Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Handmaid's Tale

     In “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood, Offred’s past life is unveiled throughout the novel. Atwood uses Offred’s memories to contrast the once-free America with the now dystopian theocracy it has become. While there is much to fear for the female inhabitants of the new “Republic of Gilead,” the females reading “Handmaid’s Tale” have even more to fear. Striking parallels are made between Offred’s memories of her former life and the lives of women living in America today. This use of parallelism leads us to wonder: could our country really become like this in the future? Offred’s recollections of her best friend Moira and World War II documentaries are used to imply what could happen to people if freedom and humanity are stripped away.

     When she is feeling especially unhappy about the way her life has changed, Offred remembers her rebellious friend Moira. Moira was an active feminist, and notably, lesbian. She typified everything that Gilead was trying to annihilate with her defiance of the norm. Whenever Offred felt opposed to something that was happening, she wished that she was as brave as her old friend. Yet, no matter how terrified she was by the public hangings, and the ever looming threat of Serena Joy and the women that kept her in line, she was still more terrified of the consequences that would befall her should she rebel. Despite the slogan “nolite de bastardes carborundorum,” (Atwood Ch 9) she could not find the courage to fight against her oppressors and continuously let the “bastards” grind her down. Towards the end of the novel, Offred discovers that Moira has become a prostitute for the commanders to maintain her life. Despite all of the sentimental memories of her friend’s nonconformity, Moira has also cracked under the pressure of the new regime. Atwood uses the broken spirit of a once strong woman to portray her themes: no matter how strong someone is, if there is no hope for free will, there is no hope for life. If fanatics are allowed to take over society, they will force their thoughts and ideas on everyone and freedom, happiness, and individuality will become obsolete and nonexistent.

     Once the Government of Gilead and select few who have power take over, women are confined to their homesteads for a majority of the day. Rather than brooding over the prospect of the future, Offred’s thoughts tend to turn to history and how it relates to how she currently lives. At one point, she reflects over a documentary that she had seen in the past; it featured a Nazi guard’s mistress talking about their relationship. Offred takes this memory and compares her own relationship with the commander to it: “He was not a monster, to her. Probably he had some endearing trait… How easy it is to invent a humanity, for anyone at all. What an available temptation” (Atwood Ch 24). Throughout the novel, Offred justifies not only her own inaction, but the actions of others no matter how evil and wrong they are. Even though the commander selfishly manipulates her to break the government-imposed rules, she still allows herself to start having feelings for him. She justifies that he is really just as unsatisfied with his own life as she is with hers, even though the commander holds all the power and she has to endure the never ending presence of fear every day. Offred’s reflections lead us to ponder our own justifications in life: how long will we wait before we fight against the evils that others inflict on us?

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Story of an Hour

     In the short narrative “The Story of an Hour,” author Kate Chopin depicts the life of Louise Mallard, a woman who has heart problems both literally and metaphorically. Upon learning of the death of her husband, Brently Mallard, she becomes unexpectedly exultant, relishing in the idea that she is free at last. However, Lousie’s long-awaited release from her husband’s expectations become very short-lived, and in turn, lead to her own death. Through the use of third-person-limited, Chopin is able to bolster the agenda of her satirical writing by portraying an hour filled with pointed adjectives, the recurring theme of freedom versus oppression, and the use of situational irony.

Shortly after hearing of her husband’s death in a tragic railroad worker incident, Louise retreats to her room alone. Although she weeps at first for Brently’s death, it is not long before Chopin reveals that her protagonist isn’t truly upset. As Louise slumps into her “comfortable” chair, it was as if her eyes were suddenly opened to the Earth’s beauty. Descriptive phraseology such as “the delicious breath of rain was in the air,” “…countless sparrows were twittering in the eaves,” and “there were patches of blue sky” (Chopin Paragraphs 4-5) paint an eerily happy scene after such a tragic accident. Traditionally, rain is used as a symbol of gloom and sadness, yet because of the cheerful diction that Chopin uses, the natural elements foreshadow the fact that Brentley’s death is considered a relief to his confined wife. Although death usually causes heartbreak, Louise is finally able to feel like her heart is as free as the birds’ that she hears chirping outside her window.

