Author Archives: jnellymin

Nothing is Black and White in After Dark

In the novel After Dark by Haruki Murakami, the lines between good and evil are blurred and Murakami suggests that both of these natures exist in everyone. We can see this first and foremost in the way the story is narrated- the story is not presented in first person and hence we are given a very objective point of view. We are not immediately aware of who is the protagonist and antagonist of our story and Murakami mentions many times that we are merely “observers”.

Another place that the delineation between good and evil is blurred is when we meet the man who beat up the prostitute at Alphaville. Upon meeting him we are surprised to find that he seems like a very ordinary man and Murakami makes the suggestion that perhaps the man was forced to do this: “He does not look like the kind of man who would buy a Chinese prostitute in a love hotel- and certainly not one who would administer an unmerciful pounding to such a woman…. In fact, however, that is exactly what he did- what he had to do” (Murakami 99). Once we figure out who our villain might be, the rug is pulled from under us and the neutrality of the story- as in between good and evil- is maintained.

Finally, when Takahashi is describing to Mari why it is that he wanted to become a lawyer, he notes the discovery of the dual presence of both good and evil in every person and how this peaked his curiosity to explore this further. He notes how “…that there really was no such thing as a wall separating their world [evil] from mine [good]” (Murakami 117). Takahashi also admits that he cried when a criminal was sentenced to death and asks us “Why should that have been?” (Murakami 120). Perhaps, it is because of his realization that not only evil, but good as well, resides in these criminals and that the criminals may not be all that different from himself. In this way, Murakami manages to not provide us with a protagonist or antagonist, and blurs the lines between good and evil- at least thus far.

 

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Using An Enemy of the People and A Small Place to Reinterpret Capitalism

What has drawn me to write my final paper on A Small Place and An Enemy of the People is that the message of these books can have profound real-world consequences if interpreted correctly and taken seriously. Granted, most of the books we have read make some important statement about the nature of humanity, but these books, I feel, apply the most to our present society and problems in our country. With correct interpretation, these novels can lend some insight on how to re-interpret and analyze global politics. The part most useful to me in An Enemy of the People is when Dr. Thomas Stockman is ostracized by his community because his ideas are at odds with capitalist notions. Many parts of A Small Place will be helpful for my paper, especially when Kincaid speaks of how England, as a byproduct of their capitalism, left behind a disfranchised people. My paper will argue how these two books prove that capitalism, simply by selecting a group to be included, must always exclude some, and how it is in the nature of this system to sometimes take advantage of these disfranchised groups. My paper will also look at how these books may be used to reinterpret capitalism and how we may use these books to provide social and political insight into many of the global problems of today.  Things that I would like to explore further are:

  1. What exactly is the colonial history of Antigua? How does their past involvement in Britain’s capitalist system influence their political and economic success today?
  2. What are some issues today that represent a trade-off between economic success and morality such as the issue of the baths in An Enemy of the People? How do these issues tend to be decided?
  3. How do capitalist systems create disenfranchised groups in the novels and in real life?

 

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The library as a symbol of opportunity

The library in A Small Place was for Jamaica Kincaid, before it was demolished by the earthquake, a symbol of opportunity. A library contains many books with endless answers and ideas to endless questions. Some books may also contain an escape- a story other than your own which you can imagine is your own for a short while in order to escape your own misery. So in this way, the library represented opportunity for Jamaica Kincaid with its many ideas to answer her many questions and many stories to fill her curiosity. Perhaps, in this library, the people of Antigua received some kind of hope that Antigua would one day be a better place as the books filled their heads with ideas of liberty and stories that always had happy endings where anything was possible.

The destruction of the old library, its ever-pending repairs, and the new dilapidated library above the dry goods store, all represent the destruction of this hope and of the opportunities that were once present for Antigua. No longer do the people have access to all of the libraries books: “… is too small to hold all of the books from the old building, and so most of the books, instead of being on their nice shelves, resting comfortably, waiting to acquaint me with you and all your greatness, are in cardboards boxes in a room, gathering mildew or dust or ruin. In this place, the young librarians cannot find what they want” (Kincaid 43). Perhaps the librarians now not being able to find what they want is an extended metaphor for the people of Antigua. Furthermore, after the destruction of the old library it seems that the youth of Antigua have become “almost illiterate” (Kincaid 43) because “…unlike my generation, how stupid they seemed, how unable they were to answer in a straightforward way, and in their native tongue of English, simple questions about themselves. In my generation they would not have been allowed on the school stage much less before an audience in a stadium” (Kincaid 44). Hence, with the increasing stupidity of the young generation of Antigua, Antigua finally loses all hope of coming out of its current corruption. With the fall of the old library comes the reduction of opportunities for Antigua.

