Author Archives: siegvald

Strong woman

I liked Kaoru’s character.  She was a very strong woman.  I liked the fact that she had a different appearance than everybody else, most notably her short, blond hair.  She was physically very large, so that gave her an edge in dealing with people in her line of work.  Unafraid to confront a man (a supposed “tough guy”), she exhibits a very matter-of-fact attitude which she probably acquired her years as a wrestler.  This is seen when she gets her money from the man on the motorcycle in front of Hotel Alphaville:  “Ya know, fella, I haven’t been paid for my hotel room.”  (45)  She even admits to Mari what her life is like, saying “Hell, you can see I’m more like a bouncer or bodyguard.”  (58)  Bouncers and bodyguards have been (still are) men’s roles, obviously because the nature of the job requires strength and build.

Short hair and large physical stature are male characteristics, giving Kaoru a somewhat “manly” appearance.  She also was in a position of leadership.  The nature of the business aside, she still played a “boss” role, being in charge of the entire hotel.  She also exhibited masculine traits in her manner of speech, which was very direct and to the point:  “Ya know, fella” (as mentioned before)  “Man!”  (46)  “I could really use a beer.”  (51)  Of course, women say these words, too, but combined with the physical description of Kaoru, her mannerisms, and her position at the hotel, this type of speech lends to the overall “masculinization” of her character.

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Adverse facets of culture-induced perceptions of beauty as seen in “Caramel.”

One of my favorite foreign films is the Arabic movie,  “Caramel.”  It is a bittersweet love(s) story concerning four women who all know each other from the local beauty salon in Beirut, Lebanon.  The film deals with some very potent issues such as pre-marital sex, lesbianism, extra-marital affairs, self-sacrifice, and so on.  What I would like to explore  is the concept of beauty and how it is perceived/portrayed within the Lebanese context of the film.  And especially the negative effects these “standards” of beauty have on the individual woman.

Some strong aspects presented in the film I would like to address:

1.  Beauty perceived as a marital status.  For many non-western cultures, if a woman is not married by certain age, how is she perceived?  (strange,  useless, unwanted?) 

2.  Beauty perceived as virginity.   Family honor (and the future husband’s!) is usually tied to the bride’s purity.  What may this entail for a bride who has already secretly lost her virginity? (deception, hymenoplasty?)

3.  Beauty perceived as youth.  This is something common to the world over, and it is explored in “Caramel.”  How can an  older woman deal with the desertion of her husband for another (excruciatingly younger) woman, face menopause, and deal with signs of aging? 

It is my opinion that the women who are experiencing these issues are victims of others’ (their families, lovers, society, culture) expectations.   How this affects their lives will be the subject of exploration in my paper.   Here is the trailer for the movie (the movie has English subtitles).

 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aUYWkrHiTzg

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A Way Out

“Every native everywhere lives a life of overwhelming and crushing banality and boredom and desperation and depression, and every deed, good and bad, is an attempt to forget this.  Every native would like to find a way out, every native would like a rest, every native would like a tour.”  (Kincaid 18)

The library can do this.

The library contains books, yes, but these books are worlds, paths of escape to other places, times, adventures, and people.  In short, somewhere far away from where the reader is presently.  It is true the old cliché which says that reading books is a way for a person to see the world without going anywhere.  It is a place where dreams can begin, ideas are hatched, and inspiration is begun.   As a result, reading a book begins to start something in a reader–ideas.  Ideas that life in other places can be different, better, and even worse.  These ideas not only give a sense of motivation towards greater things, but most importantly they provide comfort in the present situation.

I know all these things to be true, growing up in poverty and blind to how immense the world was in which I lived.  I, too, found all these things in our only library and it made a lasting impression on me. Coming back to Antigua and seeing the dilapidated and demoted library, I can imagine how Ms. Kincaid felt:  robbed, heartbroken, and ashamed.  Her friend, her only “benefactor” (in a sense) was not simply gone, it was reduced in status and ability.  I would question that if there was no library, no decent library, how would other children find comfort and inspiration?  (Not to mention self-education?)  For some, the books on the shelves are their only tour, their only rest, and their only way out.

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So . . . what happened to Offred?

The “Historical Notes” section at the end of “The Handmaid’s Tale” does no more to clarify the fate of the heroine than the actual ending of the book does.  At the conclusion of Dr. Pieixoto’s seminar, there are still several questions left open, including what is to me the most important question:  what happened to Offred? 

