Author Archives: stperry1

After Dark and the Generic

One of the things I found most interesting while reading was how After Dark seems to highlight many aspects of the environment that seem generic.  The way that Haruki Murakami describes many of the settings makes them seem unoriginal and like they could exist anywhere they were constructed.  There is a great deal that describes the man-made aspects of the environment, which leaves it feeling somewhat cold and impersonal.

One of the earliest and most clear representations of this is the scene in Denny’s.  Although this is a scene that depicts Mari first interacting with others and begins the reader’s interest in the real aspects of the story.  However, instead of this taking place in a personal or original space, it occurs in one of the most generic settings that one can think of. In fact, while describing this scene the author even writes, “Everything about the restaurant is anonymous and interchangeable.  And almost every seat is filled” (Murakami 5).  The way that Murakami points out the impersonal being one of the most popular settings is very unique.

In this day and age its difficult to find many places that aren’t created to be exactly like Denny’s: impersonal, anonymous, and interchangeable.  Almost anywhere one goes to eat, buy food, get clothing, is a part of a larger chain that dictates it be identical to every other store of its kind.  However, these are also the places that personal interactions occur every day, and Murakami does an excellent job of highlighting how much of every person’s life is played out in a setting that could not be more generic.

 

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Isolation as Social Control in The Handmaid’s Tale and Other Dystopian Literature

While reading The Handmaid’s Tale it was very clear the Offred was existing in a dystopian world, as this is one of my favorite types of writing it immediately stood out to me.  As a sociology major I find interaction between individuals very interesting and I found the aspect of isolation in this story very intriguing.  Although there may be characters in other stories who are more isolated, such as Robinson Crusoe, I find the isolation while still surrounded by many individuals worth exploring further.  Similarly to The Handmaid’s Tale, The Hunger Games also takes place in a dystopian culture and the leaders of this world utilize isolation as a means of control.  In The Handmaid’s Tale it is by placing women in very specific roles that are pitted against each other and not allowing the individuals to speak freely, and similarly in The Hunger Games the different Districts are pitted against each other and therefore not able to unite for their common purpose of freedom.  Additionally, the lack of access to reliable and accurate information about the world at large.  Through depriving the public of a true feeling of community the governments were able to keep their population in line and keep them from having a revolt at large.  Things I would like to explore are:

1)  Will The Hunger Games really work in a effective way to illuminate the isolation and deprivation of the women in The Handmaid’s Tale?

2)  Was there more than isolation contributing to the control over the public in The Handmaid’s Tale? If so, what else contributed to this lack of motivation to change their environment?

3)  Do other dystopian tales exhibit similar isolation tactics?  If not, what other environments produce similar issues?

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The Legacy of the Library

The Library on the island of Antigua described in Jamaica Kincaid’s book A Small Place could be a symbol of many different things.  It could mean hope, or lack of progress, or it could even be a symbol for the entire nation of Antigua and all the struggles they are facing.  Antigua is a country that has been ruined by colonialism and is not in the process of finding a way to repair the legacy that the British left.  Similarly, after the earthquake the Library was left in ruins with the books being destroyed and a sign that simply reads “This Building was damaged in the earthquake of 1974. Repairs are pending” (Kincaid 42).  The same way that Antigua is forever waiting to repair the damage left by a force beyond their control, the Library is waiting to be restored to its former glory when it was a place of learning and an escape for the residents of the island.
Kincaid uses the issue of the Library to further illustrate the type of situation her people are stuck in.  Even something like a library that seems so essential has been left to rot without human intervention or protection.  The government and social situation that Kincaid sees on the island relates to this because the essential parts of a fair government are also being ignored and allowed to rot away into nothing.  Repairs on the government that has replaced the British are also pending, and until those issues are dealt with and those wounds are healed the Library will continue to be a symbol for the wreckage left in Antigua by the British, and it will never return to the symbol of hope and knowledge that the country needs.

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Historical Evaluation

The novel The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood creates a view of the world that is incredibly unique.  One of the many things that adds to this being a one of a kind story is the fact that Atwood concluded the story with a section entitled “Historical Notes”.  By making this little end section something different than just a small ending chapter or an epilogue Atwood creates a different feel that is difficult to find in other dystopian stories.

The biggest thing that the “Historical Notes” does is lend the story an air of authenticity.  For one thing, these notes help place Gilead in context with the rest of the world such as when the Doctor discusses the “various Save the Women societies, of which there were many in the British Isles at that time” (Atwood 304).  By making those opposed to the Gilead method more organized and placing them in a different country, Atwood creates just another layer of detail that adds strength to her story.  Additionally, I believe the “Historical Notes” lends a second and more important idea of realism.  Dr. Pieixoto discusses the fact that no one can judge the individuals who lived then because the times were different.  This is a notion employed today when learning about past abuses and makes the story of Gilead all the more real to the reader.  By changing the very end of the book to a look back on a previous dark time Atwood lends an authenticity to the novel that would otherwise be difficult to cling to.

