Tuesday, March 30, 2010
In Jackson’s analysis she uses “The Beast in the Jungle” by Henry James to compare and contrast each author’s look at homoeroticism. In contrast between the two works Jackson states, “The differences in their [James and Joyce] treatment of the ‘beast’ are determined by their individual relation to the overarching patriarchy and its attendant homophobia”(Dubliners 328); the character of Duffy, being in an Irish country, where Catholicism is the dominant religion, has to tame his “beast”. The interaction between he and Mrs. Sinico does a decent job in this task, but as Duffy writes” Love between man and man is impossible because there must not be sexual intercourse and friendship between man and woman is impossible because there must be sexual intercourse”(Dubliners 94); this statement puts Duffy in a compromising position. On one side Duffy is completely isolated and as Jackson states, “Each of his ties with other men…is a tie into the patriarchy”(Dubliners 336); Duffy shutting himself off to the outside limits his interaction with anyone, and this in a way limits his “beast” from being exposed. Prior to reading Jackson’s piece I would have overlooked this, but subtle signs, once analyzed, seem to scream that the “beast” wants to be let out. Duffy’s relationships, or lack thereof, reveal his homosexual tendencies and “open the closet” in a way that does not affect his image in the town or his homophobia.
Monday, March 29, 2010
It is almost painful to see how orderly Mr. Duffy’s life has become upon his meeting with Mrs. Sinico. His disdain for “anything which betokened physical or mental disorder” is reflected in the clean and methodical organization of his house, his daily routine, and most importantly, the absence of unique daily occurrences that Joyce regards as life altering (Dubliners 317-318). Yet in the next arguably mundane period of his life, the “four years” after his dismissal, Mr. Duffy is not totally the same. Originally absconding to writing as a submission of “himself to the criticisms of an obtuse middle class which entrusted its morality to policemen”, Mr. Duffy begins to write, albeit seldom in occurrence (320). Yet Joyce chooses the one phrase that reveals a change in thought and his morality: “Love between man and man is impossible because there must not be sexual intercourse and friendship between man and woman is impossible because there must be sexual intercourse” (321).
Trusting in Jackson’s testimony about the existence of a “homosexual panic” infused in culture and legal systems of Joyce’s time, this most recent quotation reveals Mr. Duffy’s first acknowledgement of the situation (Jackson, from J-STOR, 84). In this writing, Joyce notes a divergence from the “orderliness of his mind”, showing the beginning of Mr. Duffy’s questioning of the world around him (Dubliners 321). Mr. Duffy’s questioning correlates with Jackson’s assertion that “the scandals had the paradoxical effect of making many homosexual men aware of their identity” (Jackson 89). Going back to the story, from who did the trigger to Mr. Duffy’s realization originate? Mrs. Sinico.
Wednesday, March 24, 2010
Tuesday, March 23, 2010
Williams mentions that the marketplace is a place of particular reverence in the Yoruba culture because much of what happens as a part of Yoruba society happens in the marketplace. It makes sense that Elesin would travel through the marketplace on his way to his ritual suicide simply because it was that much apart of Yoruba culture.
According to Williams, Elesin’s relatively minor role as the king’s horseman is elevated due to the nature and time of his taking part in this tradition. The success or failure of him to perform the ritual is indicative of the success or failure of the entire culture.
Olunde, Elesin’s son, is portrayed in this article as the voice of reason, having been raised in the traditional Yoruba culture then being sent to the west for school. His voice critiques the entire Western imperial world, saying that they do not respect things that they do not understand. He is westernized yet not arrogant like the Pilkings. Olunde then commits suicide in an attempt to bring about some normalcy, proving that he still honors the traditions of his society.
Williams details the left’s thoughts on Olunde’s suicide as an action that was a product of a “reactionary culture and a flagrantly feudalistic ethos” (p.191). Feudalism plays a big role in Jeyifo’s argument against Soyinka. Jeyifo basically says that Soyinka supports the feudal system that feeds the bourgeoisies (the king) of the Yoruba society. Williams acknowledges Jeyifo’s point, but also mentions that this form of suicide and accompanying the king to the afterlife to bring back order to the cosmos is, in fact, beneficial to the entire society, not just the bourgeoisie.
