Sunday, November 30, 2014

Battle of the Binaries

When I was young, in the same way that I wondered why twins couldn't be given the same name, I wondered why stories always had to have conflicts.  Now, of course, I understand that the conflict is what makes the story, what gives it substance and meaning in actual life.  Through conflicts and varying degrees of resolution, a story can make a point about life as we know it.  The most meaningful stories, if not all stories, have conflict based around a binary.  What often differentiates one book from another is its approach to a certain binary.

The difficulty comes in the most masterful stories - those that address numerous binaries.  People naturally wish to categorize and simplify everything, and that includes binaries.  Binaries involving binaries.  This conundrum could be described (at the unfortunate loss of being cliched) as binary-ception.  Which binaries are at the forefront of our attention, somehow garnering more attention and perceived value than other less dominant binaries?  When you think of Light in August do you immediately jump to the huge role of racial conflict and sometimes skip over the ginormous role of, for example, gender or family?  (Perhaps here we can demonstrate these binaries with a new level of punctuation: bold typeface).  I think that for me personally, I sometimes fall into the WHITE/black//MALE/female binary.  And in between those, I easily forget about the FATHER/son binary.  What's more, I'm almost positive that there are other binaries that I don't even remember well enough to realize that I'm forgetting them!

So how am I, a very simple human still given to many of my natural, faulty predispositions, supposed to choose which binary to talk about when Faulkner so beautifully addresses multiple?  Just as in the case of individual binaries themselves, awareness of our own failings and striving to overcome is the first (and at times only available) step.  The injustice of certain binaries resonates with each of us differently, and that's okay.  We just have to remember that there are always other binaries to recognize and discuss, and sometimes it's a good idea to step back from our usual focus and look at those too. 

The Apple Doesn't Fall Far From The Tree

While Mr. McEachern isn't the biological father of Joe Christmas, it's obvious that he played a role in shaping Joe as a child. At an older age, he is quick to act violently. He beats the woman in the shed before he is stopped by the other farmhands, and fights them as they try to stop him. He beats Bobbie the waitress, he smashes a chair over Mr. McEachern's head, he beats Joe Brown, and he trades blows with Joanna Burden. Joe continues on a violent path, eventually beheading Burden. Initially as a child in the orphanage, we see no evidence of violence from Christmas.

Christmas is adopted at the age of 5 by Mr. McEachern, who insists on using beatings to enforce his lessons. Joe is given an unreasonably short period of time to learn his catechism, and when he is unsuccessful he receives a beating. The beatings continue until Joe collapses. The extended use of McEachern's violence shapes Joe negatively, molding him into a brush fire waiting to happen. At the slightest pin drop, Christmas lashes out, just as McEachern would when a young Joe was unable to learn something immediately. Eventually, McEachern's methods led to his own death(I think) as teenage Joe retaliates and smashes a chair over his head, WWE style.

The Fifth Dimension

Perhaps Faulkner was more of a scientist than we give him credit for.

There are some theories that if there were to be a fifth dimension, it would be time. Time as a physical entity, or something that can be manipulated, is something that humans won't ever really be able to grasp, and thinking about it at great lengths just makes our brains go in circles.

Faulkner, however, enjoys moving fluidly through time in his writing and chooses to personify time or treat it as something that can be manipulated. It's as if time has a force of its own and can be acted upon.

Not only is this idea apparent through the way Faulkner changes time periods during the novel, utilizing flashbacks and backtracking from the perspective of different characters to return to the present point in time, but he writes at the beginning of chapter 6, "Memory believes before knowing remembers. Believes longer than recollects, longer than knowing even wonders," (Faulkner 119). Admittedly, I had to reread these sentences about ten times before I had any idea what their function was. He refers to memory as a subject, representing the subconscious knowledge of the past, and claims that it has an understanding of past events before the conscious mind's awareness of past events, knowing, can remember. He then uses believes as a verb and a noun, explaining how the mind has subconscious ideas constructed by the past that exist prior to actual recollection of events and even prior to the conscious mind trying to remember the past and analyze it.

Overall, Faulkner may be suggesting that humans can be, in fact, fifth dimensional beings who utilize time as its own entity; however, he explains how even though we may be able to conceptualize how time affects us, and can read a novel written from various time standpoints, it is really our subconscious mind that encodes the past and our consciousness is not developed enough to instantaneously process past events.

Whether five dimensions or not, Faulkner's use of time in his novel is compelling and philosophical in a way we only see in sci-fi novels now. So kudos to him.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

How to be a Bigot

One can find a very detailed tutorial on how to stereotype, hate, and label inside William Faulkner's Light in August. 

There are a many ways in which the town of Jefferson demonstrates these skills. They boil down to the imposition of a simplified narrative over a complex reality. 

This structure holds true for the townspeople and Hightower, for Mrs. Armstid and Lena, for the townspeople, the dietician, Bobbie and Joe, and ultimately... for whites and negros.

I see two main reasons people cast narratives: to understand, and to compare.

We cast narratives over complex ideas or objects or plaster them with labels to simplify them:

  • "This math problem is a substitution problem"
  • "That car is a sedan"
  • "There are GMOs in that food"
… and this is okay most of the time. Complex ideas, economic principles, variations of cars, brands of food need simplifying in everyday life for the sake of sanity and understanding. 

But when we start casting narratives over people, we take a step towards bigotry. People are all complex, and no one fits that story mold perfectly.
When you assume someone does, you take away from who they truly are.

Ultimately, you're rendering them into ideas-- objects.

  • "Mr. Smith is a bad teacher"
  • "She's a conservative"
  • "Billy is a smart-ass"
  • "She's a DB"
Here lies the seed of the problem: people want life to be easy and they want to feel good. 

To make life easy, people label other people so that they can understand.
To feel good, people label people negatively, so that they can feel like good people by comparison. 

Individually Isolated

While reading Light in August by William Faulkner I began to really think about Joe Christmas and what he was feeling. When I think of Christmas' experience, isolation immediately comes to my mind. I can't imagine how he felt being biracial in a town that was so racially divided. It seems as though Christmas felt like he would never fit in with either race and the only place he felt comfort was alone in the forest.

While analyzing this further, I found that Joe Christmas is similar to many characters that we have studied from past novels. He embodies the popular theme that individualism often times leads to isolation. Just like Meursault and Edna, Joe Christmas feels like he can't fit in with anyone and everyone views him as a psychotic outcast. He does not live up to society's expectations just like Edna and Meursault. While individualism is initially invigorating, after awhile characters feel the pang of isolation. Isolation is hard to come back from and I think Joe Christmas is beginning to realize this. He knows that he will never completely fit in with the white neighborhood or the black neighborhood and I think this takes a toll on him. This inner struggle and realization that isolation is bound to happen fuels Christmas' reckless actions and frequent outbursts.

Self Fulfilling Prophecies

Light in August is, without a doubt, a complicated novel with complicated characters.  So far, we have only really gotten to know one of them: Joe Christmas, the racially ambiguous psychopath who makes us feel confused about race.

On one hand, Faulkner seems to want to use Christmas as a way of showing how silly it is to have a society that constructs identity based on race when race itself isn't necessarily black and white.  Christmas doesn't fit in to either the black or white categories -- the white folk dismiss him once they find out he has "black blood" and the black folk think he's a white man, not to mention the fact that Christmas is completely opposed to the idea of being "black".  So Faulkner goes about his merry way, showing the reader how much people jump to conclusions based on race and how wrong that is.  Like when Joe Brown is telling the marshall about what happened to Mrs. Burden -- as soon as Brown mentions the fact that Christmas is biracial, the marshall immediately is assured that he is guilty, and us as the readers recognize that that's not a good thing.

But then, we find out that Christmas did kill Mrs. Burden (or at least it is heavily implied that he is the one who almost removes her head from her body), so we as readers ask ourselves, "What the heck is Faulkner trying to tell us here?  That stereotypes are true?  Is Faulkner just a really clever racist?"

I think the answer is not that Faulkner believes in violent stereotypes surrounding African-Americans -- rather, he is just trying to prove the true potential for harm these stereotypes carry.  We met Christmas as a young boy, and we see that from the age of 5 he is ostracized because of his race.  He is told that he is different, inferior, and should be ashamed.  I think that a lot of his violent tendencies are a result of this attitude towards him.  He is able to know both sides of the coin -- he sees how people begin to view and treat him differently when they find out he is not 100% white.  And so, that night when he probably killed Mrs. Burden, Christmas was wandering around town, feeling out of place in both the white part of town and the black part of town, driving him insane.  So insane that he (probably) kills Mrs. Burden.

So what I think Faulkner is trying to say is that racial stereotypes have a dangerous psychological effect on those they are assigned to.  While stereotypes are not based in truth (for example, look at the black folk Christmas encounters on his journey through Freedman's Town -- they are calm, peaceful, and very human), they sometimes have the possibility of becoming true for some due to their unhealthy nature.  I believe that that is what happened to Joe Christmas.

