Hanif Kureishi's "My Son the Fanatic" excellently points out the differences between Western culture and non-Western culture, assimilation of immigrants, and the confusion and tension that can come from hybrid identities after immigration from one culture to another. In Kureishi's story, Ali struggles with hybridity and goes from the typical British teenager to a devout Muslim, which worries his father, who treats him like he is a "fanatic" about his roots, which he has not been raised to be proud of. The tension between Ali and his father is palpable as they are arguing about which culture is better. His father insist that it is the Western culture, as it comes with certain freedoms that Pakistani culture did not. However, Ali points out that "the Western materialists hate" them. This made me question which was more important, perception or reality? Parvez is more than happy to ignore the reality of because he believes that his life is better in Britain than it was in Pakistan. And who is to say that he isn't allowed to feel this way or that his feelings aren't valid? However, it is clear that he is looking past the unfortunate reality, which Ali cannot ignore. When you notice the reality, it's hard to support the false notion of success and happiness and I took the side of Ali. Which is the right perspective to take? Are they both valid? Does it just depend on the individual?
Looking at Ali's struggles to develop his identity was sad to me because adolescence is such a difficult time, anyway, with all of the transitions and pressure, but to add on the feeling that you don't fully belong to one identity or culture is a burden I can't begin to imagine having to bare. As Aparna Tarc and Paul Tarc (2010) explain, "The conflict is classically yet postcolonially Oedipal, where the ex-colonial, immigrant father’s desire to be English clashes with those of his resistant son, who reaches back for a religious and cultural authenticity he deems absent in his father" (p. 312). We not only see the clash of identities in Ali as he begins to denounce his British identity and take ownership of his Pakistani identity, but we also see the clash of identities in Ali and Parvez. It's also possible that there is a generational clash in this relationship, too, as Parvez's definition of success may be different from his son's, as that definition often changes from generation to generation. The concept of lost identity or lost self is present not only in Ali, who the reader believes to be the only victim of this idea, but also in Parvez, whose "investment in becoming English is diminished by each of his son’s disavowals of the father’s material enjoyment and freedom" (Tarc & Tarc, 2010). In the beginning, we believe this story will be about Ali struggling with and losing his identity, but toward the end we realize Parvez is experiencing the same thing. I think Kureishi did a wonderful job portraying the internal and external conflict that can come from hybrid identities.
References: Tarc, A. & Tarc P. (2010). What hybridity stammers to say: Becoming other than oneself in Hanif Kureishi's "My Son the Fanatic." 307-324.
Northern Ireland Conflicts and Poetry
Seamus Heaney's "Punishment" and Eavan Boland's "The Dolls Museum in Dublin" highlight the conflict of Northern Ireland due to the armed insurgence against the state, primarily enacted by the Catholic population in the 1960s and 1970s. These militant organizations ruled in a Theocracy style, punishing "sinful" behaviors, especially female sexual and social transgressions. This was a violent era in which public "punishments" or executions, bombings, and shootings by the insurgence were common (Dorney, 2015). Heaney and Boland's poems, respectively, touch on the violence that entered Northern Ireland during this time. In "Punishment" Heaney talks about seeing a woman's "drowned body" (corpse) and the "weighing stone," which tells us that she was purposefully drowned, which he suggests is from being an "adultress." We can infer that her death was an execution by the Irish Republican Army -- one of the Catholic insurgence armies -- for the crime of adultery, which would be considered a sin in the Catholic faith. Heaney talks to the girl, stating that he loves her, but that he would be the first to "cast...the stones of silence" implying that he would not speak up on her behalf against the violent organization that executed her. Boland's "The Dolls Museum in Dublin" also touches on the fear and violence within Northern Ireland by discussing a "silenced event" in Irish history, using the dolls as a metaphor for those who remembered the event (Raschke, 1996). The dolls' faces are "memorized" and they represent 'what is left of the past and the present, who "infer the difference / with a terrible stare' (Raschke, 1996). Both of these authors use language and descriptors that paint a beautiful picture of a gruesome scene. Heaney's corpse is described as "flaxen-haired" with a "tar-black face" that was "beautiful," painting her mangled body in a more angelic light, while Boland portrays those who lived through the tragic Irish event as dolls. I find this to be an interesting choice on both of the authors' parts, as I feel that it gives more power to the texts.
References: Dorney, J. (2015). The Northern Ireland conflict 1968-1998 - an overview. The Irish Story. Retrieved from http://www.theirishstory.com/2015/02/09/the-northern-ireland-conflict-1968-1998-an-overview/#.XQMCMhNKgWo Raschke, D. (1996). Eavan Boland's outside history and in a time of violence: Rescuing women, the concrete, and other things physical from the dung heap. Colby Quarterly, 32(2), 135-142.
Who are the real "savages"?
