Sleep On The Floor: Remembering That Feeling

In The Lumineers’ second most recent album, Cleopatra (2016), the first song listed is one of my favorites: “Sleep On The Floor“. Most consider this the Lumineers’ the best album, and it is also the most popular through the years, according to Spotify. The Lumineers is a folk-rock band, popular among indie music listeners and pop music listeners alike. This song is also part of a short film, “The Ballad of Cleopatra”, which includes multiple music videos from the album and tells the story of a man and his lover moving in search of adventure and a new life.

The song begins with the now-famous lyrics,

Pack yourself a toothbrush dear
Pack yourself a favorite blouse

These lines introduce both the song and the album perfectly. While the album, in general, focuses on adventure in a more metaphorical sense, like the adventures of love, heartbreak, and travel, “Sleep On The Floor” is a literal representation of a young couple who decides to escape their small town and chase their dreams before it is too late. The toothbrush mentioned is a symbol of uncertainty and travel, as toothbrushes are quintessential parts of packing. The narrator of the song admits there will be hardship, that there will be the problem of money and the strings left behind from their old lives, but he uses these in his argument to his girlfriend/lover that it is even more of an experience. This song also draws on the theme many youth encounter of wanderlust, but more so the feeling that there is life outside of their town, and that they have to go find it immediately or they will end up like their parents.

The song’s narrator builds depth by including religious allegories twice within the song.

Forget what Father Brennan said
We were not born in sin

Jesus Christ can’t save me tonight

The singer/poet grapples with religious themes that he either grew up hearing about or were forced on him from childhood. The words “not born in sin” refers to the original sin committed by Adam and Eve, and “Jesus Christ can’t save me” continues this allusion. Both lines, rather than embracing religion, depict the narrator as rejecting religion in his hope to reject his whole life. Religion perhaps ties him to the town he wants to escape, and in his mind casting away the constraints of Christianity is a necessary element of his journey to freedom.

This song also includes many metaphors, the most interesting of which is inspired by big cities:

If the sun don’t shine on me today
And if the subways flood and bridges break

The narrator uses city disasters to explain the crushing hopelessness of his feeling living in his town, and he would rather face uncertainty in a world beyond his comfort zone. This song was also inspired, according to the Lumineers, by young people moving to cities in search of their dreams or the American Dream. The use of subways flooding and bridges breaking within the lyrics implies the possibility that the city will not support them, that their dreams will be broken. Despite this, he urges his lover to take that chance with him. Additionally, the lyrics state,

And when we looked outside, couldn’t even see the sky

This is a figure of speech or more accurately a reference to one. This is a changed version of the saying, “the sky’s the limit”. Since the sky was not even visible, the singer means that there are limitless possibilities for their new life. It creates a contradiction with this popular line, since he argues even the sky will not limit them, and they would be completely free.

This song is the perfect beginning to the album and story of Cleopatra, beginning with a strong opening note and a nostalgic tone, recreating for older listeners a long-forgotten feeling of youthful uncertainty, and for younger listeners a voiced explanation of their desires for escape.

Is The Door to Recognition Blocked?

The Global Other is universal; humans tend to fear the unknown, which often manifests itself in fear of people who are not in their direct communities. Though many can relate to such a phenomenon, it is outdated and we have surpassed a need for such irrational fear. In more recent years, the work that has been done by progressive groups in order to aid immigrants and dispel some fear has made differences in the lives of many.

In order to completely dispel these ideas, a level of mutual recognition must be reached within the relationship with the “Other”. In Exit West, this Other is the immigrant, the refugee. In this power structure, the Nativists/Natives are in power and must break this by seeing their new neighbors as equals. However, this goat in itself would be a feat to achieve. To recognize someone is to see, but it may not be possible to understand people who have undergone such trauma. Hamid writes, “…when we migrate, we murder from our lives those we leave behind” (98). The Natives cannot even fathom a world in which they have to leave their lives behind, the door most immigrants came from. Though the dominant in the power structure can imagine and attempt to relate to such instances, there is no way to truly understand the life of another, and any claim to is equal to an insult.

Instead, the dominant in this structure should aim to appreciate their counterparts, to hear their stories with an open mind and heart, and understand that though they can recognize, they cannot fully empathize.

Absurdity In The Eyes of The Reader

Mersault’s character is direct; he sees things how they are without reading into anything, finding meaning in anything, or expressing any real emotion. His view of life is, to say the least, unusual. Though he appears this way to the reader at first glance, his actions suggest a deeper humanity that other characters cannot see in him.

When he is in the midst of his examination Mersault reflects on the clerks’s menaing of life: “That was his belief, and if he were ever to doubt it, his life would become meaningless. ‘Do you want my life to be meaningless?’ he shouted…. But from across the table he had already thrust the crucifix in my face and was screaming irrationally, ‘I am a Christian. I ask Him to forgive you your sins. How can you not believe that He suffered for you?'” (Camus 69).

The clerk defines his life’s meaning based on Christianity, and is utterly confused when he realizes Mersault does not have even an inkling of belief; the thin reality the clerk holds onto threatens to crumble and he grow irrational and terrified.

Mersault is confusing and absurd to other characters, but Camus frames him in this way for that exact reason: to make not only other characters, but the reader uncomfortable. He is meant to make one rethink the constructs of life and recognize that everyone has different definitions of a life well lived, and that meaning must come from a place deep enough that it cannot be so easily unravelled.

Intellectual Superiority as a Power Structure

In Flannery O’Connor’s Good Country People, one element of the complicated storyline focuses on the conjunction between Hulga’s non belief in “everything” (though her human feelings of privacy and connectedness to her identity are highlighted) and the impact it has on her perceived dominance. It at first appears that she is the definition of negative: she was dealt a bad lot in life and, to cope, made herself into a miserable person with no belief in the world. She thinks of herself as inherently enlightened for realizing that nothing matters and that, as she puts it, “We are all damned” (70). It also appears at first that the Bible salesman is her complete opposite: he has a similar condition, but instead of wallowing devotes himself to positivity and God. Hulga prides herself too much, however, in her power as a superior person because of her education. In the binary she sees herself as “educated” and him as a “country boy” with no real substance. She allows this view, which is only what she wants to see, to cloud her judgement; it opens the door to him to scam and take advantage of her. However, by parading as a foolish Country Boy, the boy takes her position of power and leaves her helpless, furthering the power cycle.

Breaking the Binary in Spiderhead

Of the many binaries in Escape from Spiderhead, the one that has the most impact on Jeff’s self-sacrifice at the end of the story is the experimenter/prisoner binary. This binary is already complicated since usually it is implied that the prisoners are bad people and scientists/law enforcement is good, but the roles of this other binary are already switched. Because of this, as a “good person”, Jeff does not want to flip the binary and become the one in power. For him to take over the role of dominator would make him a killer within the context of the present in Spiderhead, which he is terrified of doing. Therefore instead of feeding into the power structure, he breaks out of it completely through noble sacrifice. In his thought process of trying to figure out a way to “leave” Spiderhead, he comes to his conclusion: “How could I make it so I wouldn’t be here? I could leave. How could I leave?…. Some Darkenfloxx. Jesus. That was one way to leave” (78). Though his apprehension about death is evident, he decides on this because it is the only way he can think of to break free of the binary entirely.