Response to Nabokov of What makes a Good Reader

In the essay “Good Readers and Good Writers,” Nabokov explains his ideas on what makes a good reader. Honestly, the ideas Nabokov explained in the essay seem right on but I believe some are justified. Nabokov mentioned that a reader should not identify with a character in the book. He also believes that doing so is a lowly form of imagination which a reader should not use. As a reader and writer, I can understand the point Nabokov is making, but from the stories I conduct I hope the reader can see themselves through me to fully understand me. When I mentioned “The stories I conduct” I mean the poems I write. Whenever I write a poem, I try to write it so the reader can picture how I feel or picture what I see through my mind. As a reader I can understand the point he is making. Whenever I read I try to picture everything from a different point of view. I do not really picture myself in the story, but I picture myself as an invisible person experiencing all the events with the characters. In my opinion that is pretty weird but it works. I get to experience and understand a character, but does that go against Nabokov’s ideas of what makes a great reader? I am using my imagination, I am using my artistic ability, it helps with my memory. What do you guys think?

Women Can’t Cheat

After reading “Secret Woman” and listening to the group presentation it is evident that there is a strong MALE/female binary present in the short story. Furthermore, through the group discussion, I realized that men cheating is normalized whereas women cheating is seen as dirty and is looked down upon far more than a man cheating on a woman. According to a study by the University of New Hampshire women are only 7% less likely to cheat on their partner than men are. So why are women chastised so much more than their male counterparts? Additionally, the same study found that men and women cheat differently. “Secret Women” represented this difference well. The difference being that men are more likely to cheat and feel romantic attraction with someone other than their spouse and women are more likely to be with multiple partners without romantic involvement. “Secret Woman” not only does a good job of illustrating the MALE/female binary but it also represents the double standard women face with infidelity.

Did the Elephant really Vanish? A response to “The Elephant Vanishes” by Haruki Murakami

“That’s probably because people are looking for a kind of unity in this kit-chin we know as the world. Unity of design. Unity of color. Unity of function” (327).

In “The Elephant Vanishes” Haruki Murakami illustrates a contrast between unity and disorder. In his little town in Tokyo, the community members seem to be in constant disagreement. First, it was a disagreement about if the old elephant should even be kept. Then, it was a disagreement about where the elephant should be kept. Finally, once the elephant “vanished”, some townspeople blamed the Mayor, “As they had the year before, the opposition-party members of the town council made accusations” (316). Evidently, this town is constantly split into opposition with each other, maybe even on some accounts, they are polarized. Therefore the elephant “vanishing” may be a sign of the town’s inability to compromise, leaving them with an even larger problem.

Murakami takes such a deep interest in this elephant vanishing because he can see the unity between the elephant and keeper that isn’t evident in the town. Additionally, the unity that isn’t present in his own life. Although he seems to be a very structured person – having the same morning routine every day and reading the newspaper in chronological order – he uses these things that he can control to be structured. He admires the elephant and keeper’s relationship, “I had the feeling that to some extent the difference between them had shrunk” (325).

Ultimately, the question appears to be, did the elephant actually vanish or was this an alternate reality that the narrator wanted from his own life? It’s hard to tell from just the writing in the story because it never clearly states what actually happened to the elephant. I believe based on the evidence presented above, that the narrator saw the “elephant and the keeper become balanced” to signify something he deeply longed for in his life. Whether or not the elephant vanished, he saw something in their relationship that made him long for the same thing: unity and recognition of both sides. I think the narrator wanted his town to recognize where others were coming from and open up to the possibility of compromise.

Double Standards in The Secret Woman

This short story, written by Colette in 1924, is indeed short, however it is packed with rich language that reveals underlying societal understandings of female sexuality that drive the main character’s thoughts. Irene, the wife of the character whose perspective the story is told through, is at first portrayed as fragile and dependent. When her husband suggests that he might not be able to attend the ball with her, Irene expresses her discomfort with the idea of being alone at such a social function. Throughout her reaction, which insinuates dependence on her husband, her husband observes her “delicate hands” (328). Later on – after witnessing his wife take liberty and control over her sexuality – they are described as “satanic.” This implies that because Irene took control over herself and others, she was somehow impure.

At the same time, Irene’s husband finds power in his own sexuality. While his exact motives are unclear when he lies to his wife to arrive at the ball in disguise, it seems as though he has come to meet someone with the assumption that because of his wife’s dependence on him, she would not be going alone. At the beginning of the story, he is seen with another woman, however his agency is never described as impure or monstrous. This creates a double standard as the main character views his power with indifference while his wife’s – although liberating – is unexpected and threatening.