Us vs. Them: The North/South Cultural Divide

Upon reading the first couple of chapters of Light in August, I felt like I had just read a book with dialogue in another language - just as how The Awakening contained some French quotations from it's characters. It was difficult to think of the characters' odd dialect as being the same language I speak every day. Yes, the book was written around ninety years ago, but there's something more- something more telling- about this distance I feel. The characters are from a small, rural town in Mississippi, and I am from a northern town that is about as urban as a suburb could ever be.

When Mr. Heidkamp discussed our inevitable separation of ourselves from the narrative due to the strong geographical divide, it really opened my eyes to the cultural boundaries I, and all other students, set up in our minds. I began to wonder - would a teacher that assigned this book to high school students in a southern town need to have such a talk with them as Mr. Heidkamp did? Would the students even feel any sort of discomfort reading this novel, complete with language such as "I reckon" and characters with extremely narrow minds? Obviously, I can't answer these questions with full certainty, but I have thought of some explanations.

Many students in Oak Park have read The Great Gatsby, written around the same time as Light in August but set in the North. Many enjoyed it - the colorful language, the extravagant parties, the seductive plot, and the secret-ridden characters. Before we dove into the novel, did our English teachers feel the need to have a talk with us about the shock we might feel regarding these such aspects of the narrative? No. Would teachers in southern schools? No. But for Light in August, a book that looks innocent next to the controversial Gatsby, a binary makes its way into the demographics of the readers. People have viewed Gatsby as a representation of America as a whole - the rebellious attitude, the underground partying, and the motif of dark secrets are underlying aspects of American society. There's no discussion needed with Fitzgerald's work. But Light in August works the same way. It addresses prevalent issues such as racism, gossip, and violence. The thing is, though, as northerners, we inevitably think of ourselves as the dominant side of the NORTH/south binary, so we feel the need to address our thoughts when something feels "wrong," like when we read a book about a small, southern town. Southerners, though, would not have to think in such a way about their own society - it's what is "normal" to them. Thus, I highly doubt a teacher in the South would feel the need to have a similar discussion with his or her students.

While I may not be able to call myself a "Nabakovian" reader after bringing my judgements and values into the reading of Light in August, I believe that such bias is important for making my own meaning and interpretations out of the story. I'll never be able to let myself go and ignore the odd dialect and uncomfortable diction to fully obtain the "magic" of the story, but, hey, it's impossible for us to enjoy every story in the exact manner that Nabokov wanted us to.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Cultural Binaries

Jessica Benjamin and her ideas about binaries in our society and literature is back for more. In the passage with Joe Christmas running/walking through the town in chapter five displays some of the major binaries of the book. One of the binaries Faulkner explores is the classic WHITE/black binary. This binary can also be looked at as a LIGHT/dark binary. In the section, Faulkner writes how it was if "the black life, the black breathing had compounded the substance of breath so that not only voices but moving bodies and light itself must become fluid and accrete" (page 114). The contrast between the light and the dark/black consoles a deeper meaning. The black life seems to almost be lifeless and not breathing but the light is fluid and full of life. Also, Faulkner writes, "Now he could see them:.....on a lighted veranda four people sat about a card table, the white faces intent and the sharp low light, the bare arms of the women glaring smooth and white above the trivial cards. 'that's all I wanted' he thought. 'That don't seem like a whole lot to ask'" (Page 115). The "them" he is referring to in the beginning is the white people he has come across in the town, he sees them playing cards under a lighted table that has the connotations of life all over it. While the black life in the previous section is morbid and death related. Also significant in the chapter is the FAST/slow binary. In the same section of him going through the town, when he encounters certain areas, he changes his speed and attitude. All the times he increases pace or acts out, like with a razor, he is in a black area of the town. And every time he is relaxed and slowing down, he is in the white areas of the town. Benjamin's binaries never seem to leave our literary life, and for good reason. Her exploration of binaries allows us to enhance our knowledge of the passage and book and gives us key clues to the books overall theme or moral.

Edge of Society

Throughout Light in August there is a constant motif of characters that do not fit into society. An example of this is Joe Christmas and his constant struggles within society because of his biracial heritage. Lena Grove further exemplifies this motif with the reaction of the society she is in to her pregnancy. I have noticed that almost every book we have read as a class this year contians this same motif. Including Meursault in the Stranger, Edna in the Awakening, and even King Lear.


In response to a few posts published earlier, I'd like to present my abbreviated opinion of interracial crime and its importance in the media.

I don't want to discredit anyone's ideas or opinions by saying this, but I've always found it difficult to talk about race and white supremacy in a room full of white people. I remember last year when my English class took an online assessment to see if we had any racial preference towards whites/blacks (not to be confused, as it most commonly was, with actually being racist; this test was merely assessing our somewhat-subconscious racial preferences). It was not surprising that a majority of the class (including a few black students) tested for strong preferences towards white people.

Many questioned the credibility of the assessment to make such "preposterous" claims, however that can be discussed on a different day. I'm merely trying to point out that American culture favors the white man. It has for centuries and it shouldn't be a surprise. Society still struggles to find real social and economic equality among whites and blacks due to the repercussions of the past few centuries.

I cannot argue that Michael Brown was entirely innocent, but I can point out that it's all too common for a police officer to be notified of a crime (in this case a robbery, although it is still uncertain as to whether the officer knew of Brown's robbery or not prior to Brown's death) and immediately suspect the black man over anyone else. It has happened too often to be false, and if you think that the case we have on our hands is completely uncorrelated to race, then you're probably the reason why I find it difficult to take about race and white supremacy when I'm the only nonwhite in a classroom. Of course Michael Brown's death had to do with race. Of course Trayvon Martin's death had to do with race. Faulkner made it all too obvious that Christmas became a person of interest only when race was involved, and times really have not changed much since then. Yes, certain stories are blown up when interracial conflicts come into play, but that is because they say something about American culture. It says something about who gets to be an "American hero" and who has to walk the streets and feel like an outsider.

I guess this wasn't as "abbreviated" as I had planned it to be (although I could honestly go on and on about this topic) and I hope I haven't offended anyone by this post. I'm not trying to argue that everyone isn't entitled to their opinion or that anyone is uneducated about certain aspects of race and American culture, I'm just trying to bring in a perspective that I can bet is not often taken into consideration because of where we live and who we interact with.

Joe's Choices

In Faulkner's Light in August, Joe Christmas struggles with racial identity. He does not seem to fit into the WHITE/black binary that is very present in the society at the time because he his half black.

Jessica Benjamin wrote about how in binaries one half must assert dominance and the other half in some way accepts the dominance.  In his quest for identity, Joe can not seem to fit into either side of the binary but what he does know for sure is that he wants to be part of a binary.

Although binaries are uneven relationships, Joe seems to willing to chose either side of the binary just so he can belong. As he walks around Freedman town, he does not feel similar to the black people. He sees that they are "voices murmuring talking laughing in a language not his"(114). But he also doesn't feel part of the white community either. As he walks past the white people playing cards on the porch, he thinks "'That's all I wanted...that dont seem like a whole lot to ask'"(115). Feeling as though he doesn't fit leaves him lonely but Joe begins to make some choice of which part of the binary he is belongs to.

Joe spend years living with black people and "shunning white people"(225). He later says that he was trying "to expel himself the white blood"(226). Joe chooses which race he wants to be. In doing so he also chooses part of the binary.

Unfortunately, Joe becomes subject to the prejudices and stereotypes of the binary and his decision to accept his black blood leads him to be seen in different ways. Joe Brown uses the knowledge of Joe Christmas's black blood against him and uses that to blame him for the fire and murder of Ms. Burden. Joe chooses to belong but then must also be a subject to the binary.

The Importance of a Background Story

In Light in August, Faulkner creates characters with very complex backgrounds. He shows us the character Christmas, an alleged murderer who identifies with  neither his black nor white heritage, and then explains his background. After walking through freedman town, Faulkner leaves Christmas holding a razor, saying something is going to happen. The next chapter delves into his unfortunate and turbulent childhood. What is Faulkner trying to say with this transition?

After seeing Christmas holding the razor, and knowing that Miss Burden was violently murdered with a sharp object, it is easy for the reader to suppose that of course Christmas did it, he is a violent person, But I think that Faulkner wants to show us more to the story. He explains Christmas' background in an orphanage, where he was ridiculed because of his ambiguous heritage. His childhood shows how Christmas used to view the world through innocent and unassuming eyes, yet turned violent as more violence was done unto him. Christmas accepted abuse as part of the necessary FATHER/son binary, regularly snuck out of his house, and fell in love with a prostitute. He entered his adolescence innocent and hopeful for love and happiness in his relationships, but left a murderer with no father, and no prostitute-wife. He no longer trusted the world.

But why does Faulkner tell us this? Is he trying to excuse Christmas' alleged murder of Miss Burden? Perhaps, but I think more likely is that he may just be recognizing that there are a complex set of problems that cause characters to act. His explanation of Christmas' background helps the readers sympathize with him, and perhaps understand a little more reasoning for his aptitude for violence.