Reading Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness" was interesting and I experienced conflicting responses to the reading. First, I will give Conrad credit in that it he exposed an issue that is still praised by many today: colonization. In history classes, even outside of Britain, you will hear about the amazing European colonizers who simply wanted to educate the "savage" world and teach them about fashion, religion, and language to help them enter into the then modern world. How nice right? Well, many of us now know that this isn't really an accurate depiction of what happened, as it left out the white washing of entire cultures through beatings, rapes, murders, and theft of land, which begs the question: Who are the real "savages"? As Conrad says in his story, "The conquest of the earth, which mostly means taking it away from those who have a different complexion or a slightly flatter nose than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much." The fact that Conrad calls this brutality and corruption out in his piece is commendable, in my opinion, so I want to give him credit where credit is due. The piece actually reminded me of an excerpt from Michael de Montaigne's essay "Of the Cannibale" (Of Cannibals), in which he discussed the "savagery" of the Tupinamba people in Brazil, who were cannibals, compared to the "civilized" European colonizers. In his piece, Montaigne talks about how these "savages" have no business, they only share; they have no written language, so they don't have the hateful or deceptive words that other cultures have; they have no money, which means they have no poverty; they have no kings and queens, which means no corruption; they have no materialism, deception, or murders like they do in Europeans cultures. Are the real "savages" those who have little to no technology, but live innocent lives, or the ones who have cars, money, and power, but will take down anyone they need to in order to get more money and power? I found these two pieces to be very similar in that they exposed the horrors of what appears to be "civilization" as really another form of savagery.
The part I didn't like, however, was that Conrad's writing made me think of someone who is almost there, but not quite. He reminded me of a sort of false consciousness. It's like saying "racism is bad" but then crossing the street when you see someone of another race approaching you. The way he portrayed the African people in his story was not necessarily flattering, as he really didn't see them as people or individuals, but rather as "black shapes" and describes them in ways that make them seem inferior, rather than just different from his own culture. I was also displeased by the lost opportunity to have some sort of dialogue between the African people and the European colonizers. The story didn't include the perspectives of those negatively affected by the horrors of colonization. It didn't give a voice to the voiceless. It's not surprising, as many modern books do the same thing (talk about racism without giving a platform to those who experience racism), such as "To Kill A Mockingbird," but I was disappointed in the story, as it wasn't as empathetic to those suffering the brutalization of colonization. It also didn't portray the beauty that is the African continent, but rather depicted it as a "dark" part of the world. Overall, I think the story has its ups and downs, but I think when discussing this story, both need to be included in the discussion.
Sexuality, Marriage, and Desire in James Joyce's "Ulysses - Penelope"
Reading James Joyce's "Ulysses - Penelope" was actually pretty shocking right away, as Molly, the narrator whose soliloquy we read, discusses sex in a blunt, unapologetic way almost immediately, which I am not accustomed to, even living in 2019. Moly discusses genitalia/anatomy, fetishes, sexual experiences and desires, adultery, and more in this piece, and in a way that is not conservative or shy, but rather outward and overt. For example, Molly resists the idea that women are not sexual beings like men are and don't need to enjoy sex by saying "What's the idea making us like that with a big hole in the middle of us...nice invention they made for women for him to get all the pleasure." This bluntness actually serves to validate the point Molly makes right away that "it's only nature." Joyce's piece discusses natural experiences that everyone has in a way that encourages readers to see it exactly how it is: natural. Even in the modern age, it is not yet considered socially acceptable for a woman to be so open about her sexuality, or just sexuality in general, which is why Joyce's piece is so shocking, yet refreshing. Despite her unapologetic protest for women's sexuality, some critics still view Molly as "unable to break from an oppressive gender tradition," like Liv J. McMullen who claims that in the end of the story, Molly's husband, Bloom, still regains his patriarchal power when Molly decides to stay with him and end her adulterous relationships. McMullen purports that Joyce's final episode of "Ulysses" is similar to that of Homer's "Odyssey" in that Molly is the new Penelope; still submissive to her husband and to the male dominated society. There are conflicting opinions about this piece - whether or not it is truly a feminist piece because Molly is both outspoken in the soliloquy about her sexual desires and needs, while still being "lusted after, criticized, and mocked" by males in the story (McMullen). Overall, for the time that it was written in I am surprised by how unapologetic and outspoken the character was, as well as the bold, feminist topics that Joyce covered in the piece. I don't think that it's perfect, however, I so feel that for the time that it was written, Joyce did an excellent job portraying a more modern perspective on topics like sexuality and marriage.
