Crevecoeur

I was very surprised that Crevecoeur was not included in the list. I have read “What is an American” (1781) in several different classes. It seems like such a canonical piece. I personally think that Crevecoeur contributed tremendously to American literature. He played with ideas about immigration and obviously what constitutes an “American.” Crevecoeur argued that through the process of “transplantation” anyone from Europe can effectively become an American. The piece also attempts to compartmentalize the vast American landscape. People who live in the backwoods as opposed to people who live in a communal village embody different traits. The essay is important because it captures the complicated dynamics between Europeans and the Native Americans who inhabited the lands for years. Even though Crevecoeur was not included in our study guide list, I still feel that he is worth mentioning because his essay complicates what exactly is an American and who has the capacity to become one. The analogy between men and plants also reminds us of the agricultural beginnings of this land; the landscape was beautiful, yet terrifying at the same time.

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Barbara in Zoe Heller’s “Notes on a Scandal”

The number of secrets I receive is in inverse proportion to the number of secrets anyone expects me to have of my own. And this is the real source of my dismay. Being told secrets is not-never has been- a sign that I belong or that I matter. It is quite the opposite: confirmation of my irrelevance. (Heller 201)

This quote amazed me. It presented a wholly new take on who we choose to tell our secrets to and what factors determine such a choice. Barbara receives secrets from Sheba and Bangs because she does not appear threatening. Her peers regard her life as insignificant because she lives a relatively lonely life, with the exception of her cat Portia. Since several people feel comfortable confiding in Barbara, it is safe to say that she does not pose any possible impediment on their own privacy. The fact that people spill out their hearts to Barbara rests on the implication that she is an empty vassal. People can whisper, cry, or even yell secrets, wishes, and desires into her ears. Ironically, Barbara’s status as a secret keeper reflects her own personal lack of a social life, familial ties, relationships, and of course the high probability that she has no one to share secrets with in the first place. Sheba tells Barbara she has a sexual relationship with Steven and Bangs lays out his amorous desires of Sheba a married co-worker, and I have a persistent feeling that Barbara desired Sheba’s love and affection in more than a friendly manner. Unfortunately, Barbara can witness the love triangle between Steven, Sheba, and Bangs, but she can never be an integral part of it. Being a secret keeper in Heller’s novel automatically entails a position that is always on the outside looking in. Sheba goes to live with Barbara after the scandal’s outbreak, but the living arrangement is absolutely pitiful. Barbara takes in Sheba, her so –called friend who did not care when she accidently pushed her onto the ground in the basement, the same friend who could care less that her cat (her only faithful companion of twelve years) was dying. This strategic move on Barbara’s behalf reflects her desire to be significant through the lives of others, particularly Sheba’s life. The whole act of writing a secret, detailed manuscript of Sheba’s affair conveys the sense that Barbara lives through the lives of other people. Furthermore, in order to be relevant she must thrust herself into the center of the provocative chaos after the media’s coverage of the student-pupil liaison. To take this a step further, I was wondering if people gossip and create scandals because it is the only way to assert and declare their sense of self-importance in the face of an uninterested world. Gossip and scandals function as a means to create drama from which people derive self-importance. This is so hard to wrap the mind around in the same way that Barbara points out the “inverse proportion to the number of secrets anyone expects [her] to have of [her] own” (Heller 201). When Barbara spills Sheba’s secret to Bangs in rather suggestive terms, it is retaliation against her lack of desirability.

