Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Earnestly Writing about "Earnest"

Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest is memorable for its outlandish coincidences, interweaving plot threads, and complex wordplay. With its intense rhetorical banter, (my personal favorite aspect of the play), the play delves much deeper into the culture of the times. The depiction of society is the most obvious device utilized throughout the play. By using a New Historicist approach, several of the characters represent the blatant differences in class. Lady Bracknell’s over-the-top manner of dress and need for strict social connections conflicts sharply with Cicily’s “bland” countryside life and clothing. While not entirely “poor,” Cicily is of a lower class than Lady Bracknell’s. Cicily tends to her garden, and educates herself (albeit unwillingly) with the aid of Miss Prism, whereas Lady Bracknell creates lists to further herself in society’s eyes.

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

Not The Best...

Watching Brokeback Mountain has never been a positive experience for me. Out of many wonderful gay films available, I find Brokeback to be the least influential and entertaining, yet people continue to look to it as the pinnacle of gay films. The movie is based off a short story by Annie Prolux and while the short story is outstanding, the film version is not as stellar for me. The movie is slow, drawn out, and parts boring. Obviously this is because it is extremely hard to turn a short story into a movie of this length, but the filmmakers did. The question for me is, why this short story? The appeal is the two straight acting males falling in love and suffering because of it. Even though it is a movie about two gay men, the movie is also a romance. Now, imagine the plot with a man and a woman…there is no point. The story is now is probably less interesting than other heterosexual romances in the box office. Really, the only thing that makes this movie interesting to the audience is that it is a story about homosexual love. This relates directly to Queer Theory’s study of attitudes towards homosexuality. Social attitudes about homosexuality make this film “interesting” to the average viewer. In reality, Brokeback Mountain is really the gay movie it is perceived to be.

Male Bonding vs Homosexual Behavior

A quote from Hall stands out as particularly well-fitting for use of analyzing the gay content on Brokeback. "A wide range of attachments," it says, "friendships, bonding, and other interpersonal connections may be analyzed by examining a given culture's treatment of same-sex-desiring couples." It was incredibly confusing to hear the two cowboys ensure each other the morning after their first romp together, "I'm not queer." According to them, their interpersonal connection did not classify as "queer behavior"; or, there are homosexual acts that do not neccessarily translate into homosexuality. I'm not exactly sure what they were thinking, though. There seems a definite line, at least in the culture I've been a part of, between male bonding as between fishing buddies or even athletes on sports teams, and homosexual acts.

Condeming or Understanding of Homosexuality

The homosexual themes in Ang Lee's Brokeback Mountain send me through a rollercoaster of emotions. Ang Lee does a very good job, wit hthe help of writers Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana, in delivering very different emotions throughout the movie. The movie is mainly about the suppression of sexual desire and how one handles that within a homophobic society. It is difficult to say whether or not the movie is comdemning homosexuality or not. I believe that it is not, but rather enlightening an audience about the social implications of being openly gay. What is incredibly interesting is how is society affected by two men being openly or "closet" queers. It would seem that society in general is not affected at all, rather the private lives of Jack and Ennis suffer because of how society views homosexuality. I would argue this is the most upsetting thing that comes from homophobia. Nobody in the movie is affected by the love of Jack and Ennis unless they let themselves become affected. Society and culture move on, but it is the individual who is destroyed. I believe this is one important message from the movie. Brokeback Moutain seems to be saying that people could live in harmony if they were simply accepting of an individual's beliefs rather than a whole group's sexual preference. There is never one time when the men let their love for each other get in the way. One could try and argue that they lost sheep because of their desire, but not they lost sheep because of a storm. Instead, if individual's simply accepted one's sexual desire of another individual, than social injustice would not occur in this realm. Let's face it, homosexuality has been something that has existed throughout humanity's time here and there is nothing that is going to stop it. What this movie does is show that no matter what happens to an individual, homosexual desires will never be oppressed in the long run because it seems to just naturally happen.

Homophobia and Heterosexism in Brokeback Mountain

Watching Brokeback Mountain for the first time certainly reinforced the ideas of Queer Theory that we have investigated. While it lends itself to many of the notions that a “gay” reading of the film would find interesting, I find the commentary on the “social attitudes about sexuality” and “normality” very appealing.

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.

Social Norms

Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain presents social attitudes regarding sexuality. The film depicts that affections between people does not exist only within the confines of traditional relationships between men and women. The characters Ennis Del Mar and Jack Twist exemplify this dynamic in the film by maintaining a relationship, despite the normative social attitudes in their community regarding traditional relationships. Ennis is depicted as an assimilationist because he hides his relationship with Jack from his wife and employer. The scene when Jack is murdered because his sexual orientation is discovered exemplifies the social prejudice of his community and their propagation of heterosexism.

Brokeback Mountain: Another Perspective

Throughout the movie Brokeback Mountain, there is ample amount of scenes that demonstrate homosexuality. As noticed from the start of the movie—well when they make it to the mountain—there seems to already be some subtle sexual tension between the two cowboys. After having viewed this movie, taking a Queer Theory approach, it became more evident to me the subtleties about homosexuality. It’s difficult to narrow the movie down to a scene or two that exemplifies what is meant by this. When the two cowboys get up to the mountain, they quickly begin to cohere to the roles assigned to them by a higher authority.
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.

