One of the reasons that the tragic end of George and Lennie’s friendship has such a profound impact is thaFraternity and the Idealized Male Friendship
One of the reasons that the tragic end of George and Lennie’s friendship has such a profound impact is that one senses that the friends have, by the end of the novel, lost a dream larger than themselves. The farm on which George and Lennie plan to live—a place that no one ever reaches—has a magnetic quality, as Crooks points out. After hearing a description of only a few sentences, Candy is completely drawn in by its magic. Crooks has witnessed countless men fall under the same silly spell, and still he cannot help but ask Lennie if he can have a patch of garden to hoe there. The men in Of Mice and Men desire to come together in a way that would allow them to be like brothers to one another. That is, they want to live with one another’s best interests in mind, to protect each other, and to know that there is someone in the world dedicated to protecting them. Given the harsh, lonely conditions under which these men live, it should come as no surprise that they idealize friendships between men in such a way.
Ultimately, however, the world is too harsh and predatory a place to sustain such relationships. Lennie and George, who come closest to achieving this ideal of brotherhood, are forced to separate tragically. With this, a rare friendship vanishes, but the rest of the world—represented by Curley and Carlson, who watch George stumble away with grief from his friend’s dead body—fails to acknowledge or appreciate it....more
I thoroughly enjoyed reading Eggers' first novel and will snap up anything else he writes. This is an account of a young man assuming the parenting reI thoroughly enjoyed reading Eggers' first novel and will snap up anything else he writes. This is an account of a young man assuming the parenting responsibilities of his young brother after both parents die. Eggers is intense and his prose edits nothing from his stream of consciousness ramblings. Normally this might seem too verbose but he has a brilliant mind and a crafted literary style that makes it so enjoyable to travel through this strange landscape with him. I was only a bit distressed by the note with which the book ends. Highly recommended....more
Ever since the character played by John Cusak in the movie High Fidelity listed "Cash by Johnny Cash" as his number one book I knew I would have to reEver since the character played by John Cusak in the movie High Fidelity listed "Cash by Johnny Cash" as his number one book I knew I would have to read it. I sure didn't hurt that I loved this movie a whole lot. The book proved not to be my number one favorite but certainly was an eye opener and a fast fun book in many respects.
Cash is pretty easy to read, straightforward, honest and informative. His life story is definitely worthy of a book (or two). From very humble beginnings to the top back down through repeated drug crises and back up. He has met five presidents, toured with the little Memphis band of newcomers including Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis and Roy Orbison among others. Along the way he befriended the likes of Dylan, Willie Nelson, Billy Graham and Tom Petty. This honest telling of the story of the Man In Black is filled with anecdotes that surprised me with their candor and insights. I have a much better understanding of the origins of the Memphis sound, of life on the road, and of this remarkable man's journey bringing his unique brand of music to the people. ...more
Anarchists played a major role in the Russian Revolution, but they were also among the earliest and most outspoken critics of the Bolsheviks. In The AAnarchists played a major role in the Russian Revolution, but they were also among the earliest and most outspoken critics of the Bolsheviks. In The Anarchists in the Russian Revolution, Paul Avrich presents some fifty documents or extracts from 1917 to 1921, most of them translated from Russian and taken from articles, manifestos, speeches, letters, diaries, and poems. He supplements this with a general introduction, notes on some individual documents, and a small number of black and white photographs and political cartoons.
Avrich begins with some anarchist responses to the February Revolution. A selection of pieces then tries to convey something of the variety of anarchist ideas, on topics from atheism and anti-militarism to education and visions of the future.
"We Anarcho-Syndicalists oppose collectivism (state communism) with free anarchist communism, which recognizes the right of man to his own life and to the full satisfaction of all his needs. This right is seen not as vulgar huckstering, not as an exchange for a specific quantity of labour, but as the participation of each individual, according to his strength, in productive life." [N.I. Pavlov, "The Free Commune and the Free City", 16 September 1918:]
After the February Revolution, anarchists worked for syndicalism and workers' control of factories. They urged social revolution and attacked Kerensky's Provisional Government and the Constituent Assembly.
"The Constituent Assembly is still one of the illusions we must get rid of. If the workers expect all good things to come from the Constituent Assembly and put all their hopes in it they will still remain under the old conditions. The Constituent Assembly will be filled with capitalists and the intelligentsia. What's more, the intellectuals can in no way represent the interests of the workers. They know how to twist us around their fingers, and they will betray our interests. Look over all the lists of candidates to the Constituent Assembly. You'll find scarcely a worker there. There is nothing there for us. We must win our victories through direct combat and remember that the liberation of the workers is the task of the workers themselves." [address by Renev to the Fourth Conference of Petrograd Factory Committees, 10 October 1917:]
Anarchists joined with the Bolsheviks in the October insurrection and during the civil war many "Soviet anarchists" fought in the Red army. Others, however, denounced centralisation and dictatorship, though violent opposition was rare. And Bolshevik repression of anarchists intensified.
