The Analysis of George Cukor’s Romantic Comedy “The Philadelphia Story”
Ask someone when they last admitted their feelings to someone, and they will probably give a recent recount. Ask someone what that feeling of love means, and they go silent.Throughout our lives, molded by romantic literature and professor interpretations, we visualize, through rose-colored glasses, the idea of love being a series of magical moments. However, though the majority of people regard love-stories as having facets of trust and commitment, human relationships in these fictional narratives reflect social commentaries on crooked mechanisms in the human mind that promote avarice and self-fulfillment in relationships. Therefore, it is incorrect to label love-stories true indications of romance, because beneath their superficial messages exists satire on emotion.
George Cukor’s romantic comedy The Philadelphia Story (1940) is then, in a sense, a comprehensive commentary on the peculiarities of human desire. It is a famous “remarriage” comedy, a sub-genre created by philosopher Stanley Cavell in Pursuits of Happiness: The Hollywood Comedy of Remarriage. The analysis of the portrayal of love in The Philadelphia Story based on Cavell’s philosophical ideas elaborates on the notion that the authentic object of true love is reality itself. In his book, Cavell explains that the best way to achieve mutual love for one another is to become aware of each others’ needs. In fact, he summarizes that human affection does not seek perfection, rather, it is attentive and dependent of judgement, that sees one for who he really is.
The Philadelphia Story illustrates the point very well, with several scenes showing the flaws in Tracy’s and Dexter’s relationship. Dexter loves Tracy despite her flaw of demanding perfection in other people and aims to subtly illuminate it to her up to the second wedding, so she doesn’t repeat her mistakes. In the beginning of the movie, the reasons for Tracy’s divorce from Dexter seem justifiable until we start to learn the part they played in toppling the others’ character. Though Dexter was an alcoholic, Tracy encouraged this behavior through her demands and accusations, and when they were not met, Dexter’s addiction grew worse. Cavell notes that “Tracy points out to that drinking was his problem he replied, ‘Granted. But you took on that problem when you married me. You were no help-meet there, Red. You were a scold’” (Cavell 146).
Dexter exasperatedly exclaims to Tracy that she was never there to listen to his troubles, and just continued to scold him for even having those problems. It is much easier to give your well wishes to a person in need than it is to be truly compassionate. Similarly, it is much easier to stop fighting and get a divorce than it is to have patience as your partner sorts through his problems. ‘Re-marriage’ comedy aims to show the importance of a character’s change of nature toward a flaw, and not just adopt a passive behavior. “ ‘Importance’ is an important word for Dexter,” Cavell writes, “as he links Tracy’s not being able to recall what happened the night she got drunk to her inability to tolerate human weakness, imperfection” and takes the point home by yelling, “ is enormously important…You’ll never be a first class human being or a first class woman until you’ve learned to have some regard for human frailty” (Cavell 148).
By differentiating between two different adjective meanings of “first class”, he effectively mocks her upper-class snobbiness, and her critical, severe character. Tracy, while brought up in the first class, oft fails to differentiate on what it means to be a good person with what it means to be acceptable to the social elite. This could have been ingrained in her personality due to a lack of a mother figure in her life, and a dull father. After she contemplates Dexter’s words, Tracy cries over the model of True Love, reminiscing on her past marriage. She realizes that in order to be truly happy and reciprocate the love that Dexter holds for her, she has to learn to be less critical and more accepting of the problems that come with reality. By accepting that mutual love grows from understanding each others’ flaws, the bond between Tracy and Dexter grows stronger. Cavill asserts that Tracy learns to accept her own fallibility, and in doing so, is able to accept the highs and falls that life throws; she can’t keep letting go of loved ones as soon as problems arise.
Cavill’s analysis on The Philadelphia Story sheds light on the the workings of the human heart because he shows that true love is facing the pressures and downfalls of reality and how one learns to grow from those life lessons. He writes how “Tracy threatened to sink the True Love if Dexter takes another woman onboard”, and that “Dexter grabbed a person who talked ill of Tracy and exclaimed that she “still has a husband in me till tomorrow”” (Cavill 145 and 153). Though these instances might seem miniscule compared to the rest of the dialogue in the movie, there is much power wielded through their words. Tracy is very good at manipulating her words in a given situation, and Dexter can manipulate a situation with his words. Right before the wedding, there is a scene where George comes to discuss the previous night with Tracy. Tracy interprets from George’s message that a wife should “Behave herself, naturally” (Cavill 140). Dexter slyly corrects her by saying that she should “Behave herself naturally” (Cavill 140).
Dexter insinuates that Tracy shouldn’t follow societal standards on how to be a proper wife to her husband (especially true since in the ‘40s women were held in low regard and were housewives, not socialites like Tracy), but that she should be naturally confident. When George tries to ridicule Tracy, Dexter jumps in to criticize his patriarchy societal beliefs on the correct attitude of a woman. Though Dexter and Tracy might not see eye-to-eye in several aspects of their life, they exhibit an authentic human relationship by accepting the problems reality might throw towards them. According to Cavell’s philosophy, remarriage comedies require the creation of a new woman thru a mental transformation. For Tracy, this occurs in the swimming scene where she realizes her faults. When Dexter, concerned, asks if she is okay, she “darkly mutters,”Not wounded sire, but dead”” (Cavill 141). Tracy’s “rebirth” leads to self discovery of her bad assertive qualities. Since her first marriage failed because of her possession of those ‘goddess-like’ qualities, her rebirth frees her, and makes her a human again, incapable of being locked in an ivory tower.
At the end of The Philadelphia Story, she relinquishes her title of ‘Tracy Lord’, implying that she has completely been birthed free of her power issues. Cavell believes that in remarriage comedies men and women are spiritually equal–they both have the right to pursue happiness. As explained when Cavell explains Milton’s stance on love thru governmental analogies, no one wants to conspire to ruin their marriage, but everyone wants to fix the problems that are straining their marriage in the first place. In this case, as seen with the analysis on The Philadelphia Story, Cavell believes that in order to have true love, one has to understand the true reality of the extent of their problems, and have patience to keep human relationships strong.
A Theme Of Religion In Molière’s Tartuffe
Molière composed Tartuffe not to censure sorted out religion or religious individuals but instead to sentence bad faith and to teach groups of onlookers, using humor, on the significance of balance, good judgment, and unwavering discernment in all everyday issues. In spite of the fact that the play was initially denounced as a through and through assault on religion and passionate individuals, an appropriate perusing recommends the polar opposite. Religion isn’t the issue; rather, the abuse of religion for individual increase to the detriment of blameless, clueless individuals is the creator’s worry. Works, for example, this in truth helps to secure and advance religion by uncovering impostors for who they truly are and showing the genuine peril they posture to society when they go unchallenged.
The play’s significant accentuation is on the senseless yet genuine consequences of neglecting to act with good judgment. The responses of the different characters of the play to the wolf in sheep’s clothing, play, serve to help the gathering of people to remember the significance of unwavering discernment in reality as we know it where a few people will exploit basic reasoning and visually impaired trust. The play fortifies the brilliant righteousness of ‘balance in every way.’ Excess, even in administration of the most consecrated confidence, prompts crazy ends and conceivably cataclysmic activities.
