Motherly Love in The God of Small Things

As I was reading The God of Small Things today, I found myself connecting similar themes to past books and movies I’ve read and watched. Particularly, I found myself thinking about the theme of “Motherly Love”. I found this to be prominent in some of the first chapters of GOST; in addition to GOST, I recalled a similar theme in Beloved, a book we read earlier this year. From what I can see, there’s this pining that children have for their mother’s love and become paranoid when they feel they are losing it.

Specifically, after the Estha, Rahel and family arrive at the theater to see The Sound of Music, and Estha experiences the traumatizing event regarding the Orangedrink Lemondrink man, he sees Rahel being reprimanded by Ammu after her comment on her marriage.

‘D’you know what happens when you hurt people?’ Ammu said. ‘When you hurt people, they begin to love you less. That’s what careless words do. They make people love you a little less.’ (107)

Ammu’s comment implies that she loves Rahel “a little less” and it shook Estha to the core. After this, he was even more afraid to tell Ammu about what had happened with the man at the theater which led to him just never mentioning to her. This longing for motherly love is also seen in Rahel after this where she constantly checks if Ammu loves Sophie Mol more than her and Estha and when she feels she needs to be punished for losing some of the love Ammu has to offer her. This seems like an ongoing theme that led to consequences later in the book.

She thought of the phlegm and nearly retched. She hated her mother then. Hated her. (153)

Similarly, you see this in Beloved where a child too focused on obtaining their mother’s love eventually turns against the mother. This ongoing theme throughout GOST says a lot about the household Rahel and Estha grew up in (at least in my opinion). The constant fear of losing their mother’s love led to several holes and traumatizing events throughout their childhood and I think it shows in their adult life. In some sense, the instability of their mother led to them to seek love from each other which turned problematic too.

Overall, the theme of motherly love seems to run deep throughout The God of Small Things. I remember before we started Beloved, there was a google form questionnaire we had to fill out and I think one of the questions was “A mother’s love can possibly lead to a decision to destroy a child.” and we had to give our opinion on it. I think this speaks to both Beloved and The God of Small Things (though I think there were also more factors than just Ammu’s instability that led to how damaged Rahel and Estha were in the future.

Orientalism and Embracing the Asian-ness

On Monday, I found myself reading through the blog posts on Orientalism and one in particular caught my eye. Alex’s! I read through it about 3 times and thought about how it must have been for him adjusting when it came to cultures inside his home and outside in the South (which has the reputation of the conservative, all-white land). He said something that caught my attention: that he resisted being Asian. When I read that, I was shocked. How could anyone want to resist Asian culture? Then I realized that, although Alex and I are both Chinese, the way that we were raised is completely different (of course that applies to everyone but in this case let’s just stick with this).

Although I’m Chinese and I was born in China, I have white parents! It’s not something I reveal super openly unless someone asks but it’s also nothing I’m ashamed of. Growing up in an all-white family confusing (to say the least). I always looked at these big family pictures and wondered why I looked so different than the rest of my family. So, when I was younger, I made it my mission to embrace everything in the culture I was born into. That being said, not EVERYTHING, but culturally, I tried to understand my roots. As I grew up, I slowly became exposed to the different aspects of Chinese culture (whether it was bad Chinese food or instant ramen that was “oriental” flavored– which is really just sesame oil..). Obviously, the exposure to actual, rich, Chinese culture was lackluster growing up except for the one trip I took to Beijing with my family when I was 4 (which I barely remember).

However, growing up in a society that barely highlights the Asian race, it was hard to fully understand my Chinese identity. Orientalism has always been interesting because it’s how other people view Asians; it covers the “ideal standard” of Asian women in particular, from a very male-centric view. Of course, this standard for Asian women spread like wildfire and now infects Chinese culture today and often makes me super paranoid (as I have a Chinese step-mom who is the classic Chinese mother). However, because I was unable to have an “authentic” Chinese childhood, I took it to my own hands to abide by the stereotypical Chinese girl throughout middle school. Turns out, I’m absolutely awful at math and science and I’m equally as awful at test-taking so I gave up on that pretty quickly.