"We have reached the limit! The Bolsheviks have lost their senses. They have betrayed the proletariat and attacked the anarchists. They have joined the Black Hundred generals and the counter-revolutionary bourgeoisie. They have declared war on revolutionary anarchism." [Burevestnik, 13 April 1918:]
During the civil war, much of the Ukraine was controlled by the anarchist commander Nestor Makhno, who fought armies both White and Red.
Included are some pieces by anarchists held in Bolshevik prisons and two letters by Kropotkin, who died in February 1921 and whose funeral was "the last time that the black flag of anarchism was paraded through the Russian capital". The volume ends with the Kronstadt revolt of March 1921 and extracts from Alexander Berkman's The Bolshevik Myth and Emma Goldman's My Disillusionment in Russia.
The documents in Anarchists in the Russian Revolution offer a novel perspective on the Revolution and insights into the history of anarchism. Avrich does a good job with his introduction, but some familiarity with the events of the Revolution and the history of socialist thought is still assumed. ...more
Paradise of the Blind, by Vietnamese novelist Duong Thu Huong, was first published in Vietnam in 1988 and translated into English in 1993. It was theParadise of the Blind, by Vietnamese novelist Duong Thu Huong, was first published in Vietnam in 1988 and translated into English in 1993. It was the first novel from Vietnam ever published in the United States and gave American readers authentic insight into the poverty and political corruption that characterized Vietnam under the communist government from the 1950s to the 1980s. Although to most Americans the name Vietnam conjures up images of the Vietnam War, the novel does not concern itself with what the Vietnamese call the American War. It begins in Russia in the 1980s, as Hang, a young Vietnamese woman, travels to Moscow to visit her uncle. As she travels, she recalls incidents from her childhood and adolescence in Hanoi and also tells of life in her mother's village during the communists' disastrous land reform program that took place in the mid-1950s. The novel, which was banned in Vietnam, is essentially the story of three women from two generations whose family is torn apart by a brother who insists on placing communist ideology above family loyalty. The exotic setting and descriptions of the lives of ordinary Vietnamese people in rural and urban areas, combined with the story of young Hang's struggle to forge her own path in life, make for a compelling story.
What sets in motion the multiple individual tragedies of the novel is the attempt by the victorious communists to impose the principles of Marxism on their society. According to Marxism, in every society there is a struggle between the exploiters, the landowners or factory owners (the bourgeoisie), and the exploited, the peasants and the working classes. The so-called land reform that the communists enact in the novel is a catastrophic failure and causes great injustice, "sowing only chaos and misery in its wake," as far as Que's village is concerned. In the village, anyone who owns even a tiny amount of land is declared to be an enemy of the peasantry, even though these small landowners have never exploited anyone. Nonetheless, their property is arbitrarily seized on the orders of Que's brother, Chinh, who thinks only in terms of rigid Marxist theory of class struggle. It is Chinh's adherence to this theory that creates and perpetuates injustice in his own family. Putting ideology above family, he denounces Ton, his own brother-in-law, for the simple reason that Ton's family hired farm labor and, therefore, belong to the exploiting class. Chinh's ideological zeal leads to Ton's exile and death; Que's unhappiness; the lifetime enmity of Ton's sister, Tam; and Hang's loneliness as she grows up without a father.
In addition to applying Marxist theories in a rigid, uniform manner regardless of local conditions or common sense, the Communist Party depicted in the novel is also corrupt. Chinh and his Party hacks use official visits to Russia to make money by trading luxury goods on the black market. The hypocrisy of this is apparent in Moscow when Chinh, who must be well aware of what is going on, hectors his colleagues, telling them they "must behave in an absolutely exemplary manner while you are in this brother country." Not only this, Chinh enriches himself with the perks available to government officials. He owns a new Japanese television set and refuses to sell it even to help raise money for his sister Que, who has just had her leg amputated.
There is also the corruption of Duong, the vice president of Aunt Tam's village, who seizes land to which he has no right. The most savage indictment of hypocrisy of the communist rulers comes from the student Hang refers to as the Bohemian, who harangues Chinh in Khoa's Moscow apartment: "They decreed their thousands of rules, their innumerable edicts, each one more draconian than the last. But, in the shadows, they paddled around in the mud, without faith or law." The Bohemian asserts that what all the Party officials really sought was not the good of the country but power and perks for themselves. Indeed, this is the thread that runs through Chinh's life. For example, he claims to be concerned with his sister's welfare, but the real reason he gets her a job in a factory is that he thinks having a street vendor for a sister is harming his own chances of advancement in the Party. It is ironic that Chinh lectures his sister about putting the interests of her own class above her self-interests, when he himself, under the guise of ideological purity, does the opposite.