The comic manner by which the story unfurls, from apparently innocuous straightforward conviction about religious precept to possible trust in the preposterous thought that Tartuffe ought to be responsible for the family’s accounts and home, is a notice to all individuals to abstain from giving others a chance to exploit them through their very own absence of cautious perception and investigation of human conduct. Orgon can’t see the silliness of the limitations that Tartuffe puts on his family. Normally a sensible and proficient man, Orgon turns out to be so enchanted of Tartuffe’s way thus stunned by his talk that he risks family, riches, societal position, and in the end his very own confidence in the estimation of religion for pacifying the manipulative wolf in sheep’s clothing. Molière obviously comprehended the threats of false devotion.
The play puts forward the topic of the significance of an all around requested soul living in an all around requested society under the excellence of reason. The hilarious yet genuine unwinding of Orgon’s expert and individual life because of Tartuffe is the vehicle for the creator’s certain intrigue for reason and request in close to home collaborations and societal foundations. As Molière appears, when people, for example, Orgon overlook presence of mind and wind up charmed by appealling figures, the outcomes can be awful. Orgon’s association with Tartuffe drives specifically to the breakdown of his association with his child, the development of doubt among Orgon and his significant other, individual shame, and money related issues. These inconveniences effectsly affect everybody in Orgon’s life and, by augmentation, on society all in all. The deceptive aims of one man unleash devastation on numerous lives. Through the comic way in which he recounts the story, the writer strengthens the possibility that Orgon’s challenges could have been maintained a strategic distance from. Fraud and his sort have control just when standard subjects obstinately surrender their capacity to have an independent perspective.
In closing, the gathering of people can consider Orgon to be contrite for absurdly putting his trust in Tartuffe; he is likewise furious. In his outrage, he improperly attests that religion has been the reason for all the disaster that he and his family have experienced. Cléante, notwithstanding, reminds Orgon that the genuine issue isn’t religion yet the abuse of religion by impostors. Through his brother by marriage last discourse, Molière strengthens the legitimacy of fitting religious articulation by the genuinely passionate.
Only Yesterday by Fredrick Lewis Allen Review
Most people remember the twenties as a decade of life, new beliefs and fun. Only Yesterday by Fredrick Lewis Allen, is a book documenting life during the 1920’s.
The 1920’s was known as the greatest era of Americas time. When the economy was booming, consumerism grew, technology was changing, and women began to obtain their rights. Only Yesterday, begins in May of 1919, where Allen introduces a character by the name of Roger Butterfield, where he begins to describe the comparisons of how life was post and pre-World War I. Because of these detailed descriptions the author uses it gives the reader a better understanding on how life was like back then.
The first major topic of the novel is about the reemergence of the KKK and the nationwide disgust towards communism after the war. Because of this many people became unsure of each other, because of the lack of trust. Which can be seen to be the cause of the reemergence of the KKK, including, the newly enforced immigration acts. The new era, at first, was seen to have had a bad start but, later it regained its popular name.
The radio, stated in the novel, was the first sort of technology that brought about a craze in society. It was used to broadcast sport events, news and entertainment. Thousands of people would listen in attendance to this new phenome. It changed daily life for many Americans during this time and was a daily recreation for many. Also, it became a family event as Allen described, where families would have cuddled up whether in the morning or evening and listen to the radio as a unit. However, during this time America was beginning to take on an individual mindset.
The emergence of the Flappers soon came after. Women were becoming less rigid and instead became more “outgoing”. However, this was vice versa with men as well. People began to want to act more like ‘themselves’, they took on foul language, sexual activity increased, clothing styles changed, and morals/manners were seen less of. Even in the Rogers relationship, readers could see have how sexuality during this time impacted his relationship with his spouse.
However, there was a set-back, like any era, during the 1920’s: The Harding Scandal. During Warren G. Harding’s presidency, a lot of corruption existed including: bribery, illegal looting and fraud. However, Harding died during his presidency due to a heart attack. Seen to have been influenced by all the corruption happening behind the doors of the white house. Although this happened, causing disappointment and confusion for the American society, the emergence of automobiles and a consumer society helped America significantly.
The emergence of the automobile helped Americas economy greatly. It was greatly advertised and used by millions of Americans. Not only that, it increased the jobs in the factory system greatly. Mass production was the biggest advancement in this sector as well, which increased consumerism. In all, this catapulted America’s economy including other factors. In all, this era for the economy was the biggest boom for America in history. However, this also led to the greatest depression in America, till today: the stock market crash.
Overall, the novel was interesting. The author was able to document a bunch of precise information that could be understood be all readers. The roaring 20’s was a time of technological, physical and economic advancement in America’s history, influencing greatly our society today.
Ancestral Trauma In Breath, Eyes, Memory By Edwidge Danticat
Ancestral trauma can be inherited in Black and communities of color. In Breath, Eyes, Memory by Edwidge Danticat, Sophie Caco is a Haitian woman who immigrated to the United States to be with her mother (Martine) after living majority of her childhood in Haiti without her. Throughout the text, Sophie describes various types of trauma that she, her mother, aunt, and grandmother all experienced. Sophie carries the thought of inheriting her mother’s psychological issues with her as she grows into a young adult, which is affected by watching her mother experience nightmares of rape, testing for virginal purity, and fears of experiencing violence all over again. The trauma Martine experienced affected Sophie because she developed a negative attitude towards her body physically and sexually. In Breath, Eyes, Memory by Edwidge Danticat, Sophie carries the burden of inheriting her mother’s psychological issues, which influences her development as a person who’s experienced childhood trauma (caused by her mother), feeling shame for her body, and experiencing no sexual desires.
Throughout the text, Sophie’s fear of inheriting her mother’s psychological issues affected her development as a person who experienced childhood trauma (caused by her mother) through the testing she went through as a basis for virginal purity. Testing, In the context of Breath, Eyes, Memory, was a way for a mother to make sure their daughter remained pure because it was her responsibility to keep her that way. In the book, Sophie discusses the first time her mother did this to her as a child. She states, “I closed my legs and tried to see Tante Atie’s face. I could understand why she had screamed while her mother had tested her. There are secrets you cannot keep” (Danticat 85). Here, the “secret” Sophie tried to keep from her mother was her relationship with Joseph. Her mother wanted her to focus on becoming a Doctor and not on love and the possibility of it being detrimental. This was something that Sophie knew she didn’t want, but couldn’t bear the thought of telling her mother. She wanted freedom and the ability to experience what being in love was like.
In the text, Sophie carried the burden of inheriting her mother’s psychological issues, which affects the feelings she has towards her body. In section three of the book when she travels back to Haiti with her daughter Brigitte, Sophie makes a comment about her body. Sophie states, “Even though so much time had passed since I’d given birth, I still felt extremely fat. I peeled off Joseph’s shirt and scrubbed my flesh with the leaves in the water” (Danticat 112). Here, the choice of words that Sophie uses to describe her body is concerning, not only because she had just given birth, but using those words are harsh and can have negative impacts on a person’s body image. Sophie continues to state that the stems of the leaves left marks on her skin and this reminded her of her mother’s testing and the large goosebumps it would produce (Danticat 112). I think this, in conjunction with the word-choice she uses to describe her body further proves that her mother influenced how she saw her body and the way she felt about it.
