March 2009 Archives

What is up with the Bloods?

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"'You're hidden right out in the open--that is, you would be if you only realized it.  They wouldn't see you because they don't expect you to know anything, since they believe they've taken care of that...'"
Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man (154).

I figure this is where the author defines for us what is meant by the title, and also provides a glimpse to what is in store for the young traveler in New York.  Over the next chapters the nameless young man is bent on his dream of becoming a more charming version of Dr. Bledsoe; until the unfairness of this reality begin to set in. This lesson--as well as others in-store, I'm sure--influences the reasoning behind the prologues statement, "I've illuminated the blackness of my invisibility" (13).

The names Dr. Bledsoe and Trueblood seem, to me, to insinuate something of a deeper meaning.  Both pertaining to blood, but why is that I wondered.  As we continue reading Dr. Bledsoe proves himself much less admirable a character than depicted in earlier chapters. If you break apart the name, there are two parts bled and soe: the first half being obvious, and the second reminding me of the saying "you reap what you sow"; perhaps, Dr. Bledsoe will later reap his wrong doings in bloodshed.  Trueblood is simpler, I think the name suggests he is true to his nature and doesn't hide behind falsities.  It makes the situation more profound in the sense that the boy is punished for engaging in activities that recovered truths, and this is voiced by Dr. Bledsoe himself in his dismissal speech: "'If they want to tell the world a lie, they can tell it so well it becomes the truth; and if I tell them that you're lying, they'll tell the world even if you prove you're telling the truth'" (143).

On a lighter note

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"'A fine bird, 'my grandfather said,
'and he's well brought up. See, he answeres
nicely when he's spoken to.
Man or beast, that's good manners.
Be sure that you both always do.'"
Manners by Elizabeth Bishop (49)

I was glad to see a lighter poem with a positive message. Alot of poetry, especially Sylvia Path's, expressed darker subjects. I didn't percieve and double meaning to the Granfathers direction to be polite and mind your manners, just a positive message to be kind to everyone even animals.


Seperation of reality and fiction, blurry

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"Turning wine into water: Water as privileged signifier in The Grapes of Wrath."    Papers on Language & Literature. 29:1 (1993) 67-95.

This was a rather dense essay and made for a challenging read. I liked the use of the garden myth and the frontier myth as conflicting forces for The Grapes of Wrath.  However, because of the historical references and discussing of Steinbeck's other works it was a little difficult to follow the 30 pages of prose. I'm not familar with formating such a lenghtly paper, but wouldn't subtitles have been helpful? With the advanced terms and educated suport it seems odd that the thesis statement began with, "I will argue that."  Also I was confused over arguing in the real world somthing that is fiction, or perhaps he was arguing that the real world issues influenced Steinbeck's fiction. But it does appear as though The Grapes of Wrath and reality become the same thing:

"Since Steinbeck failed to acknowledge the inherent oligarchic nature of irrigation-based societies, he creates the false impression that equitable land distribution and a classless society will return the region to ecological stability. Historically, there are no precedents for this vision being realizable. In fact, returning the family farm to the arid region without altering the national capitalist infrastructure will, given the Plains example, cause devastating ecological harm."

Cassuto is acting as if Steinbeck wrote a documentary on migrant workers and put in misleading information.


Painful Reminder

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"Upsetting me with their sudden tongues and their color, / A dozen red lead sinkers round my neck."
Tulips by Sylvia Plath (201)

To me, the presences of roses disturb Plath because before their arrival she was comfortable in her misery.  Now these beautiful flowers exude life and vitality something that at the moment appear to be far away from her. She can no longer be pleasantly numb because of this constant reminder in her room.  She says, " Nobody watched me before, now I am watched."

