“This Is How You Lose Her” by Junot Diaz

The last time I read a novel that started with the main character expressing that he wasn’t a bad guy was for my Jan Term young adult reading & writing class. And that book was from the perspective of a teenage male who was in denial about the fact that he had raped a girl. The exact line went, “I am a good guy.” Upon seeing that this novel started with very similar words, I knew this was going to be an unlikable protagonist. Any character that has to convince the reader so outwardly that they aren’t a bad guy could only be in denial about the truth. In comparison to some of the modern books I’ve read, the writing style didn’t seem that out there. Many novels these days are written in the same conversational, honest way. However, in comparison to what we’ve read so far in this class, the writing style could not have been more different. I found that the writing made the sections that we were assigned to read fly by, and it made the novel easy to get into. That being said, I was also intrigued by the narrator’s intentions.

We discussed his voice a lot in class in regard to who the narrator could be speaking to. Several people in the class said that they thought that he wasn’t speaking to the reader but some other unknown person. I didn’t say that I disagreed in class because I wasn’t exactly sure how to explain why I disagreed. But I’m going to try to do that now. I do feel as though the narrator is addressing the reader because even though this is a reflection of past events written later, it almost felt like he was trying to give the reader a lesson. The lesson being not to do what he did (among other things). On page 5, he says, “Let me tell you…” and on the same page he also says, “Anyway I won’t bore you…” On page 9 he says, “If this were another kind of story, I’d tell you about the sea.” Unless specifically mentioned or implied by the narrator that “you” is someone else, I take it to mean “me,” the reader. On a more personal level, I have a piece of my own that is also a reflection or confession of sorts told in the same first person past tense POV. Every time my character says “you” (in similar ways as Yunior does), he is referencing the reader. While my character is VERY different from Yunior, I see the similarities in what they are trying to achieve. It’s almost like they are saying, “Hey, look. See what I did? Take note. And make of it what you will, but this is the truth about what happened.” And that connection, more than anything else, is what makes me think Yunior is speaking to the reader rather than someone else or to himself.

There was a moment where something Yunior said reminded me a lot of My Antonia.

“She shook her head. I don’t want to be here.

What do you mean?

What don’t you understand? I. Don’t. Want. To. Be. Here.

This was not the Magda I knew. The Magda I knew was super courteous. Knocked on a door before she opened it” (12).

This reminded me of My Antonia because way early on in the semester I remember writing in my commonplace book about how Jim was afraid of how he would find Antonia after twenty years apart. He was afraid of finding her “broken.” I commented about how this showed how Jim had this specific image in his head of how Antonia was and that she shouldn’t change from that or Jim wouldn’t see her int he same way anymore. Yunior too seems to be afraid of a Magda that is any different from the one he’s always known. In his mind, Yunior isn’t allowing Magda to have a voice that isn’t “courteous” or, as I see it, submissive. This was an early sign for me that showed Yunior’s desire for things to remain the same despite the fact that things could obviously not be the same after he cheated. Even though Yunior hugs her and tells her they could do whatever she wanted after, I find that just as bad because he is still just trying to make things be the same instead of being realistic and talking about what the real problem was.

The narrator also made it clear that his brother had an influence on him when they were younger, and it perhaps got in Yunior’s head that he was destined to act the same way no matter what. He believed the stereotyped about Dominicans. A part that emphasized this for me was with the iced tea.

“…he smiled at her and she got real serious and uncomfortable and he told her to fix him some iced tea and she told him to fix it himself. You a guest here, he said. You should be earning your fucking keep. He went into the shower and as soon as he did she was in the kitchen stirring  and I told her to leave it, but she said, I might as well. We drank all of it” (33).

This was just one example of Yunior’s brother setting his example, but it struck me because it shows Yunior accepting that Nilda would make the tea, and then he even drinks it. Rafa clearly had the power over his brother and Nilda. Someone mentioned in class that this was like “A Party Down at the Square” because it shows the conditioning of Yunior into being vulgar and cheating. The flashback to when he was younger gives an explanation as to where his mindset originated, and perhaps that is something that Diaz wanted to present to readers. As a Latino writer, he is presenting the conditioning of young men in that culture. It is highly doubtful that they all turn out to be like Rafa or Yunior, but in addressing it, Diaz is making the conditioning a major part of Yunior’s back story. This makes the novel interesting as well as layered.

– –

Because I can’t resist using this new Brandon Flowers song that I’ve had on repeat. It just happens to be a good song for this reading too. It’s got the same desperation that Yunior has in the novel both masked with light tones.

“Spinnin’ like a Gravitron
When I was just a kid
I always thought that things would change
But they never did

I’m hanging on to the end of this rope
Somewhere on the outskirts of hope
Life without you not around
Another kid in Lonely Town”

Lorde & Ellison

My initial thoughts after finishing the readings were that both Lorde’s and Ellison’s pieces were extremely powerful and, unfortunately, parallel to a lot of what is happening in today’s society. I said it before in my post about the Beat writers, but the fact that these pieces are so relevant now says a lot about the trouble that this country has had with progression of social issues. For example, the photo below was taken within the last year. I thought the quote on the poster, which I’ve seen circulating a lot recently, was appropriate for the readings.

 

civil rights

 

I’ll start with Lorde’s “Power.” It’s interesting how sometimes classes tend to intersect, and I was reminded of that with this poem. In my world history class, we just finished reading Discourse on Colonialism by Aime Cesaire. One of our quiz questions asks what the person who wrote the introduction means when they say about Cesaire’s piece, “It is poetry and therefore revolt.” I hadn’t yet read “Power” when I took that quiz, but when I did, I realized that Lorde’s poem was a perfect explanation and example of that very idea. We talked a little bit in class about how poetry isn’t usually written in leisure. It is an act of resistance that brings an issue out into the open for everybody to consider. As our professor put it, “Poetry is the question, not the answer.” Discourse on Colonialism and “Power” are exactly that. The writers know that it isn’t enough to simply write about a problem and expect it to get fixed right away. First, they must call attention to the problem, force everyone to accept that it is a problem. Then the change can happen. As it states in Discourse on Colonialism, “Destroying the old is just half the battle.” And sometimes, as Lorde makes clear, poetry is the only way to not sink to the same violence in retribution. She writes,

“But unless I learn to use / the difference between poetry and rhetoric / my power too will run corrupt as poisonous mold…” (lines 41-43).