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Mary Tilford

KAREN. Your Mary’s a strange girl. A dark girl, there’s something very awful the matter with her (Hellman Act 2, scene 2, pg. 48)

Mary Tilford is a parent’s worst nightmare. Imagine your child bringing home a friend like that- it gives me the creeps. However, I could not help but feel disgusted, shocked, absolutely appalled by the overly accommodating, enabling adults in her life like her grandmother and Joe Cardin. The adults have doted upon Mary, coddled her, and contributed tremendously in the process of creating a deceitful, self-centered child. It is easy to sit here and speculate on how horrible Mary is and how she most likely will grow up to be a menace to society. Instead, I want to focus the gaze on the adults in her life that enable such monstrous behavior. Mary is horrifying; she embodies Iago in a little girl’s body as she goes about remorselessly ruining lives and reputations. Mary twists and contorts the conversation between Mrs. Mortar and Martha to evoke a lesbian connotation. Why does Mary do this? Well, she must want to go see the boat races awfully bad that Karen prohibits her from as a form of punishment. Mary’s grandmother represents a weak woman posing in the guise of a robust matriarch. Mary dangles the bait, a tempting bit of rumor before her grandmother’s eye. She latches on quickly with the following series of questions from page 37: “Whose room? What things? Well, what were they? How do you know all this?” Mrs. Tilford inquisitive nature acts as a catalyst for the ensuing fabrication of the nature of Martha and Karen’s relationship. In these series of questions, Mrs. Tilford is already gone; she asks questions because Mary has effectively infiltrated her mind and now she simply seeks answers to validate the lie.

Dr. Cardin on the other hand excessively indulges in Mary’s nonsense. He receives a call to the scene when Mary has a “heart attack” and sweet talks her with a further series of questions on page 50: “How do you know? Why don’t you like Miss Dobie and Miss Wright? Did you get punished today? Heard what, Mary? What do you think Mrs. Mortar meant by all that talk, Mary?” Martha sums up my feeling on this interaction between Joe and Mary when she remarks to him, “Stop that sick, sweet tone of voice” (50). The adults in Mary’s life poke and probe for half- truths in lies. Mary feeds off of this- she knows that the adults indulge in gossip and if she uses her imagination to put a twist on a conversation, it will eventually have the desired effect. Mary’s character becomes a blank slate. As readers we think that she constructs vulgar insinuations that ruin people. On the contrary, the adults seek double meanings, speculative half-truths, and private expressions of sexuality in Mary’s discourse. As a result, this schoolgirl becomes a judge. There’s no need to take a case of libel or slander to the courts when there’s Ms. Mary Tilford close at hand. Karen points out that Mary is “a dark girl” (48), but something stirs under the surface that proves to be darker than this little girl. The naïve, gullible, single-minded, easily led on adults allow the lie to blow up to grandiose proportions. Martha’s character is also problematic; she only realizes “[she] love[s] [Karen] that way” only after Mary pushes the lie into the public space of the school and Mrs. Tilford’s living room (66). Martha, like Mrs. Tilford and Dr. Cardin look for truth in Mary’s story. “The Children’s Hour” is a play about adults failing to fulfill their roles as strong, rational, sensible role models for misguided, immature, and developing children who have yet to learn how to reconcile public social interactions with private wants and desires.

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Reflection Blog

The easy part of writing the draft prospectus was definitely putting my ideas down in words. However, it was equally difficult to see how I could possibly make connections between the lines of inquiry that I would love to research. The topic description was the most productive part of the prospectus draft. Actually, while typing it up, I surprised myself because I already knew what I wanted to research. After I typed the draft out, I felt relieved because my thoughts were grounded on the computer screen in front of me. Ideas about omniscient narrators and rebellious characters no longer seemed airy and lofty. The statement of motive was helpful as well. It allowed me to turn inwards for a moment and reflect why I wanted to research this topic. To say that I enjoy narratology was obvious, but I also noticed that there were other reasons, other latent ideas in the making. The draft has not changed my line of thinking for the research paper; if anything, it has only strengthened my way of thinking about my topic. The ability to articulate my topic (of course in its stage of infancy) has provided a feeling of encouragement. I want to see what research other people have said about my topic and I am excited to add to their discussions. Of course I feel pressure to say something witty and new, but I know that feeling will only intensify later on when the real research begins. The number one question I would like to ask of a reader of my draft prospectus is how they feel about the topic. In other words, I want to know if it is a research idea that can overlap with the real world and perhaps other disciplines. A frustrating aspect was coming up with two “narrow” or specific questions. I kept leaning towards these broad, open questions about my topic. Once I actually wrote a specific question, I found myself questioning if it was truly specific or an open one in disguise. At this stage of research I was reluctant to be so specific right away. It just didn’t feel natural or organic to envision the small details at this point. In spite of some bumps along the way, the draft prospectus has been extremely helpful. The draft enabled me to ground all of my thoughts and contemplate whether or not they were workable for a research paper.

