Author Archives: Sophi the Storyteller

About Sophi the Storyteller

Finding the right words is an adventure I've loved all my life. There's a challenge in taking mental snapshots of the world and putting them into words to share with others, and I strive to improve all the time. I look forward to what may cone from joining the WordPress community :)

Young Girls Should Be Afraid of the Dark

In Haruki Murakami’s After Dark, the relationship between darkness and young girls is presented as a contradiction. Though people of both genders and all ages roam the streets past dark, it is blatantly obvious that it is much safer for boys or older men than it is for women. This is something most young girls will be told over and over as they grow up: “Try your best to not leave your house past dark, and if you must then don’t go alone.” Even then, this rule is not applied to all young girls; only “respectable” (70) ones.

After the prostitute was taken away by the man on the motorcycle, Kaoru asks Mari, the way Takahashi had done so earlier in the story, if her reason for staying out so late had to do with a quarrel with her family. However, this is a question Takahashi is never asked, because no matter his reason for being out so late, whatever lurks in the darkness will not hurt him. In fact, Takahashi is able to wander aimlessly as he simply “chooses and direction and begins walking” (105), unconcerned with what awaits in his path.

The significance of being a “respectable girl” is directly reflected when Mari and the prostitute communicate. The prostitute is nineteen years old, the same age as Mari, but has been taken up by men in the night to sell her body in exchange for shelter. Mari always retains her name while the prostitute – even after her name is known – is still referred to as “the prostitute” (56). Prostitutes, no matter their age, are expected on the streets, but not “respectable girls”. Mari knows this, and carries a varsity jacket and cap that makes her look “like a boy – which is probably why she always has it with her.” (65)

For some girls in the story, this lesson has reached them too late. That does not, however, take from the many moments in which Murakami stresses the opposing relationship between young girls and darkness. In fact, using young women who are not exactly “respectable’” gives the reader a clearer understanding of what is meant by it, and what sort of young girls should maintain abstinence from what the world becomes past sun-down.

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Isolation from Reality in “Blu’s Hanging” using Animals as Symbolism

Growing up, older members of my family who are native to Puerto Rico, particularly my grandparents on both of my parents’ sides, encouraged me to escape sadness and negativity by turning to religion for comfort. I became aware later in my childhood that the ideals I was taught were not true for all people, and people from different places believe in different entities and  symbols that provide them with comfort the way my beliefs do. These differences are what make people unique, and the ways their beliefs affect the way they live almost dictate whether or not they will live a stressful or stress-free life.

As I was reading “Blu’s Hanging”, I found that the story was abundant with symbolism that was unfamiliar to me, particularly because of how counterintuitive it seemed. For example, many people have been taught that crossing paths with a black cat is bad luck, where as black cats play a vital role in minimizing sadness. It also became apparent that, when Hoppy Creetat and Ka-san were brought into the household, life for the family became more bearable an, at times, fun.

In addition, there are instances when  the animals act as extensions of the Ogata family, while other times the animals are presented as spiritual guides that contain wisdom that will release the family from sadness, such as the dog’s tears and the colors of the cats. The animals of the family have always, in some way, affected the emotional state of each character in some way that allows them to escape from the disenchanting occurrences of their daily lives. Such apparent symbolism inspired me to research more heavily on the topic.

Questions that will encourage further clarification of my main points in my essay are:

1. What makes the presence of birds important? Do animals, other than cats and dogs, play a significant enough role to mention in conjunction with the greatest symbolic animals of the text?

2. Why is it important that a black dog can be substituted for a black cat when the latter is absent in the Ogata family’s lives? What can this signify?

3. Does their living situation affect how strongly they believe in the symbolic representation of the animals? How would their experience with animals be different if they were financially better off than they are in the story?