As a result of the psychological issues Martine dealt with, Sophie began to experience no sexual desires in her relationship with Joseph. In the text, Sophie notes of her experience after getting married and telling Joseph of the time where she tested herself as an act of freedom. She states, “I felt it was my duty as a wife. Something I owed to him, now that he was the only person in the world watching over me. That first very painful time gave us the child” (Danticat 130). Here, she’s discussing how she didn’t want to engage sexually with Joseph but she felt that she had to because it’s her responsibility to do so. According to societal standards, it’s a wife’s job to be able to give herself sexually for her husband. Also, this part reminded me of her mother’s situation (in a sense) with having Sophie. Although they were completely different situations, both were in pain sexually and became pregnant the first time. They both gave birth to their pain, but Sophie, in the end, makes strides to not pass her trauma on to their daughter.
Overall, Sophie’s fear of inheriting her mother’s psychological issues influences her development as a person who’s experienced childhood trauma (caused by her mother) through the testing she went through as a child. The burden of inheriting her mother’s anxieties and phobias affected how she felt towards her body. Also, her mother’s trauma impacted the level of sexual desire she had in her marriage to Joseph. Sophie experienced a lot of childhood trauma that was passed down from her mother and she had to watch her mother relive a lot of that every night with her nightmares. As a mother herself now, Sophie makes strides to free herself from those traumas she experienced as a child and wants to be better for her daughter and family as a whole.
The Issue of Fate in ‘All the Light We Cannot See’
Fate: Is Life Happening To Us?
When reflecting on one’s life up until this very moment, there is a divide between how much of what has happened is directly a result of our own doing, and how much of it was seemingly fate. To delve deeper into that thought, one may find that fate indeed controls a large portion of our lives. The circumstances in which we are unknowingly brought into can ultimately determine the outcome of our lives to some extent. In the novel All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, this common theme is exemplified heavily throughout the story. Setting the scene in the midst of World War II, Doerr introduces two young children, who quickly become teens, as the novel skips to and from different time frames. One being Werner Pfennig, a brilliant German orphan boy who holds much promise regarding his intelligence in technology. The other key character is Marie-Laure LeBlanc, a young French girl, the daughter of a Paris museum locksmith. An important detail in understanding Marie-Laure’s story is the fact that she went blind at the age of just 6 years old. These two characters are of great value when analyzing the story for this aforementioned “fate theme”. As the reader may soon find, within their alternating stories during the climax of World War II, a common theme of a lack of agency over both the teen’s lives is very present. Their ability to make choices that benefit them seem wanted, yet unattainable, as the war influences the choices they make and the events around them. By presenting characters as seemingly helpless children stuck in this grand scale war, Doerr presents the idea that humans are ultimately mere pawns of the greater society, basically casualties of its choices; however, through these character’s journeys, Doerr demonstrates that even those who are in dire situations can make a difference if they defy conformity.
The question of fate and the idea that it controls a large portion of our lives is something that is discussed on a large scale. Can we, as humans, control, or even influence the circumstances around us? Or, does life ultimately happen to us? Daniel Dennet said “fatalism is the rather mystical and superstitious view that at certain checkpoints in our lives, we will necessarily find ourselves in particular circumstances (the circumstances ‘fate’ has decreed) no matter what the intervening vagaries of our personal trajectories…” (Solomon 435). This question remains as the reader can take into account that the development of events are beyond a person’s control, and may be in the hands of a supernatural power. But, with that said, the argument remains… is there any free will within that? (Sienkewicz)
The reader will begin to see the little autonomy the main characters truly have over their lives. This predominately is a result of them being children of course, but from a broader perspective, a result of the war. Beginning with Werner, his lack of control over his own life and the course it soon takes starts with his present circumstances. Doerr describes this: “Werner and his younger sister, Jutta, are raised at Children’s House, a clinker two-story orphanage on Viktoriastrasse whose rooms are populated with the coughs of sick children and the crying of newborns and battered trunks inside which drowse the last possessions of deceased parents” (24). One can assume the lack of opportunity that presents itself in a setting like this one. The only option that children like Werner have is introduced within the same chapter: “‘Down there,” Werner whispers to his sister. “That’s where Father died’” (26). He is referring to “Pit Nine”, one of the largest mining shafts. The importance of this lies in the fact that Werner could very well end up experiencing the same fate as his late father. “An official from the Labor Ministry visits Children’s House to speak about work opportunities at the mines […] All boys, without exception […] will go work for the mines once they turn fifteen. He speaks of glories and triumphs and how fortunate they’ll be to have fixed employment” (43). In the same paragraph “Werner feels the ceiling slip lower, the walls constrict” (43), and this description further emphasizes what role fate has in this young boy’s life. Fate grasps at control over Werner’s life, and at this point in the novel, is succeeding greatly. He visibly feels constricted by the few options he has, creating a feeling of being trapped in his own unfortunate circumstances.
These instances are only the beginning of the concept of fate in Werner’s life. Continuing on in the plot, “‘I think,” Werner says, feeling as though some cupboard in the sky had just opened, “we just found a radio” (32). This is key to the story as a whole. He mentions this feeling of a cupboard being opened, tagging onto the feeling of being trapped earlier on. This shows a bit of hope, a light at the end of the tunnel, as fate can also turn things for good. The negative connotation that the concept of fate has thus far does not apply in this instance, but instead remains consistent in Werner’s life, whatever the case may be.
Upon the discovery of this broken radio, Werner quickly finds a way to fix it. His troubleshooting skills and attention to detail must be innate, and yet again, the recurring fate theme comes to the surface. This short chapter foreshadows what is to happen next in the story. Werner clearly stands out from the other boys and girls in the home. This difference will soon earn him a ticket to what seems like a more promising future. His young and intelligent mind is quickly noticed by the community as he begins to repair the upper class’ radios, giving them reason to look his way at all. This act of fate – the discovery of the radio, the discovery of his own intelligence, has led him to a point of what looks like freedom from what he thought he was doomed to.
“You have been called, says the letter. Werner is to report to the National Political Institute of Education #6 at Schulpforta. He stands in the parlor of the Children’s House, trying to absorb it. Cracked walls, sagging ceiling, twin benches that have borne child after child after child for as long as the mine had made orphans. He has found a way out” (124).
This quote begs an interesting question. The reason for an in-depth summary up until the point is to show that possibly, a way out has found him. Did this young German boy truly have a say in the matter? It does not seem so. Life, as suggested earlier, is happening to him. As he progresses in this academy, constantly impressing others with his mathematical skills and radio-repairing capabilities, he is soon given orders. “You are eighteen years old. Not sixteen, as you have claimed. [… it has been] arranged that you will be sent to a special technology division of the Wehrmacht” (286). To put it simply, he is asked to lie about his age so that he may serve on the Nazi-driven side of the war. They are desperate for those with skills that Werner possesses.
