Wednesday, April 22, 2009
Lady Fairfax represents a cross between the two, as she is still very high socially, but does not hold nearly as much disdain for the “simpler” way of life. While she does chastise Cicily for being an unsophisticated woman, it should be noted that she does this under the impression of infidelity. Furthermore, her parallel to Cicily (in terms of mannerisms, world view, and dialogue), displays that society does not determine the quality of person. Ironically, the two both write in diaries and are incredibly vain, further demonstrating the similarities that both classes have.
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
Clearly, Brokeback Mountain has much to contribute to the culture of homosexuality and – more broadly – the culture of acceptance and normality. Both Jack Twist and Ennis Del Mar struggle with their sexuality in a homophobic society. This innate cultural fear of men living and loving together is one of the most important ideas in the film. Although both characters are searching for happiness with each other, Ennis makes it clear that they cannot live together because of their society’s obvious homophobia and heterosexism. This is realized when Jack is brutally beaten to death after he begins a life with another man. He cannot bring himself to conform to the “western” concept of normality and he dies as a result.
Ennis, on the other hand, is clearly more conditioned by the heterosexual culture. Both characters act in heterosexual ways: they marry and have children as dictated by the dominant idea of normality. However, Ennis (traumatized by the scene of hate and death he witnessed as a child) has internalized a sense of homophobia despite his own homosexuality. It is clear that he has a harder time coming to embrace his love for Jack because of the societal constructs and his life experiences.
Brokeback Mountain represents the deconstruction of normality. In this place, Ennis and Jack are free of the homophobia and heterosexism that dominates their “other” existences.
Watching the movie again, it became clearer the gender roles that are depicted. As society forces many couples to adhere to the provider and caretaker roles. This was not different on the mountain. One man was the housekeeper--typically understood as the female role—and the other man was the working man—typically understood as the male role. So what were the directors trying to relay to us the audience? Could it be that these two men don’t have the common discrepancies the populace assumes? Or, could it be that these two men develop a love, which spawns to homosexuality?
It’s tough to say exactly. Remembering back to my first idea of what the movie was trying to convey. Back then, I thought the movie was a story of two heterosexual men, with a love that was hard to contain. It was difficult for me to grasp homosexuality at the time; it may have been because at the time I wasn’t familiar with that life style. Having immersed myself in the real world, I now have homosexual friends that have taught me about their lifestyle. With the combination of maturity and exposure, the movie Brokeback Mountain has changed what I initially thought about it.
There are many more things about the movie that deserve consideration, however, as a result of time, they don’t get the limelight. Watching the movie from a specific approach truly changes what subtleties you pick up on.
His relationship with his wife becomes strained due to her knowledge of the infidelity. She becomes distressed, tries to get him to notice her, and denies him sex. Jack, on the other hand, makes as many mad dashes to him as possible, at one point stating, “I couldn’t get here fast enough,” demonstrating his compulsive need for Ennis’ company. These two are beyond friends; they are obviously star-crossed lovers. Throughout each of their trips, Jack mentions how he would like to get a farm with Ennis, and live out the rest of their days together. With this, he is attempting to take their relationship to the next level, a commitment Ennis is terribly afraid of. He (Ennis) has taken a more masculine role than his counterpart’s; he fears a long-term relationship, gets angered at the prospect of infidelity, and has dominated Jack sexually since the beginning. Their relationship is in every way the same as a “normal” one (save for society’s negative viewing), as they have problems both emotional and physical. In a twist of irony, Jack begins an outside affair, leaving Ennis as jealous as his wife was. This proves that every form of love suffers the same, no matter who is involved.
Monday, April 13, 2009
I believe the writers of the film were attacking the popular view of what is "normal," which in this case is the heterosexual lifestyle. They are trying to show cases in which what is "normal" is not necessarily what is normal. Even though the two cowboys planned on a temporary arrangement on Brokeback Mountain and went on leading "normal lives," they really wanted to be with eachother. It seemed that Brokeback was more of a home to them than their actual homes. A place where they could act on their true desires, and pretend to be "normal." The characters showed distain for this type of lifestyle, but Ennis would not allow it to change. The lives of both cowboys seemed to be unhappy and unfulfilled apart from eachother; one ending in a violent death. Through this critique of what is "normal," I think the filmwriters hoped to increase understanding and tolerance of homosexual relationships, and how they translate in the real world. Through the negative portrayal of the hidden nature of their relationship, I believe the film makers are calling for change, in the form of understanding and tolerance of homosexuality and homosexual relationships.