Then she tells of a hypothetical occurrence that could come about as a result of her not learning to use this difference that involves the same sort of torture that African Americans were receiving. The entire poem, Lorde describes this horrific incident with the young boy that could just as easily be her own son. She is disgusted, angry, and emotional. And yet, she knows she must use her words as her weapon. The last line of the poem is particularly powerful to me. She states, “a greek chorus will be singing in 3/4 time / ‘Poor thing. She never hurt a soul. What beasts they are” (lines 50-51). Of course, this is the hypothetical response to her hypothetical act against  the white woman. What I think is most powerful about the line is that it holds so much truth, that truth being years and years of racism and oppression ignored by racist whites. They would call her and all African Americans beasts but they don’t recognize their own beastly characteristics. Even today, when an African American gets charged for something minor, many people are quick to call them “thugs” or “animals,” but when a white person does something much worse, they get pity. Usually along the lines of, “What a shame. They always seemed like a good person.” The crime, usually homicide, is explained away by mental illness. This message conveys not just racism, but that mental illness should be associated with extreme violence and that African Americans should always be associated with violence. Because apparently they’re just animals. And it’s for those reasons that the last part resonated so much with me. These different standards that are dependent on race makes me question what the law really means. Lorde definitely also questions this in the third and fourth stanzas when she talks about the white man being set free and how the one black woman had to go along with it. While I of course didn’t like the struggles presented in the poem, I still very much enjoyed it for the way it made me feel emotionally and for its language. I felt the same way about “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House.”

I liked Lorde’s focus on wanting women to become more interconnected. Again, I think this is important for today’s society as well as I find that there is still a gap (though, thankfully, it seems not as large). I found one quote that I really liked and I felt was the simple way to sum up the argument of the piece.

“In our world, divide and conquer must become define and empower” (3378).

For Lorde, in order to be on equal footing with the male patriarchy and to be taken seriously by it, women need to start empowering each other, regardless of race. She really emphasizes the idea of “difference” and how recognizing the need to be different will only help, not hinder. The piece is a call to use their differences as a “force of change” rather than as “cause for separation.” If they are only fighting each other, they can’t fight the patriarchy. Change and an acceptance of difference are the only way. Similarly to “Power,” the prose stands as a way for readers to accept that there is a problem before anything is done. Nothing can change before recognition of needing change. That was probably one of the biggest overarching idea that I gained form Lorde’s work. Now thinking back on other poetry or prose we have read, it makes sense. These writers (The Beats, Rich, Hughes, McKay, etc) are begging their readers to see a problem in hopes that after seeing it, more can be done to act on it.

Ellison’s “A Party Down at the Square” was chaotic, intense, and terrible (content wise). The main aspect that stuck with me was how, through all the chaos and destruction, the main focus and excitement was always on the burning African American. There is a line toward the very end that made me stop and think just how little the human life meant to the whites of the story.

“First it was the nigger and the storm, then the plane, then the woman and the wires, and now I hear the airplane line is investigating to find out who set the fire that almost wrecked their plane. All that in one night, and all of it but the storm over one nigger” (2719).

This captures the extreme mind-set of the characters and probably of a large portion of white society of the time. The line is written so that it sounds like a list. The narrator lists the events in a way that makes them seem normal or mundane. The only part that seems to matter is that the plane was almost wrecked. They value an object more than a human being all because of his skin color. The story also shows how much conditioning there was of young children in attempt to make the acts of violence seem okay and exciting, like it really was just a party. We see that the boy didn’t fully agree with what was happening, but he also didn’t do anything about it. He didn’t run away when he wanted to and he blames his vomiting on his fall. This piece left me feeling pretty disgusted at the fact that this was the reality of the time.

Overall, while I thought Ellison’s story was important and interesting, I think it will be Lorde’s pieces that will stick with me. There was something about them that made it hard for me to stop thinking about them in the days following.

Rich & Plath Poetry

Rich’s “Diving into the Wreck” felt very different from a lot of the poetry we have read so far, and I can’t really place why. Perhaps it’s the seemingly obvious imagery (that of course isn’t as obvious as it seems), its language, its modern-feeling story about diving,etc. I just thought the jump in time was especially noticeable. But now onto the analysis…The narrator seems to take quite a long time getting into the water (almost half the poem), and one of the possible reasons I thought that could be was because the narrator is alone. It must have taken more self-encouragement to plunge in. But another possible reason could be to make a distinction between the world on land which is familiar and safe and the mythological world that is underwater. On line 27, the narrator describes the moment before she goes under, noticing “our human air” which seems natural. A little bit later, the narrator notes “you breathe differently down there” (line 51). That could just be stating the obvious or it could be the narrator’s way of reminding the reader of how different the two worlds are. Of course, there’s also a lot of mythical imagery under the water which would also make the underwater feel like a world separate and more mysterious than land. There’s also a sense of danger in the narrator’s mission to seek this truth, whatever that truth may be.

Something that was mentioned in class but that I had noted before as well was how the imagery of the wrecked ship was reminiscent of a human body. And this is where things started to shift for me because it seemed that the poem was no longer just about this dangerous dive, but about something bigger. The narrator describes the ship,

“the drowned face always staring / toward the sun / the evidence of damage / worn by salt and sway into the threadbare beauty / the ribs of the disaster / curving their assertion / among the tentative hunters” (lines 64-70).