Nevertheless, the western view on Chinese men and women in particular shone in media in the pest decades and still is very much in effect today. At least from my perspective, I tried to soak it all up when I was younger to obtain the status of “true Asian” because apparently I’m not due to my parents (or as I’ve been told by some stupid little elementary schooler when I was younger). The Asian stereotypes shown in the media, I think, have a particularly strong effect on adopted kids, such as myself. I’ve seen it go 2 ways before: orientalism and the ideals that westerners have put on Asians are either 1) completely ignored and they go the opposite way or 2) completely soaked up which leads to the attempt of being the “stereotypical Asian”. Again, this is from my own experience with other adoptees. I think I’m losing sight of what I meant to highlight in this post; which was, to say, the Chinese culture perspective is awesomely different when it comes to comparing someone with a native Chinese background and someone who is an adopted Chinese.

Oh, and, don’t even get me started about how westerners have viewed Chinese girl adoptees in the past. But I won’t get to that. Maybe another time.

The Blues Brothers: A Comedy

The Blues Brothers, starring John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd, is a hilarious farce comedy that takes place in 1980 Chicago, Illinois. Belushi plays an ex-convict, Jake Blues, while Aykroyd plays his brother, Elwood Blues– the two of them are on a mission to save the old Catholic orphanage that they grew up in. However, in order to do so, they must get their old R&B band back together to raise the money.

Both Belushi and Aykroyd were popular comedians of their time and were both part of the SNL cast during the 1970s. The Blues Brothers uses a variety of satire, farce, and other comedic strategies to enhance the plot of the movie. The countless reckless car chases and the crude humor used. There’s a particular scene that I think is hilarious– when they go back to visit “The Penguin”, who is the nun that took care of them when they were younger. As they enter the orphanage, the doors open and close on their own as they walk towards The Penguin’s room. The Penguin tells them to sit down so they squeeze into these old desk-chairs that are made for kids as she tells them the bad news about how the orphanage is getting sold. They proceed to swear as she proceeds to smack them back and forth with a ruler while swearing. Aykroyd runs down the stairs and Belushi tumbles down still stuck in the desk. It’s a lot funnier when you watch it, trust me.

I think The Blues Brothers is hilariously well done and I recommend it to people who like older films as well as just anyone in general.

While it is really funny, I don’t really think that farce and similar types of comedy enhances our understanding of the world. I think that farce and more “goofy” comedy is created for people’s pleasure rather than enhancing our understanding of the world and how it works. In this sense, I think Aristotle would basically consider this meaningless. However, I do think that it’s still a great movie even if it didn’t make my understanding of people and the world better. Maybe it could make people know what not to do? Who knows. At least to my understanding, it didn’t really have any meaningful intellectual impact. But it is funny 🙂

Satire in Netflix’s Patriot Act

In the late month’s of 2018, Netflix US released a show called the “Patriot Act” where popular comedian Hasan Minhaj addressed serious issues in a satirical manner.

Hasan Minhaj is brilliant in his work and throughout the show makes what he is saying hilarious, yet also sharp and factual. For every episode of the Patriot Act, Minhaj covers serious world problems and topics ranging from economics to global warming. Minhaj uses his comedic background as a way to communicate facts and information on the episode topic.

The Patriot Act has covered heavy topics such as the stigmas and exposing of health care when it comes to mental health, the darker side of the gaming industry where Minhaj speaks about the hardships gaming companies put their employees through, how the NRA is spreading gun violence globally, and more.

Minhaj uses sarcasm and tons of irony to push his facts and work on creating a more efficient and relatable way. Minhaj’s use of comedic strategies and help enhance the true seriousness of the many topics the show covers throughout the seasons/volumes. For example, during an episode titled: “The Ugly Truth of Fast Fashion”, which comments on the new trend of cheaply made clothing that is mass produced and sold online, used different strategies. Minhaj commented, “It’s (fast fashion) is like toilet paper that almost makes you look like Ariana Grande.” Minhaj is able to get his points across (that fast fashion is simply an industry that creates cheap, disposable, and fast clothing) by poking fun at the industry using pop culture references. This could also be considered hyperbole because it’s not as bad as toilet paper, yet at the same time, maybe it is.