All of these instances lead up to the most present day from Werner’s perspective, which takes place in the Hotel Of Bees. His orders are to stand his ground, but ultimately, he is killed from the bombings that get closer as time goes on.
All of this encapsulates Werner Pfennig’s life in regards to how fate played a great role in the way he had to live. Marie-Laure LeBlanc, the blind French girl, also had a stream of events and circumstances that give way to the idea that the concept of fate is very much present. “Congenital cataracts. Bilateral. Irreparable. “Can you see this?” ask the doctors. “Can you see this?” Marie-Laure will not see anything for the rest of her life” (27). Primarily, to take into account her inability to see, would allow the reader to understand that most of what happens to her must be in the hands of others. The disability she finds herself with forces her into greater dependency involving people like her father, or Etienne her uncle. Following this, the war approaches, and the reader can increasingly relate with the charming young girl. The emotion evoked lies in the fact that Marie-Laure does not want to leave her beloved home of Saint-Malo. Yet, again, she is forced, by circumstances that were not brought upon herself.
By the end of the story, the reader will find her helpless, trapped in the rubble of her uncle’s home. The idea of dependency resurfaces in the sense that she has no way to help herself without her vision. These turn of events that take place to further emphasize that just similarly to Werner, life is merely happening to Marie-Laure. In some pieces discussing this novel, the critic suggests that “in another time they might have been a couple. But they are on opposite sides of the horrors of World War II, and their fates ultimately collide in connection with the radio” (Beck n.p.) as the “The listener knows that slowly, inextricably, Werner’s and Marie-Laure’s lives will intersect” (Murray n.p.).
All of this said, both character’s timelines and complex stories are only a piece of what contributes to this theme and idea of fate. The most predominant side story within the novel tells the story of a stone.
“The stone came to be known as the Sea of Flames. Some believed that the prince was a deity, that as long as he kept the stone, he could not be killed. But something strange began to happen: the longer the prince wore his crown, the worse his luck became. In a month, he lost a brother to drowning and a second brother to snakebite. Within six months, his father died of disease. To make matters even worse, the sultan’s scouts announced that a great army was gathering in the east. […] The curse was this: the keeper of the stone would live forever, but so long as he kept it, misfortunes would fall on all those he loved one after another in unending rain” (21).
In a legend told to Marie-Laure as a wide-eyed six year old, the stone introduces the fateful theme very directly. This Sea of Flames stone seems to be just myth and folklore… something to bounce this recurring theme off of. But in hindsight, it is revealed to mean much more. The symbolism behind the object starts when the story is brought up once more in Marie-Laure’s early teenage years. Her father, a locksmith at the museum that displays this particular diamond, has been entrusted with either the diamond itself, or a prototype. He carries this with him as the war rages closer, in confidence that he will keep it safe. The series of unfortunate events that follow Marie-Laure and her father as they escape their small town in France, allude to the fact that he may have the real stone. No other explanation can be made. Including the ultimate need to leave their town, his eventual arrest in the next city, and Marie-Laure’s unfortunate situation at the end of the novel all give way to the fact that the stone may have some influence.
The story of the stone is to merely add a figurative effect to the novel and the theme of fate, and it has an enormous effect on how destiny can be perceived. Simply, the stone could be thrown into the ocean, no longer possessed by a single person, no longer cursing those around the carrier. A decision as simple as a toss into water, could give one the opportunity to seize and take hold of their future and present circumstances to some extent. This idea of throwing the stone away opens up an entirely new conversation on how fate can be perceived. As one piece states, “while the Sea of Flames allegory may seem to indicate a sort of planned destiny—living forever among the suffering of others—there is also a choice in the matter: the stone could simply be tossed into the sea, absolving the curse” (All…Themes n.p.)
This contradiction alludes to the fact that Werner and Marie-Laure may have not been mere victims of the system and endless cycle of fate. There is some light at the end of this tunnel. Werner is consistently faced with the thought of defying what he has been taught. Within the walls of the school he is attending, severe brainwashing occurs. The reader can know this to be true based on the fact that we are able to see inside his conscience, and know that this power struggle within him is indeed occurring. His sister Jutta becomes cross with him when he speaks of radios as the Nazis would, and she wonders why radios have become a negative thing. (Vollman). Once Werner’s source of inspiration and hope, is now something that he is expected to locate and destroy. But the question is this: will Werner fall to the staunch nationalism mindset like the rest of his peers in his school, or carve his own path based on his childhood and background – what he knows to be true? Jo McGowan describes his mindset shift in this way: “Her German counterpart, a wunderkind plucked out of poverty to work for Hitler’s counter- terrorist wing, is blind in a different sense—neck-deep in Nazism before he finally sees what he is doing” (McGowan 8).
A similar question rings true for Marie-Laure. She “ must choose whether to participate in the resistance actively in a way that may endanger others, at one point asking, “But we are the good guys. Aren’t we, Uncle?’” (All… Themes n.p.). This fight for autonomy over what can happen depending on their own decisions, rather than the act of fate’s, is apparent.
These two characters possess the newfound ability to have agency over their lives, and commit to using it well. But, in a more unfortunate sense they are still victim to some circumstance that surrounds them. The autonomy that is discovered when fighting for what’s right, only works to a certain extent. For example, the war is unavoidable by two people who are not in a higher power position. Anthony Doerr exemplifies people like this and sheds light on those stories that would otherwise be overlooked. Meaning that the lives of specific people like Werner Pfennig and Marie-Laure LeBlanc wouldn’t have been reported on. And, though fiction, it surely reflects what real historical events of day-to-day people, like these two, would have faced. Most documentation around this time period focuses on broader historical events, rather than personal stories. The effect of this is profound as we delve into specific characters live’s, the reader can further understand that this war affected each and every life in both Germany, France, and other areas that the war took place
In the end, they do make the right decision to go against what authority was demanding of them. Because of this, a hopeful undertone begins: they are not just victims of their own destiny, but instead, can mold their future depending on their own actions of defying the conformity that they were once bound to. “Despite the effects of war and the influences of oppressive forces, people from opposite sides can, of their own accord, want to come together to help one another ” (Angelini 227). This is clearly seen in the way that Marie-Laure joins the resistance, and how Werner aids in the resistance in a detached way, by helping Marie-Laure via radio. Along with this, another analysis brings up a good point – “It’s that history is whatever the victors say it is. That’s the lesson. Whoever wins, that’s who decides the history. We act in our own self interest” (84). Though the victory of WWII is not seen through in Werner’s lifetime, he, and Marie-Laure are victors against the chains of fate, as they choose to throw the Sea of Flames into the sea, and in other words, take control of their predetermined destiny. At the end of the novel the perspective fully shifts: “His decision to rescue her is one of his first assertions of free will in many years. Marie-Laure remarks, “I wake up and live my life. Don’t you do the same?” In response, Werner says, “Not in years. But today. Today maybe I did” (Rohland 2).