While watching Brokeback Mountain, I noticed that the film took great efforts to never explicitly state what is was that was keeping Jack and Ennis apart. The characters refer to their wives, kids, and jobs most often, but they never actually say, specifically, that is society, particularly Western American culture that is keeping the two men from being with each other. It’s interesting that director Ang Lee and the screenwriters chose to omit this obvious detail, but perhaps they did so because it was so expected. (One thing that this movie avoided, it was cliché.) The makers of the film knew that Brokeback Mountain would evoke a response from its viewers, viewers who exist in the very culture that makes happy lives for Jack and Ennis’ impossible.
One scene in particular shows that not only are Jack and Ennis oppressed by the culture in which they live, they are also a product of that culture. “I ain’t no queer,” Ennis says, and Jack responds, “Me, neither.” Although there is unintended truth in Ennis’ use of double negative, this exchange of self-denial is apparent to the viewer. Hall mentions in his book, “Homosexuals certainly can act in a heterosexist manner because of their social training and perceptions of audience expectations” (Hall 241). One can see the resistance to the expression of desire for a member of the same sex in Heath Ledger’s powerful depiction of Ennis. In the first scene portraying Jack and Ennis’ sexual encounter, Ennis (Ledger’s character) first shoves Jack away, then the viewer sees the resistance evolve into a strange sort of combination of desire and a struggle to accept that desire. While the scene was difficult for me to watch, as I’m certain it was for many of the Midwesterners who saw the film, it is integral to understanding the protagonists’ psyches. The two lead male characters don’t see themselves as the social pariahs, or “deviants” that their culture makes them out to be, so, in a very sincere way, they are not “queer.” They are simply what they are, and, to them, it could not be any more natural. At the same time, however, their internalization of homophobia that causes them to marry, have kids, get jobs, and do exactly what is expected of them, socially. Ang Lee’s film takes place in 1963, but the message is for a contemporary audience. It is not a message that blames its audience for its characters’ suffering, but the film does ask its audience to confront its own values on the topic of homosexuality.
Tuesday, April 7, 2009
For rather than focusing his well-meaning efforts on everyone in society, all of his efforts were geared toward men, and men only. To jump on the scene that Scott brought up last in his argument, there’s a point in the film where Tyler says, “We’re a generation of men raised by women. I’m wondering if another woman is really the answer we need.” That quote gets right at it. In his view, true men should have very little to do with the influences of women.
Those men in the movie outside of Tyler’s fight club are pictured as wimpy, drab, effeminate boys working uninspiring jobs and leading all-around meaningless lives. I think of the main character’s boss, or the main character’s catalogue-decorated apartment. This portrayal conveys the message that maleness should have nothing to do with femininity; that masculinity is altogether different in purpose than femininity; and that men chasing un-male pursuits are effectively wasting their lives.
Bob, for example, is first introduced to the audience as a blubbering, big-breasted bambi whose manhood has been eliminated by his testicular cancer. He spends his nights crying about the man he used to be. That is, until he is radically transformed by Tyler Durden’s new definition of a man, as someone who uses his life, even in dying, to pursue a cause worthy of his calling as a man. Even without his male parts Bob is able to die a man.
A feminist, however, would with good reason be appalled at Tyler Durden’s version of a “man”. The only relations Tyler has with women are sexual. Marla’s terrible emotional state doesn’t concern him at all. Although she could definitely use his self-improvement practices just as much as anyone else, she’s disposable sex property. It’s only at the movie’s end, when Tyler Durden and his “men” are done away with, that Marla’s other female qualities are accepted by the masculine. When the main character holds her hand and really means it, we see him understanding the bigger picture of his role as a man. Men actually can benefit from relationships with women. It's a novelty of which Tyler Durden was apparently unaware.
The main character gained a lot from Tyler- an identity and an insight into what makes up life-, but from this crazy, ultra-man alter-ego he could never gain an accurate understanding of what a full man really looks like.
In Gardiner’s essay she writes “In the classroom, the feminist aim of disempowering dominant masculinity can clash with the aims of students who, hearing about the current “crisis” in masculinity, want to find a cure for this crisis, if not a way to reempower men.” I believe that this film is a response to this masculinity crisis in America. As men are asked today by society to talk about their feelings, cry for loved ones, and listen to their wives problems, this film shows men how to act on instinct, take power back from their bosses, and literally fight for everything they want.