Who is Colonel Sartoris?

In William Faulkner's Light in August, Joanna Burden names Colonel Sartoris as the killer of her grandfather and brother. This isn't the first time our class has encountered Sartoris. Colonel Sartoris Snopes, the protagonist of "Barn Burning," also by Faulkner, is named for this character. 

The extent of the original Sartoris' role in "Barn Burning" is limited to the justice's remark in the beginning of the story: "I reckon anybody named for Colonel Sartoris in this country can't help but tell the truth, can they?" In Faulkner's other works, notably the novel Sartoris, however, Colonel Sartoris plays a larger role.

I did a little research on Colonel John Sartoris and found out that Faulkner based this character on his grandfather, a Civil War colonel in the Confederate Army. Sartoris is a distinguished, respected Southern man, a reputation that is evident in the justice's words in "Barn Burning." Furthermore, his allegiance with the Confederate South is consistent with his killing of Miss Burden's ancestors, who are implied to be Northerners who moved South during Reconstruction. 

Faulkner's works share a common setting and characters, as Mr. Heidkamp mentioned.  Colonel Sartoris is an example of one of these connections in the two works of Faulkner that our class has read this year. Faulkner uses these shared characters and events to incorporate antebellum Southern society and his own Southern roots into his writing.

Who is Christmas?

Joe Christmas, a character from William Faulkner's "Light in August", has never really belonged. Throughout the novel, Christmas has struggled to find his identity. Because Christmas is bi-racial, he never seems to fit in with either the white or black community. In chapter 5, Christmas is running through a white neighborhood, "He stopped here, panting, glaring, his heart thudding as if it could not or would not yet believe that the air now was the cold hard air of white people" (115).

Christmas feels left out not only in the white community but in black communities as well. "He was walking directly towards them, walking fast. They had seen him and they gave to one side of the road, the voices ceasing.... In a single movement and as though at a spoken command the women faded back and were going around him, giving him a wide berth" (117). Christmas struggles to regain his identity. Since the beginning of Joe Christmas's life, he has always seemed to be an outcast searching for who he is.

Why Interracial Crime Is Different from Intraracial Crime

In an earlier bog post, Eric F. contended that the only real difference between black on black crime and white on black crime is the attention given to it by the media.  While I agree with his assertion that black on black crime is ignored too often, I disagree with his main argument.  White on black crime is often different from black on white crime in its nature.  It is often the result of the racial prejudices that pervade our society.  From 2008 to 2012, the rate of violent hate crimes against blacks was sixteen times greater than that against whites.

If we ignore the racial implications of these crimes, we fail to recognize there importance. They illustrate that we do not live in a society of equals.  Hate crimes are most often used to perpetuate the systematic oppression of a minority group and, thus, further the inequality.  At one point, the KKK used lynchings to assert its authority over blacks.  Hate crimes are remnants of those lynchings.

How to tackle your own narrative: Hightower, Christmas, or Swift

Going off of what Mr. Heidkamp said in class, everyone has their own narrative. This narrative can be good or bad, and it is up to you how you choose to live with that narrative. In Light in August alone, we see several examples of characters addressing their narratives very differently. There is Reverend Hightower, who refused to be ashamed of his narrative despite society's attempts to drive him out of town. Rather than stand up to his narrative or leave town and escape it, Hightower does nothing, accepts it, and tries to go on with his life ignoring the stigma attached to his name. Then we see Joe Christmas  and after recieving his backstory, we realize has quite the narrative, but doesn't even know himself what it is yet.

When such a powerful narrative is written about you, there are several things you can do in response to it. Maybe you are like Joe and don't know what your narrative is yet. Maybe you choose to take Reverend Hightower's path and keep it looming in the past. But maybe, you embody it, alter it however you choose, and, like Taylor Swift, look awesome doing it.

From the moment we heard her music would no longer be categorized as country, we knew to expect something new from Taylor Swift's new album, 1989. This is exactly what she was going for. She creativity changed directions as an artist and in doing so, sends valid messages relevant to many of the topics we have recently discussed in class, such as changing one's own narrative and reversing Benjamin's MALE/female binary, as she does in her music video for "Blank Space."

As Mr. Hiedkamp was saying in class, Taylor Swift is actively trying to change the well known stigma, or narrative, that comes along with her music and character in the media world. She's the girl obsessed with guys, leaving them left and right, and compiling these dramatically deep emotions into heartfelt songs that serve to personally attack the poor past lover who was stupid enough to fall into her trap. From one guy to the next, Taylor Swift is known for lashing out at small things and over reacting to every situation. While addressing her own narrative, Swift remarks that male artists in the industry do this all the time, but that somehow because she is a girl, this lashing out of heartbreak is not okay.

While simultaneously destroying her own narrative, Taylor Swift also challenges the binary of the typical MALE/female relationship. In her newest music video, we constantly see the guy chasing her around and sitting patiently long enough for her to paint his entire portrait. While discussing her video, an interview lead into a discussion of feminism, where Swift spoke of how she wishes she was taught the real definition of feminism earlier as a child- that feminism is a fight for equality, not a bashing of men. She says that in general and on many different scales, people can get uncomfortable with women doing things that men are "supposed to do." This sort of binary can be seen in Light in August in the relationship between Joe Christmas and Miss Burden. Joe is uncomfortable with the fact that Miss Burden is successful, and when she offers to share this success with him, he doesn't accept it.

In the video for "Blank Space," rather than taking a Reverend Hightower approach and pretending that the stigma doesn't exist, she embodies her narrative. The video serves as a satire of herself, and mainly of the story associated with her character. Rather than defending herself, she embodies it, makes fun of herself, and owns it. When she runs around like a maniac, she is not only smashing the car, the painting, and the house, but smashing the narrative itself.

What We've Learned About Fractions In Math Is Wrong.

In math class you are taught that a/b = b/a. Jessica Benjamin has taught us that that is actually false. Benjamin's math is more like a/b could never equal b/a, because switching the two would change life as we know it. Benjamin writes about how binaries dominate our society (BINARIES/society). So if we were to take a binary and flip it then life as we know it would be drastically different.

Faulkner has taken binaries to another level. Whether it is MASTER/slave, WHITE/black, PARENT/child, they are everywhere throughout Light in August. One binary I thought was pretty cool was MALE/female. I thought that it was cool because Faulkner flips this very important binary.
It is evident that most of the relationships in the novel adhere to the MALE/female binary (such as McEathern and his wife). Faulkner decides that it is not very interesting to conform to social constructions so he takes Joe Christmas, and Mrs. Burden's relationship and flips the binary.

When Joe describes his relationship with Mrs. Burden he explicitly states that he feels as if Mrs. Burden has more control or dominance then he does. Joe's lack of power in a typically male dominated binary may contribute to the his killing of Mrs. Burden. If it does play a major role then we see first hand how flipping a binary drastically changes the reality of the situation.

Faulkner's Light in August is truly layered and confusing work, but it is a work of art and must be interpreted as such. His discreet and not so discreet violations of social code at the time are magnificent. I think Jessica Benjamin and William Faulkner would have gotten along well.

Unwarranted Nicknames: How Rory "Ice Cream Queen" Gilmore and Joe "Homicidal Negro" Christmas Got Screwed Over By Their Community

William Faulkner's novel Light in August takes place in Yoknapatawpha county, Mississippi in the 1920's. Amy Sherman Palladino's TV series Gilmore Girls takes place in Stars Hollow, Connecticut in the 2000's. Against all odds, these two literary masterpieces have a lot in common. The narratives and binaries involved with a closely-knit community of people have been the same for decades, apparently.

In chapter 4 of Light In August, the reader hears Byron's account of recent happenings in relation to Miss Burden's murder. Joe Brown, in pursuit of a reward, has told the Sheriff that Joe Christmas is responsible for Miss Burden's death. As a reader, we can pretty much make the assumption, having read to chapter 12, that Christmas is, in fact, Burden's killer. However, when the sheriff hears Brown's story, the only real facts he knows is that Brown was in the burning house, pleading that no one goes upstairs, where Burden's body was found with her head barely connected to her body. He really has no reason to suspect anybody else but Brown committed the crime, and he remembers that, that is until Joe Brown mentions some essential proof. Joe Christmas, previously innocent man, is biracial. This changes everything for the Sheriff and others listening. "I believe you are telling the truth at last"(99) he says. Immediately an entire narrative of Joe Christmas is created. He's a murderer, a liar, and a dangerous man. Nothing has been witnessed to really prove that by the town, but they know for a fact he has those characteristics based on Brown's story. Regardless of his probably nonexistent innocence, he shouldn't be convicted solely based on his race.