I would like to know after reading her story, who was Offred?  What was her real name?  What became of her?  This we do not find out after reading the Historical Notes.  As Dr. Pieixoto simply says regarding Offred’s personal history, “We do not know.”  (311)

Dr. Pieixoto’s speech covers the historical background surrounding Offred’s tale, but to me it did not really advance the story at all.  We get some ideas of how the Republic of Gilead started, where it occurred, as well as some more personal details like who Offred’s Commander could have possibly been.  But to me, after the historical notes section is finished,  there are more questions are raised than answered.  Take for example the part where Dr. Pieixoto mentions the two possible men who could have been Offred’s Commander.  He says that neither of these men “was married to a woman who was or ever had been known either as ‘Pam’ or as “Serena Joy.’ ” (Atwood 309)  He goes on further to say that the referencing of the Commander’s wife to be named Serena Joy appears to be a “malicious invention.” (309)   In this book, we’re supposed to be reading a historical account, so if Offred invented Serena Joy’s role as the Commander’s wife, then about what else can we be sure she is telling the ‘truth’? 

Perhaps Atwood did not want Offred’s fate to be the focus of the story.  Perhaps she meant for us to take away deeper ideas, such as what humankind is capable of doing to each other.  Personally, I would rather have found out that in the end there was some happiness or redemption for Offred after reading so much about her.  It would have given an idea of hope, something the Historical Notes do not provide us concerning Offred’s fate. 

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Freedom from is under control

“Freedom from” in “A Handmaid’s Tale” is just a nice way of saying “under control.”  Aunt Lydia was just trying to get the girls complacent by saying that instead of “freedom to,” they had “freedom from”:  freedom from all the things that before they actually had freedom to do.  As Offred remembers in her past life; “I think about laundromats.  What I wore to them . . . what I put into them:  my own clothes, my own soap, my own money, money I had earned myself.  I think about having such control.”  (Atwood 24)  Now she has no control.  In the past, these women had the freedom to do certain things, and these things granted came with such danger as there is danger for everyone—such as going certain places at night alone, motorists who are really criminals pretending to be stranded, etc.—but at least the women had a choice in the matter as far as what they could do, where they could go.  Now they are being controlled and liberated (according to Aunt Lydia) from those things they did before.  This new government of the Republic of Gilead obviously decided that they knew what was best for people and assigned living “slots” that people could fit into (men and women).  The Aunts were really trying to brainwash the girls into thinking that this new way of life was actually better than the life they had before.  In some ways the life women had before could be debated as to whether or not it was really good in some aspects, but so could the life of all men, women, and children be considered not good in some aspects.  Unfortunately in the Republic of Gilead, the new option for women wasn’t really an option at all, and it wasn’t better but worse. 

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Officer was in love with the apparatus.

The Officer in “The Penal Colony” was a sadist, in love with the apparatus; and when he realized he was going to lose it, he decided he would rather die by its hand than live without it. 

It was he who knew “the most about the apparatus.”  (p. 7) and who had taken charge of it after the death of the Old Commandant.  He was obsessed with it:  knowing every last cog and wheel of its mechanisms, knowing just exactly what it needed when something broke down,  and pretending those “diagrams” actually contained some coherent script.   He could explain in absolute, minute detail the process the apparatus took as well as  the effect the apparatus had on a man’s body–emotionally as well as physically.  He really obtained great pleasure from watching men suffer from the harrower’s inscription process, always “standing close by”  to witness their “transfiguration.”  (p. 16) 

The very nature of the apparatus was sadistic:  it was a death instrument, yes, but the nature of the death was a prolonged experience brought about by excruciating torture.  The Officer loved this.  He loved his machine and referred to it as “my machine” (p. 14), and describing the executions as “performances” (p.8), and the work of the Harrow as “embellishment” and “decoration” (p.10) as if it was embroidering cloth and not a human body.  He did not care about justice at all but just wanted to see someone suffer gruesomely.  This is made very plain in his description of justice to the Traveler on p. 7-8.  The Condemned Man’s case was a weak one to begin with, and the Officer didn’t care about both sides of the story:   he was quick to assign guilt to get another victim in the apparatus and witness a bloody torture. 

