Author Archives: Samantha Cooke

Shifting Viewpoints in Murakami’s After Dark

Reading After Dark, what I found most striking was the perspective through which we are given the story. It is almost like a third-person point of view in that we as readers are removed physically from the actions of the characters, but far more inclusive in that the reader is directly addressed by the author and invited to be a direct witness into the action. Sometimes this is as an imperceptible person, not interacting with the characters, yet beside them as the story progresses: “We are inside a Denny’s.[…] After a quick survey of the interior, our eyes come to rest on a girl sitting by the front window. Why her? Why not someone else? Hard to say. But, for some reason, she attracts our attention – very naturally.” (Murakami 5). Sometimes this is as a camera: “Our viewpoint takes the form of a midair camera that can move freely about the room. At that moment the camera is situated directly above the bed and focused on her sleeping face.” (Murakami 30).  Other times it shifts back directly to a purely third-person point of view, with seemingly no conscious knowledge of the reader.

What is perhaps most striking of the shifting viewpoints to me is that the camera-esque viewpoint appears only in scenes of Eri Asai. Perhaps this is because she is a model, and so most of the world sees her through the lens of a camera. Even she appears to only see herself that way – the only pictures she has in her room are of professional pictures of herself modeling. There are none with family or friends, nothing to suggest she really exists outside of the camera. Even her room is rather bare: “This is by no means a highly decorated room. Neither is it a room that suggests the tastes or individuality of its occupant. Without detailed observation, it would be hard to tell that this was the room of a young girl.” (Murakami 32). When she is observed, it is through a camera through the television.

The other characters, however, are followed in the story via a more involved viewpoint – either that of the invisible observer or the classic third-person view. This may be because, unlike Eri, they are more connected with the world – they interact with each other and do not wall themselves off from the rest of society.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Cinderella for the 20th Century: Gendering in Ever After

I have always been in love with fairy tales, not simply the ones given to us by Disney, but the traditional ones as well. The Classic Fairy Tales was my favorite text to read. I loved the juxtaposition of the different versions of the stories. It made me think of adaptations I had seen in movies – Cinderella especially. One adaptation that has always stuck with me is Ever After, a movie made in 1998. It is so memorable to me because the characters are far more vibrant than the traditional ones (though they are by no means highly complex characters). One of the key differences in the movie is that there is no fairy godmother, no sort of fantastical outside assistance at all. The Cinderella character – Danielle de Barbarac, is in control of her own fate. She is also a very different girl than the Cinderellas of the Perrault or the Grimm tales: she is highly intelligent, stubborn, and though she is subservient to her stepfamily for the most part, she has spirited outbursts in which she rails against their domination. I would like to explore the nature of the characters in relation to the time the movie was made, comparing them with those of the traditional tale and examining in particular their gendering. Some questions I would like to consider are:

 

1. How does the removal of magic in the story change Cinderella’s character and the story itself?

2. Does Danielle display the traits of a classic hero rather than simply being the protagonist?

3. Danielle identifies very closely with her father, and creates a noble persona for herself using her mother’s name. Is there an Electra complex being carried out?

 

14 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

The Library as a Symbol for Colonialism

A library is considered a staple of a thriving town, or at least of one that seeks to thrive. Libraries are symbols of knowledge, of education. It is through education that individuals and communities seek self-improvement, and thus the existence of a library is a mark of that goal. The institution of the library by the colonists was not precisely an attempt by the colonists to improve the lives of the island’s inhabitants, but more so because it was natural: one builds a town, and as it grows, it requires certain infrastructures, such as a city hall, a jail, and a library. They were accustomed to having them in England, so it would be natural to have them in home away from home – Antigua. But the library Kincaid speaks of is also a symbol of that colonialism. The library used to be orderly, and housed, as Kincaid puts it, “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” (42). It was destroyed shortly before Antigua got its independence, and the “temporary” location of the library is now in a dilapidated building above a dry goods store, with hardly enough room to house the books it is entrusted with. The old library, like the old Antigua, was highly structured, an outside institution, beautiful to the casual observer, but had lies within. The new library is the product of the new Antigua, blatantly ineffective and still carrying remnants of the old regime – the books of the old library. As the inhabitants of the island know that their library is in desperate need of repair, they know the same of the government. And yet nobody moves to change it.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