In season 4 of Gilmore Girls, episode 1, Rory struggles with the narrative her town has created for her as well. Taylor, owner of the local grocery store and old fashioned soda shoppe, has named Rory the official "Ice Cream Queen" for the opening of the shoppe, without asking her first. Almost exactly like how the sheriff named Christmas the murderer without evidence, only with slightly different consequences. Rory, unlike Christmas, is able to confront her maker and change the narrative created for her. Taylor defends himself, saying "I assumed you would be thrilled, based on your past participation record" Taylor had no evidence for his assumption other than Rory's previous attendance and participation in town affairs. He created a persona for her without her permission. Rory later speaks at the grand opening in a small mental breakdown, saying:"I love this town, I will be back in that ridiculous pilgrim outfit next Thanksgiving, so everybody just get off my back!" Clearly, she's in a much different position in relation to her community than Christmas is.

It's clear that in these small towns, it's almost impossible to create your own persona and have all the residents accept that and treat you based on your actions and not the words of others. However, especially in groups, people will create an identity for you without solid proof. While it's more obvious when it's the possibility of prison over the possibility of a mascot for a cheesy event, this is harmful. It takes away an individuals agency to create their identity.

P.S.- I'm #TeamJess

FATHER/son Binary

In William Faulkner's Light in August, he portrays an interesting relationship between Joe Christmas and his adopted father, McEachern. Jessica Benjamin labeled binaries as a type of relationship in which one person is dominant over the other. This binary is present between the two. McEachern is a cold, disconnected, violent character who relentlessly attempts to place religious strict religious values upon his son. While he appears to be passionate about his religious beliefs, in reality, he is one of the more detached characters in the book.

What I find interesting in the relationship is that his character rubbed off Christmas. He spends the days working hard to pass the time and becomes extremely hateful. He begins escaping from his house to go into town, partly in an attempt to see the woman he is interested in and also to escape from his harsh home environment. Eventually, his repression at home overcomes when he kills his father following escaping from his home. Multiple times, he yells, "I said I would kill him some day!", swinging a chair back and forth. Almost resembling sociopathic behavior, he laughs at his father's death, mocking to McEacher's wife that, "He's at a dance." Furthermore, when he returns to the restaurant in a flurried attempt to marry the woman he'd briefly been seeing, he lunges at the men who try to remove him from the restaurant, "with something of the exaltation of his adopted father..."
As can be shown, the dominance McEachern tried to display upon Christmas resulted in his destruction as a character.

I think this chapter in the book has strong implications for Jessica Benjamin's binaries. The chapter develops the theme that isolation is a consequence of dominance, as both McEachern and Christmas end up alone. In both of their attempts to display authoritative behavior, they have drastic downfalls in their character.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

*Insert Controversial Eye-Catching Disputed Murder Title Here"

As I read William Faulkner's great masterpiece Light in August, I reach the dramatic moment where Joe Brown is looking to get a 1,000 dollar check for "turning in" Joe Christmas. It looks as if Brown is losing his persuasion, until he brings up the fact that Christmas is part negro, to which the officers respond by completely agreeing with Brown that he is guilty. Now I'm sure plenty of people responded by saying "THIS IS OUTRAGEOUS!! HOW CAN THEY DO THIS!!" and act like this stuff never happens around them, which is correct. But because people are vehemently against any sense of racism, issues that could possibly relate to conflict take precedence over other crimes.

For example, the Michael Brown case in Ferguson Missouri shows how people can get caught up in these ideals. People see that a black teenager is shot by a white cop, and people immediately riot against "the man" and attack the police force without actually seeing any evidence. It has been shown that a police report called for a armed robber in a white shirt in the area when Brown was found by the officer. It is suggested that there was a struggle between the two, and that the gunshot was done in self defense. Yet reporters don't feed this information to the viewers, it gets pushed aside for activists and news of rioting to capture the eyes and wallets of companies and people.

But lets go back to good old Chicago, where a similarly aged African American male is killed with 16 bullets as he drives with three friends down the street. Where is Jesse Jackson? Where are the news trucks? The massive riots? Nowhere. The news just reports it as a gang related incident and no killer is suspect for the crime. These murders happen every single day in the US or even out big city, but nobody knows or cares about them as much as a government vs. citizen conflict.

So the real question is why. Why do these stories capture our attention while others go by in the wind? The answer can be found in Faulkner's tale and how easy it would be for the officers to accuse Christmas of the crime. If a local white man is convict of such a horrible atrocity, then the news reporters will come and bring infamy to the area. But if a part negro male is brought to "justice," then people in the story are comfortable with this and it will just be another murder.

So what can people do to avoid this bias? Nothing. It is going to happen whether or not you want it to. If someone with money and power reacts, then others will follow suit. When a radio station plays new music, the band with blow up, while other artists will go along. Tales are stones by a sea, where one is hand picked to skip while thousands wait for recognition that will never come.

These tales of "racist attacks" will always happen. Whatever gathers the advertisement money.

Is it really 'Just a Dress'?

Faulkner presents an intricate understanding of how race "works" in his widely-acclaimed novel, Light in August. Recently, we've seen the way he manipulates the characters in the story to elicit a greater meaning and/or truth about the world after Brown reports Christmas as a "half nigger" to support his claim that Christmas was the murderer rather than himself. The sheriff's response brings up the argument of "How could that happen? Why might something as insignificant as race matter more than something as gruesome as murder?" The answer lies in the power of social binaries, Benjamin would agree.

In the same way that race functions as a defining characteristic for many in the world today, gender often dictates an individual's actions as well as the expectations for that individual. In fact, gender dictates that in six months, I must walk through an arbor in a white dress with a bouquet of roses in my hand. What's that you ask? Who's the lucky man? Well, don't get your hopes up because...

Plot Twist: That'll be when I graduate from Oak Park and River Forest High School.

In our school, the graduating seniors uniformly sport white, floor-length dresses for women, while men dress in black suits with a red tie to match the women's bouquet of roses. For the past 101 years, this tradition has prevailed as a tribute to the school's history and as many have told me, "just looks so good in pictures." To both, I agree. However, my desire to honor tradition is clouded by my understanding of the origin of OPRFHS graduation attire.

Again, I remind you of the image of an 18-year old woman in a white dress holding a bouquet of roses walking under an arbor. Following her is a line of 18-year old men dressed in black suits with a red tie. As I sat and watched my siblings' graduation ceremonies at OPRF, I couldn't help but think that it looked as if they were all getting married. As a unit. Imagine that. Definitely would save a lot of money. But besides the point, it is 2014. Women and men today are, generally, not focused on marriage at eighteen years old anymore. Times have changed. Oak Park has changed.

I understand that some may read this in annoyance because to them, the idea that a white dress symbolizes purity, virginity, or marriage is outdated. To them, graduation would be nothing without the traditional OPRF graduation attire. After all, it's 'just a dress'. I also want to make clear that the point of this is not to shame others for wanting to wear white dresses because each student should wear whatever they choose. That's exactly my point. I am angry I am forced to wear white on a day completely unrelated to my wedding. I am angry that I cannot appreciate the tradition as others do. But I'm mostly angry because I am forced to wear an outfit based on my gender. The varying attire splits the sea of graduates in a completely unnecessary way. We are no longer "graduates", but rather "male graduates" and "female graduates": an arbitrary divide within the class. The issue now becomes, is it really 'just a dress'?

Binaries as Categories

A pretty big theme in William Faulkner’s Light In August is identity, especially in the case of Joe Christmas. Throughout the novel, he seems to struggle a lot with whether he should consider himself black or white: on page 254, Christmas tells Ms. Burden that he identifies himself as black, and says, “If I’m not, damned if I haven’t wasted a lot of time”. This quote gives us the impression that there is a sort of demand for Joe to know what he is, which brings us to the concept of binaries.

Jessica Benjamin explains binaries as a type of set up where one person or idea is more dominant over the other: MALE/female, FATHER/son, POWER/weakness are all good examples. However, binaries also serve as categories that define people based on specific attributes or differences. I am male, therefore I am not female; I am powerful, therefore I am not weak, etc.

This is why Joe Christmas has a difficult time deciding which race to identify with. Even though he is part black and part white, the WHITE/black binary only allows him to fall under one category.