- “All the Light We Cannot See Themes.” GradeSaver, www.gradesaver.com/. Accessed 02 Jan 2020.
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- Rohland, Lindsay. “All the Light We Cannot See.” Literary Reference Center Plus, 24 Apr. 2019. Accessed 24 Jan 2020.
- Sienkewicz, Julia A. “All the Light We Cannot See.” Literary Reference Center Plus, 1 June 2015. Accessed 27 Jan 2020.
- Solomon, Robert C. “On Fate and Fatalism.” Philosophy East and West, vol. 53, University of Hawai’i Press, 2003, pp. 435–454. Accessed 16 Jan 2020.
- Vollman , William T. “Darkness Visible.” New York Times, 8 May 2014. Accessed 15 Jan 2020.
Individuality Versus Normality in ‘Eleanor and Park’, Dylan’s Song and Magrelli’s Poem
Society is designed to be one-size-fits-all, and people accept it because it is what they have been taught. In most people’s perspective, everyone under one race, religion or sexual orientation group follow one stereotype. Unfortunately, this strict mentality makes it difficult for people who choose to break out of the norms. Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell is a novel that follows two young teenagers who experience their first love while dealing with their own struggles with race, appearance and more. Dating back to the 1960s where society divided itself into two during huge cultural changes, “Ballad of a Thin Man” by Bob Dylan is a song about a man trying to find where he fits into society. Lastly, “[I LOVE UNCERTAIN GESTURES]” by Valerio Magrelli is a poem that focuses on embracing our flaws and accepting them as a part of our identity. By comparing these three texts, it is clear that those who do not follow the normal expectations and standards of society are viewed as a mistake for sticking out.
On the surface, it appears that Eleanor and Park and “Ballad of a Thin Man” are similar because the “other” is isolated, but the causes for the treatment are different. Eleanor feels as if “she [doesn’t] belong anywhere” and even when she’s at home, she is “pretending to be somewhere else” (Rowell 127). Likewise, Mr. Jones feels lost and alone during the 1960s, which was a period of advocating for gender equality, diversity, and civil rights. Society divided itself into two categories: the traditional and conservative older generation, and the more accepting younger generation who protested for freedom and love. Mr. Jones doesn’t know if he fits into either category, and he constantly wonders if “[he] is here all alone” because he feels isolated for not fitting in (Dylan, line 10). However, the causes for their isolation are different. Eleanor is isolated for superficial reasons such as her appearance. On the first day of school, her peers immediately judge her for how “big and awkward” she is and how odd she looks wearing “a man’s shirt with half a dozen weird necklaces” (Rowell 127). Eleanor is bullied for the way she looks because her wardrobe is much brighter and masculine than the average female student’s closet. On the other hand, Mr. Jones is isolated because of culture, beliefs and values- topics that are much more serious. He is constantly reminded throughout the song that “something is happening” but “[he] [doesn’t] know what it is”, referencing how he is now considered an outsider for not knowing which category to identify with, forcing him to be kept out of the loop (Dylan, line 5). While the “others” in Eleanor and Park and “Ballad of a Thin Man” are both isolated, the cause of Eleanor’s treatment is for cosmetic reasons, unlike Mr. Jones, who is treated poorly for not knowing where to go during the 1960s counterculture, a much more serious and controversial subject at that time.
“Ballad of a Thin Man” and “[I LOVE UNCERTAIN GESTURES]” are told in polar opposite perspectives in terms of the “other’s” treatment. In “Ballad of a Thin Man”, Mr. Jones is humiliated for being different when he is asked, “how it feels to be such a freak” by a geek, a performer who would chase live chickens, bite their heads off and swallow them for freakshows, which is quite ironic (Dylan, line 15). He is also told that “[he] should be made to wear earphones” which would prevent him from hearing others, shutting him out from the rest of society (Dylan, line 45). On the contrary, “[I LOVE UNCERTAIN GESTURES]” is told from the perspective of the narrator who wants the “other” to embrace their differences because it provides individuality. In order to be accepted, people change the way they dress, their culture, their language and more. Throughout this process, people start to lose parts of their personality and their identity, and society starts to resemble an assembly line where everything is perfectly in-sync and identical. Uncertain gestures such as “stumbl[ing]” and “bang[ing] [a] glass” create the “familiar rattle of the broken mechanism” which symbolizes a glitch in society’s “assembly line” (Magrelli, line 2-11). However, the narrator “love[s] uncertain gestures” because these mistakes are what makes humans human, and make people unique from others. Unlike “Ballad of a Thin Man”, the “other” chooses to accept that they are considered a flaw in society and embrace the fact that they are different than other people by “declar[ing] itself” and “danc[ing]” (Magrelli, line 17-18). In the end, “Ballad of a Thin Man” portrays being the “other” as a humiliating and lonely experience, unlike “[I LOVE UNCERTAIN GESTURES]”, which encourages the “other” to accept their imperfections and freely express themselves.
While “[I LOVE UNCERTAIN GESTURES]” and Eleanor and Park differ in the treatment of the “other”, they both have someone who appreciates differences and flaws. In “[I LOVE UNCERTAIN GESTURES]”, the “other” is finally able to embrace their true self by “break[ing] off” from the societal norms (Magrelli, line 16). On the other hand, Eleanor feels trapped by her appearance and says that “[she’s] stuck in [her] own skin” (Rowell 105). The people in Eleanor’s life aren’t very accepting as seen at school where her classmates “[call] Eleanor Bozo”, and at home where her stepfather, Richie, makes disgusting comments about Eleanor such as calling her “a bitch in heat”, making it practically impossible for her to try and accept her appearance (Rowell 24, 67). However, Eleanor’s appearance is actually one of the things that Park loves about her. Park “[doesn’t] care” that Eleanor has no girl clothes, and “he kind of like[s] that she [doesn’t]” because the lack of feminine clothing differentiates her from others and it proves that Eleanor doesn’t need girly clothing to look beautiful (Rowell 159). Similarly, the narrator in “[I LOVE UNCERTAIN GESTURES]” “love[s] uncertain gestures”. Today’s society can be described as robotic, and these uncertain gestures give the narrator relief because it makes people seem so much more genuine and real. Although the “other” is treated much more poorly in Eleanor and Park in comparison to “[I LOVE UNCERTAIN GESTURES]”, both texts mention how uniqueness is a good thing as it gives people character.
The “other” in the three texts are viewed as flaws in society but it is how they are treated for being a mistake that differs them. In Eleanor and Park, Eleanor’s looks are described like a freaky image that has been distorted through a glass: “Eleanor look[s] like her mother through a fish tank” (Rowell 18). In addition, Mr. Jones is also called a “freak” because he is an outcast for not knowing which side to support (Dylan, line 15). In “[I LOVE UNCERTAIN GESTURES]”, the uncertain gestures resemble a malfunction in today’s mechanical society. However, the texts differ when it comes to how they are treated for being a flaw. Mr. Jones’ treatment is very harsh, negative and unaccepting while on the other hand, the narrator in “[I LOVE UNCERTAIN GESTURES]” tries to encourage a more loving and embracing treatment. Eleanor’s treatment falls right in between as she experiences bullying by her peers and her stepfather, but also love and appreciation from her boyfriend, Park. Even though the texts are different in terms of treatment, the “others” all share the same struggles of feeling isolated for being a mistake in society.