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Thoughts on Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter”

The Scarlet Letter presents the public and private spheres in complete discord. All characters, with the exception of Pearl, struggle with personal desires and public expectations. Dimmesdale embodies a complete mess. He doesn’t know what to do with his body that has both carnal needs and spiritual obligations. The minister cannot marry his private and public sides in some form of harmony. His character depicts the problem with viewing these two sides waging a war against one another. Hawthorne operates under the notion that internal corruption will outwardly manifest on the body. However, this idea is extremely problematic and places too much confidence in overly simplistic (and perhaps even offensive) beliefs. Chillingworth taunts Dimmesdale when he spews out the following: “So, to their own unutterable torment, they go about among their fellow-creatures, looking pure as new-fallen snow; while their hearts are all speckled and spotted with iniquity of which they cannot rid themselves” (Hawthorne 116). Chillingworth digs deep to get under the minister’s skin because he wants him to divulge the secret (well not so secret) paternity of Pearl. However, Hawthorne presents a fantastical illusion that a troubled private self will inevitably manifest itself to the public eye. The contrast of “white snow and speckled, spotted hearts” plays with the idea that the public and private selves are entirely separate and easily distinguishable. Public and private reflect off each other, but there is a clear power struggle for dominance and control. The community brands Hester with red letter “A” in an attempt to clearly define her private scandals to everyone around her. Moreover, the letter “A” reveals the public’s dread of silence and ambiguity. As a woman in a strict, Puritan society, Hester cannot reinvent herself; even after she becomes a nurse and does charitable deeds, her improved moral standing is habitually defined in comparison of her prior “sinfulness.” Her community feels the need to extract her private life’s details because they are uncomfortable with their own secrets. The narrator observes, “and, looking up, [Hester] would detect the eyes of a young maiden glancing at her scarlet letter, slyly and aside, and quickly averted, with a faint, chill crimson in her cheeks” (Hawthorne 79). Private and public blends here in perfectly shameful harmony. Hester’s red letter “gave her a sympathetic knowledge of the hidden sin in other hearts” (Hawthorne 78). Doesn’t this detail completely counteract the purpose of her “A”? If anything, the red letter gives her an extra heightened sense into the discrepancies and hypocrisies of her fellow community members. Her scarlet letter enables her to read the hearts and minds of her neighbors. They think it enables them to gossip about her, but it is not the case. On the contrary, Hester’s red letter “A” simulates the experience of an absolute gossip feast among her neighbors minus her need to socially interact with others. Here we have gossip in its most personalized and self-contained form.

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“Emma” by Jane Austen

Jane Austen’s Emma captures the talk of a closely knit community in nineteenth century England. Frequent visits and balls at the homes of others is a common occurrence, although not equally pleasurable to everyone in the confined boundaries of Highbury. One particular quote from Mr. John Knightley captures what modern day readers might consider an absolute absurdity:

‘here are we setting forward to spend five dull hours in another man’s house, with nothing to say or hear that was not said or heard yesterday, and may not be said and heard again to-morrow. Going in dismal weather, to return probably in worse;-four horses and four servants taken out for nothing but to convey five idle, shivering creatures into colder rooms and worse company than they might have had at home.’ (Austen 108)

