Close Reading of First Paragraph of After Dark

Instead of a bang, Haruki Murakami starts After Dark off with the sound of a breath. The first paragraph sets the scene so that we do not know where the story is set geographically, but we do come away with a very good sense of what the city is like. As we discussed in class, the city is described using diction usually reserved to describing bodies. The result is that we come to view the city as a character itself – that is, before we are flung into the quiet world of Mari at the generic Denny’s.

The paragraph begins at the “top” of the body and works its way down, as it starts with “eyes mark the shape of the city.” The city is not literally eye-shaped, but it was eyes that built the city and the way the building glow. From the eyes, we move down to the heart as “countless arteries stretch to the ends of its elusive body, circulating a continuous supply of fresh blood cells…” The “arteries” of the city pump out new and old data, consumables, and contradictions just as they do with the blood. The “fresh blood cells” are representative of the new people that are pumped in and out of the city every day; for example, the Chinese prostitute.  “Fresh blood” goes in and our whether the city likes it or not, which is why “all parts of the body flicker and flare up and squirm”. As time goes on in the paragraph, we finally reach the middle of the body where “a monotonous sound that neither rises nor falls but is pregnant with foreboding.” The body of the city is left at the end waiting for the “pregnancy” to come to fruition – just as the readers are waiting for the novel to begin.

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“Red Riding Hood”: 2011 film vs. The Classic fairytale

About a month or so ago, I went to to see the new film “Red Riding Hood”. What I was expecting to see was an up to date remake of the classic fairytale; instead it was merely the complete opposite. The film had a romantic and was nothing like the classic version. “Little Red Riding Hood” who was not so “little”, instead a lovestruck teen who was falling in love with a woodcutter that her family failed to accept. This reminded me of the classic “Romeo and Juliet”. Seeing the Capulets not so happy with Juliet for falling for “not good enough” Romeo. The two were determined to be together, just as Romeo and Juliet were; the only difference was the two (Red Riding Hood and the woodcutter) do not commit suicide in the end. Instead both her and her village are tortured by “The Wolf”, a werewolf in this version. Many movie reviews and moviegoers note how much of a “dark twist” this version has to it. Nowhere in this version do we see “Little Red Riding Hood” and “Grandma” reciting their infamous lines– Red Riding Hood: “Grandmother, what big teeth you have.” Grandma: “The better to eat you with my dear!” As a matter of fact, the whole moral of the classic fairytale is lost in the film. “Children, especially young girls, should not talk to strangers because there are consequences.” Instead the film portrays more of a mystery as Red Riding Hood tries to figure out who the werewolf is that is terrorizing the village? The film reminded of “Twilight” as both films have the same director. This version puts you more on the edge than the classic fairytale which involves a child being eaten by a wolf which she mistakes for her Grandma. Despite its complete opposite plot, overall, I must say I enjoyed the film and especially liked how it is different from all the other versions of this fairytale. Attached is a trailer of the film for those who are not too familiar with it:

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The Irony of Beauty in A Small Place

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.

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Food in Blu’s Hanging

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.

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Snow, Glass, Apples, Feminism

“Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who is fairest of them all?” Due in part to the Disney animated movie, Snow White is a very popular and widely loved fairy tale. Especially, the easy to remember details such as the mirror rhyme and the line “red as blood, white as snow, black as ebony” provide wide appeal to children. Like most fairy tales, Snow White has been retold many times over in movies, television, and literature. One of the most chilling and unique variations that I have encountered is Neil Gaiman’s short story “Snow, Glass, Apples,” which flips the roles of villainess and heroine for Snow White and the Queen by implying that Snow White is a child vampire. Gaiman certainly changes many details from the Brother Grimm’s version, but what is most interesting is that he does not change the actions of the Queen. In the Grimms’ version, the Queen is decidedly portrayed in an anti-feminist light; but with only a change in rationale, Gaiman is able to create a feminist figure from her.

In the Grimms’ version, the Queen is “beautiful but haughty, and she could not tolerate anyone else who might rival her beauty.” (213) This jealousy of other beauty is her sole motivation throughout the tale. The Queen envies the beauty of a seven year old child, which is quite unrealistic of a grown woman who is supposed to be “fairest of all”. Such a portrayal implies that all women have no need to be jealous of anything else, or have anything else to drive their motives. The Queen in Gaiman’s story, however, is seen as “wise… or so they said” (Gaiman, Smoke and Mirrors 331) by many of her people. Instead of jealousy, she is driven by the urge to protect herself and her people due to Snow White’s nature: “I do not know what manner of thing she is.” (331) Instead of being inspired by vanity, this Queen is a smart, straightforward woman – a woman who was punished “by history” for her feminist actions. Such a rationale makes sense, as such a woman would be regarded as a villain, too.

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Loss of Innocence in Blu’s Hanging

Many times when children are the main focus of a work of literature, the story is about their coming of age. The child character is usually faced with a series of difficult events or decisions that ultimately require maturity. Sometimes, we are supposed to cheer the children into adulthood, but oftentimes I find the loss of childhood innocence and playfulness to be quite sad. The word “innocent” brings up biblical connotations to me; specifically, the Garden of Eden and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Before Adam and Eve ate the fruit, they were playful and without sin, but afterward, they paid for their knowledge by being exiled. Once children gain “knowledge”, they make the journey to adulthood. However, the children in Blu’s Hanging are still somewhat able to hang on to their childhood even after they’ve been forced to deal with adult matters.