A Story vs A History

The historical notes in The Handmaid’s Tale give the book an entirely different feel by offering unusual insight into Offred’s life after her escape, and the fate of the Gilead society itself. First, it provides a frame for the story – the conversational tone of the story becomes clear when it is revealed that it was recorded on tape. This frame makes the story seem more real, in a way, more than just a story: it is an actual history. Professor Pieixoto also reveals to us that Offred did change at least some names (if not, possibly, all), and suggests this is because either she is afraid for her daughter or she herself is in danger. Both options take from the reader the hopeful, happy ending that was suggested by Offred’s escape among the Mayday rebel group in her retelling.

Something I found interesting was that the people in the Historical Notes were not white – the convention is held in Nunavit, and the introductory speaker is “Maryann Crescent Moon”. Crescent Moon also mentions another professor at the university – Professor Running Dog. Both have names that are clearly not “traditional Christian”. They are part of the “Department of Caucasian Anthropology” (Atwood 299). That there would be a department dedicated to Caucasian Anthropology suggests that something significant happened to the Caucasian race.

Pieixoto mentions a decline in birth rate, attributing it to many causes, such as the “widespread availability of birth control of various kinds” and diseases such as “R-strain syphilis” and the “infamous AIDS epidemic” as well as environmental factors, such as nuclear waste plants, toxins dumped into the water supply, and biological warfare (Atwood 304). That these things, products of our modern society, might cause such a drastic change in the population is a scary thought, and one that adds another dimension that it would not have without the context of the Historical Notes.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

What Makes Us Free?

This passage is important because it reveals a basic foundation of the new society in which Offred lives: individual freedoms, such as freedom of speech, must be sacrificed in order to create a “safer” society that does not contain many of the uncertainties of the previous society. Everyone has an assigned place within Gilead – they are Handmaids or Marthas or Wives or Angels or one of the many other positions created and maintained by the society. There is not the uncertainty of being unemployed or of finding one’s calling in life. They are free from fear of attacks that are common in today’s society: rape, mugging, random acts of violence, etc. As Offred says in reference to having to go shopping in twos for “protection”: “the notion is absurd: we are well protected already. The truth is that she is my spy, as I am hers.” (Atwood 19). The fear of being out alone, left over from life in the previous society, is being played in order to disguise the fact that the women are not trusted on their own. These freedoms they have, the “freedom from”, come at the expense of the “freedom to”, of their natural human rights and others we take for granted. If the women were not spied upon by each other, they might try to run away, to seek out those freedoms they are denied. This passage opens up the book by prompting the reader to examine the differences in the freedoms that Gilead offers and the freedoms it has taken away, and to consider which is more important to have – freedom to or freedom from.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Parallels between Jurassic Park and The Island of Doctor Moreau

After analyzing The Island of Doctor Moreau, I was reminded of the film Jurassic Park. I feel that these two stories share many similarities, both in their structure and in their possible messages. Both stories take place on a tropical island, remote from civilization for the sake of privacy. In The Island of Doctor Moreau, there is even something reminiscent of prehistoric times in the description of the island: “It was low, and covered with thick vegetation, chiefly of the inevitable palm trees” (Wells 17). The island is also volcanic and rocky. Compare it to some pictures from the film: (one) and (two). This setting gives the islands a wilder feel, that there is something not quite controlled about them.

Both begin with an outsider (Prendick in one, and a Dr. Grant in the other) introduced to the island. The outsiders have different proposed roles in the story, but they serve much of the same function for the plot: they pass judgment on the science they observe and bear witness to the disintegration of the careful plans of the creators. In both, the scientists (utilizing methods that were very popular at the time) attempt to “play God” – to manipulate life to an extent never dreamed of until that point. Both Hammond (the mind behind Jurassic Park) and Moreau took an existing technology and extended it further than anyone else. But they reach too far in their goals, and their creations go bad.