Words like “sway” and “threadbare beauty” and “curving” and “ribs” all stood out to me as particularly human-like and, more specifically, womanly. Ships tend to always be referred to as women to begin with, but it got me wondering what the narrator was actually trying to say. After discovering the wreck, the narrator metaphorically becomes simultaneously a mermaid and merman, and she connects with the bodies. Honestly, I knew there was something deeper going on here, but I didn’t make the connection to gender and sexuality until the class discussion. Through that lens, it changes the entire poem. This truth that the narrator seeks becomes something more concrete and more of a social issue rather than an issue about myth vs. truth in the literal sense. And it almost seems like the narrator has become not only the dead but the ship as well. She has turned into the forgotten myth which could now be a commentary on critical views that society has on gender and sexuality. This makes the last stanza particularly interesting for me.

We are, I am, you are / by cowardice or courage / the one who find our way / back to this scene / carrying a knife, a camera / a book of myths / in which / our names do not appear” (lines 87-94).

Here it seems like the narrator has suddenly turned things on the reader, calling for an understanding of this myth in which we are not apart of. Maybe she is saying that no matter what, we are going to realize that because of gender and sexuality, our named will not be remembered for doing great things. Time will pass and we shall be forgotten. I’m still not quite clear on this poem, but hopefully there’s something half decent in that. This was one of the hardest poems for me to interpret from the entire semester aside from H.D. because it seems to straightforward until I realized it isn’t, and then it got complicated.

I’ve read Plath’s “Daddy” so many times now that I think some of the aspects that made it so enjoyable have no faded a bit. However, Plath is another 20th century writer that I like quite a bit, so I’m definitely not complaining about reading this poem either. While it may not spark that same excitement when I read it, I do like the fact that I seem to notice different things each time I read it which is always a plus to me.

What I find the most interesting about this poem is the narrator’s complex feelings for her father. The tone is sometimes hard to read because she goes back and forth from “I used to pray to recover you” to “I have always been scared of you.” Clearly these split feelings are intentionally presented in the poem, but as a reader, it’s almost frustrating, at least for me. The mixed tone emphasizes the power the narrator’s father has over her. And it’s even more interesting that she went off to marry a man just like her father and going to metaphorically kill him too. What could this be saying about the narrator? Perhaps she has a need for power as well – power over being able to marry this man and then “kill” him off and saying she’s through with both him and her father. Quoting the last stanza,

“There’s a stake in your fat black heart / And the villagers  never like you. / They are dancing and stamping on you. / They always knew it was you. / Daddy, daddy, you bastard, I’m through” (lines 76-80).

It does seem like the narrator gets at least some temporary (or permanent?) triumph in the end. Her tone is decidedly negative toward her father. But that doesn’t necessarily convince me that her triumph is lasting, mostly because of how conflicted she seems throughout. This is something that I like most about the poem.

These two poems are categorized on the syllabus as “Becoming Visible” which I think perfectly describes them. The narrator in “Diving into the Wreck” wants to be seen in the metaphoric book of myths. he wants her name and her place in society to mean something despite her gender or sexuality. Similarly, “Daddy” is about a narrator trying to break free from the bonds of her father and become visible separate from him.

I’m adding a video of Sylvia Plath reading her poem because ever since I first heard it a few years ago, I can no longer read the poem without hearing her voice. It definitely stuck with me.

Kerouac, Ferlinghetti, & Snyder

These Beat Generation authors all wrote about ideas that had been explored briefly already as well as ones that hadn’t yet been explored. Many writers before them addressed the important social aspects of their time period as well as political aspects. We’ve gotten work abut war, the frontier, the Depression, racial conflict, more war, and the Harlem Renaissance. However, the Beat Generation acknowledges all of that and even takes it a step further with their critiques of America. They are radical writers that forced their readers to  take note of the flaws of the country and its fascination with war, money, conformity, and competition. All of their pieces sound like a cry for change and for people to start being individual again. They are nostalgic for the past, but they also crave a new future. They were certainly the rebels of the 1950s.

Kerouac and Snyder both discuss being close to the earth and traveling by foot. As with “Howl,” we are given romanticized imagery that poses as an opposition to Capitalist America. Kerouac writes,

“There’s something strange going on, you can’t even be alone any more in the primitive wilderness (‘primitive areas’ so-called), there’s always a helicopter comes and snoops around, you need camouflage,” (2981).

The entirety of “The Vanishing American Hobo” seems to critique this very idea of the wilderness being constantly policed because people are less trusting of the wanderers, or hobos. But Kerouac blames it on the children. He says that the children are different than they used to be, not the hobos. This is fascinating because it implies that those who wander and stay close to nature are all similar no matter what generation they come from while children are different because they now get brought up to be as conformist as their parents. Meanwhile, Snyder’s poetry also focuses on man’s relationship with nature. He mentions the horses leaving their marks on the trail and how “The worlds like an endless / four-dimensional / Game of Go,” (lines 15-17). The introduction to Snyder says that he “recovers values important to Thoreau and Whitman” which I could detect even before I read that line (I read the intro after the poem). Kerouac and Ferlinghetti also reminded me a lot of Thoreau because of their anti-conformist, anti taxes, pro-nature view points. Lastly in relation to nature, Ferlinghetti states, “and I am waiting / for forests and animals / to reclaim the earth as theirs (lines 73-75). With all of the cities and buildings in general, corporate America is taking over, and part of the many things Ferlinghetti wants is for that claim on the land to be taken back by its original owners. It’s interesting to see these three more modern writers bring forth very transcendentalist ideas such as this love for nature and their desire to go against the norm. (Beats as modern transcendentalists? Possible paper topic? Hmm…)

I’m finding it difficult to talk cohesively about the authors because there is so much content (which is why this post seems all over the place) but I also want to discuss the works individually instead of in comparison to each other.

