The White Gaze

The white gaze is a concept describing the way the general white population views something. While it is not a concern for every person of color, it is not uncommon to worry about it. In world that gives white people power over others, many people are socialized to believe they need to appeal to them as a means of survival.

In “A Conversation About Bread”, the white gaze affects Brian and Eldwin very differently. Eldwin doesn’t put much thought into how white people perceive him but it is a constant thought for Brian. While in the library, Brian remains acutely aware of the white woman observing them, yet Eldwin pays her no mind.

Eldwin wants to illustrate the truth about a specific experience but Brian is worried about how it will be interpreted by his majority white audience. He is afraid that the story will negatively impact the white opinion.

Brian gives the white gaze power over him because he grew up in a world that gives white people power over him.

The Elephant Vanishes and the Absence of Unity

The Elephant Vanishes by Haruki Murakami tells the story of an elephant that disappears along with its keeper without a trace from its pen in suburban Tokyo. The story is told from the perspective of an unnamed narrator who has shown a fascination with the elephant, and who finds himself confused with the seemingly impossible to explain escape. We later learn the extent of the narrator’s interest with the elephant. He watched the elephant and its keeper interact and he was struck by the bond they shared. He repeatedly brings up the unspoken trust between the two.

The story seems to be a critique of the lack of unity in the modern world. The narrator lives by himself and is fascinated by the elephant and keeper because of their unity. He even remarks during his job how he finds unity important. The narrator speaks to a woman in a bar, and while the two seem interested in each other, the topic of the elephant sours the conversation, and an attempt at unity between the two fails. The narrator says that he feels his life has become monotonous and bland in his high ranking corporate job. A point is made to show that the narrator’s company insists on using the English word “kitchen” rather than the Japanese word. I believe that this story is a vehicle for Murakami to criticize contemporary Japan.

Uncomfortable Conversations

But in choosing the plural and the first-person plural you’re basically allowing that ‘we’ to work as ‘everyone’

A Conversation About Bread (177)

In “A Conversation About Bread” Nafissa Thompson-Spires brings perspective into conversations about race while simultaneously bringing awareness to biases in conversations. Through the quote it conveyed how wording has the power to convey biases and create false misconceptions. In everyday life your personal biases follow you around and affect how you interact with the world around you. Especially when talking about sensitive/serious topics it’s important to remove your biases and speak objectively. I personally believe that while it’s hard to speak objectively it’s important to make sure you separate and make distinctions between your biases and generalizations as it is extremely harmful to project biases as what is true rather than opinion or fact.

The Elephant Vanishes and Missing Persons Cases

The vanishing of the elephant without a trace and the reactions that followed in the town and the media are extremely similar to the reactions when a person goes missing in a mysterious way today. There is an obsession for a short time where a plethora of articles, media, and conversations revolve around the mystery. In The Elephant Vanishes these reactions can be seen in the original article that the author is reading and the “bewilderment” and “unclear details” of the disappearance that are discussed in the article.

In both a missing persons case and The Elephant Vanishes, there is always the mystery of motive. Why would someone steal an elephant? Did someone truly steal an elephant? Or in the case of a missing person: Why did this person simply disappear? Were they taken? Or did they disappear on their own free will? These questions often lead into further speculation and an uproar of press and articles. “Who released the elephant and how? Where have they hidden it…Everything remains shrouded in mystery”. During this first period of time there is often a surge in searches and investigations. “Hunters carrying large-bore rifles loaded with tranquilizer darts, Self-Defense Force troops, policemen, and firemen combing every square inch of the woods and hills in the immediate area”.

Then, after time, the coverage starts to fade if no further discoveries are made. “Articles like this became noticeably scarcer after a week had gone by, until there was virtually nothing”. Interest with missing person cases commonly fades after a few weeks if the person has not been found, or if there aren’t any more developments. And sadly, after a few months the general feeling is that this disappearance wouldn’t really have “any impact on society”. When the shock and intrigue wears off, people begin to realize this thing that had commandeered their thoughts, media, and conversations for weeks had no true impact on their lives. “The earth would continue its monotonous rotations, politicians would continue issuing unreliable proclamations…Amid the endless surge and ebb of everyday life, interest in a missing elephant could not last forever”. This is where most people’s thoughts end up regarding missing persons cases. It may pop into their minds every once in a while but unfortunately many of them and their stories will realize the same fate as the elephant.

A Capitalist Commentary on The Elephant Vanishes

“The most important point is unity..even the most beautifully designed item dies if it is out of balance with its surroundings. (37)”

This short story opens with an unraveling investigation of a town’s elephant. The townspeople, or pupils, as the narrator describes them, aren’t too affected by the disappearance since they didn’t value the elephant’s presence anyways. The noun choice of “pupils” symbolizes how the citizens aren’t a community, but rather a collective. They organize for the sake of self-interest. Specifically, they keep the elephant after learning the town would gain full possession of the elephant’s land after it dies. I recognized the irony in the pupils only reaching an agreement once money was involved, and they tolerated the elephant in exchange for it. We know that this elephant is old, and it’s hardly a threatening creature. And although it wasn’t neglected by the townspeople, it surely wasn’t valued as a product of nature. I found it interesting how the short story highlighted the main idea that things we can profit from are only tolerated when they remain useful, and the dynamic shifts once this is no longer the case.