Those who choose to break out of society’s strict norms are considered a flaw because they stand out from the billions of other people who choose to follow the expectations and stereotypes. By comparing Eleanor and Park, “Ballad of a Thin Man” and “[I LOVE UNCERTAIN GESTURES]”, one can conclude that by not following the crowd, it can have a negative impact on one’s relationships because society feels uncomfortable with this unfamiliar behaviour. However, there are people that love and appreciate the uniqueness and individuality, and by breaking norms, it can help others express and embrace their true selves. It is important to remember that one is the main person in control and capable of changing their body and mind, not others. In order to become the very best version of one’s self, they must come to terms with the fact that they may have to break out of society’s one-size-fits-all box.
Gilbert the Giving Tree: The Cost of Altruism in Hedges’s Novel
The popular children’s book The Giving Tree tells the story of a tree that loves a boy so completely and selflessly that it is willing to give up everything it has for the boy. Gilbert Grape is a realistic version of just that—a young man who resentfully abandons his own dreams to support those of the people around him; in potent ways, the traits of strength, compassion, and sacrifice are seen in the novel What’s Eating Gilbert Grape by Peter Hedges. Gilbert is a sort of contorted Giving Tree who ultimately is willing to sacrifice his own happiness to support his dysfunctional, borderline insane family. Instead of moving out of small-town Endora and making a life for himself, he stays to support his family, which is on the verge of falling apart. Everyone around him wants something from him—his mother wants food and cigarettes, his mentally disabled brother wants him to stay forever, and his older sister Amy wants him to support the house—literally.
Gilbert must not only keep his family from figurative collapse, but he must find a way to keep the house from collapsing under the weight of his massive mother. His entire family depends on him and a part of him hates them because of it. This is evident when Gilbert is sitting in his living room and thinks to himself, “I see the sagging floor, the wilting house…the mildew of my clothes, and I understand wanting to erase this place, erase these people” (Hedges 109). Gilbert is withering away to nothing and who resents everyone around him because of it. This resentment also stems from his fear of leaving. His roots are imbedded in Endora, and his past, present, and foreseeable future are all trapped there as well. Despite this, Gilbert understands that there is no life for him in his hometown anymore and he dreams constantly of escape. And while he resents his family for making him stay, at the same time, he enjoys being needed and being looked up to. He fears that if he leaves, he will lose his family, not only in the sense that it might just fall apart, but also in that his family will resent him forever. His desire to be needed is seen when he reveals why he helped out some friends, “Suddenly, I’m the greatest guy, and I leave, secure in their esteem” (218). His fear of leaving is also partly due to the fact that he has witnessed first hand his family’s reaction when his father hanged himself.
Perhaps one of Gilbert’s greatest fears is that of becoming his father—a man who was so overwhelmed by the responsibilities of being the father figure that he abandoned his family altogether. Despite his brutal honesty and cynical nature, we see that Gilbert truly is a good person. But, the years of putting his family before his own happiness have made him bitter and he longs for nothing more than to leave. Yet, there is a slight problem—his family’s entire well being depends on him staying. Without Gilbert, his brother might not make it to eighteen, his mother might fall through the floor, and his family might just crumble; each selfless action he completes drains him, until he is virtually a shell of a human being—a man who can no longer emote or form relations with anyone. This is evident when Becky says to him, “You’re out of touch, out of sync. You don’t like yourself. You don’t even see yourself” (254). Gilbert has effectively given himself up completely for his family and is on the verge of meeting the same end as the Giving Tree. Yet the thing that keeps him from losing his will entirely is the same thing that has caused him so much suffering to begin with—his family.
Gilbert may be self-sacrificing, but his family is certainly not the equivalent of the boy who takes and takes until there is nothing left. His family can be selfless too, even if they are completely dysfunctional. The only exception to this is Arnie, the mentally disabled brother who wants nothing more than his brother to stay with him forever. Everyone else, however, has given up something for the sake of the family, and everyone knows that there will come a time when Gilbert must leave to begin his own life. This can be seen when Amy comes into his room, finds his suitcase open on the floor, and says, “I know, Gilbert. I know how you feel… I may be a lot of things but I’m not dumb” (242). After everything, Gilbert knows that it is time to start fresh and with his family’s support, decides to burn down the house after their mother dies. For once in Gilbert’s life, things work out in his favor. Arnie makes it to his eighteenth birthday, Gilbert’s mother dies happily, and the house that has caused him so much trouble is incinerated. The fire revitalizes Gilbert and ultimately gives him the strength to finally leave after years of dreaming to do just that. Somehow, the years of sacrificing his own happiness and putting his family first have paid off.
In tracing Gilbert’s life, Hedges’s novel celebrates the qualities that make us human – especially sacrifice and endurance, as Hedges portrays a life that is equally depressing and enlivening. In the end, Gilbert is revitalized, he has survived and now he is free. Just as the Giving Tree loved the boy, Gilbert would give every thing he had for the sake of family. But because his family understands sacrifice as well, his actions are eventually reciprocated. Gilbert Grape is a Giving Tree with a family that knows when to let him go.
The Concept Of Racism In Craig Silvey’s Novel Jasper Jones
People are judgmental of others who differ from society’s norm. 1960’s Australia is represented in Craig Silvey’s novel “Jasper Jones”, which explores the concept of racism and the behaviours of Corrigan’s residents who have been exposed to limited diversity. Silvey’s characters Jeffrey Lu and Jasper Jones both suffer from extreme racism due to the values upheld by individuals in the town.
Australians had a strong hatred for the Vietnamese population. In the 1960’s, Australians relied on current events including the Vietnam War to form the basis of their values. The Vietnam War was a massive influence on the behaviour of individuals and how they treated the Vietnamese. Australians were very hostile towards the Vietnamese, treating them with hatred. Particularly in Corrigan, residents took a strong dislike to Jeffrey Lu and his family due to their belief that all Vietnamese people were communists. Jeffrey’s cricket team displays racist behaviour, bullying Jeffrey constantly because of his culture. This is seen at cricket training when, “Someone kicks his ankle and says, F*ck off, Cong.” The use of the negative connotation ‘Fuck off’ implies the hatred the cricket team and Corrigan as a whole have for the Vietnamese population. The noun ‘Cong’ symbolises Jeffrey’s different ethnicity and the displeasure his teammates have in being around his culture. This offensive word is used to highlight the Australians belief that their race is far more superior, therefore making fun of the Vietnamese race. The reader understands that Jeffrey is bullied because of his nationality and is constantly at the receiving end of their hate. Australian beliefs were largely influenced by current events causing the Vietnamese to receive constant hate and torment.