John Knightley expresses discontent at the very thought of treading outside in the snow to visit Mr. Elton’s home. There everyone will engage in a much needed dose of idle chit chat. Little bits and pieces of news, both old and new, are crucial to the very livelihood of Highbury, as well as its residents. John Knightley mirrors the sentiments of readers; however, he fails to acknowledge the absolute necessity of such idle chatter. The inhabitants of Highbury rely on meetings like this one to keep them together. Furthermore, these get-togethers are a pivotal part of individual health (not physical, but emotional and mental). People such as Emma and Harriet Smith need these frivolous moments of idle chatter because it provides them with the means to understand themselves as individuals. Ironically, people like Emma need a strong infusion of comparative language in their everyday vocabulary as a self-defining mechanism. Emma understands who she is as a young lady through comparison with others in her high society. She is able to refine her taste in men when she “compared [Mr. Knightley and Frank Churchill]-compared them, as they had always stood in her estimation” (386). Mr. John Knightley articulates his dread at one of these absurd get-togethers, but he fails to recognize how important they are for collective society, as well as the individuals who constitute the Highbury network. These balls allow key moments of social interaction which juxtapose what Finch and Bowen refer to as “private thoughts that mark Emma’s interiority” which also “find their equivalent in the anonymous public voices that represent Highbury society” (Finch and Bowen 8-9). What Knightley deems a complete waste in time and resources, “five dull hours, five idle shivering creatures, four horses and servants” (108), depicts an attempt on his behalf to quantify and place a tangible number on the things needed to foster a gossip-friendly atmosphere. It most certainly is not a simple task. Mr. John Knightley’s distaste towards the travelling, the terrible weather, and the purpose of the former two allows Austen to insert a new voice in the text. He appears wrapped up in the web of Highbury frivolities and talk because of his association with its other members. In spite of his connections, he definitely does not appear much obliged to partake in any of it.

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Mini-lesson: From Answer to Question

In an attempt to work backwards and better understand Elizabeth Maddock Dillon’s article, I have formulated the following questions. She might have been considering these questions prior to writing her piece:

 1-Why is courtship akin to the Haitian revolution? What does this suggest about the role of women in a male-dominated, colonial environment?

 2-What is the function of creoles within and outside of the novel? How does the role of creoles compare and/or contrast to that of the non-native bodies on the island?

 3-How do violence and sexuality diverge and converge in the novel? How does Sansay attempt to reconcile healthy sexuality with violent, exploitative sexuality? To what extent is violence sexualized in Sansay’s novella? What does this suggest about violence in her novella?

 4-To what extent is a marriage contract between two individuals understood in political and economic terms? Why does Sansay leave love out of the equation of a successful marriage?

 5-How is America defined and understood in relation to and in opposition to its colonial communities overseas? Is the process of acculturation always one-sided or are there examples of give and take, as well as evidence of shared, reciprocal influence between the colonized and colonizer?

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Bodies of Women in Leonora Sansay’s “Secret History”

      Bodies perform non-verbal communication in Leonora Sansay’s “Secret History.” The bodies of women are extremely important in the novella. They communicate class, value, worth, and position in an unstable environment. An interesting aspect of the novel is the way in which Sansay uses the bodies of women to communicate messages of inequality. The language and imagery tied to female bodies communicates the message that they are marketable objects. Mary writes to her special friend “and at beholding [Clara’s] form, and you must know that form so vilely bartered” (Sansay 64). Clara’s body and beautiful looks have a clear price and value; they can be traded, bartered, sold, and bought for a price. Mary observes in a letter to her dear friend, “she is assailed by those whose  only desire is to add another trophy to their conquests, and is borne away by the torrent of fashion and dissipation till all traces of her native simplicity are destroyed” (Sansay 96); this quotation fully demonstrations the worth attached to bodies of women. Furthermore, it suggests that the bodies are made to be claimed and conquered as a position. They can be acquired and governed much likeHaiti. Men have the power to penetrate the landscape of the bodies of women and stake a claim as though it were their private property.