Brokeback Mountain

The film Brokeback Mountain, offers many homosexual scenes, as well as the inner conflict for the characters to restrain their true desires. One scene in particular truly demonstrates the feelings that Jack Twist and Ennis Del Mar feel for each other. Their first encounter in four years depicts Ennis waiting anxiously, drinking to pass the time away, nervously eyeing the window. Jack’s arrival is met with frantic greetings, and forceful kissing. This intense connection is shared by both of them; this love has endured absence and longing for far too long.

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

Brokeback Mountain

I feel that this movie was a bit mistaken in its own identity. It didn't condemn gay men, nor did it advocate it at all. It didn't truly criticize society as it should have, nor did it laud the virtue of the main characters. I feel that Ennis and Jack were not demonized, but their characters were clouded with the decisions they made. For one, it portrayed the characters as not accepting themselves for what they are. This can be excused, though, in the light of the society being so against homosecuality. It also shows the men more concerned with their sexuality than with their occupation. They fail to take care of the sheep one night while they are being intimate, which leads to the death of one of the sheep. Later on, it shows the men wrestling affectionately while their boss watches them ignore their work, which leads to Gary's decision to bring them down early and never hire them again. Thirdly, it shows that both Ennis and Jack deny their homosexuality to take wives and start families. Though this is said to be a product of their culture, they have healthy sexual relationships with them. This seems to be more a bisexual angle rather than a homosexual one. Once with their families, however, the men begin to neglect their duties as husbands and fathers. The destruction of the families shows, from what I saw how it was portrayed, how homosexuality leads to the break-down of family values and morals. This religious-right cliche seems all to exemplified in this movie. In the end, it seems that the main characters in the movie do more to argue against homosexuality, while the reception of the movie and the society surrounding the main characters is what portrays the movie as advantageous to the LGBT community.

Brokeback Mt.

The homophobia throughout the movie Brokeback Mountain is relevant throughout the entire film. The one scene that stood out to me was when Jack’s wife told Ennis how he (Jack) died over the phone. I believe that when the tear began to roll down her face it was not because she was upset that he died but because she was guilty for the murder of her husband. According to Lureen, Jack’s wife, he was killed when a tire exploded and the tire iron hit is face but the images that the audience and what I believe Ennis sees is three men beating his face in with the tire iron because of his homosexual ways. This beating foils the same beating that Ennis has flashbacks of, when his father took him to see the man who had his genitals rip off and dragged by a horse.

Brokeback Mountain: A "Gay" Film?

Brokeback Mountain, the story of the gay cowboys, may not really be a gay film after all. Jack and Ennis, who work together in the mountain, have a friendly relationships at first, but it is not consummated until they are drunk. 

Here we see a somewhat violent sex scene, followed by some more passionate ones, until they are caught by their employer. This is the first time in the movie where I contest the "gayness" of the film. The sequence leads you to believe that the employer is homophobic and fires Jack and Ennis for being gay. However, despite Ennis' protests that the recently changed weather isn't so bad, I have to assert that several inches of snow falling in one night is certainly a cause for concern. This brings me to another scene in the movie, when the employer refuses to give Jack any work on the mountain. The scene is constructed to look homophobic: "I don't have any work for you." However, this is not the case. In the first sex scene between Jack and Ennis, both end up sleeping in the tent, with no one to watch the sheep. As a result, one of them dies. This is the point Joe brings up when Jack asks for work. "Twist, you guys wasn't gettin' paid to leave the dogs babysittin' the sheep while you stem the rose." Bottom line is, whether they spent their recreation time having sex or fishing or drinking, they did not the job they were supposed to do, and are not reliable. 

Secondly, there is a disparity between Jack and Ennis, each man seen in a different area of two different spectrums: maturity and homosexuality. Jack is much less mature than Ennis, wanting to stay in rodeo instead of move on to business like Lureen asks. Ennis, however, is willing to do it takes to care for his family, including his reluctance to carry on in a relationship with Jack. Also, both men find themselves in varying degrees of homosexuality. Jack is the passive homosexual in the first love scene (and presumably in the subesquent scenes), and is also timid in nature. Ennis is more aggressive, sexually and otherwise, and is less reluctant about living a straight life (he already has a fiancee before the movie begins, while Jack continues to flirt around with homosexuality until he meets Lureen). And even these traits are flipped on their heads at times. Ennis shows reluctance in a love scene with Alma, and even flips her over to simulate sex with Jack. Also, Jack, when he meets Lureen, adopts more heterosexual traits, even telling Lureen, "Fast or slow, I like the direction you're going." Thus, there is no dichotomy in the movie between heterosexuality and homosexuality, for they are not jointly exhaustive; thus, the theme of the movie tends toward a bisexual approach. 