The devastation brought about by the land reform, which results in the persecution and eventual death of Hang's father Ton, is that Hang grows up with deep feelings of loneliness, and two families are permanently divided. Mocked by her neighbors for being the fatherless child, Hang looks back on her childhood, seeing it "like a ball kicked across the road, aimless, without any purpose." She lacks any sense of self-worth, a consequence of growing up without a name, not knowing who her father was. She compares herself to "an anonymous weed [that] grows between the cracks of a wall" and also feels a long-lasting sense of humiliation and injustice about her life. One night she dreams she is being beaten, and this feeling of senseless oppression stays with her as she matures. She feels shame at having to associate with her uncle, who has been the cause of such distress to the family. When she visits him in Moscow she refers to her life as "this slow torture, this bottomless sadness." When she is twenty she refers to the "dark circles of misery" she sees under her eyes when she looks in the mirror, and she sees the same unhappiness in an entire generation of young Vietnamese, who see no future for themselves in their society.
The narrator creates a reflective, often sad atmosphere through her poetic descriptions of the landscapes she remembers, both in Vietnam and Russia. She emphasizes the emotional effects these landscapes had on her. One example occurs in chapter 5, when she describes the first snowfall she ever witnessed, in Russia. The beauty of it "pierced my soul like sorrow." This thought prompts her to recall a moment when she was a girl and her mother had taken her to visit a beach; the beauty of the scene at dawn was so extreme it was painful to Hang, perhaps because it was such a contrast to the reality of her impoverished and insecure life.
Particularly evocative are the descriptions of the slum in Hanoi where Hang grew up. She recreates the sights, smells, sounds of her childhood in all their sensory details: the brick hut in which she lived, with its leaky roof; the sounds of the street vendors as they set up their stalls in the morning and their characteristics cries as they hawk their wares; the voice of the crippled man who always sings the same mournful song; the sounds and smells of many families cooking. There are numerous descriptions of food in the novel; food is important to Hang because in her childhood she sometimes goes hungry, and even at the best of times her diet lacks variety. On occasions, too, her mother gets sick because of lack of adequate food. Therefore, as Hang grows up she always notices and records in great detail occasions when food is present in abundance and variety, such as the feasts put on by Aunt Tam. Such occasions, suggesting the resilience and goodness of life, act as a counterweight to the adversity that in general characterizes the lives of the Vietnamese people.
The Paradise of the Blind depicts both the beauty and oppression of life permeated by culture and ideology and shows in its hopeful ending that it is possible for determined individuals to resist and transcend these powerful forces....more
HARRY HALLER, A MIDDLE-AGED INTELLECTUAL, moves into a lodging house in a medium-sized, generic town, which is never named. Despairing and melancholy,HARRY HALLER, A MIDDLE-AGED INTELLECTUAL, moves into a lodging house in a medium-sized, generic town, which is never named. Despairing and melancholy, Harry feels himself to be “a wolf of the Steppes,” or “Steppenwolf,” adrift and alone in a world that is incomprehensible to him and offers him no joy. Steppenwolf recounts Harry’s pain and anxiety as he tries to overcome his crippling sense of dislocation and despair at the futility of humanity.
Harry is repulsed by the productive, organized, and diligent optimism of the bourgeoisie, or middle class. Even so, he is bewitched by its charms. Caught between the urges of his wolf-half and his man-half, Harry can neither completely disavow nor embrace a conventional way of life. He regularly contemplates committing suicide.
One night, while Harry walks unhappily through an old quarter of the city, he sees a sign over a door he has never noticed before. The sign reads “MAGIC THEATER—ENTRANCE NOT FOR EVERYBODY.” More letters reflected on the street spell out “FOR MADMEN ONLY!” Harry cannot open the door, but a sign-bearer advertising the Magic Theater gives Harry a booklet entitled “Treatise on the Steppenwolf.” This booklet contains a precise description of the way Harry feels as a Steppenwolf. It speaks of a person who is half man and half wolf who hates the bourgeois lifestyle but who is also at the same time incapable of surrendering himself to the pleasure of the senses…
The publication of Steppenwolf in 1927 caused a scandal, as the novel’s candid accounts of the corrupt elements of a city disappointed readers who had become accustomed to Hesse’s highly spiritual works. Critics claimed that the novel was too obviously confessional, as it sprang out of a crisis in Hesse’s own life. He wrote the novel after the failure of his first marriage and the collapse of his brief second marriage. Indeed, Hesse, who was shy and had always felt most comfortable at home, had gone on something of a socializing rampage, frequenting the bars and dance halls of Zurich. He spent most of his days drinking alcohol and most of his nights writing self-pitying poems (written before, but published after, the publication of Steppenwolf). These poems, which offer a painfully honest record of Hesse’s alcoholism, suicidal tendencies, and sense of mental and physical estrangement, serve as interesting companion pieces to the novel.