W.B. Yeats' "The Second Coming": The Fear of an Unknown Era
When analyzing W. B. Yeats' "The Second Coming" it is important to consider the cultural context in which it was written. This poem was written during WWI, when the nation was moving from one era to another, unknown era, and many were fearful of what that new era may bring to society. His use of Christian rhetoric - the title itself, "The Second Coming" referring to the second coming of Jesus Christ, as well as the city of Bethlehem which refers to where Jesus was born - is an interesting choice since in the Christian faith the second coming refers to the event where Jesus brings His followers to Heaven, while those who did not follow Him remain on earth for a seven year war. In contrast, Yeats implies that after the "Second Coming," or the entering into a new, frightening era, life will continue and all will remain. With the world events that were taking place all seemingly at once (WWI, the Russian Revolution, and the Anglo-Irish War) there was a sense of chaos in the nation, which Yeats touches on when he says "Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world." Imagining living during this time, I can see how it would feel as if everything was falling apart and all order was being lost. In Paul D. Deane's (1995) analysis of the poem, it is suggested that the central theme to the poem is about the difference between moral centrality and the periphery, which is why the title is so fitting. According to Deane, the concept of center vs periphery is immediately made clear when Yeats mentions the hawk/falcon (which represents periphery) and the falconer (which represents centrality) and when Yeats says "Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold" implying a decentering of society (1995, p. 633). In the second stanza, as Deane argues, Yeats touches on the idea of recentering, as he discusses a "second coming" wherein society will be changed, however, it will continue to exist and what is different between the two eras will become the new normal, in a way (1995, p. 638). He describes this transition, however, in a terrifying way, implying that the move into this new era will bring about danger, referring to a "rough beast" and describing a lion with the head of a man. This paints the time period in a negative and frightening light. Overall, Yeats exposes the change in society that is sure to come after the world events that were occurring during this time, conveying the fear and uncertainty that the people had toward the future. It was a chaotic time when everything felt like things were falling apart, and where this rough beast was to be born, symbolizing the dangers and hardship that were to come in this new era.
Duality of Humans: Choice and Chaos
Robert Louis Stevenson's Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest both discuss the duality of man, having hidden desires and double lives, in two very different ways, yet still tackling the same message. Stevenson's piece takes on a more dark and sinister tone, where his story deals with murder, suicide, and other twisted desires, whereas Wilde's story is more light-hearted and takes on a more playful mood. Stevenson discusses the duality in human nature that is uncontrollable and chaotic. His character tries to separate himself from his secret desires, trying to find a way to justify his actions as if he's not responsible for them since he "isn't himself." This, however, ultimately ending in the destruction of himself and others. His piece touches on madness and almost an implication of what's now known as Dissociative Identity Disorder (previously Multiple Personality Disorder). Wilde, on the contrary, touches on the choice of duality of man, wherein two of his characters admit to living double lives and/or lying about aspects of their lives in order to get what they want and to get out of obligations. The double life of Earnest/Jack actually ends up working for him and benefitting him by winning the woman he wants to marry. And in this characters case, the lie was, in fact, actually reality. Wilde's story ends on a happy note, and doesn't feel so chaotic and out of control since Earnest is the one choosing to live this double life and is controlling the story. The different ways that the two authors chose to tackle this topic is interesting, and I think they both address the topic well, and actually address two separate aspects of the topic of duality: the controllable and uncontrollable duality of human nature.
Swinburne vs Fields: Risque Topics
Looking at Algernon Charles Swinburne's "Hymn to Proserpine" and "Hermaphroditus" and Michael Fields' (pseudonym for Katherine Bradley and Edith Cooper) "Maids, not to you my mind doth change," the authors' works touch on rather controversial topics for being written in such a conservative time: the Victorian Era. In Swinburne's "hymn to Proserpine," the author challenges the Christian faith, referring to gods and traditions of the Pagan faith and Greek mythology. In his poem "Hermaphroditus" and Bradley and Cooper's "Maids, not to you my mind doth change," the authors tackle the topic and theme of sexual exploration, however, the authors do so by ending in very different messages. When compared, the different authors' tones and messages make the pieces interesting. First, looking at Swinburne's "Hymn to Proserpine," we see that he addresses Jesus directly multiple times when he talks to Galilean, which is a reference to Galilee, where Jesus is supposed to have grown up. He very clearly denounces the Roman Christian faith, making it clear that he will not obey by their rules and traditions. He does so when he talks about how all men are kneeling and bending the knee to this new faith, but says "I kneel not, neither adore you, but standing look to the end" and questions the power of the Christian God when he claims "There is no god found stronger than death." He also makes references to Greek gods and goddesses like Apollo, Persephone (who he calls Proserpina), and Aphrodite, as well as makes references to the old order of the Pagan gods. He also says these gods were "dethroned and deceased, cast forth, wiped out in a day" due to the replacement of these gods with the Christian God. This criticism of the Christian fait is surprising since religion was a large part of Victorian English society, so it was a bold choice of Swinburne's to go against this belief system. When looking at Swinburne's "Hermaphroditus" and Bradley and Cooper's "Maids, to you not my mind doth change," we see the central theme of sexual expression and exploration. Both of these authors boldly discussed the idea of sexuality. Swinburne's title refers to the greek god Hermes and goddess Aphrodite's child, whose sexual identity is ambiguous due to the morphing of bodies with a nymph. This choice suggests the idea of gender/sex fluidity and ambiguity or duality, making the poem more homoerotic. We see this ambiguity when he says "But on the one side sat a man like death,/And on the other a woman sat like sin" and "Yet by no sunset and by no moonrise/Shall make thee man and ease a woman's sighs,/Or make thee woman for a man's delight." This use of switching between male and female subjects in the poem implies duality of sexes/genders. In Bradley and Cooper's "Maids, not to you my mind doth change," the authors also centered around the theme of sexual expression, but from the stance of female/lesbian sexuality. We see this almost immediately when the authors say they "defy, allure, estrange,/Prostrate, make bond, or free" men and that with two women there "is no thought of pain,/Peril, satiety." The authors tackled the same controversial theme of homoerotic love, however, they did so by setting very different tones, Swinburne's being a dark tone, while Bradley and Cooper set a joyful tone regarding sexuality.