            Elizabeth Maddock Dillon discusses “social reproduction” in her article on Sansay’s “Secret History.” Maddock Dillon notes, “questions of who will reproduce and what will be produced are biological as well as economic and political” (83). In this Marxist reading, the bodies of women are so crucial because they harbor the capacity to bear children that will grow up and participate in the workforce. The bodies of women allow economics to thrive and this is stored in the womb. It is extremely ironic that women are able to preserve economic stability through their bodies while simultaneously being subjected by their husbands who largely control the economic and political spheres of life. Gretchen Woertendyke, in her article “Romance to Novel: A Secret History,” points out that “[Clara’s] body transforms into a metonym for Saint- Dominguan resources after the French Imperial General Rochambeau’s interest in her (264). Her body represents the delicate shift in power onHaiti. The colony moves from overt and restricted control by the French to that of rebellious autonomy by the Haitian people. Therefore, the body of a Frenchwoman and her controlling husband is a representation of the power struggle inHaiti. I found this to be extremely problematic, especially considering Clara’s figure; she is a privileged, beautiful Frenchwoman so why use her body to embodyHaiti’s fight for independence from colonial rule. Perhaps she is in the same boat as the Haitian people. Sansay could be deliberately drawing a connection between the two to inexplicitly suggest that the body ofHaitias a potentially self-governed country and the bodies of women are both suffering because of patriarchal notions of conquest.

            A gruesome example of a female body’s marketability is found in the anecdote of the girl and her mother who were taken captive by a Haitian. Enamored by her beauty, he asks the girl to be his wife, of course she refuses. Mary concludes the story quite abruptly, “The monster gave her to his guard who hung her by the throat on an iron hook in the market place, where the lovely, innocent, unfortunate victim slowly expired” (125). The idea of a body having its own market value is taken quite literally in this side story. Her body is put on display in the marketplace in the same manner one who hangs a piece of meat for sale. The young girl’s body is not an object of lust of desire. On the contrary, her body demonstrates its capacity to be taken, sold, and exploited, much as one would do with raw materials and exotic goods. Her fragile body is exploited, not in a sexual sense, but rather in an economic and political sense; she does not have the capacity to dictate her movement.

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Daniel Defoe’s “A Journal of the Plague Year”

Daniel Defoe treats the plague’s outburst as a kind of external manifestation of the darkness hidden inside the heart of man. At one point, he lists several speculations of physicians in his areas as to why there was a “wicked inclination in those that were infected to infect others” (Defoe 116). According to Defoe, one reason why infected men wanted to spread the plague was out of a “kind of desperation” which arises when they are “unconcerned at the danger or safety not only of anybody near them, but even of themselves also” (117). Here is a malignant marriage between the public and private spheres of life. According to word of mouth, when a sick person knows of their dire condition they not only lose care for their own lives, but also for that of their neighbors. Consequently, they care not about who they spread or infect with the plague. From this reason, we can conclude that the plague spread rapidly as a direct by-product of man’s foolishness and disregard for the general health and safety of others around him. Defoe also records the following idea:

Others placed [the spread of the plague] to account of the corruption of human nature, who cannot bear to see itself more miserable than others of its own species, and has a kind of involuntary wish that all men were as unhappy or in as bad a condition as itself. (117)