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The Library as a Reflection of Antigua Before and After English Rule

In Kincaid’s A Small Place, she places a heavy emphasis on the library of Antigua and its history for the people, before and after English rule. Though Kincaid makes her distaste for the English obvious when she refers to them as “the bad-minded English” (41), they must have been doing something correctly if the library was in better condition during English rule than it was during the time this essay was written. Because of this, Kincaid suggests that the library is a reflection of the Antiguan people in their current state of self-rule: uncertain of how to recover from an earth-shaking wave of destruction. The library was at the mercy of The Earthquake of 1974 in the same way the Antiguan people were at the mercy of the English.

When the English were in control of Antigua, the library’s books were “on their nice shelves, resting comfortably” (43). When the English dominated the island, the Antiguan people were forced to maintain a similar image of orderliness and polished appearance. After English rule was diminished and The Earthquake brought destruction, the books in the library resided in “cardboard  boxes in a room, gathering mildew, or dust, or ruin” (43). In the same way, the Antiguan people’s stagnation made them more bitter and confused (about how to conduct their self-rule) with each day that passes.

The sign on the library that reads “This Building was damaged in the earthquake of 1974. Repairs are pending.” (42) suggests the same idea for Antigua: since the end of English rule, Antiguans were left in ruin on their violated island they recognize as home. Now left to maintain self-rule in Antigua, the positive changes the Antiguan people want to see in their island are pending until the day they take the necessary steps to implement them.

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Understanding “Why” Does Not Make it Right

There were various ways in which A Handmaid’s Tale could have been closed. However, the current choice of ending is interesting, because not only does Professor Pieixoto discuss the recovering process of the tapes from which the tale was extracted, he also defends the Gileadean ideology by showing agreement and understanding of why Gilead society practiced the way they did. In fact, there is not much concession as Professor Pieixoto insists on the audience understanding why this society was indeed reasonable in their laws and had the intentions of protecting women and their “biological destinies” (204) while giving men the unshakeable power of control.

For the first half of his speech, Professor Pieixoto does well in maintaining a certain level of objectivity when he presents information on the recovery and restoration of the cassette tapes found in the army locker. However, his subjectivity in the way he later states that Gilead’s “genius was synthesis” (281), makes me a bit weary of the information he is choosing to share with the audience. Usually “genius” and “synthesis” have very positive connotations, but when they are used in the context of Gilead society, I find it difficult to convince myself that – despite Gilead’s so-called innovativeness – the “synthesis” they were trying to achieve was ever truly attained. Because of this bias, the credibility of the Professor diminishes greatly; I become much more suspicious of his intentions and his message.

This subtle tone of Gileadean support changes very little, because towards the end of his speech, when presenting possible outcomes of Offred’s escape, he suggests that by leaving into the “outside world” (285) Offred is also leaving her “protected existence” (285). The fact that he uses “outside world” to describe life outside of Gilead strikes me as odd, as though he is admitting to the isolation and lack of freedom Gilead has in relation to all other places on earth. Further, suggesting that women were more “protected” in Gilead makes me curious about his idea of “protection” and if, to him, this means having to exchange an individual’s freedom to have it. I would expect a professor willing to speak on the topic of Gilead to also have certain ideas of what is ethical and unethical, especially in terms of whether the application of ethics is only relevant to one gender or to both.

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“Freedom from”: A Supposed Luxury

In the first half of The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, freedom is largely the issue of focus. This 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 given freedom from. Don’t underrate it” (Atwood 24), suggests that freedom from such things as control and decisions is more of a luxury than Offred may think. This lack of control and decision-making is constantly shown in the first half of the book through simple, everyday occurrences such as what the individuals wear. What makes this passage so important is the way Aunt Lydia presents “freedom to and freedom from”. This differentiation presents a great contrast between Red Center and society outside of it.

This direct comparison of “freedom to and from from” is shown when Offred and Ofglen encounter Japanese tourists of Westernized society (that Aunt Lydia would refer to as “anarchy”), the society to which Offred once belonged. At one point, Offred is “mesmerized by the women’s feet” (Atwood 30) and continues to fantasize about what wearing open-toed shoes with polished toe nails felt like. She delves so deeply into this thought that she even says that “I can feel her shoes, on my own feet”. Something that is so simple, to people who have the freedom to paint their toe nails and wear open-toed shoes, is a daydream to an individual who has “freedom from” having to go through the complications of choosing a color and finding a way to paint their nails.

