When discussing Roy’s God of Small Things with my classmates, most complaints center around the scattered segments of the story and the awkward timeline. Although I acknowledge that Roy’s jump from time and perspective can be confusing, I strongly believe that her puzzle-like approach enhances the story by adding a layer of mystique, and by reflecting the true sequence of each character’s thoughts.
One of my favorite scenes is when Rahel travels to the doctor as a young child in Chapter 5. At first, Rahel runs into Comrade K. N. M. Pillai after a walk near the river. Then, she begins to remember the Comrade’s son, Lenin. Ultimately, Rahel remembers her experience at the doctor’s when both she and Lenin had objects stuck up their noses.
One may view this story as a random vignette to accompany the true story, but I think that Roy’s inclusion of this story as well as others, is quite genius. The story is by no means random. Instead, Roy includes it just as Rahel would be thinking about it in real time. Memories don’t come to us when we want them too, they just appear when we’re reminded of them.
Roy’s expression of these memories serves to paint a picture of the person who remembers. Through these stories, she adds a piece to the puzzle of the character, as well as to the story.
In fifth grade, I distinctly remember learning and performing a dance for our studio’s June recital. Our role was to be Chinese court dancers, in the studio’s ballet-adapted version of Marco Polo. Later, in eighth grade, my friends were asked to preform traditional Burmese and Balinese dances, that Ruth St. Dennis had “discovered”, as a part of a study on the origins of modern dance. My classmates and I loved the dancing and the costumes, but it wasn’t until our high school years that we realized just how strange we felt performing dances that weren’t part of our cultures. We adored learning the new styles, but looking back we acknowledge that we were a group of American kids dancing a style from an area of the world we didn’t know much else about.
Dance and its relationship with Orientalism is fascinating. The representation comes in the form of a story to be performed for an audience, leaving many obvious examples of Orientalism intact. Many studios/companies today still don’t quite understand what it means to teach their students about the true nature of the cultures they learn dances from, or how these dances do not accurately depict these cultures.
From modern dancer Ruth St. Dennis’s “discoveries” of traditional dance during her Denishawn School’s 1925 travels to Asia to one of the most famous ballets, Le Corsaire, the examples of Asian culture depicted from an Orientalist view are endless. In particular, Le Corsaire is glaringly obvious. As it is based on a Lord Byron poem, the ballet is a perfect example of Orientalism. According to an article from Dance Magazine,
…[Le Corsaire] is morally repugnant: Centered around the selling and stealing of sex slaves, it basically portrays women as weak, non-human objects, and Muslims as evil or buffoon-like. (Yep, the last stereotypes that need to be reinforced today.)
The ballet only depicts the western idea of the “East”, however, there is obviously much more to the culture there than what is shown through the story. Although today there is much more information available to the people performing the stories, it is important to recognize them as inaccurate.
The song ,”Eleanor Rigby”, is undeniably a classic. Released on The Beatles’s album Revolver alongside other hits like “Yellow Submarine”, its haunting melody and enigmatic lyrics still grace radio stations and pianos more than fifty years following its release.
As mysterious as the lyrics may seem, the song really serves to highlight the experience of an outcast. It also addresses the hazy border between life an death, and the fact the the outcast is likely to straddle this border. The Beatles likely never intended the song to consist of a true story. They do give a voice to people who likely don’t have much of one because they don’t have others to support them, or are rejected by society. Ultimately, “Eleanor Rigby” is more than just a random story about a person named Eleanor Rigby. The Beatles address the effects that isolation has on a person, and how the lack of acceptance likely causes the person to die leaving no obvious imprint on the lives of others.
Throughout the song, The Beatles intertwine the two stories of Eleanor Rigby and Father Mackenzie. Before describing the two subjects, however, The Beatles introduce the song by including them among “all of the lonely people”. The two characters theoretically know each other because Eleanor Rigby goes to Father Mackenzie’s church, but they don’t ever seem to connect until Eleanor Rigby dies.
Died in the church and was buried along with her name
Wiping the dirt from his hands as he walks from the grave
No one was saved
The two stories emphasize the true effects of isolation. Even though the two lonely people coexist, they never seem to find each other until death. The Beatles state that Eleanor Rigby is “buried along with her name”, which supports the theme that these isolated people often go unnoticed until death.
The Beatles’s use of metaphors also build the theme.
Picks up the rice in the church where a wedding has been
Lives in a dream
Waits at the window
Wearing the face that she keeps in a jar by the door
Who is it for?
When they reference Eleanor Rigby’s face in a jar, they likely mean that she puts on a different personality. Eleanor Rigby can’t be her true self, even though she is an outcast, which develops the idea that isolation negatively affects a person’s well-being. The use of such a gruesome metaphor also adds to the haunting tone of the song, warning people about the consequences of living on the fringe of society.
Nearly half the lyrics in “Eleanor Rigby” are rhetorical questions.
All the lonely people
Where do they all come from?
All the lonely people
Where do they all belong?