Leftist criticism opposes the ideology of this play because it reinforces the political structures present in Yoruba society. The ruling classes have created the rituals of suicide and use them to perpetuate the myth of royal immortality (Williams, 192). According to Williams, the play "does provide metaphysical rationalization for a patriarchal and feudalist code", and this gives some merit to a Marxist reading (193). However, this kind of reading is incomplete. While a Marxist approach often makes use of class struggle as a tool for analysis, this must be balanced with a look at the utopian elements in the work. The rituals in Death and King's Horseman go beyond class—they unite the entire culture as a whole (193). On the other hand, Williams notes that a conservative approach with a "fixation on the utopian impulse" goes too far in the opposite direction (194). The ritualistic values may extend past class differences but they are still unique cultural phenomena. Additionally, class differences still do exist in the real world and in every culture—this utopia is only of the afterlife.
Given the failure of these approaches, Williams describes a superior approach which he is what he claims Soyinka accomplished in this play. Rather than attempt to beautify the admittedly imperfect Yoruba culture or side with the Europeans, Soyinka "couterpose[d] the dominant culture of the ancient Oyo kingdom against the equally hegemonic culture of the white invaders" (194). In other words, Soyinka made a political stance by not taking sides at all. This falls in line with the authors stated belief that a "clash of cultures" implies cultural superiority—something he finds abhorrent (188). This is also echoed in the words of Olunde, who challenges the Western notion that African civilization is inferior, while not unduly promoting it. If there was a political analysis that Soyinka would agree with, I think this would be it.
Williams writes that, “In this play, Yorinka manages to capture the power and glory of the ancient Yoruba state in its dying moment.” He argues that this play contributes to the political consciousness of people who share a concern for those repressed due to colonization of African countries. Yorinka is able to expose the “cultural chauvinism” of Western society through his various depictions in the play. Williams writes that the Western conception of ritual is often considered primitive, and it is thus characterized in a negative way. Yorinka is able to validate these cultural traditions by illustrating the complex cultural motives they carry, and florid language with which he describes them.
However, the depiction of the ‘clash of cultures ‘ is not a typical one. For example, something that would be considered an imposition of Western ideals (such as the inclusion of a marketplace) It is not attributed to Western society but to the Yoruba culture. Similarly, Yorinka doesn’t paint the picture of a peaceful tribe and the evil English as a simple, reductive tale of oppositional political forces. Neither is purely admonished or absolved for their actions in the play, and it is this level of complexity and truth that strikes the public so hard. This work served as a zeitgeist for the political consciousness of the African people and became pivotal for stimulating political action and as a self-reflexive ideal.
Williams first establishes that “[d]eath become the distinguished scourge and ultimate terror of the ruling class: unconquerable…,” (192) constructing the significance of Elesin’s ritual for the upper class. Williams then shows how Elesin’s honoring of the kings through suicide is socially symbolic and important. Williams claims that Elesin’s role is a “socially symbolic act insofar as it negotiates the painful reality of death for the ruling class,”(193) that according to Althusser is an insidious strategy of survival for the rulers. Then Williams show that death transverses class lines by stating that “it is not just the dominant class that fears death.”(193) This supports Williams’ claim that Althusser is right insofar as this particular maneuver (Elesin’s ritual) is an essential mystification, ultimately beneficial to the entire society. Like Williams states, Elesin’s consciousness has been shaped by his material and political circumstances. Because he is hesitant to embrace his role and accompany the king in death Elesin demonstrates the material and political circumstances that cause him to value his life. However, like Williams, I believe that the ritual that honors the ruling class is ultimately beneficial for the entire society because of the political unconscious underlying it. Williams claims it is a “necessary” mystification that strengthens the culture and society as a whole. Thus, while the playwright is sympathetic towards the aspirations of the Olunde, I believe that he is as sympathetic to Elesin. Because Elesin enjoys a good life as a horseman to the king, his material circumstances, his sacrifice for the benefit of the entire culture is sympathized throughout the text. Because death is a supra-class phenomenon, the cultural implications of Elesin’s ritual are greater than the political ones. Thus, while I agree with Williams that the ritual is a socially symbolic act insofar as it negotiates the reality of death for the ruling class, I believe that benefit for the entire culture is more valued in the play. Further, because of the emphasis on Elesin’s necessary sacrifice, I believe that the playwright is as sympathetic toward Elesin as he is towards the aspiration of Olunde.
