Marriage Under the Patriarchy

In Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things, women have difficulty escaping the confines of the patriarchal society in which they live. No matter what caste the women are born into, all of the women in the novel face struggles and suppression. Specifically, one of the biggest struggles women face in the novel is the societal pressure to get married and the issues that come along with these marriages. 

For example, Ammu was at a disadvantage when trying to find a husband: “Since her father did not have enough money to raise a suitable dowry, no proposal’s came Ammu’s way” (38). In the patriarchal society that is India’s caste system, a marriage is arranged by the father of the bride. It is the father’s responsibility to produce a dowry to entice a man to marry his daughter. 

After failing to find a suitor, Ammu married a man against her father’s wishes, and it turned out poorly for Ammu: “She was twenty seven that year and in the pit of her stomach she carried the cold knowledge that, for her, life had been lived. She had had one chance. She made a mistake. She married the wrong man” (38). I think that this reflects the absolute dependence on men that women in the caste system have. Roy’s diction shows no hope for Ammu’s future, and that is solely because she married the wrong man.

Additionally, Rahel also faces the consequences of living in a patriarchal society: “Rahel grew up without a brief. Without anybody to arrange a marriage for her. Without anybody to pay her dowry and therefore without an obligatory husband looming on her horizon” (18). With the way Roy shows marriage as being necessary for a woman in the novel, the societal pressure of marriage looms over Rahel and marriage seems impossible for her at this moment without a father to arrange it. This conveys how women have absolute dependence on their fathers to find them a husband and secure the future that they are expected to have. 

Instead, Rahel decides that she wants to live her own life and break free from these societal expectations: “So as long as she wasn’t noisy about it, she remained free to make her own enquiries: into breasts and how much they hurt. Into false-hair buns and how well they burned. Into life and how it ought to be lived” (18). This quote truly conveys Rahel resisting what is normally expected for a woman and her desire to be in control of her destiny. 

I think that in the novel, marriage overall has a negative impact on the characters and their struggles with the pressures of marriage are very evident. The societal pressures of marriage, such as the absolute dependence on men that the women have to have, the belief that having a successful marriage makes or breaks your future, and society dictating who you can and cannot marry, is absolutely confining and it’s no wonder why marriage is depicted so poorly in the novel.

Orientalism and the “Other”

Junior year, I read Orientalism by Edward Said and it has stuck with me ever since. Said traces the roots of orientalism to the centuries-long period in which Europe dominated the Middle and Near East, and from Europe’s position of power, defined “the Orient” as simply the “other.” As a result, this view continues to dominate western ideas and does not allow the East to truly represent itself. Said’s Orientalism is eye-opening and incredibly applicable to our society today. 

In the book, Said argues that the orientalist perspective depicts the Orient as weak, irrational, and the “other.” On the other hand, the West is seen as the exact opposite: strong and rational. Said states that this binary originates from the European psychological need to distinguish itself from the East. 

I believe that Said’s concept of “other” is immensely relevant to our world today. Issues such as racism, sexism, and xenophobia stem from thinking that those who are different from us are inferior and threatening by default. Through this lens, there is little room to acknowledge the humanity inherent in every single culture and individual. 

This way of thinking is present all over the media in regards to the coronavirus. As the coronavirus has spread around the world, anti-Asian discrimination has followed closely behind. For example, Donald Trump calling coronavirus the “Chinese Virus” instead of its actual name. Also, people posting blatant xenophobic jokes on social media about China and its culture. 

I believe that Orientalism effectively traces the origins of inequality between the West and East as well as gives valuable discourse that is very relevant to our world today. Overall, the concept/reality of the “other” only serves to divide us. We should not focus on our differences, but instead acknowledge the humanity that is inherent in every individual.

The Office: Gender Inequalities in the Workplace

The Office is a sitcom television series that depicts the everyday lives of office employees in the fictional Dunder Mifflin Paper Company. The Office uses satire to play on issues that exist in actual corporate offices such as sexism, racism, and other stereotypes through humor.

One episode that touches on sexism in the office place is “Boys and Girls.” In this episode, Jan, the Vice President of Sales at Dunder Mifflin, takes the women to a seminar called “Women in the Workplace.” This meeting is to discuss issues that women face in the corporate setting, but Michael, the branch’s regional manager, gets upset because he feels excluded, therefore he forms a seminar for the men to talk about “men things.” 