By the end of 1926, Hesse abandoned his self-indulgent lifestyle and retired to the solitude of his country retreat in Switzerland. Hesse’s work fluctuated widely in popularity during his career and has continued to do so since. His outspokenly pacifist novels were vilified and banned in Nazi Germany but were celebrated after World War II. In America, the Beat generation of the 1950s and the hippies of the 1960s enthusiastically embraced Hesse’s blend of Eastern philosophy and existentialism. Today, Hesse is acknowledged as one of the most influential German authors of the twentieth century, and he is widely respected for fusing elements of philosophies from around the globe in his work. Hesse’s efforts earned him the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1946. He died in 1962 at his home in Switzerland.
Steppenwolf describes Harry Haller’s unusual, tragic condition. He is torn between two selves: a man-half who desires the respectability and comforts of bourgeois existence, and a wolf-half who scoffs at these vain, absurd desires. Although Hesse returns to this dichotomy throughout the novel, he also frequently dismisses it as overly simplistic and exaggerated. According to the “Treatise on the Steppenwolf,” the idea that Harry is composed of these two selves is useful in theory, but, like all such theoretical constructs, is ultimately unable to capture the complexity and richness of reality. According to the Treatise, “Harry consists of a hundred or a thousand selves, not of two.” Moreover, this is true not only in Harry’s case but is an inherent condition of mankind.
The idea of multiple identities is most fully explored in the Magic Theater at the novel’s close. Pablo speaks of the theater as a place in which to perform the dissolution of the personality. Behind one of the strange doors, a man closely resembling Pablo teaches Harry that the individual is comprised of innumerable selves that may be reconfigured in varying ways, like chess pieces. Drawing upon the Eastern ideas of reincarnation and transmigration of the soul into infinite bodies, and upon the psychoanalytic theories of Carl Jung, Hesse articulates a highly personal hypothesis of the multifaceted nature of the soul.
In her most intense and revealing discussion with Harry, on the day before the Fancy Dress Ball, Hermine emphasizes something she calls “eternity.” Eternity exists “at the back of time.” It is the realm of all the things that matter—works of genius by artists like Mozart, the strength and potency within all true feelings and acts, and the pure saints and suffering martyrs.
Hermine’s speech provides the clearest formulation of Hesse’s idea of such a world beyond time. Other figures in Steppenwolf refer to it in more or less straightforward terms; Goethe for instance, speaks of the mistake man commits in making too much of time. Indeed, the mere fact of Harry’s encounters with past geniuses points to their continuing existence in some realm freed from the mechanism of time. More subtly, the idea of existence beyond time crops up as a frequent sensation whenever Harry is operating correctly. Caught up in the collective dancing fervor at the ball, for instance, Harry says that he has “lost the sense of time.”
Since Steppenwolf is meant to be an educational text, Hesse develops the idea of a world beyond in tandem with his other major ideas in the novel. The laughter of the “immortals” is one way of entering into the world of eternity. Likewise, the failure to recognize the existence of multiple selves within the individual may be linked to an insufficient consciousness of timelessness. Indeed, when Harry looks into the gigantic mirror of the Magic Theater, he sees dozens of Harrys of all sizes, inclinations, and temperaments. One Harry even darts off impetuously before Harry’s astonished eyes. Being thus intertwined with the other major ideas of the novel, the existence of a space beyond time in a sense provides the soul of these ideas. Laughter may offer a way to confront life, but it is eternity that holds the key to the reason for doing so. Hesse suggests that our actions struggling on behalf of goodness and genius do matter in the large-scale view.
Harry’s profound attachment to music is obvious from the start, when the preface describes the curious changes that come over him at the symphony. Harry’s earliest and greatest idol is Mozart. Among Harry’s greatest frustrations with modern popular culture are the radio and gramophone, which he dislikes because he believes they defile sacred music. For Harry, music floats above the world of mundane realities, a perfect, transcendent sphere of the spiritual. This high estimation of music recalls German Romantic aesthetic theory, which prized music foremost among the arts because it does not attempt to represent something else, as visual or dramatic arts do. Strictly pure, divorced from having to picture or describe any physical thing, music seems to belong to the divine world beyond the visible one.