Overall, it’s a fantastic show. I may or may not have binge-watched several episodes of this tonight and I plan on watching so many more episodes. In all seriousness, the topics that Patriot Act covers are actually really important and Minhaj’s comedic experience helps convey these topics really well.

What’s the Use?

Mac Miller’s “What’s the Use” in his album Swimming conveys the artist’s relationship with drugs and alcohol. The rapper died in September of 2018 of a drug overdose at the age of 26; Miller’s song portrays an internal struggle between his mind and what society tells him about the use of drugs. The song creates an experience going inside the mind of someone who is struggling from addiction to drugs.

The song starts with its chorus, being representative of Miller’s want for substances after attempting to stop; Miller’s first lines in his chorus,

You can love it, you can leave it

portrays his own opinion on drugs. Miller believes that you can either love, or leave it, and no in between; this creates a conflict within the addicts head. However, from an outsiders point of view, Miller raps:

They say you’re nothing without it

From the point of view of someone who is not caught in the cycle of addiction, it looks like a personality trait; as if that’s all Miller has to him: his addiction to drugs and alcohol. Later in the chorus, Miller raps:

I just want another minute with it, f–k a little

You can take this two ways in my opinion; 1/ He just wants to get back into it and it doesn’t matter if he just dapples in the act of consuming drugs or 2/ he wants another minute under the influence and thinks, “f–k a little” (bit I want a lot). Both of those ways show the struggle of attempting to halt an addiction to drugs. The push and pull of wanting to consume more and the trying to stop.

In his first verse, Miller says:

I’m so a-bove and beyond/You take drugs to make it up

This line references the use of psychedelics– especially the term “above and beyond”. When Miller says, “You take drugs to make it up”, he means to say that one would need to take hallucinogenics to get to his level. He later says,

Whole lotta “yes I am”/All the way with no exit plan

According to Genius, the “yes I am” is in relation to him saying “yes I am” up for consuming more. The “no exit plan” refers to his way out of addiction however, with no exit plan, he has no way out of it. The continuous metaphors of flight emphasize the effects of drugs that give the user a “high”. I know I didn’t talk a lot about the sound of the song but the actual bass throughout the song help create this melancholy feel. In addition to the actual music of the song, it also creates a full experience that the listen delves into regarding the tough cycle of addiction.

Beloved and “The Chain” by Fleetwood Mac

The song that I thought of immediately when reading Beloved was “The Chain” by Fleetwood Mac.

To me, the song has this eerie feeling due to the lyrics and the beginning guitar. The lyrics that were the most like Beloved in my opinion were:

“Running in the shadows, damn your love, damn your lies ” (Line 2) This specific line was haunting to me in how much it connected with Beloved. The stories of all of Morrison’s characters running from their pasts and the different dynamics of what love means to each character seemed to relatable to this song. Specifically, Sethe and Beloved’s story and their ongoing struggles throughout the book; especially in the end, Sethe’s love is just simply not enough for Beloved.

“And if you don’t love me now
You will never love me again
I can still hear you saying
You would never break the chain (Never break the chain)”
(Chorus) Again, the reference of love is strong in this song and I think that it connects so well to Beloved. The lines “I can still hear you saying, You would never break the chain” remind me of the idea of breaking promises and breaking expectations. The ongoing question of why Sethe killed Beloved (until the ending) reminds me of this line. The reference to love and never breaking the chain (perhaps a promise?) in the chorus seems like an ode to Beloved (even though I know it’s not).

The last lines (Chain keep us together (running in the shadow)) repeat over and over emphasizing the connection that “the chain” creates. The “chain” in this could almost be the past? The past keeps us together and in order to stay together, you have to be aware of the past.