By the time the Traveler comes to see what’s going on, the Officer is still considered young because he says “Here in the penal colony I have been appointed judge.  In spite of my youth.” It is my opinion that the Officer, in his impressionable youth, began to observe the executions under the guardianship of the Old Commandant; and while at first he may have had to convince himself that these condemned men were really getting their due punishment, any nagging feeling of guilt quickly turned into a sick pleasure.  The Old Commandant seemed to have it out for the young ones, not only by warping the Officer’s perception of justice and violence, but also by insuring other children had front row seats to the executions.  (p. 16)

In the end of the story, the Officer realizes that the apparatus is going to go away once the Traveler gives his statement to the New Commandant.  So, what does he do?  In a masochistic move, he put himself in the machine to die by its hand.  His little setup is going to disappear forever and he cannot bear it.  He would rather die.  If he cared about justice, there are other ways of meting it out.  But, it wasn’t justice he cared about, it was rather watching people suffer. 

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Wells Reflects Personal Views in “The Island”



H.G. Wells’ story, “The Island of Dr. Moreau,” is, among numerous things, a science fiction adventure:  but when I read it I thought there were strong, religious-satirical undertones (of course completely uncomic).  “Religious satire” because it was my impression Wells deliberately parallels events in the story to religious themes (specifically Christianity) and in doing so, belittles religion.  We see this when Montgomery and Prendick make a mockery of the beast people by telling them the dead Dr. Moreau is up in the sky watching them.   It is also made evident when the beast people hypnotically and unquestioningly repeat their mantra (“the Law”). 

By self-proclamation, H.G. Wells was an atheist and a proponent of Darwinism (“God the Invisible King,” Wells).  With this knowledge of Wells’ background, it is no mystery that “The Island of Dr. Moreau” would be tainted with sentiment to reflect his personal views.   Just like the other stories we have read, Robinson Crusoe and The Death of Ivan Ilyich, the authors had an agenda hidden in their books.   In the latter, the authors were promulgating religion, or the idea that a better life is associated with a belief in God.  However, in the former, the author seems to infer that to worship a higher power, a “Maker,” makes one stupid and animal-like.

An example of reference to religion is made is when Prendick is in the huts of the beast people and he hears their blind repetition of “the Law.” (“The Island” p. 43)   Among the “long series [of] mostly quite incomprehensible gibberish,” they say, “His is the Hand that makes.” (p. 43) Moreau is their creator and they have a worshipping, fearful attitude of him–they are commanded to “salute” and “bow down.” (p. 65, 88).  They also have this long list of Laws they must memorize and obey: it rules their lives, and defines their moral code.  They also live in fear of breaking this Law, for if they do there is the consequence of being sent back to the “House of Pain.”  Prayer is a crucial aspect to any religion.  It is my opinion that here, Wells parallels the beast people to the religious who have memorized and committed to obeying the laws of God:  that they are blindly stupid like these beast people.  And (just like the Law of the beast people) in the laws of God there are stipulations, that those who break the laws are at risk of punishment and Hell. 

Montgomery and Prendick mock the beast people’s brutish ignorance by telling them that the dead Dr. Moreau is up in the sky, watching them.  Prendick says, “He has changed  his body . . . For a time you will not see him.  He is . . . there . . . You cannot see him.  But he can see you.  Fear the law.”  (p. 80)  This parallels exactly to the story of Jesus Christ, who “changed his body” first to come to man’s world, and then again when he died.  “For a time you will not see him” are the words of Prendick–almost identical to the words of Jesus: “Yet a little while am I with you.”  And the thought of Dr. Moreau hovering up in the sky, watching the beast people’s every move correlates with the general concept of most religions–especially Christianity–that there is an all-powerful Deity high above in the Heavens watching our every move to see whether or not we sin. 

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Sibling Rivalry

To me, this story is about petty sibling rivalry.  This power struggle is between Dr. Stockmann and his brother.  They have sibling rivalry issues, and neither of them has learned to maturely deal with these issues by the time they are adult men. The source of the conflict–the baths issue–is just an instigator that brings their suppressed animosity to a head. Peter is supposed to be an official which means he should have experience being diplomatic.  However, he throws diplomacy out the window and resorts to name calling:  “You have a restless, pugnacious, rebellious disposition.” (p. 27)  And then he says, “. . . there is that disastrous propensity of yours to want to write about every sort of possible and impossible thing” as if that opinion has been ingrained in his brain for a long time now about his brother.  Maybe he is jealous of Dr. Stockmann? 

