Yikes. So much racism! And not subtle, social racism -- flat-out explicit use of three of the most offensive words I've ever encountered. By the prota...moreYikes. So much racism! And not subtle, social racism -- flat-out explicit use of three of the most offensive words I've ever encountered. By the protagonists. And they're sincere. And we're not supposed to dislike them for it. Each time, I nearly put the book down, but was convinced that people had recommended it to me for a reason. As it happens, I'm now pretty sure all the people who recommended it to me had not read it in a loooooooooooooooooooooooong time. I understand that children often don't pick up on racist, sexist, etc. things, but these? Yikes. How could you not?
Up until those scenes, I had quite enjoyed the book; but afterward, I only finished it because I felt like I needed to give it a shot. Those are what I will take away from the book.
Interesting Note: I had never heard the word "coon" used as a racist epithet until I watched "Remember The Titans" in 2003. Where and when I grew up, that word was only a shortened form of "raccoon" and it saddens me that when I hear it as an adult, my brain now first registers it as a horrible racist term. I'm afraid to say "'coon-hunting" or "coon-skin cap" because of the terrifying images they evoke. If I had read this book as a child, I suspect its use in this book would have utterly baffled me -- given that it IS about a man who talks to various wild animals -- but as an adult it sickened me. I'm actually afraid to re-watch the old Rex Harrison film that I loved as a child. Will it also contain racism that I don't remember as being there?(less)
Having now re-read this, I still feel as though I cannot be sure if I read it once before. It's possible! But it's also possible that I only heard it...moreHaving now re-read this, I still feel as though I cannot be sure if I read it once before. It's possible! But it's also possible that I only heard it read! Odd.
In any event, it is a lovely, simple fairy-tale about sacrifice, selflessness and the responsibility of rulers to care for their subjects -- but also about the ways in which good deeds can go unappreciated, and about the blindness which charitable people can exhibit in their desperate quest to serve the needy.
Also, here is the line which prompted the review which prompted MY Goodreads-deleted review which caused that big to-do last week:
"He passed over the Ghetto, and saw the old Jews bargaining with each other, and weighing out money in copper scales."
Hardly the most insulting contemporary picture of Jewish people, especially from Wilde (which is extremely sad, when you think about it). And, excluding that line, the general message and spirituality of the story could easily be Jewish, the sort of thing one might have heard from one's bubbe or even read in a later redaction of the Talmud. Oh, Oscar. You came so close to perfection!
____________________________________ ORIGINAL POSTING: ____________________________________
Goodreads is a mixed bag.
I planned to re-read this, because I didn't remember it, but was sure I'd read it in the past. Also, I had read an otherwise excellent review in which a reviewer commented on the fact that Wilde's own brand of anti-Semitism pops up in the story. That reviewer railed against some Goodreads fans of Wilde who had complained about her willingness to bring up that aspect of the story. She was right to do so. The racism and bigotry of past luminaries is a subject many wish to ignore or gloss over, but it remains painful to those of us against whom it was directed. Even much-beloved figures like Gandhi and Marx are not innocent, for instance -- the former having made several anti-Jewish, anti-black, and pro-caste-system comments, and the latter asserting the ultimate worthlessness of various ethnic groups -- but heaven help you if you bring these aspects of the figures up. People don't want to hear it, unless they already dislike those figures.
Sadly, the reviewer made an erroneous claim about the nature of Jewish identity, asserting that the concept of a Jewish "ethnicity" is just a product of anti-Semites because Judaism is only a religion; I tried to politely correct them because I am, myself, (ethnically) Jewish and a Jewish studies professor, and I assumed the review was written in good faith. In response, they deleted my comment, launched into a series of largely-unrelated personal attacks against me, then blocked me so that I could not rebut their claims -- something they had done against the Wilde fans as well, evidently.
In my own preliminary review of the story, i detailed this experience, then briefly discussed the relevant aspects of Jewish history and identity, and concluded by briefly discussing how both had impacted my plans to re-read the book. In response, they and their friends reported my review and had it flagged as "abusive"; Goodreads responded according to their wishes and deleted my review. I had already reported the reviewer's personal (and potentially-racist) attacks against me, but my report went unheeded. A disturbing precedent.
Again, I do plan to re-read this. But I feel like need to set the record straight about Jewish identity.
In short, it all depends on who you ask. For some (usually those outside of the Jewish community) Jewishness is a matter of religion; for some it is a matter of ethnicity; for some it is a matter of culture; and for some it is all-of-the-above. Thus a gentile might convert to Judaism, even as an atheist with a mouth full of grilled shrimp and bacon cheeseburgers clutched in both fists might still be considered Jewish (even by the Jewish community). The TaNaKh and the Talmud both make it clear that Jewishness is an ethnicity bound to a concomitant religious tradition, and even the New Testament seems to accept that view within certain parameters; Lawrence Schiffman actually wrote an excellent book (Who Was A Jew?: Rabbinic And Halakhic Perspectives On The Jewish Christian Schism) arguing that the break between Jews & Christians was actually a result of divergent understandings of "Jewishness", with pre-Rabbinic Jews arguing for ethnicity tied to religion, while early Christians argued for a religion that imputed ethnicity to adherents. The concept of religion as a matter of faith and choice is, in many respects, a modern, Christian, post-Enlightenment construct, which definitely complicates matters. It is for this reason that the 18th century "Wissenschaft des Judentums" came into being. It is for this reason that books like The Beginnings of Jewishness: Boundaries, Varieties, Uncertainties are written. And it is for this reason that Jews For Jesus consider themselves an evangelical religious organization which just HAPPENS to consist of those who are ethnically Jewish, even as every year men from the Hasidic Chabad-Lubavitch movement stand in Time Square and try to call lapsed Jews back to the religion while ignoring interested non-Jews; the latter in particular see Torah-compliance as a religious requirement of the whole ethnicity, believing that an ethnically-Jewish person's rightful religious identity is decreed by Ha-Shem and is with them from birth to death, whether they abide by it or not.
So, ironically, the "racial" aspect of Jewishness is something which the Hasidim and Wilde could have agreed upon. The religious aspect however? Not so much. (And the less said about Marx's views re: Jewish religion, the better!)
In any event, I'll get around to this text again sooner or later. I just have to put some distance between myself and the whole previously-mentioned mess, and regain some of my confidence in Goodreads' "report" system.(less)