Here are the full lyrics:

Listen to the wind blow, watch the sun rise
Running in the shadows, damn your love, damn your lies

And if, you don’t love me now
You will never love me again
I can still hear you saying
You would never break the chain (Never break the chain)

And if you don’t love me now
You will never love me again
I can still hear you saying
You would never break the chain (Never break the chain)

Listen to the wind blow, down comes the night
Running in the shadows, damn your love, damn your lies
Break the silence, damn the dark, damn the light

And if you don’t love me now
You will never love me again
I can still hear you saying
You would never break the chain (Never break the chain)

And if you don’t love me now
You will never love me again
I can still hear you saying
You would never break the chain (Never break the chain)

And if you don’t love me now
You will never love me again
I can still hear you saying
You would never break the chain (Never break the chain)

Chain keep us together (running in the shadow)
Chain keep us together (running in the shadow)
Chain keep us together (running in the shadow)
Chain keep us together (running in the shadow)
Chain keep us together (running in the shadow)
Chain keep us together (running in the shadow)

Maria and Matthew: 2 Meursaults, One Movie

When I first read about Trust, a movie directed by Hal Hartley, and how it was supposed to be from the perspective of a “female Meursault”, I was expecting there to be only one character similar to Meursault. Instead, while watching, I found myself looking at 2.

In my opinion, I thought that both Marie and Matthew represented Meursault’s character. I think that the similarity in names to The Stranger in some sense, is to throw the watcher’s view off. Maria, is expected to be similar to Marie, and Matthew is expected to be like Meursault. However, because of their personality traits, I think that Marie’s lack of understanding for people and Matthew’s alienation from people around his community, cause them to both be similar to Meursault. Together, both of them face problems from all sides, whether its Matthew’s abusive father or Maria’s extra controlling mother.

Matthew and Maria’s “last hurrah” can be seen as the grenade going off at Matthew’s workplace. Similarly, Meursault’s last hurrah can be seen as him killing the Arab. Though, Maria didn’t end up getting punished for the grenade (because she wasn’t the one to ensue the problem) however I think she played a large roll in the events leading up to it.

Her lack of empathy towards Matthew can be seen when she tells him she no longer wants to marry him and wants to pursue what she wants individually; Matthew is heavily affected by this, most likely because it’s his last string of hope he had. Nevertheless, I think that while the two of them are not “fully” Meursault, they both have characteristics that are very much similar to him.

I also think that Hartley’s writing up of the characters were fantastic. In my class, I found that many people found the characters weird if not just boring; I think that the lack of emotion and the grittiness of the camera work added to this aesthetic that was very much Stranger-esque(?)…

Honestly, I missed a day of viewing so to say the least, I was pretty confused watching the ending. Other than that, I thought the movie itself was pretty interesting. What are your thoughts on Trust? Do you think that both of the main characters represented Meursault? Or only one?

Is Mersault a Sociopath? Maybe, but he’s a smart one.

Ever since we discussed the true meaning of life and what our values actually mean, I’ve been thinking about the idea of existentialists being a “threat” to society while also perhaps being the smartest (and maybe the dumbest?).

The reason why I think characters like Mersault, from The Stranger, is incredibly smart and self-unaware at the same time, is because of the fact that he disregards the feelings of others when making choices about how he acts. In some sense, he ignores what we think of as core values; with that, he also avoids the suffering and pain that comes with each of those values. Of course, he still is confined to certain parts of society; such as work, living expense, etc. however, he’s either hyper-aware or unaware (or at least works to be unaware) of other’s actions and feelings. Despite these things, Mersault is perhaps on the smarter end of society (according to existentialists) because he is aware of the illusions of our core values (or is he?). He therefore escapes all the pain and suffering that comes with these values. The idea of avoiding pain and suffering by detaching yourself form the societal norms is smart in some sense but also makes people around you think you’re a sociopath.

I think one of the main reasons we, as a society, find people like Mersault so repulsive, is because he does not abide by what we consider as societal norms (such as being empathetic or sympathetic towards different people and situations). He is what we define in society as a sociopath. If he ignores people’s emotions and puts no effort in being sympathetic and empathetic towards others, he is therefore following what existentialists believed living for yourself meant. Be truthful to others no matter what? Fulfill human potential by living for yourself and only yourself? A.k.a, radical subjectivity. However, because these are the core values of radical subjectivity and existentialism, does that mean all existentialists and those that live by the idea of radical subjectivity are sociopaths?