 

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Future Society Analogous to Our Own



The conclusion of The Handmaid’s Tale offers us no insight into the fate of our protagonist Offred and the historical notes do not offer us any sort of resolution either. The lack of resolution, of conclusion, in the novel functions to remind the reader that no future is certain. Even though Offred’s destiny was already decided in Gilead as being a handmaid, we can see that this is not her ultimate fate- whether she ends up in Jezebel’s, in the colonies, or if she escapes is uncertain, however, we can see through this ending that a society, even one as totalitarian as Gilead, cannot successfully map the destinies of their population and that no matter how oppressive the society, the society can not account for all variables and will ultimately fail.

Most importantly. the historical ending contradicts much of what Atwood was trying to convince us of in the preceding part of the book. In the first part of the book Atwood writes in a way that we sympathize with Offred and judge Gilead to be an immoral society. In the historical notes however, Peixoto contradicts this by stating “…we must be cautious about passing moral judgement upon the Gileadeans” (Atwood 302) and continues by making excuses for the Giledeans immoral practices by citing declining birthrates. The audience to Peixoto’s lecture seem almost unmoved by Offred’s plight as they talk about the recordings in a nonchalant way, laughing at intervals. They even value some readings from the Commander’s computer more than the moral teachings of Offred’s plight: “What we would give, now, for even twenty pages or so of print-out from Waterford’s private computer!” (Atwood 310). This future society may think of themselves as progressive, but their society still has a core of patriarchy and oppression. The historical ending, in conclusion, has the effect of creating a society much like ours, who believe themselves to be progressive but in fact have seeds of oppression which may grow into totalitarianism if left alone. Atwood urges us to think of Gilead as a possible future and to rethink our own society, as it is, in fact, not progressive but primitive.

 

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Dehumanization of Women

In the city of Gilead in The Handmaid’s Tale, women are protected from violence but at a horrible cost- their absolute freedom. Women are no longer raped or abused by strange men but must submit to the state-sanctioned rape by their commanders. In chapter five Aunt Lydia speaks about freedom: “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).

The “freedom to” she is referring to is the freedom to choose. In chapter eleven we can see how Gilead has taken away Offred’s ability to choose. The doctor has given Offred an escape and yet she is horrified at the thought of such freedom, of being able to make her own decisions: “Why am I frightened? I’ve crossed no boundaries, I’ve given no trust, taken no risk, all is safe. It’s the choice that terrifies me. A way out, a salvation” (Atwood 61). Offred has become accustomed to the prisoner lifestyle of Gilead. When she bears her chains well they are almost comforting for her and she does not dare to do otherwise.

The “freedom from” that Aunt Lydia talks about is freedom from violence. “Now we walk along the same street, in red pairs, and no man shouts obscenities at us, speaks to us, touches us. No one whistles” (Atwood 24). In chapter thirteen Janine testifies about how she was raped and had an abortion at fourteen, something that would never happen now in Gilead. However, with this freedom from, another freedom is taken away. In the society of Gilead, women are always the guilty party as is shown when the women in the group chant that the rape is Janine’s fault for leading the men on. The next week Janine admits, “It was my own fault. I led them on. I deserve the pain” (Atwood 72).

Through a close reading of Aunt Lydia’s quote in chapter five, we see that in Gilead women are protected and given freedom from many evils but at the cost of their own free will and choice. Furthermore women are dehumanized in this society as shown in the quotation: “I used to think of my body as an instrument, of pleasure, or a means of transportation, or an implement for the accomplishment of my will . . . Now the flesh arranges itself differently. I’m a cloud, congealed around a central object, the shape of a pear, which is hard and more real than I am and glows red within its translucent wrapping” (Atwood 73). Before, Offred’s body was an extension of herself but now she is no longer the master of her own body. Her body is now only the covering of the only thing that matters in Gilead- her womb. Offred is no longer a woman or even a human being-only a womb.

 

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The Apparatus: Undoing of a Flawed Society

The self-destruction of the machine at the end of The Penal Colony is surely a symbol of the final unraveling of the penal system in the colony. The apparatus destroyed itself, much like the judicial system of the colony, which did not need the help of the traveller or the commandant to initiate its undoing.