I’ll start with Kerouac. One thing I found especially interesting about his piece was how current it felt. I think this says more about America’s lack of progress than anything else, but while I was reading I couldn’t help but feel his words were especially relevant now. He writes, “The American Hobo is on the way out as long as sheriffs operate with as Louis-Ferdinand Celine said, ‘One line of crime and nine of boredom,’ because having nothing to do in the middle of the night with everybody gone to sleep they pick on the first human being they see walking,” (2981). The American Hobo Kerouac refers to could be a literal homeless person in which case it is a testament to how homeless people are  treated poorly for not being a productive member of society. Or the “Hobo” could refer to anyone who was a minority or didn’t conform in which case it’s a testament to the police taking advantage of their badges. Or it could be both, but each interpretation is relevant now because of the rising homeless population as well as the police brutality in the media. Kerouac’s work could have just as easily be written today.

With “I am Waiting,” I definitely saw some of the Whitman influence, particularly with the repetition and the structure (or lack of). I think the main argument of the poem as a whole could be found right in the first stanza.

“and I am waiting for someone / to really discover America / and wail” (lines 5-7).

Firstly, the term “wail” reminded me a lot of “howl” which reinforces the idea that the Beat writers were really calling out for society to come to terms with its own flaws. Ferlinghetti then mentions the American Eagle and how he is waiting for it to “straighten up and fly right” (line 13). That line, along with the one I’ve indented, give off a sense of false freedom. History tells us that they were living in a time of segregation, but they were also living in a time of general intolerance that went beyond skin color. Ferlinghetti questions how free America really was. He is waiting for true freedom, and that can only happen when people “really discover America.” And perhaps that discovery, that realization, is what causes the wail. In that sense, it reminded me of Langston Hughes’s “I, Too.”

As for Snyder, I felt that “Riprap” was more in the imagism sphere. I could see each line clearly in my mind, and while there was a message, it was the imagery that stuck with me. I’m honestly not too sure what else to say on this poem except what I already did up above. I’m hoping to get more meaning out of it from the class discussion.

While I’m not a big fan of the lit. generated by the Beat Generation in general, I did appreciate these works a lot more than “Howl.” I particularly liked “I Am Waiting.”

– –

This song, Drop Out (The So Unknown) by Jack’s Mannequin, has the seem feel that I got from these pieces. It’s about a couple wanting to “drop out” of society and go away somewhere where they won’t be bothered. Even though it’s about a couple, the general theme is the same. These lyrics seemed to particularly fit:

“And our friends will write us letters
They’ll never understand why we don’t call
We’re hiding out until the empire falls
Let it fall.

I get the feeling we’re so misdirected
I get the feeling we have lost control
Til then I’ll turn you to the new religion
We’re dropping out into the so unknown”

“Howl” by Allen Ginsberg

When I saw that “Howl” was assigned for the next class, I groaned. In an effort to not make this post sound too terribly rant-y, I’ll get all my negativity out now (hopefully). The problem I have with this poem is that I don’t understand why it’s deemed so important. Why should I care about the woes of a bunch of poets who are the epitome of pretentious hipsters (though Ginsberg, at least, claims not to be)? Awhile back, I went on Goodreads to read reviews of his “Howl and Other Poems” compilation because I felt like the only person who so strongly disliked it. Luckily, I found out that there are others who share my views. One reviewer called “Howl” a “yawn fest,” while someone else said, “I guess you had to be there.” This basically sums up any additional feelings I have toward the piece. Call me boring or a realist, but “Howl” romanticizes/glorifies that rebellious, poet lifestyle a little too much for my taste.  Now moving on…

The first time I ever read this poem, I had no idea what it meant. The second time I read it, it made a little more sense. Now, this time, I decided to listen to Ginsberg’s reading of it, and I think I have a full grasp on the ideas it is trying to convey. The way I see it, Part l is the introduction of the “best minds of [Ginsberg’s] generation” who were “destroyed by madness.” He gives the reader descriptions of people and incidents that probably really happened. Part ll tells us where the madness stems from, again seemingly drawing from personal experiences. And Part lll is about a specific example of the madness. If I’m not mistaken, Rockland is supposed to be a mental hospital which would make that stanza make much more sense. However, mixed in with all of the personal recounts are anti-conformist ideals. “Howl” is sort of like a tribute to the American writers who went against the norms of society as well as those people whom society felt didn’t meet the expectations of the time. It calls out to anyone who was called crazy or who participated in hobbies that didn’t make much or any money. “Howl” feels very “Down with Capitalism!” in that Ginsberg seems to think of the industries as “demonic” and also blames “blind capitals” for being part of the problem. Actually, I found Part ll in general to be where the heart of Ginsberg’s message could be found. He writes,

“What sphinx of cement and aluminum bashed open their skulls / and ate up their brains and imagination…Moloch whose mind is pure machinery! Moloch whose blood is / running money! Moloch whose fingers are ten armies!…Moloch whose / skyscrapers stand in the long streets like endless Jehovahs! / Moloch whose factories dream and croak in the fog,” (2969).

All of these man-made structures and businesses and machines appear to be behind the lack of imagination. Americans are so focused on money and advancing in that sphere that they ignore the artists and the unemployed and anyone who didn’t have a respected place in society. I can see where Ginsberg is coming from to some extent. I understand his frustrations with conformity and the general treatment of the outcasts. I understand his desire to want to break out of the mold during a time where conformity was everything to most. But again, it’s hard to sympathize with him completely because the writing just comes off as so grandiose. After reading texts about the African Americans’ struggles and of World War l, it’s hard for me to feel bad for Ginsberg even if he is pointing out the flaws society.