There is some foreshadowing of this loss of control in each. In Jurassic Park, this comes from the initial attack of the raptor on the park worker, the incident which calls for outside interference. Later we learn that the dinosaurs, despite all being bred to be female, are also somehow reproducing, breaking a “law” – this one of nature, that females cannot breed with each other. In The Island of Doctor Moreau, this comes from the dead rabbit carcass, and breaks the law established by Moreau that the Beast Men are not to eat meat. Despite all of their “prettying up” with science to control them, the base nature of the animals comes out.

In Jurassic Park, the collapse of the park is brought about by Dennis Nedry. He fits into a villain stereotype of the time in that he is bumbling, slovenly, and fat, reflective of a general societal disdain for men who fit that description. In The Island of Doctor Moreau, the end is catalyzed by the cougar breaking free of her confines. I found it interesting that this is a female creature who is to blame for the downfall of the island – perhaps this, like in JP, reflects how society viewed women?

And in the end, there are lessons to be drawn. Both are cautionary tales of hubris in scientific endeavors and in meddling with what we do not understand fully.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

The Symbolic Death

I believe the breaking down of the machine at the end in the story “In the Penal Colony” is paralleling the break-down of the system the Old Commandant had established. The machine, as it was designed and built by the Old Commandant, is the symbol of his rule. When he was in power, punishments meted out using the machine were a public spectacle: “The entire valley was overflowing with people, even a day before the execution. They all came merely to watch. […] Fanfares woke up the entire campsite. […] In front of hundreds of eyes—all the spectators stood on tip toe right up to the hills there—the condemned man was laid down under the Harrow by the Commandant himself. […] It was impossible to grant all the requests people made to be allowed to watch from up close.” (Kafka). In these days, the Old Commandant was popular, as were his rules. This machine represents this popularity in that it “was freshly cleaned and glowed” (Kafka). There were always replacement parts for it, with funds designated especially for its function. It was a source of pride for the Commandant, his rule and his power objectified in the machine.

But the Commandant dies and another takes his place. The new Commandant does not share many of the views of the old, and indeed seeks to radically change the system. Supporters of the Old Commandant and his ideas fade, and with it, the machine. No longer is it shining and well-maintained: a wheel squeaks, straps are broken, and the felt used to muffle the men’s’ cries is old and needing replacement. The machine does not even perform to its older standards, according to the Officer: “These days the machine no longer manages to squeeze out of the condemned man a groan stronger than the felt is capable of smothering” (Kafka). Support for the continued use of the machine is low and quiet. The Officer sees much of the practices of the glory days, those of the Old Commander, dissolving, forgotten.

And so, when the Officer straps himself to the machine, he straps himself to the old ways to which he so desperately clings. He does not care for life under the new system, and so chooses death in the comfort of the old. With his death dies the last defender of the machine and the old way. The machine falls apart symbolically, losing pieces rapidly one by one, as the supporters and the old customs were lost. And just as the new Commandant transformed the public view of the old to something far more horrible, the broken machine loses its finesse in the careful death, transforming into a simple and cruel murder machine.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Science, Society, and Humanity

I believe H.G. Wells’ The Island of Doctor Moreau undoubtedly falls under the category of science fiction. Science fiction is, as defined by Merriam Webster, “fiction dealing principally with the impact of actual or imagined science on society or individuals”. During the Victorian era in which the story was written, many scientific discoveries were being made, and the literature of the time demonstrated the wonder they had for the scientific advances for the time, and the hope for the limitless bounds of those advances.

In The Island of Doctor Moreau, the title character uses a science known as vivisection to transform animals into humans. He does this repeatedly, and to his creations, he gives a set of laws, rules to keep them human-like: “Not to go on all-Fours”, “Not to suck up Drink”, “Not to eat Flesh or Fish”, “Not to claw Bark of Trees”, “Not to chase other Men” (Wells 43). With these rules, he binds them into their own society on the island – the creatures build dens and even marry. Thus, in one manner, Moreau’s experiments impact a newly formed society, that of the Beast-Men. They also impact the humans who live on the island, and must maintain a careful balance with the creatures. But they also pose a possibility for change in rest of society: there is an unspoken question in the novel of what would result were Moreau’s experiments to succeed 100%.