The character in which I see most clearly the reempowering of men most clearly is that of Bob, the testicular cancer survivor. We first meet Bob when he is in a true crisis of his masculinity at a Remaining Men Together meeting for testicular cancer patients to support one another. Bob had once been a traditional man. He was a bodybuilder, taking steroids to grow as powerful as he could. However, since his bout with testicular cancer, he has become a symbol of the alternative masculinity Gardiner talks about. He literally is no longer a whole man, having only one testicle. He also exhibits truly feminine characteristics, including his “bitch tits” and his need to cry. He says, he is now “bankrupt, divorced, my own two kids don’t even return my calls.” He has lost his position as a husband, father, and provider.
Through the Fight Club, though, he is able to fight back for his role as the traditional masculine figure. He becomes one of the “boys” again. After his death, he is not remembered at all by the members of the fight club as the alternative masculine figure we had seen him as before. His change back to the traditional masculine figure is etched in the history of the fight club as they chant his name loudly and savagely: “His name was Robert Paulson. His name was Robert Paulson.”
However, my most recent viewing of the film has given me the opportunity to understand the issues in a much more developed way. While the validity of the male perspective should not be understated, watching Fight Club from a feminist stance has deconstructed my own views of virility and opened me up to new ways of understanding the film.
While almost every scene of the movie deals with what it means to be a man in American culture, I would like to focus on one of the early scenes in the film in which the narrator loses all semblance of his former life. After a massive explosion destroys Edward Norton’s apartment, he becomes lost – without the material possessions that he has allowed to define his existence, the narrator turns to a fictitious character that symbolizes virility to the extreme. Enter Tyler Durden.
The dialogue that takes place between these two characters is some of the most direct language about masculinity in the entire film. At one point, Tyler tells the narrator of his vision of man: “We are products of a lifestyle obsession…Let’s evolve; let the chips fall where they may.” While this philosophy is new and appealing for a man dealing with loss, a feminist would surely question the validity of this form of masculinity. Is fighting – physical pain, both inflicted upon others and upon the self – what should really define masculinity? How is this sort of masculinity valuable to a society? The answer is clear: Project Mayhem is a destructive entity that puts man on level of animals, literally struggling and fighting for existence. In the words of Sally Robinson, this sort of virility represents an alternative view, but it still holds strongly to the traditional view that men are cold and “unnurturing.”
As a final thought, I find Robinson’s idea of masculinity as a category very fitting for this film. Edward Norton’s character, as an individual, “never easily measures up to an impossible standard of true masculinity.” That is left to the alter-ego, Tyler Durden. Still, as categorized by Project Mayhem, masculinity (albeit extreme in the Fight Club example) grows by reproducing itself throughout American cities – as if all men are looking for a new way to define themselves as true men.
So what does this have to do with defining masculinity and whether or not that oppresses men and women? There are many scenes that one can look at to find an answer to this question, but what I want to focus on is the speech Tyler gives to Fight Club before the owner of the bar comes and disrupts the club (chapter titled The Middle Children of History). During this scene Tyler discusses the potential and squander of the men club's attendants, how advertising drives the motivation of men, how this generation's great depression is their lives, how they will never become movie or rock stars, and how this pisses them off. This speech is accepted with nods from the crowd. What Tyler, and one of the messages of Fight Club, seem to be doing is claiming that for these men to function and be happy in society, they need to take matters into their own hands by "fighting the man." An example of this is given when immediately following Tyler's speech, he takes a beating from the bar owner than spits his blood all over the bar owner's face. This is symbolic on so many levels. By fighting against authority and creating one's own authority through violence. Fight Club literally oppresses authority and what people perceive as a functioning person in society by replacing this thought with violence and independence through violence. By the end, Jack's and Tyler's identities are one which would allow one to believe that part of being masculine is having a fighting edge and not taking orders without a fight. This idea is reinforced throughout the movie in other scenes besides the one just mentioned.