During that time period media portrayed African Americans as “Brutes.”  Whenever they were featured in movies they were antagonists who often caused violence or the death of an innocent and pure protagonist.  For example in the film clip we saw the black man chased the white virgin woman to her death.  This portrayal of Black people in media influences how society views them in novels and in everyday functioning.
A seemingly recurring theme in the novel Light in August is the use of Racism in the southern town.  When a murder is committed in town all of the evidence suggests that a white man named Brown is the most likely suspect, however, when the questioning of his roommate, Christmas, race is involved fingers are suddenly pointed in a different direction (toward the black suspect).  In the novel the sheriff is questioning Brown about the murder and the situation at hand.  Brown’s story remains unclear and his facts never seem to add up causing continuous suspicion on the sheriffs point of view.  On page 98 in the novel it says, “‘You better be careful what you are saying, if it is a white man you are talking about,’ the marshal says.  ‘I dont care if he is a murderer or not.’”  This quotation to me points out that a white man killing someone is a completely different concept than the idea of a black man killing someone.  This point of view is the reflection of racism.  According to racism is “a belief or doctrine that inherent differences among thevarious human races determine cultural or individualachievement, usually involving the idea that one's own race issuperior and has the right to rule others.”  In this southern town it is obvious to me that the white community feels as though they have superiority over the black community. After the sheriff finds out that Christmas is part black he then says, "'Well,' the sheriff says, 'I believe you are telling the truth at last. You go on with Buck, now, and get a good sleep. I'll attend to Christmas.'" (pg. 99). The sheriff lacks evidence that is against Christmas, but believes Brown because of the skin tone presented on his body.
Earlier in the year we read an article by Jessica Benjamin who explained that there are psychological set ups in relationships of dominance rather than mutual recognition.  She also brings to light the creation of social binaries.  For example MEN/women or POWER/weakness.  I think that her idea binaries connects to Light in August.  I think that most obviously the binary WHITE/black can be applied but I also think that CIVILIZATION/savage, TRUSTWORTHY/deceiving, and JUST/unjust are great

of lack of mutual recognition in the southern community.  In the case of the novel the white community believes that they are civilized, trustworthy, and just as opposed to the savage, deceiving, and unjust black community.  Benjamin also points out that enable for whites to consider themselves the upper binary they must have an inferior binary to compare themselves to and that is the black community. These binaries and comparisons of these two societies (white and black) support the theme or racism that is offered as a continuously appearing conflict throughout the novel. With the support of the media, conversations between characters, and articles from outside sources, such as Benjamin, racism in the novel is criticized and made more apparent.  

Saturday, November 22, 2014

A Chauvinistic Christmas

In Faulkner's 'Light in August', Joe Christmas struggles with his identity. Although appearances may be deceiving, Christmas knows himself to be a negro. Given that this story takes place in post- Civil War south, being black entails a sense of inferiority, as if a curse. Christmas grows up aware that his race places him on the subordinate side of the power struggle, or binary, that existed between people at the time. This sense of submissiveness in relation to the dominant white man has engraved a belief of shortcoming causes Christmas to find an outlet in which he can expend these feelings and obtain power, even if only for a moment.

For the most part, Christmas finds this through sex. Throughout the novel, Christmas pays prostitutes for sex, and often times, these relations with women end in violence. When Christmas has an affair with Ms. Burden, this inferiority complex is indirectly explained via the times he assaults her with relentless blows. Because Christmas is unable to assert his dominance and control over his white male peers, he uses the opportunity to control women through sex. This opportunity arises from Christmas's desire to flip the binary and, for once, be in total control of his counterpart. This is why any display of love and affection from a women, which is especially clear in Christmas's relationship with Ms. Burden and Mrs. McEachern, pushes Christmas away and usually causes Christmas to use violence and disrespect in the relationship. Any display of affection and love is seen as a threat to his dominance. At one point, Christmas hopes that Ms. Burden will have left him a note that says that there affair is over and is to be forgotten, yet Christmas finds himself the subject of Ms. Burden's desire to hand over her wealth and power. Faulker writes that Joe Christmas  always wanted to have something kept a secret from the women in his life, whether it is with the rope and Ms. McEeachern or the whiskey and Ms. Burden. This shows that Christmas desires to be in greater control than the women not only in sex, but in knowledge. Because of this desire to flip the binary that he is a part of, Joe Christmas portrays himself as a very male chauvinistic individual that will fight to assert dominance over any female counterpart.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Veblen and Chopin

Thorstein Veblen's writing about the "Leisure Class" has a direct connection to Chopin's writing in the awakening. Veblen states, "According to the ideal scheme of life in force at that time it is the office of the men to consume what the women produce. Such consumption as falls to women is merely incidental to their work; It is a means to their continued labor, and not a consumption directed to their own comfort and fullness of life". Veblen makes a great point about the consumption by men. The men are at the receiving end of the women/housewife's work and dedication. This is the "ideal scheme of life" that is very much present and challenged in the Awakening. Edna is an outsider to the Creole traditions of New Orleans, these traditions are similar to and more concrete than Veblen's point. Edna feels like she should not have to devote all of her time and her self-being to the family. Unlike some of the other women in the book, who's lives are consumed by their families, whether voluntary or forced, Edna expresses individuality. There are several moments in the book where we see her "rebel" against the traditions, or where we see she is clearly not accepting her role in life. Like when she says she would give up everything for her children including her life, but not herself; Or when she is standing outside Lebrun's house that seemed like a prison and she was on the outside waiting to get in, which is a connection between her being on the outside of traditional societal values. Veblen points out a great truth in our societal values and Chopin, through the character Edna, shows how clear these values are in life and what it takes and how people react to someone rebelling against them. I think it is very easy to look past all of the subtle details in the book, and it is essential to pay close attention to the language Chopin uses. It is also interesting to see reactions to a female character being the existentialist or true individual.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Women and Consumption

Veblen preaches wonders about the world of materialism. He talks about the value of possession and the value of consumption of possessions and the extra value earned from consuming extra value items and basically says the more expensive you are, the more you'll be respected. More interestingly he talks about a woman's intimate connection to this materialism, that it is her duty to consume and earn respect in the same way a man's duty is to be the breadwinner (and pay for all the lovely things the wife gets to use). And while gender equality has leaped forward drastically since Veblen's time, this connection of women to items to popularity definitely still exists today.

In all the magazines, commercials, billboards, and other media forms, it seems more often than not women are the main mannequins for promoting content. They're sporting the sexy new dresses, all dolled up for all the perfume adds, and are endlessly exploited to be used for advertisement purposes, dressed most glamorously when promoting the most glamorous items. And while all these advertisements obviously also use men as well, it's interesting to compare the gender roles men and women seem to play in the media to the stereotypical roles they play in society, both modern and old-fashioned.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Faster and Faster with Nowhere to Go

I find Veblen's take on Theory of the Leisure Class especially interesting at a time when American society is so driven by efficiency in everything we do. What we define as success has been shrunken down to whatever is the most efficient way to get things done. We give enormous support to fast-food companies to make our food faster, pay thousands of dollars to make our computers faster, and we can't even fathom the idea of not having a car to get ourselves places the fastest way possible. Family I visited in Europe over the summer was shocked to hear that we have coffee to-go, something that other countries consider a way to sit down, relax, and chat while we are just so focused on go go go.

With a society so fixed on efficiency, the fact that we regard evidence of "extravagant expenditures" of time, money, and resources as beautiful solely because they are wasteful seems almost paradoxical. The fastest cars, the fastest phones, the fastest computers, the fastest kitchen appliances are all still the most expensive and yet things such as edged lawns, elaborate decorating styles, and high standards of cleanness area all things that use this precious time that we are endlessly trying to eliminate from our daily lifestyles. No matter how fast and glorious the iPhone 6 is, millions of people will undoubtedly rush to buy the new iPhone7 as soon as it reaches store, not because their iPhone 6 is not fast enough for them, but because it is no longer fast enough for the ever changing society that convinces us that our iPhone 6 is not good enough. It seems that we are so structured on Veblen's idea of "conspicuous waste" with a false sense of "conspicuous leisure."

Complete Opposites

When it comes to the role of Women in society  the character of Edna and Thorsteins Veblen's theory of the Leisure Class are completely different. Edna is a character that was pretty much created to show how women can defy social constructs. Whether it be within relationships, being a mother, and more. While, Veblen's theory puts women down and mainly talks about women doing duties in the house as their role. Kinnan states that Veblen argues that " The wife, then, becomes a servant who is required to preform these functions, not to establish anything about her own economic strength but to assert the economic power of man." Veblen's theory constantly refers to women as having roles like this which is opposite of the role of women that Edna portrays.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Edna Rejecting Veblen

After analyzing Veblen's thoughts about the leisure class and what women "should" be doing, I immediately thought that Edna defies nearly everything he says. Unlike Veblen's theory, Edna feels little to no attachment to her children or her husband. She takes her time to do meaningful things that benefit her self growth. She feels no obligation to make sure other people are comfortable, as Veblen said many women do. Although some people in class initially rejected Edna, I admire her. It takes a special person to actively live life for herself and only for herself. Edna is the epitome of "only worry about yourself."

Although Edna took her growth and awakening extremely seriously I think people can learn from both her and Veblen. From Edna, people can learn that gender roles and stereotypes can be defied and proven wrong in magnificent ways. From Veblen, people can learn that things we may think are true today will probably end up changing in the future.

On a separate note, I found a music video that I think accurately summarizes some of Edna's feelings at the end of her awakening. Although the lyrics don't really connect, I think the way it was filmed (especially the beach scenes and the flashbacks) show a modern and extreme approach to what Edna was feeling back in Victorian times.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Male Ignorance

Reading Virginia Woolf's essay on Shakespeare's sister makes me appreciate who I was born as: a white male.  Specifically, it also reminded me of this Louis CK bit on being white:

As Louis says, being a white male is pretty much living life on easy mode.  While men aren't completely free of gender roles, most of the expectations for us involve being successful and creative, so it's not restricting so much as aggressively/unhealthily motivating.  While I know women are no longer forced to marry at age 16, they are still held back in many ways by societal norms, and this is something that, as a white male, I've only recently become aware of.