The reference the narrator makes to unity and balance is extended throughout the second half of the text. He uses this anecdote as a selling point for his job, but it also connects to the idea that When that respect and appreciation is lost, it doesn’t foster a nurturing environment. When the townspeople became fearful, like the only lady who stated she was “..afraid to let my children out to play, (36)”, it reconstructed the balance that the town had formed with the elephant. This balance of cohabitation was changed once the elephant vanished, making it no longer relevant and susceptible to villainization by the pupils. And as the narrator leads us along the story, we learn that even these negative feelings fade and turn into indifference. No one cares about the elephant anymore. Even speculation about its whereabouts doesn’t spark action to bring the elephant back, which further demonstrates how money is the ultimate motivator in this story.

Beauty in Good Country People

In “Good Country People” many power dynamics are presented which help shape the story and allow a better understanding of each character. A particular one I picked up on was BEAUTY/ugliness. Mrs. Freeman constantly boasts about her daughters’ attractiveness, how one is already married and the other has a line of suitors. In contrast, Mrs. Hopewell’s daughter, Hulga, is not particularly attractive. Rather, she’s focused on her education and being successful academically, though she’s limited in these advancements due to her weak heart and prosthetic leg.

Further, Mrs. Hopewell believes and states that beauty extends to the personality and characteristics of a person not just their physical appearance. Again, Hulga would not be deemed beautiful under this definition because of her negative outlook on life and behavior towards others.

During and after reading this, I believe that Mrs. Freeman often brings up the beauty of her daughters and Glycene’s endless options of men because it makes her more equal to Mrs. Hopewell; as Mrs. Freeman works for her so there’s a BOSS/employee dynamic and a WEALTHIER/poorer one. It’s possible that in some way it’s enjoyable for Mrs. Freeman to discuss them because she knows Mrs. Hopewell won’t have a response and will simply agree or compliment them. This also renders the question of, does Mrs. Freeman talk about this because she knows Hulga can hear them?

Ultimately, we will never know Mrs. Freeman’s true intentions or the raw feelings on either womens’ side, but it is something to contemplate and consider.

The Ethics in Escape from Spiderhead

The first time I read Escape From Spiderhead, I was taken aback at how much had happened in such a short story. Jeff goes from being obsessively in love with not just one but two different people, to feeling an indescribable level of pain that drives him to kill himself. There are many different thought provoking aspects of the story but the one I found most interesting was the drugs that Abensti used, and the way he justified using them. When administering the “love drug” that causes Jeff to love both Heather and Rachel, Abnesti says

”Can we stop the war? We can sure as heck slow it down! Suddenly the soldiers on both sides start fucking. Or, at low dosage, feeling super-fond. Or say we have two rival dictators in a death grudge”.

This poses a seriously interesting hypothetical, would it be ethical to use drugs in this way if they existed? If a love drug seriously had the potential to stop wars, genocides, and hateful violence, shouldn’t we use it? I would say yes, but then we must also consider where the lines are drawn. Would it be ethical to secretly put some of the drug in my significant other’s coffee while they’re not looking because I’m scared they’re losing interest? What if it’s to keep two parents together to raise their child? And even if we are able to look past the various scenarios that test the morality of the use of these drugs, there is always the question of their validity. If Jeff and Rachel were somehow able to escape Spiderhead and begin a life together, would it be real? Does he actually love her and she, him? If he does, then is love just a bunch of emotions in our brains that are stopped as quickly as they started? Or is it more than that? In our reality, love and affection are deeply intimate emotions for most people. Falling in love with someone occurs (usually) over the course of much time getting to know them. Is this type of love more valid than the one Abnesti administered to Jeff? It would seem so but if you were able to ask Jeff when he was on the drug I’m sure he’d strongly disagree. Anyways, I don’t have any answers…just some things to think about!

The Secret to “The Secret Woman”

“Irene walked in front of him, nonchalantly; he was astonished to find that she rolled her hips softly and dragged her feet a little as though she were wearing Turkish slippers.” (Pg.44)

Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette’s “The Secret Woman” tells us a story about a man and a woman being dishonest to each other. In the first page we can see how the husband is telling his wife how he has to tend to a patient of his. We can infer that he’s a type of doctor. He goes on to tell her that he won’t be able to attend the green and purple ball. And so the wife responses with tale of being too shy and timid to be in front of a crowd, so she’s saying she can’t attend the dance either.

We know that they are lying to each other but we just don’t understand why. Reading further down through the pages we know that the husband and the wife are at the dance but just not together. We reads that the husband, is believing he hears his wife’s voice or really a unique cough that his wife does. So the husband is frantically looking for his wife. And when he thinks he sees her, it’s a lady dressed in two satin slippers and black gloves. And he thinks to himself that can’t be her, except he finds out it is her because of a birthday gift. The husband continues to follow his wife, and notices how she rolled her hips softly and dragged her feet. We can see that the husband is confused at why his wife lied, and why she is appearing herself like that. She follows her someone and infers that he is cheating on him.

“She also amused herself by placing her little satanic hands, which were entirely black on the white bosom of a dutch woman wearing a gold head-dress…” (Pg. 46)

The quote above is showing how the husband views her now, as being tainted now and doesn’t hold her in high esteem like before. On pg. 43 he described her has having delicate hands, and wearing a white dress. And on pg. 42, he said she had a narrow face, pink, matt and long. We can interpret that if a female is openly dressing in a sexual way, she is considered not ladylike anymore. And this is what Colette is trying to show us.