 21), so obviously they were a public spectacle as well.

While the Old Commandant was able to judge and punish as he wished, just like the Old Testament God, the New Commandant was interested in creating a more fair system. He was trying to change the old ways to be more fair for those accused, just as the New Testament God, and he did not want to be the sole person giving judgment and punishment.

So if the Old Commandant is a symbol for the Old Testament God, and the New Commandant is a symbol for the New Testament God, then the apparatus is a symbol for the law and judgment of the Old Testament God. The apparatus was the means of enforcing the will of the Old Commandant, just as sole judgment and the law were the means of enforcing the will of the Old Testament God. The continual disrepair of the apparatus correlates with the disintegration of the need of the harsh judgments from God in the Old Testament, and the eventual breaking of the apparatus is the breaking of the need of this law.

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Could the Officer really be good?

I believe that the Officer from “In the Penal Colony” is truly a good person, however horrible some of his actions may be. He took pride in his work and always believed what he was doing was right until the very end, and I feel like that is a major component of a good person.

While determining what makes a good person is very difficult, one of my personal criteria is striving to do what is right. Throughout this story, the Officer did this, for he truly believed he was carrying out justice in his punishments. When first describing the machine to the Traveller, he said he was performing an “honorable duty” and that he was “certainly the person best able to explain our style of sentencing” (Kafka par. 8). He was proud of his duties and responsibilities, and we are never proud of something that we do not believe is right. When deflecting some of the Traveller’s questions about the justness of their sentencing procedure, the Officer once again believed he was serving justice, for he said “It would be useless to give him that information. He experiences it on his own body.” (Kafka par. 11)

In the condemnation of the Condemned Man, the Officer believed he had sufficient evidence to judge him, for “Guilt is always beyond a doubt”. When the Condemned Man supposedly threatens a captain by saying “Throw away that whip or I’ll eat you up”, (Kafka par. 12) I would think he was guilty as well.

One must consider the fact that this was a society dominated by military influences, and therefore, before condemning the Officer, realize that he also would have been punished in the times of the Old Commandant if he had spoken out against the machine and this form of execution. He was following orders, and by the time the New Commandant took charge, the Officer believed in the machine and its justness. Once the Officer realized no one else believed in the machine as he did, he freed the Condemned Man and was willing to subject himself to the same torturous death that he had put so many others through. This, in my opinion, is what ultimately makes him good. Even though me met a quicker death without all of the torturous hours, he wanted to put himself through it, and I think he was trying to redeem himself. In my opinion, he succeeded, and therefore was a good man.

 

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Space, Aliens, and the Unknown?

The Island of Dr. Moreau is a very interesting work since it can be classified into many different genres, but I believe it fits best in the genre of science fiction. According to Wikipedia, science fiction is a genre “dealing with the impact of imagined innovations in science or technology, often in a futuristic setting.” Since the main theme of the story is vivisection and the transformation of animals into humans through scientific means, I feel like it almost fits almost perfectly into this genre.

When I think of science fiction, my mind immediately goes to the Star Wars saga. While that may be a little more typical science fiction, according to the definition given above, The Island of Dr. Moreau fits as well. Vivisection was a very contentious topic in Britain around the time of the publishing of this work (“Our History”, par. 4), and the central idea to this novel is what the implications of this technology would be.

When Prendick first saw the Beast People, he thought of how “never before had (he) seen such bestial-looking creatures” and with the realization that they were almost human in form but had “an irresistible suggestion of a hog” (Wells 29) sent him into shock and questioning what they were and the situation he was in. The idea of animals turned into humans is very strange, and gives me the same feeling as something alien, which leads me to put this work in with other science fiction works as well.

 

“Our History.” British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection. BAUV, n.d. Web. 7 Feb 2011. <http://www.buav.org/about-us/our-history/&gt;.

 

 

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Political Morality – What is right?

When reading An Enemy of the People, I can’t help but notice the constant question of what is right when it comes to the decisions to be made by the people in charge of the town. From the very beginning, there is a disagreement about whether the baths should be closed, posing the question of who should be sacrificed, those who come to the baths for healing or the entire town. As the play progresses the question turns into if it is right to sacrifice Dr. Stockmann for the good of the town. More simply, this play is a question of sacrificing a few for the good of the whole.

Ibsen often wrote about current social issues, and the question posed in Enemy of the People was definitely current to him. Leading up to the 1870s, there was great political shifts in Europe, which included the movement from autocratic monarchies to forms of government that empowered the citizen. Many political leaders at the time believed in Utilitarianism, which is a philosophical school that preaches the greatest good for the greatest number. I feel like Ibsen wrote this play to challenge this philosophy, because you have someone who is advocating the greatest good for the greatest number (Peter Stockmann) even though he is covering up the truth.

As Dr. Stockmann begins his fight for what he believes is right, he says “They have tried to rob me of my most elementary rights as a man……. they have tried to degrade me, to make a coward of me, to force me to put personal interests before my most sacred convictions.” (Ibsen 35) Here he is saying that by trying to cover up the truth, Peter was depriving his brother of the most basic rights, his freedom to think and to speak his mind. Obviously Thomas did not subscribe to the Utilitarian philosophy, and he is constantly challenging it with his pursuit of the truth. Ibsen, however, does not answer explicitly state what the right thing to do is in this play, so we must read and decide for ourselves.

 

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Violence central to fairy tales?

Violence as a form of entertainment is not a new concept. People think that violent video games or movies or entertainment in general is new phenomena, but in reality violence has captured the people’s attention for generations. In the beginning stages of most fairy tales, they were told for their entertainment value and to pass the time (Tartar 3), and therefore violence is important in these texts because that’s what made the stories serve their purpose for the listeners or readers.

Throughout the development of the purpose of fairy tales, violence began to be used much less and as a scare tactic instead of entertainment. For the reader of this new type of fairy tale, violence was used to teach a lesson or moral. In the case of Bluebeard, however, violence is used to challenge “the myth of romantic love encapsulated in happily ever after of fairy tales” (Tartar 139) and challenges social norms.

For most readers of fairy tales, violence helps in the reading of the text. Realistically, it makes the stories more interesting and therefore grabs the attention of the reader more. It’s the same concept of not being able to look away from something violent or disturbing even if you one wants to; this is human nature.

For the characters in the texts, however, violence is not as unilaterally beneficial. The heroine, Little Red Riding Hood, or her equivalent is eaten in many versions of the tale, and sometimes even more violent action, such as cutting open the wolf’s stomach, occurs. The violence in Bluebeard is even more extreme, and includes corpses hanging from hooks and dismembered bodies. While we never actually see violence occur in this text, the fear from knowing what had been done in the past is still as effective as actually seeing the violence.

When we think of fairy tales nowadays, violence is nowhere near the first thing to cross our minds. However, violence is crucial to these stories because that is how they entertained and taught the morals, and therefore violence embodies the purpose of these tales.

 

 

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