Another protest I raise is the over-glorification of homosexuality in the film. True, the setting is in the 1960's, and homophobia in the West was rampant. But this is the only factor that defines Jack and Ennis' relationship as a struggle. After all, when the men first meet, it is Jack who checks out Ennis, not the other way around. Jack makes all the advances, including the holding of hands in the tent. He mentions no history of lovers. But Ennis arrives already engaged to be married, a commitment he takes seriously. Thus, the two men meet up once more, to resume where they left off. This is seen as a struggle with society, a struggle of identity, a struggle for love. Well (and I say this with a dose of reader-response analysis), I find that reading to be bogus. These men are cheating on their wives and lying to their families. They may have been forced to act heterosexual because of society (although my gut tells me that that claim doesn't apply to Ennis), but they have families, nevertheless. I find it a serious crime to abandon your family. Let me pose this: if these men were lying to their families to sleep with former flames that were female, would they be right or wrong? My guess is that most would say it's wrong. "Well, they must keep silent because of society." Again, bogus. Adultery is adultery, and the fact that this is gay adultery is only relevant because of context. If this film was set in the Middle Ages, where adultery was an offense punishable by law (both social and ecclesiastical), then it would matter little whether they slept with men or women.  I argue that they might have ended up with women, had circumstances been different. Ennis refers to the urge they feel in a manner that implies bisexuality, not homosexuality. Jack is immature, and is ready to give up his family for Ennis, despite his responsibility as a father. The way these men speak and interact seem to be tied up in rebellion: they are going against the status quo. As Jack shows, they have excitement and danger, a natural spice for any relationship. What we have here is a film not of gay struggle but of a conflict between romantic passion and responsible marriage. 

Challenge of "normalcy"

I believe that one of the main ideas in Brokeback Mountain was to challenge the idea of the "normalcy" of heterosexuality. Even Ennis tried to maintain what was "normal" after the two had begun homesexual physical acts by saying, "I ain't queer," to which Jack replies "me either." The two are trying to maintain the fact that they are both normal, and not in fact homosexual, especially in conservative rural America. They would even view themselves as abnormal if they admitted they were homosexual. In fact, they both go on to live "normal" lives for four years in which they both marry women and have children. However, from that fourth year on, they meet up periodically to go on "fishing trips" in which they really act on their love for each other. Jack suggests multiple times that they quit putting on a "normal" appearance and live together and run a ranch. Jack is willing to give up what is "normal" so that the two of them can be together. Ennis is not willing to give that up. In the end Jack dies because of his homosexuality, and Ennis lives on acting as if he were not homosexual.

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.

Negative Social Attitudes of Sexual Desire

The scene that stood out to me the most was when Ennis is describing the dead man he seen as a child. His father brings him to the scene of a homosexual man who had been brutally murdered because of his sexual orientation. This event resonates within Ennis' mind throughout the entire film. Ennis claims, "My daddy made sure me and my brother seen it. Hell, for all I know, he'd done the job. Two guys living way." Hall states that negative social attitudes about sexual desires between members of the same sex have had a profound impact on many individuals lives. This is evident in both Jack and Ennis' personal lives. Everything Ennis has experienced in his life involving homosexuals comes along with a stigma. Therefore, Ennis refuses to engage in an open relationship with Jack because he fears the social stigma as well as the possibility of being killed. "Homophobia" plays a strong role in Brokeback Mountain and ultimately keeps the two loving men apart.

Social attitudes in Brokeback Mountain

After watching Brokeback Mountain, I felt one important aspect of reading the film we must look at is in the social attitudes towards attraction and how it affects people's lives. Jack and Ennis both have great desire for each other after their initial encounter. Unfortunately prevailing attitudes and lack of understanding of how to compute feelings for the same sex in a world of heterosexual desire is dominant lead to their inability to definitively make their relationship work. The world of 1963 and to 1983 in these parts was probably heteronormative. Jack definitely expresses his desire to Ennis but each has conflicts in their lives. Homophobia and heterosexism run strong in these more rural areas, and in an area where everyone can know everybody, being open about one's attaction for the same sex is tantamount to suicide. As illustrated with the example story of the man that was killed, Ennis' fears could not be allayed by Jack's insistence that they would be all right together. Also, the cheating that went on between the two brought more confusion into this world and social stigma would make it extremely difficult for these two loving men to get together for life. It is not stated what each man's orientation is but the mere mention of their being different is what keeps them apart. These two couldn't even hold hands in this culture. By the end of the film, it seems society and heteronormativity kept these two apart, and Ennis' fears of Jack being beaten as seen in the beating sequence when he holds Jack's shirts is a reminder to the audience that fear can rule our lives and unfortunately, it gets people killed.

Brokeback Mountain: Internalized Homophobia

            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.     


How other people's homophobia impacts your private life

Many people have negative social attitudes (homophobia, heterosexism) about members of the same sex being together. These attitudes impact the public and private lives of GLBT. In the movie, Brokeback Mountain, Ennis and Jack both have inner conflicts in their private lives especially. Ennis marries his fiance, Alma, but has internal problems because he does not want to be publicly gay with Jack because he does not want to be tortured and murdered like the guy he saw as a kid. He also does not want to abandon his family and kids. Jack, on the other hand, marries Lureen but lives a miserable life because he wants to create a life with Ennis, but Ennis won't agree to it since he is so terrified. As a 'gay couple,' they couldnt have been married or lived together, held hands in public, had kids, have marital rights like see each other in the hospital, and in some places it was illegal to even have sex with somebody of the same sex. And, in the end, Jack was murdered by three men who brutally beat him and killed him. It paints a vivid picture of how gays are/were treated in America (in the extreme sense).