Honestly I think I’m going off on a tangent at this point. Let me move on. Mersault is seen as a threat in society to not only the other characters in the book, but also to us, the readers. He lacks so much in human empathy and sympathy that we view him as unable to have these thoughts and therefore a sociopath– which we often view as a threat. Because we view sociopaths as a threat to society, it often leads us to punishing them. This is seen in The Stranger when Mersault is punished and faces consequences for killing the Arab. He showed no remorse in court when he was being tried for the murder which is exactly what the prosecutor used to his advantage when he was speaking to the jury (83-102). Because we view sociopaths as a threat to society, is it just to punish them? I think it depends on what they do and how they act on their lack of empathy and sympathy. In Mersault’s case, I think yes, he is deserving of punishment but the idea of shaming sociopaths BECAUSE they are sociopaths does not make sense to me. Again, I’m going off on a tangent but I’m thinking of some comments people made in my class today.

The idea that Mersault has a mental issue, is often brought up in my class really intrigues me. Do we shame those that have a hard time showing emotions in society? Why do we do that? I’m ending here because I think if I write anymore, I’m just going to get more confused with myself and my tangled ideas.

Toxic Masculinity and Patriarchy in Barn Burning (W. Faulkner)

a barn (burning)

As we were discussing “Barn Burning” and pointing out certain paragraphs and parts, I found myself rereading in class and thinking about points I had not previously thought of. This semester, I’m taking a class called Women in History; we’re currently discussing how the traditional values held of masculinity and femininity are harming to the development of girls and boys. Throughout “Barn Burning”, the reader is exposed to multiple instances of toxic masculinity and what we call, the cycle of fear and control. In Faulkner’s short story, the different aspects of masculinity are more prevalent than femininity, perhaps because the story is male-centered and male-identified.

Particularly, in several scenes where Sarty is conflicted between his morals and what his father describes as “blood” and “being a man” (110), his second-guessing is taken advantage of by Abner. Because Abner is desperately hungry for power, something he can not obtain in the social world because of his socioeconomic status, he takes what he can get and overpowers Sarty’s mind. That being said, because Sarty admires Abner as the dominant male figure in his life, he allows the overtaking to happen, until of course, the end of the story. Abner fears other men having power over him, and when he can’t control that, he looks for other ways to have power, that being his own family. This weaves into part of the reason why Abner has such a large disrespect to men of higher status than him; he views higher status men as a threat and, thus, does his best to show that their power and status in social situations, does not affect him and his manhood.

The idea of toxic masculinity is particularly strong when Sarty’s father tells him to “be a man” (110) and describes the idea that family ties are stronger than anything else. The fear of not living up to societal expectations of manhood and masculinity are one of the most terrifying things for Sarty which is why he often finds himself conflicted with his true feelings and how Abner views him. At least at the beginning of the story, to respect himself, he needs to gain the respect of his father, therefore not snitching on his father when he’s asked to testify and giving him the answer his father is expecting when asked if he was going to snitch in the first place.

The oppression of women in “Barn Burning” is not as obvious as the toxic masculinity woven throughout the story. However, it is still very much there. Readers must be aware of the timing when Faulkner wrote this story and what was considered the normal way to treat women back then. Women are seen as background characters and many don’t even get a name (until his mother at the very end). The very male-centeredness of the story ignores women and perpetuates the subject/object dichotomy ideal. Abner’s treatment of women further digs into this idea that women are objects for the use of men gaining power over other men. Abner uses women to show power to his employers and that he has control over his family. This is most likely the reason why he views family and blood to such a high standard.

That being said, “Barn Burning” has had my mind churning since we discussed it in class. The many layers that this story contains takes a lot more than just un-peeling this single layer. Overall, I thought that the story was a lot more than what it seemed on the surface. It displayed this racist, southern view, that we’re not exposed to almost ever, unless in history textbooks and lessons. However, that’s a whole other world to dive into later.