When Aunt Lydia says “don’t underrate it”, she is trying to convince Offred that giving all control to the Commanders of the Red Center is more liberating than having the ability to do whatever she pleases. She makes it seem that the freedom to do something was found only in the days of anarchy and chaos, implying that a place of stability and order provides an environment that requires no thought from the individual besides completing the task assigned to them.

This is main struggle for the first half of the book; despite every attempt by women of the house to show Offred that the “freedom from” is more valuable than the “freedom to”, quite often she still finds herself thinking about the way her life used to be and how badly she wants to return to it, flaws and all.

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The Poor, Deranged Officer

The Officer from “In the Penal Colony” by Franz Kafka is so consumed by the influence of the now-dead First Commandant that he loses all sense of individuality as a character. Much of his discussion with the Traveler is centered on the First Commandant and how he used to run the penal colony in comparison with the new Commandant, as though Kafka only uses the Officer as a way to explain the penal colony’s history. Though the Officer is definitely much too excited about the death apparatus at the penal colony than anyone should be, he is neither good, nor bad. He is indeed a zealot, and his excitement for what he does (and how it affected the end of his life) makes him a very pitiable character.

The Officer talks about how “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 is almost sick how much enjoyment the Officer has in describing this depressing scene to the Traveler. His happiness makes it obvious that the Officer dislikes the new Commandant because he has expressed his distaste in the ways of the penal colony, while the First Commandant loved having a front seat at the executions, just like the Officer does.

The Officer, in his constant attempts to spark the same type of excitement he has for the penal colony in the Traveler, takes the appearance of a very delusional character. This is made evident from when the Traveler tries asking him about the justice system of the penal colony. Instead of trying to satisfy the curiosity of his guest, “the Officer recognized that he was in danger of having his explanation of the apparatus held up for a long time.” Talking about this apparatus whose fame is forever doomed to the depths of a dark history is what gives the Officer joy. He is simply a man obsessed, which isn’t a man at all.

At the end, after coming to some sort of conclusion that he had been wrong in his obsession all his life, the Officer not only released the Condemned Man from the apparatus, but he put himself in the machine to die with the words “Be just!” dug into his back. Instead, he suffered a horrible death. He wanted to die the way he had executed so many people, but he couldn’t even do that. What makes the Officer such a pitiable character is the fact that his obsession about the penal colony, execution, and this particular machine is what ruined his life and the way he wanted to die.

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A Tale of Science Fiction

In H.G. Wells’s The Island of Doctor Moreau, he does more to engage the reader’s mind than by utilizing science fiction. Consider this story from a fairy-tale perspective: the tale does not always have a happy ending, but it maintains a means of providing some sort of message. In The Island, Wells uses traits of science fiction as a vessel to carry the message of human nature: evolution occurs in its own time, and any individual who attempts to hasten it, in turn, hastens his own end.

Many other science fiction novels portray images of fantasy and the like, but Wells chooses to stay closer to something more realistic. Remember that there are scientists that believe human beings are the epitome of evolution, and that human beings are as close to perfection as a living creature can be. Doctor Moreau agrees with this, but he takes it one step further: he believes that our rational nature can recreate other animals to be just as rational. He even says that “a pig may be educated” (51) as though moral education, “an artificial modification and perversion of instinct” (52), is one way to be considered human. This is evidence in his declaration of “the Law”, resembling much of what is our idea of religion.

True, this message is still a scientific one, but the message is not what makes the fairy tale, but the presence of a message and a means of projecting it through the characters’ actions. By using the “creatures-turned-human” as a way to characterize the attempted hastening of evolution by Doctor Moreau, Wells can establish a means to illustrate his message by bringing both Doctor Moreau’s (initiator of attempt) and Montgomery’s (conspirator of attempt) lives to an end.