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Fight Club: A Lopsided Picture of Masculinity

Tyler Durden’s whole purpose as an invented alter-ego was to change what is into what should be. First in the main character’s immediate life, and then much beyond that as well, he sought to radically overturn all the things that were holding people back from being who they were truly meant to be. In our society, how many of us are actually pursuing the things that we really want to pursue? How many of us are gas station attendants instead of veterinarians? But Tyler Durden wasn’t concerned with “people” in general.
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.

Reempowering the Alternative Male We are Told to be in Fight Club

Since my first viewing of Fight Club as a teenager, I embraced the testosterone-driven passion seen in the basement of the strip club which grew into a cultural phenomenon across the US in the movie and was often imitated in real life. Watching this movie from a more academic perspective, I found the movie to be equally exhilarating and found layers within it that I had never before noticed.
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.”

Tyler Durden: The Man's Man

The narrator has many qualities we might consider "feminine" today. Among those is his penchant to crying in order to sleep. He fulfills this by faking illnesses and visiting self-help groups to invoke sadness so that he can fend off his insomnia. However, these qualities are usurped by his alter ego, Tyler Durden. Tyler is everything that the narrator is not. He begins the fight club. He steals fat to make soap. He begins a terrorist organization to destroy materialism. Unlike the narrator, who is nervous at giving Marla a breast examination, Tyler sleeps with Marla frequently (and violently, which is also very important). However, all of this is actually disrupted. The narrator eventually realizes that Tyler is the villain. To exemplify this, I point out the final scene of the movie. Tyler and the narrator are fighting, and Tyler is winning. This would show a male dominance over the narrator's more female characteristics. However, this is finally disrupted when the narrator "shoots" Tyler, killing him. The "manliness" of the movie is destroyed,  and the consequences of Tyler's actions, including the death of Bob and the final explosion, are all deplored by the narrator and Marla, enhancing a feminist view of the movie.  

"How much can you know about yourself if you've never been in a fight?"

Watching Fight Club from a feminist perspective has been a rather enlightening experience for me. As a young, white male in American culture, I understand my role in the target audience of the film – a status which I embraced eagerly. As an adolescent deep in my own search for identity when the movie was released in 1999, Brad Pitt’s vision of masculinity resonated loudly and clearly amongst my own confusion. His philosophy of a life driven by testosterone and instinct was appealing. The violence, explosions, and crude sexual humor were all added bonuses for a sixth grader trying to break free of the sheltered, suburban existence I found myself in.

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.

What is male identity? Fight Club

Fight Club is a movie that reinforces the gender stereotype that "boys will be boys." I say this assuming that people will understand the stereotype that boys like to rough house when they play. What is interesting is how the characters and the attendants of Fight Club all seem to find a spiritual lifting when they attend and partake in the activities that occur underneath the bar. The first and second rules of Fight Club is "you never talk about Fight Club." Why would this rule be so emphasized for new attendants of Fight Club? I think the answer of this lies within how the members of Fight Club conduct themselves in and out of the club. Jack is having an emotional crisis at the beginning of the movie that seems to stem from his inability to define himself. This can be seen in the scene where he is choosing certain things for his apartment. One of his lines is "what kind of dining set identifies me?" He is trying to look for some sort of happiness within his purchases and other actions that he takes in life. None of this is fulfilling, and in fact, starts to harm the well being of his character. He begins to find hope and happiness in the meetings that he attends which lead to his and Tyler's creation of Fight Club.

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 Balls it takes to be a Man

One thing I believe this movie, as well as society itself as a whole, relies on is the importance of male genitalia--mainly testicles--to the importance of the male psyche. There are many different references to genitals throughout the movie, and some of the references are very important to the plot of the movie itself. This shows that a man's ego and masculinity are focused and represented by the testicles. The signifier, the testicles, is the symbolic picture of the signified masculinity, and Fight Club uses this sign over and over again.

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

Fight Club

Kind of piggy backing off Rich, Tyler Durden and The narrator, Jack, are the binaries that Sally Robinson spoke about in here article. Those two characters are the “traditional” and “alternative” binary, Tyler as the “traditional” and Jack as the “alternative”. We see this macho masculinity through the eyes of Jack who wishes he could be like his alter ego Tyler. Tyler is everything that Jack wants to be in life, strong willed, in shape, out going, and in shape. Tyler is the one that uses Marla for sex, not Jack because Jack is not strong willed enough to do such a thing. Then through Tyler, the Fight Club is created. On the back of the movie box the little quote that describes the film says, “A ticking-time-bomb insomniac and a slippery soap salesman channel primal male aggression into a shocking new form of therapy.” This quote backs what Rich states in the last part of his first paragraph, about how, “the fight club is a way for men to exert their masculinity, something that is repressed within their daily lives…He also goes on to talk about how men are "pissed" at the fact that they haven't achieved everything society has to offer. The only way to take out that aggression and show their masculinity is through fighting.” The writers of the back of the box even know that there are different types of men out in the world who can come together for “therapy”, Fight Club, the ultimate expression of masculinity.