Honestly, I think it should be required of all men to read something like what Ms. Woolf wrote -- otherwise, we will continue walking around in ignorance.  Until we got to the feminist unit in AP American Literature last year, I was completely unaware of how poorly represented females are in American culture.  And once it was called to my attention, I finally understood why feminism is necessary.  Women have had it tough in life, and they continue to live with more constraints than there should be, and I like to think most men would agree that that's not okay.  They just might not realize the true reality of their situation.

The Perfect Woman is

I'm not very well versed in Elizabethan history. But from "Shakespeare's sister" by Virginia Woolf, I can get a semi accurate, although hypothetical, glimpse into what life would be like for a woman with Shakespeare's genius but without his opportunities as a man. She is oppressed by her parents, runs away, is oppressed by society, and ends up committing suicide.

In class, we talked about Edna's life and death and if she was a hero or not. A point that was discussed was that she might not have been a hero as she did not attempt to create political change or bring attention to her struggles and many other women's struggles with oppression.  The same could be said for "Judith"- because she didn't do anything for the greater good of women everywhere, she lived and died without having done anything of value. However, these women can still be heroes without having caused any political change. As Mr. Heidcamp said, it's a double standard. There have probably been hundreds of male characters we've read about struggling with society who have done nothing to change it, but we can still easily call them heroes. Judith died without having reached any of her probable goals. But this is not by a fault of her own character. We know as readers that she is an incredibly smart individual with the capacity to write great works of fiction as her brother did. What's truly to blame is the world she lived in; treating her like property and literally not allowing her to read or write. What could we have expected them to do? She defied her parents by running away. Edna moves into her own house. But in the end there is no way for them to escape the systems they were oppressed by enough to develop the skills or live their lives they wanted to. Not everyone was born to potentially sacrifice themselves for a small chance something would change. By holding them up to that standard we are still judging them for not being the perfect woman, even a different definition of the phrase.

Veblen vs Edna

In "Theory of the Leisure Class," Veblen explains women's subjugation as resulting from the tasks assigned to them by their gender roles.  These tasks value style over substance.  Because they're jobs result in little substance, they are seen as unimportant.  He also explains that there is a direct correlation between the importance society associates with them and the amount of money they spend.  This concept is called "conspicuous leisure."

Edna is in direct opposition to this idea.  Over the course of The Awakening, Edna defies society's gender roles.  She supports herself and refuses to take on the ordinary jobs of women.  An example of this is her refusing to see male callers on Tuesdays.  Overall, this defiance is an important characteristic of this boldly feminist text.

It's Difficult to Admit the Truth

In times that seem so progressive, such as 2014, admitting that horrible distinctions existed (and continue to exist) in the world is a brave feat. We all know that women couldn’t own property for many years; we all know they did not attain the right to vote until the 1920s. We think our society is near perfect and that everything is okay because we’re equal in the political sense. But it’s still hard to admit the truth about the long-prevailing societal labels placed upon our ancestors and even, to some extent, ourselves.

In the passage “Shakespeare’s Sister,” Virginia Woolf describes what a female literary genius in the Elizabethan era would look like. One key thing that Woolf mentions keeps her from becoming a renowned author is that she is “the property of her husband.” Also, she mentions that her family places great pressure upon her to conform to the societal roles as a mother and caretaker for her husband, thus giving her no freedom to write without being ridiculed or punished.

This hypothetical situation may seem extreme to us now (Women as property? Excuse me?), but when we look deeper into the phenomenon, we must hold our noses and admit that this situation was a true one. In Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, written in 1899, a husband, Leonce, is mentioned as looking at his wife Edna in the same way that one looks at “a valuable piece of property which has suffered some damage.” Although the author’s reference is metaphorical, it reveals an ugly truth about society’s progression.

Women achieved the right to own property, they attained suffrage rights, they advocated for the passage of Title IX, we’ve gone through multiple waves of feminism, but the view of women as property, although diminishing in obviousness, continues to remain, woven deeply into the constructs of society. We won’t admit it, though. We won’t admit that women were viewed as property back then, and we won’t admit that the view continues to exist in a less-obvious manner in the world today. Why do we still use the term “trophy wife?” If we seek to find an answer to the question, we may be forced to admit the truth. This awful view of women has not gone away, and without tremendous effort, it never will. :(

Thursday, November 6, 2014

the more time wasted on it, the prettier it is

Veblen provokes the idea that women during his time (and he most likely would have assumed during today's era as well) were designated to the "conspicuous leisure" that shackled women to the domestic role of mother and wife.

He argues that the leisures of the wife/mother apart from her typical household duties include, but are not limited to, decorating for the holidays, and are primarily for the appeal of anyone other than herself. Veblen describes the domestic female's appearance (based on socially-imposed standards, of course) are more specifically directed towards her husband's tastes. 

Veblen goes on to talk about what women do and don't do for the sake of their husbands and of society, however I was intrigued by was his assertion that the standards of beauty for which women base their homes and appearances and such on were only viewed as beauteous because they were considered to be conspicuously wasteful. In other words (or rather how I translated it), consumer-based standards of beauty that women typically spend much time doting over are merely objectified as attractive because we understand that the woman spent (or rather wasted) much of her time attending to such artifacts in order to please her audience. 

This is what Edna longed to escape. The duty of constantly attending to her children and husband and household while simultaneously worrying what a shallow community of conformists thought about her appearance as a mother, wife, and overall woman exhausted Edna. She was able to recognize the manifest illogic of such a lifestyle. 

While Edna's suicide can be argued as either a tragedy to represent her failures or as her triumph to break the convention of Victorian womanhood (or both I guess), it is undeniable that her attempts to liberate herself from the bindings of gender-based conformity are at least admirable given the context of her environment.

Daily Parties and Dirty Dishes

In Veblen's "Theory of the Leisure Class," it is suggested that beauty and pleasing surroundings are only created by the extravagant spending of money and time. Any actions that are not contributed towards this wasteful cause are pushed aside for a greater and more noticeable action. Veblen uses the comparison between washing the dishes and putting up fancy holiday decorations. The latter wold get greater attention and praise from others while clean dishes are expected to be present and received without much thought. In history, dish cleaning was done by women, so their action and role in life was lessened in importance. Veblen also brings up that female beauty in earlier times was found in strength and robustness, while at the turn of the century, gauged by delicateness and facial appeals. The major point brought up by Veblen was that a family's reputation was dependent on the expenditures of time and money to give off the impression that it is not needed. So while the man is working towards spending these things for his reputation, the woman is in charge of maintaining life away from the giant glass window.

This article by Veblen interestingly intertwines with how Edna is received by both her husband and the people around her. Edna spends most of her time with friends and lovers lounging whilst listening to music or chatting with others. Her daily interactions with others give off the impression that she is extremely appealing and that her money does what she isn't doing. But some things that people may expect Edna to be doing, such as watching her children or washing dishes is dispersed to servants. The fact that Edna almost ignores this private living standard that Veblen suggests drives Leonce crazy and away from her. The beauty that is seen in Edna almost immediately disappears when she is alone in a smaller house without her husband and children. The sense of leisure and wealth dissipates when she is forced to do more work on her own. This shows that the opinion made by others is dependent on what you show, not what you have.


Veblen argues that activities that don't produce a consumer good, which are supposedly vital to our existence as humans, are wasteful and done by women. Cleaning, for example. Women participate in this wasteful activities and therefore are valued less than men. However men, who stereotypically work and bring home an income, are the true, valued member of society.

In response to The Awakening, Veblen's ideology fits in some places but is also broken in several others. Edna at the beginning would most likely fall more under his "useless" category, because she is staying home and doing nothing while her husband is away in the city working. However, Edna breaks free of being "useless" and begins working- painting, etc. She begins to get "value".

In any circumstance, Veblen is just being rude. "Cleanliness is close to godliness", is the only remotely religious thing that has been presented to me in my life- by my father. Would Veblen follow his own theory if he encountered a stay-at-home-dad? While both of my parents work and produce these "consumer goods", neither of them are valued as worth more or less than each other or any other person.

These "consumer goods" are also not the center of our society- we as a species have lived without them before and we can live without them again.

Chopin: A Successful Shakespeare's Sister

Virginia Woolf argues in "Shakespeare's Sister," that there are no examples of women's literature and art during Shakespeare's time because women were denied opportunities that were given to men of the time. "Shakespeare's sister", which Woolf names Judith, would have been brought up in the same household as Shakespeare and was described as "as adventurous, as imaginative, as agog to see the world as he was." They would have been the same except for the fact that she was a girl. If she picked up a book her parents would come in and tell her to "mend the stockings or mind the stew." She would have been taught traditional "women's" tasks and denied the opportunities her brother was given. People would not take her as seriously and she ends up dead at a young age. Her tragic life would be a result of a denial of opportunities because of the idea that girls are not worth teaching.