Ignorant people discriminate against those who act differently. During the 1960’s, Australians were very ignorant and rude to those who acted and lived different lifestyles. People who were homeless or very poor were always discriminated against due to their lack of similarities with society. Jasper Jones lived a completely different lifestyle to those in Corrigan, he was without a home and generally had no parental supervision. Due to his circumstances, the local boys always treated him differently, he was laughed at and called rude names: “I’d heard Jasper Jones described as a half-caste.” The noun ‘half-caste’ describes the perspective of Corrigan’s local boys and how they see Jasper Jones. The term is used offensively to imply that Jasper is different and no good because he has an Aboriginal parent. The reader gains an understanding that Aboriginals were discriminated against during the 1960’s and lived life as an outcast. Along with the local boys, the adults also victimise Jasper Jones. Parents, in particular, see Jasper as a role model for bad behaviour simply because of his background and lifestyle. As a result, Jasper is singled out and blamed for the misdoings of the community whether he was involved or not. The adults describe Jasper in many ways that show their resentment, stating “He’s a Thief, a Liar, a Thug, a Truant.” The use of the power of three emphasises the hatred Corrigan’s residents have for Jasper Jones, calling him names that don’t actually apply. These strong words imply that Corrigan’s adults firmly believe that Jasper is no good and therefore should be left alone. The reader feels disgusted at the actions of the town’s residents and feels more empathy towards the victim. Craig Silvey’s characterisation of the town displays the racist and discriminatory behaviour of Australians to those who act and live differently from society.
Ignorant people ignore those who are different from society. 1960’s Australia was a very racist time period with Australians ignoring and isolating minority groups and individuals. Corrigan’s residents uphold this idea, constantly excluding Jasper Jones from local events and ignoring his presence. Jasper receives no recognition and is always being neglected by his community. People in Corrigan are very oblivious to their surroundings and peers, ignoring those who don’t matter: “Jasper Jones fell out of the world and nobody noticed. Nobody cared.” Craig Silvey uses a metaphor to emphasise how unaffected Corrigan’s ignorant residents would be if Jasper disappeared. Jasper Jones can’t literally fall out of the world but the metaphor is used to imply that his disappearance would have no emotional reaction. Symbolism has also been used to convey the attitudes of the world into a single town. The noun ‘world’ symbolises the relationship between the world and Corrigan, highlighting the similar actions and behaviours between individuals. The reader understands how small-minded Corrigan and the world are and the unjust treatment Jasper receives because of his differences. Craig Silvey’s crafting of Corrigan’s residents emphasises the ignorant values of Australians who exclude and ignore those who are different from society.
Ignorant people judge, exclude and discriminate those who are different from society. Craig Silvey’s novel displays the racist behaviours of Corrigan’s residents during the 1960’s, highlighting the negative impact these behaviours have on Jeffrey Lu and Jasper Jones. Even though racism is wrong, people disregard the effects and rely on beliefs and values to discriminate against those who differ from society’s norm.
A Theme Of Fear In The Alchemist By Paulo Coelho
Fear is in all human beings that always pulls us back into the darkness. It is also something that will protect us by signaling danger and preparing us to deal with it. But behind that fear is your Personal Legend. A Personal Legend is your life’s spiritual purpose. It is a spiritual calling that awakens a deep desire and passion to live with a sense of purpose for something greater than yourself. The main character, Santiago, during his journey he learns to listen to the heart and to follow the language of omens. Among each passing obstacle and hardships that the young boy encounters, there is a lesson to learn. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho is a book about how Santiago goes to pursue his dreams, however, faces multiple kinds of fears while on his journey. Fear is also what makes us human, and If we couldn’t be afraid, we wouldn’t survive for long. And, most importantly, we wouldn’t be able to make our decisions because we think that we don’t deserve them or unable to achieve them. “People are afraid to pursue their most important dreams because they feel that they don’t deserve them, or that they’ll be unable to achieve them”. People tend to believe that our hearts tells us things such as when its afraid, sad, happy, and angry. However, people also think that it is foolish to follow one’s dreams because it is something a child would do and that they need to think realistically and act more like an ‘adult’. Those who decide to not act on their dreams then leads them to regret and wish they had done it, “You will never be able to escape from your heart. So it’s better to listen to what it has to say”. You will not be able to run away from your problems or fear so it’s best to just face them head on. For example, when there is a roadblock on your way to success after working so hard would you quit because of it or keep going straight ahead and defeat anything that is in your way? We, human beings are creatures who crave for success and won’t allow our fears to stand in our way for us to make ourselves a proud and successful person. However, to be a successful person would be first completing your Personal Legend.
Fear of losing your loved ones. Santiago from The Alchemist fell in love with a girl who was fetching water, Fatima, who distracts Santiago from his dream of reaching the pyramids and his treasure. “Maktub,” she said. “If I am really a part of your dream, you’ll come back one day” (The Alchemist). With the beauty she had, Santiago fell in love with her, that love for her had Santiago to make a close decision to just stay at the oasis with her instead of going after the treasure. However, he knew that he couldn’t do that because he was after his Personal Legend, “And I am part of your dream, a part of your Personal Legend, as you call it” (The Alchemist). Santiago wonders if Fatima might be the treasure he has traveled so far to discover. Her smile appears as an omen, the one he has been waiting for all his life. Santiago finally accomplished his personal legend and part of it was Fatima. Fear of seeing how society will treat you or judge you. There some people judge others and believe that their judgment is correct while in fact it has nothing to do with reality. Also, some of the people who are judged negatively by others feel bad about themselves and believe that there is something wrong with them, this results in a low self confidence and poor self esteem. “Most people see the world as a threatening place, and because they do, the world turns out, indeed, to be a threatening place…”. In some people’s eyes, they see the world as a cruel and cold place. There are some people assuming the intentions of others when they lack information and this leads to incorrect judgment most of the time. In today’s society there are people that give a look at some people judging them how they look or skin color. “Society everywhere is in conspiracy against the manhood of every one of its members. Society is a joint-stock company in which the members agree for the better securing of his bread to each shareholder, to surrender the liberty and culture of the eater, the virtue in most request is conformity”. In other words, society glorifies conformity to man-made rules, laws, and customs. A great man should be able to decide for himself what is wrong or right, without any help.
Fear of never achieving your dreams. The fear of never achieving your dreams is a scary topic, because just thinking about it just sends a chill down your spine or you freeze in place. The truth is that the more, and bigger of your dreams, the more difficult it is to live up to it. “But now I’m sad and alone. I’m going to become bitter and distrustful of people because one person betrayed me. I’m going to hate those who have found their treasure because I never found mine”. As a result, it becomes easier not to try at all in order to avoid pain, disappointment, and rejection. You’ll never be able to discover how far you could have gone. We are afraid of losing what we have, whether it’s our life or our possessions and property, “But this fear evaporates when we understand that our life stories and the history of the world were written by the same hand”. Still, you shouldn’t have let these fears stop you. Why? Because choosing to do nothing is the worst decision of all. Everyone faces crucial moments in their lives, and it’s up to you to gather the courage to pursue your Personal Legend. Fear of just letting go of things. It’s easier to cling onto the past than to face the reality of the present, which can hinder your development. The same can apply to people, places, and things. Sometimes, we want to hold onto something from the past, which influences us to make decisions that don’t align with what’s right for ourselves at the moment. “And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it”. Letting go is something we all need to do in our lives. It doesn’t mean that forgetting a memory or pretending something that didn’t happen. It’s all about appreciating something for what it is, whether it’s a past relationship, or where you used to live. At the same time, you know what’s right for you in the present. “I don’t live in either my past or my future. I’m interested only in the present. If you can concentrate always on the present, you’ll be a happy man. Life will be a party for you, a grand festival, because life is the moment we’re living now” (The Alchemist). While someone who was good to you in the past, they might not be what you need now. In truth, letting go is liberating. It frees us of our burdens, the past, and unnecessary worries. When you let go, you can simply carry the knowledge that you can choose to shape your present and future.