The suppression of female sexuality at the time of the story’s writing in 1924 was oppressive and apparent. In today’s world, while strides towards normalization have been made, traces of it remain. In the context of politics or even in private spaces, women are often looked down upon for taking up too much space and being self-sufficient. Colette’s portrayal of a woman trying to find liberty and power outside of the male sphere remains true and relevant.

“The Elephant Vanishes” and Symbolism

“The Elephant Vanishes” is an incredibly interesting story, full of mystery, connections and revelations. It further pushes the depth of its storytelling by demonstrating a connection to the real world and the balance, or rather imbalance, between human beings and animals today.

In this short story, the aged elephant had been adopted and taken care of by this town, despite the debate about it beforehand. Crowds would gather to admire the elephant during the day, while the zookeeper would stay at night to keep it company and clean the living space. The elephant especially grew close to the zookeeper, affectionately putting its trunk on the back of the man while he was working. Even the narrator acknowledges the clear bond of trust between the two, despite any exchange of dialogue.

In reality, the bond between humans and elephants isn’t as warm. The rate of illegal elephant poaching each year still ride high, an estimated 30,000 African elephants being poached yearly. Hunters only see elephants for their expensive tusks, rather then the life it belongs to.

Colette’s Take on Female Sexuality vs Social Order

Initially published in 1924, Colette’s story The Secret Woman was a mechanism for exhibiting the complicated concept of female sexuality despite it being a taboo subject in society. The Secret Woman took place during an era when women were expected to be subservient, pure housewives who were dependent on their male counterparts. However, Colette challenged this view by exposing the true nature of woman- the woman in her natural habitat, liberated by her control over her own sexuality. Irene, the wife of a wealthy doctor, is portrayed as a flustered, subservient woman while at home in the beginning of the story. Though when Irene is hidden behind a disguise at the Opera Ball, she is portrayed as being confident and empowered, in control of her sexuality. Irene has seemed to master the societal expectations of women while still holding onto her “native state” of self- sufficiency and control over her sense of self.

Colette’s critique on the crippling gender norms in society, though expressed just under 100 years earlier, are still applicable to this day. Harmful stereotypes have developed at the expense of women who take control of their own identities, especially publicly. The “ball-buster” is an example of a stereotype labeling independent women, especially in the business field- a woman who climbs the executive ladder by being irritatingly assertive; a woman who is self-absorbed and ruthless, unafraid to bring down those around her to make it to the top of the ladder.

Furthermore, modern feminism is a mechanism for women to fight against the grain of gender binaries, by promoting women taking control of their sexuality. However, the “feminist agenda” is highly unpopular by many people in society. Politician Pat Robertson claimed that feminism “encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians”. While quotes like this may seem ridiculous to some, it truly does reflect the opinion of many people who view female control over sexuality as a threat to the social order.

Through her short story The Secret Woman, Colette does a fantastic job not only portraying a woman who is in control of her own sexuality and sense of self, but also the effect of the male gaze. While Irene seems fully in control of her own identity at the opera ball, she continues to live a double life as a subservient housewife. While it is admirable that she is able to feel liberated for even a night, the perspective of her husband and the male gaze connote the unyielding criticism that she will be met with for doing so. While freeing, removing oneself from the constraints of public opinion and socialized gender norms is extremely difficult. Colette understands this disappointing reality, conceding that as free as Irene is, she will return to her husband and cookie-cutter life of a housewife the next day.

Good Country People: A Critique of Nihilism

In the short story “Good Country People” by author Flannery O’Connor, the story’s main character is Joy Hopewell, a well-educated 32-year-old woman with an artificial leg. She has a heart condition that forces her to live at home with her religious mother, meanwhile, Joy has earned a doctorate in philosophy and constantly must remind her mom that she does not believe in a god. Ironically, while her given name contains positive words like joy, hope, and well, Joy is described physically as large, bitter, and angry. She is also very sarcastic, mocking her mother and farmhand, Mrs. Freeman, without their realization. Joy has also changed her name to Hulga, an act of rebellion clearly done in order to symbolize the control she has in her own life.

The negative characteristics given to Hulga stem from her nihilistic view of life. The expression on her face is described as one of “constant outrage” and in response to a shallow yet cheery remark made by her mother she yells, “We are not our own light!”(4). A nihilist phrase meaning there is no purpose in life.

When Manley Pointer, a bible salesman, staggers into their house, Hulga’s mom, Mrs. Hopewell, is won over by his simplistic phrases and both mother and daughter describe him as a “good country boy”. By the end of the visit, Manley is able to seduce Hulga.

