As I Eat My Burger

“What sort of a world is this, where killing and pain are the norm?”

Perhaps one of the most compelling aspects of Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead is that it haunts you. After you close the book and move on with your day, you still find yourself coming back to the questions this book raises. Sure it’s a murder mystery, but deep down it’s much more of a moral argument. It dives into the themes of animals and the environment and humanity’s relationship with both. What distinguishes us from animals? Are animals subject to human laws or are we all subject to the laws of nature? 

Janina consistently refers to the animals around her as “beings” and argues that they should be treated with the same level of respect as humans. She has a special connection and even cries when she finds a dead deer in the forest. To the world Janina is a madwoman, a crazy old lady who is nothing more than a nuisance. No one takes her seriously. The hunters refer to their right to hunt as God put them above animals and that they are therefore protecting the natural order. But Janina sees the hierarchy of humans and animals in our world as a troubling indicator of the world we live in. Watching a pregnant woman in the village, Janina thinks ”How could one possibly know all this and not miscarry?”

The novel asks us why do humans think we are superior and that everything exists for our use and enjoyment? Why do we feel that it is our divine right as man to exploit what we want? Why do we kill thousands of pigs and cows yet pet the cat in our lap? These are the questions that drive Janina’s anger in her PETA-like rage.

Perhaps the animals in this story are a metaphor for marginalized groups and how they are oppressed by those in power. Perhaps the novel is a criticism of the Catholic Church that feeds into the divine rights of man over animals. If a society can be judged by how it treats its most vulnerable, we have a lot of work to do. But the questions this book raises makes you as the reader think about your own relationship with animals and nature–and keeps you thinking about it. 

The Women of King Lear

King Lear is known as one of Shakespeare’s best plays with complex characters and a timeless exploration of personality flaws and the human condition. However, it’s also deeply misogynistic and treats its female characters as one dimensional.

One of the early examples is the treatment of women as inferior to men. Even Lear reduces his youngest daughter as an object to be traded by men. Cordelia is offered as a “prize” to her suitors based on her dowry and not on any of her qualities. When she is banished and left with nothing, one of her suitors drops her instantly. The women are spoken to and treated by the male characters. The female characters in the play are regularly spoken down to, belittled, and dismissed. They are not given the same respect or agency as their male counterparts, and their opinions and desires are often disregarded. 

King Lear also reinforces harmful gender stereotypes. Women are portrayed as manipulative, deceitful, and untrustworthy, while men are portrayed as strong and virtuous. This is especially true of Goneril and Regan who are cunning, but also portrayed as heartless and cruel, with little to no reason for their behavior. There is no real explanation for their actions, and they don’t seem to have any redeeming qualities. This reinforces many of the inaccurate gender stereotypes of the age instead of trying to counteract or challenge those ideas

Another issue is  the play’s portrayal of women as deeply sexualized. Women are reduced to their bodies and are often described in objectifying terms. For example, Goneril is described as “a whore” and a “siren,” while Regan is referred to as a “wolf” who will “devour” her prey. This sexualization of women is deeply troubling and reinforces harmful ideas about women and their bodies. Even Gloucester refers to Edmund’s mother as an object in front of him when he says “there was great sport in his making” 

King Lear is unfortunately filled with misogyny. While it’s important to acknowledge the play’s artistic and cultural significance, it’s also crucial to recognize its shortcomings. Understanding the general treatment of women at the time, we can still expect great artists to challenge these notions and not just be part of the problem.

J.Cole’s 4 Your Eyez Only is truly a Love Letter

J.Cole’s 2016 album, 4 Your Eyez Only tells the story of a young man’s struggle to survive while living in the projects of North Carolina. The album describes the same character named James, slowly transition from a life of drug dealing and violence to starting his own family and even having children. Nevertheless James feels that he can’t escape his past and fears his eventual demise. This comes to a front on the album’s title, and outro track “4 Your Eyez Only.” The song begins with Cole (as James) talking about the difficulties of living in Fayetteville, and how he’s reached beyond desperate to get by. However the song shifts at the end of the first verse as James reveals this to be a poem to his daughter in case of his death.

“That’s why I write this sonnet

If the pressure get too much for me to take and I break

Play this tape for my daughter and let her know my life is on it”

The smooth transition from James’ perspective from Cole to his daughter is highlighted by his tone. When talking to his daughter James’ voice raises as he speaks in a more hopeful, albeit desperate voice. He pleads for his daughter not to pursue the life he did, and to look for a man who isn’t hard-hearted like so many that James knew.  He even tries to relate to his daughter by stating his father passed at a young age, and ponders her opinion on his life. 

The third verse hints at even more rushed speaking as James begins to believe his time is running out. It’s here that James reveals the entire album to be a letter to his daughter in case he can’t be with her. In spite of this he hangs to threads of hope in his final lines. 

“But maybe there’s a chance that it’s not

And this album remains locked in a hard drive like valuable jewels

And I can teach you this in person like I’m teaching you to tie your own shoes

I love you and I hope to God I don’t lose you”

The song’s final verse comes directly from Cole, who conveys that James’ prediction of his passing has come true. Cole compliments James to his daughter for being real, but not for the reason’s one would have thought. 

