Saturday, May 14, 2011

Final Blog Assignment

                What experiences define a woman’s life? The answer is all of them. Why should a woman’s defining life moments be any different than everyone else’s? A woman will have her life defined by experiences that are not exclusive to any one group. The spectrum of human emotion is not foreign to any member of the race and likewise each case of defining experiences should inevitably be unique to the individual and their life. Anger, love, oppression, happiness, sadness, these are all things that are felt by women and are a byproduct of their humanity.
                I feel like there is this stereotype out there in society about which experiences women feel. As if they should only be content to be defined by tradition rather than exploring their own being. For instance, in the story of the Mirabal sisters “In the Time of the Butterflies” Minerva aspires to be a lawyer so that she may fight for justice and right what she perceives to be the wrongs perpetrated against the people by the Trujillo regime, contrary to her sister whom is rather content to be a simple housewife. Now there is nothing wrong with the choice of stay at home mother however, it is certainly not the only choice and Minerva’s choice would equally define her as a woman.
                It is just like that old saying ‘life is what you make it’, there is no cookie cutter example of what is and what is not, a defining moment in the lives of women. To make the claim that only one set of experiences can lead to successful womanhood is to take away the freedom of the individual and continue the viscous cycle of oppression in which women have been victimized for too long.
                Many wonderful things are celebrated in women’s lives however; I do believe it all comes down to the pursuit of happiness. Whether the woman actually succeeds in her pursuit is irrelevant so long as she is actually able to engage in it. To be able to pursue the basic human want of happiness is critical in every person life. The reason why this is a cause for celebration in women’s literature is that so often they are robbed of this opportunity through oppressive traditions often orchestrated by their male counterparts. To pursue happiness is to rebel against the machine and to take a journey towards greater personal freedom. A classic example would be the case of Precious in the story, “Push”. Precious is able to overcome the oppression of her social environment and is able to pursue a little bit of her own personal happiness out of a desperately bleak situation. That is certainly a cause that should be celebrated. Another case in which a woman is able to pursue happiness but is unsuccessful would be the Haitian housekeeper in “Between the Pool and the Gardenias”. The woman pursues her dream of motherhood and this is her pursuit of happiness. To her the defining moment in her life was to be mothering a child, while this story had a rather tragic ending for just a moment she was able to pursue happiness and that should not be overlooked.
                We all need to vent sometimes, for women the ability to vent anger is another key element of the experiences which define women’s lives. A source of anger which I have noticed throughout many of the readings is the perception of women vassals for male sexual enjoyment yet at the same time female sexuality is something to just be ignored. There are just too many cases of sexual abuse against women and I think that for the better part of human history that female sexual rights have been ignored is a focal point of a lot of that anger. The co-partner in crime to sexual abuse has to be the pent up frustration over not being able to express themselves. “The Vagina Monologues” probably best exemplifies this as it is a book which broke barriers for tackling this very issue. The fact that Eve Ensler only recently undertook this project and that for some of the women interviewed it was the very first time that they had been asked about their own sexuality is even more astounding. For how many centuries did women have to go without being able to express their most personal feelings? Personally I am shocked there was not a more radical revolt on the behalf of women everywhere over this pent up frustration.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Two or three things i know for sure

Dorothy Allison, throughout her book, writes down in italics the little bits of wisdom she has learned over the years to be true and one of these truths that have particular resonance is about one of the most basic things we are all taught in life. She writes, “Two or three things I know, two or three things I know for sure and one of them is that if we are not beautiful to each other, we cannot know beauty in any form.”
                This phrase has appeared in one form or another all throughout the most basic teachings of life. Even as far back as the bible the phrase love others as you would love yourself appears. To be beautiful to each other as we must love each other and until we are able to be beautiful to each other we will never know beauty. For too long in our world there has been suffering perpetrated by ugly hatred and the beauty of it all cannot possibly be seen unless we begin to love one another.
                To be beautiful to each other is a much simpler task than to be ugly. Being beautiful could be as easy as tracing your niece’s face with your fingers as Allison does.  Being ugly to one another requires scheming and anger, things that detract from life and hide the beauty of it all from us. Without being beautiful to one another we will never be able to see life for what it should truly be. Life spent making the lives of others more difficult and thereby your own existence less fruitful is a tragedy. Conversely a life spent experiencing joy and bringing joy to others is a life that has been enjoyed and one in which happiness has been pursued to its fullest extent.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Two or three things i know for sure

                In Dorothy Allison’s “Two or Three Things I know for Sure” she has an interesting way of telling her story. Not only does she write about her life and that of her family but she also manages to include some photos pertaining to the people involved in the story. The photos are especially interesting to me because without Dorothy Allison’s writing you would never guess what was really going on and could not hope to appreciate the significance in some instances.
                For example, there is one instance in which there is a photo of a young girl curiously examining a rifle and in the next aiming at nothing in particular. In the photo there is no malice in this young woman’s eyes and all of her actions, as depicted in the photo, point to a person with a passing curiosity towards the weapon. However, there is much more to this photo than meets the eye and this becomes a common theme in “Two or Three Things I Know for Sure”. Allison writes, “I know. I’m not supposed to talk about how long it took me to wash him out of my body – how many targets I shot…”. You would never know that the woman in the photo is imagining taking a shot at her abusive stepfather when she aims that weapon at the target. Allison is allowing us to be privy to the back story of every photograph and thereby enabling readers to gain access the valuable details which make the photo relevant.
                It would seem that one of the things that Dorothy Allison knows for sure is that there is always more to something if you look under the surface. In her photos it is impossible to understand the context  without Allison’s assistance and she wants us to come away knowing this, that most things are not what they appear to be.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