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Safety vs. Oppression

In this story, Offred is a girl who is living in a world of safety.  The life she leads is different from our lives in countless ways, however, it is all veiled in the idea of being safe and under protection.  The individuals in this story are being protected, it would seem, against their own will and to such a degree that it is no longer just protection and has moved so far to the extreme it has become negative.  Margaret Atwood’s story “The Handmaid’s Tale” is an intriguing discussion of the difference between being protected and being oppressed.

The women, and especially the handmaids, in this tale are confined to incredibly stringent rules that the concept of their safety has in many instances become a secondary concern to the need to reevaluate the freedoms that have been lost.  The women in this story used to have “freedom to” act the way they pleased and dress in a manner they wanted, whereas now due to all the oppressive protective measures that have been taken, they are able to “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).  Although these women have been given the “freedom from” men such as the ones who would yell at them on the street, they have lost much more than they have gained it appears.  While there may be less crime and this may be a safe place for them to exist physically, oppression is never a good place for individuals to exist.  The women of this novel will never really feel free because “freedom from” is being obedient and allowing someone else to make your decisions whereas “freedom to” is an individual making their own decisions and learning to be safe in the process.

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The Indoctrinated Officer

It is difficult to tell whether or not the Officer is a person who should be pitied or considered a zealot hell bent on returning to a time of torture.  Ultimately, however, the Officer is an individual who has been completely indoctrinated by the Old Commandant and cannot escape his mental prison.  The Officer exhibited behavior of an individual who had been forced to engage in horrific behaviors; he had been conditioned to believe this was the only acceptable course of action and behaved accordingly.

The Officer ventures to explain how justice is executed within the Colony, and paramount to his explanation was the phrase “the basic principle I use for my decisions is this: Guilt is always beyond a doubt” (Kafka 3).  The last words of this statement, “Guilt is always beyond a doubt” (Kafka 3), appear in the text as if they are  a direct quote, which makes it appear as a phrase the Officer was taught to live by and follow without question.  This type of dedication to something so harsh is obtained by careful conditioning and creates a person who is dead to any reality besides the one they were taught.  The officer has been told that guilt is the standard to live by and he has become so dedicated to his ideals that no other option seems acceptable.

Additionally, when faced with a reality separate from the one he had been existing in for so long, the Officer had what appeared to be a mental break.  The Officer reacted the way that many would and went a little mad when faced with the fact that his reality was ending.  After the Traveller had stated he did not support the apparatus the Officer begins yelling at him to read one of the papers he holds and when the Traveller cannot he yells “‘Be Just!’…it was clear that he [the Traveller] was still unable to read anything. ‘Be Just!’” (Kafka 10).  Clearly that Officer is so obsessed with the rules he cannot fathom not following the rules given to him by the Old Commandant.

Ultimately in the face of having his reality altered the Officer kills himself by using the apparatus because facing something other than the laws he knew under the Old Commandant was unbearable.  The Officer behaved the way any conditioned person would have and followed the rules he believed in until the end.  There was no world for the Officer besides the one that had been assigned to him and taught to him by the Old Commandant, which is why the Officer should be pitied.  It may not excuse his actions, but considering how intensely the Officer stuck to his rules and regulations he is quite a pitiful character.

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Science Fiction and the Fairy Tale

The Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells is a difficult book to place squarely in one genre.  There are many different facets within this story, therefore, it is impossible to place one label upon it and move on.  It’s important to realize that the very fact that this story cannot be categorized is important and gives it a unique place in literature.  Although this story has many aspects of different genres, I believe that it can be most squarely placed in the genre of science fiction, with some aspects of fairy tale writing included.

The reason that The Island of Dr. Moreau fits at least to some degree within the genre of science fiction is based mostly upon the concept of vivisection that occurs on the island.  There are experiments being done on the animals of the island and Dr. Moreau is pushing the limits of vivisection beyond its boundaries by trying to create humans out of animals.  This is such a far fetched idea that it clearly aligns itself with genre of science fiction.

However, there are also some of the characteristics present in the written fairy tales we read.  During the same time that H.G. Wells wrote this story there was a great debate going on in Britain and Europe at large about vivisection and whether or not it was ethical.  By creating a “little establishment…[that] is a kind of Blue-Beard’s chamber” (Wells 19) H.G. Wells is creating a parallel to fairy tales that served a similar purpose once they were written down.  Specifically, Bluebeard was one fairy tale that offered a way for women to explore the more menacing aspects of marriage in a way that allowed much to be decided by the reader.  Similarly, The Island of Dr. Moreau offers a means for exploring the negative and dangerous aspects of vivisection.  By combining these two genres, along with aspects from others, Wells makes it possible to create and interesting science fiction story along with creating a means for reflection.