The motif of dancing operates alongside the motif of music. If music provides a sense of the immortal, lofty spiritual world, dancing suggests a tuning of earthly actions to the rhythms of the divine. Hermine teaches Harry to dance and at the same time teaches him how to combine physical and spiritual life. The fact that Pablo is a genius bandleader, choosing and directing the songs to which a multitude dances, reflects his gift for bringing the two parts of the self—the sensuous and the spiritual—into harmony....more
The construction of The Woman in the Dunes includes many instances of irony. The overall ironic structure of the novel is that of the tables being turThe construction of The Woman in the Dunes includes many instances of irony. The overall ironic structure of the novel is that of the tables being turned on the protagonist. He hunts down and traps bugs for a hobby. And then he becomes like a bug, trapped in a hole in the sand. “He was lured on by the feeling that in all probability his prey was there, and he made his way down the gentle slope,” the narrator relates in the beginning of the story. There are also many other examples of irony, most of them on a much smaller scale. A little later, the protagonist states that he was in “no special hurry,” as he makes his way through the dunes before his capture. This is ironic because as soon as he realizes he is trapped, time weighs down on him almost to the point of his breaking. Then a few lines later, the protagonist sums up the village people with the words: “With their sense of caution appeased, they were merely good, simple fisherfolk.” He will soon learn the irony of his own words. These people were neither simple nor merely good. Once he is lowered into the woman’s house, the protagonist looks around himself and sees what a dilapidated condition the house is in, and the narrator states: “He would have thought they were making a fool of him and would doubtless have gone back at once.” This is ironic on two fronts. First, they were making a fool of him and second, there was no way he could have gone back even if he had realized how foolish he was. At a later point, he misjudges the woman’s actions, then he corrects his interpretation, stating to himself that “he certainly wouldn’t be taken in again.” Of course, at this point, he still does not have any realization that he already has been taken. And so Abe creates one ironic statement after the other. The reader knows what is going on and can laugh at the protagonist’s continual naïveté.
Abe also uses foreshadowing, allowing the reader to sense what is coming as well as to create a dramatic sense of foreboding. Examples of foreshadowing include some of the protagonist’s ironic thoughts before he is captured. For instance, there is the statement he makes as he wanders through the sand dunes, searching for insects. He says, at one point, “There was really nothing yet that foretold danger.” In using this statement, Abe implants the sense of danger in the reader’s mind even if it was not yet in the protagonist’s thoughts. Then a few sentences later, Abe has the man thinking: “What in heaven’s name could it be like to live there? he thought in amazement, peering down into one of the holes.” Again, this is a mix of irony and foreshadowing. The protagonist’s question, although he does not yet realize it, will soon be answered. He will be given a first-hand experience of what it is like to live in a hole in the sand. Yet later, as he continues to wander through the sand dunes, the protagonist concludes that the dunes represent “a disturbing and unsettling landscape.” He has no idea, at that point, how true his feelings are. And when he contemplates a fly, he makes an interesting statement about the insect’s adaptability. “The fact that the fly showed great adaptability meant that it could be at home even in unfavorable environments in which other insects could not live—for example, a desert where all other living things perished.” Much like the fly, the protagonist will also have to learn to adapt and to live in a hole in the sand.
Continuing his hunt for insects, the protagonist comments on the tactics of an entomologist, who “must concentrate his whole attention within a radius of about three yards around his feet.” In a short time, that will be almost all the space that he will have, as the narrow space of the house in the hole will be all that is granted to him. And finally, just before he is captured, he makes the observation: “No matter what they did, he mused, there was no escaping the law of the sand.” That law, the constant motion of the sand, and the inability to climb a steep cliff of sand, will also entrap him.
The Woman in the Dunes has been a popular favorite all over the world, sometimes bringing readers to their first experience of Japanese literature in translation. Abe’s works, in general, are more easily translated because of their lack of allusions to traditional Japanese themes. The Woman in the Dunes focuses instead on problems that people all over the globe must face. Oliver continues her article on Abe by describing the protagonist, Niki Jumpei, as a man who “is first obsessed with the loss of his identity and with escape, but comes to realize that his sand prison gives him intellectual and spiritual freedom.”
When The Woman in the Dunes was made into a movie, Brent Kliewer, of the Santa Fe New Mexican offered these comments. He wrote that it “is a haunting allegory probing the fundamental questions of existence and the meaning of freedom.” Kliewer continued by stating: “Its in the man’s surrender to his circumstances that captured the imagination of the existential thinkers of the 60s.” Existentialists believe that life is purposeless, a point that is at the heart of the novel.
A dystopia is an unpleasant, sometimes frightening, imaginary future world. Dystopias usually take undesirable aspects of present-daTHE EDGE OF DESIRE
A dystopia is an unpleasant, sometimes frightening, imaginary future world. Dystopias usually take undesirable aspects of present-day society and depict a world in which those aspects have become dominant. In Parable of the Sower, Butler creates a dystopia by magnifying some disturbing social trends that occurred in the United States in the late 1980s and early 1990s. These trends included the widespread use of designer drugs (custom-made, mind-altering drugs such as Ecstasy). In the novel, use of the drug pyro reaches epidemic proportions. It makes people commit arson because doing so feels better than sex. Another trend in the 1990s was the increasing popularity, particularly in California, of gated communities protected by security fences. These become the walled communities in 2024 California. In both cases, the walls go up because of fear of crime. Homelessness, illiteracy, and global warming were other issues in the 1990s that appear in larger form in the novel.