The first and most obvious reference to testicles is the scene in which the Narrator (hereafter Jack) goes into a meeting for victims of Testicular Cancer. The men there are sulky and sad; they all seem to be "weak" individuals due to their loss of genitals. The first character tells his sad story about wanting kids and his wife having a kid with her new husband. The movie paints the picture that because the character couldn't produce children, his wife left him for someone who could, leaving the man in his time of greatest need. He breaks down and cries, showing a more feminine trait (as defined by traditional social norms). This seems to be connected to his loss of testicles/masculinity. Jack joins this group, surrendering his theoretical testicles, and subsequently begins to cry, seeming more feminine and less virile. He also becomes addicted to support groups. This shows that by giving up the masculinity connected to the testicles, a man also cedes his independence and needs the comfort of other people. (Men typically are more independent, shunning help even when needed, like asking for directions to a destination.)
The next points show more femininity. One of the support groups that Jack attends tries to lead all the victims into a state of well-being. This is done by mentally travelling into a cave. A cave could be a representation of a vagina, and embracing this cave could be a symbol of accepting femininity; adopting a vagina instead of a pair of testicles. Marla Singer, the lead female in the film, enters into the Testicular Cancer group. She is a woman, so she had no testicles. But, by joining the group, she seems to take on a pair of testicles, and thus show more masculinity than Jack or the other victims. She smokes, often a more masculine activity. She's assertive, a masculine trait. She's daring, something that men are supposed to be. She says she has more right to go to the Testicular Cancer support group because she doesn't have "balls." When Jack retorts, she simply questions him, challenging his authority and his masculinity.
Tyler consoles Jack by telling him, "You know it could be worse. A woman could cut off your penis in your sleep and toss it out the window of a moving car." Jack passes it off saying, "Yeah, there's always that..." before going on talking about his furniture. This seems to allude to his furniture and home decor being nearly equivalent to losing one's genitals. This obsession of materialistic consumerism seems to be a disease for Jack's masculinity, robbing him of traditional masculine values. (Knowing a duvet is a blanket or comforter is robbing men of embracing their hunter-gatherer nature.) Tyler's job is a film engineer. Much like his very early appearances in the film, he specializes in the subliminal messaging. But, what the viewer witnesses is "a nice, big cock". Once again, Tyler's freedom is through his assertion of masculine genitals, and this gives him power that he enjoys.
Towards the end, there are two major references to the loss of testicles. Tyler and his men kidnap the politician and threaten to "cut his balls off" if he doesn't call off the investigation. Under the fear of losing his genitals, the politician caves in to their demands. In order to preserve his testicles/masculinity, the politician loses his virility and independence, following orders and going with the "crowd." It is slightly different when Jack, in the police station, is faced with a similar occurrence. Because of Tyler’s orders, Jack is supposed to be castrated. Faced with this fear of losing his actual testicles, Jack gains a wild-eyed bravado that allows him to reassume the aggressive and assertive roles of a man. This danger of the physical testicles seems to awaken the hypothetical or theoretical testicles. This is another close connection of the signifier to the signified that alludes to masculinity being represented by the male genitals.
Unrelated to this thesis, is the line “We’re a generation of men raised by women. I’m wondering if another woman is really the answer we need.” I like this line. It makes me feel somewhat empowered in my own life, as far as having been raised by a single mother and my older sister. I feel that oftentimes, the importance that has been placed on women in modern culture has caused men to become an undesirable position, where becoming more feminine is needed for success (Jack’s dilemma) or to be married to a woman in order to accommodate the obligated need for femininity. Is this a reversal of the male/female binary where Men are favored by the patriarchal structure of society? Yes. Here, we have Women favored, raising the men, not being oppressed by men. In fact, it’s the women that are oppressing the men in Tyler’s view. Just food for thought.
Monday, April 6, 2009
I also wanted to address the role of women within the movie. Marla is the main character and I would agree with the majority of my class that she is seen purely as a sex symbol. She is around for the sexual pleasure of the males within the film. One point I would like to make is the lack of a female presence in the actual fight clubs. When Tyler Durden points out the 8 rules of Fight Club, he never says that females are prohibited or that the fight club is strictly meant for men. It definitely would have made for a much different film if women were allowed to fight within the clubs.
It also is sexist and stereotypical toward women. It constructs an image of women that consists of sex...and that women only think about sex--they are just sex objects. Even the woman in the beginning of the film in the cancer group just wanted sex before she died.
From this perspective, I believe glorified masculinity places men as more violent, aggressive and powerful of the sexes, which following that dichotomy, it places women as the feminine sexual objects in the lower of the sexes.