the shawl

Is Rosa crazy? Absolutely.  It is not possible to destroy a successful business and thereby your livelihood, move to Miami so that you may live in a life of squalor all the while praying for the arrival of a shawl, which by the way you believe to be magic in that it sustains life for days and is somehow an embodiment of your niece, whom you view as your daughter, who has been deceased for decades. If someone can read this story and not gain the impression that Rosa is a bit off mentally, then they recognize a different definition of the word crazy then most.
                Rosa moves to Miami after smashing up her antique store in New York as a way of both lashing out against those who do not understand the suffering she had to endure back in Poland but also because she wanted to escape from her evil and almost devil-like niece Stella. Almost completely normal if you take out the, my niece is evil in the flesh bit. It is also incredibly hypocritical of Rosa to claim that Stella was responsible for Magda’s death. Had Stella ran after her daughter not only would Stella still be dead but she too would have shared in Magda’s tragic fate, this false choice that Rosa believes Stella had is nearly identical to the same false choice that Rosa had during the march to the camp. Rosa could have stepped out of line and attempted to give Magda away to a stranger but she was able to reason in her mind that it would only result in the deaths of both of them and that therefore she would not attempt to save her life because it would be in vain.
                So why should Rosa not blame herself equally for Magda’s death as she blames Stella? It can only be because she is being a hypocrite and treating her niece who also had to endure the hell that was the Holocaust along with her for not jumping into that electric fence alongside her daughter.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Shawl

In The Shawl Ozick devotes only a small portion of her novel to telling the story of Rosa while she was enduring the horrors of the Holocaust in Poland, or as what Rosa and Stella refer to as the during period. Now there are several reasons Ozick has chosen to tell her story in this way and it is important to remember that this story is not actually about the Holocaust itself but rather the story of Rosa.
                The first chapter is only there to introduce the cast of characters and to showcase the chain of events that will lead to Rosa’s current situation in Miami during the next chapter. While the second chapter goes into great and vivid detail of her life since Magda was killed.
                Another reason the second chapter is so much larger than the first is that according to Rosa her current situation is worse than when she was going through the Holocaust. This may be due to the fact that while in her mind Magda is very much alive, she can have no physical interaction with her outside of the shawl. It could also be that this time has been so rough for her because in Miami for a large chunk of time she does not have access to the shawl and thus her last physical connection to Magda.
                Stella’s way of dividing up their lives between the before, during, and after does not gain traction with Rosa and because of this difference the second chapter is much longer. Stella is content with moving on from the events of the past and is working towards her after. Rosa views this differently in that she does not believe in the after. Saying, “After, after that’s all Stella cares. For me there’s one time only; there’s no after.”  Rosa cannot get past the events of the first chapter  and still lives in a world in which Magda is very much alive, to move on would be to admit that Magda is dead but this is something that Rosa is not willing to do she is still in those moments in which she thrust the shawl into her mouth following the time when Magda was killed.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

When the Emperor was Divine

I think the author seeks to break the silence surrounding the internment of Japanese citizens during the Second World War because the act of ignoring our history and this shameful decision by the United States government is in some ways worse than the actual internment of those Japanese citizens. To ignore an injustice is a slap in the face to the people against whom it was perpetrated against. It conveys the feeling that what was done to them did not matter. Well, the author here is writing to show us that the forceful internment of the Japanese does matter and that we must confront our past in order to move forward.
                If our country continues to be willingly ignorant of this great injustice then we have forsaken all of our principles upon which we stand for. How can we have an ounce of credibility when confronting our enemies for injustices committed against element of their society which they view negatively when we do the same thing. It is hypocrisy at a national level and it cannot be allowed to continue.
                As far as this novel relating to the events of September 11th, I think the similarities between these two events are few. Really the only one I can see is that we were attacked by a foreign entity and many people died and even then Pearl Harbor was an act of war by a sovereign nation while the world trade center attacks were an act of terrorism by a group, which while harbored by some nations did not actually have control of a nation. To go even further I think the United States has actually learned a bit from their actions towards the Japanese. After the attacks of 9/11 all of the countries Muslims were not rounded up and thrown into camps, sure some had their civil liberties violated via phone taps by a scared government and had to endure prejudice perpetrated against it by an equally scared citizenry but this does not even come close to what the Japanese had to endure.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

When the Emperor was Divine

                In the story “When the Emperor was Divine” Otsuka decides against giving the main characters of the book names. I think by doing this she intends to convey a parallel between her story and the way in which history has viewed the internment of Japanese citizens during World War Two.
                Even in my own educational experience the internment of the Japanese was something that was casually glanced over when we were studying World War Two. Looking back this was probably a clever attempt by whomever it is that creates the curriculum to cast this countries sad mistreatment of its own citizens during the war aside in the hopes that no one would remember that it ever happened. Ironically this is what the Nazis were doing towards the end of the war when their defeat was imminent. They desperately tried to cover up all evidence of the Holocaust because they knew deep down that they had committed an awful act and they did not want to be held responsible.
                Likewise, the United States does not want people to be bringing up similarities between their treatment of the Japanese and the Nazi treatment of the Jews. Unfortunately, much like the Nazis found out the United States will not be able to outrun its past no matter how hard it tries in the history books to pretend that it was a minor event or that it never happened at all.
                 Otsuka does not name her characters because they were ignored by the rest of society. It is why in the very beginning of the story she gives the name of the presumably white American hardware man and not the Japanese woman who comes in to make a purchase. Society at that time would not ignore the mass internment of people who were deemed to matter like the hardware man like they did the internment of the Japanese.