This passage is laden with complex ideas that many people have grappled with even before Defoe. Could there really be an inherent malignancy in the heart of man which drives him to inflict harm and victimize the lives of others when his own life dangles on a thread? The notion is certainly disturbing to say the least. He also writes that there was “a want of people conversing one with another” (124) which leads the reader to question the numerous stories of plague victims. His detailed accounts of very personal and tragic stories of victims of the plagues are questionable, especially considering that this was a period of rampant quarantines and house lockdowns. The flow of information amongst people was terribly stifled at the time, which could also account for a lack of knowledge about the plague and preventative methods against it. Defoe also has an interesting way of describing the plague’s interaction with the human body, as well as the spread from the infected to healthy population. The spread of the plague from infected to the sound is a “[communication of] death to those they conversed with, the penetrating poison insinuating itself into their blood in a manner which it is impossible to describe or indeed conceive” (152). The very act of speaking always carried the possibility of death (for it was believed that the plague could be passed through the air, sweat, etc.) and people stifled their communication with others for fear of the plague. The plague can be spread through the air, which makes people weary of communication because every breath carries the weight of death. Conversation becomes risky and stigmatized; compassion for your fellow neighbor becomes laughable as it becomes every man for himself. The year of 1664-1665 inEngland is an exceptional time in the sense that people really turn inwards and live under apocalyptic standards. Words become tainted, not necessarily for the content of what is being said, but for the fear of internalizing a painful illness in the bloodstream. Conversation is deadly; communication is risky; compassion is discouraged. These are truly indications of terrible times.

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Thoughts on “Lady Windermere’s Fan” by Oscar Wilde

Lady Windermere’s character is young, naïve, and overly simplistic in her reasoning. In spite of her naiveté, Lady Windermere is relatable because she evokes dark human emotions. She is blindly devoted to her husband and loses her ability to listen and be logical when she learns that he might have a mistress from the Duchess of Berwick. Her character views the world in terms of chaotic binaries. Lord Darlington appears in the guise of a male foil character to Margaret. Darlington declares, “It is absurd to divide people into good and bad. People are either charming or tedious” (1.112-113) which stands in direct opposition to Lady Windermere’s process of reasoning. Either her husband is having an illicit love affair with the woman he is seeing or everything is a vulgar lie. She lacks the ability to see the world in different shades of gray, which subsequently does more harm than good. The marriage between Mr. and Mrs. Windermere is almost obliterated because of a lack of trust sparked by rumors and overactive imaginations.

Gossip has detrimental and comical functions in Oscar Wilde’s play. The usage of gossip reflects society’s discomfort and distaste towards ambiguities, complexities, gaps, empty spaces, and self-evaluation. In “Lady Windermere’s Fan,” gossip affects the plot and characters internally, as well as externally. For example, airy gossip compels Lady Windermere to state, “It is [Lord Windermere] who has broken the bond ormarriage-notI.I only break its bondage” (2. 449-450). The sentence structure from this particular quotation is amazing because it exposes the impact of gossip on the human mind. At this point in the play, Lady Windermere has allowed the gossip to consume her; she has abandoned all trust and fidelity in her husband and lost all rationale. Gossip and rumors become grounded in the sense that they provide the basis on which she decides to run off with Lord Darlington. The above quotation is fascinating because it demonstrates the pervasive and irrational logic behind gossip in relation to its receivers/listeners. Lady Windermere juxtaposes the words “bond” and “bondage” in two consecutive sentences with the subject of marriage. In the first part, she negatively associates her husband with a traditionally positive attribute of marriage, that being its formation of a long-lasting bond between two people. Afterwards, she assumes a position of control by using an active sentence in which she directly acts upon the object. Margaret asserts that she breaks the “bondage” of marriage. Clearly, gossip pushes her into a corner and causes her to see the world in hostile, antithetical opposites. Marriage cannot be either a bond or a form of bondage, nor can it have two innocent or two sinful people. Gossip entails a division amongst people, morals, and produces an unrealistic and watered down analysis of intricate, complex scenarios. It is also revealing to note that Lady Windermere ends the sentence with “I” and begins the next one with “I.” The transition between the sentences displays the process of turning inwards after hearing gossip. Initially, she is a victim to gossip and in the next sentence, she gropes for a false sense of empowerment. Gossip allows the mind to flip back and forth between good and bad; however, it also thwarts the characters (particularly Lady Windermere) from marrying both the good and bad as a positive way to assess seemingly negative situations. Gossip is an external act; words float through the air and pass from mouth to ear, but the words are internalized intimately.

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