 

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Business VS. The Moral Code

Everyone has heard the term “this is business” to imply that questionable or even hurtful actions taken in relation to financial issues do not count and can be excused because they are for the benefit of progress.  Even if this theory could work in some instances, it is the reality that the words fall short of what the phrase intends.  When it comes to real life any actions taken have ramifications regardless of how an individual decides to justify them in their mind.  An Enemy of the People displays this perfectly in relation to the Stockmanns and the decisions they make regarding the Baths.
Peter and Dr. Stockmann offer excellent opposing ideas to the issue of following a moral code when a business or financial situation could be at risk.  Peter decides that regardless of who may suffer it is more important to put the businesses and the town’s economic situation ahead of health issues and is in favor of keeping vital information from the public.  The doctor though, following his moral code, despite his brother’s and the towns attempts to “degrade me, to make a coward of me, to force me to put personal interests before my most sacred convictions.” (Ibsen 35), decides to be honest and tell the public the truth.  This is an important contrast that is shown throughout the play, especially when Dr. Stockmann is socially ostracized for doing what is truly right and informing the public that the Baths are dangerous.  Dr. Stockmann does not believe that a financial end will justify the means of putting many people in danger, whereas his brother is confident that protecting the economic standing of the town is too important and trumps the safety of the people.  Although it is business, there is still a serious divide as to whether or not that fact can justify actions as serious as public health.  This play presents the never ending battle between doing what is easy and beneficial versus doing what is right and forces the reader to explore his or her own feelings.

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Marriage: Dream VS Nightmare

Within these fairy tales there are two very different viewpoints of marriage presented.  This idea that marriage is either a blissful union or a dangerous trap still exists today.  Almost everyone has heard of or experienced at messy divorce or a marriage that seems it would be torture to be in.  These situations are held up within the media as the stark opposite of the perfect love story.  The entertainment industry is filled with examples of pure true love that prevails against all odds.  This happily ever after marriage is shown in Beauty and the Beast, whereas Bluebeard acts as an example of a dangerous and menacing marriage.

When thinking about fairy tales the image that most likely comes to mind is the part at the end when the man and woman triumph and are rewarded with a true and pure love that seems as though it will last til their end of their lives.  This love is portrayed as above other average relationships and as being based on things much deeper than comforts or looks.  However, “‘Bluebeard’ stands virtually alone among fairy tales in its depiction of marriage as an institution haunted by the threat of murder” (Tatar 139).  This image of marriage may be more or less common than the previous, however, it is still vital that both sides are shown.  Bluebeard acts as a way to warn women that marriage may not always be everything its cracked up to be, which is not something often offered to women of the time.

Beauty and the Beast and Bluebeard are both stories of relationships that stand trials and have a woman involved with somewhat of a monster, however, that is just about where the similarities end.  Beauty and the Beast depicts a loving story based on trust and mutual respect, while Bluebeard shows a heroine outsmarting her truly evil husband in order to escape certain death.  They differ on their ideas about relationships between men and women so intensely that their remaining similarities are almost cancelled out.

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Racism and Colonial Ideals in The Tempest and Robinson Crusoe

Within both The Tempest by William Shakespeare and Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe there are clear similarities when it comes to the differences between Europeans and people of other nationalities.  Although these texts were written by two very different people during two very different time periods, they both still contain a clear European bias.  Within The Tempest Caliban represents the native and lower class race, and within Robinson Crusoe Friday represents the same type of class bias.  Through the interactions of the European individuals and the two “natives” who represent those colonised these authors are able to paint a vivid picture of how race influenced and continues to influence the world and divides individuals.

In The Tempest Prospero enslaves Caliban and treats him as though he is essentially worthless.  Although both these individuals are trapped on the same island, they are portrayed completely differently and lead very different lives.  Prospero acts far superior and as though he knows so much more than Caliban simply because he is of more pure European descent.  For example, Caliban is taught English because that is clearly the civilized language and considered better than any native language someone may have learned previously.  Similarly, in Robinson Crusoe, Friday is treated as a slave after Crusoe saves his life and Crusoe takes it upon himself to completely change Friday’s lifestyle and beliefs.  Like Caliban, Friday is also taught English and Crusoe also decides to “instruct him in the knowledge of the true God” (Defoe 158).  Crusoe is so convinced that he leads a superior lifestyle that he completely disregards anything Friday has been told his whole life and convinces him to follow the ways of a European.  Not only that,  he also decides “to clear up this fraud” (Defoe 159) that Friday has been taught his whole life and believed since he was a child.

Not only do these characters decide to “enlighten” the poor naive natives that they encounter, but they also consider the lifestyles of the natives almost pathetic.  They look down upon and pity those who are not European and perfectly display the ideals of colonists which was that they were helping the natives become modern and enlightened individuals.  All the harm that they did and racism they felt towards others was cloaked in being helpful and moving the rest of the world towards and more modern lifestyle.

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