     Within the last few paragraphs of “The Story of an Hour,” Louise’s happiness turns into fantasying. Despite the fact that she supposedly loved her husband “sometimes,” the idea that she is now free to live her life without his scrutiny becomes too much for her to handle. The thought that “There would be no powerful will bending her in that blind persistence with which men and women believe they have a right to impose a private will upon a fellow-creature,” (Chopin Paragraph 13) illuminates Louise’s opinion on her husband’s death and illustrates Chopin’s dysfunctional theme: no matter whether it is out of love or spite, marriage is just a restrictive punishment both physically and mentally. Because of her husband, Louise was burdened with unattainable expectations and limitations throughout her life. Ultimately the restrictiveness of her marriage led to her twisted satisfaction at the prospect of Brentley’s demise. Rather than being permanently confined to her gender role, Louise was briefly able to envision the beauty of her new life.

     In the end, Louise’s learns that her husband didn’t actually die in the railroad calamity. After all of her dreams of freedom, the prospects of being able to live out her own life are quickly shattered. She is so shocked when Brentley returned alive and well, that her heart gives out and died completely. Ironically, the doctors tell everyone that she died due to the joy that she felt at the sight of her perfectly-well husband. However, Louise truly died because of the overbearingly sad realization that she wasn’t actually free after all. The “heart trouble” that she had endured from the beginning was not as physical as the doctor’s had presumed. Because of the repression that she had faced during marriage, Louise ended up dying from the final fatality of her ambitions and dreams.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Response to Barbie Doll

Barbie Doll

This girlchild was born as usual

and presented dolls that did pee-pee

and miniature GE stoves and irons

and wee lipsticks the color of cherry candy.

Then in the magic of puberty, a classmate said:

You have a great big nose and fat legs.She was healthy, tested intelligent,

possessed strong arms and back,

abundant sexual drive and manual dexterity.

She went to and fro apologizing.

Everyone saw a fat nose on thick legs.She was advised to play coy,

exhorted to come on hearty,

exercise, diet, smile and wheedle.

Her good nature wore out

like a fan belt.

So she cut off her nose and her legs

and offered them up.In the casket displayed on satin she lay

with the undertaker's cosmetics painted on,

a turned-up putty nose,

dressed in a pink and white nightie.

Doesn't she look pretty? everyone said.

Consummation at last.

To every woman a happy ending.

~Marge Piercy

     In the poem “Barbie Doll” by Marge Piercy, an unnamed girl is reared from birth in the ways of “true-womanhood.” As she endures the scorn and criticism of the society around her, she is ceremoniously provided with all the tools and toys that any conventional girl would need to understand her preordained gender role. From dolls that “pee-peed” to “wee” cherry lipsticks, her paradigm and place in the world begins on a self-critical and self-destructive path. Through colloquial language, parallel diction, and gruesome hyperbole, Piercy warns us of the potentially tragic destinies of any girl who attempts to grow up in the midst of society’s overpoweringly stereotypical pressure.

     Piercy’s tone throughout her poem is modern, blunt, and to-the-point. Rather than leaving the reader to ponder and question what the meaning to her tale is, her language usage is meant to send the same chilling message to everyone. The unnamed girl is provided with many modern things that girls continue to be enamored with today, causing a disturbing connection between female readers and her main character. In description, it is made clear that she has a “great big nose and fat legs,” which ultimately becomes more important to the critical society around her than her more enduring traits: good-health, intelligence, wit, and plentiful sexual drive. Because of the description, we fully understand both sides; the general public cruelly negates all that is good about her as an individual, which wears her down into a state of constant apology for that which once made her unique. The modern language used in “Barbie Doll,” creates a connection to our modern world, where the story of a degraded girl becomes a means by which Piercy can effectively teach everyone how fragile the human mind can become under too much criticism.

     Parallel diction is used throughout “Barbie Doll” to emphasize Piercy’s main points. In the beginning, the phrase, “You have a great big nose” demonstrates the lack of approval in the girl's appearance. By and by, “everyone” sees her physique as an issue. Eventually the]is overarching disapproval of her peers leads the girl to becoming so overly concerned about her minor physical differences, that she ends up committing suicide over them. The repetitive use of the word “everyone” and the phrase “fat nose and fat legs,” illuminates the true meaning behind Piercy’s satirical poem: we can’t live a happy life if we try to please all of the “everyone’s” in our lives. Much like the girl whose confidence was worn away like a common fan belt, when people conform by changing who they are for the sake of their peers approval, they will end up losing and destroying themselves.