Though not officially a part of the science fiction genre, I believe all good science fiction, by introducing fictional beings, also makes the reader think about what makes us human, what separates us from all non-humans, real or imagined. The Island of Doctor Moreau certainly does that. In his explanation to Prendick, Moreau complains that despite his best efforts, there is “something I cannot touch, somewhere – I cannot determine where – in the seat of the emotions” (Wells 58). There is something not entirely right with his creations, something that keeps them separate from humans, and it is by the introduction of these creatures that we are made to consider why we are so different.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

A Conflict of Interests

An Enemy of the People is complex in that it deals with many issues. For me, one of the major issues is the question of the good of the people versus the good of the individual. The townspeople look at the water quality problem throughout the book through the perspective of how it could help or harm them. In the beginning, many people, such as Alaskan and Hovstad, are supportive of the doctor because they know only that he wishes to improve the water supply of what is a major source of their income, not that it would cost them anything. Others, like Morten Kil and Billing, believe he is attacking the system of government, “the aristocracy” (Ibsen 33), and support his “revolution” (Ibsen 33) on those grounds. Billing and Hovstad, in particular, hope to use the article as a chance to “enlighten the public on the Mayor’s incapability on one point and another, and make clear that all the positions of trust in the town, the whole control of municipal affairs, ought to be put in the hands of the Liberals” (Ibsen 34). Yet everyone, once they realize that this venture would cost them dearly, that they would have to scrimp and save to pay for the repairs and get by for the two years it would take to improve the water, lose all interest in a revolution, in improving what they have, as the cost, in their mind, is too high. Dr. Stockman is the only one of them who even considers the well-being of the travelers that come to the town, who are infected by the contaminated water. It is no small sickness, either, but rather results in death for some, already suffering from prior ailments. Yet none of the townspeople stop to consider this grave affair, that they themselves are murderers, worse still for knowing their water is deadly and doing nothing either to change it nor warn anyone. In this play, Ibsen is thus presenting such a problem to the reader, who is not intimately involved in the fictional town’s affairs, and thus cannot feel much sympathy for them, with the expectation that the reader will be horrified – and rightly so – at the town’s decisions. It is a lesson, teaching in a stage where nothing is truly at risk, so that when it is, the lessons may carry over.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Violence in Fiction

Violence is a recognized part of our society. There is no avoiding it. It appears in our lives and in our fiction. It has been a part of both throughout human history, even in stories too old to be written down. There are three broad reasons for the inclusion of violence in our fiction: to shock the reader and instill a sense of fear, anger, or sadness; to amuse the reader, as in slapstick comedy; or to punish a “bad guy”. The last is often understated (common in Disney children movies), as in Italo Calvino’s “The False Grandmother”, in which the ogre is killed with no bloodshed: “the Jordan River did not lower his waters, and the ogress was swept away in the current” (Tartar 19). Punishing the villain, brutally or simply, serves to wrap up the story and lends itself to a happy ending, satisfying for the reader and for the “good” characters – everyone gets what they have earned. Sometimes, as an ironic gesture, the villain receives the same punishment planned for the protagonist, as in the Brothers Grimm’s version of “Hansel and Gretel”.

Violence as a shock factor can serve many more purposes for the text. In Charles Perrault’s version of “Little Red Riding Hood”, she is eaten by the wolf as a means of introducing a moral, that “young girls […] are wrong to listen to just anyone, and it’s not at all strange if a wolf ends up eating them” (Tartar 13). Here the wolf is a metaphor for men, and the act of eating the girl serves to represent a variety of other dreadful acts, some of which may be too risqué to mention outright in a story directed at delicate feminine ears. In the Brothers Grimm’s “The Robber Bridegroom”, the violent butchering of the girl serves to demonstrate the robbers’ sinister natures and so horrifies the other characters that they are unified against them. In the Disney adaptation of Beauty and the Beast, it is Gaston, a rival of the Beast, who is the violent one, and his violent nature serves as a foil to the gentle side of the Beast.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized