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Sunday, February 28, 2010

A Hard-Knock Life: Coming of Age in James Joyce’s “Eveline”

Without question James Joyce’s story “Eveline” shadows a young girl struggling with the oppression and unjust ways of everyday Dublin life. However, accompanied by her own indignation, Eveline encounters what I like to call a coming of age, both emotionally and spiritually. Throughout the majority of the story, readers find Eveline constantly questioning and imagining an escape from her current lifestyle. “Home!... She had known the room for ten years – more – twelve years, and knew everything in it. Now she was going away” (Joyce, 216). Here, Eveline is considering those things that remain constant in her life. By going away, Eveline will be stripped of her ‘comfort blanket’, as her home and all that is familiar will be forgotten. Still, as Eveline “had consented to go away – to leave her home”, she began to ask “Was it wise – was it honorable?”(216). Weighing out the pros and cons of such a life altering decision, Eveline again takes into consideration her home and “those whom she had known all her life about her” (216). Eveline not only tied to her family and home, acknowledges her own social status and reputation. She ponders the thoughts of the town’s people and whether or not they will approve of her actions. However, “in her new home…she would be free from such indignities!” (216). Again, Eveline is expressing her displeasure for the current conditions surrounding her. Much of this could be credited to her abusive father and the mundane-ness of everyday life. In her mind, it was a hard life, “but now that she was about to leave it she did not find it a wholly undesirable life” (217). Here, Eveline begins her transition from what I believe to be an unappreciative teenager, to a self-aware young adult. Leaving with Frank was something new and fresh for Eveline, the ultimate adventure. Yearning for a change of pace, she acted and based many decisions off of emotion. Still, at the end of the story Eveline remains at home, clinched on to an iron rail. This rail symbolizes the constants and comfort Eveline feels at home. She has managed to hold on to her values and roots amid times of emotional uncertainty. It is this constant questioning of her own oppression and unhappiness that allows Eveline to achieve a certain degree of insight. She learns that you cannot run away from all of life’s problems, and that the words of another individual, do not guarantee happiness. Ultimately, Eveline is like most young adults who struggle with the hardships of growing up. She has left her adolescent ways, in stepping towards maturity.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Irish Through and Through

One character in James Joyce's "Ivy Day" we do not hear much from or of is Mr. Crofton. Upon his entrance into the committee room we are informed that "[Mr. Crofton] was silent for two reasons. The first reason, sufficient in itself, was that he had nothing to say; the second reason was that he considered his companions beneath him"(111). We are also told that Mr. Crofton is a conservative canvassing for the nationalists since his man was withdrawn from the election. Due to his subtle presence and relation to the other characters in the story I find it quite significant that he is given the last words of the piece. In regards to Mr. Hyne's recitation of The Death of Parnell, "Mr. Crofton said it was a very fine piece of writing"(116). Such a comment is a nationalistically bonding remark. This collection of men in the committee room, though varying in their political views and social classes, are still Irish and proud of their national figures and their patriots. Nurturing this notion is the mutual respect shown for Parnell by both Crofton calling Parnell a gentleman and the rest of the party wearing their ivy leaves on their lapels. Such is proof of the social and political upheaval that united and divided Ireland in its quest for sovereignty.

James Joyce's "Eveline"

In James Joyce’s “Eveline” the reader is presented with a young woman with a dilemma: stay in her oppressive home or flee to a foreign country and have an unsure future. Eveline is a girl of 19 who has been forced into maturity after her mother’s death. She must cook, clean, work, and care for her father and younger siblings each and every day. She has recently made plans to go to Buenos Ayres with a young man who claims to have a home there. The girl does not simply go along with the invitation, and her maturity is manifest through here consideration of her options up until the final moment where she must physically enter the boat or not. I believe Joyce is presenting us with a realistic view of cliché situations of romance, where a young woman is whisked away to an exotic country by a masculine sailor. Though Eveline has a mostly undesirable home life, she also does not know what may become of her if she were to leave. Her lover, Frank, could abandon her in a far-away place, they might exist in utter destitution, or grow to resent each other if forced into constant proximity with one another. In reality it is not a clear choice, but rather the lesser of two evils that must be chosen. We see the psychological process of one that has been put into such a situation, racked with uncertainty and difficulty. Another aspect of the difficulty is forcing oneself to change. Eveline is not just moving a few hundred miles away, but halfway around the world. She is being asked to uproot her entire life and forget the routine she has made since her mother’s death. Also, she must deal with abandoning her father and younger brothers, as well as breaking a promise she made to her mother years ago. Her final decision cannot be labeled as correct or incorrect, since the definite pros and cons of either option are not known. Joyce’s story serves as an interesting psychological view of an individual that must make such a complex choice: self-satisfaction or the care of others.

Joyce's "Eveline" and Emigration

"He rushed beyond the barrier and called to her to follow. He was shouted at to go on but he still called to her. She set her white face to him, passive, like a helpless animal. Her eyes gave him no sign of love or farewell or recognition" (Dubliners pg. 32, 165-168).

Eveline's indecisiveness prevails at the end of Joyce's story. When before she was excited at the notion of escape to an exotic place, once she arrives at the dock her certainty melts to uncertainty and then to a paralyzing trepidation. The urge to deliver herself from Ireland continues to exist but she cannot act on it. It "call[s] to her" but she does not answer. She no longer "recogni[zes]" escape as an answer; she does not bid the fleeting impulse "farewell." Eveline does not feel any kinship with the fleeing mob amassed at the dock. She is lost among them, immobile, unable to move away.

Political Inactivity in James Joyce's "Ivy Day in the Committee Room"

"O, don't let that trouble you, Jack," said Mr. Henchy. "Many's the good man before now drank out of the bottle."  (Joyce, “Ivy Day in the Committee Room”)


         Joyce uses this passage as a sarcastic critique of Irish drinking at the turn of the century, which leads to political inactivity.  To begin with, before this passage the two men have been anxiously awaiting a delivery of twelve bottles of beer from a seventeen-year-old boy.  The beer itself is from a pub called “The Black Eagle,” which suggests two things to the reader.  First is the traditionally ominous color black.  This color often has a negative connotation throughout literature.  Understanding that and turning to the idea of an "eagle," Joyce sets up the sarcasm of the quote.  An eagle is a bird of prey; it swoops down and kills its victims, then consumes them.  Joyce, by having this alcohol come from a pub called “The Black Eagle” suggests that alcohol is what preys on the Irish; it is what metaphorically kills and consumes them.  It kills and consumes their passions for successful lives and also, especially within the context of this particular story, their drive to achieve home rule, that is, freedom from the British.  By having a character, very seriously say “Many’s the good man before now drank out of a bottle,” Joyce is showing us the ignorance of the Irish people regarding their problematic fixation with alcohol.  Later on in the story the two men discuss better days when the Nationalist movement was stronger and more legitimate.  They don’t focus on the present anymore because it is essentially hopeless.  Joyce heavily critiques the hopelessness, and by having his character say this particular quote, which reveals his ignorance, blames, or holds responsible, the current generation of political “activists,” or, as Joyce might say, political “inactivists.” 

Choosing Misery, Joyce’s Eveline by Russ Winfrey

Eveline seems to deny herself the possibility of happiness in her life. She herself realizes the numerous hardships and pains she must withstand in living in Ireland, but still resolves to remain in the end. She knows that she receives little respect in her community, and certainly within her own home. Her father has abused her and hoards the money she herself earns. She, gazes out the window and is reminded of what used to be, but is now absent from her block. One time there used to be a field there in which they used to play… Then a man from Belfast bought the field and built houses in it—not like their little brown houses but bright brick houses with shining roofs.” There seems to be little keeping her there, other than her promise to her mother, which even acknowledges the near impossibility of the task to “keep the home together as long as she could.” This promise offers to Eveline that she should try to keep home-life stable, but to give her own life’s happiness priority. And given the state of the house with one brother dead and the other living in Belfast, there is little home to maintain as it is.

Eveline seems reasonably convinced that there is promise of a better life with Frank in Buenos Aires. She characterizes him as “kind, manly, open-hearted,” and seems to have no misgivings about his intentions. She grants that “people would treat her with respect…in a distant unknown country.” Frank, who “had a home waiting for [Eveline]” had treated her to a show, and seemed to regularly take her out for modest evenings. Even though Eveline realizes Frank’s affection toward her, she feels a need to overlook her father’s cruelty and convince herself of the comforts that the familiarity of home bring, but she is obviously compensating for the paltry PRO’S of staying when Joyce writes, “In her home anyway she had shelter and food; she had those whom she had known all her life about her.” These are reason for staying, but it is clear to her that Frank is respectable, and would too be able to food, shelter, and many other less base needs.

In reading Eveline (and other Joyce works) I find that he characterizes a part of Irish culture that has a proclivity to subject themselves to more miserable circumstances. These come from several sources I believe (nationalism, familial devotion, etc.) but there is something in the mentality of Irish that leads them to choose to live more tragic or depressing lives. They would cheat themselves out of their own happiness to fulfill some unsaid obligation.

Hints at Corruption in Ivy Day

One interaction that I found particularly interesting in Ivy Day was the discourse in lines 307-321. This somewhat humorous set of dialogue is brought on when Mr. Henchy suggests that maybe he should try to become one of the City Fathers. Mr. Henchy continues the absurdity as he details how he would depart from the mayor’s residence dressed in all his fine, official attire. He grants positions to his friends (315-317). Even the possibly disgraced Father Keon is granted a position as Mr. Henchy’s private chaplain (318). Mr. Henchy says that “We’ll have a family party” (319). The conversation here is one that is held in many parts of the world during election season. Many people either genuinely aspire or jokingly aspire to hold office. Joyce also hints at political corruption in this section. Mr. Henchy wanting to have a “family party” in line 319 shows that the characters think that their officials seem to appoint their good friends to various political and support positions, whether they are qualified or not. The vermin that Mr. Henchy refers to in line 315 could refer to the official garb of the mayor as the footnote states, but it could also refer possibly to some other fine article of clothing, such as a fur coat, hinting that bribes and political favors are passed between the officials and their friends and supporters.

Joyce's "Eveline": Separation from the Outside World

You can run away from a man with a stick in a grassy field, but you can’t swim away from a man with a boat in the middle of the ocean.
Such an attitude did Joyce’s Eveline adopt in comparing her Irish home life to a distant life in Buenos Ayres. Joyce’s Eveline acknowledged a sense of suffering in her home life in Ireland. An oppressive home life, in which her father favored her brothers “because she was a girl”, had transformed itself into an odd dichotomy where she now had to manage both two young children as well as her disrespectful father. She recalls how her father “used often to hunt them in out of the field with his blackthorn stick” and how her friends had gone to distant places, either death or England. Then they had run away from him, and they “seemed to have been rather happy then.” Now on a much larger scale, she was to run away “like the others, to leave her home” to recreate that sense of happiness.
Yet her exploration was to be dictated by the unfamiliar, a shadowy, interloping sailor named Frank. Captivated by his tales “as deck boy” on a ship bound for Canada and sailing through the Strait of Magellan, she contemplates a foreign marriage with Frank. However, the prospect of a “distant unknown country” eventually compelled her to stay. She knows nothing about foreign life, tastes, and cultures. Eveline and her father relate the Italian organist’s piece to melancholy not based on any expert judgment but rather the recent death of her mother. She reflects how she would never see the priest’s photograph “from which she had never dreamed of being divided.” Her lack of rational reflection, coupled with her abundance of narrow experiences, led her to believe “he would drown her” in foreign life, separating her from the refuge of the familiar.

Second Thoughts and Familiarty in "Eveline"

“All the seas of the world tumbled about her heart. He was drawing her into them: he would drown her. She gripped with both hands at the iron railing” Pg. 31 Lines 158-160 “Eveline”

The story of Eveline and her want to abandon the drunken ruins of Dublin that her family and friends have provided comes to a resolution in these three lines. Unfortunately for Eveline Ireland beholds nothing of mystery anymore, and there is no longer entertainment and beauty in her mediocre life. Frank’s promises of a wonderful life in Argentina, however, offer the exact opposite. As she is making her way to the boat to leave, she begins to ponder “all the seas of the world” as they “tumbled about her heart.” Eveline’s second thoughts make her realize that despite being in Argentina her life would be no different. “[Frank] would drown her” in his expectations of a good wife and housekeeper. Because of this Eveline realizes that the life with Frank is no more romantic than a life with a drunken father in Ireland. She becomes scared of the mystery that she lacked because regardless of the beauty, Argentina was not an environment she knew, and, if Eveline was going to be stuck in a motherly role, she figures she should stay in a safe environment. So, “she gripped with both hands the iron railing” leaving Frank and his fantasies by staying in the familiar, yet paralyzing setting of Dublin.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Importance of Societal Norms in James Joyce’s “Eveline”

The value of societal norms within “Eveline” seems to play a major part in many of Eveline’s thoughts and decisions. These norms, in the context of “Eveline,” are the respected and standard values held by the society as a whole. Eveline uses these societal norms as a basis of how she will be or would have been perceived. “What would they say of her in the stores when they found out that she had run away with a fellow? Say she was a fool, perhaps; and her place would be filled up with advertisements” (Joyce 28). Eveline’s thought regarding how she would be perceived if she ran off with Frank speaks volumes about the importance of society’s perception within her community. Based on this, women during this time period and within this location do not run off with men, most likely because it is frowned upon and viewed as uncharacteristic of a woman. Since the ending of “Eveline” is fairly ambiguous as to why Eveline did not leave town with Frank, one can venture an assertion and say that Eveline felt the pressures of her surroundings, ultimately opting that such a decision would reflect poorly on her character.
To further support this claim, Eveline suggests how she would be perceived by others if she were to choose a different path. “Then she would be married—she, Eveline. People would treat her with respect then. She would not be treated as her mother had been” (28). Here, marriage is dubbed as an act that gains respect and admiration. This is something that her mother did not have, presumably making Eveline crave for marriage even more. Whether it was in her town or in a new country, marriage would give Eveline the respect that other women who judge her already have. The fact that her mother is mentioned is also important because Eveline’s father plays a large role within the text. Her abusive father never married her mother, which could present a new fear for Eveline: the repeating of a harmful cycle. Eveline’s mother was obviously not accepted by society, giving Eveline the fear that if she does not conform to what other women are doing, she could be viewed in the same negative light that her mother was.

Beauty and the Beast: Human or Animal? Joyce's Eveline by Eric Vaughn

From a close reading standpoint, the last two lines of Joyce’s “Eveline” stand out to me the most -- “She set her white face to him, passive, like a helpless animal. Her eyes gave him no sign of love or farewell or recognition”. Joyce describes Eveline’s character as being quite animalistic in nature. Earlier he states that Eveline wants to remain at home because there is food and shelter. From an animalistic standpoint, food and shelter are probably the most important elements for survival. If one has these two things there is absolutely no reason to leave because one may not find food and shelter elsewhere. Eveline does not neglect their importance because she knows how hard life can be. Joyce even says that she has to work hard but realized how good her life was when she contemplated leaving it. Eveline is also described as having a “white face”. This, and supporting evidence of her eyes lacking any signs of love, indicates an absence of emotion or expressive thought on her part. Animals are not believed to exhibit such emotions as love hence what separates humanity from animality. For lack of a better reference, Eveline exhibits the dog-like quality of loyalty to companionship as opposed to actual love. Eveline doesn’t actually love Frank, “first of all it had been an excitement for her to have a fellow and then she had begun to like him.” But this quality really shines when she decides to remain loyal to her family. Eveline chooses to stay at home because she can’t even leave her semi-abusive father or abandon the dying wish of her mother to take care of the house and the family. However, what is most interesting in Eveline’s choice to respect her mother’s wishes is that she does so out of fear, not simply love and respect. Wolves are considered to be loyal because they have an established pack ranking where everyone understands their duty and their place. Training a dog is arguably a very similar relationship to a wolf pack. People sometimes train a dog by reward and others by fear. If a dog barks, its collar will shock him. If a dog tries to run past an invisible fence, his collar will shock him to teach him the boundaries of the fence as well as the risk of trying to run away. Eveline seems to respond to this fear more so than the desire for reward, especially since she turns away from the uncertain yet enticing future she thinks she could have with Frank even though the reader can tell that Frank is false. I will be honest in saying that I don’t know how such a characteristic of Eveline could apply to Irish history, but I merely wanted to address the potential of such an idea.

"Wait, this story is about Emigration?": Feminism in Joyce's "Eveline"

It was nearly impossible for me to read this story without noticing the feminist undertones, but was Eveline really a feminist? Certainly, she seemed to have feminist ideals. Early on in the story, the narrator states that "What would they say of her in the stores when they found out she had run away with a fellow?" and "She would not be treated as her mother had been" (Joyce 28). All of the information that Joyce gives the reader seems to point to Eveline wanting to leave her home so that she can be free from the oppression of her father and the subservience her mother had suffered. As she continues to contemplate leaving, she thinks to herself, coaxing herself into defiance, "Escape! She must escape! Frank would save her. He would give her life, perhaps love too" (Joyce 31). It is interesting that she relies on a man for escape from her situation, yet also contains fully feminist beliefs as she will marry for convenience. Joyce seems to play with the whole role of feminist thought and assertion of women's rights, saying that a true feminist is one who has both the mindset and takes action. In this case, based on the information given by Joyce, it appears that Eveline is not a true feminist, despite her tendencies toward feminism, because she makes the decision to remain subordinate because of her fear of the unknown.

A Look at Father Keon in "Ivy Day"

One passage that I found particularly interesting in my reading of “Ivy Day” was the description and introduction of Father Keon (pages 106-107). Both his initial description and the conversation that follows about him relay a sense of ambiguity regarding his position in the community, which I believe reflects a broader distrust of the clergy in general during this period. The very first thing the narrator tells us about him is that in physical appearance he looks like either “a poor clergyman or a poor actor” (242). Or in other words, it is difficult to tell if this person is really a man of the cloth or simply pretending to be for political reasons. His true motivations are made even more obscure by the conflicting emotions he displays upon seeing the men gathered in the committee room (250-254). Either way, he is doing a “poor” job of it (an intentional pun?), because the moment Keon leaves the room, Mr. O’Conner asks, “Is he a priest at all?” (282). It seems to be common knowledge that Keon has been associating with political leaders at the pub (281), and Keon himself tells the Mr. Henchy that he is “looking for Mr. Fanning” (260-261). (According to footnote 6 on page 104, Mr. Fanning was the “mayormaker of the city”). We saw this same kind of shady political involvement on the part of the clergy both in The Wind the Shakes the Barley, and to a lesser extent, in the short documentary on Parnell (where the church visciously attacked him for his personal indiscretions). This interpretation is dependent on Father Keon being a representative of the Catholic Church in Ireland as a whole, of course, and not simply an errant individual (which might be suggested by lines 284-285).

Hope and Suffering in Joyce's "Eveline"

In Joyce’s “Eveline,” the protagonist prioritizes her escape from the oppressive reality of her life at home. Eveline reveals that “…in Buenos Aires […] he had a home waiting for her” (Joyce, 29) revealing Eveline’s desire for escape rests on her desire for a home. However, while weighing her options as to whether emigrating to Buenos Aires would really be better for her, she undercuts her fantastical desire for escape by exposing her true motives.“Home! She looked around the room reviewing all its familiar objects which she had dusted once a week for so many years, wondering where on earth all the dust came from” (Joyce, 27). This displays Eveline’s perspective on her hard life at home with her father. She elaborates when considering her decision to leave, ultimately paralleling her oppression with that of her mother’s. By identifying with her home as a burdensome world of endless work, Eveline reveals her feelings of under appreciation and lack of sentimental attachment with her home. “It was hard work-a hard life- but now she was about to leave it she did not find it a wholly undesirable life” (Joyce, 29) This revelation contrasts her earlier conclusion that she lacks a home, adding significant influence on her ultimate decision as whether she should leave or not.
“…in her new home, in a distant unknown country, it would not be like that…[t]hen she would be married- she, Eveline. People would treat her with respect then” (Joyce, 28). First, Eveline tells herself to emigrate with Frank on the grounds that she desires a home. However, since she now realizes she already has one and it’s just a hard life, she realizes her desire for escape rests on her ideal that “[p]eople would treat her with respect […]” (Joyce, 28). Ultimately, when Eveline must make the decision whether to leave with Frank or not, I believe she realizes her fantastical perspective isn’t rational, and a hard life isn’t an undesirable one. She realizes as her mother did that “the end of pleasure is pain” (Joyce, 31), that ultimately it is the human condition to suffer. Preceding Eveline’s contemplation, she cites that “everything changes” (Joyce, 27) exposing her deep seeded impression that even her life in Buenos Aires could change for the worse and leave her underappreciated and oppressed. However, on the same notion that “everything changes” and her previous revelation that her life at home isn’t “a wholly undesirable life,” I believe that Eveline decides to stay on the grounds that life will be hard and filled with work no matter what country is home and that “everything changes,” insinuating that there is always hope for better days at home.

"Eveline":The Attraction of Escape

“She stood up in a sudden impulse of terror. Escape! She must escape! Frank would save her. He would give her life, perhaps love too. But she wanted to live. Why should she be unhappy? She had a right to happiness. Frank would take her in his arms, fold her in his arms. He would save her.”(136-140)
Eveline’s reasoning for leaving her country for a better life is unclear. On one hand she wants to leave because the promise of a house on behalf of Frank, also the escape from the abuse she faces from her father; on the other hand she wants to be happy, unlike her mother was who died living an unhappy live, and have a live that may even have some love involved.
“Escape!”, this seems to be the only answer behind Eveline’s reasoning of leaving with Frank. She wants to escape the monotony of everyday life of with her father. She has seen the life her mother lived and is unhappy with the way she lived her life and she refuses to live that same life. “She had the right to happiness”, everything that her mother endured gives her reason to believe that she does not deserve to live her life under the dictatorship of her father’s will. However, the escape is not limited to her desire to leave her father, she also longs for independence. Her leaving with Frank does not allow for her to be fully independent, but the fact that she will no longer live under the watch of an authoritative figure in her own house seems like a great idea.
The major idea that stands out to me in this excerpt, is the fact that she is leaving with this man she doesn’t even know. It may seem naive on my behalf not to consider the problems she is enduring at home, but the fact that she is leaving with a man to start a completely new life without any security other than his words, which her father claims cannot be taken as the truth because Frank is a sailor and they have a reputation. The fact of the matter is that Eveline does not consider all the possibilities of what her future may entail, she merely hears something good and runs with it. If she had gone through with the plan she would in fact be living a life that her mother voiced to her: “Derevaun Seraun! Derevaun Seraun!”(135)

Love Versus Escape in "Eveline"

In James Joyce's story "Eveline," the titular character seeks freedom from the oppression of her abusive father in the form of a new life with her lover, Frank. Eveline contemplates life abroad with Frank and the new opportunities such escape promises. The opportunity to live a life away from the burdens of her home and father entices Eveline to agree to accompany Frank on his journey to Buenos Ayres. While this may seem to be a reasonable goal for a young woman who is in love, Eveline's concentration on Frank as a vehicle for her emancipation undermines the reader's expectation of romantic interest. She speaks fondly of Frank throughout the story, though her true intentions are revealed when she says: "He would give her life, perhaps love too" (Joyce, 31). This statement is structured in such a way as to marginalize love in lieu of the promise of a better life. That is, Eveline desires Frank not as a figure of adoration or romantic connection, but as a means of escaping the bonds of her oppressive home life. What she construes as a feeling of affection for Frank is merely a subconscious recognition of Frank's ability to extricate her from home and transplant her within a new geography. Here, far from the realities of her past, she would be able to start a new life, with or without Frank. This is where the danger lies for Eveline. She values Frank as little more than the sailor he is-- a means of transportation. It is likely, therefore, that Frank values Eveline as little more than an object of desire. He wishes to whisk her away to a new and exotic land where they may be together. But since neither of them are actually seeking mutual love, it is unlikely that a healthy relationship will form. But that does not seem to bother Eveline, for as long as she has a new life, love can wait.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

James Joyce’s “Eveline”: A Close Reading

“Then she would be married—she, Eveline. People would treat her with respect then. She would not be treated as her mother had been. Even now, though she was over nineteen, she sometimes felt herself in danger of her father’s violence” (28).
Doing a close reading of this passage in the context of the entire short story, a couple of key issues and themes present themselves. The first is the issue of her imminent marriage generating respect from others. Eveline says that if she gets married “people would treat her with respect.” This statement implies that single young women of that time period in Ireland were not treated with as much respect as men and treated with less respect than married women. The next issue is violence towards the women in her family at the hands of her father. She cites that her mother had been mistreated in the past and she feels “in danger of her father’s violence”. She as well as her mother was physically abused by her father. The final issue of the passage is the issues of respect and physical abuse driving Eveline to marry this man and leave Ireland forever. By marrying this man she will have respect as a married young woman which is a step towards social equality. Also, her marriage will allow her to move out of her father’s house and escape further physical abuse.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Nike Women's Ad Campaign

The Nike Women’s ad campaign is new. It is a completely new way of advertising. The advertisement that I found is titled “Thunder Thighs”. The advertisement is drastically different than the approach of advertisement companies in years past. In his essay Solomon talks about fear and assimilation being two of the main motivators that advertisers seek, but the Nike women’s advertisements strike a different nerve. The first line of the text on the ad is, “I have Thunder Thighs, and that’s a compliment.” The advertisement signifies that it is okay not to fit in anymore. It praises women for the bodies they already possess while still promoting the exercise equipment. The advertisement tells women that they do not have to fit in; it tells women that it is ok to share and be proud of their bodies. This is completely opposite of Solomon’s fear of rejection approach. In many women’s advertisement campaigns today we see tall, skinny, model women, but Nike is enforcing the idea that this is not normal. By focusing on normality Nike is supporting a whole new clientele. The average woman is now more inclined to appreciate Nike. We see normality not only in the “Thunder Thighs” image, but the relaxed language. With contractions, short, choppy, incomplete ideas and a hint of true pride, Nike is praising the average womanly figure.

Advertisement analysis

In the 1960s, the cigarette company Muriel produced this advertisement for a type of their flavored cigarettes called Tipalets. The most apparent feature of this ad is the two people we are presented with. A man and a woman inhabit the space of the ad, with the man smoking the flavored cigarette. The woman occupies the most space, and one can make out her figure and features more easily than the man’s, as he almost has his back towards the audience. To grab attention, the woman is very beautiful, and the outfit she is dressed in is skimpy (for the time period), and one can make out that she is showing much cleavage. It is easy to see that this advertisement is attempting to appeal to male sexuality. When the phrase that is presented is read, is also becomes obvious that the company is attacking the insecurities of males in dealing with women. To Muriel, all a man needs is to blow the smoke from one of their cigarettes in the direction of a woman they desire and they have her. As Solomon would say, it plays into the fear of men not being able to find a woman, and all people feel as though they must find a significant other in order to complete their life, so it is also appealing to the desire to conform. With the male in the picture holding the cigarette, in tandem with the slogan, the cigarette becomes very phallic, and is pointed in the direction of the woman. It asserts the man’s dominance over the woman, and may even be hinting at where the man would desire the woman to follow him.

Vegetarian Have Better Sex

PETA’s most recent banned Super Bowl advertisement suggests, as do many other advertisements today, that the only thing on our minds is sex, sex, sex. In the ad, a group of attractive, lingerie-wearing women pose provocatively and erotically with…vegetables. PETA is trying to appeal to even the staunchest of meat-eaters (this ad, though, is aimed primarily at men) by promising improved sexuality, something a lot of people would probably make sacrifices to achieve. PETA, as well as other vegetarian and vegan proponents, are constantly reiterating that studies have shown that the consumption of too much meat can lead to problems with impotence. Rather than strive for the a pathological response by displaying the suffering of animals, PETA opts for a more popular, personal concern: sex life. The women in the video seem to be having a pretty good time, but they are doing so alone. It is almost as though PETA is promising us that if we go vegetarian we may be able to join these girls in their rollicking. They are advertising vegetarianism as a signifier of sex.

Absolut World – Absolut Individuals

In a February addition of Rolling Stone magazine, this ad (as seen above) appeared for the Absolut brand vodka. Rolling Stone is a music-oriented magazine that attracts a wide demographic of teen-age boys and girls. With that said, this advertisement is targeting the adult demographic through images of sex, promiscuity, and even religion. Immediately the audience’s attention is brought towards this larger than life and very exotic woman. In fact, this woman is celebrity Kate Beckinsale, who after drinking her Mandrin Absolut Vodka is able to stand out above the city and society. This suggests that upon drinking such a sophisticated drink like Absolut, an individual will obtain a superiority never felt on the social level. In doing so, Absolut is using the image of this exotic woman to grab the attention of not only men, but also women. For men, the notion is that of temptation, as most men yearn for that beautiful girl. While for women it’s the insecure thought of self-image and wanting to obtain the perfect body. This woman, however, does not appear to be perfect. Coupled with the woman’s primitive yet exotic dress, she finds herself atop a mess of fruit in which she has been indulging. Here the audience finds religious undertones, with references to Eve, the Garden, and the forbidden fruit. Just as the woman fell victim to the ‘forbidden fruit of Absolut’, so to is the audience by being the target of sex and promiscuity. Thus, Absolut brand Vodka has taken the easy way out by using images of sex, temptation, and religion as a means to market their products. Ultimately leaving the audience to question, “In an Absolut World, am I an Absolut Individual?”

Comparisons Between Signs

The advertisement I chose to analyze comes out the magazine Runner’s World, and the advertisement places a photograph of a solitary runner in a rainy country scene above the tagline “Fair-weather runners need not lace up”. What drew me to this particular advertisement was not solely the rugged scene or its placement in Runner’s World but that I connected the set of signifiers and signified in this advertisement to Hall’s discussion of pickup trucks in our textbook. The signifier to such signified—such as ruggedness, social hierarchy, and masculinity— to me is not the landscape and weather in the Runner’s World advertisement but Hall’s interpretation of similar landscapes in truck advertisements. Hall’s interpretation helped to place a meaning for the landscape and a possible connotation upon my initial reading.
Yet differences exist between the two types of advertisements. The Runner’s World advertisement emphasizes scientifically recording such factors as distance, pace, and heart rate using satellite technology in areas where such data cannot be recorded as instantaneously. On the contrary, Hall’s interpretation states nothing about such numerical certainty in pickup trucks. Hall states, “(A pickup truck’s) cargo space is usually open to the air, perhaps indicating something about the durable nature of what will be hauled,” emphasizing nothing about precise payload limits (139).
This comparison highlights two principles in Hall’s chapter on Structuralism and Semiotic Analysis. First, this example shows the importance “to ask how a given sign differs from other with which it may share some qualities” (139). Second, this comparison highlights how signs are never “fully understandable”. Although Hall mentioned nothing about payload capacity in an interpretation of advertisement depicting a pickup truck in a rugged landscape, another may draw that comparison.

Advertisement analysis

The advertisement I have chosen is an advertisement for emerald jewelry made with stones that were manufactured in a lab. The first thing one notices when looking at this add is the enlarged photo of the emerald ring set around some diamonds. The size of the picture draws attention to the glamour owning such a piece. The sparkle of the gems on the ring gives it a sense of sophistication. The ring appears to give the owner a higher social status. Owning this ring allows you to gaze above the common man.

The biggest word type is the phrase “Going “Green” Just Got More Glamorous.” The word green reemphasizes the quality of the emerald while playing on one of the issues of today, the issue of environmentalism. While this add has absolutely nothing to do with the environment, the concept of environmentalism would draw in some people.

The context of this advertisement is National Review. The audience of this publication tends to be somewhat educated, conservative, and male. The advertisement itself is almost written like an article, extolling the various virtues of the stone and the process by which it was made. The literature brings up varying examples throughout world history that an educated person would understand. The literature associated with this advertisement would not work in something like Sports Illustrated. Conservatives tend to be more money conscious, so the effect of slashing out the original price and giving a substantially lower price would appeal to a conservative.
This advertisement appears to be sending a glamorous message that can be had at a discount. the words at the bottom are "Smart Luxuries-Surprising Prices." So not only can you be sophisticated while purchasing this for a loved one, you can also feel smart that you have bargained well and saved money in the process.

Ivy Day and The Wind that Shakes the Barley

A common thread among these two works is the conviction among the Irish that labor and the working class bears the greatest value to society. In Joyce's Ivy Day in the Committee Room in following passage we see the esteem for the working class expressed:

"The working-man," said Mr. Hynes, "gets all kicks and no halfpence. But
it's labour produces everything. The workingman is not looking for fat
jobs for his sons and nephews and cousins. The working-man is not going
to drag the honour of Dublin in the mud"

Hynes is characterizing the working class as the backbone of Irish integrity. He extols them for being honest and hard-working despite the circumstance of low wages. Even though they are unrecognized by their own society, their integrity does not wane. He says they are invariably downtrodden and marginalized by more priveledged white collar workers with "fat jobs" who recruit their entire family to do work that is less necessary than physical labor which he says "produces everything." If it is the working-class that Hynes believes makes everything, this comparison posits that white collar workers are idle and produce nothing. Hynes makes them out to be nothing more than paper shufflers reaping an easy life off the effort of the poorer working class.

The subservient nature of Jack and his acquiescence to the canvassers who are shirking their duties and drinking in the commitee room mirror Hynes sentiments. Joyce wants to illustrate the existing paradigm, where Jack (the workingman) maintains the fire and offers his seat up to the canvassers (the white collar class) who drink beer and unproductively discuss politics and reveal how they are canvassing for people they hardly support. While they are engaging in an intellectual endeavor, they rely only on an old nationalist hero (Parnell) to feel like the they are contributing to the welfare of their nation.

Similar to this, in The Wind that Shakes the Barley in an early scene in the bar, a common, working man speaks of how occupying British soldiers are being paid a "pound a day, out of our pockets." He trails off rebuking Churchill and scoffs at the idea that he is a "friend of the worker" (undoubtedly British propaganda during the occupation). This man's quote indicates that he too feels that he does represent the backbone of his society and is ill-treated in being made to pay (taxes, I presume) to be oppressed by the occupying British soldiers. The soldiers, are worse than idle white collared workers because they not only do not contribute to social production and order but impede and reverse it.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Analysis of Coors Light Advertisement

In a recent issue of The Advocate, there appeared an advertisement for Coors Light (attached). This ad, though it fit tends to follow the basic advertising norms for alcoholic beverages, takes a slightly different turn. The bottle is set before a snow-peaked, mountain landscape; however, the viewer is immediately drawn to the text, "EQUALITY IS REFRESHING." This might seem odd at first, but there is a plug at the bottom left from the Human Rights Campaign, which details that Coors Brewing Co. is considered one of the best gay-friendly employers.
First of all, this ad is intended to appeal to the gay and lesbian readers of the magazine. But, it also brings about another viewpoint that Coors Light is a beer for everyone, that can be enjoyed by all social classes and sexual orientations. This is intriguing because most people tend to associate the beer with a blue-collar audience, based on other commercial advertisements that are found within everyday media. Now, Coors is saying that it supports equality, appealing to the need of consumers to belong to a larger group within the American population, based on observations be Tocqueville. It seems to defy its normal stereotype to appeal to the homosexual audience, again playing on peoples' need for validation through belonging.

Axe Effects: Enticement to Sin by Eric Vaughn

This AXE effect ad is geared most likely towards teenage and college level males. There is a sleek black spray can of deodorant glistening with white streaks from shining light in the bottom right corner of the picture providing an appealing and cool looking container. But more importantly is the picture itself. The picture has been adjusted to just black and white as is a nun’s wardrobe. This suggest the black and white nature of sin vs righteousness that has been associated with color. The nun herself has white on the interior and exterior of her character but a black layer lines the middle suggesting a layer of sin amidst the struggle for righteousness. Her cross is also barely even present in the picture. The cross is simply showing enough so that a viewer can tell it is present but nothing more. Almost as though there is deliberation to wether the ideology of christian purity will stay or go. She also wears a plug to cover her nose thus preventing her from smelling the tempting deodorant that would cause her to sin as the axe commercials promote. The add implies that if you wear this deodorant even a nun will have a hard time resisting you. Since most of the population is not composed of nun’s other women will definitely not be able to resist and young males will be surrounded by lustful acts directed towards themselves.

Semiotic Analysis of “Tom Ford” Ad

Tom ford is manufacturer of luxury clothing, cosmetics, and fragrances. The target audience is one of great wealth due to the price of the products Tom Ford sells. The advertisers at Tom Ford take immediately draw their audience’s attention through the use of sex. A relatively naked woman immediately draws attention while making a statement. The man in the ad seems to be oblivious of the naked woman signifying a lack of novelty when next to naked woman. This portrays Tom Ford products as products that entice or involve the presence of women, particularly naked ones. Further, the man’s gaze isn’t on the naked woman or the audience suggesting the elite characteristics of someone wearing Tom Ford clothing. Also, the fact the man is drinking and smoking alongside the naked woman suggests Tom Ford products are more than just clothes, but the lifestyle that accompanies them. Thus, the Tom Ford ad campaign uses the association of sexual intrigue, sophistication, and socialite status to sell its products.

Eat like an NBA All-Star

The McDonalds commercial featuring NBA superstars, Lebron James and Dwight Howard is a remake of the classic commercial featuring current NBA Hall of Fame members, Larry Bird and Michael Jordan. The commercial works in two ways: the first is giving exposure to the two superstars in a year where the NBA has been doing extremely well as far as profits are concerned and the second is McDonalds’ use of the superstars as a way to gain profit. McDonalds use of Lebron James and Dwight Howard is marketing genius because anyone who watches basketball knows these two and that includes kids, adults, men and women. For those who may not be familiar with these two are sure to know Larry Bird who has a small part in the commercial to remind the audience that he was the original person who did the commercial. By showing these to all-star athletes eating McDonalds products it says to the fans, “If you eat McDonalds food, you can be like Dwight Howard or Lebron James.”

"A crown for every achievement"

The first thing I want to do is to put this add in context. Although what you see here is just a picture, the reason I chose this is because I remembered the commercial version I saw on television during one of Federer’s great matches against Nadal. Prior to this I had always associated “Rolex” with wasted money, a needlessly expensive product that rich guys buy just for show. But by using Federer in this ad, Rolex is trying to associate itself with excellence, or “achievement” as the ad says. Since the commercial would play during the match (and an ad like this would probably be found in a sports or ‘for men’ magazine), it assumes that the audience appreciates Federer’s achievements. Rolex the watch is still the signifier, but what is now signified is excellence on a general level as opposed to simply wealth. This is also indicated by the way Federer is dressed—in a suit rather than a tennis outfit. The message isn’t that Rolex is great for excellent athletes, but that a Rolex is great for people who have achieved something great. It wasn’t hard for me to think of something I’ve achieved in my own life, and soon I found myself thinking, “Shouldn't I have a Rolex?”

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Semiotic Analysis of Enterprise Rent-A-Car

Enterprise Rent-A-Car released a new ad that stresses the importance of African American success. The context in which the advertisement appears proves to be of great importance. The advertisement, where only one Black man is visible, is contained within The Black Collegian magazine. This magazine’s target audience is African American college students, which explains why most of the advertisements in the magazine contain only African Americans.
This advertisement goes hand-in-hand with Jack Solomon’s criticism in Masters of Desire: The Culture of American Advertising. Instead of the American dream ideology that Solomon refers to, the ideology of “a better life for African Americans” is present. There is also a status symbol present, which becomes evident because of the words that appear at the top of the advertisement: “Your Own Cubicle? Or Your Own Business.” This symbol is implying that money is important, as well as a goal that is in reach.
The man that stands alone in the advertisement represents the successful African American male, as well as the man that the reader of the advertisement should be trying to emulate. The man has a smile and direct, welcoming gaze on his face as well. His hands are outward in an inviting manner. These three features show that the man is very welcoming, as if he wants the reader to be just as successful as he is. It is also important to note that the only other people that appear in the ad are White and are blurred out. This shows that the ad focuses on the one African American male, as well as reiterating who the target audience is.

Semiotic Analysis of Crown Royal

Crown Royal is a higher quality brand of whiskey, made in Canada, and is definitely marketed to the upper classes of society. One such advertisement for this product is a picture of a tropical paradise with the blue ocean, blue sky with some white clouds, sunshine, a palm tree with its branches hanging low to provide shade, and a sandy beach. Nestled down in the sand with its name clearly showing is a 750 mL bottle of Crown Royal. The words “Paradise Found” are located on the upper right of the advertisement. This advertisement clearly targets the upper class by equating an expensive, high quality brand of whiskey to a tropical paradise by playing on the assumption that many wealthy consumers may have vacation homes or time shares in exotic locales other than their normal home. And for those who do not have time shares or vacation homes but still have a good deal of money, the ad equates the whiskey to this paradise. So if you cannot afford a literal tropical paradise, Crown Royal Whiskey is the next best thing. Why not treat yourself every now and then?

Advertising: More than Meets the Eye

Ad Link:

What attracted me to this ad was the symbiotic relationship between the two products advertised. In fact, it is difficult to discern whether this is an ad primarily meant for the Transformers motion picture or a Chevy Corvette. The uncertainty lies in the relationship the two have to one another. Transformers turned out to be huge success at the box office, to no one's surprise. The filmmakers knew that this movie would be a blockbuster not only because of the promise of guns, explosions, and Megan Fox, but also because they were filming under a title many people recognized either from their childhood or their children's toy-hoarding years. Since the appeal of robots transforming into cars was so tremendous, it was only logical that automobile companies sought to advertise along with the movie by allowing their car models to be used in the film. This ad exhibits this relationship of mutual benefit that Solomon referenced in his article. He says that when companies, like Pepsi and the maker of the film Top Gun, use each other as advertising vehicles it creates a relationship that is "a parasitical one, with the ad taking its life from the creative body of the film" (Hall, 153). Chevy is therefore able to feed off of the success of Transformers by being associated with the cars used in the film. Similarly, the filmmakers are paid by Chevy for this product placement, and the film is also advertised alongside the Chevy cars. Both parties benefit in the end through this brilliant means of advertising.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Nostalgia in Toomer’s “Fern”

In Jean Toomer’s “Fern,” the narrator’s pursuit of Fern, like many men before him, is met with Fern’s nostalgia for more. What exactly Fern is looking for is ambiguous as “[her eyes] sought nothing…nothing that was obvious and tangible (16).” Fern remains throughout the story an unsatisfied woman of the south. The fact that she is synonymous with a Jewish cantor leads me to believe that her nostalgia is also a type of sorrow, or depression. Fern is sought by many men “[that] became attached to her, and hungered after finding the barest trace of what she might desire (16).” Her lack of identifiable desire and the ever present pursuit of men lead Fern to isolate herself from the conception “[t]hat the sexes were made to mate…the practice of the south (17).” Fern’s conviction that the world has nothing to offer except the bodily gifts of suitors leads to her resentment of the world.”Doesn’t it make you mad?[...]She meant the world(19).” This shows that Fern does resent the world, and I believe it is because of the South’s emphasis on sex and the ever present pressure from men.
Fern’s longing for more in an environment that exemplifies “[t]hat the sexes were made to mate”, is left to characterize the song of a Jewish Cantor. “But at first sight of her I felt as if I heard a Jewish Cantor sing (17).” The narrator clearly identifies that Fern’s nostalgia for something more, her sorrow, is seen through her eyes desiring nothing that is tangible. The narrator, like the men before him, is unable to fill Fern’s void. Fern’s void is a product of the South’s emphasis on sexual relations that is exemplified by the narrator’s pursuit of Fern. He, like all the rest I presume, identifies his pursuit as unique. He states, “[s]omething told me that men before me had said just that as a prelude to the offering of their bodies…I tried to tell her with my eyes…I think she understood(18-19).” This shows that Fern’s view of sex in the south is a product of the relentless pursuit of men, each thinking he might have something Fern could desire. However, just like the men before him, the narrator has nothing Fern desires. And still, at the end of story, Fern’s eyes are still taking in the world from her porch. She is still longing for something more than the world has to offer. It’s like the narrator’s doings never took place at all. Thus, Fern’s characterization as a Jewish cantor is shown through her eyes desiring nothing the South has to offer.

A Narrator’s Last Wish: Mysticism and Race in Jean Toomer’s “Fern”

Jean Toomer’s short story “Fern” is one filled with vivid and descriptive images, while maintaining, many ambiguous and mysterious juxtapositions. The narrator of the story, along with Fern, presents himself as an indefinable character. Readers know nothing about this man and connect merely through his own descriptions. However, these descriptions are not physical in the sense readers can imagine the narrator’s body type or stature, but rather, a description of the emotional turmoil he experiences from Fern. In fact, due to the ambiguity surrounding the narrator, I believe, in actuality, that he is a white man. While speaking in first person, the narrator often fluctuates his tone and acts in third person. Stepping out, he says “It is black folks whom I have been talking about thus far” (Toomer, 17). Here the narrator distances himself from the actual situation. He refers to the blacks as the ‘others’ in a very conversational yet exclusive manner. This distance could be related to the North, or free-states, as he often references traveling with great ease. As there are several points of arguments throughout, it comes at the end of the story that the narrator is deemed as a white man. After the loss of Fern and feeling the heat of the town ‘watchmen’, the narrator again finds himself going back North. I feel that during times of segregation, only a white man, or man of prestige could travel and observe locations with such ease.

While part of the mysticism surrounding the narrator lies within his race, the other is pertinent to his pursuit of Fern. This pursuit is more like an obsession, as the narrator fails to obtain or fulfill his own vices. In referring to all mankind, the narrator says, “men are apt to idolize or fear that which they cannot understand, especially if it be a woman” (16). Like most men, the narrator is unable to reach out and connect with Fern. Aiding this notion is Fern’s image portrayed by the uncertain narrator. Again, as readers know very little about the narrator, we also have a limited and biased view of Fern. Readers perceive Fern through the images painted by the narrator. However, the narrator knows no more about Fern than any other man, and continually asks readers for, “Your thoughts can help me, and I would like to know” (18). Reaching out and asking for help, he is like any man who lusts after the one who is ‘out of his league’. Yet for the narrator, this lust is more than a physical attraction, but rather, an emotional distress felt at the hands of Fernie May Rosen.

"Fern" and "The Virgin Suicides"

While reading Jean Toomer’s “Fern” I was reminded of “The Virgin Suicides” by Jeffrey Eugenides. The suicidal Lisbon girls of Eugenides’ novel were, like Fernie May Rosen, unknown and alluring to men who encountered them. Toomer’s narrator describes men who “became attached to [Fern], and hungered after finding the barest trace of what she might desire” (14). The narrator of “Fern” describes a sort of phenomenon surrounding the girl: “Men were everlastingly bringing her their bodies…A sort of superstition crept into their consciousness of her being somehow above them” (14). The Lisbon girls are a source of small-town mystery; so is Fern. The Lisbon girls are lusted after; so is Fern. The following sentence from “Fern” could have come straight from “The Virgin Suicides”: “As you know, men are apt to idolize or fear that which they cannot understand, especially if it be a woman” (14). In both stories, the narrator is working to understand a woman, is trying to pass on to the reader some bit of information learned in his own experiences, through his own observations.