The ironic seduction scene in the previously mentioned barn explains the true nature of Hulga’s beliefs as they crash around her. For the first time, she realizes the evil of nihilism and the damage nihilism incurs. The central irony of the story is that Hulga claims to be a nihilist, but is not. She begins to embrace Manley, “kissing him again and again as if she were trying to draw all the breath out of him” (9). She has “never been kissed,” implying that she has never had trust or companionship, which is logical for someone who will not believe in anything. Very quickly, Hulga begins to almost trust his outward Christian worldview. Manley then asks for her leg, which shocks her. He explains that her leg is the most important feature of her. She is moved and gives the leg to him. After years of studying, earning a doctorate, and expressing the beliefs of nihilism, after just two visits from Manley, his “beliefs” have won her over. She dreamily imagines a wonderful future where she can run away with him. Hulga’s nihilistic atheism is pushed aside, and her life suddenly contains meaning. However, after asking for the leg back, the story’s tone shifts from one of trust to one of panic.

To this request, Manley tells her to wait and takes a bible out of his suitcase. When he opens it, this bible is revealed to be hollow, with a flask of whisky, obscene cards, and some sort of birth control in it. Hulga is understandably stunned and asks if he is a “good country people”(10). She pleads with him to be innocent, to meet her need for love which atheism does not fulfill. She begins to recognize her own beliefs in their personified form, and suddenly wants the Christian ideals she has mocked for years.

Manley becomes angry as he realizes that she thinks herself superior to him and begins to leave. If Hulga was a genuine nihilist she would believe that due to the meaninglessness of life, one has no reason to be hurt by such a turn of events. Manley leaves, stealing her leg and mocking her, saying, “I been believing in nothing ever since I was born!” (10). An echo of the beliefs she preached at the beginning of the story. She has finally faced her own views and they have ruined her life.

While I disagree with many of the beliefs that O’Conner expresses through this story, mainly her clear dislike of atheism, with the two atheist characters either lacking basic morals or being sad, angry people until they find a good Christian to show them the “correct” set of beliefs. That being said, I agree with many of her criticisms of nihilism with its overfocus on the meaningfulness of life and inherent sentiment of superiority over others.

The Shift of Power in “The Secret Woman”

Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette’s short story “The Secret Woman” tells the story of how dishonesty between a husband and wife can lead to a shift in power because of a shift in perception. In the opening of this story we see the husband lying to his wife explaining that he is unable to go to the green and purple ball because of a patient he has to take care of. In response the wife tells her lie, telling him that she is too shy to be able to go to the ball and put herself in front of a group of people. This promotes the idea that she lacks courage and depends on him, seeing this in the way she made her husband think that she was against the idea of the party.

“As for me.. Can you see me in a crowd, at the mercy of all those hands..” (Pg. 328).

Despite their lies they end up at the ball, just not together. When he first sees his wife he doesn’t think that it’s her, under the impression that she wouldn’t be there. Once he realizes that it is in fact his wife he follows her and notices the way she is projecting herself, surprised, rolling her hips and dragging her feet. Once following his wife, we see that he looks at her more of an object that her own person.

Once seeing his wife for who she truly was, flirtatious, secretive or promiscuous, the way he described her shifted.

“She laughed, and he admired her narrow face, pink, matt and long, like a delicate sugared almond…” (Pg. 327).

This quote shows the way the man viewed his wife in the beginning but once he saw that she was actively choosing this for herself the way he saw her shifted, shown by the stark contrast in how she was described in the end.

“[T]he monstrous pleasure of being alone, free, honest in her crude, native state, of being the unknown woman, eternally solitary and shameless, restored to her irremediable solitude and immodest innocence by a little mask and a concealing costume” (Pg. 331).

Her freedom was shocking to him because of who he thought he had known her to be, once he saw that she was in power of her own situation, her own person, he didn’t really know how to deal with it. In the end I think he may have felt unsure of himself in the end, now seeing her at this party he wasn’t sure of his role in their relationship anymore, because he realized his role was always fake and apart of her lies.

A Conversation About “White Gaze”

Nafissa Thompson-Spires short story “A Conversation About Bread” signifies how prevalent issues on race are in our society. While attending UCLA, a predominantly white school, Brian and Eldwin notice a lack of welcoming. While, the two graduate anthropologist students are working on an ethnographic assignment they notice the white women next to them ease dropping on their conversation, also known as this “white gaze”. They feel as though they are constantly being observed by others and critiqued. Even more so, Brian feels that “he was more self-conscious about his black maleness than his disability” the frequent judgement the two students face only because of their skin color (177).

Nafissa Thompson highlights this struggle known as “white gaze” when describing Brian’s mothers experiences in college. Brian recalls that when his mom attended USC, she had a white roommate who would try to take pictures of her whenever she got out of the shower. The roommate wanted to “catch her in her ‘natural state’”(179). Although, Brian and his mom both attend/attended prestigious schools, the discomfort and unjust judgement from people provides that it is never prevented within these highly ranked communities. This short story allowed me to analyze my own sensitivity while creating my interpretation of the short story, but more so question why racism still exists, and is still so pervasive in the US.