Fight Club Gender Roles

It has definitely been a different experience examining Fight Club from an analytic perspective. The main character displays what would be categorized as feminine characteristics when he admits his addiction to furniture shopping. The only way he can escape such feminine characteristics is through the creation of Tyler Durden. The Fight Club itself is a way for men to exert their masculinity, something that is repressed within their daily lives. As Tyler puts it in his speech to the fight club, "we have no purpose or place. We have no great war, no great depression. Our great war is a spiritual war, our great depression is our lives." Tyler also sees "the smartest men that ever lived" within the fight club, men with "potential". He also goes on to talk about how men are "pissed" at the fact that they haven't achieved everything society has to offer. The only way to take out that aggression and show their masculinity is through fighting.

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.

Fight Club

Fight Club interrogates America’s hierarchal society and how men without power and affluence exercise their frustrations through violence. When the narrator meets the manifestation of his alter ego, Tyler Durden, they begin to fight each other in a parking lot and shortly after establish an all male “fight club”. After the club begins to expand the narrator begins to participate in acts of defiance against those in power, and he encourages others to do the same. The narrator begins an all male fight club, but defers to a woman, Marla Singer, because she has a more assertive personality than him. When the two have their first conversation in the testicular cancer help group, the narrator asks Marla to stop coming. Marla stops him from talking and makes it clear that she does not intend to give up what she wants to do, but will compromise if the narrator establishes a schedule she deems fair. This subverts the male dominant power dynamic of the movie in this scene. However, as their relationship begins to progress the narrators’ alter ego begins to objectify Marla and seems to value her only for sexual gratification The film challenges America’s hierarchal structure, but places women and their experiences in that structure to the periphery.

The movie, Fight Club

In the movie, the main character has a hard time demonstrating his masculinity. In our society, it is viewed negatively to fight and brawl. The fight scenes in the movie show the men consensually willing to fight each other to demonstrate their masculine aggression and strength. They let out their frustration with society that they are not allowed to show. In an innovative way, the movie shows how not just women are oppressed by society. The movie tries to demonstrate that men have an innate need to fight and show aggression; society says no to this. I also see the burning of the apartment as an ironic yet metaphorical representation of his gaining of masculinity and losing of his 'feminine' qualities like collecting furniture.

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.

Why not fight about it?

Fight Club:
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.

Fight Club: Punching is just a substitute for a hug.

            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.


Fight Club

In my viewing of Fight Club, I was immediately struck by its portrayals of what gender roles for men are and how they are reinforced or torn down in the film. The nameless everyman Narrator is shown in the beginning as a consumerist, Ikea-furniture-buying corporate drone, stuck in the same routine and order. As the film continues, we see this seeming Beta male shocked when his world is rocked when his condo is destroyed. The example of the yin-yang table in his condo might be seen as a portrayal of the balance between male and female that the narrator has in the beginning. Once he loses his worldly possessions, a rather extreme turn is taken towards the "primal" male power, reinforced by Fight Cub and leadership. The power system in the film is obviously masculine aligned and violence is worshiped. Being a man in the film means being tough, ready for action, ready to do what needs to be done and full of testosterone. The roles exemplified in the film are of violent gender roles and for women to be mere sexual objects instead of being seen as other people. Both of the notable women in the film only want sex before they die and not to make something of themselves. The film seems to reinforce the roles that modern perhaps Western society places on men. The film looks to shake things up in a complacent society with chaos and destruction, with a male-ordered society with a structure advocating physical power. "Fight Club" returns modern men to roots of hunting, force, and a "traditional man's place" in the world. This film only restricted men's roles and it did not allow for deviation from what is considered appropriate and proper for men, as in not allowing them to show weakness, cry, be truly affectionate, etc.

Being a Man and Woman in Fight Club

Throughout Fight Club, there are several scenes that portray men as a pack of wild wolves, following the leader without question, “saving” humanity by fully embracing their masculinity. One scene, however, shows the pack turning against the leader (albeit by following original orders), and trying to steal manhood. At the police station, the nameless narrator is restrained by his drones, who attempt to cut off his genitalia. Obviously, this is a physical deconstruction of the male leader, to which he would no longer be a “man”, nor a representation of what a “man” is. The would-be castration strongly suggests that being a man is having genitalia, something that the nameless narrator pretended to experience earlier in the film at a cancer self-help clinic.

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.

Gender Analysis of "Fight Club"

One thing that I noticed this time of watching Fight Club, was the depth of some of the things that Brad Pitt said. He seemed to be almost a new age philosopher in some of the things he said, and many of the topics of his sayings have to do with gender and the natural roles of men. There were also some ideas about interactions of mothers with sons. Brad Pitt bases most of his philosophies on the "hunter-gatherer" sense of manhood. We come to find out at the end of the movie, that he is a creation of Edward Norton's mind. This is because Edward Norton has become so (what the movie writers would probably refer to as) imasculated that the biggest work of his life is the collection of furniture he has in his condo. Interior design is typically considered a feminine hobby in our culture, but the movie suggests that emphasis placed on furniture collections is becoming a trend among males in our culture at the time. It seems then, that Brad Pitt has been created as Norton's inner hunter-gatherer, violent male manifesting itself.

In one of the most philosphical moments of the movie, Pitt addressed the Fight Club ( 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

Sula the heroine?

