February 24, 2005

Machinal

I can't remember the last time I read something that hit me as hard as Machinal did. At one point I literally wanted to reach into the book and attack the mother, as she ignored Youngh Woman's anxieties. Then I remembered that every time I get angry at someone else for doing something, it's because I do or have done something analogous but I can't admit it to myself. I had to stop reading because I was at work and did want to let my emotions show. There have been many times when I the expectations I put upon people have stifled them and they didn't feel comfortable. I think that it's something that we all do. We expect our parents to be____(fill in the blank), our siblings to be......, our friends to be......., our lovers to be...... and when they don't live up to OUR expectations, we reject them and hurt them in order to get them to do what WE want. This play was one of the most important works of literature that I've ever read.

Posted by JamesStutzman at 5:18 PM | Comments (2)

February 14, 2005

Gatsby II

The entire Gatsby saga seems like a battle for male supremacy, with Daisy as the "prize". When Nick first enters the drama, it is common knowledge that Tom has a mistress and acts with impunity, trammeling Daisy's self-esteem with the humiliation. Gatsby's attempt to win Daisy strikes directly at Tom's sense of masculine superiority, as Daisy is now in the position to shame him in the eyes of others. In order to regain his own self-esteem, he has to challenge Gatsby directly in the hotel room. I think that it's not the information that Tom dredged up about Gatsby that causes Daisy to lose interest in him but his embarrassed reaction that he cannot conceal. Tom now appears in Daisy's eyes as the stronger of the two. Daisy essentially used Gatsby to strike back at her husband and reestablish her marriage relationship as between equals. Although throughout most of the story Daisy appears a rather weak and indecisive character, the end of the story [by her manipulation of both Gatsby and Tom AND her killing of her husband's mistress (I'm not sure if the accident was intentional or not but she DID lead Tom to believe that Gatsby was driving, leading to G's death)] shows that she is just as devious as any other character in the novel and actually achieves more of her desires than any of the others.

Posted by JamesStutzman at 3:16 PM | Comments (3)

February 8, 2005

Deception in The Great Gatsby

Although this novel is rife with deceptive characters, Nick Carraway is, by far, the most effective in his dishonesty. While Gatsby and others blatently lie to Nick, in order to manipulate him, he quickly discerns their motives behind their fabrications. In this fashion, Gatsby, Miss Baker and others are "sincerely insincere." Nick can "read" their lies like a doctor would diagnose medical syptoms, since they stem from underlying character weaknesses and insecurities. Conversely, Nick is studiously honest in a literal sense, never deceiving others by outright lying. However, he is aware that Gatsby, Tom, Baker, Daisy etc all view him as naive and unsophisticated and he encourages this misperception by never revealing that he sees through their machinations. His statements are purposively simple, direct and seemingly innocent, in contrast to the internal editorializing Fitzgerald has him make throughout the story. In this sense, Nick is "insincerely sincere," using the appearance/illusion of simplicity and naiviety as a way to keep himself free from entanglements and outside of the games within which the others consider him to be merely a pawn.

Posted by JamesStutzman at 3:04 PM | Comments (2)

February 5, 2005

Regret, Powerlessness and Solidarity in "A Jury of her Peers"

The regret Mrs Hale expresses reflects her inherent powerless as a woman during this period. Even if she had visited Minnie Foster, she would not have been able to affect John's treatment of her. The usual "if only I had..." thoughts after a suicide or other tragic occurrance reflect a basic sense of helplessness. Given the isolation of these women and the almost complete domination of men over their lives (physically, economically, legally,etc), the women maintain their sense of empowerment by creating, during the course of the story, a secret understanding outside of the view of their husbands. This nascent solidarity, founded upon shared conditions of oppression by men, is the substance out of which the women's rights campaigns, the suffrage movement, the WCTU developed and should not simply be dismissed as passive commiseration, as Glaspell illustrates by having the sheriff's wife (married to "the Law") betray him in favor of Minnie Foster. It was out of such shared hardships and the resultant solidarity that women found the strength and courage to demand the equal legal protection and status that they currrently enjoy (even though psychological structures still remain, such as assumptions regarding feminine intelligence etc that are slowly being overturned).

Posted by JamesStutzman at 2:27 PM | Comments (0)

Self-Overcoming in Bernice Bobs her Hair

Bernice's apparant lack of willpower should not obscure the truth that she is willing to develop by abandoning the comfortable dogmas she is taught, not once but twice. Her initial conservatism, a product of her upbringing in a wealthy family attuned to the values of pre-commerical economic life, is a hinderance to her acceptance in a dating world transformed by the revolutionized economic system. Given the expanded process of commodification and corresponding decline in importance of such factors as family origins and tradition, Bernice must transform herself from a link in social/family connections (as a daughter expected to solidify family social links by marrying into another influencial family in the aristocratic model) into an interesting, attractive commodity to be haggled over by men (as a more personal status symbol of achieved desire and accomplishment, not unlike the new cars the young men drive around in, to accessorize their lives). This she accomplishes by surrendering her old values for the values of Marjorie. Afterwards, when she realizes that her existence has become that of a commodity, whose values rise and fall in relation to the Demand of the market (ie her peers), she once again rejects the prevailing values, takes agency and, for the first time, becomes a true subject whose actions are no longer simply dictated by the expectations of others. "Scalp the selfish thing" In essence, she overcomes the social restrictions through an act of barbarism that revolts against the "civilized" codes of behavior of both the old aristocratic and new bourgeois mentalities. Rousseau would be proud.

Posted by JamesStutzman at 2:14 PM | Comments (0)

The Adding Machine and Ressentiment

Numerous Nitzschean motifs throughout the play accompany the message of the Life-Denying, No-Saying poison of Ressentiment. Refusing to simply affirm life and enjoy, as Daisy does by dancing in the Elysian Fields to the music (Dancing-strong Nietzschean connotation from Thus Spake Zarathustra), Zero reacts to the values of others by hiding his developing relationship with Daisy from Shrudlu. When his previous lives are recounted at the end of the play, an emphasis is placed on the floggings he has received (the Whip, another strong Nietzschean image). The desciption of Lt. Charles as overcome with "world-weariness" also points to Nietzsche's influence. Although Nietzsche's writings weren't available in English until the mid-century, his theories most likely were circulating among American educated circles and Rice probably got the gist of them from conversations with others. His application of them, mixed with an implied criticism of the enervating effects of reliance upon machinery, technology, bureaucracy and the bourgeois economic order anticipates the work of the Frankfort school, especially Adorno and Horkheimer's post-war studies of the barbarism present in modern life (valuable study given the impact of irrationality in the forms of antisemitsm, fascism, nazism and, reluctantly admited by the neo-marxists, stalism).

Posted by JamesStutzman at 2:01 PM | Comments (0)