I found Williams’ argument that “Soyinka exposes the absurdity inherent in all assumptions of cultural superiority (188)” simply fascinating because of the amount of double oppression seen in the play, but was even more intrigued by the reasons that Williams gave for support. Most interesting to me was the idea that “in its dying moment, the empire can only produce an Elesin. (190)” Williams goes on to belittle Elesin to display the indecisiveness of the character. Describing him as pathetic allows the reader of the essay to understand the generality of a culture that has and is being slowly colonized and stripped of identity.
By showing the history of the tribe through such a “pathetic” character, Soyinka is demonstrating the lack of certainty in the outcome of tribal struggles in the mind of Elesin and his own mind. As Williams says, “the playwright is an unabashed horseman of a besieged culture fighting a desperate battle against the cultural ‘other’. (194)” Although Soyinka is clearly showing the consequences of westernization of a feudal tribal system, Williams believes that Soyinka is uncertain about the true identification of the tribe. Having the main character be so pathetic, uncertain, and lost between the “inequities of the traditional hierarchy” and “realizing that the culture he was defending had already succumbed to… history (194)” shows the author’s own internal struggle. The only saving grace for Soyinka, and what Williams calls “the most sensitively drawn character in the play (190)”, is Olunde. Williams, and I tend to agree, contends that Olunde’s education and time spent with the colonizers give him a better perspective on which base the “inequities” and his ruined culture’s pros and cons.
Because of his ties to the British and the tribe, Olunde’s comments to Mrs. Pilkings, his disowning of his inept father, and his suicide carry much more weight. Although Williams states the contrary, I believe this is Olunde accepting the “inequities of the traditional hierarchy.” Olunde becomes the defender for the tribe and its traditions, whereas his shamed father metaphorically becomes the acceptance of resignation to a higher oppressor.
Without full participation of this ritual, the Yoruba culture and social universe will be thrown out of tilt. But it is this same ritual that Pilkings and other westerners find to be unnecessary and absurd. In fact, as the ritual begins to come full circle, it is interrupted by Pilkings and other ‘Westerners’. Williams would label this intrusion as the arrogance of Western assumptions, as Pilkings and the others do not understand the cultural importance and implications of the ritual. Like most, Pilkings has come to accept Westernized ideals of death, in that it is scary and terrifying. While for Elesin and the Yoruba community, this ritual is both a necessity and an honor. Still, as Williams accurately analyzes the issue of ‘the other’ in relation to the opposing cultures, I feel as if a few key elements went missing. Williams states that this story represents “the return of the repressed” (187). With that said, I feel as both Jane and the African officer were both being suppressed by the force of Pilkings. Ultimately, while this is a story of the repressed returning to fame, I feel as if individuals remained idle in their oppressed lifestyle. I would have liked Williams to address these relationships when analyzing both the ritual and the issue of ‘the other’.
Considering the fact that I attend an all male college founded on traditions, I have a different understanding of the ways that traditions are kept and left behind. These ritualistic activities unite the college under a common ground that ultimately sets us apart from other places and that is why most of us go here. We don’t want to be away from women but something here draws us in. The traditions become a romanticized part of our lives that we are proud of. Regardless of wether or not this sort of pride is bad or not, it is difficult to not feel some extent of it.
Weighing the impact of these scholastic traditions, I can only imagine the importance of traditions of a society--a particular group of peoples’ way of life. In Adebayo Williams’ analytic post-colonial critic of Soyinka’s Death and the King’s Horseman, Williams stresses the importance of ritual suicide in the Yoruba way of life. This ritual suicide is used to guide the deceased Yoruba King in the afterlife. If the King is left unattended he wanders around causing harm and destruction to the Yoruba people. So for their safety, the King’s Horseman must commit ritual suicide. The act is considered an honorable deed. However, Williams notes the flaws of other people to recognize this culture as its own. The Englishmen in the play think the idea is silly and foolish when the Englishmen themselves are no better.
Williams mentions how the Yoruba market is highly valued in their society, to the extent of being like heaven. This is especially true at nighttime because the Yoruba people believe there is a greater spiritual presence at this time. However, the term heaven for Yoruba has a different significance than in English Christianity. For English Christian minds, heaven is a holy place of light and innocence whereas the Yoruba heaven is a place where all spirits dwell. Their highest spiritual time is at night, but English see nighttime as a high spiritual time for demonic activity. These cultural misunderstandings compose all of the problems in the play and as well as the interpretations of it.
Williams stresses the lack of understanding for the Yoruba way of life by the English in the play. He makes a good point supporting the common understanding that Soyinka’s main point is undisputedly proven that oppressing cultures often do not take the time to understand or appreciate other people’s lifestyles. They simply impose their own. Williams supports this point by recognizing Olunde’s condemnation of the English not taking the time to understand the Yoruba people as well as contempt for his father not completing his ritual suicide. Olunde is essentially between both worlds. He has taken the time to understand the English way of life for four years but has not forgotten his own.
The presence of Piklings, Jane and the officers in the story add another dimension to the story’s central theme. The absence of their role in Williams’ analysis, besides the few lines on page 191, forces me to believe that he does not think their role in the play, in regards to ritual, were important. As a post-colonial critic, having the colonizer/colonized dichotomy adds concreteness to a critique. Why weren't the Piklings and Jane scene, where they were dressed in the ritual garb a analyzed? For Williams' to analyze the ritual so much in his piece and not mention the "other's" ignorance of the Yoruba culture seems odd. Also, why was the African officer who did not practice the rituals of the Yoruba but respected them nonetheless absent from the analysis? His presence showed that not all Africans believed in the rituals, but they did respect them. The presence of the whites and the African officer should have been analyzed. I just feel that if there I going to be a post-colonial analysis of the ritual, these key components should be discussed or at leas mentioned.
Analysis of Adebayo Williams' "Ritual and the Political Unconscious: The Case of Death and the King's Horseman"
Many critics have voiced their opinions of the message behind Wole Soyinka’s “Death and the King’s Horseman.” It is presented that even though Soyinka’s work is filled with lyrical grace, beauty, and depth, it attempts to, according to Biodun Jeyifo, make us accept Soyinka’s revolutionary worldview. Adebayo Williams, on the other hand, tends to disagree: “By counterposing the notion of honor in ancient Yoruba kingdom […] against the cynical presumptions and calculations of the colonial officials, Soyinka exposes the absurdity inherent in all assumptions of cultural superiority” (Williams 188). Williams, who is exploring the role that ritual plays within the play, argues that Soyinka is attempting to disable the idea of cultural superiority. I tend to agree with this notion more so than others because of not only the actual contrasting beliefs presented within the story, but also because of the language change within the first 2 acts. A new way of presenting dialogue becomes evident because of the way characters interact; within the first act, the dialogue between Elesin and others (including the telling of the story of the Not-I bird) is very lyrical and metric, as opposed to the interrupting and fast-paced nature of the dialogue in act ii.
Within Williams’ response to Soyinka’s “Death and the King’s Horseman,” elements of race analysis appear when discussing the role of Elesin: “In ‘Death and the King’s Horseman,’ then, the playwright is an unabashed horseman (“Elesin” in the Yoruba language) of a besieged culture, fighting a desperate battle against the cultural ‘other’” (Williams 194). Here, Williams establishes the dynamic of “us” and “them,” where the Yoruba represent the “us” and the invading, opposing British represent “them.” Such an analysis proves to be very relevant because of how Williams views the role of the ritual within the play. This is best seen with the character of Olunde, according to Williams, because he has to step up and take the place of his father, Elesin, who is a “critically misendowed character” (Williams 190). By Olunde being an educated character, his death becomes yet another multi-leveled symbolic act that deals with cultural and racial superiority that is present throughout the play.
Considering the power that is given by the Yoruba people to this most important of ceremonies, the external intrusion by the colonial forces constitutes not only a challenge to their culture, but also to the very well-being of the Yoruba political structure. Such colonial conflict in the context of this play shows the results of a clash between two political consciousnesses. The external force, being the British, embraces the political ideals of life and the perpetuation of freedom. To them, the ritual of the Yoruba tribe cannot be reconciled with what they believe are universal human views of morality. Soyinka, while he may reject the idea of categorizing his play as an overtly colonial text, is still commenting on the political struggles between differing cultures. What one culture may view as an ignorant and pagan practice is, for another culture, the means of setting their minds at ease and allowing their tribe to function normally. The clash of political consciousnesses is inevitable in the colonial setting. When cultures of opposing values and customs come into contact, there is likely to be some manner of dissent or upheaval over the credence of the various practices. Soyinka examines the political consciousness of the Yoruba people from a metaphysical standpoint but nevertheless exposes the inherent issues resulting from the colonial occupation at the hands of the British.
However, most important in the essay that makes it a true post-colonial criticism is that it not only regards the dominance of one group over another in the literature but also it exposes and attacks the dominance of one ideology over another in the realm of literary criticism. Williams’ essay, in fact, performs the same role as Soyinka’s Death and the King’s Horseman by exposing the negatives of ideological or political dominance. Williams applies Frederic Jameson’s critique of Marxism—“to restore the utopian dimension to the work of art” (193)—to explain how previous attitudes towards ritual and religious practices in colonial, “Eurocentric” circles are contradictory (195). To Williams, Soyinka is “an unabashed horseman (‘Elesin’ in the Yoruba language) of a besieged culture, fighting a desperate battle against the cultural ‘other’” (194). Williams fights those critics who have been “insisting on the decadent and oppressive nature of the indigenous culture” (195) by explaining that the sacrifice is commonly viewed as a “symbolic conquest of death itself” (192), and that one culture “insists upon forcing its hardware its hardware on another culture without making a commensurate purchase in return” (188-189). This upholds Hall principle #4 in which the critic “explores a text’s characterizations…in order to pinpoint the roles and social values attributed to the groups it portrays” (Hall 271).
In arguing with Jane about the ceremonial suicide about to occur with his father, Elesin, Olunde manages not so much to justify the savage customs of his culture but to point out the savage and immoral customs of western culture and in doing so appears to the reader to gain the moral high ground against the colonial administrators. Jane touts the imperialism of Great Britain in Olunde’s country as a positive thing and cites their prevention of his father’s ritual suicide as evidence to the morality of the West and the savagery of his nation that they wish to eradicate by their involvement. Olunde is quick to respond with “Is that worse than mass suicide? Mrs. Pilkings, what do you call what those young men are sent to do by their generals in this war [WWII]? Of course you have also mastered the art of calling things by names which don’t remotely describe them” (44). He implies that the West is no less if not more savage than his own nation based on the large scale war that is raging throughout Europe.
Olunde also serves as a foil to the positive view of western imperialism by citing their arrogance and disrespect for his culture. The interruption of their sacred ritual of Elesin’s suicide and the desecration of an ancestral mask for the sake of Mr. Pilking’s costume are two such examples. “No I am not shocked Mrs. Pilkings. You forget that I have spent four years among your people. I discovered that you have no respect for what you do not understand” (41). Olunde is pointing to the arrogance of the western imperialists who have taken control of his country. He does not see their involvement and their intervention, no matter how good their intentions are, as a positive impact on his country and he continues to oppose them throughout the play.
Williams goes on to discuss the influence of Western culture on a traditional African society, “Death and the King’s Horseman represents an attempt to confront on a creative level the arrogance and cultural chauvinism of Western imperialism... Soyinka exposes the absurdity inherent in all assumptions of cultural superiority” (Williams 188). This claim made be Williams is certainly agreeable, but with the specific criticism that he is going against, one would assume that he would provide backing for it. For instance, although he does cite the conversation between Olunde and Mrs. Pilkings, there is a comparison of culture within the dialogue. Trying to prove that the power of the oppressor is indeed a sham, responds to Mrs. Pilkings statement of “The ship had to be blown up because it had become dangerous to the other ships, even to the city itself. Hundreds of the coastal population would have died,” by responding with, “I don’t find it morbid at all. I find it rather inspiring” (Suyinka 41-42). While the action of the captain is considered honorable, as he is on the side of the oppressor, Elesin’s suicide for the sake of the village from evil spirits is considered abominable by the imperialists.
There are also a couple of other failings within the article that one cannot help but noticing. I found it particularly aggravating that the author, Williams, kept trying to get into the head of Soyinka or explain his motives when Soyinka has clearly stated, whether done factually or to simply avoid conflict, the play is meant to be interpreted from a metaphysical standpoint and not political. Yet, it is precisely politics and authorial intent that Williams attempts to use within his article. Discussing Soyinka’s possibility of “[surmounting] the overwhelming historical and social” opposition, Williams states, “That the playwright fails to recognize this fact demonstrates the extent to which his own imagination has been colored by the lingering efficacy of the ideological apparatus of the old Yoruba state” (Williams 190). By writing this play, one about cultural conflict and oppression, Soyinka does exactly that. He creates a beautifully written play that captures that attention of the audience and exposes them to the specific themes. To make this statement, it only takes away from the validity of Williams’ previous claims.
Something interesting that Williams and not many other critics that we have read so far chooses to do is to explicitly identify the theories in which he is going about his criticism so that his audience has a better understanding as to the impetus for his claims. Williams states “It is paradoxical that a Marxist critic should slip in the bourgeois notion that history and literature are no more than the study of the acts of great men. A genuinely materialist aesthetics must not be fixated on great personalities” (Williams 190). This insight into theory seems to immensely strengthen his argument against critics like Jeyufi, who seem to focus on the specific historical and economical aspect of Soyinka’s work. By negating their work, especially on the basis of theory in which they make their claims, Williams solidifies his own.
Sunday, March 21, 2010
First, let me address the deliberate ambiguity which Toomer uses to describe potential experiences revolving around the attraction of Fern's eyes. Consider the following quote:
"Anyone, of course, could see her, could see her eyes. If you walked up Dixie Pike most any time of day...or maybe they gazed at the gray cabin on the knoll...perhaps they followed a cow...If it were dusk, then they'd wait for the search-light of the evening train...Like her face, the whole countryside seemed to flow into her eyes."
At first glance, I was struck by the unusual and ambiguous way in which the author choses to describe the effect Fern's eyes seem to have on her surrounding environment and furthermore found myself almost amused by the various "excuses" men could have for justifying their gradual attraction to Fern. However, a race/ethnicity reading of these peculiarities may shed some light. One of racism's greatest stereotypes is the idea that some ethnicities, particular African Americans, are, as a result of their inferior state, lacking in culture and civilization that Whites enjoy. This lack of culture was purported to imply that African Americans were to be more readily associated with the barbaric and the natural than with human society. Therefore, my point is that the portrayal of Fern as a mere aspect of nature is ultimately the greatest form of discrimination, completely separating her from humanity and displaying her as purely a function of natural forms. The amusing ambiguity in which Fern is handled by all (except perhaps the narrator after he becomes involved in the plot) seems to be a demonstration of the degree of separation Fern suffers from the influences of the interests of men and concerns of ethnicity.
An analogy that the narrator establishes is on page 18 when he claims “that love is not a thing like prejudice which can be bettered by changes of town.” Like love, race is not a thing like prejudice which can bettered by changes of town, revealing an insight into Fern’s world. This shows that Fern is oblivious to the implications that her race will have on her happiness. The fact that her eye’s “desire nothing” demonstrates the limitations that Fern’s race has on her pursuit of happiness. When walking with the narrator Fern asks “[d]oesn’t it make you mad? […] she meant the row of petty gossiping people[…]she meant the world.”(19) This reveals the contempt Fern has for her society that has structured value of race. Thus, through the analogy that associates love and race as things that can’t be bettered by changes of town, the narrator reveals Fern’s devaluation of the implications race. Ultimately it is Fern’s obliviousness to race that leaves her taking the countryside into her eyes; her eyes that have and see no racial implications whatsoever. Through the narrator’s elaboration of the importance of race that seems to have no insinuations for Fern, we’re able to see what Fern can’t see, that race can’t be bettered by a change of town.
“I was from the North and suspected of being prejudiced and stuck-up…some folks already thought that I was given to nosing around.”
Jean Toomer shows many of the different divides between Northern and Southern African-Americans through the speaker’s thoughts and interactions with Fern. The speaker is first faced with accusations of “being prejudiced and stuck-up” as if something was wrong which he needed to fix (17). The speaker feels the need to counter these accusations to destroy their judgments; however, the reader sees that his thoughts prove their attitudes correct, for the speaker asks, “What could I do for her” (18). He begins by stating that “love is not a thing like prejudice which can be bettered by changes of town”, implying that differing levels of prejudice exist towards Northern and Southern African-Americans (18). The speaker categorizes Southern white men as “more aggressive” and wanting to make a pretty African-American woman his concubine.
He feels that Northern men, particularly Northern African-American men, can do something for her. However, his own experience fails him, and he must return north with only a story and her full name. What results of this? An upholding of a Southern African-American feeling of dislike towards members of their own race geographically separated results of his failure. For causing her to faint, the speaker “got one or two ugly looks from town men (assumed to be African-American because each white man in the story is explicitly identified as a white man) who’d set themselves up to protect her” (19). Such attitudes, brought about through the speaker’s captivation of Fern, reflect many of the economic, cultural, and social divides between Northern and Southern African-Americans around 1920.
A look at Toomer's Fern reveals a slanted approach to love. This love takes the form of a misguided infatuation, the sort most mothers warn their sons to avoid: "They became attached to her...(16)." It is our narrator who sets the stage and informs us that the men who find themselves head-over-heels for Fern, despite being put out by her, vow to do "some fine thing for her" all the while not letting her no it is them. Yet despite this seeming foolishness there is a hint of romanticism, for these calculated acts (sending her candy, a "magnificent something" for her wedding, buying a house and deed, etc.) are not to win her favor but to simply venerate her. Same goes for the gentleman in town "who'd set themselves up to protect her". This romanticism that surrounds Fern denotes some sort of chivalry in which these men feel that they must protect this damsel who is not necessarily in distress.
Much like the narrator is trying to help Fern find her lost racial and spiritual identification, Toomer’s venture through the south may have been to accomplish relatively the same thing. Although much of racial reading seems to be about “oppressor and oppressed” relationships, I think that Toomer is attempting to empower the southern black person by helping reclaim an identification. After much oppression, which was continued through the original publishing date of Cane, Toomer, being a northern black man, came to the conclusion that racial similarity and identification with the Southern black man was unrecognizable. Throughout Fern there are many references to “loss”, “mystery”, and “sorrow”. The narrator tries to rectify all three. The reader begins to sense that the narrator fells as though he owes it to Fern to help her rediscover her identity, he describes it as “Something I would do for he. (19)” However, “Nothing ever really happened. (19)” The narrator learns nothing more than what he already knew. Toomer feels the same way. By being a nearly un-oppressed northern black man, he feels he owes it to his southern kin to help gain identity and soul. Much like the narrator however, Toomer discovers through trying to empower the Southern black man, the only thing they have in common any longer is a name.
Descriptions of Fern's physical aspects are somewhat limited in the story. With the exception of numerous references to the poignant image of her eyes, the narrator limits our perception of Fern by concentrating on the idiosyncrasies which keep her aloof from the men who seek her. While detailed characterization of Fern is limited, an important aspect to note is her obviously mixed racial heritage. Her face is described as "soft cream foam," and image which brings to mind subtle lightness tinged with brown. This aspect of Fern is critical in examining this piece through a racial lens. When the narrator discusses men and their preoccupation with possessing and protecting Fern, he says "it is black folks whom I have been talking about thus far" (Toomer, 17). The fact that the narrator centers his initial observations on the reactions of black men connotes an underlying desire for the acquisition of the white female other. Fern is simultaneously among the black community and apart from it. Her skin color makes her desirable to black men in so far as she is able to fulfill the external facade of whiteness. Considering the historical context of this piece, it makes sense that Fern's race would make her more desirable to one specific race. For, as the narrator puts it: "What white men thought of Fern I can arrive at only by analogy. They let her alone" (17). The appeal of Fern to black men lies not only in her emotional separation from earthly concerns, but also in the racial separation brought about by her whiteness.
The narrator seems to embrace elements of darkness by labeling Fern’s appearance like the shadow of a birds wing and she apparently has an aquiline or eagle like nose as well. This constant imagery of a bird, more specifically an eagle, is rather interesting because eagles are revered for their eyes and their ability to see far more than humans can. Interestingly the primary fascination of the narrator, in this text, is with Fern’s eyes. What they see and what they desire. In order to see, eyes require light and it is typically the light in a person’s eye that draws fascination. However, in this case, the narrator, as well as the other men who have pursued Fern, seem to be attracted to the absence of light, in a sense, because she isn’t really looking at anything and she doesn’t really appear to desire anything--especially nothing a person can offer her. The only sources of white or light are the white men who could never understand Fern, the darker images that she could be looking at, and the sunset. Although a sunset gets it beauty from the presence of light, one can also argue that the beauty of the sunset is from the gradual absence of light. Considering that the piece is written from an African American perspective, a switch in appreciation of the binary between light and dark that usually shows favor for light is an interesting aspect for race analysis.
Saturday, March 20, 2010
Tuesday, March 16, 2010
Monday, March 15, 2010
Initially, I was quite confused with Cheng’s article. I found the first half to be foggy, as I was unsure as to the direction in which Cheng was headed. However, as I concluded my reading, I grew found of Cheng’s appreciation and commitment throughout his research. For this, I will discuss the latter half of Cheng’s article, as it deals with the humbling revelation of Gabriel and his own ‘self-awareness’. When referring to the situation in the Conroy’s hotel room, Cheng states that this is a normal experience for couples, as “one partner is sexually frustrated to discover that the other is not ‘in the mood’”. Aware of his wife’s sexual passiveness, Gabriel, being the powerful and dominant male that he is, begins to grow tiresome of his ‘inaction’. It is here that Cheng’s reading of Gabriel comes full circle. At face value, Gabriel is a sympathetic and kind individual. Yet for Cheng, Gabriel is merely an oppressive tyrant who finds pleasure in his superiority over others. We see this through Gabriel’s constant interactions with not only Gretta, but also, his children and even Lily. Still, as Gabriel hears the news that has been hindering his intercourse, he is “shy of intruding on her grief, let it [hand] fall gently and walked quietly to the window”. Growing faint and confused, Gabriel in a sense is brought back down to earth. Humbled by the thought of his wife loving another man, Gabriel’s manhood and lifelong virtues have been thrown into question. He is unable to control the emotional distress of his wife, which is something that seems to trouble him physically. Gabriel is unaffected by the emotional turmoil of his wife, but rather, his own expansion of self-awareness that comes as a result. Ultimately for Cheng, Gabriel is a figure that represents the British Empire and their rule over far-flung countries. Just as European forces repressed the cultures and traditions of Irish society, so to does Gabriel through his ego and hyper-masculine qualities. Yet the realization that comes from the hand of his wife, allows for Gabriel’s acceptance of “emotional expansiveness, self-understanding, and generosity”, such characteristics that often lack in oppressive individuals.