Russian Orientalism during the Era of Putin/Invasion of Ukraine

The first geographic areas that generally come to mind when a person is asked about Orientalism are the Middle East and northern Africa. However, I believe that some type of Orientalism exists in any place that is truly unknown to the West, yet plays a large role in Western media. One of these places is Russia, which has similar eastern geography in relation to the West. Westerners stereotypically view Russia as exotic and chaotic, as a tundra of mystery. Negative opinions of Russian in American culture regardless of political party began during the later stages of the Cold War, and were amplified when Putin came to power. Americans were already incredibly distrustful of Russia because of the combinations of the stereotypes and negative political views they had caused, and when Ukraine was invaded, most Americans were pushed over the edge.

But maybe this action was to be expected. I am by no means defending Putin; he has been destroying the Russian political system for the past 20 years. But certain actions by the United States may have forced him into a corner.

There have been a series of NATO expansions ever since the fall of the Soviet Union. At the 2008 summit, two countries that border Russia, Ukraine and Georgia, were welcomed into NATO. Russia most likely felt threatened because the US has been putting military assets in these countries ever since they became part of NATO. These expansions had little strategic value for Americans, and instead agitated Russia. For Putin, invading Ukraine is not a personal but an existential issue of protecting the national security of Russia. The West uniting against him has only confirmed his fears. The only way out of global conflict is to get rid of him now.

Maybe these tonedeaf actions by the western world/America could have been avoided. I wonder if the actions of Americans in power were prompted by disregard of Russian agency. I believe that these actions might have been challenged by the American people if Russian orientalism wasn’t so prominent in American culture.

Albany and Gender

Although Albany’s weakness throughout King Lear seems to break gender stereotypes, his moral character growth subtly preserves them in the minds of the audience.

Albany is a foil to his wife Goneril; she is power-hungry and pragmatic, while he is cowardly and collected. When Albany constantly does not make strategic moves using his power, Goneril insults him and claims he is not manly. Goneril is portrayed with male stereotypes, while Albany is portrayed with female stereotypes.

However, Albany’s moral strength becomes apparent in the second half of the play. After dealing with Goneril’s antics for most of the play, Edgar convinces Albany that his wife and Regan are terrible people. But even after Albany vows to avenge the wrongs committed against Gloucester, he still agrees with her and forms an alliance with Edmund and Regan out of his patriotism to England. Although he is indecisive, through his dedication to his morals, Albany’s strength is developed throughout the play.

Regan and Goneril’s malicious actions come full circle; they both end up dying. Cordelia, who becomes a symbolic angel throughout the play, is tricked and killed. All women still lose at the end of the play, while Albany’s character undergoes moral growth and survives. He is a cowardly hero who becomes an enlightened saint. While Albany’s personality seems to break gender norms, this is not the case. He is still a man who ends up “winning” at the end of King Lear.

Ironically Poetic Sound of Music

The Sound of Music is a musical that portrays the impact music has on a family in Austria just before WWII. The opening theme, “Prelude / The Sound of Music,” is a poem ironically about music with musical augmentation.

Prelude / The Sound of Music” asserts that music inspires humans to enjoy life. The “speaker” of the song, Maria, is a nun who is not allowed to sing or participate in any music with others. The sounds that originate from the ageless environment around her act as inspiration for her to live.

In the first verse, Maria uses personification to highlight the way music can bring anything to life. She sings

The hills are alive with the sound of music

With songs they have sung for a thousand years

The hills fill my heart with the sound of music

My heart wants to sing every song it hears

Maria personifies her heart by claiming it is filled with the sound of music and that it wants to sing. She wants to capture the inspirational effect natural music has on a fundamental human organ and symbol of the soul, the heart.

In the next verse, Maria begins to describe the ways the is moved by the music of nature. She sings

My heart wants to beat like the wings of the birds

That rise from the lake to the trees

My heart wants to sigh like a chime that flies

From a church on a breeze

To laugh like a brook when it trips and falls over

Stones on its way

To sing through the night like a lark who is learning to pray

She continues to personify her heart in different ways and uses wordplay to convey her musical connections to the environment. For example, she claims her heart wants to “beat,” because hearts beat to pump blood through the body. But she compares her desire to the beating of the wings of birds. Maria utilizes the sound of her voice to add musical color to the poem as well. For example when she sings “chime that flies,” her voice goes up in pitch, like something that would fly. Maria also takes advantage of syntax. Each example entails a more complex experience supported by the music of nature. She begins the verse with the fundamental beating of a heart.  She transitions to laughing, a human quality that does not appear until after a few months of a baby’s life. She finally ends the verse with singing, a complex human talent.