Blinding Content

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"We all have our blind spots, and that's normal." - How to Read Literature Like a Professor by Thomas C. Foster (228)

For one of my other classes we had the option of choosing a section from James A. Michener's The Source to present a paper on.  As luck would have it, I picked one based on themes I found utterly unappealing and offensive to my own personal sense of ethics.  It pertained to forms of adultery that were accepted as the norm, along with child sacrifice to religious deities.  I consider myself as somewhat traditional, even old-fashioned; and I find adulteration, especially the boastful and broadcasted type, despicable.  As for any tale that inflicts harm on children, I have no taste for it.  I'm not fond of hearing, seeing, or thinking of any situation that involves a child becoming hurt, sick, or abandoned--certainly not when those conditions are intentional.  I assume I'm not alone in accommodating contempt for such unsettling circumstances.  I'm also certain it is a trait pertaining to parenthood because before the birth of my son I hadn't been so profoundly effected by children's suffrage; I of course found it saddening, but now it is almost as though I experience it.  In every face I can see my sons, and that for me is unbearable.  I've probably spoken too much about my own opinions, but that is sort of this entry's point.  "Of Life and Death," the title of Michener's chapter, was a difficult read for me, and if I wouldn't have had to complete an assignment on it, I may have been so absorbed in the points I mentioned to have ever found any worth in it.  I think, and I know this is true at least for me, that as we read, we often insert ourselves into the storyline.  This is an important part of interacting with books or movies or music, and the author, director, or lyricist expects that relational level from us.  But sometimes, as was the case for me with The Source chapter, our viewpoints conflict with those of the author.  Like Foster said if your not someone dealing with the piece for the sake of analysis or field of study, "you can walk away whenever you want to" (234), but if you must deal with a "work [that] asks too much"(234) try to not read so deeply with "your eyes."

Dancing to a Different Tune

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"My Papa's Waltz" gets very interesting responses on the cultural level. I first read it last semester in Rereading America, and assumed it was about a rugged father, who thought nothing of a few drinks, whisking his son off to bed. Fathers don't always demonstrate a gentleness that we expect from a mother, especially when the child is a boy; so, the dad's romping with his son before bedtime seemed somewhat heartfelt from a tough, whiskey drinking, hardworking father. We can see from lines 7 and 8 Mom is unhappy about this charade, and from line 14 ("a palm caked hard by dirt") guess that Dad has just gotten home from work.  However, as Rereading America discusses, that interpretation isn't always easily seen today.  Today we have different presumptions as to what a proper parent should be and this tuff dad isn't exactly exemplar of those. Negative conclusions come from line 3's mention of death, and probably line 12 and 13, which might be misread as intentional harm from the father.  I remember reading the poem to my sister, who is 4 years younger than me: she thought it was about a drunk and abusive dad.  I found that curious because we are not so vastly different in age and grew up in the same household, so shouldn't our cultural impressions be similar? But I think here is where some of Foster's reading is useful, because not only do we have cultural conventions suggesting what should and shouldn't be, but also individual viewpoints accumulated from life experiences.  Each of us have our own ideas about how things should be, which can sometimes deflect actual meaning and replace it with our own interpretations. If I am aware of myself while I am reading, I can anticipate when it becomes necessary for me to step back from the text and take a second look--something I am continuing to improve on as the class progresses. 


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A dozen thoughts, or should I say inquiries, escaped me while reading this play. Talking dinosaurs, really? Performance setbacks, why? And Gladys fits in where?  Theatrical works I find a bit difficult to follow at times--I found this particular one a bit odd--so I offer more questions than anything else in this entry.  

For the First Act, I was almost entirely lost between frequent whimpers of "It's cold" (31) escaping the mammoth and dinosaur and constant outbursts of "I don't understand a single word of this play" (12) betraying Sabina's character. Why does Sabina, and later Henry, deviate from character? There is no separation between performance and reality. The audience becomes a meaningful participant in the play.  Another oddity, Henry is, oh, four thousand years old and treated as but a boy, yet the Telegraph Boy is only twelve with a wife and children.