Like the metaphors, the questions also develop the eerie tone of the song. However, they do so because they leave the listener to form their own answers. Strangely enough, The Beatles don’t state their theme directly. Instead, the theme emerges through their rhetorical questions, because they leave the listener thinking about possible answers. For instance, one could interpret the answer to the line “Where do they all belong?” as a statement about how society rejects the outcasts. One could also interpret the answer to be commentary on the fact that isolated people are more likely to both metaphorically and literally die.
In the novel, Beloved, by Toni Morrison, Sethe and the other main characters in the book are haunted by Beloved. Beloved is the child that Sethe killed to prevent from returning to slavery, who rises from the dead to live with Sethe, Denver, and Paul D.
Although Morrison portrays Beloved as a physical reincarnation, one may interpret that Beloved is just a memory so prevalent to Sethe that she believes Beloved is real. For instance, Beloved appears after Paul D’s return. Paul D is a fragment of Sethe’s past, so when he reenters her life he unearths a lot of her memories of life in slavery.
Ultimately, Beloved metaphorically consumes Sethe as she forces her to remember her life at Sweet Home. The more time Sethe spends with Beloved, the more she loses herself in her memories, which makes me think that Beloved may not actually exist in the physical sense at all. Beloved could be a metaphor for Sethe’s past.
In a broader sense, Beloved could also represent the collective experience of slavery that formerly enslaved people tuck away after becoming free (as in Paul D’s “tobacco tin”). Beloved only leaves once Sethe is so entirely consumed in her past that she literally relives the day she killed Beloved when she sees Mr. Bodwin riding up to her house. These occurrences lead me to believe that Beloved may not exist as a person, but instead as a memory so strong that it manifests itself in a physical form.
In Mohsin Hamid’s novel, Exit West, main characters Nadia and Saeed travel to new places through doors. Although Hamid does not explicitly state that these doors are magical, context often leads the reader to believe so. However, the lack of explanation of the methods through which these doors function leads me to believe that they are not really magical portals, but instead metaphors for methods through which migrants can travel.
As can be seen through the news, there are many ways that people smuggle other people out of dangerous situations to safer places. For instance, there was a truck found in Britain that contained 39 dead Vietnamese people, which is believed to have been a truck full of hopeful migrants. Unfortunately, in this case these people did not survive their passage, but they found the opportunity through an open door, so to speak.
Hamid references these types of doors in a magical sense, but only because these open doors often present illegal and dangerous methods through which to act. Instead of detailing Nadia and Saeed’s journeys through the doors, Hamid decides to focus on what lays at the other side. Therefore, he does not have to reveal and expose such types of methods. He can also establish more focus on Nadia and Saeed’s story as migrants as they live in their destinations, not necessarily as they journey to these places.
After reading Albert Camus’s The Stranger and “The Myth of Sisyphus”, I am left wondering if it is even possible to be able to develop a complete existentialist mindset. Existentialists reject societal fabrications such as the idea that social constructs such as family have meaning, and they believe that pain and suffering are the only sure things in life. Since most humans are brought up to believe in these very social constructs, it seems as if it would be nearly impossible to completely reject them, only to replace them with existentialist thought.
I acknowledge that Meursault from The Stranger certainly holds existentialist views. He constantly rejects the acceptance of common social norms, such as when he experiences little remorse after killing the Arab. However, it is important to understand that, first of all, Meursault is fictional. He is the result of Camus’s imagination, and I find it unlikely that anyone like him truly exists. Second, event though Meursault is fictional, he is still human. Humans are the so-called existentialists, but it is important to must remember that humans inherently make mistakes. Therefore, it is unlikely that it could be possible to completely let go of societal fabrications in favor of pure existentialist thought.
The myth of Sisyphus and Camus’s interpretation of Sisyphus’s story in “The Myth of Sisyphus” illustrates the idea that humans (in this case, Sisyphus), can change their outlook to reflect existentialist thought and therefore become more at ease with life. After Sisyphus adopts existentialist thought, Camus argues, he becomes less bogged down with his fate. However, as in the case of Meursault, Sisyphus is human. It is unlikely for him to reject all of his previous modes of thinking in favor of existentialist ideals, regardless of his situation.
After reading both Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings” and One Hundred Years of Solitude, I have begun to question just how far from reality Garcia Marquez really is. Does he meld the mythical and the pragmatic worlds, create his own world, or does he merely describe the real world in its entirety? Does he introduce the mystical “angel” and the spider-woman into the world with which we are familiar, or does he merely describe our world in extraordinary detail?
We fail to see the evidence of the flying carpets of the gypsy caravan or experience the insomnia plague of Macondo. This lack of vision may only be because we do not allow ourselves to suspend our disbelief, so that we can witness the true scope of the world we think we know. We need to view these foreign objects and events not as other-worldly occurrences, but as unexplained circumstances.
Garcia Marquez may describe events and objects that are not real, but that does not mean that he did not envision them in our world. He only adds a touch of magic that causes us to lose sight of their true meaning. He cloaks realities in his own imagination, possibly because he himself lacks an explanation. This leads me to dig deeper into his seemingly mythical stories. Is the old man truly an angel? Or is it Garcia Marquez’s own detail of a broken spirit, taking time to gather its strength?