Meaning in the Ivy

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Frank Ocean’s album Blonde has recently been named the best album of the decade by the music publication website, Pitchfork. With such poetic lyrics as in Ivy, combined with his incredibly emotional isolated vocal performances, it is not hard to see why.

Here are the full lyrics to the song: https://genius.com/Frank-ocean-ivy-lyrics

In his song, “Ivy,” Frank Ocean opens up about a failed relationship, reportedly a sequel to a song from his previous album, “Thinkin’ Bout You”, likely detailing the trials and tribulations of Ocean’s first love. In 2012, Frank Ocean opened up to his fans in a letter on Tumblr, describing his first relationship with a man.

Without much of an introduction, Frank Ocean’s voice comes in right away with the lyrics:

I thought that I was dreamin’ when you

said you love me

Something very interesting about this song is that Frank Ocean starts right away with the chorus that is often not heard in a song until 30 or more seconds into the song. It seems that the intention of this is to convey a sense of shock when he receives this news. He sings this with a very low and quiet tone, conveying vulnerability. This immediate assertion is not only surprising to the listener but the way in a way forces the listener to think about their own past. Perrine asserts in his, “What is Poetry” that poetry is a medium that should be used when prose is not enough to convey the intended emotion. Here, the depth and complexity of emotions that Frank Ocean is feeling is not only conveyed by his tone, but by the formatting. The line breaks near the end at, “said you love me”, almost as if to convey to the reader/listener how much this line stuck with him, the separation perhaps to separate reality with a dreamlike state that he says that this statement put him in. He also utilizes hyperbole to dramatize his emotions, allowing the listener to almost feel what he is feeling.

The rest of this stanza continues with

The start of nothin’, I had no chance to prepare
I couldn’t see you comin’
The start of nothin’, ooh, I could hate you now
It’s quite alright to hate me now
When we both know that deep down
The feeling still deep down is good

Next, Frank Ocean sings, “The start of nothin’,” indicating that the relationship was ruined from the start, nothin’ used as a hyperbolic statement, almost indicating a sense of time wasted in this relationship. Ocean continues to convey his shock here when he says that he, “had no chance to prepare.” This is a very interesting and methodical way of describing a moment that is supposed to be loving between two people, indicating to the listener that the dream that he was describing before was not good. He then goes on to say, “ooh I could hate you now,”. This likely means that Frank Ocean holds some sort of resentment toward the person who told him that they loved him, almost as if that love ruined a friendship perhaps. In the rest of the stanza, Ocean contrasts the resentment that he holds with the resentment that the other person in this relationship holds toward him. He ends the stanza by repeating “deep down” from the line before when describing the nature of the feelings between the two of them. Ocean ends by summarizing the complicated feelings in this relationship, one that he is making clear should be nothing more than a friendship.

If I could see through walls, I could see you’re faking
If you could see my thoughts, you would see our faces
Safe in my rental like an armored truck back then
We didn’t give a fuck back then
I ain’t a kid no more, we’ll never be those kids again
We’d drive to Syd’s, had the X6 back then, back then
No matter what I did, my waves wouldn’t dip back then
Everything sucked back then, we were friends

In this first verse, Ocean uses figurative language in saying, “If I could see through walls,”. These walls are likely a metaphor for the facade that someone puts on when hiding their emotions. Ocean is claiming that he knows the subject of this song so well that he can tell that they are not being genuine in this romantic relationship. He then goes on to tell about how he thinks about the other person in this relationship by saying, “If you could see my thoughts, you would see our faces”. He goes on to describe a nostalgic feeling of when they were kids. Ocean even uses a voice modifier here to enhance that nostalgic feel. He describes a bittersweet feeling of being in love but also being torn between friendship and romance.

He then goes on to repeat the chorus from the beginning of the song, driving home this theme of shock, nostalgia, and bittersweetness.

In the halls of your hotel
Arm around my shoulder so I could tell
How much I meant to you, meant it sincere back then
We had time to kill back then
You ain’t a kid no more, we’ll never be those kids again
It’s not the same, ivory’s illegal, don’t you remember?

This continues the nostalgic feeling that he conveys throughout this song, but also the rotting of this relationship. Ocean asserts that this relationship was very pure and innocent. This is perpetuated by his reference to “ivory” being illegal. The purity of ivory is used in metaphor to compare to the purity in their relationship, that purity no longer existing, being “illegal”.