Notice the Acts are not prescribed in one fixed theme of disaster: Act I--natural disaster, Act II--moral disaster, Act III--political disaster. In what way does that affect the intent of the play? Always rebuilding, but no matter the form of disaster the pattern of restoration remains the same. So is there really any progress? The play ends right back at the beginning.

Gladys becomes the Father's favorite because he resents Cain for killing his beloved son Abel.  But what purpose does her character fulfill? Every other main character has biblical association; Gladys (as far as I know) does not.  There were just two notable happenings for Gladys. One in Act II, where Mrs. Antrobus rips a raincoat from Gladys legs to bare the shocking stockings to Mr. Antrobus; the other being an abrupt appearance of her baby in Act III.  If you are like me--unsure of how to interpret Gladys, you might want to browse Telling the Past in The Skin of Our Teeth  which couples Henry and Gladys as cautionary figures for the past and future.

My final grievance, more or less a personal annoyance, is Mrs. Antrobus and Sabina's relationship.  Sabina is rude to Maggie (Eve) spouting hurtful remarks like, "you're not a beautiful woman" (15), and attempts to seduce George (Adam) in Act II.  Amazingly Mrs. Antrobus still allows her to be an extended part of the family. Hmmm...


Other Takes

What Makes You Special

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Chapters 21-23 in How to Read Literature Like a Professor all adhere to a general rule--abnormality is symptomatic. And Foster puts it out there very simply, "It has to do with being different, really" (194). Since I have the unfortunate disadvantage of being unfamiliar with nearly all of Foster's (book) references, for my own examples I will turn to movies.  As Foster is nodding down the list of limps and deformities, I envisioned movies like The Wizard of Oz, with the bad witch sporting that nasty facial mole, or The Last Unicorn (1982), with the none-to-attractive Mommy Fortuna: those, clearly, ugly on the inside and out sorts of villains. Forgive my PG-13 parallels, but I'm racking my brain to no avail at attempts to find a film or story with more subtle, or better, evidence of Foster's rule.  Oh! Wait, in Twilight, Bella is the only person whose thoughts Edward cannot hear; obvious reasons aside, this unintentional mental-block of hers pays off ten-fold in Breaking Dawn, (I'll be vague for anyone who hasn't read it) where it blossoms into a gift of defense. The fact that these--would be apparent--differences were less easy to recount than I imagined, to me clarifies how perfectly they can be overlooked. Like Foster said, "If writers want us--all of us--to notice something, they'd better put it out there where we'll find it" (205).



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'"Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their labor.  For if they fall, the one will lif' up his fellow, but woe to him that is alone when he falleth, for he hath not another to help him up.'"

The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck (570)


For The Grapes of Wrath, that's the moral of the story, and where is it produced from?  The Bible, Ecclesiastes 3:9-10.  Steinbeck's depiction of religion is peculiar in this way; he harbors and esteems religion's core messages, yet simultaneously ridicules religiosity by distorting religious virtue within character roles. He bounces off extremes, intentionally no doubt.  For instance, chapter twenty-three, last paragraph, gives an account of a preacher "whipping the people with his voice," and the people "looking with frightened eyes at the master," and also Mrs. Sandry at the government camp, with her demented judgments, who is very menacing to Rose of Sharon and others.  Both characters demonstrate religion negatively.  Still the theme rests on more positive aspects such as the selection I chose for this blog: often released through character's Steinbeck has encouraged readers to favor, such as Casy or Tom. My assumption is that these double takes on religion reflect the duality of humankind--the desire to be an individual but be part of a whole and the clash of good and bad within us all. Religion can be used for betterment, or be taken entirely out of its intended context where it ceases to be good.  It becomes similar to the pattern seen with the machines; if the person uses it for good, it is good and vice versa.  It might be pushing it to say religion is the backbone of humanity in this novel, but that is the impression I have come away with. This is not the canonical version of holiness we are taught in church, but a righteousness nonetheless.


November 2010

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