The novel takes its title from the parable of the sower in the gospel of Luke. The sower is like the spiritual teacher who spreads the word of truth. Some people listen; others do not—just as seeds take root in some places but not in others. In the New Testament, the sower is Jesus; in the novel, it is Lauren. The metaphor of the seed occurs again in the name Lauren gives to her new religion, Earthseed. It is also reflected in the name of the first Earthseed community: Acorn. The acorn image occurs earlier in the novel, too. Lauren loves to eat bread made with acorns rather than wheat or rye. Her father tells her that he had a difficult time persuading his neighbors to eat acorns. They wanted to cut down the oak trees and plant something else they considered more useful. Lauren learns from a book how to make a corn bread, and this helps to sustain their group as they travel north. The acorn image conveys the idea that the seeds of new life are always available, not only in nature but in humans, too.
Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler is set in California and covers a period of three years, from 2024 to 2027. It is a grim near-future novel that exaggerates trends in American life that were apparent in the late 1980s and early 1990s, such as fear of crime, the rise of gated communities, illiteracy, designer drugs and drug addiction, and a growing gap between rich and poor. Climate changes brought about by global warming are also central to the novel.
The protagonist is Lauren Olamina, an African American girl who is fifteen years old when the novel begins. She lives in Robledo, about twenty miles from Los Angeles, which has become a walled enclave only partially protected from the rampant lawlessness and desperate poverty that exists beyond the walls of the neighborhood. When the enclave is completely destroyed by bands of arsonists and thieves, Lauren is one of the few survivors. She heads north, on foot, with a couple of companions in a perilous search for a better life.
Butler's disturbing dystopia, written in the form of Lauren's diary entries, is at once an adventure story, a coming-of-age story, and a thought-provoking exploration of some negative trends in American society that have become more pronounced in the decade that has elapsed since the novel was written. In this apocalyptic tale, Lauren Oya Olamina, the daughter of a Baptist minister, leads a diverse group north to establish Earthseed. The story Lauren records in her diary begins in 2024 and describes the destruction of the walled community in Robledo, California. It describes the three-year journey north on Route 101 toward the freedom represented by the land owned by Taylor Franklin Bankole on the coastal hills of Humbolt County. Lauren describes her group as the "crew of the modern underground railroad." She figures as a Sojourner Truth leading the way north, persevering because of her own stubborn refusal to live "as some kind of twenty-first century slave"
The title of the novel announces its fictionality: it is a parable, a story with a religious or moral slant, but unlike the original biblical tale, it suggests hope for the future. The sower's seed doesn't bear harvest, but Lauren's Earthseed "falls on good ground," bearing "fruit a hundredfold."
Suddenly, I heard the books itself mumbling & mocking saying this word in shadow of wind,
"... God is Pliable Trickster, Teacher, Chaos, Clay. God exists to be shaped. God is Change."
Walker is a prolific writer, working in a variety of genres including children’s literature, poetry, nonfiction, and screenwriting. She is best knownWalker is a prolific writer, working in a variety of genres including children’s literature, poetry, nonfiction, and screenwriting. She is best known for her novels and short stories, in which she gives voice to a doubly oppressed group: African American women. Her novel The Color Purple (1982) is perhaps her most well-known, winning the Pulitzer Prize in 1983 and inspiring a film adaptation.
A tireless crusader on behalf of women, much of Walker’s fiction speaks out against domestic violence, sexual abuse, racism, and genital mutilation, a ritual practiced by several native African cultures. Her concerns differ from ordinary “feminist” concerns, and she calls herself a “womanist,” committed to freeing women from all forms of oppression. Walker’s fiction has been the subject of controversy, because some critics believe she depicts men too harshly (such as in The Color Purple) and criticizes practices that she does not fully understand (such as genital mutilation, the subject of her 1992 novel Possessing the Secret of Joy).
“Everyday Use,” published as part of the short story collection In Love and Trouble: Stories of Black Women (1973), includes some of the preoccupations that recur in Walker’s later work, such as a focus on women’s lives and the interconnection of the past and present. The stories in this collection take place in settings ranging from Walker’s home territory in the American South to the multicultural world of New York City to the east African nation of Uganda. Walker’s protagonists are portrayed as victims, variously manipulated and used by husbands and lovers, white society, or their own depleted self-esteem. Most of the stories have unhappy endings or cautious resolutions based on quiet, hard-won truths. Critics have seen “Everyday Use” as standing out from the other stories in the collection, partly because of the protagonist’s confidence in defending her family’s legacy.