As if this idea is not shocking enough, Woolf also brings to attention that fact that little is known about women of the time anyway. Woolf says that when looking for information about women and their positions in Professors Trevelyan's History of England it led to pages about "Wife-beating" and that it " was a recognized right of man." This is the only type of information about women before the eighteenth century because history was written by the men of time. While denial of educating women prevented women from creating art like Shakespeare but it also prevented more historical information about women from being shared.

The Awakening is a perfect example of how educated women contribute to both art and society. Although Chopin wrote her book long after Shakespeare's time,  her novel is a work of art as much as Shakespeare's plays are. Her novel also provides a look at life in the past and the traditional role of women then. Chopin and her novel are an example of what Shakespeare's sister could have been given equal opportunities and a different time period.

Mozart's Sister

In A Room of One's Own, Virginia Woolf hypothesizes about the theoretical life of Shakespeare's sister, Judith, and comes to the conclusion that "any woman born with a great gift in the sixteenth century would certainly have gone crazed, shot herself, or ended her days in some lonely cottage outside the village." This statement corresponds with the ending of Kate Chopin's The Awakening, in which Edna, condemned by society for freely pursuing love and individuality, commits suicide. Woolf and Chopin use the disturbing fates of Judith and Edna to expose society's oppression of women. However, I think it's more powerful to view Judith and Edna as extremes of universal female suffering.

As I read Woolf's analysis of Shakespeare's hypothetical sister, I immediately thought of Maria Anna (Marianne) Mozart, the sister of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. In contrast to Judith, Marianne was unlike most women of her time because her father was a renowned composer. As a result, she received a high level of musical training like her brother and is believed to have written several compositions. However, whereas Wolfgang had the opportunity to travel and gain recognition for his music, Marianne had to stay home and enter an arranged marriage. Woolf's conclusion suggests that an exceptionally talented woman like Marianne would have gone mad or committed suicide. However, despite her sure frustration and resentment of her brother, Marianne lived a seemingly content life and found happiness in contributing to her brother's biographies at the end of her life.

My point is that, while Judith's implied fate and Edna's death are powerful, I think the most poignant part of Woolf's analysis is when she states that Judith "lives in you and in me, and in many other women who are not here tonight, for they are washing up the dishes and putting the children to bed." Judith has an exceptional talent and Edna meets an exceptionally dark fate. However, more common are the women, perhaps with exceptional but undiscovered talents, who conform to gender roles as Marianne did and live a life riddled with frustration.

Escape from New Orleans

In Veblen's "Theory of the Leisure Class" he describes the concept of "conspicuous leisure". This is a form of non-productive time consumption, usually performed by women in upper middle class or upper class families, used to demonstrate station or wealth. These activities by definition produce nothing of actual value, but the results are more of a status symbol to show that one is afforded the opportunity to expend or "waste" money, resources and time in a somewhat senseless manor. Such activities may include setting up holiday decorations, edging a lawn, cleaning a house beyond what is necessary, activities that are visually pleasing but serve no practical function. This "conspicuous leisure" is often performed by servants. Activities that do serve a purpose such as washing clothes are not "conspicuous leisure".

In "The Awakening" Edna both fights against "conspicuous leisure" and succumbs to it. Previously Edna had spent every Tuesday at home, dressing "lavishly" and entertaining house guests. However she abandons this tradition instead preferring to pursue her own interests. Later when Leonce suggests that they go and buy new fixtures for their home Edna objects and says that they already live lavishly enough, so she blows him off and works on her art and then visits Adele. Edna eventually abandons the large house altogether, moving into the "pigeon house" which is small and unadorned. Whether conscious or not Edna is resisting the idea of "conspicuous leisure"  as it is but another constraint upon her that limits who she is, preventing her from defining her own identity. Edna however is not entirely able to escape from the "conspicuous leisure", as even after she moves into the "pigeon house" she still keeps servants. This shows just how deeply engraved "conspicuous leisure" is in society.

How would Veblen react to Edna's choices?

Veblen's excerpt, "Theory of the Leisure Class" discusses the evolution of the leisure class and consumption. Specifically, how both these concepts are social constructs. For instance, Veblen talks about how many social standards are unnecessary time consumers. However, the reason people partake in these tasks is to prove their wealth or social standing. Most of what people do today is show off their possessions, their success, and why they are better than everyone else. People seem to be trying to out show each other every chance they get. In Kinnan's summary of Veblen's work, Kinnan says that, "Veblen notes that as one descends the economic scale one has less and less ability to display wastefulness of time, money , and resources, but he says that poor people will nonetheless do what they can, because this is how the family's or person's reputability is established." Even though poor people don't have the money to waste time with unnecessary "necessities", they will still be doing everything they can to get to the point where they can show off their property. This is similar to when the fatter you were the more wealthy you seemed because you could afford food unlike day laborers who ate but also worked off all of the fat. Back then, rich people would try to eat more so that their social status would increase because people would believe they are richer. Veblen also makes a good point when he talks about the requirements women are subjected to (either consciously or unconsciously). Even though it is more uncomfortable to dress nicely and wear high heels or put on make-up (another time-waster) women will do it anyways. It also mentions how women are another object to be shown off as property to increase their social standing. A great example of women's oppression and their fight to break social constructs is Kate Chopin's novel, "The Awakening".

In the story, Edna, the protagonist,  is feeling oppressed by society, her husband, and even her children. Edna's husband has never thought of Edna as a typical "mother-woman" or a woman who "idolized their children" and "worshiped their husbands". Throughout the story, Edna seems to be struggling finding her way. Even though Edna has been feeling this way for quite some time it isn't until Robert enters her life that she actually starts to feel rebellious. Robert is what allows her to break free from her restraints. However, he is also one of the reasons for her demise. At the end of the novel, Edna commits suicide because she never felt understood.

Edna vs. Conspicuous Leisure

In Thorstein Veblen’s Theory of the Leisure Class, he discusses the two types of economic concepts: conspicuous leisure and conspicuous consumption. Conspicuous leisure revolves around activities that supposedly don’t produce anything with actual value, such as washing dishes or sweeping the floor. He lists this type of social practice as “non-productive”, and associates it with women. Men, on the other hand, fall under the conspicuous consumption category. They must go out and work to provide for the family, and therefore can’t take part in any form of conspicuous leisure.

Edna and her husband in Kate Chopin’s The Awakening are perfect examples of these economic concepts. While Mr. Pontellier is away for business, Edna is left alone with the children. When she attempts to move into a new home (the “pigeon house”), Mr. Pontellier announces that they are re-modeling their home as an attempt cover up Edna’s rebellious actions. This goes back to Veblen’s argument, and supports his idea that a woman participating in “consumption” (such as Edna switching houses) is “taboo”. In addition, they are part of the middle/upper-middle class, which is where this “phenomenon” occurs most.

What I Would Give To Be A Part Of The Leisure Class

Contradictory to the title I would not like to be a part of the "Leisure Class." The Leisure Class is term coined by Thorstein Veblen in his Theory of the Leisure Class. The leisure class is a high society class that does not do much other then sit around and show off their wealth. Veblen focuses on women's contributions to the leisure class.

Veblen developed the concepts of conspicuous leisure and conspicuous consumption to describe a high class of people.Conspicuous leisure is defined as non-productive consumption of time. Conspicuous consumption is defined as spending money because you have it and you can show it off.  These people had enough money that the woman's role was to partake in conspicuous leisure and the family engaged in conspicuous consumption basically because they could.

This article ties in  The Awakening by Kate Chopin through the books main character Edna and her husband Leonce. Leonce loves to live extravagantly and always keeps up with the latest fashion. Conspicuous leisure is evident in the way that the Pontelliers spend their summers. They go to an expensive resort like place on an island in the gulf of Mexico.

In many instances Leonce goes off to work and leaves Edna to sit around and waste time. Later in the novel when Edna starts her awakening she starts to depart from the normal behaviors. She refuses Leonce's offer to go purchase new fixtures, and down grades to a smaller (but still prominent) house.

With Edna's sexual and gender awakening we start to see a sort of economic awakening as well. Edna develops her own income and starts to attempt to provide for herself rather then partake in conspicuous leisure.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

One Must Stand Before One Can Fly

"He who would learn to fly one day must first learn to stand and walk and run and climb and dance; one cannot fly into flying" - Friedrich Nietzsche

Woolf supports the argument made in the previous quote through her postulation of Shakespeare's sister's lifestyle. She states that although others credit women's inability to write works of a comparable caliber to those of W. Shakespeare as their intrinsic lack of intelligence to do such, she believes it was rather due to a lack of access to education offered to women. The issue this poses is that if women never had access, who is to say that they wouldn't have contributed great works of literature had they been recruited to write or read? Or quantify? Or calculate?