Ginsberg again demonstrates how creativity has been minimized in some of the final stanzas of Part ll. He writes,

“Visions! omens! hallucinations! religions! the whole / boatload of sensitive bullshit! / Breakthroughs! over the river! flips and crucifixions! gone down / the flood! Highs! Epiphanies! Despairs! Ten years’ / animal screams and suicides! Minds! New loves! Mad / generation! down on the rocks of Time!” (2970).

Here, Ginsberg specifically addresses good things such a visions of creativity, and says they are seen as “sensitive bullshit”  by those who are too possessed by economics and machines. His generation and his people are seen as mad because they broke away from the norm, and it’s been shown that those who break away from the norm throughout history are always seen as crazy (even if only at first). I’m not sure what significance the river or flood has to do with the passage besides the fact that the bodies of water represent the society’s creativity washing away. I suppose they represent time? That’s what I gathered form the last part about the mad generation going down the rocks of time. I remember in 19th century American lit. we talked about that line by Thoreau having to do with time being a stream. It flows without stopping in one direction; it’s fluid. I don’t really know where else to go with that though.

“Howl” seems to be exactly what the title suggests; a painful cry from the marginalized to a conforming society.

– –

In 2013 the film Kill Your Darlings came out about Ginsberg and his relationship with some of the other Beat Gen. poets. I mostly watched it because it had an amazing cast – particularly Dane DeHaan as Lucian Carr (Dane is amazing in everything he does, honestly). Though it didn’t change my mind about the Beat Gen, it’s still a great film. Here’s the trailer.

“A View from the Bridge” by Arthur Miller

In general, I thought this play was difficult to get through. It took me several sittings to finally finish, and after all the work, the ending didn’t feel very exciting. The only aspect of the play that really brought out any kind of emotion in me was Eddie’s bizarre relationship with his niece, Catherine. I was suspicious  of his possible sexual attraction to her fairly early on, and later his actions only affirmed those suspicions.  The way he was so overly possessive of Catherine and how he treated her like a young child definitely didn’t seem normal even by today’s standards. Though what I found most interesting is that it seems like Catherine didn’t notice anything wrong in his behavior until Beatrice and, later, Rodolpho, say something. Even then, though, Catherine is quick to stand up for Eddie. This made me think that Eddie’s protectiveness somehow made Catherine believe that he was justified. It reminded me a lot of the show Bates Motel. In that show, Norman Bates, an eighteen year old living with his mother, Norma Bates, is babied and protected by her to the point where he acts like a child and will stick up for his mother no matter what she does. Their relationship, like Catherine and Eddie’s, isn’t outright incestuous, but they do share moments in every episode that cross the mother/son line to make the audience uncomfortable. The difference between Bates Motel and A View from the Bridge is that Norman has extreme mental health problems while it appears that Catherine doesn’t. This allows Catherine to eventually pull away form her uncle and marry Rodolpho as she pleases despite Eddie’s hatred of him. One passage that I think really displays Eddie’s feelings toward Catherine was where he is talking with Alfieri on page 2848. Eddie says,

“What can I do? I’m a patsy, what can a patsy do? I worked like a dog twenty years so a punk could have her, sot that’s what I done. I mean, in the worst times, in the worst, when there wasn’t a ship comin’ in the harbor, I didn’t stand around lookin’ for relief — I hustled…I took out of my own mouth to give to her. I took out of my wife’s mouth. I walked hungry plenty days in this city…”

He goes on about having to give Rodolpho his home, and he even refers to him as a thief which I found to be particularly important regarding his feelings on the matter. From this passage, Eddie makes it seem like only he is worthy of Catherine because of all the work he’s done and all that he’s provided for her over the years. And by comparing Rodolpho to a thief, he’s implying that Catherine is his to begin with and that nobody else has any right to her (including herself!). It’s interesting to see Catherine make the transition from accepting Eddie’s possessiveness to calling him a rat. I had my suspicions about Eddie before this, but it was that moment that really solidified my thought about how he felt about Catherine. From there, his actions continue to confirm that he doesn’t want Catherine to be married.

On a different note, another important aspect of the play was Rodolpho and Marco’s decision to come to America for work. In a way, Eddie’s accusation having to do with Rodolpho only coming over to get his green card seems highly logical (the only time I thought he was being logical). But then when Rodolpho and Catherine are talking, he confesses that he would never marry her for that reason alone. He says,

“I am furious! Do you think I am so desperate? My brother is desperate, not me. You think I would carry on my back the rest of my life a woman I didn’t love just to be an American? It’s so wonderful? You think we have no tall buildings in Italy? Electric lights? No wide streets? No flags? No automobiles? Only work we don’t have. I want to be an American so I can work, that is the only wonder here–work! How can you insult me, Catherine” (2855).

To me, this was an important moment because it shows how other countries view the idea of American Exceptionalism. If it weren’t for the work, Rodolpho wouldn’t have come in the first place–in his eyes, work is the only thing that makes America unique. He hates the idea that Catherine would assume he wants to come to America so he can live the American life as opposed to him working the American work. He recognizes that the country isn’t perfect. Then Catherine reveals the true reason she asks isn’t because she believes he is there just to become a citizen, but because Eddie drove the question into her. From there, his anger turns to amusement. But I think it’s Rodolpho’s comments about how Catherine shouldn’t listen/be afraid of Eddie that finally make her realize. Rodolpho says to her, “Catherine. If I take in my hands a little bird. And she grows and wishes to fly. But I will not let her out of my hands because I lover her so much, is that right for me to do” (2856). When Eddie barges in after, Catherine appears to have changed her attitude toward him. Why then? Why could Rodolpho get through to her but not Beatrice? Or was it their combined efforts that did it? Was it that he called her a little girl? Was it that he revealed to Catherine his true intentions were the opposite of what Eddie had assumed? I’m not sure. As for the ending, I admit I didn’t see it coming, but I’m also not surprised. Can’t say I was sorry to see Eddie die. On that note…I feel like I’ll be able to add more to this post after class. I’m interested to hear what others have to say since not much stuck with me through this dry reading.