In our society, we all do things that are sometimes viewed as symbolic for our true feelings, or emotions. Most of the time, FIGHTING, is viewed as a way to express physical aggression towards another, or self (not recommended). So, could fighting be a way to express your discomfort with society, and its pressures? After having seen Fight Club numerous times, I believe that the main character could be suffering from his true discomfort with society, and all of the pressures thrust upon. The main character is an educated, middle-aged, white man who is attempting to handle society’s pressures. It seems to me, that this movie utilizes fighting as a way to demonstrate violence as a have to, rather than a last case scenario. To be a masculine man, do you have to enforce your strength upon another human?
The scene, or scenes, that I would like to use are from the beginning of the movie. At the start of the movie we—the audience—see a young man who seems to hate the path his life is taking. His job seems to add unneeded pressure to his life, which we know based on how he looks physically, is the last thing he needs. From this point we are presented with another personality of the narrator, Tyler Durden. Extracting one scene, it would have to be when he fights himself outside the bar. In this scene we see a man who is in a fight, literally, against the pressures of masculinity, Tyler. He is over matched, to say the least, against these pressures to be “mainly”. The narrator’s weak, fragile, and ill looking physique is quickly overpowered by the dominant masculine image. This image develops an idea of what it means to be masculine in the terms of a character.
From this scene, the audience then begins to see this image, mold the narrator into a man that is trying to find his true masculinity. However, this journey must be kept quite so others don’t know that you’re lacking this so called, necessary trait. At the end of the movie, we see man who has been bombarded with an influx of “true” manhood, that he really doesn’t know who he is. Answering my aforementioned question, do you have to enforce your manhood upon another human to show your masculinity? No, as individuals, we must all attempt to find who we are. If this means that we lack what this movie views as masculine, then so be it. Personally, I believe that because of the enforcement of perceived masculinity, the narrator misses out on the true test of masculinity: possessing a family, raising your children, and living a life that you and only you can be proud of. Since my freshman year at Wabash, I have believed that masculinity is defined surely in the eye of the beholder, my understanding can, and will surely be different from other men and women I interact with.
Ironically exploring the issue of gender roles, Fight Club takes a concept that feminist critics have pioneered, that the male/female hierarchy oppresses women, and details the binary’s effect on men instead. The main character, who remains nameless in the film, expresses his disconnect from the rest of the world by attending support groups for diseases he does not have. In one particularly interesting scene, the movie shows a group of men who are suffering from testicular cancer. This gives the filmmakers an opportunity to subvert gender roles. The men, who fear that they are no longer men because they have had their testicles removed, exhibit traits that are commonly seen as “feminine.” This ironic behavior is played for laughs, but it seems to be saying more about how men are oppressed by society’s pressures to behave “macho.” The narrator says something along the lines of, “In my between his sweaty breasts, I felt comforted.” It is as though the narrator and many of the men at the support group need to be nurtured and feel fulfilled when they are, regardless of the sex that provides it. This could be interpreted as homoerotic, just like much of the film, but in my own interpretation of this scene, in light of the movie as a whole, I feel like the major theme is that these men who fight in the underground are looking to belong in a society where they don’t fit into the domineering male role of the male/female hierarchy. Once again, this is ironic, considering that they fight each other to escape the world where they are expected to be aggressive and dominating. It appears as though the film does reinforce the idea that men need to both be nurtured and to dominate, although the expectations of how the members of Fight Club will achieve those goals are upended, thus making for an admirable or reprehensible film, depending on one’s views.
Similarly, Marla characterizes women simply by not having genitals herself. Her role is an effectively constructed sexist view of women, and aside from sex, she only provides a parallel to the narrator. As Tyler Durden reflects on the sex they share, he states, “You, me? It doesn’t really matter to her,” which strongly suggests that she is simply servicing man’s primal desires. Furthermore, by being taken from the bus to Tyler/narrator, she is being used as an object that the herd offers to their leader. She never takes control of the narrator, and is strictly a sex object to Tyler, an idea that she never fully protests. Clearly, physical discrepancies between man and woman help define the definitions of sexuality in Fight Club.