In the time the story is set, the late 1960s or early 1970s, black American life and identity were undergoing a radical transformation. After enduring slavery and the violence and discrimination that came with eventual freedom, African Americans gradually gained civil rights in the 1950s and 1960s. A new generation emerged, some eager to break with the horrors of the past and others unable to emerge from the specter of poverty and inequality. “Everyday Use” hinges on the tension created when these two worlds come together. In the story, Walker examines the intense, serious, sometimes militant rhetoric that characterized some strains of the rising black consciousness movement. But she gives her most intense scrutiny to the often tenuous bonds between family members.
Angered by what she views as a history of oppression in her family, Dee has constructed a new heritage for herself and rejected her real heritage. She fails to see the family legacy of her given name and takes on a new name, Wangero, which she believes more accurately represents her African heritage. However, the new name, like the “African” clothes and jewelry she wears to make a statement, is meaningless. She has little true understanding of Africa, so what she considers her true heritage is actually empty and false. Furthermore, Dee views her real heritage as dead, something of the past, rather than as a living, ongoing creation. She desires the carved dasher and family quilts, but she sees them as artifacts of a lost time, suitable for display but not for actual, practical use. She has set herself outside her own history, rejecting her real heritage in favor of a constructed one.
Mama and Dee have very different ideas about what “heritage” is, and for Mama, the family objects are infused with the presence of the people who made and used them. The family heirlooms are the true tokens of Dee’s identity and origins, but Dee knows little about the past. She misstates the essential facts about how the quilts were made and what fabrics were used to make them, even though she pretends to be deeply connected to this folk tradition. Her desire to hang the quilts, in a museum like exhibit, suggests that she feels reverence for them but that to her they are essentially foreign, impersonal objects. Mama understands that Maggie, not Dee, should have the quilts, because Maggie will respect them by using them in the way they were intended to be used. When Dee contends at the end of the story that Mama and Maggie do not understand their heritage, Walker intends the remark to be ironic: clearly, it is Dee herself who does not understand her heritage.
Although Mama struggled to send Dee to a good school, education proves to be more divisive than beneficial to Dee’s relationship with her family. Mama herself was denied an education. When she was a child, her school was closed, and no one attempted to try to reopen it. Racism, passive acceptance, and forces beyond her control set Mama on the road that led to her life of toil. Dee was fortunate that Mama gave her the opportunity for advantages and refinements, but they have served only to create a wedge between Dee and the rest of the family. Dee uses her intellect to intimidate others, greeting her mother with “Wa-su-zo Tean-o,” a greeting in an obscure African language Mama most likely doesn’t speak. Dee, with her knowledge and worldliness, is a threat to the simple world Mama and Maggie inhabit, and Dee seems determined to lord her knowledge over them. Even as a child, Dee read to her mother and sister “without pity,” “forcing” strange ideas on them and unsettling their simple domestic contentment.
Education has separated Dee from her family, but it has also separated Dee from a true sense of self. With lofty ideals and educational opportunity came a loss of a sense of heritage, background, and identity, which only family can provide. Dee arrives at the family home as a strange, threatening ambassador of a new world, a world that has left Maggie and Mama behind. Civil rights, greater visibility, and zero tolerance for inequality are characteristics of Dee’s world. These things are not, in and of themselves, problematic. What’s problematic is that Dee has no respect for anythingbut her world, leading her to alienate herself from her roots. Maggie, on the other hand, knows no world but the one she came from. Uneducated, she can read only haltingly. By doing what she is told and accepting the conditions of her sheltered life without question, Maggie has hampered her own self-fulfilment. Walker sets up this contrast to reveal an ironic contradiction: Dee’s voracious quest for knowledge has led to her alienation from her family, while the lack of education has harmed and stifled Maggie. Both education and the lack of it have proven to be dangerous for the sisters.
Throughout the story, the presence or absence of eye contact and strong eyesight reveals the difficulty that Mama, Dee, and Maggie have in relating to one another and, in Maggie and Mama’s case, to the outside world. Mama is unable to look a white person in the eye, suggesting that she has never managed to embrace the idea of equality, whereas Dee can do so easily. Maggie can’t look anyone in the eye at all, hanging her head as she walks, portraying herself as a silent victim. In describing Maggie’s ability to read, Mama says that Maggie does the best she can despite not being able to see well. This qualified vision is associated with a lack of intelligence or mental acuity. Walker describes Dee as wide-eyed, always taking in the world around her. During the house fire that happened when she was a child, she was transfixed by the flames consuming the home that, to her, represented ignorance and poverty. Mama claims Dee’s attention was often so rapt that she would not blink for long stretches of time. Dee’s easy eye contact and intense gazes reveal her critical, condescending nature. Soon after arriving at the family home, Dee and Hakim send “eye signals” to each other, silently registering their disdain for Mama and Maggie’s simple, rustic world.