In my reading of this novel, I had a rather difficult time thinking of Sula as a hero. Usually, heroes are persons that make great positive changes that affect personal lives. Sula's return and way of being, thought of as evil by the community, is the catalyst for them to live together against her ways. Her ways are to disregard social conventions, to sleep around with different men, even to pull Nel's husband, Jude, away. I consider my heroes to be my family, friends, people that really make a positive change in lives. The change that comes about through Sula's return, is only to show how twisted she is in their view. She is not a proper woman and lives too freely. Their hatred for Sula unites the community against her. The hero I would consider would be Eva. She provides for her family, takes care of others in her life, and works to get some semblance of reconnection with Sula before Sula dies. She has her own faults too, but she, unlike Sula, kept the peace and harmony of the Bottom, whereas the other gnawed at it with her loose ways. To me, Eva is the hero of the novel, though she works to keep the status quo. She at least works for the betterment of all, instead of doing selfish acts like Sula did.

Eva: The Real Hero?

I have a very hard time thinking of Sula as the hero of this novel. If I were a single, black female I would feel different, however. I can see how her wild sexuality and care free spirit could seem inspiring and enlightening. However, throughout the book I saw her character more or less as a Greek Goddess. When she needed something from the other characters, she would show up and take it. I never felt emotionally invested in Sula at all. When Ajax walks out on her, I started to feel some sympathy for her. Then I remembered how many homes she had disturbed by sleeping with other men, especially Nel’s husband, and lost any sympathy I felt. In fact, after Nel visits when she is bed-ridden and sick, I still could not feel emotionally invested in her. When it was evident that she was starting to die, I had actually hoped that Nel was standing above her with a match and some gasoline.
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.

Sula- A True Hero of Femininity (But to a Major Extreme)

Sula is a smear of problems over every page of her namesake book, Toni Morrison's Sula.
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.

Anti-hero Feminism

To answer the question of whether Sula is a heroine, I have to reply both yes and no. She is a savior figure, but only insomuch as she unifies through hatred. When she returns home to the Bottom years later, her disreputable actions invoke the ire of the townspeople, and they rally as one against her. However, her heroism (or anti-heroism) fails upon her death, when the common dislike of Sula is suddenly dissolved, along with the unity amongst the people that was formerly enjoyed.
The only lasting contribution of Sula's heroism is her dying conversation with Nel. She tells Nel that women everywhere are dying like stumps, because of their refusal to acknowledge their ability to remain independent. Sula charges Nel with this offense also, and states that Jude, Nel's ex-husband, was a space filler, nothing more. This kind of discourse raises many questions about the nature of good and evil, hiding them in ambivalence rather than shedding new light. Sula claims she is good, that has always followed her own will and desires rather than bend to social constructs. In her mind, she is only partially responsible for the dissolution of both her friendship with Nel and the marriage of Nel and Jude. In both those actions, another party had a part to play. In this manner, Sula sees herself as a heroine, seeing the submission to society as an act of anti-feminism, thereby marking society as phallocentric and in opposition to women, especially, in the case of Sula, black women.

Sula: A Hero in Disguise?

The question of heroism in Toni Morrison’s Sula will no doubt provide ample room and inspiration for discussion. Sula is an extremely complex personality – her character is difficult to interpret and analyze as a result of her independent qualities. Still, a close reading of Morrison’s protagonist (for whom the book is named) rouses questions of identity and the value of actions. Through Sula, Morrison seems to deconstruct the traditional notion of heroism; many of Sula’s actions are difficult to justify until the ends of these actions are fully realized.

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.

Sula The Heroine

Before answering the question "Is Sula the hero/heroine of the novel," the term hero needs to be defined. Growing up, I was exposed to heros that showed moral acts such as courage, honor and personali integrity. This is the stereotypical view of most heroes thanks to Superman and friends. But what does a hero really do? I would make the argument that Sula is in fact the hero of the novel. Sula does not show a lot of moral honor within the story which can be seen through several examples, one of which is sleeping with Jude. This is not Sula's role in the story though. Sula is in fact the heroine of the story. To me, a hero is someone who affects the community for positive outcomes. Sula's presence after college puts the community in harmony. Because they are able to label her as the source of evil, their own lives become better. After Sula's death, the community plunges into turmoil. So how is Sula still the heroine even if the community starts to tear itself apart? The answer lies in the end of Nel's story. Part of being a hero is saving people, and Sula does this for Nel. Nel is in constant denial about specifics concerning the ending of her marriage. Fortunately, Nel comes to a realization that her denial lies in the regrets that she has over the way her life has gone. Nel is able to realize where she can grow in society and thus can be seen as being saved mentally and emotionally. Sula, even though she did not intend on "saving" anybody, saves her bestfriend. She is able to let Nel take one more step towards a personal harmony, which I believe is a heroic act. Nel is essentially saved from her denial and guilt. This act is something heroic even though it does not conform to traditional hero narratives, or does it?

Sula: Not a Hero for All

In Toni Morrison's Sula, the female characters all show some aspect of feminism. Many of the women are strong-willed, independent, and in some way intelligent. Sula, the focus of much of the story, seems to float along with the themes of the story as something different, as something not completely right. As a child she oddly inquisitive, watching her mother sleep with a myriad of men, watching her burn to death, and investigating numerous things with Nel. Her thirst for knowledge leads her to college, where she learns much before returning to the Bottom. When she returns she is seen as a demon, an evil person working. Her independence and arrogance alienate her from her family, friends, neighbors, and even Nel. She is an embodiment of many feminist virtues, but in the end, it seems that she is only slightly deified. Though her evil brings some good, not one person truly mourns her loss. It isn't until Nel realizes she has lost Sula, not her husband, that she finally acknowledges missing Sula. In the end, everything comes full circle, and the Bottom has forgotten Sula and everyone else. So, though she embodied the virtues of Feminism, she left no large mark on the history of her home town.

