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Close Reading of /The Handmaid’s Tale/

“The carpet bends and goes down the front staircase and I go with it, one hand on the banister, once a tree, turned in another century, rubbed to a warm gloss. Late Victorian, the house is, a family house, built for a large rich family. There’s a grandfather clock in the hallway, which doles out time, and then the door to the motherly front sitting room, with its flesh tones and hints. A sitting room in which I never sit, but stand and kneel only. At the end of the hallway, above the front door, is a fanlight of colored glass: flowers, red and blue.” — The Handmaid’s Tale, pg. 9

In this excerpt from the The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, the biting irony and satire is blatantly apparent. This excerpt is a microcosm of the text, and if extrapolated to the entirety of the work, contains thematic elements that are prevalent throughout the novel.

The first and perhaps most integral aspect which is present in this excerpt is the idea of a “family” or lack-there-of. In Gilead the idea of a perfect family is perpetuated. The Commanders and Wives of each “family” are seen as the ideal matriarchs and patriarchs. However, the Handmaid’s represent the perverted idea of a surrogate mother, seen merely as an incubator. The focus on family oriented terms in this passage, such as “family”, “grandfather”, and “motherly” draw attention to a contradiction. Although these items are present in the house and are applied to describe it, they are clearly lacking in the society and in the house itself. This represents the satirical nature of the passage.

Furthermore, the idea of time is represented in this passage. By drawing attention to the Victorian period this house was from and the purpose of the grandfather clock, these representations again highlight the skewed perception of Gilead. As diligently as the officials of the Republic of Gilead attempt to erase signs of the past, it is impossible for them to block them out completely. This is important due to the placement of this passage at the beginning of the novel. Due to the primacy of this excerpt the audience is granted the ability to witness the utter failure of Gilead in its principles and ideals.

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“Heart’s Blood”: 2009 version of “Beauty and the Beast”

This up to date version of Beauty and the Beast, I believe to be the most current, is one I found quite interesting. It was written in 2009 by Juliet Marillier. To summarize it quickly, the main character, Caitrin, is on the run from an abusive past. She makes her way to Whistling Tor where she comes across a deformed man, Anluan, whose family and hisself are cursed. As time goes on and Caitirin learns more about the man and sees him through his bitterness, she falls in love. This version differs tremendously from our classic “Disney” version we are most familiar with. In that version, we see Beauty running off to save her father, whereas Caitrin in “Heart’s Blood is running from her past and looking to find something new. Her (Caitrin’s) beast is not truly a beast but a man who has a curse on him which left him crippled and deformed. In our classic version, the curse on Beast left him as a “monster” and once broken. turned him back into the handsome man he once was. We do not see Caitrin longing to want to be reconnected with her family or escape from the castle as Beauty did. Instead, she finds her new home somewhat “safe” despite is terror and wickedness. This version of the tale puts a unique twist on it as we can connect with this “Beauty” (Caitrin) more than we can with “Beauty”. Her escape from an abusive past/family leaves us to question why/what caused the abuse she suffered and to learn more about her background. As with Beauty, we know she was already the “prettiest” of her sisters and treated like an angel by her father, which doesn’t make her past as interesting. This version puts a unique spin on the novel and no longer leaves it as a “bore” as it once was in the classic version.

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Comparison of /Blu’s Hanging/ with Arundhati Roy’s /The God of Small Things/

While reading Blu’s Hanging by Lois-Ann Yamanaka, I was struck by the similarities between this particular text and The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy. The God of Small Things is a work which centers around the decline of a formerly wealthy and affluent Indian family. On the brink of their decline, the narrative highlights the final years and events which act as catalysts to the final blow dealt to the family; the matriarch’s affair with a man in a caste much lower than that of the family’s. Much like Blu’s Hanging, this novel is viewed through the eyes of children and encompasses many similar aspects including, but not limited to, the sexual abuse of the son of the family.

Prominent throughout both novels is the sexual perversion displayed towards the young boys of both works. Blu of Blu’s Hanging is consistently stripped of his masculinity and exposed to perverse sexual encounters through molestation, exhibitionism/fondling, and finally, rape. Estha, the young boy of The God of Small Things, is molested by a man inside of the lobby of a movie theater. Although the situations vary, both boys cope with these situations similarly. For Blu, the act of absolution is ignorance,  Estha’s reaction is like-wise. Both boys essentially blind themselves to the acts, neither openly acknowledging or vocalizing the injustices acted upon them. For Blu, the instances are only highlighted due to his sister witnessing them. Similarly, Estha’s sister is the only informant of his molestation. In both of these novels, the sexual abuse of the young male protagonists is central to the text and is made all the more apparent through the lack of acknowledgment by the victims themselves.