Jean Toomer’s “Fern”: Why Do Men Feel Obligated To Fern After “Having Her?”

In Jean Toomer’s “Fern,” the reader learns that men are drawn to Fern, mostly because of her eyes. Fern’s eyes told the unqualified suitors that she was easy and ready to give herself to them; many men took advantage of her hypnotic gaze. “When she was young, a few men took her, but got no joy from it. And then, once done, they felt bound to her (quite unlike their hit and run with other girls)…” (Toomer 16). After these encounters, men felt an obligation of a lifetime to Fern, even though they got no enjoyment. Does the key really lie within her eyes? Much of the text suggests that her eyes cast “spells” upon men that normally feel no sense of obligation after “having” women. “A young Negro, once, was looking at her, spellbound, from the road” (17). The little sense of personality the reader can perceive about Fern comes from her eyes; there is no description of her actions, morals, etc. All perceptions of Fern stem from her gaze and her eyes. Such perceptions imply that men look into her eyes and believe whatever they want to believe. Since her “face flowed into her eyes” (16), no other aspects of her face matter. By looking into her eyes as if they are in a spell, the men can envision that Fern is thinking a plethora of things, especially those that coincide with what the men themselves are thinking. Because of this intertwining of the men’s forced beliefs with those of Fern, the men are likely to feel a sense of regret, causing them to feel a sense of obligation to Fern after they have “had” her.

Toomer's Fern: How does Fern regain her virginity?

In Fern, a beautiful girl enthralls many of the men around her. They tend to have their way with her at some point during their individual infatuations, do not feel fulfilled, and then leave. After all of this, Fern is said to become a virgin again. How is this possible? Virginity is not something that can be regained in a physical sense. Our narrator is a northern black man. He states that he is from the north about half way down the second paragraph. He is black because he says that he notices that the white men pay on attention to Fern (end of the first paragraph) and he takes notice of her. At first glance, he has no idea who she is. In his mind, she must be a virgin. Her image is portrayed as being pure, which is indicative of virginity.

All of the men, including the narrator, are caught up in her beauty. She simply appears to be as pure as a virgin. “Men saw her eyes and fooled themselves.” This quote, a third of the way into the first paragraph, demonstrates how deceptive her beauty really is. The men have fooled themselves into thinking that she is a virgin. The narrator himself states that he “feels bound to her.” He had grand dreams of what he could do for her, much in the same way the other gentlemen in town did. He recounts the tale of one young boy who almost got run over while gaping at Fern. The men are willing to not pay attention to her impure past. Her beauty is so pure that the men themselves grant virginity upon her in their minds.

Toomer's Fern: Stream of Consciousness and Vacant Thought

“Fern” is written in several large paragraphs. Throughout the story we track the narrator’s stream of consciousness, as he reflects upon Fern’s mysterious behavior. I believe that this stream of consciousness style is used by Toomer to mirror the seeming lack of thought we see in Fern. The narrator is constantly trying to communicate with Fern through her eyes, but never can definitively say whether she understood him. The narrator says, “I tried to tell her with my eyes. I think she understood. (Toomer 19)” The narrator sent the message, but is unsure whether Fern received it. Although the narrator is focused on Fern’s eyes, he never can get past the superficial. The narrator is never able to see into her eyes, he says, “Her eyes, unusually weird and open, held me (Toomer 19)”, as if he does not know why they held him, or why they were weird and open. He never knows deeper than the look. In some of the last lines of the story Toomer uses several ellipses, which I consider to be Fern’s thoughts that the narrator cannot discover. The narrator says, immediately following the ellipses, “Nothing ever came to Fern, not even I. (Toomer 19)” The story is about trying to delve deeper into the mind of such a mysterious woman, and in the end the only thing the narrator definitively learns about Fern is her name.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Toomer's "Fern" - A Girl Who Wants Something Different

“We walked down the Pike with people on all the porches gaping at us. “Doesn’t it make you mad?” She meant the row of petty gossiping people. She meant the world.”

This line stood out to me because unfortunately, because of my background, exposure, and upbringing, I typically assume that beautiful girls love knowing they are the “talk of the town”. From what I have seen, females typically love to receive attention from males. However, Fern seems repulsed by it. She denied everything with her eyes, she rejects every man, and only seems to dwell on the rest of the world since that’s all that seems to go into her eyes. The main character said that “Fern’s eyes desired nothing nothing that you could give her; there was no reason why she should withhold”. The question then becomes what could make her happy? What does she actually desire? She rejects the gossiping people, she rejects the men who offer their bodies or money, she even rejects the world according to the line I started with. The main character also said Fern’s eyes focused on nothing. I can understand the main character’s frustration and confusion because I don’t know what the heck to think either. However, there is a possibility that she is looking for something different that is more real. What I mean is a person who wants to get to know Fern. The reader describes her looks and what her eyes say. But we never see what is actually going on inside of her. We want to know more about her but no one ever really asks and everyone has been denied. The main character even seems to find some success when he asks if she would like to walk and talk. She is willing to accept. Then he kinda jumped her like most other men do and she clearly doesn’t like that feeling since she practically starts convulsing and freaking out. I imagine that someone with such beauty has had to face some rather frightening and forceful men before. She has to develop some sort of guard against such people and her reaction to the main characters touch seems to hint that she had faced some uncomfortable times with touch in the past. For whatever reason I can only come to a similar conclusion as the story teller (not the author--Toomer) that I wonder what would make her happy.

Jean Toomer's "Fern": Looks Can Be Deceiving

Throughout the four pages of Jean Toomer’s short story “Fern”, the word “eyes” (or the pronoun “they” as its antecedent) appears 20 times. 18 of those references speak of the mysterious girl Fern’s eyes. On a similar note, nine of the first 12 sentences of the first paragraph contain a description of her “eyes”, and 11 of the first 13 sentences of the second full paragraph contain a visual reference. These explicit yet incomplete descriptions hint at the speaker's implicit desire to understand Fern. To him, her eyes were “strange”; they “desired nothing that you could give her” yet gazed as “nothing was to be denied” (Toomer 16). He is curious about something he cannot understand. In this, he embodies his own characterization of men: a sex “apt to idolize or fear that which they cannot understand, especially if it be a woman” (16).

The speaker’s ignorance dooms him from the start. He can’t define the countryside. He could only describe Georgia by following her eyes, and in this he could not attach himself to the emotions behind her eyes. He misinterprets, assuming, like as the other men before him, that she needed the “something (the speaker) would do for her” (17). However, he restrains himself. In the field with Fern the speaker thinks freely, composed in a style unlike the rest of the story. Then he begins to think about her and what her eyes, noted as “unusually weird and open”, hinted now (19). Suddenly she sobs and sings “brokenly” (19).

What has the speaker done? The speaker has guessed about the character of Fern; in that he has judged her; in the judging he has interrupted her thought flow. For unlike him, she understands what she sees.