I broke your heart last week
You’ll probably feel better by the weekend
Still remember, had you going crazy
Screamin’ my name, the feeling deep down is good

The quickness of this bridge conveys the difference between “now” and “then”, and how he must let go of a relationship that has withered, that this relationship is nothing more than a memory.

Next, Ocean goes back again to the chorus, but with more vocal emphasis and elaboration, driving home the complexity of this song/poem.

All the things I didn’t mean to say, I didn’t mean to do
There were things you didn’t need to say
Did you mean to? Mean to
I’ve been dreamin’ of you, dreamin’ of you
I’ve been dreamin’ of you, dreamin’ of you
I’ve been dreamin’, dreaming

The outro drives home the bittersweetness of the end of this relationship, using repetition to convey indecision when it comes to the end of a relationship, and how that person and that relationship sticks in one’s mind forever.

Frank Ocean effortlessly creates poetry within his song Ivy through metaphor and repetition, representative of the complexities of a withering relationship with someone that you really care for. He completes the emotional complexity that Perrine proposes as a requisite for poetry.

Beloved Symbolism

Beloved is a very intriguing book, as Toni Morrison shows her incredible writing technique. One of Morrison’s many impressive writing skills is her ability to weave many different narratives together. Beloved’s story is particularly well crafted and hints to the message of the entire novel.

In her own chapter in part two of the novel, Beloved begins to recount events that seem totally random to the reader, given the rest of the story. She says, “I am Beloved…there will never be a time when I am not crouching and watching the others that are crouching too…the man on my face is dead…we are all trying to leave our bodies behind,” (248).

It becomes clear to the reader that the experiences that Beloved is describing her experiences with slavery on the middle passage, which at first was confusing to me because those events seemed to occur at the beginning of slavery, whereas the story told in the novel occurs at its’ tail end. When Beloved started to describe the relief of death from these circumstances, it reminded me of Sethe’s own reasoning for killing her children. She believed that death was less painful than living in captivity. Clearly, Beloved shares the same mentality as she is on the middle passage when she is longing to die as the other slaves on the middle passage had. The fact that Beloved is Sethe’s dead daughter that Sethe killed for the same reason, makes Beloved representative of the greater trauma that black people as a whole have experienced in America at the hand of slavery. These people would rather die than suffer in captivity, explaining Sethe’s actions in the novel.

Exit West: A Deep Dive

Exit West is a very intriguing book because of everything from its plot, to the magical doors, to the unique writing style, to the message that it is conveying. Today, I wanted to take the time to analyze one specific line from the novel to do a deeper analysis.

My favorite line that we have read so far is, “The dead neighbor bled through a crack in the floor, his blood appearing as a stain in the high corner of Saeed’s sitting room, and Saeed and Nadia, who had heard the family’s screams, went up to collect and bury him, as soon as they dared, but his body was gone, presumably taken by his executioners, and the blood was already fairly dry, a patch like a painted puddle in his apartment, an uneven trail on the stairs,” (85).

First, I want to analyze the syntax of this passage. This whole passage is just one sentence, which is something that is quite prevalent throughout the novel, but its use here is especially interesting. Most of the time, when Hamid uses these types of long sentences, he is referring to the experiences of the main characters to make them even more real. However, he uses this technique here to describe the aftermath of a tragedy that happened to the upstairs neighbor. I believe that he uses this tactic to not only force the reader to feel the emotions with the characters, but to breathe reality into this situation. The long sentence conveys a sense of hopelessness. Not only that, but it also conveys the urgency of this world because as soon as they witness it, the main characters are not only forced to accept it but also forget about it very quickly. Within the span of one sentence.

Another significant aspect of this sentence is its foreshadowing. Not long after this sentence, Nadia and Saeed get the opportunity to go through one of the famous doors that so many immigrants were forced to go through as their last option. I believe that the imagery of blood in this passage conveys something more. The wet blood seems to represent their current, terrible situation in this city that is overtaken by militants. The dry blood seems that it might be what they have to leave behind, and their past once they leave. When Saeed and Nadia leave, they’re forced to leave Saeed’s father behind, like the trail of blood. They lead a better life but have to leave things behind. The dried blood might represent the past, in that it is over now, but still lingers.