In a way, Ivah and Blue have already begun to lose their innocence before the novel begins due to the death of their mother. Ivah is forced to take care of the family, especially after her father tells her “you going be in charge of dinner” (4). Losing their mother definitely forces all of them to grow up a little, but they are all still children, as we see from Blu and Maisie’s games. Blu is forced to deal with the adult concepts when he is being sexually harassed, but he still approaches them from a childlike point of view. The first time Uncle Paolo propositions him, Blu is intrigued by the money and asks Ivah for permission. Mr. Iwasaki also provides compensation in the form of “a $100,000 bar, and a box of Milk Duds. Dollar bills.” (20) Blu is old enough to know that what is going on is wrong, but he is still enough of a child to think that candy and some money are worth it.

By the end of the novel, both Ivah and Blu have been forced to grow up even more. Ivah, in my opinion, has almost reached full adulthood by the end. Blu still has a long way to go due to his rape and the way his father treats him; but, with enough time, Blu can hopefully win his childhood back and mature at an easier rate.

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Alienation of Prospero and Doctor Who

Although it is not very well known in the United States, BBC-produced Doctor Who is one of my absolute favorite television shows. The sci-fi program, which has been running on and off TV since the 1960s, centers on the Doctor and his time-travelling adventures through space. One of the reoccurring themes of the most recent series is alienation and loneliness, as the Doctor is the last surviving member of his species. The Doctor is also continually left alone due to his long life and amazing intelligence. As I finished the most recent series of the show, the Doctor reminded me of this course’s overall theme of alienation. In particular, the Doctor most reminded me of the first character we encountered in class: Prospero from The Tempest. Although these two characters are quite different, they are separated from everyone by their intelligence.

Prospero ‘s duties as duke were largely ignored because “I, thus neglecting worldly ends, all dedicated/
To closeness, and the bettering of my mind.” (Act I.ii) Prospero shirks his duties in order to learn, which leads to his exile. However, without his learnings, he would not have been able to earn his dukedom back. Nonetheless, he is still set apart from his subjects and his peers. The Doctor’s abilities also segregate him from everyone around him, as he describes that “I can feel it. The turn of the Earth. The ground beneath our feet is spinning at 1,000 miles an hour and the entire planet is hurtling around the sun at 67,000 miles an hour, and I can feel it. We’re falling through space, you and me, clinging to the skin of this tiny little world, and if we let go… That’s who I am.” (1.1, Rose). Although this isn’t book learning, the Doctor’s senses are constantly overloaded. Since he is the last of his species, there is no one he can rely on for comfort, or even conversation about the experience – he is on his own, just like Prospero.

Prospero and the Doctor have very wide fundamental differences – the Doctor is vehemently anti-slavery, for one – but they are still completely alienated. Luckily for Prospero, his intelligence is able to win him back is dukedom. As for the Doctor, we will hopefully have many more years to come to see how he turns out!

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Language in The Handmaid’s Tale

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.

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Nothing is Black and White in After Dark

In the novel After Dark by Haruki Murakami, the lines between good and evil are blurred and Murakami suggests that both of these natures exist in everyone. We can see this first and foremost in the way the story is narrated- the story is not presented in first person and hence we are given a very objective point of view. We are not immediately aware of who is the protagonist and antagonist of our story and Murakami mentions many times that we are merely “observers”.

Another place that the delineation between good and evil is blurred is when we meet the man who beat up the prostitute at Alphaville. Upon meeting him we are surprised to find that he seems like a very ordinary man and Murakami makes the suggestion that perhaps the man was forced to do this: “He does not look like the kind of man who would buy a Chinese prostitute in a love hotel- and certainly not one who would administer an unmerciful pounding to such a woman…. In fact, however, that is exactly what he did- what he had to do” (Murakami 99). Once we figure out who our villain might be, the rug is pulled from under us and the neutrality of the story- as in between good and evil- is maintained.

Finally, when Takahashi is describing to Mari why it is that he wanted to become a lawyer, he notes the discovery of the dual presence of both good and evil in every person and how this peaked his curiosity to explore this further. He notes how “…that there really was no such thing as a wall separating their world [evil] from mine [good]” (Murakami 117). Takahashi also admits that he cried when a criminal was sentenced to death and asks us “Why should that have been?” (Murakami 120). Perhaps, it is because of his realization that not only evil, but good as well, resides in these criminals and that the criminals may not be all that different from himself. In this way, Murakami manages to not provide us with a protagonist or antagonist, and blurs the lines between good and evil- at least thus far.

 

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Connection and Isolation of Individual Worlds

The novel After Dark puts a lot of emphasis on the individual worlds that each person lives in, in contrast to the expansive reality that they exist within.  The surreal elements in the novel, specifically the use of the television, allow for a direct view into the isolated worlds that each character has created for themselves.  The most obvious example is the room  on the other side of the television that Eri is transported to where she cannot escape.  This represents the deep sleep that plagues her as she isolates herself from the “flesh-and-blood world” which houses her problems, including her inability to connect with her sister (109).  Thus, Eri is only able to start to escape her own world and wake up once Mari tries to reconnect to her sister  which solves the problem that drove Eri  into her own isolated world to begin with.  Mari reconnects with her sister in the same way that they first connected when they were children trapped in an elevator where they clung to each other to the point that they shared the same heartbeat.  It is there when the darkness hid the flesh-and-blood world and allowed the sisters to connect on a more personal level.  The novel may highlight the loneliness and isolation of people as they are trapped in their own individual worlds, but shows hope of an ability to connect with one another beyond the plane of reality.

 

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