Dr. Stockmann does not help much either.  He loses all focus when it’s his time to give the people his speech.  He makes it personal and loses it, calling the people stupid animals (aka “pigs” and “parasites”).  This will not help his argument whatsoever.  Why does he do this?  He should know better.  He blames the enemy of truth on the “compact Liberal majority” and says, “. . . at present the stupid people are in an absolutely overwhelming majority.” (p. 59) Does he really think he’s going to get the support from the very people he’s insulting?  Both of these men have people skills they need to work on.  They didn’t even try to reach a compromise.  It was like, “I can’t see your way because you’re a loser in this and this respect . . .so there!”  I feel like so much more could have been accomplished if they had exercised a little diplomacy or maturity on both parts.  There was absolutely no way they were going to simply work together and sort the baths issue out.  The just immediately flew off the handle in a  hot headed manner and refused to listen to each other.  This caused the situation to escalate and quickly turn into something much bigger.

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Violence in Literature

From the stories we’ve read so far, it appears that violence has made a name for itself in literature.  It becomes an important aspect of literature in that it keeps the attention of the reader bated.  Witnessing another human (especially a beautiful, young girl) being cut up into pieces in an unholy way hooks our attention on a vulgar level.  It invokes a sense of dread to see what happens next and before we actually come to the said chopping of pieces, we sense it is coming.  So, not only does this dread increase the weight of the story, it motivates us to read farther. 

Without some act of violence (or threaten of imposing violence), there is no motive for rescue.  For example, in the Robber’s Bridegroom we know already that there is some dark fate in store for the girl when her fiancé tells her his house is “in the dark forest” and he’ll mark the way with ashes.  The sense that some grisly end awaits her at the house in the dark forest, heightens our curiosity and deepens our concern/interest in what will happen to the girl.  (In this case, however, she confronts him and rescues herself.)

In Robinson Crusoe, the act of cannibalism (or his fear of it) adds a new element to the story.  Cannibalism is what appears to be Robinson’s greatest fear on the island:  for him, living in isolation for 24 years doesn’t seem to compare to the thought of being eaten alive and is what keeps him from venturing out to the main land.  In this story, violence becomes the “added boost” to take the story to another level and provide the character (Robinson) a situation of even deeper danger.  This makes the story to (some of) us  more interesting and more worth reading. 

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Prospero and Robinson Crusoe: Alienation and Revenge vs. Separation and Introspection.

Shakespeare’s The Tempest and Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe contain, in my opinion, two big dissimilarities.  The main characters in each story have personal battles or afflictions that they must, in plain words, deal with.  Here is where the differences lie.  While Prospero is alienated from the rest of the world on his island; Robinson Crusoe is more separated from humanity.  Prospero was forced to stay there with his daughter after attempts were made on his life. (Act I, Scene 2) And somehow or another, he decided to remain on the island for a period of twelve years while hatching his plot of revenge.  Perhaps this was a little more feasible for him, being only in partial isolation.  This is completely opposite from Robinson Crusoe’s plight:  he is stranded on an island in complete isolation due to circumstances beyond his control, and has absolutely no way of getting back to civilization whether he wants to or not.  The circumstances which brought Prospero to a state of alienation were contrived, political motives.   Robinson Crusoe’s state of separation was brought about by an accidental act of nature—a storm (p. 40).

Another big dissimilarity is that while they are on the island, both men spend their time in vastly different enterprises.  Prospero harbors bitter feelings and waits patiently to hatch a grandiose revenge scheme.  He uses his only daughter as a key element in the plot, which shows that he is clearly thinking about his agenda and himself only.  Robinson Crusoe, however, spends his time of isolation in deep thought.  Pensive about his life and his relationship with God, he contemplates that “God’s justice has overtaken [him] . . . and [he] has rejected the voice of Providence.” (p. 83).  He goes on into a period of deep introspection and questions “why has God done this to me?”  What have I done to be thus used?”  (p. 85).  In the entire story, he develops his relationship with God and tries to better himself in every task he undertakes—viewing it as a personal or spiritual challenge to constantly improve himself.  In this way he maintains his sanity.

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