The Alchemist is a book about how the multiple fears that Santiago had to face on his journey to pursue his Personal Legend. The many fears that Santiago had to face was being in the darkness, losing loved ones, being judged by other people, never achieving your dreams, and letting things go. Everybody has different reactions to different situations that they face, but the one thing we, human beings do not like to face, however, still have to is the fears that we hold. We can either let those fears burden us or use it and face against it in order to grow stronger.
The Role of the City in the Novel “Jazz” by Toni Morrison
When Christopher Morley explains in Where the Blue Begins that “All cities are mad: but the madness is gallant. All cities are beautiful: but the beauty is grim,” he may not realize how closely he is describing the city illustrated in Jazz, a novel by Toni Morrison. Jazz tells the story of those striving to get to the place of their dreams, Harlem, and how in the face of harsh reality, they must construct false hopes for that eventually destroy their lives and the lives of those around them. The City particularly affects Violet and Joe, who come to New York to begin a new life. As the City makes powerful promises of eternal bliss to Violet and Joe, their expectations soar. Unfortunately, great expectations invite the possibility of great disappointments, and as reality sets in, the characters in Jazz fall victim to the danger of relying on the City for happiness and success.
Violet and Joe travel to New York in the hopes of a new beginning. Violet’s rough childhood led her to look for hope and happiness in places far from her home state of Virginia. Her family consisted of a mother who committed suicide and a father who was absent from her life for several months at a time. Similarly, Joe was abandoned by his mother, leaving him to search for fulfillment of his maternal void. After Joe and Violet meet and marry, they work multiple hard-labor jobs like plowing and working in a sawmill. They wanted something more out of life. Together, Joe and Violet were the perfect candidates for the alluring promises of the City because of their need to escape their painful childhoods, but also because of the lack of fulfillment they were receiving from their adult lives.
As they head on a train to New York for the first time in 1906, “they stared out the windows for first sight of the City that danced with them, proving already how much it loved them,” (32). This is the first sign of the expectations of acceptance and love Violet and Joe hope to acquire in the City and this new life. Violet and Joe entered the City with, “fascination” that made them, “feel more like themselves,” before they had even met the City and its flaws. Their hope is dangerous. By placing all of their confidence in a place they had never been to provide them with excitement, money, and love, they set themselves up for disappointment from the beginning.
The first reminder of the harshness of reality hits when they attempt to find decent jobs in the City. Though Joe no longer must do hard labor on the fields, he now must resort to demeaning jobs, from cleaning fish to scrubbing toilets. Once he works his way up, he begins working at a hotel and as a waiter where he makes tip money “that dropped in [his] palm fast as Pecans in November,” (128). Life seems to have improved for Violet and Joe, and when they move to Lenox, they live in a home far larger than necessary for two people. They feel they are living in a castle. They have overcome the first challenges of the City, and are living part of their dream–until reality strikes again.
As newcomers to the City, Violet and Joe are not, at first, aware of the high cost of living. When they move into their house on Lenox they can afford the “fifty, sixty dollars a month,” but they are not prepared for the drastic climb in rent of the early 1900s that stemmed from the high demand of others who wish to live in the City (127). Landlords set rent as high as they wanted; all that mattered to them is that people were willing to pay what they were asking, whether or not it was the people already living in the house. In an already poverty stricken area like Harlem, the rents turned people onto the streets. Wanting to keep their home and their way of life, Joe and Violet must adapt to the rising price of their home. Joe must take up a side job of selling women’s cosmetics and Violet must become a hairdresser full time to make ends meet.
As the City began to shows its underbelly of poverty, a reality still more disillusioning appears to Joe and Violet. In the early 1900s the United States was segregated by race. Thus, “the wave of black people running from want and violence crested in the 1870’s; the 80’s the 90’s but was a steady stream in 1906 when Joe and Violet joined it,” (33). Though the North was more welcoming than the South, it was still filled with prejudices and racism, neither of which Joe or Violet are prepared to face. Coming to the City Violet and Joe expect everyone to dance with them the way they danced in the train on the way to New York. Much to their surprise, even renting a home proves difficult, because the “light-skinned renters” try to keep them out of their complexes (127). In the meantime, white privilege becomes particularly obvious when “the stores doubled the price of uptown beef and the whitefolk’s meat stay the same.” However, these frustrations are not nearly the worst of their experiences with racism in the City. In fact, the dangers of being black become more personal than they ever expected them to be.
Being a black woman in New York was especially difficult and frightening at times in ways any man, black or white, may never have to experience. In parts of a City that once promised freedom, Violet and other women, like her neighbor Alice Manfred, are vulnerable to the sexual dangers of being a black woman. Daunting experiences plagued women constantly when “white men leaned out of motor cars with folded dollar bills peeping from their palms,” and worries of being raped or mugged set so deeply into these women that their fears begin to replace their aspirations in the City they once considered an escape (54).
However, the racism particular to women did not end with the fear of being raped or even killed. Humiliation played a major role in the experience of a black woman, even in the most common circumstances. An event as simple as shopping poses potentially upsetting situations for them, like when they are asked to cover their skin with tissue if they want to try on a shirt (54). This major disappointment changes Violet. She danced her way into the City; now, she falls silent with fear and sadness.
A particularly devastating experience and disappointment for Joe and Violet occurs in the summer of 1917, when a riot occurs because white men were trying to hang a black man as a demonstration to the community. The true danger of the City becomes clear to the couple. As Joe explains, “those white men took that pipe from around my head, I was brand new for sure because they almost killed me,” (128). Joe points out that being almost beaten to death because of his race forced a drastic change to his personality and his overall comfort in the City. Coping with this tragic experience further dashed the hopes of happiness and acceptance in New York that Joe and Violet came for. Where was the City’s “love” they had been awaiting and expecting now that they were being looked at as a race rather than as human (32)?
In our society, and in the society of the Jazz Age, being young and eager to grow and prosper was–and is–encouraged. Yet with being young and hopeful comes the possibility of being naÃ¯ve and unprepared for the rough realities and hardships life offers. Violet and Joe were young and excited to begin a new life in a City they thought was filled with money, opportunity, excitement, and love; however, because of their pure and innocent hearts, they trusted that the City would give them the love and acceptance they expected. Because of the disappointments and harsh realities Violet and Joe had to face, they ended up destroying their own lives, each other’s lives, and, literally, the lives of others.