Maria ends the song with opinions on other humans. She sings

I go to the hills when my heart is lonely

I know I will hear what I’ve heard before

My heart will be blessed with the sound of music

And I’ll sing once more

The first line of this verse is strategically placed immediately after the last line of the last verse. Singing inherently involves other people, while loneliness is the absence of other people. However, Maria is comforted by the natural sounds of music, and can continue enjoying life.

Windows and Doors in Exit West

In Mohsin Hamid’s novel, Exit West, two different types of openings in buildings become meaningful symbols in Saeed and Nadia’s home. Doors are symbols of hope and prosperity, while windows are symbols of panic and death.

Windows reminded civilians of the inevitable destruction of their city. Since windows are translucent, they exposed the violence in the streets. As the fighting became worse, stray bullets commonly entered homes through windows. Or, bullets could break windows, and glass shrapnels can be deadly. As a result, residents begin placing household items, such as bookshelves, in front of windows. Nadia claims that her own windows looked like “amorphous black works of contemporary art” (72). She sees them as shapeless black modern symbols of destruction. Although they have many negative aspects, the people of the city depend on windows. They need them for light and for warmth.

Doors became an escape route for the citizens of the falling city. Since they shielded residents from the outside world, doors created the illusion of stability. Magical doors that transported a person to another part of the world existed in rumours. Most people thought that the rumours were nonsense, but “began to gaze at their own doors a little differently” (72). Unlike windows, people did not depend on doors. They were a privilege.

The Effects of “Weather” on Monsieur Meursault

In Albert Camus’s novel, The Stranger, Monsieur Meursault either describes or complains about the heat multiple times. What effect does the heat have on Meursault?

The first instance in Chapter 1 is the most detailed description of the weather in the novel. When Meursault was pondering the weather at the location of his mother’s funeral, he noticed that “with the sun bearing down, making the whole landscape shimmer with heat, [the evening] was inhuman and oppressive” (15). It is clear that Meursault is bothered by the heat. Later, an old man begins a conversation with Meursault and they talk about the extreme heat during the funeral. The man asks Meursault if his mother was old, and he ambiguously responds “Fairly” (16). He then ponders “The glare from the sky was unbearable” (16). The heat brought confusion upon Meursault, causing him to forget key details about his mother.

At the end of part 1, Meursault makes comments about the heat a second time before he shoots a man. As Meursault approached the Arab, “the whole beach, throbbing in the sun, was pressing on [his] back” and “the sun was starting to burn [his] cheeks” (58). Again, the heat was the final topic on Meursault’s mind before he acted illogically.

There are many more cases where Meursault cannot help thinking about the heat. At the beginning of part 2, he can barely focus on his lawyer’s argument because “it was hot” (68). While he is in the courtroom, Meursault begins “feeling dizzy, with all [the] people in [the] stuffy room” and comments on the temperature becoming hotter twice (83, 86, 87, 101).

I would argue that Meursault was negatively affected by the heat, and made many mistakes because he hated hot temperatures.

Monsieur Meursault: Basic Nihilist or Trapped Sentimentalist?

Throughout Albert Camus’s novel, The Stranger, it is clear that Meursault lives a painfully neutral life and is emotionally detached from others. Is he truly this basic and plain, or is there some emotion inside of him?

First, it is important to ask if Meursault has always been the way he is now. When Meursault is offered an opportunity to work in Paris from his boss, he is unsurprisingly unenthusiastic. However, we receive some of his own personal insight when he debates changing his life. He recalls that when he was a student, “[he] had lots of ambitions….” (41). Holding any type of ambition contradicts Meursault’s current personality. He most likely was not so emotionless when he was younger….

Occasionally, Meursault will subtly reveal that he cares about what others think. When Meursault and his girlfriend are hanging out with some friends, a character called Masson makes Meursault’s girlfriend laugh “for some reason” in Meursault’s perspective. It seems that Meursault doesn’t know why. Meursault proceeds to believe that “she’d had a little too much to drink” (52). Meursault feels a little bit jealous, and cares that he is not the one making his girlfriend laugh.

Glimmers of Meursault’s emotional connections to others appear throughout The Stranger. When Meursault heard his neighbor crying about his lost dog, he “for some reason [he] thought of his mom” (39). It seems like Meursault feels a bit of remorse for his deceased mother, but something is preventing him from understanding why.

I would argue that Meursault used to be much more emotional, but something caused him to become disconnected from others.