“Everyday Use” focuses on the bonds between women of different generations and their enduring legacy, as symbolized in the quilts they fashion together. This connection between generations is strong, yet Dee’s arrival and lack of understanding of her history shows that those bonds are vulnerable as well. The relationship between Aunt Dicie and Mama, the experienced seamstresses who made the quilts, is very different from the relationship between Maggie and Dee, sisters who share barely a word and have almost nothing in common. Just as Dee cannot understand the legacy of her name, passed along through four generations, she does not understand the significance of the quilts, which contain swatches of clothes once worn or owned by at least a century’s worth of ancestors.
The quilts are pieces of living history, documents in fabric that chronicle the lives of the various generations and the trials, such as war and poverty, that they faced. The quilts serve as a testament to a family’s history of pride and struggle. With the limitations that poverty and lack of education placed on her life, Mama considers her personal history one of her few treasures. Her house contains the handicrafts of her extended family. Instead of receiving a financial inheritance from her ancestors, Mama has been given the quilts. For her, these objects have a value that Dee, despite professing her desire to care for and preserve the quilts, is unable to fathom.
“Everyday Use” is set in the late 1960s or early 1970s, a tumultuous time when many African Americans were struggling to redefine and seize control of their social, cultural, and political identity in American society. There was also a greater attempt to recognize the contributions that African Americans had already made in America’s long history. At the time, both scholars and laypeople became interested in unearthing and re-examining the African American past. They were particularly interested in the aspects of African heritage that had survived centuries of slavery and were still present in African American culture. During this time, many blacks sought to establish themselves as a visible and unified group and take control of how their group was named. Black (and later Afro-American) replaced the term Negro, which took on offensive associations. Many black Americans, uninspired by a bleak history of slavery in North America, looked to their African roots in an effort to reconnect with their past.
The time period in which “Everyday Use” takes place was also an era when groups of all ideologies—some peaceful, some militant—emerged. The Black Panthers and Black Muslims were groups created to resist what they saw as a white-dominated society. Dee is possibly emulating the Cultural Nationalists, artists and writers who wore flowing robes and sandals and emphasized the development of black culture as a means of promoting freedom and equality. Walker may have created Hakim-a-barber with this new, younger, more militant generation in mind. When Mama describes the Muslims who live down the road, who lead a labor-intensive life, Hakim dismisses their hard lifestyle. He is unwilling to commit to the hard work of the cause and faith he claims to embrace. Ultimately, Walker’s story is a critique of individuals who misapplied or misunderstood some of the ideals that black consciousness groups promoted during that time....more
Conversation in the Cathedral is a novel about power and politics in Peru in the early 1950s. Two of the characters meet in a cheap eating house (theConversation in the Cathedral is a novel about power and politics in Peru in the early 1950s. Two of the characters meet in a cheap eating house (the "cathedral" of the title) and spend the afternoon talking about the past. The novel is basically encapsulated within their conversation, although we are only occasionally reminded of that (by interjections) and some events accessible only to the omniscient narrator are also included.
The structure of Conversation in the Cathedral is somewhat unusual. The vast bulk of the novel is dialogue, and a common occurrence is for different dialogues to be interlaced together at the sentence level, without overt marking, in a kind of counterpoint. As well as this there is a kind of hierarchical layering, with events described in conversations themselves recounted within the meta-conversation that spans the novel. The narrative jumps around in time continually, with significant events happening in the middle of the story chronologically not recounted until near the end of the book. The result of all this is an almost "fractal" narrative.
Despite the complicated structure Vargas Llosa's novel has a very compelling feeling of movement to it (perhaps the "harmony" provides the driving force), and once I got into it I found it completely engrossing. It also presents the clearest picture of how a Latin American military dictatorship actually works that I've ever seen. Conversation in the Cathedral is not only the most enjoyable novel I've read for years, it is also the most impressive. ...more
All of the major characters in the novel are well-educated. Their education is not only the mark of their place in society but aThe Power of Education
All of the major characters in the novel are well-educated. Their education is not only the mark of their place in society but also an ironic and elusive symbol that signifies both change and stasis at the same time. The two primary lovers in the novel, Esi and Ali, are also the most highly educated. Esi holds a master’s degree, and Ali has studied in France and England. Upon hearing of Ali’s second marriage, the first question that his wife, Fusena, asks him is whether or not the woman has a university degree. This question highlights the degree to which education symbolizes progress, modernity, and independence for the women of the novel.
For Esi, her education enables her to have a well-paying job that can secure her independence. It is precisely that independence that attracts Ali to her, and it is the same independence that earns Esi the scorn of her first husband’s family. Esi’s education sets her apart from traditional African culture, making her feel alienated from her mother and grandmother, neither of whom can understand her attitudes towards marriage and work. Ali is as educated as Esi, and like her, he struggles to balance the two worlds in which he lives. When Ali proposes to his elders that he take a second wife, they are shocked. For them, Ali’s education has propelled him into a new world that does not allow for such actions....more