After rereading A Small Place, by Jamaica Kincaid, I have noticed the irony of beauty. We all know the difference between inner and outer beauty. For example, there could be a gorgeous model who is really an awful person on the inside. Her outer beauty is incongruent with her inner bitterness. I think it is interesting that this can apply to not only people, but places. Antigua is a gorgeous place to a tourist who is ignorant to real life on the island. However, through the eyes of a native, the reader learns the truth behind the beauty of the island.
Perhaps the most obvious example of the ugliness of Antiguan beauty is the gorgeous water that surrounds it. Kincaid warns, “the contents of your lavatory might, just might, graze gently against your ankle as you wade carefree in the water, for you see, in Antigua, there is no proper sewage-disposal system” (14). Also, many of the people in Antigua drive luxurious cars, which is nice to think of until the reader learns that the government has corrupted the car market in Antigua, making them the only cars available to people. They may drive theses gorgeous cars but, “the person driving this brand-new car… is far beneath the status of the car” (7). They have below average living conditions, but the reader would never realize that by looking at the quality of their cars.
Antigua has many things that are beautiful to look at. However Kincaid reveals their inner beauty, which is exactly the opposite of what the reader would expect.
I have noticed the prevalence of food in many of the books I have recently read. In some cases, it is the most obvious topic of the novel, as in Suzanne Collin’s The Hunger Games. In Blu’s Hanging by Lois food is an underlying theme. This novel seems to recognize that food is the source of life; the three main characters each interact with it.
The children in Blu’s Hanging use food as a source of comfort after their mother’s death. Perhaps they subconsciously connect the life that food brings with the life of their mother. The brother, Blu, reacts with food by over consuming it. He eats until “he feels sick and full” (12). It leaves him with a numb feeling that helps him cope. Ivah, the oldest sister of the family, is put in charge of feeding the family after her mother’s death. Finally, Maisie, the youngest sibling, has stopped talking to people as a reaction to the death of her mother. It takes a Betty Crocker cake box for her to talk. Her teacher asks her to read it out loud and surprisingly she does. Perhaps it is the food that gives her enough comfort with the situation to read aloud to other people.
It also seems that types of food that the family eats improve as the novel progress. In the beginning their main source of nutrition is mayonnaise bread. They still eat food that is cheap as the novel progresses; however, Ivah gets more resourceful with the food she cooks which allows the family to eat a variety of foods. Perhaps this symbolizes their gradual relinquishing of grief for their mothers death.
My original plan for my final essay was to include both The Tempest and The Handmaid’s Tale in an argument about the power of language to control a population. However, I have decided to eliminate the latter from my argument because I was having a hard time connecting the two novels. I would still like to discuss language as a control factor in The Handmaid’s Tale on this blog:
In Margaret Attwood’s novel, Offred faces oppression in almost everything she does. She belongs to a society that uses women like her for one purpose: to reproduce. There is a strict limit to what a handmaid can talk about to the other handmaids. The approved phrases are, for instance, “Blessed be the fruit” and “May the Lord open” (19). These accepted greetings are related to fertility; they are a constant reminder to handmaids that their only value is to reproduce. There are harsh penalties to anyone who sways from these rules, as there are “eyes” watching the people of Gilead who have the power to make any non-adherent disappear. This psychologically affects Offred and other handmaids because they are too scared to stray from the rules knowing that there are such high consequences. Offred is also conditioned to have a low self worth because she is not allowed to contribute anything of worth to society except her fertility. In this, language is the ultimate form of control.
The new order of government instills a new vocabulary which works to define the roles of women. Women who perform domestic responsibilities are called “Marthas,” the women who are married to the men of the household (or the “Commanders”) are known as “Wives” and the women who are supposed to birth the commander’s babies are called “Handmaids.” This not only imposes a strict gender bias on society, where the men are the commanders of the women, it strips the women of any sort of identity to their previous lives. The simplicity of giving women titles is society’s way of imposing different roles onto each woman. Their personal culture and identity is destroyed with this, as their personal selves are broken to fit the mold of what society has labeled them to be.
Haruki Murakami’s novel, After Dark, is true to its title. The Japanese city that the novel takes place in is transformed upon sundown; the respectful business people have gone home to the suburbs and the city becomes alive with crimes like prostitution. The reader gets a sense of dreaminess when the stage is set: “In our broad sweep, the city looks like a single gigantic creature—or more like a single collective entity created by many intertwining organisms” (2) . The dreaminess that is established by Murakami seems to highlight the feeling of isolation that is brought on by nightfall. It is like fogginess has befallen the people of the city which works to bring out a sense of isolation in the characters of the novel.