Michael centers his seminar on the idea that it is a “guy’s gripe session” where they can use the time to discuss their issues with women in the office and women in general. The whole idea of pitting women against men plays into gender differences because of how often men and women are pitted against one another in the corporate environment. Michael also mentions how the break room was once made into a “lactation room” which he finds disgusting and hopes that the women are not planning to do that again. The show uses humor to touch on the issue of breastfeeding in the workplace and how it is viewed often times viewed negatively by men. Michael was also demeaning Jan for her traditionally “masculine” qualities like her authority and assertive nature. This was illustrated when Michael called her a bitch shortly after her departure in order to relate and fit in with the other guys, which is reflective of how powerful/successful women are often labeled this way in the workplace and society in general. The episode ends with Michael saying that you need both men and women in the office because the purpose of women is to create sexual tension to keep things interesting. This line was particularly satirical because sexual harassment in the workplace is often fueled by this ideology. 

The Office mirrors actual societal views and issues that are present in society and the corporate environment. This episode, “Boys and Girls” does a great job of satirizing actual gender differences that exist in the workplace. In The Office, the gender representations, while exaggerated for humor, carry an important message of how inequalities still exist in office environments across America.

Cruel World

Cruel World” is the opening song on Lana Del Rey’s third studio album, Ultraviolence. Overall, Ultraviolence is a beautiful yet melancholic album. “Cruel World” sets the tone of Ultraviolence, which is an album full of juxtapositions, of opposite themes and meanings both in conflict with one another. Specifically, “Cruel World” intertwines both love and abuse to depict the conflicting feelings of getting out of an unhealthy relationship. 

In the first verse, Lana sings: 

Shared my body and my mind with you

That’s all over now

Did what I had to do

‘Cause you’re so far past me now

In this verse, Lana says goodbye to what’s been hurting her. She recognizes that she gave her entire self to this person and realized that she has to move on from the relationship. 

In the pre-chorus, Lana explores the hypocritical nature of her partner: 

Got your Bible, got your gun

And you like to party and have fun

And I like my candy and your women

I’m finally happy now that you’re gone

Lana has decided to leave this person because things have gotten way out of control and she finally realizes how unhealthy the relationship is. Lana conveys the conflicting sides of her partner through the line “got your Bible, got your gun.” The Bible is considered to be a holy and pure text while guns represent violence and crime. The Bible and gun also represent spiritual and physical protection, even though Lana’s boyfriend consciously indulges in harmful activities. 

Because you’re young, you’re wild, you’re free

You dance in circles around me

You’re crazy

You’re crazy for me

The chorus is taking us back in time, to a party where they’re both dancing and drinking, and she envies how “young, wild, and free” he is. He dances circles around her, she can barely keep up with this person and his lifestyle, but she loves it at the same time. Lana is drawn to the darkness of his world. She knows he’s crazy, but she doesn’t care, because he’s crazy for her, and that makes her want to give all of herself to him. 

Overall, I would consider “Cruel World” poetry. I think that the song conveys the conflicting feelings of wanting to stay in a relationship but at the same time recognizing how toxic it is. Lana might just be trying to convince herself that she’s happier after moving on, but overall has contradicting feelings about the relationship. In the song, the repetition of the chorus serves as a message that the longing for her past relationship is still present, there’s always going to be some part of her that wants to go back into the darkness.

From the Past to the Present

In Toni Morrison’s Beloved, the past haunts the characters and exerts its influence on the present in many ways. Arguably, memory in Beloved takes center stage. 

In Beloved, memory is conveyed as a painful part of the human consciousness. In the novel, Sethe is haunted by her past and cannot seem to move forward. Thus, she teaches her daughter that “nothing ever really dies” (44). Additionally, she believes that “the future was a matter of keeping the past at bay” (51). 

For example, Sethe and Paul D are haunted by their memories of slavery. Yet, after years of repressing these memories, Paul D finds the strength to confront his past and make some kind of peace with it, and he wants the same for Sethe. 

“Sethe,” he says, “me and you, we got more yesterday than anybody. We need some kind of tomorrow” (322).

Paul D implores Sethe to stop dwelling on the pain of the past, particularly all the ways she has failed those she loved. Paul D acknowledges that the past will always be part of his story but he holds out hope to Sethe that they can build a new future. Paul D made a specific choice to move forward even if that means opening his heart up again, and he wants Sethe to do the same.

I believe that one of the principal messages of Beloved is that the past should not be the impediment to the present. While painful parts of our pasts must be acknowledged before we are able to lay them to rest, it is important not to dwell. The past is something that is hard to forget and regardless of how horrific it may be, it can not be changed. Significantly, what is chosen to be done by the memory of the past certainly shapes our futures and our ability to move forward.