Norman and Norma from Bates Motel.

bates_motel_2013_tv_series-2880x1800

 

And because whenever incest/familial attraction is involved I can’t resist making some Game of Thrones comment about the twin lovers Jaime and Cersei….

Cersei-vday-meme

 

(It doesn’t have to be Valentine’s Day for this to make me laugh.)

“Of Mice and Men” by John Steinbeck

Ahh, Steinbeck. He’s up there with Hemingway for me as far as 20th century writers go in the sense that I haven’t read anything by him so far that I didn’t like. I read Of Mice and Men back during my freshman year of high school (which at this point feels like a million years ago), so I was actually glad at the opportunity to re-read it for this class. There’s a lot that I either didn’t originally catch or didn’t originally pay attention to in general.

While reading, I remembered our class having talked about the myth of the American Dream and of American Exceptionalism which comes up repeatedly throughout 20th century lit. I haven’t talked much about that on my blog (if at all), but I think it’s an idea that’s hard to avoid with discussion of this novel. George and Lennie’s ultimate goal in the story was to raise enough money to go somewhere new and rebuild their lives. The reader is reminded of this on practically every page, especially with Lennie’s repeated requests for George to tell him “how it’s gonna be.” The novel was published in 1937, right smack in the middle of the Great Depression/Dust Bowl era when many Americans just wanted to find work and began to move West. Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath (published just 2 years later) was all about that struggle. Of Mice and Men was more of an introduction to the myth. George and Lennie were certainly not alone in their desires and dreams during that time. And that makes the conversation that happens between Lennie and Crooks that occurs later in the novel more interesting. Up to that point, the reader is probably routing for the two protagonists to finally get what they’ve wanted (but only talked about thus far), and then this oppressed black man is the one to break the news when nobody else will that their goals are worthless (the minorities in Steinbeck novels always seem to be the smartest ones). Crooks tells Lennie,

“You’re nuts. I seen hundreds of men come by on the road an’ on the ranches, with their bindles on their back an’ that same damn thing in their heads. Hundreds of them. They come, an’ they quit an’ go on; an’ every damn one of ’em’s got a little piece of land in his head. An’ never a God damn one of ’em ever gets it. Just like heaven. Ever’body wants a little piece of lan’. I read plenty of books out here. Nobody never gets to heaven, and nobody gets no land. It’s just in their head. They’re all the time talkin’ about it, but it’s jus’ in their head” (74).

It’s a long quote, and he repeats several of those same lines again on the next page (and the one after that) when Lennie protests, but I think it gets to the heart of what Steinbeck is trying to convey with this story. This man, who hasn’t left in years but sees everyone else pass through, knows by now how it goes and that the American Dream is a myth. But of course nobody ever wants to believe him because he’s black and marginalized. It reminded me of “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” because of the way Crooks goes on about being around for what seems like a very long time.  He says he’s seen so many men who were “crazy with loneliness for land” but then spend all their money on the whore house or blackjack games. Lennie and Candy insist, however, that they’ve got all the money saved up and are going to really do it, and maybe the reader believes that they can. Of course, they only get so close before the dream is shattered because of Lennie. But even as George is about to shoot Lennie, he reassures him with false talk of the future and how good they’ll have it together. Maybe George shoots Lennie to protect him from the others, but it’s also possible that he did it to finally put an end to Lennie’s mess-ups which were getting in the way of George’s goals. Or maybe George did it for both reasons, but regardless, George certainly did get upset at Lennie numerous times because his actions ruined their prospects of finding that perfect land that they continually talked about. The idea that things would be better and that George, Lennie, and Candy would be fine and happy somewhere else was a common American mindset of the time. It wasn’t seen as a myth to the majority; it was seen as an obtainable reality.

Throughout the novel several characters also expressed, either directly or indirectly, feeling lonely. I think this just went along with the Great Depression (the name had to come from somewhere) and the kind of negativity and isolation that came with it. In particular, Curly’s wife, Crooks, and Candy all had moments where they spoke or acted out of loneliness. Curly’s wife never saw Curly and was either ignore by him or treated poorly by him. Crooks was left alone with no company in his room. And Candy’s dog was all he had until it was shot. Then he makes the decision to go along with Lennie and George probably for the company and so he wouldn’t be alone. To again quote Crooks,

“A guy needs somebody–to be  near him. A guy goes nuts if he ain’t got nobody. Don’t make no difference who the guy is, long’s he’s with you. I tell ya. I tell ya a guy gets lonely an’ he gets sick” (72-73).

This reminded me of George and Lennie’s back-and-forth about having each other. George says, “Because I got you an’–” and Lennie says, “An’ I got you. We got each other, that’s what, that gives a hoot in hell about us” (104). Everybody just wants to have company or a companion during that depressing time which I’m sure was a common concern. Nobody wanted to face their troubles alone.

Lastly, for some reason, the fact that Curly and his wife were always looking for each other and never knew where the other was at was sort of comical to me. I don’t know how it’s possible that they never crossed paths and were never in the same scene. Maybe this has a bigger significance or maybe it was just a way to set up certain parts of the plot, but I found it slightly humorous as it came up during the story.

Going with my fallback of posting songs that I think are fitting to the reading…I often associate Mumford & Sons with Steinbeck because they have several songs with blatant literary references to him as well as other authors/works. This song in particular, “Dust Bowl Dance,” is actually in reference to The Grapes of Wrath, but because that novel has a lot of the same themes as this one, I’m using it here. (Side note: They also wrote “Timshel,” one of my favorite songs of all time, in reference to East of Eden by Steinbeck which happens to be one of my favorite novels of all time. It’s funny how songs suddenly hold more meaning when you discover these connections. And yes I am mostly mentioning this to plug East of Eden because I think it’s Steinbeck at his finest.) Anyway, this is a great live performance of “Dust Bowl Dance” which I think captures some of the themes of the time period in which Of Mice and Men takes place.