For instance, Mari is a young woman who is sitting alone in a Denny’s restaurant. Despite the restaurant being almost full of people, it manages to be, “anonymous and interchangeable” (3). This atmosphere suggests that the presence of people is not enough to remove the felling of separation that nightfall brings. The Chinese prostitute that is beaten represents another level of separation; she is not only separated from her homeland, she is physically separated from the other women who help her. She is unable to communicate with Mari and she bears the marks of her beatings which will separate her from her fellow prostitutes by putting her out of work. Her occupation is one that is notoriously associated with nightfall because of its connection with sin. Although people are still active during night, they face a new separation from the world they live in; a sense of isolation that cannot be escaped until sunrise.
It was Jamaica Kincaid, in her essay A Small Place, who considered the problem of language and how it has the ability to control a society. She says the problem is that, “the language of the criminal can explain and express the deed only from the criminal’s point of view” (32). Changing one’s language can have the effect of removing one’s identity as a culture, giving false meaning to certain words, and ultimately leading to oppression. I plan on looking at Caliban in Shakespeare’s The Tempest and how the only language he knows is that of his oppressor, Prospero. Caliban is treated like a slave by Prospero and often uses foul language to express his unhappiness for his situation. He realizes that the only language he knows comes from Prospero; as a result Caliban becomes stubborn to improve his level of knowledge and does not progress intellectually. The main character in Margaret Atwood’s novel, The Handmaid’s Tale, faces oppression in almost everything she does. She is taught to consider her situation as a “freedom.” Also, Offred loses her real name; this last connection to her previous life vanishes as she is referred to as “of Fred,” the man whom she is sexually associated with.
To further investigate:
- What is the reasoning behind oppressing people? In the case of The Tempest and The Handmaid’s Tale, why are Caliban and Offred controlled in such a way?
- What are the psychological implications of the word control Caliban and Offred face? How do they react?
- Are there any instances in the novels where there are positive outcomes of a controlled language?
I chose this topic because the idea that the society one lives on can influence or even have complete control over the language of the people interests me. I never really considered it as a problem until I read A Small Place.
In Jamaica Kincaid’s essay, A Small Place, she relates to the reader the personal connection she feels with the library of Antigua. There seems to be a deeper meaning to her description of the library; it is more than anger she has towards the government for failing to repair the beautiful library of her childhood after it was struck by an earthquake. She seems to be making a statement about the disrepair of the education of the people of Antigua. The library is a symbol of knowledge and the betterment of the human mind. Kincaid is appalled that Antiguans are not making a strong effort to repair the library. This signals to the author that Antiguans have no desire to further their learning; leaving the future of Antigua looking grim. It is a sign that Antigua’s problems will not be solved in the future because of the downfall of Antiguan’s level of knowledge.
What is more, the library of Antigua was a wonderful representation of Antigua. It was one of the few parts of the island that was able to keep a non-British identity. Kincaid describes the building as being, “painted a shade of yellow that is beautiful to people like me […] its big always open windows, […] the heat of the sun, […] the beauty of us sitting there like communicants at an altar” (42). This building was so beautiful that it had a spiritual meaning to Kincaid. It was a building which represented the true culture of Antigua, not the British version of it. It seems as though Kincaid is frustrated that Antiguans are not fighting to repair such a representative part of their life-style. Here is a representation of the British colonization of the island and how it has forever changed the people of the Island.
Margaret Atwood’s novel, The Handmaid’s Tale, seems so far to be a novel about a protagonist (Offred) who is restricted in almost all aspects of her life. She must censor her speech, wear clothing that hinders her movement and line of sight, eat only what food she is given, and speak only to a handful of people. This is why Aunt Lydia’s statement is so interesting: “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). It seems as though the “freedom to” during the days of anarchy refers to Offred’s freedom to do anything she wanted; she didn’t have to worry about any of the previously mentioned restrictions. Now, in the days of post-anarchy, Offred has the freedom from certain things. For instance, Offred reflects on the differences between her previous life and her life now as a handmaid. Perhaps she now has the freedom from having to be concerned for her safety. She reflects, “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). Now, Offred is free from the burden of being careful around the opposite sex. She has no concern with her own safety in this respect. Aunt Lydia’s statement seems to suggest the differences between Offred’s current and previous lives. There is a tradeoff, however unwanted it might be, between what she was free to do in her past life and being protected in her current life.