“Nah your daddy was a real n***a, not ‘cos he was hard

Not because he lived a life of crime and sat behind some bars

Not because he screamed f**k the law, although that was true

Your daddy was a real n***a ‘cuz he loved you”

For your eyes only”

Cole later attributed the character of James to a real friend, to whom the album is dedicated to. The track perfectly conveys the message of hope in youth, being killed by one’s past. Cole uses the tone of James to display these emotions as well as the switch in perspectives of James. Cole’s ability to perform these feats make “4 Your Eyez Only” one of hip-hop’s many great storytelling songs.

Marriage in The Stranger and Trust

The main characters Meursault in The Stranger, and Matthew and Maria in the movie Trust (1990), are all prototypes for the Absurdist hero. All of them live as misfits, ignoring social norms and expectations. This is especially evident in their regard for marriage. While Meursault was willing to marry Marie even though he admitted to her on multiple occasions that he did not love her, he did so with emotional involvement of deciding what to eat for dinner. Not once did he question or wrestle with the idea of marriage; he was okay with it if it was something Marie wanted. He certainly didn’t see marriage as a life-changing decision that needed any deep thought.

Similarly in the movie Trust, Maria was willing to marry her boyfriend more out of convenience due to her pregnancy than any true love for him. She sees him more as a stable provider as he will probably work for his father’s business and have a stable income. When he dumps her, she’s not upset and doesn’t express any real love for him. Matthew too has a strange view of marriage as he offers to marry Maria and raise her baby while only knowing her mostly as a friend and for a short time. None of them take marriage seriously. Although I guess this fits with the Absurdist view that nothing really matters in the end, including marriage.

Would Meursault Be a Stranger in Today’s Society?

Throughout Camus’ The Stranger the main character Meursault was portrayed and perceived by others as an uncaring, emotionless sociopath. Though he doesn’t cry at his mother’s funeral, it’s clear that Meursault did care for his mother as he thinks back to her at times throughout the story. If he truly didn’t care, he wouldn’t waste his time on his memories of her. Meursault was aware of how others were probably interpreting his actions such as not wanting to see his mother’s body and not openly sobbing like others at the vigil. Still, he wasn’t interested in what others thought. Perhaps it’s cultural, but we all grieve in different ways. Today, while not typical, it wouldn’t be considered unacceptable if Meursault wasn’t crying at his mother’s vigil. Our society today is more accepting that some people grieve openly and some more privately. Meursault was still solemn. He. Other than having a cigarette, he wasn’t joking or drinking. He wasn’t acting inappropriately at the funeral home. His behavior certainly wouldn’t be used as evidence against him as to the kind of person he was at a murder trial. Meursault was emotionally isolated. While not antisocial, he clearly was annoyed by people at times. Today’s society accepts that some people think and act this way and are not strange for doing so.

A Conversation About Race

In Nafissa Thompson-Spires’ story “A Conversation About Bread”, two African-American anthropology graduate students Brian and Eldwin discuss the racial implications of an assignment where Eldwin reports on Brian’s childhood story of another school boy, Junior, bringing different types of bread for other black children to try at school. The school children are amazed by the flavors of these new delights such as potato bread and croissants. Brian has an issue with discussing the perspective of the kids as “we”–generalizing all black southern children as a stereotype. He asks, “Why do you want to tell the story anyway?” What purpose does it serve unless it’s to show yourself as somehow better than them?”

Brian clearly feels like the writing casts the children and specifically black children as a novelty. As he references the kids as being portrayed as “an elephant”, an exhibit– look at these odd children who’ve never experienced potato bread or croissants before. Eldwin (who is also black) doesn’t see it that way.

Maybe Brian is what Nabakov would consider a bad reader in that he is seeing himself in the story and using his and his mother’s experiences to interpret the writing? Is Brian being over-sensitive about race? Clearly Brian and Eldwin, although both black, don’t see things the same way. Is it possible to tell this story without a racial bias? If not, is it still okay to tell the story? Who gets to decide especially if the writer is someone of that race? Is it bad to peek at another culture through a story even if it does lead to stereotypes?

This ties in to a lot of the current discussions of implicit bias and whether it’s okay for someone to write from another culture’s perspective. I don’t know the answer but I think it’s important that we continue to have the discussion.

Who’s in Control in Victory Lap?

While many view Victory Lap as a triumph over control and the influence held by those who are present in one’s life, its ending portrays a different narrative. Weeks after the main events of the story take place, Alison is found to be having nightmares about what she went through, and Kyle’s role in what happened. She recounts how she had a chance to stop Kyle from killing the attacker and did nothing, only to be reassured by her parents that she was remembering incorrectly. This creates two possibilities for the ending as it’s unknown how truthful her parents are being. The possibility of her parents lying about the events to her, in an attempt to reprogram her memory, fits with some of the control and manipulation that is commonly shown by all of the characters’ parents. Earlier in the book Kyle states how Alison’s parents created a perfect world for her to live in, and have kept her sheltered. Now this denial can be seen as an attempt to shelter her emotionally by protecting her from the traumatic event. Due to the evidential manipulation in the earlier parts of the story, it should be seen as more likely that this is the true ending. This demonstrates that even while some freedom may be gained, the remnants of control never truly dissolve.