Poetry by Langston Hughes & Claude McKay

the negro speaks of rivers

While these two poets clearly depict the injustices in the way African Americans were treated during the 20th Century, they go about it very differently. The tone, structure, and themes vary from Hughes to McKay. From Hughes we get line breaks, metaphors, and reflective tones, while from McKay we get rigid structure, explicit images, and harsher tones. Before I go into more detail about comparing them, I want to discuss the idea of time and its role in Hughes’s poems (at least the ones we were assigned). In the three poems I read, it seemed that the narrator wanted to show a passage of time and how that time has influence the narrator. “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” especially emphasized time with the way the narrator describes having known the ancient rivers and having been around when each of the mentioned rivers (Congo, Nile, Mississippi) were discovered. Rivers are a part of nature that have been around since the beginning of Earth, and I got a sense that the narrator was alluding these ancient rivers to the ongoing struggle for racial equality that the black faced. So when he states, “My soul has grown deep like the rivers” in the fourth and last lines, I took it to mean that the narrator’s been worn down by racial discrimination the same way that the rivers have been worn down by time and nature. As I previously mentioned, I felt a strong reflective tone, but also one that almost feels resigned. The narrator has been through so much that it’s more than probable that he is tired of fighting the oppression.

Though “Drum” is thematically bleak, I really enjoyed the flow of it. It’s visually pleasing with the way its lines get shorter toward the end, and if read aloud, it almost sounds rhythmically like drum beats which I also appreciated. I think the meaning of the poem is pretty straightforward; death is coming for everyone and everything (sounds pretty familiar *cough*RobertFrost*cough* ). There’s a sort of apocalyptic feel to it with all the references to things ending.

“Till the last stars fall, / Until the last atom / Is no atom at all, / Until time is lost / And there is no air / And space itself / Is nothing nowhere,” (lines 6-12).

And again, we get this sense of jumping around with time, and even losing it altogether. Hughes sees death as this immortal, forever-existing thing that transcends time which is really strange to think about. If we are thinking about this in the context of racial discrimination, then maybe the poem is reflecting the way life was so fleeting for blacks because of the violence that was issued against them with lynching and other terrible torture tactics. I would imagine that such aggressive behavior from whites toward blacks would make the idea of possible death a terrible reality for blacks. And the fact that the poem doesn’t necessarily sound negative or positive suggests a kind of immunity to death which says a lot about how vicious whites could be. Lastly for Hughes, “I, Too” has a more hopeful tone because the narrator states the belief that while blacks were seen as below whites at the time, society didn’t have to continue that way of thinking with time. The narrator calls for the white society to see that America is not just their home. Again with time, there’s also the shift from the present to the future.

McKay’s poems are definitely more in-your-face about the treatment of blacks in that time. In “If We Must Die,” there are multiple times where the narrator compares whites to animals. He calls them “mad and hungry dogs,” “monsters,” and a “murderous, cowardly pack” (lines 3, 7, 13). This language, along with some of the other harsh phrases, made the poem quite powerful. I get this intense image in my mind of blacks fighting against these creatures who resemble whites, and it’s a gruesome, deadly fight. It represents the many black lives lost because of the brutality against them that occurred every single day. The last line is especially vivid –

“Like men we’ll face the murderous, cowerdly pack, / Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!” (lines 13-14).

The line gives off this sense of empowerment from the black society which, even outnumbered and undermined, refuses to stop fighting. Basically, if they’re going to die, they aren’t going to go down by standing idly, taking the the deathblows. “The Lynching” is equally powerful. Again the last two lines really got me. “And little lads, lynchers to be, / Danced around the dreadful thing in fiendish glee” (lines 13-14). It’s like a punch to the gut the way the narrator portrays these whites who are still only children as being excited by the idea of lynching. It reminded me of Hitler Youth and how the children would gleefully follow his ideals despite how awful they were because that’s sadly all they knew.

Overall, I found myself loving the poems for their language and honesty but also hating the horrors they depicted.

“Passing” (Parts Two & Three) by Nella Larsen

Maybe I just watch too many TV shows (okay, I definitely do), but I totally predicted the ending and other parts of the novella way before they happened. Predictable for me it may have been, I still found Parts Two and Three a lot more entertaining than Part One, and the ending gave the story some nice (and much needed) action. In my last post, I talked a little bit about “passing” and a lot about the sexual tension between Clare and Irene. These were both prominent ideas once again, but this time they seem to collide more. Irene seems to be torn about what she wants to do right before running into Mr. Bellew while with Felise.

“She was caught between two allegiances, different, yet the same. Herself. Her race. Race! The thing that bound and suffocated her. Whatever steps she took, or if she took none at all, something would be crushed. A person or the race. Clare, herself, or the race. Or, it might be, all three. Nothing, she imagined, was ever more completely sardonic” (2228).

She also questions why she should even “spare” Clare in the first place. Why not tell Clare’s husband? Irene wants Mr. Bellew to know, but she doesn’t want to outwardly tell him, and she doesn’t want to “crush” herself or her race. It’s interesting that at this point, Irene really begins to view her race as a burden. She notes that it is “enough to suffer as a woman…without having to suffer for the race as well” (2228). However, she still tries to blame everything on Clare because Clare was the one who was “passing” and had gotten Irene into her predicament. Perhaps if Clare hasn’t tried “passing,” Irene wouldn’t have to worry about her conflicting emotions because she wouldn’t have to worry about Clare in relation to the race. This is also the first time that Irene considers the idea of Clare dying as a viable way to get rid of her. At that point, I was pretty certain about what Irene was going to do at the end.