In one of the most philosphical moments of the movie, Pitt addressed the Fight Club (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jX1OmB9a-VM) in an empassioned speech. This could be considered a thesis statement for the movie. Pitt attributes the "imasculinization" of the men in our culture to consumerism. He says that in the absence of wars or nation-wide difficulties to overcome, we have become weak (late 1990's America). Instead of toughening up and meeting the needs of our generation, we were dreaming of being rock stars, millionaires, working jobs we hate to be able to afford crap we don't need. That generation had ceased to be "Men" in the sense that they lead society, were physically tough, physically active, and violent when necessary. In another scene, Fight Club was assigned to start a fight with a random person on the street, which proved to be harder than it sounded. This is another indicator of the "weakening" or "imasculization" of men at the time in this sense of the word "men."
As far as this sense of manhood goes, which is highly stressed and glorified in the movie, you could say that the movie traps men into certain gender roles. Not all men are violent, aggressive, or brainwashable (which seemed to be another theme through the movie and Project Mayhem). But this movie glorified this sense of manhood, and took it to the extreme through excessive violence and phyical aggression towards individuals and corporations in society. The film does seem to support the idea that men tend to lean towards violence, and that they do not naturally deal with eachother in any other way. However, this could bring up the issue we talked about in class of Biological tendencies among the sexes as opposed to socialized gender roles. This movie seemed to imply that men tend to be violent with eachother, but we have been socialized against violence. "Fight Club" glorified the return to our violent primal instincts. In these ways, the film is sexist. It was also sexist in the way the girl was treated in the film. She seemed to not be referred to as much more than a sexual object for most of the film, and that was all that the characters were interested in, in each other. Even in a cancer support group and the beginning of the movie, a woman who was dying just wanted to "get laid one last time." The role of women was very sex-based throughout the movie. This is another way in which the movie may be read as sexist.
Overall, I found the movie could be easily read as sexist and patriarchal. It was restrictive in the gender roles of both men and women.
Tuesday, March 31, 2009
The character that was more of a hero in my reading was Eva. I felt empowered by her ability to judge good from evil, such as with her son’s drug problem. Her ability of a surrogate mother to the deweys and drunken Tar Baby also gained my respect. Although we never find out what happened truly to her leg, I had hope after reading that it was some noble and honest loss. Finally, when she calls Nel out on Sula and her accidental murder of the child in the water, I felt somewhat relieved that someone had questioned about the scene. To think of Eva all alone in a dormitory type room broke my heart.
In the storyline itself Sula is a problematic character. At her death no one cares but one, and leading up to her death no one, including that one (Nel), even likes her. In fact, Nel is the only member of her entire community who even cares enough to emotionally attend her funeral. Sula likes no one but herself, and herself she worships as an ultimate God. In her community, even in her dearest friend, she excites no love, only deep disregard. In the world in which Sula lives, then, she is far from being anything heroic.
Sula is equally as problematic in feminist reading analysis. For despite all of these negative personal and social qualities, she is utterly exemplar- to a major extreme- of a hero of the womenfolk everywhere. She is a character of intense personality- strong, hot-headed, and head-strong. She refuses to be anything but herself. Social norms she throws away, including- and especially- the social norm of womanhood. In this sense she represents a feminist hero, a true champion of full womanhood.
But it takes a full reading to accept this view. Before the tale's end, at which Nel finally realizes how socially transcendent and freeing Sula's strong female personality is, the reader can only see how foreign her extreme feminist personality is. Her womanhood proves to be more villianous than heroic. Rather than being socially freeing, it is in fact socially desctructive, a wrecking ball to community, family, and friends. But in light of Nel's final realization, Sula's impact forces a new perspective. For by it Nel is, for the first time in her life, effectively freed from the constraints of womanhood that have always been placed on her. She realizes she doesn't miss her husband, she doesn't need her husband, and she doesn't ever desire another man to love her like her husband had.
When Nel realizes this, Sula becomes her feminine hero.
I may be in the dissenting minority, but I see value in Sula’s traditionally reprehensible actions. Clearly, Sula’s role in dissolving Nel’s marriage contradicts accepted morality. So does her frequent interracial fornication. But I feel strongly that such transgressions are what define Sula as a disguised hero. She lives for herself, according to her own principles. She bears the contempt of her community that ultimately leads to better communal awareness and establishment of a cultural identity for the people of the Bottom. Teapot’s death and the ramifications that come from the accident provide evidence for my claim: Teapot’s negligent mother realizes her shortcomings as a mother after her son’s death and changes her methods of parenting. By shouldering the contempt of her community, Sula gains heroine status – untraditional as it may be.