     The image of a girl cutting off her both her legs and her nose is both extremely disturbing and grotesque. However, the extremities of such brutal imagery leads us as readers to reflect on the extremities and lengths that society can go to itself to force us into conformity. At the closing of the poem when the outside pressures of the world have ultimately caused the girl to kill herself, we fully understand the levity of humanity when it comes to how utterly we can destroy each others’ confidence. The sad ending of “Barbie Doll” leads us to question ourselves and the way we are living: is being “fat” honestly the worst thing we as humans can be? Is trying to look perfect or please everyone truly more important than the gift of life itself? As we visualize the case of this poor girl who finally ends up cutting off her limbs in a final and desperate attempt to make everyone else happy, the answer to society's’ questions become rhetorical.

Monday, January 23, 2012

My Life For the Past Little While

     Heya readers! I don't know if there are still any of you out there; these past months have been crazy, busy, hectic, fun, surprising, and an over-all whirlwind that has prevented me from posting anything in my blog. The time has been flying through my fingers faster than a speeding bullet. Well, that must be how it is for all of us poor "starving" college students. Whoever started the rumor that freshman typically gain 15 pounds within the first year of school was seriously misinformed; in the first two months I ended up losing about 15 lbs. Hooray, I guess?

     Honestly, the past few months have been more of a learning experience for me than any other experience in my life. After living with my family for eighteen years, it was quite a shock to move away into a dorm apartment with seven complete strangers. Let's just say that it's been enlightening, terrifying, and wonderful to hear what other people think and believe; so often it's different from what I've learned growing up. My family had rubbed off and become so much a part of me that I had almost began to believe that we were "normal"... Nope! Apparently the family tradition of waking up before eight o'clock because of my early-bird dad is not very common. My roommates were almost horrified when I woke up at 8:10 the other day, "You actually slept in for once, Jojo?! That's impressive." Yeah, some old habits die hard.

    That's not all that's different though; the music is different, the food is different,and the weather is more unpredictable than a two-year-old's temper tantrums. This must be what the early settlers felt like when they reached the Americas... Everyday is unexpected, great, terrible, moving. Some people disregard the traditions and morals that I've held dear to me thus far in my life. Some encourage me to keep going and to push through it all. Sometimes I feel a rift when others think differently, but I'm learning to accept this blend of differences in background and history. College has become a testing ground to see if I can keep my head above the opinions of others, to stay true to myself while trying to learn and grow with those around me, and ultimately to try and maintain my own sense of individuality despite the influence of the crowd.

As for what I've been doing with my life is another story. Many of my friends have been leaving on missions to serve as missionaries for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Some of the best days of my life up at the university have been the times that I've spent reading those missionaries' letters. I couldn't be more proud of them for sacrificing two years of their lives in such selfless service. Way to go guys! Admittedly, I check the weather in Tijuana every single day. It always brings a smile to my face to see that a certain missionary friend is getting plenty of sun while I'm shivering under all this snow.

     Lots of my time is spent learning new things. A few months ago, one of my neighbors taught me how to crochet hats; we've undertaken the task of trying to make 100 hats for children with cancer. I can't wait until we're done! Along with becoming quite the mad-hatter, I'm also attempting to learn an instrument that is also slowly driving me mad. The majestic and nearly-impossible-to-convert-to organ. After only a month into the school year, my bishop called me to be an organist... I had never touched an organ in my life, and so I was pretty scared at first. Despite the initial shock of being asked to learn to play a fourth instrument, I've found it to be a humbling experience. To all of you who laugh and think that the organ is just like the piano, keep dreaming like I did, it's much harder than it looks! There's no sustaining pedal, and the grand organ is so loud that a single wrong note becomes glaringly obvious. However, learning something so different has been a good experience for me. It makes me appreciate good musicians who make playing instruments look so easy!

     Surprisingly, my first finals week in college wasn't too bad. Not to belittle the woes and struggles of my classmates, but the college tests weren't much harder than high school AP tests... Actually, high school was much rougher in my opinion! Christmas break was a lot of fun, and I spent a lot of it with my cousin Alexis and her friend Joe. The three weeks that we had off were a riot; we all slept in late through the morning and stayed up playing games, teasing each other, telling tacky jokes (okay, okay, that was just me,) and watching some funny and weird movies that I'd never seen. There's never been a break that I've enjoyed more than this last Christmas. I'm really going to miss them when they leave on their missions this year!

     Anyways, I'll get back to blogging when I have more to say. It felt so good to write again!