As Nietzsche declares, 'one cannot fly into flying'. There must be basis for the growth of an individual and the issue in the 19th century was many women were avoided the opportunity to go to school, at least past grade school. Thus, women in general lacked the ability to, for the sake of the metaphor, "stand" alone for they had never been pushed to do so. I think Nietzche's statement also nicely ties into The Awakening based on the bird motif and Edna's identification with them throughout the novel. We see Edna watching the birds flutter into the distance, seemingly effortless, and understand her feeling of confinement as she remains in the same position. Nietzche's theme is also overwhelming present in the novel as we read about Edna's internal struggles to fully break gender conventions after she "awakens" and realizes the absurdity of gender roles.

Not only does Woolf and Nietzsche's argument play a role in our novel, but it is also applicable to daily happenings in the world. Namely, girls' education. In developing countries around the world, limited women are provided the opportunity to seek an education comparable to that of their male counterparts. In fact, some countries directly condemn the education of women. Terrorist groups, like Boko Haram, target women who pursue an education. And their argument prevails "Women are naturally not as intelligent, so why seek an education? They will only hinder our community by becoming educated because they will not be taking care of our children.

The issue at hand is this statement has been declared from a bias point of view in which women cannot achieve the basis of education in order to prove their importance as educated individuals in the community. Without leveling the playing field, we will continue to discredit the oppressed races, gender, ethnicities, and /or identifications of self. Genius doesn't come by itself; it is bred and later inspired by others. It is an achievement of oneself through the help of others.

Worthless but Necessary

Mary Wollstonecraft brings forth ideas from many different scholars.  For example she states that, “Rousseau declares that a woman should never, for a moment, feel herself independent, that she should be governed by fear to exercise her natural cunning, and made a coquettish slave in order to render her a more alluring object of desire, a sweeter companion to man, whenever he chooses to relax himself.” (pg. 7).  This quote reminds me of Edna in the novel The Awakening.  In fact, Edna chooses to do the opposite of what Rousseau believes.  Edna in the end of the novel refuses to go on a trip with her husband, picks her own love that she is truly passionate about, and moves into her own home that she pays for with her own money.  
Also Wollstonecraft says, “Connected with man as daughters, wives, and mothers, their moral character may be estimated by their manner of fulfilling those simple duties; but the end, the grand end of their exertions should be to unfold their own faculties and acquire the dignity of conscious virtue.” (pg. 8). This quote reminds of a concept that Thorstein Veblen discusses.  When Wollstonecraft talks about the duties of women I think that Veblen elaborates on what these duties are stereotypically supposed to be.  Veblen says, “In the earlier phases of the predatory culture the only economic differentiation is a broad distinction between an honourable superior class made up of the able- bodied men on the one side, and a base inferior class of labouring women on the other.”(pg. 32).  Men are superior while the women work because of their inferiority.  
Veblen also elaborates on the work that women achieve.  Veblen states, “Unproductive consumption of goods is honorable, primarily as a mark of prowess and a perquisite of human dignity; secondarily it becomes substantially honourable in itself, especially the consumption of the more desirable things.”(pg. 31) This quote explains how it is honourable to appear to be wealthy and superior and the way to achieve this is in the tasks that women complete.  Women elaborately decorate the interiors of their homes, they change the landscape of their homes to edged lawns, and they fill their kitchens with fancy appliances.  All of these are worthless and provide no practical purpose, however, they demonstrate wealth and help to build their husband’s image.  
This is similar to Edna and Leonce’s martial relationship in The Awakening.  When Edna decides to move out to the pigeon house Leonce doesn’t want society to think that he isn’t wealthy enough to provide for her so he says that he is redoing his house because according to society having a nice and decadent household with impractical belongings portrays you as wealthy.  

Shakespeare's sister shall live

In the excerpt from A Room of One's Own, by Virginia Woolf explains that, yes Shakespeare had a sister, but there is no way that she could have came up with any pieces of literature that her brother could have came up with. Woolf makes it very clear that it is not her lack of ability to write because she is a girl, but rather she was born into a time period that oppressed women and wouldn't let them do activities such as write.

Throughout the entire passage, the one line that popped out at me and got my mental juices flowing was in the final paragraph where Woolf writes, "Now my belief is that this poet [Shakespeare's sister] who never wrote a word and was buried at the crossroads still lives. She lives in you and in me, and in many other women who are not here tonight, for they are washing up the dishes and putting the children to bed" (Woolf 39). Usually people are remembered because of what they said, not what they didn't say. His sister is remembered because she wasn't able to write, she wasn't able to express herself. She serves as a reminder of what happens when you oppress women. If Shakespeare and his sister lived in a different time period, we would be studying two Shakespeare's instead of one.

Cats Do Not Go To Heaven

I'm not a cat person. I struggle to be, but I still view them as docile vessels of Satan much of the time.

But they do have souls. And regardless of afterlife beliefs, or whether or not cats have a heaven of their own to even go to, the assumption that they are undeserving of, or are not beings enough to have, what many view as a God-given privilege, is unfair and ludicrous. Given opportunity, why would they not?

Virginia Woolf, in her feminist critique "Shakespeare's Sister," mentions an old, now dead, bishop who openly declared that women could not write works like Shakespeare; he also declared that cats cannot go to heaven. At the time of Shakespeare, Woolf argues, it was true that a woman could not have written the works of Shakespeare, but not because they were unable in talent or lacking in ideas; it was because society did not allow it.

Through the fictitious example of Shakespeare's sister, Woolf demonstrates how society prevented women from gaining the equal opportunities as men to educate themselves or realize their dreams. She explains that "[Shakespeare's sister] picked up a book now and then, one of her brother's perhaps, and read a few pages. But then her parents came in and told her to mend the stockings or mind the stew and not moon about with books and papers." Women may have had the identical baseline as men, but due to the role they were supposed to play in society, they were kept from realizing any potential. Shakespeare's sister, an idea that seems like it could have so much promise if implemented, would in reality have ended in no different result than the usual Hamlet and King Lear we have now due to the destructive nature of society to women at the time.

It's as if the cats, with the same soulful capabilities as anyone who would be let into whatever pearly gates awaited, would be rejected at the door, or distracted endlessly from the path merely because they are cats and they are not viewed as worthy of being let in. They're arbitrarily serving a different role: random animal companion (or furry antagonist) until they die and disappear from existence and importance.

The women of Shakespeare's time suffered the same fate. It seems ridiculous to equate women to cats, and I certainly believe women deserve more equality than cats by a long-shot, but it was and to some extent still is the reality. I can't speak for the cats, but I can say that Woolf's relation of cats to women really does reveal the ignorance involved with gender roles. Why is saying cats can't go to heaven even necessary? Why is saying women would have been unable to write the works of Shakespeare, if society had let them, any less delusional?

Much of the time assumptions are made incorrectly, and from those assumptions stem societal behaviors that, much like a self-fulfilling prophecy, force the assumption into accuracy. Woolf presents the ignorance of assumptions, and their dangerous effects on society as well as the consequent effects of society on the people living in it. In contemporary life, things have changed to an extent, but there are still far too many assumptions and  societal behaviors that inhibit the truth and eliminate the beneficial talent that should blossom every second.

I'm sure there are many cat people out there who would like to have them in heaven to pet and love, so why prevent them from getting there by asserting that they can't? Shakespeare's sister could have had many wonderful works to offer, so in the future we should stop preventing the realization of feminine talent merely because we choose to say it isn't possible. Say, "they can, why not?" instead of "they can't, because they can't." And say it to everyone. Maybe even the cats.

Although I'm still not a cat person.

How the 'Leisure Class' lives is New Orleans

Veblen's The Theory of the Leisure Class is a socio-economic treatise on the ramifications of ancient class distinctions on the society of today. Veblen critiques high-class 'Conspicuous Consumption,' and  proposes that the lower and middle class support society as a whole. In short, Veblen says that economic choice is driven by the remnants of social class, not by utility.

Chopin's The Awakening ties in with Veblen's theory. The novel is founded upon the premise that the high class must not work for their quality of life. Edna, the main character, finds herself married into extreme wealth, to the point that she doesn't know what to do with her time. The novel's rich attention to detail shows the characters' attention to detail; they need not be concerned with the big picture because they have it laid out for them by the lower classes.

Veblen further postulates that the leisure class maintains control of the lower castes by withholding useful tools from them. In the past, an example would be tribe warriors withholding the secrets of forging weapons from the general tribe population. In The Awakening, this connection is actually not strongly developed, but there are a few hints at high-class propriety: connections to the doctor and having maids, servants, and men from lower classes who fawn over Edna.

Is sum, Veblen's 'Conspicuous Consumption' theory is exemplified by the novel's slow pace, the nonchalant lifestyle of the rich, and the rich attention to detail. Chopin's work does not strongly highlight Veblen's other theses about contemporary distinctions between classes.