The apparatus in Franz Kafka’s story, “In the Penal Colony,” seems to face its collapse because of the effect of time and old parts. However, its failure can also be considered symbolic of the apparatuses’ failure to actually create justice and also because the story is representative of the Gothic genre.
There is a point in the story when the officer is telling the traveler that he is the appointed judge for the penal colony. Then ironically, the officer goes on to say, “The basic principle I use for my decisions is this: guilt is always beyond a doubt” (Kafka). How is the officer an accurate judge if he always pronounces someone who has been accused of a crime, guilty? Also, it seems that the punishment that the apparatus inflicts is far too harsh especially in the case of the condemned man in the story. He was supposed to salute the captain’s door every hour but fell asleep on the job. His commanding officer “found him curled up asleep. He got his horsewhip and hit him across the face… [the condemned man] cried out ‘throw away that whip or I’ll eat you up’”(Kafka). This small offence does not seem worthy of the torture brought on by the apparatus. It seems, even, that being hit in the face with a whip was too harsh a penalty for falling asleep. Perhaps this is why the apparatus falls apart, because it is supposed to bring justice, however fails to do so because the punishment is far too horrific and because the man could easily be innocent.
“In the Penal Colony” seems to conform to many aspects of the Gothic genre. There are countless instances of descriptive violence in the story. Another characteristic of the Gothic genre is the feature of the degeneration of the old commandment’s justice system. When the apparatus falls apart at the end, it seems to symbolize the collapse of this awful system. Kafka’s employment of degeneration when the apparatus collapses seems to support the terror and collapse of human design that the Gothic genre evokes.
There is an obvious under tone of science fiction in H.G. Wells’ novel, The Island of Dr. Moreau. For instance, Dr. Moreau practices successful vivisection on the animals on his island. However, the theme that is most evident in the text by Wells is that of Gothic horror because of its focus of violence, mystery, degeneration, and all things grotesque.
When Prendick first arrives on the island, he is surrounded by secrecy. Dr Moreau tells him, “Our little establishment here contains a secret or so, is a kind of Bluebeard’s Chamber, in fact.” (Wells 21) The reference to the Bluebeard fairy tale not only sets a mysterious tone; it seems to foreshadow a horrific and bloody future for the protagonist. Like in Bluebeard’s Chamber, blood is a theme in the novel. The sight of a bloody rabbit is the source of horror for Prendick and Montgomery because they know it means the animals on the island have become accustomed to the taste for flesh, despite being told not to.
The atmosphere of the island and its inhabitants is one the narrator often describes as grotesque; a expression he uses in about sixteen different instances. As a theme of Gothic literature, it is concerned with monstrous and misshapen beings. A description of the islands animals illustrates this: “all of which were prognathous, malformed about the ears, with large and protuberant noses, very furry or very bristly hair, and often strangely coloured or strangely placed eyes.” (Wells 62) Also, the decay that the animals show in their human traits relates to the Gothic genre. This degeneration is apparent as the narrator describes the animals return to their previous beast-like ways; for instance when the hyena-swine is eating the St. Bernard: “its lips went tremblingly back to its red-stained teeth, and it growled menacingly. This was an animal that, previously, only ate fruit and exhibited human-like tendencies.
Capitalism plays a key role in An Enemy of the People by Henrik Ibsen. It is the economic idea of promoting competition and how privately owned businesses should be free from regulation in order to be financially successful. In this respect, capitalism is the source of many of the problems the community faces in the play.
One instance of capitalism seen in the play is the strong desire to earn money. When Peter Stockmann, Aslasken, and Hovstad oppose Dr. Stockmann in his plight to educate the town about the state of the baths, their main motivation is greed. They think it will simply cost too much money to clean up the baths, despite the health problems they have caused. Instead, they oppress the doctor and make sure that the people of the town see him as an “enemy of the people”.
There is one point when Aslaksen realizes that the funds to fix the baths must come “out of the ill-filled pockets of the small tradesmen.” Once this discovery is made, he soon changes his support to the side of Peter Stockmann. Hovstad quickly falls in suit after Aslaksen. This is probably because Hovstead’s paper, the People’s Messenger, is in “shaky condition” fiscally and is financed by Aslaksen.
Finally, the case of Morten Kiil’s tannery is an example of how capitalism is the main dilemma in the play. The tanneries are the source of the pollution which has tainted the baths. If it had not been for the freedom to gain wealth without regulation, the baths would have not been polluted in the first place.