Existentialism in 500 Days of Summer *some spoilers*

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500 Days of Summer is one of my favorite movies, so I was happy to find an existentialist perspective in it. In Mr. Heidkamp’s lecture, he asked us to forsake all of the constructs of life, and just to embrace the absurdities of life. And I think 500 Days of Summer addresses this in a few different ways.

At the beginning of the movie, Tom is immediately established as a hopeless romantic. Working at a Hallmark-esque company, he is praised as one of their best employees. He dreams of the day that he will meet his perfect soulmate. One day, Summer gets hired at the company, and he immediately identifies her as his soulmate. By doing this, he falls into one of the binding constructs of society: love.

Summer makes clear from the beginning that she thinks true love is bs, and is looking for nothing more than something casual (sounds a bit like Meursault). Many see Summer as a stuck up jerk. But many viewers fail to realize that Tom isn’t in love with Summer, he’s in love with the idea of being in love. With the construct of love. As they get closer and closer, and Summer began sharing her more intimate secrets with him He saw these intimate moments more as accomplishments and milestones in what he thought true love was, rather than actually becoming more and more fond of Summer. He starts out the movie with his own idea of what love is based on movies, TV shows etcetera, showing how the “love as a social construct” plays into the movie and to its commentary on existentialism as a whole.

Where 500 Days of Summer gets the most existential is near the end where–spoiler alert– Summer breaks Tom’s heart. Tom becomes very depressed; not eating, drinking excessively, and underperforming at his job. Finally, he snaps and quits his job, which seems to him to be too ironic for someone falling out of love, to become what he had always dreamed to be: an architect. He spends time developing his portfolio and improving himself. When he goes to the interview, he is waiting with another woman named Autumn. Unlike when he asked Summer out, he does not build himself up, he does not declare Autumn his soulmate. He just spontaneously asks her out.

The essence of the message of existentialism in the movie is in how Tom has broken out of what he thought of love to be, the constructs that society built for him. That one person is meant for another. That there are destinies. Once he breaks out of this construct, he is able to embrace the absurdities of life, such as spontaneously changing careers, or spontaneously asking Autumn out. Through his relationship with Summer, Tom was forced to change his perspective on what society told him what love meant. By embracing absurdities rather than confining himself to constructs, such as love, Tom was set free.

 

Mental Health Symbolism in “The Elephant Vanishes”

We started discussing the symbols in “The Elephant Vanishes,” especially with the elephant. Different people all had different theories, but what I want most to expand on is Murakami’s exploration of mental health, and potentially mental illness.

It is very clear in the story that the narrator’s mental health deteriorates throughout the story, as time goes on without the elephant being found. The narrator indicates that since the elephant disappeared, he started smoking again, which he had stopped many years prior. He also finds it very difficult to think or talk about anything besides the vanishing elephant after it disappears.

I have a few different ideas of what the elephant can symbolize. First I view as the situation with the elephant as perhaps an allegory for grief somehow. Obviously losing an elephant is losing something in itself, but I think perhaps Murakami was trying to illuminate a truth about grief. It may be obvious that someone is experiencing grief, and at first, everyone is attentive and compassionate to the people affected by the loss. But, eventually everyone moves on, and the people most affected by the loss still are going through the motions of grieving, while it seems that no one is there to go through the motions with them. Then, the grieving can start feeling isolated and alone.

Because the narrator was so invested in the elephant, its disappearance almost felt like he was losing a part of himself. Being involved in the search for the elephant might have helped him feel better for a bit. The media coverage may be similar to consoling family and friends as I mentioned earlier, and the way that the news stopped covering the elephant might symbolize how someone with mental health issues or those who are grieving can feel isolated like the world is moving too fast. This becomes clear when the narrator feels angry at this lack of coverage.

Another way of interpreting the elephant as a symbol for mental health, specifically mental health care, is the way in which the elephant might serve as a distraction to the narrator. At first, I wasn’t sure why Murakami included the information about the narrator’s job, because I found the details boring and unnecessary. It then registered with me that was quite possibly the point. The narrator was living such a mundane life, that the elephant was the only thing to distract him for a while from how perhaps pointless his life might have seemed.

I feel that if what Murakami was trying to make a statement about work-life, he made a very powerful one. No one should work their life away, and everyone should have something that they are passionate about outside of work. There should be a balance that many cultures don’t value.