The judicial system in the island is inherently flawed and thus bound for destruction. This is showed in the passage by the squeaking wheel of the machine: “Everything started moving. If the wheel had not squeaked, it would have been marvellous” (Kafka par. 15). The squeaky wheel is a congenital flaw of the machine, which, as hard as the officer may try at the present time, can not be removed. Another inherent flaw of the system is showed in the diagrams of the machine written by the previous commandant. The only people who seem to understand the diagrams are the officer and the deceased commandant which is seen when the officer presents the diagrams to the traveller: “These covered the paper so thickly that only with difficulty could one make out the white spaces in between. ‘Read it,’ said the Officer. ‘I can’t,’ said the Traveller. ‘But it’s clear,’ said the Officer” (Kafka par. 15). This exchange between the officer and the traveller demonstrates the absurdity of the the penal system since it seems that no one alive except the officer can make any sense of the current judicial system, making it impractical for use.

Finally, when the officer realizes that the traveller disagrees with the use of the apparatus he submits himself to the machine. The machine commences to stab the officer and self-destruct- the final coup de grace of the penal system. This final action symbolizes that the reign of the previous commandant and the penal system is over. The destruction of the apparatus occurs from within, and does not need to be destroyed by others because of the inherent flaws of the machine and the penal system. In conclusion, the destruction of the apparatus signifies the destruction of a flawed system, and that perhaps all flawed systems will eventually come to an end from within, without outside help.

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The Horrors of Humanity

One may originally be inclined to classify The Island of Dr. Moreau as science fiction- after all, our antagonist is a mad scientist who in a quest for knowledge using futuristic technology, facilitates the destruction of himself, Montgomery, and the society of the Beast Men. Upon closer review however, we see that the element of science fiction is only a device used by H.G Wells to further the plot and reveal the true meaning behind the story. Namely, The Island of Dr. Moreau is H.G Well’s way of unmasking the bestiality present in humanity and the hypocrisy of our own society. In this light, we can see that The Island of Dr. Moreau is more so a horror story than it is a tale of science-fiction.

The horror in The Island of Doctor Moreau comes with the realization that all men can revert to a more animalistic state of being much like the Beast Men do once Dr. Moreau dies. We see this reversion in Prendick when he is living amongst the animals with no human companionship: “My clothes hung about me as yellow rags…my hair grew long… my eyes had a strange brightness” (Wells 98). We also witness this with Montgomery after Dr. Moreau dies- he runs outside and offers the Beast Men drink, lowering his position to that of the animal. Prendick at the end of the novel comes to the conclusion that men are beasts at heart when he returns to London: “I see faces keen and bright, others dull or dangerous, others unsteady, insincere; none that have the calm authority of a reasonable soul” (Wells 103). When Pendrick returns to London he lives in fear that the people around him will begin to revert to their bestial forms. After all, what other than our own self-recognition keeps us towards the upper end of humanity?

Another horror of the story worth mentioning is the recognition that there is nothing we can do to abstain from sinning. The Beast Men could not help but be beasts and all on the island knew that the Law was in vain: “‘The stubborn beast flesh grows day by day back again’” (Wells 90). Similarly, original sin is a natural part of mankind. One can try to abstain from it, but like the Beasts, will eventually have to break the Law.

 

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The Social Problem of Group-think

In the play An Enemy of the People there are many social and political issues that Henrik Ibsen touches upon. The one that I find most pressing is the social problem of “group-think”- that a people en masse are inclined to believe whatever authorities tell them. The population in the play never questions their sources of information- The People’s Messenger or the mayor- about the validity of the facts that they present but instead just follow them blindly. The third citizen in regard to Dr.Stockman’s opinion even states “But he is in the wrong; it said so in the People’s Messenger (51).   Because the mayor and the “liberal-minded press” have already told the citizens how to feel about the subject of the pollution of the Baths, they are not even willing to listen to Dr.Stockman’s opposing opinion on the Baths and yell at him while he is giving his speech at the town meeting: “Don’t talk about the Baths! We won’t hear you! None of that!” (56).

Furthermore, the people of the town are so scared of public opinion that they dare not go against it for fear of being estranged, much like Dr. Stockman is because of his difference of opinion. Dr. Stockman is evicted by his landlord, Morten and Ejlif are sent home from school, and Petra, Dr. Stockman, and Captain Horster are all given notice simply because the landlord, the teacher, and their bosses did “not dare do otherwise- on account of his fellow citizens- out of regard for public opinion (68).” The true problem in the play is that individuals are not allowed without social barriers to say and think what they please without fear of being ostracized. Dr. Stockman and his family are estranged form society for going against public officials and this fact of life keeps the citizens from ever thinking differently or forming their own opinions. Perhaps if the society Dr. Stockman lived in were more liberal minded, the citizens would have been able to see the doctor’s point of view, and he would have found more support for his position on the Baths. At the very least, Dr. Stockman, Petra, and Captain Horster would not have been fired because of their difference of opinion, which has nothing to do with their performance at work.