I would consider this underlying message an accurate one since the only character to survive the Beast Men of the island is Prendick. Even as they are regaining the majority of their instinctual behaviors from which he should have died shortly after their deaths, he nonetheless is able to protect his own life because he was not one of the men who tampered with the lives of these natural born creatures. For this, Wells makes it so that Prendick is allowed to live his life off the island as the human being he once was in London.

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Higher Authority Rules All

An Enemy of the People appears to be about how higher government authorities are able to successfully implant specific ideals into the citizens of society so that the citizens contradict their supposed “moral beliefs” (e.g. liberal-mindedness) in thought and action.

Peter Stockmann, the mayor of the town and older brother to Thomas Stockmann, does a fine job of twisting his discussions with Thomas to initially spark his upset, giving Peter the prime opportunity to pass Thomas’s obsession off as insanity and intent on breaking up the community.

By saying that Thomas wants to “pick a quarrel with your superiors – an old habit of yours” (32) and saying that “the man who can throw out such offensive insinuations about his native town must be an enemy to our community” (34) are such horrible fallacies that Thomas is tempted to physically injure his brother, giving Peter yet another opportunity to tell Thomas to watch his insubordinate actions.

In the play, Peter Stockmann does literally nothing to defend himself from the accusations of his brother, Thomas Stockmann. Why should he when he has the citizens of the town that can fight his battle for him? Peter seems to do most of his fighting by convincing the people of the town that “any fair-minded citizen can easily form him own opinion” (55) to know an enemy of the people when they see one, when really Thomas is looking out for the safety of his fellow citizens.

Peter makes it seem as though Thomas is trying to break the peoples’ unity by claiming that the baths are unhealthy, and in this Thomas is driven mad by how blindly his community is agreeing with Peter’s argument against him.

At the public meeting, when Thomas speaks his piece to the audience, he does so very crudely to get people to listen, but it only allows Peter to use this as a way to convince the audience that Thomas is truly crazy and means to do nothing but cause destruction. Think how ironic it is, though, that the so-called liberal-minded individuals of the community reject Thomas when he expresses the most liberal-minded opinion of all.

Like the dogs that Thomas compared the citizens to, Peter unleashed the community members onto Thomas, watching on as their years of brainwashing and training are put into action to push out a “threat” to society. Dogs listen to their masters, and it was obvious from the start of the play that Peter, along with the rest of the community’s government officials, is the community members’ master.

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Violence: A Way to Teach Morality & Add Depth to Story Characters

Back when public executions were commonplace, such violence in fairy tales only depicted real life scenes. Nowadays, if children were to read the original Little Red Riding Hood and Bluebeard stories, their innocent minds wouldn’t know what to make of “clotted blood” (145) or the flesh of Little Red Riding Hood’s granny on a pantry shelf (10) . Such depictions of violence were the primary method of instilling fear in children and scare them into behaving well, but for children of the 21st century this violence is just too traumatizing.

For example, if children today read the original Little Red Riding Hood, they may never “stray from the path” (14). Better yet, they may never even insist on leaving their house! Young girls who read Bluebeard would reject the idea of getting married for a very long while. Our generation would be spooked to bits, but just imagine how much violence was needed in fairy tales to instill a fear in children who saw people disemboweled and executed in public on a regular basis?

Violence in these fairytales was needed, partly to show the horrible consequences that followed disobedience. For example, Little Red Riding Hood could have kept her grandmother alive has she not strayed from the path like her mother instructed her. Bluebeard’s wives would have stayed alive had they listened to Bluebeard’s warning. Yet, aside from violence being a delinquent-preventive measure, so it is also used to thicken the tales and build the characters.

Consider the wolf in Little Red Riding Hood. The wolf is just a wolf until he is actually described killing Little Red’s grandmother. Bluebeard is simply “a sorcerer who would disguise himself as a poor man” (148) until he is shown mercilessly hacking a young girl into pieces (149). The Pig King is only a dirty pig until he strikes his new wife “with his sharp hooves…so that he killed her” (44).Violence incorporates a richness to the sinister nature of the villainous character; there is truly no substitute.