Exit West: Doors to the Unknown

In Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West, migrants find themselves searching for safety despite constant threats from people who want to enforce borders, such as the militants in Saeed and Nadia’s city or the nativists in London. Yet, for Saeed and Nadia, the world has opened itself up in a mysterious but beautiful way, as doors are appearing that transport anyone who walks through them to other parts of the world. In this way, the doors transcend boundaries set by governments to restrict movement between nations. Although, using these doors leads to new kinds of divisions that have less to do with physical divisions than with socially constructed separations.

Typically, stories about refugees/migration focus on the transit, the journey to their destination. Yet, in Exit West, Hamid tells a story of migration in which the migrant’s journey is compressed into an instant. Hamid uses the symbol of a door, through which migrants pass almost seamlessly from one country to another as Nadia and Saeed do, from their unnamed city, to the Greek island of Mykonos, then to London, and then to Marin County, in the San Francisco Bay Area. 

Throughout the novel, Hamid intersperses vignettes, or doors, to other people and places around the world. For example, while contemplating suicide, a man in England comes across a portal to Namibia, where he remakes his life. Also, when refugees emerge from doors in San Diego, an elderly veteran asks the police if he help; they ask him to leave, and the veteran realizes that he, like the migrants, doesn’t have anywhere to go.

Particularly, I think Hamid’s way of writing the novel is very interesting. While most stories about migration focus on the transit rather than the destination, Hamid wrote about the destination rather than the transit. I think the symbol of the doors was an intriguing part of the story, and it gives the reader a peek into the lives of other characters, many whose lives are completely different than Saeed and Nadia’s.

Is Absurdism Inherently Atheist?

All human beings seem to desire meaning and purpose in their lives. Religion may be the most popular source of meaning for people; believing in God, an afterlife, or just an overall higher power makes life meaningful for many people. 

According to absurdism, religion is constructed by society in order to give meaning to a purposeless existence. Acceptance of religion would mean that humans effectively escape death in a sense because of the hopefulness/reliance on the idea of afterlife.  Absurdists think this is a self-destructive belief, because only the realization and acceptance of impending death allow humans to live life fully. 

In Camus’ The Stranger, Meursault often states his denial of God and the possibility of an afterlife. He directly accuses the chaplain of “living like a dead man” (120). Meursault refuses religion even before his own death, stating that he had little time left and refused to “waste it on God” (120). 

The chaplain expresses confusion at Meursault’s seeming lack of care for his own situation, but Meursault is unwavering in his beliefs. He does not attempt to explain his position to the chaplain to the fullest extent possible, merely answering the questions that are asked of him, and later getting annoyed at the amount of questions being asked. He believes that there is no life after death, and the fact that there is no life after death does not concern him.

Additionally, Camus is often described as an absurdist philosopher, believing that individuals should embrace the absurd condition of human existence while also continuing to explore and search for meaning, for many, this meaning is religion. 

Camus suggests that while absurdity does not lead to belief in God, neither does it lead to the denial of God. Camus notes, “I did not say ‘excludes God’, which would still amount to asserting” (Myth of Sisyphus). 

With the absurdist belief that religion is created by society in an attempt to bring meaning to a purposeless existence, is absurdism inherently atheist? Based upon Meursault’s atheism and Camus’ absurdist perspective, do atheism and absurdism go hand-in-hand? 

The Power of Fire in “Barn Burning”

In William Faulkner’s “Barn Burning,” fire represents both Abner Snopes’ inherent powerlessness and his quest for power. Snopes asserts his defiance and his own view of justice through fire, by setting fire to the barns owned by those he feels have slighted him. 

Fire is a central symbol to “Barn Burning.” In the story, the Snopes family are poor tenant farmers. Because of their social class, the Snopes family lack power and influence. In result, Abner Snopes feels powerless. He does not have money or any other forms of power, so he feels the need to act out against authority figures and assert his own version of justice. 

After Snopes’ family was run out of town because he burned down a barn, Snopes steals a split rail from a fence and builds a small fire by the roadside. Described as a “small… shrewd fire,” the fire is barely functional (147). He builds one so small it’s practically useless and doesn’t provide warmth for his family. This shows that Snopes is ultimately in a position of powerlessness. While before he created a fire so large it burned down an entire barn, he cannot make one that is sufficient for his family. Snopes had committed a fiery crime in a desperate grasp for power, but now reveals how powerless he is to adequately caring for his family. 

Additionally, after Snopes’ employer and landlord De Spain’s rug is ruined, Snopes is forced to pay De Spain in crops. Again realizing his powerlessness, Snopes turns to arson again and plans on burning De Spain’s barn. 

For Snopes, fire is a means of maintaining his integrity and enacting vengeance on those who have slighted him. Powerless and poor, Snopes turns to fire to tilt the balance in his favor, even if it is only for one quick, fiery moment.