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Bluebeard- The Horrific retelling of Beauty and the Beast

Both faerie tales, <i>Beauty and the Beast</i> and <i>Bluebeard</i>, commence in much the same way- a beautiful young woman is forced into a marriage with a less than charming husband. However, as much as the two plots seem identical at first, they ultimately have  very different views on marriage and the intentions of the groom. This author has to agree with the statements made by Tartar that the tale of <i>Bluebeard</i> is “a troubling flipside to <i>Beauty and the Beast”</i> (139).

The role of family is completely opposite in both of these tales. In <i>Beauty and the Beast</i> the family abandons Beauty to live with the Beast in most of the versions of the story. In the De Beaumont version, Beauty is abandoned by her father and forced to live with the Beast so she may save her father’s life. Furthermore, her jealous sisters betray her when they try to make her stay in the house longer in order to break her promise to the beast. In Angela Carter’s <i>The Tiger’s Bride</i>, Beauty is also forsaken by her father when he loses his daughter to the Beast in a game of cards. This is very different than the way family comes to play in the story of Bluebeard where in practically every retelling of the story family of the bride’s come to rescue her from the Beast. Although many of the marriages in <i>Bluebeard</i> are arranged by family, the wives are not left stranded with their husbands such as in <i>Beauty and the Beast</i>.

Lastly, the conclusions that both stories draw about marriage are completely different. In Beauty and the Beast, Beauty learns to look past her husband’s ugly looks and learns to respect him for his virtues as Beauty states in the de Beaumont version- “It is neither good looks nor great wit that makes a woman happy with her husband but character, virtue and kindness….(40)” This conclusion infers that while many women are initially unattracted to their husbands, every man has their virtues and a successful marriage can be built upon these virtues. Bluebeard makes the exact opposite conclusion about marriage implying that men are not virtuous and many have ulterior motives. In conclusion, Beauty and the Beast assuages the fear of young women to marry and leave the home since in the story the families are often much less supporting and virtuous than the spouses. Blackbeard on the other hand, confirms these fears since in many tales family must come to the rescue of the bride at the mercy of the murderous husband.

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The Tempest vs. Robinson Crusoe- The Ambivalence of Mastery

“Mastery” is a major theme to be discussed in both the novel Robinson Crusoe and the play The Tempest. The term mastery used here does not only refer to all the forms of slavery and servitude encountered in both works but the mastery of man- namely Prospero and Crusoe- over nature, or the island. In both works, man is cast away to wild and uncivilized islands and in both works man is able to exert superiority over the wilderness and mastery over nature. It is worth noting however that unlike Robinson Crusoe, Prospero was not left to undertake the task alone. Even still, both men manage to survive in their desolation and even thrive and live very comfortable lives.

A more negative and complex view of the the theme of mastery applies to the unfair relationships between people in both of the works. In the play The Tempest Prospero takes Caliban as his slave and treats him poorly, telling the reader it is because he attempted to rape  his daughter. Caliban on the other hand says he only tried to rape Prospero’s daughter after he was treated unfairly by Prospero, leaving the reader not knowing who to believe. Furthermore, Prospero has a sort of master-slave relationship with Ariel in return for Prosper’s freeing him from the witch Sycorax. These relationships mirror that of the one between Robinson Crusoe and Friday, who becomes his slave after Crusoe saves him from being eaten by his captors. Much like the relationship between Prospero and Caliban, Crusoe never comes to think of Friday as an equal and often refers to him as “creature”. Crusoe at first is puzzled as to how someone so ‘savage’ can have the same qualities-even better- than good Christians since Friday is so loyal and kind to him. He wonders how God can keep him from the light of His knowledge but immediately dismisses this when he states “… we did not know by what light and law these [the savages] should be condemned … but that if these creatures were all sentenced to absence of Himself it was on account of sinning against the light….” (Defoe, 153-154). In these lines Crusoe dismisses the savages as equals reasoning that they do not know the light of God because God has not willed it so because of their previous sins. Hence, because of these sins they can not be as worthy as the white man. Crusoe then takes it upon himself to “instruct savingly this poor ignorant creature, to receive the light of the knowledge of God in Christ” (Defoe, 161).

In this way both texts show the ambivalence of what is mastery and how it can be both a victory (man dominating over the island) and a shortcoming (unfair relationships between men) of mankind.

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