Sula the "hero?"

I think that the word hero, as it pertains to this story is a pretty shady term. I think one of the main themes of Sula is that no one is perfect, and that we all have serious issues. If there were any people in the book that were portrayed as wholly good and righteous, without some shadiness or negative activities, there weren't many. Then again, maybe one of the themes of the book is that no matter how good of a person you are, you will always be criticized. In other words, there will always be people who second-guess you and criticize who you are and the decisions you made. This is done by and to most characters in Sula. However, most of the characters in Sula did things that deserved criticizing. This is shown through the townspeople, whose views of Sula turn very negative by the end of the story. For example, they view Sula as a "witch" and her death as "the best news they had heard since the promise of work at the tunnel." I think it is hard to label a woman with this level of a semi-earned reputation a hero.

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, not a hero

In the novel Sula, I do not believe that Sula is a hero. She does not show any characteristic of what a hero should carry. She was neither cunning, honorable, courageous, nor selfless. Sure there is the part where she helps chicken little up the tree when Nel was teasing him. She was talking to him in a “reassuring voice”, she would “steady him when he needed it”. Nel continued to tease him and when they made it down he mispronounced brother as “brovver”. After this nice thing that Sula did for the boy she then turns around and mocks the way that he talks. That is no way that a hero should act. One could even argue that she led him up the tree so that Nel and her would find something to make fun of him for. Another example of when Sula doesn’t show heroics is when Eva burns Sula’s mother, Hannah. In the book it says that “Sula was probably struck dumb…” but Eva responds to this by saying that “…Sula has watched Hannah burn not because she was paralyzed, but because she was interested.” That instance says a lot about the character of Sula. For someone to watch there own mother being burnt and not do anything about it is bold in and of itself. Any other child would have tried to do something about the fire but Sula just stood there and watched.


Toni Morrison’s Sula presents the relationship between cause and effect with Morrison’s portrayal of Sula. Sula does not behave heroically .The improvements that her sinister actions bring to the community do not last. Sula’s wickedness causes the people in the Bottom community to improve their own behavior. However, after Sula dies the moral standards in the Bottom begin to deteriorate. Morrison makes it clear that Sula returns to the bottom as a self-centered, cunning, and a morally depraved woman. She notes that “ When got about Eva being put in Sunnydale, the people in the Bottom shook their heads and said Sula was a roach…the saw how she took Jude , then ditched him for others”(112). The reference to Sula as a ‘Roach’ emphasizes her nature as a morally unclean, user that steels her best friend’s husband and takes her own grandmothers house from her.
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.

You tell me?

Think of a Hero from all genres of literature, and what comes to mind? Does the brute force of Beowulf spring to mind; or does the man who saves the damsel in distress come to mind? Nevertheless, these two depictions are rather commonly understood throughout all forms of text. However, can a hero be a woman, who during the time of her existence, been understood as a “witch”? All these questions adhere to the story, Sula, by Toni Morrison. In this story, a woman named Sula, seems to give her towns people a sense of camaraderie—this sense of camaraderie is because they all fear, or dislike her. So, is Sula a true hero?
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's Role

Toni Morrison’s novel, Sula, features several different aspects of women, and begs the question of who the real “hero” of the book is. The title character, Sula, is a rebellious woman, one who tests the limits of being a woman by, as her friend says, “walking around all independent-like, doing whatever you like, taking what you want, leaving what you don’t” (Morrison 143). She sleeps around, denies men control over her life, and flaunts her sexuality. Her “sister” Nel, however, is the opposite; she respects society’s restrains, and embraces her passionate emotions. These two women explore two polar ends of the feminist spectrum, yet still share the title of “woman.”

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.

Sula: Morrison's Judas and Martryr

            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

Sula is not a hero

In Toni Morrison's Sula, I believe Sula was not a hero. A hero is somebody that leads by example, is courageous, protects the innocent, and is selfless. She may have brought people together, but her inspiration was not by example, courage, or heroism. Because of her being 'evil', people were driven to be morally superior and better than her to "other" themselves from her. She was selfish; she was driven by desire/emotion and what she wanted. From the book, Sula sees all her emotions and actions (even her mother's burning) as just 'something to do.' A hero would be driven to help others, not be obsessed with entertainment value of everything going around you. Are you a hero for following personal desires and satisfaction over caring for the safety of society and the bond of friendship? I say no.

Sula: Is Nel the actual hero?