Irene’s intense internal struggle of “race vs. Clare” comes up again on the very next page when she doesn’t tell Clare’s husband anything when they encounter each other. And again, Irene blames Clare saying that she is unable to separate herself from Clare. Her loyalty to race is synonymous with her loyalty to Clare and that confuses Irene because she can’t disconnect from either. This despair is what appears to have led her to kill Clare at the end.

There is another scene involving race that I thought was also important which happens between Irene and Brian. They get into an argument about how much Brian should tell their son about the prejudices facing them, and I was reminded of several of the slave narratives we read in 19th century American lit. because I recall other parents also not wanting to reveal too much too soon. There is always a need to protect the children from losing their innocence. In this novella, Irene asks if it’s stupid to want her children to be happy. Brian responds,

“‘At the expense of proper preparation for life and their future happiness, yes. And I’d feel I hadn’t done my duty by them if I didn’t give them some inkling of what’s before them. It’s the least I could do. I wanted to get them out of this hellish place years ago. You wouldn’t let me. I gave up the idea, because you objected. Don’t expect me to give up everything'” (2233).

It’s interesting to me that Irene doesn’t want her children to know too much about the way people of color were treated at the time. The last part of the line also seems very telling of Brian’s care for his children. The “Don’t expect me to give up everything” has a lot of underlying tension, especially since Irene doesn’t reply back after. Brian, a man who wouldn’t be able to get away with “passing,” might understand even more sot than Irene what it’s like to live in world where whites are viewed as superior. Regardless of the fact that Irene decides not to pass, she could. I’m not saying that this would make it easier for Irene to want to shelter her children, but it seems that this isn’t the first time her and Brian have argued about similar topics. That fact that Brian sees this preparation as his duty also emphasizes the racial inequality. It’s something he feels is completely necessary and inevitable.

There are several other parts of the story that I thought were interesting, particularly the Irene/Clare/Brian dynamic and the ongoing sexual tension between Irene and Clare, but I want to briefly mention the ending. We get a direct parallel to the beginning of the novella with the possibly dying man and Irene almost fainting, except here it’s she who has done the killing and then she actually does faint. That was a good bit of foreshadowing earlier.

I also noted how Irene insistently protests that Mr. Bellew wasn’t responsible for Clare’s death. This was slightly confusing because you would think that she wouldn’t care if he was punished since he was such a racist and had barged in because he had found out about Clare’s true race. Irene could have easily said it was him, but she didn’t. It’s not too important, but I was curious.

passing

“Passing” (Part One) by Nella Larsen

Aside from the title, Lies, there are some slightly mysterious and dark tones to this song that remind me of Clare. Irene describes her as cold and catlike, and this song almost sounds that way as well. I thought the chorus was particularly fitting: “I can sell you lies / You can’t get enough / Make a true believer of / anyone anyone anyone.” I related the lies to the way Clare is lying about who she is to her husband.

The racial aspects of “Passing” reminded me a lot of Pudd’nhead Wilson by Mark Twain which we read last semester in the 19th century class. In that novel, we see one of the protagonists, Roxy, switch the names of Tom and Chambers who are then raised as the other. Both boys appeared to be white, but the fact that Roxy’s son had even the smallest amount of black blood made him a slave while the other was able to enjoy a life of privilege. She “passed” her son off as white so that he wouldn’t have to face the racism of the time. Years later, it would make sense that Clare would also want to “pass” if she could so that she could not only avoid racism and negative treatment in general, but also gain the comfort of a higher class and a steady income. Of course, the action of “passing” is viewed in this novella as controversial because of what it says about Clare and how she views her own race. There was one quote in particular that I thought demonstrated this controversy on page 2178.

“And she could remember quite vividly how, when they used to repeat and discuss these tantalizing stories about Clare, the girls would always look knowingly at one another and then, with little excited giggles, drag away their eager shining eyes and say with lurking undertones of regret or disbelief some such thing as: ‘Oh, well, maybe she’s got a job or something,’ or ‘After all, it mayn’t have been Clare,’ or ‘You can’t believe all you hear.'”

The passage goes on to describe how, after, some girl would always maliciously say something along the lines of “Of course it was Clare!” The fact that these girls who knew her or were even friends with Clare can hardly even believe that she would be one to “pass” says how much they dislike the idea of it. They make up other excuses about how it couldn’t have been Clare because they don’t want it to be true. I think this shows how the girls and Irene view Clare as having left her true self behind in favor of pretending to be white so that she could live a different life than what would have been possible as a woman of color.

What I found most interesting about Part One of “Passing” was the complicated dynamic between Irene and Clare. By the end of Part One, I still don’t feel like I know how Irene feels about Clare because she seems to not want to be around Clare, but at the same time, she continuously thinks about how curious she is about Clare. Irene gives numerous long descriptions about Clare’s character and appearance, and she seems to be extremely hung up over Clare’s presence in general. Going off of these ideas, I thought it didn’t seem entirely impossible that Irene happened to like Clare in a romantic way. I got this impression from early on, before she even begins to really tell her tale. Following long passages describing Clare in a detailed manner, Irene reflects about Chicago, and the way it is worded made me think they could have had some kind of romantic relationship (I could be completely wrong, but I guess we will see).

“‘That time in Chicago.’ The words stood out  from among the many paragraphs of other words, bringing with them a clear, sharp remembrance, in which even now, after two years, humiliation, resentment, and rage were mingled” (2172).

After this passage, the text continues to be filled with phrases and descriptions of Clare that felt, to me, to hint at possible romantic feelings. I didn’t mark each instance, but I remember Irene noting Clare’s seduction multiple times as well as comparing her mouth to a red flower and being unable to resist the charm of her smile.

I didn’t find Part One to be particularly entertaining, but I am curious to see how the novella ends, especially after the encounter that Irene has with Clare’s racist husband.