Another complication of the word hero, are the values that the person has that makes him/her a hero. Different people have different sets of beliefs and values, so different people will view different characters as a hero or not. From my perspective, I would not consider Sula a heroine to be admired or imitated. I think this is an important quality of a hero: that we see value in a part of them that is imitatable. I don't find many of her values and actions worth modeling myself after. However, if one were to read Sula from a feminist perspective, there are some admirable qualities that can be drawn from Sula. For example, Sula leaving bottom to attend college and not coming back for 10 years would break the traditional role of a woman in 1927. This would break the essentialist view of the time that a woman's skills and abilities would be best suited for her to be a housewife. Unless she was going to be a teacher or nurse, they would probably see it as pointless for Sula to go to college. Sula went against traditional gender roles and essentialists who would try to say that it is natural for a woman to seek her niche in the home under her husband. Instead, Sula went off to college, and presumably spent an extra six years away from Bottom. Then, on her reentry to bottom, she appears strong and flashy, looking like a movie star. The people of Bottom didn't like this, and associated it with the plague of Robins. But feminists might interpret this as a negative view due to Sula putting off an ora of power, which again, breaks traditional female roles.
Sula’s behavior causes the Bottom community to label Sula evil and work to improve their own moral standards. For example, Tea Pot’s mother neglects him until she believes that Sula attempts to harm him. Morrison states “The very idea of a grown woman hurting her boy kept her teeth on edge. She became the most devoted mother She became the most devoted mother: sober, clean and industrious” (114). As a result of Sula’s negative reputation, Teapot’s mother receives the inspiration to improve and take better care of her son. Sula’s wicked behavior causes this positive reaction initially, but after Sula’s death Teapot’s mother reverts back to her old ways. Sula does not behave heroically and seems to do more harm than good in the end.
To answer the question simplistically, yes, yes Sula is a hero. Being an avid reader of comic books, as well as movie buff, my understanding of a hero is someone who gives people hope, unifies while strengthening. Now, in Sula, Morrison depicts the town Bottom, as one that needs someone, or something to force cause and effect on to. In this story, the cause that is directed at Sula is negative. All the negative parts of life are believed to be Sula’s fault. But this leads me back to my question, is Sula a hero? After understanding that she as a person is not, but her presence is, it is hard not to say she is a hero. Because she acts in unharmonious, evil, and even immoral ways—which these seem illustrate her persona—Sula is a hero, just not in an epic way. The reason I believe her presence is that of a Hero, is because once she dies, people don’t have this entity to fall onto if things go wrong. Sula’s presence gave the town of Bottom as reason to unify. The town was strengthened, unified, and morally strong, because Sula was not. If that isn’t a characteristic of a HERO, than what is?
Sula is the protagonist of the book, as her free spirited nature allows her to push the boundaries of what women can and can’t do. By acting like a man, she has shunned the cultural chains and gives herself what she perceives to be success. Furthermore, by acting as a pseudo-martyr, Sula is able to unite the people against a common enemy, and bring out the best motherly care the woman can produce. Her death results in women falling back into a subservient role, and revert to a malicious state. Morrison states that, “Other mothers who had defended their children from Sula’s malevolence (or who had defended their positions as malevolence…now had nothing to rub against” (Morrison 153), which demonstrates that Sula is an enemy for the mothers of the Bottom. By seducing men, Sula had gotten women to step into their roles as protectors of the family, and daughters as caretakers. Without the pressure of a "female man," women turn into abusive witches, who shun their responsibilities that they once so proudly displayed. Sula's “wicked” ways of freedom symbolizes a feminine storm that results in womankind uniting, and her death equals the loss of female independence.
Toni Morrison is one of the few authors I have read whose writing style defies conventions, yet is on a higher level because of it. In terms of plotting, her novels tend not to follow the strict outline of exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and, finally, the resolution. Instead, if I had to describe it, her stories hover right around the top of Freytag’s pyramid, with the maximum amount of tension and intrigue, occasionally climaxing with jarring, life-changing events.