During my reading of Sula I did not see many heroic qualities in the character of Sula. I believe that a hero is someone who displays exceptional courage, nobility, strength, and contributes some type of positive transforming quality to society. Sula’s negative reputation actually rallies the Bottom together against her. Sula serves as a symbol that all the people of the Bottom can oppose. So indirectly, Sula unites the Bottom. However, I do not view any of her acts as noble. Whether it is watching her mother burn, putting Eva into a nursing home, or having an affair with Jude, I see none of these scenes as noble.
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

The Poetic Form of "Seventh Street"

What strikes me about Toomer's "Seventh Street" is the form of the text which synthesizes both poetry and prose. However, the important question for is: What can I learn from the form, and are the forms really what we think they are? For me, I think this piece was originally supposed to be a poem. Thus Toomer begins the story with a traditional poem, but that feeling shifts when Toomer switches to prose.

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.

Wedges in "Seventh Street"

Wedges are an important part of this poem. The word 'wedge' is used to divide, show a piece, and shine in this place. Seventh Street of Washington, D.C. is a "wedge of nigger life" (Toomer 41), a little slice of the larger world. It's characterized by the colors white and red, of blood and the white of a majority. The wedge is again brought in as rusting, unable to split the city though encouraged to try with "Split it! In two! Again! Shred it!" (41). The wedges shine in the sunlight, perhaps symbolizing the action of the people in this time as they work to form an identity through music and art. The wedges break down the walls of oppression, making the wet wood, perhaps hatred, dry up and blow away. Class structure might have wedges driven in as people seem more as equals here. Wedges carry many different meanings in this piece, both as a bit of life and a way to change life.

Flowing Disarray

The repeated use of "flowing", "wet", and "soggy" strikes my attention. It creates a consistent image of a river, or a flood, even, pouring through a city. But this is no ordinary river: through this city is flowing a flood of blood. The blood all over Seventh Street is of unnatural origin. It's shown to arise from the "bastard of Prohibition and War", flowing from the splintered and shattered world of Washington. We get a picture of this splintered world in the list: "shanties, brick office buildings, drug stores, restaurants, cabarets." Similar to the scene of Toomer's "Theater", the city holds a stark juxtaposition of poor and prosperous, but the river of blood flowing through blends these two together, so that the whole scene reeks of death. The flow exposes the rotten aspects of the city, the pocket-burning money, the bootleggars and the zooming Cadillacs that are at the backdrop of the scene. Toomer calls this to shame: "Who set you flowing? ...Swirling like a blood-red smoke up where the buzzards fly in heaven? Who set you flowing?"

Money in Toomer's "Seventh Street"

In "Seventh St", money corrupts people. Toomer sees blacks on Seventh St. as becoming prosperous through bad means --it is "a bastard of Prohibition and the War." Toomers says that "money burns the pocket." It corrupts. Toomer sees it as wrong to see a street with such decadence. He describes "bootleggers in silken shirts/Ballooned, zooming Cadillacs". Toomer is disgusted by people making money off the war and from smuggling alcohol. He sees the street becoming pretentious from their new found money by "breathing its loafer air" in contempt of people that don't have money.

Blood (Heritage)

Jean Toomer’s “Seventh Street,” is a story that expresses the influence of two different cultures. In an attempt to analyze the story it is necessary to look at it through a specific critical lens. As a way of understanding the influx of symbols present in the story, it is necessary to take a post colonial (P.S.) approach. This approach allows for a broader understanding of specific symbols.
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.

The Blood of Seventh Street

Jean Toomer's "Seventh Street," a short story/poem in Cane, features one recurring symbol I find especially important: blood.

The first use we see is the wedge that thrusts "black reddish blood into the white and whitewashed wood of Washington." This imagery marks an important contrast. To begin with, we have the "white" of Washington, and the "whitewashed," that which has been abducted by the white man. The "black reddish blood" is inserted into this, contrasting the status quo. We have "black" blood, referring to African Americans, but the metaphor takes it one step further with "reddish" implying perhaps that black blood is not quite as red, or human, as white blood. We again see the phrase "black reddish blood", this time standing alone as a sentence. This marks two important uses: one, repetition, to emphasize the image; and two, the phrase standing by itself, as an island of meaning within the text.

The next use is seen in the sentence, "Blood suckers of the War would spin in a frenzy of dizziness if they drank your blood." Here we have "blood suckers of the War" in contrast to "your blood." The former could refer to any number of things; perhaps it refers to people who benefited from the war. The benefactors of the war would have certainly been white businessman, as production went soaring during World War I. Here we see an image of drinking blood. And "your blood" is definitely black blood. Perhaps the "blood suckers" could not drink the black blood in the sense that they could not swindle the blacks, or else they would "spin in a frenzy of dizziness."

The third use of blood in the text incurs the already used image of "white" and "whitewash." Here we see that the whites and whitewash "disappears in blood." We also see that the sentence "Who set you flowing," a phrase that uses blood imagery, is set on either side of this earlier image. The phrase "who set you flowing?" also appears two more times in the text, marking more repetition than any other phrase in the text.

The flowing image is seen in the next paragraph when it refers to the blood flowing down Seventh Street, in "shanties, brick office buildings, theaters, drug stores, restaurants, and cabarets." Here we see the blood flowing, taking over Seventh Street: the rise of black power.

Another image is the "blood-red smoke" that rises towards the heavens, where the  buzzards fly.

The final image is the of God. Here, we see that "God would not dare to suck black red blood." The reddish image is abandoned finally but even so, black blood is not fit for God, for that would make him a "Nigger God," who "would duck his head in shame and call for the Judgement Day."