Though violence in fairytales are not generally accepted in the 21st century, it’s ability to transform the characters and establish a dark plot can be interchangeable with nothing. Besides, the majority of our media is filled with as much violence as these tales are. It’s probably safe to say that today’s readers, no matter how distasteful they find these violent tales are for children, won’t resist the urge to turn the page of a Brothers Grimm fairytale to see what happens next.

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Comparing “Robinson Crusoe” and “The Tempest” – SLAVERY

William Shakespeare and Daniel Defoe both center their stories, in part, on slavery. It is very interesting to see how similarly they incorporate such a theme, especially how differently they do so, because over time much has been said on the term “slavery” and has been used in a multitude of fashions. Indeed, it is with this reasoning that an individual can see the different and similar ways slavery can be perceived in works of fiction. With this, the way Shakespeare uses slavery in The Tempest and the way Defoe uses slavery in Robinson Crusoe share many more differences than they share similarities.

In The Tempest, King Alonso, Stephano, Trinculo, and everyone else on the island are unknowingly, with the help of Ariel, under Prospero’s control. The control Prospero has over the group on the island has to do with being mesmerized and tricked into believing they are in control of themselves. His motivation is revenge, a very immoral stance. In Robinson Crusoe, however, Crusoe found comfort in the Word of God, and has thus kept himself from making ill-tempered, rash decisions (ex. killing the barbarians on his island). Unlike Prospero, who has control over everyone on the island, Crusoe must hide at times in order to avoid violent confrontations with foreigners, or “savages”.

In his firm faith in God, Crusoe does not want to hurt anyone, but the idea of a partner on the island appeals to him so much that it drives him to spill blood on behalf of saving “Friday”.  Prospero did something similar, though with negative intent. Although Prospero and Crusoe both state that they wish to have a slave to do their biddings, Prospero wanted to truly put that individual to labor for his venomous plans. Prospero planned the execution of his vindictive scheme over the past 12 years to quench his thirst for revenge, not companionship. Crusoe simply wanted a conversation partner, in addition to someone who would help him do work around the island and possibly help him escape.

Consider the slaves and their relationships with their masters. In the grand scheme of the story, Ariel is Prospero’s ultimate slave, and wishes to obtain her freedom and leave Prospero as soon as possible. Friday, however, who is Crusoe’s “slave”, but is treated as a companion (he is referred to several times as “my man”), wishes to stay by his side no matter what. This is particularly evident when Friday shows the depth of his affection for Crusoe, his master, when Friday is told to get in the boat they made together so that he may return to his homeland, to which he replied “What you send Friday away for? Take kill Friday, no send Friday away” (Defoe 163). Though “slave” holds a negative connotation, Friday finds a greater satisfaction in it than what people believe it should hold, whereas Ariel and Caliban loathe Prospero and wish to be rid of his presence.

Caliban, in The Tempest, appears to be everyone’s slave in that he is a monster, in a class all his own beneath them. Despite lack of territory, Alonso, Stephano, and everyone else of higher social standing on the island, enforce their superiority upon Caliban by putting him to do manual labor for them.

Though this is somewhat similar to Friday, it would seem Friday and Caliban are both taught the native language, but both with completely different purposes. Caliban was not taught to speak as much as he was taught to understand orders and respond accordingly. Friday was taught to speak so that Crusoe would have someone to converse with, but who would also carry out orders (this was secondary). These two characters completely transform the way slavery is perceived in both stories.

Though slavery holds, more or less, the same image for most people, it can be seen how some individuals may choose to perceive it otherwise. In The Tempest, Shakespeare uses slavery to depict the forced assistance of carrying out a plan of bad intentions – otherwise known as the “dirty work” – and in Robinson Crusoe, Defoe depicts slavery as an individual with the freedom to act in their choosing (but with consequence), but not necessarily condemned to the petty work of an immoral creature. Despite the incredibly similar setting and ideas of the centuries in which they were written, Defoe and Shakespeare project almost completely different images of slavery and their primarily perceived form.

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