In the same way that I cannot elucidate the narrative structure of Morrison’s Sula, I cannot pin down the titular character. Is she the hero? The protagonist? A little bit of both? Neither? It’s a complicated question for a complex character. In reading the novel, Sula’s actions are alternately praise-worthy and reprehensible, and sometimes both at once. In the instance where Sula cuts off a bit of her finger, my reaction was a combination of the horror that Nel felt and a feeling of admiration for Sula. I have a hard time not sympathizing with a character that does something like that because “[she] was so scared she had mutilated herself, to protect herself” (Morrison 101). Don’t heroes stand up for themselves? Yes, but don’t heroes also think rationally?
My gut instinct when faced with a main character sleeping with her best friend’s husband is disgust, yet Morrison does not permit me to hold onto that seemingly automatic response. While Nel is the more relatable character, in my opinion, Sula tends to bring out the best in people despite her own “devilishness.” When Morrison introduces the reader to Nel and Jude’s marital situation, she paints Jude as a man who manipulates for self-sympathy: “He expected his story to dovetail into milkwarm commiseration…” Sula does not allow that, however: “…but before Nel could excrete [sympathy], Sula said she didn’t know about that—[Jude’s life] looked like a pretty good life to her” (Morrison 103). The word that Morrison uses, “excrete,” is a hint towards her opinion of Jude’s behavior, apparently connoting sympathy and Nel’s use of it with all the glory of a bowel movement. Suddenly, Jude, who has been reliant on his wife is free from that ugly character trait, thanks to Sula. Of course, he then goes on to sleep with his wife’s best friend, which knocks Sula down a few rungs in the “Hero Ladder.”
The same could be said about everyone in the town, that Sula brings out the best in them while acting as the scapegoat for the Bottom. If she’s a hero, then her role must be of a martyr. She lived lonely, loved only one man Ajax who left her as soon as she began exhibiting traits of a domesticated woman, and she died alone. Yet, Morrison notes that while Sula lived, mothers didn’t hit their children, women didn’t coddle their husbands, and wives cared for their mothers-in-laws (Morrison 154). Is Sula, in my opinion, a hero? Yes, but she is human, and she wears all the flaws that come with that designation with pride.
Monday, March 30, 2009
Taking a closer look at Sula as a character, she does not value anything external. She even goes on to justify her affair with Jude, telling Nel: “I didn’t kill him, I just fucked him. If we were such good friends, how come you couldn’t get over it” (145). In this statement, she faults Nel for the affair, something I find completely out of line. The only heroic quality I see within the novel is displayed in the end by Nel. Her self-examination and confrontation of her own lifestyle is something admirable, noble, and may possibly lead to positive changes in her future. In that respect, I believe that Sula serves as the spark that ignites Nel's heroic qualities.
Friday, March 6, 2009
But this prose doesn't read like prose. Its language is interestingly poetic and it has a flow to it that is enhanced by questions and imagery. The prose itself, also, resembles stream-of-consciousness type of writing, and Toomer is pouring all of his emotions and feelings into this vision of the 7th street. I find this piece remarkable because it seems to me that Toomer is deconstructing our notions of what a poem should be because it does not adequately capture his feelings and experiences on 7th street. Therefore, the poems at the beginning and at the end of the prose are afterthoughts that frame the prose. The utilization of the poems as frames suggests that Toomer wants us to think of the prose as a new poetic form.
Personally, I like this approach to poetry; it's edgy, raw, and powerful. And to an extent, it captures Toomer's ideas and feelings a 7th street better than traditional poetic forms. This doesn't mean that the poetry in the piece isn't powerful or emotional itself; I just think that this piece is Toomer's way of saying that: "while traditional poetry does capture emotion, it doesn't accomplish what I need it to for my experiences." I think we can learn a lot from this piece and its focus on form.
Throughout the story it becomes a pattern how certain nouns become inflicted by outside forces, causing those nouns to develop new understandings. What is meant by new understandings may seem a little unclear. For an example, in the story Toomer describes blood as “black reddish blood;” this description conveys to the reader a sense of resistance. “Black reddish blood,” not just red blood which is generally understood; this blood has keep its old features, but understood from the “reddish” is that there is an overwhelming force that is causing the infiltration.
This idea of resistance in this play seems to be a common theme, but the resistance seems to be alleviated as a result of the government. However, the government mentioned isn’t the only force that is causing individual people, cultures, and races to slowly lose their true blood (heritage). As a result of assimilation present in this story, the blood will continue to dilute heritage until there is one dominant culture.