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Fight for Survival in ‘The Handmaid’s Tale”

In The Handmaid’s Tale, Offred along with all the other women can be seen fighting for survival. Their “fight” can be seen as doing as they’re told and maintaining their roles and/or titles because if they disobey or become rebellious, their life could be at stake. Offred’s fight was once I found the strongest. Day in and day out, she played her role as a handmaid to the Commander and did as she was told–to lie on her back when ordered to. She knew what was happening to her was not right but knew if she were to fight against it, her life would be at stake. Longing to survive and not die at the hands of the Commander or the Republic of Gilead, she did as told and played her part well. Her strength to keep on pushing is what inspired me. Although she was not in the best situation, she made the best of it. Throughout the novel, I looked at her as somewhat of a heroine. She saved her own self, if that makes any sense. She did what she was instructed to do in order to get by. There are many women who would’ve probably given up or tapped out if they were in her shoes. But she tried to think of what her Aunt Lydia had told her, “Don’t underrate your freedom.” For she is “freer” than women once were with her type of freedom. The fact she held on to the end as she planned her escape is what amazed me. She was her own heroine by saving her own life and making it out of captivity alive. Her fight for survival shows us how strong women can really be even in the toughest situation. Atwood’s description of Offred shows her strength and determination as a woman.

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The Sense of Dying to Belong in “Blu’s Hanging”

A theme that occurred to me recently that can be seen in “Bl’s Hanging” is the sense of dying to belong. We can see o=it occur within all the children as they try to cope and make it in the world after their mother’s life. Each child is stuck trying to find their purpose in life and deal with their struggles they each have. All they want to do really is find peace within their selves and live out their lives that were destined to them. Prime example, Ivah wanting to go off to school after her mother dies and she is left to raise her younger siblings. Her father, Poppy, even blames her for abandoning her siblings by making this decision. All Ivah really wanting to do is make something out of her life, get past her mother’s death, and do something to help better herself as a person. Instead, she is looked at as the “bad guy” by her father for wanting to do so. She is dying to belong and live her life as a child (which she still is). However, childhood has been taken away from her before she even gets a chance to live it. Her mother dies, her father turns to drugs to cope, which leaves her no choice but to help raise her siblings—losing her childhood She’s curious to know what it is like to live that childhood life, be able to go to school, get an education, and do the things she sees other children doing. Instead, adulthood has already met her with an unanswered childhood being left behind her for her to only dream about. A sense of dying belong is heavily seen throughout the text.

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“After Dark” Follow Up: What is the genre of this novel?

After our intense class discussion of After Dark, I decided to come back and do an in-depth analysis of the novel. This novel by far is the most unique one we have read all semester. The fact that everything occurs within one night amazed me. As it was brought to my attention in class by Thomas, The Tempest also took place in a day’s span. But what intrigued me more with this novel is it took place within a couple of hours of night. The novel’s genre is one I found most difficult to decipher. Is it science fiction, a dystopia, speculative fiction? What genre would actually fit for this novel? To me, it appears as if the novel transcends into different genres. Science fiction, an obvious one, is seen throughout the course of nightfall and all the “magic” that takes place. For example, Eri getting sucked into the television and trapped in the room. I also found this to be connected to speculative fiction, as the two genres do not differ much. The dystopia can be seen in general with the “After Dark” part of the novel. When nighttime falls, a whole new world begins. We see things that we do not see occur during the daytime and everything appears as a blur. So what genre is truly suitable for this novel? I see so many different possible genres as the novel unfolds and transcends genre throughout the occurrence of nighttime. This is why I feel the novel is the most unique one we have read. To label it what one genre seems nearly impossible and I like how it challenges me to think of one that is suitable for it.

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Close reading of “A Small Place”

A passage I found interesting in A Small Place that I would like to go back and evaluate is on page 14 when Kincaid calls tourists ugly human beings. She states, “The thing you have always suspected about yourself the minute you become a tourist is true: A tourist is an ugly human being. You are not an ugly person all the time; you are not an ugly person ordinarily; you are not an ugly person from day to day; From day to day, you are a nice person” (14). In this quote Kincaid criticizes tourists as being “ugly human beings”. However, she says you are not an ugly person. The ugly person only exists and comes into being once you decide to be a tourist. As a matter of fact, she says, you are a nice person when you’re living you’re day to day life. But once you make the decision to become a tourist all of this goes away. The fact that Kincaid separates one as a tourist and one as “their self” into two distinct categories is quite interesting. How can one human being portray two different sides when making one petty decision. A tourist is what turns you “ugly” and “bad” from the “beautiful” and “nice” person you once were. Kincaid’s meaning behind this passage goes to show how much she despises tourists. Her evaluation of them in this passage is one that makes you, as the reader, stop and think, do I want to become this “ugly” person, the tourist? Or do I want her to accept me for me–the nice, beautiful person I am living my day to day life in my own city. Kincaid’s view of tourists will make us as readers who love to travel stop and think for a second if this is truly how all natives of islands/places we visit think of us? Or is this just Kincaid lashing out on tourists? Either way it goes, the novel in general points its fingers at all who travel and become tourists of a place when they do. She wrote this book for us.

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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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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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