Women in Victorian England
In this weeks readings, there are three central themes that I picked up on: male jealousy, women as aesthetics or objects, and women as desperate for love. The first two themes are emphasized in Robert Browning's "My Last Duchess." In this poem, the speaker discusses a painting of his deceased wife with the reader, where he talks about her in an angry and jealous way. He seems to find her personality and actions to be infuriating, saying she treated his gift of "a nine-hundred-years-old name" as if it were just like any other gift she could receive from a stranger. He feels that she is ungrateful for the gifts he has given her and wanted more appreciation. He also implies that she may have acted unfaithfully toward him, as he says her heart was "too soon made glad;/Too easily impressed" and that her "looks went everywhere" suggesting that she may have had a wandering eye. He also suggests this when he says she would smile when he passed, but "who passed without/Much the same smile?" At the end, he talks about Neptune "Taming a seahorse" which Claus of Innsbruck has "cast in bronze" for him. This line made me think about him trying to control his wife and "tame" her from her "wild" (unmarried) ways. This poem really shows the view of women as objects that men should be able to control, and the jealousy that comes when they feel that they cannot. The last theme is captured in Dante's "The Blessed Damozel" and Mary Elizabeth Coleridge's "The Other Side of a Mirror" and "The Witch." In Dante's "The Blessed Damozel," the speaker talks about seeing his deceased lover looking down from heaven, awaiting the arrival of her lover so that she can finally feel happy again. He talks about how she "leaned out/From the gold bar of heaven" and "laid her face between her hands/and wept" because she had been praying to God to return her lover to her. He also portrays heaven as a prison for her with his use of the words "gold bars" and "golden barriers" as if she is trapped there without her love. I have no intention on getting into religion, but I do feel that it is a little misogynistic to suggest that a woman who is now in heaven (believed in the Christian faith to be the ultimate place of happiness and peace) would be so distraught without her man by her side. To me, it seems to perpetuate the notion of women only being happy if they are married or find love. Potentially, if Dante had also focused on the man's desperate wait to be reunited with his love, then it wouldn't seem like this, but he mainly focused on the woman's depression over being separated from her lover. In Mary Elizabeth Coleridge's "The Other Side of a Mirror," the speaker is looking in a mirror, noticing the "vision of a woman/With more than womanly despair." She describes her face as "bereft of loveliness" and as having an "aureole/Of hard unsanctioned distress." Coleridge implies that the woman who is speaking has aged, without having married or found a man, and that the beauty she once had in her youth is now gone. It is clear that in this time period, women who were not married were seen as sad or desperate. This theme is also captured in her other poem, "The Witch," in which she talks about her long journey through life that has made her weak and tired. There is a sense of feminism in this poem, suggesting her strength as she has "walked a great while" and says the "way was hard and long" as she "wandered over the fruitful earth" which makes the reader wonder how she was able to make this long, impressive journey. However, she then goes on to talk about how she is still unmarried and continues to describe herself as "small" and "not strong," which contradicts the portrayal of a strong woman. It is as if she is painting herself as a damsel in distress, asking the man at the door to save her by lifting her "over the threshold" and bringing her inside. This poem, like the others, perpetuates the idea that women need a man to be happy and to be successful in simply surviving, and that if one is not married by a certain age then they will be alone forever because their beauty will run out. The poems in this time period portray women as weak and desperate, and men as controlling, jealous figures. I think one must look at the historical and social contexts of the time period, as those were common beliefs about men and women, and even beliefs held by some in modern day America. It is interesting, however, to read these poems in the 21st century to see the vast differences, and the unfortunate similarities, between the past and the present in two different countries.