Identity and its Closed Scope

Orientalism is a colonialist, Eurocentric, ideology in which Asia and the east is represented in a stereotyped, foreign way. It was created by Europe’s inability and unwillingness to attempt to understand Eastern culture and bred a distant curiosity towards it. Western scholars couldn’t fathom Eastern culture as it was different from there own, therefore, the East was portrayed as exotic and was quickly romanticized instead of understood. Norms of Eastern culture were turned into commodities by Western writers, therefore making the east seem primitive and backwards when it was really quite the opposite. These new biases blocked the West from understanding and appreciating Eastern culture and the many societal advances it made.

What makes Orientalism so dangerous is the justifications it gave to the West. Because the East was portrayed as primitive and exotic by Western writers and scholars, it gave imperial justification for colonizers to conquer. It was felt as though the East needed salvation from themselves as they were lost and unable to live unguided as a society. With this logic, the West felt as though they were advancing Eastern society, when in reality, they were modeling it towards a far more European template. It was believed that the East needed the West’s help

This theory still has applications today through modern stereotypes. Whether it be preconceived notions we have on the economic status of the middle east, or the racist and prejudiced attitudes amplified by COVID-19, Orientalism still has a platform in society.

The Effects of Eurocentrism

Firstly, my opinion of the novel could be higher. The God of Small Things had some brilliant moments of storytelling, but its nonlinear plot and slow pace often made it a confusing beast to read. The constant and unexplained time jumps often lead to my confusion, and from time to time, I felt dissatisfied by seemingly dull or flat characters. The characters could feel one dimensional, which would often block me from really connecting or empathizing with a character, with Velutha as an exception.

There was however, many insightful moments in the novel showing both the deep rooted self-loathing in the characters and revealing wisdom.

“Baron von Trapp had some questions of his own

(a) Are they clean white children?

No. (But Sophie Mol is.)

(b) Do they blow spit bubbles?

Yes. (But Sophie Mol doesn’t.)…

(e) Have they, either or both, ever held strangers; soo-soos?

N…Nyes. (But Sophie Mol hasn’t.)

‘Then I’m sorry,’ Baron von Clapp-Trapp said. ‘It’s out of the question. I cannot love them. I cannot be their Baba. Oh No.'”

Chapter 4 Page 101

This scene takes place while the family goes to see The Sound of Music after Estha returns to the theater from outside. He creates a scenario in his head contemplating if a fictional character would accept him. His own mind crushes him as he convinces himself that Baron von Trapp wouldn’t love him or Rahel. The reasons he decides that Trapp couldn’t be his father are heartbreaking. Estha’s believes that he can’t be loved because he isn’t a “clean” white child and because he believes he was at fault for being forcibly molested. He hates himself for his actions and appearance.

Another crucial aspect of this passage is that Estha doesn’t blame Trapp for his decision and takes the opportunity in his head to raise Sophie Mol on a pedastal. Despite knowing his answers wouldn’t please Trapp, Estha mentions, at least to himself, that Sophie Mol doesn’t share in the behavior that Estha has been taught to identify as barbaric. This behavior is simply being a child, but Estha was raised in a Eurocentric household that placed whiteness and Western culture over their own native culture. Even if Sophie Mol blew spit bubbles, she’d still be treated like princess because she was white and European.

“Love Actually” as a Treatment for Society

2003’s “Love Actually” is a heartwarming romantic comedy revolving around many British characters of various social and economic groups during the holidays. With how wide of a net it casts romantically, it has something for everyone to slightly relate to. The movie follows roughly nine subplots all seamlessly intertwined with one another without barging in, but for the sake of understanding the importance of comedy, the plots to follow are between Harry and Karen.

Harry, played by Alan Rickman, is a high ranking director of a design agency and happily married to Karen, played by Emma Thompson. Karen stays at home to look after their children while Harry works in the office. A new secretary named Mia (played by Heike Makatsch) is hired at the office, and immediately begins to show attention to Harry. Throughout this plot, Harry grows increasingly more fond of Mia and begins to have an affair with her, despite having a wife and children. His wife catches on during Christmas where she expected to receive a necklace that she found in Harry’s jacket, but instead receives a CD. She soon finds out about the affair, but decides to think of her kids and stay with Harry. The reason why this plot is so significant is because it uses comedy to normalize familial trauma and difficulties. By using comedy, Love Actually, removes the stigma from the conversation of divorce and infidelity. It starts a conversation by not putting the conflict between Harry and Karen in a dark depressive tone, but instead a comedically tragic one. Comedy, in general, but specifically in this case, is necessary for society because it helps us process and eventually accept pain. While this comedy isn’t necessarily trying to make us laugh, it does take a slightly lighter tone to the sometimes heartbreaking truths of reality.

“American Psycho” and its Satirical Take on the Attitude of Men

Patrick Bateman, a successful New York investment banker, surrounds himself with glamour. Whether it’s eating at posh restaurants, surrounding himself with luxurious furniture and clothing, and following a strict and intensive workout and beauty regimen, Bateman is the spitting image of the American dream from the outside. All of this status and luxury is merely an appearance, as deep down Bateman resents and despises those around him. Throughout the movie, we see Bateman spiral into a vortex of murder and violence created solely through his unrelenting rage that he constantly feels. This descent into insanity starts with Paul Allen who angers Bateman by having a better business card than him. After seeing his card, Bateman lures Allen out to drinks and eventually leads him back to his apartment. After discussing “Hip to be Squared” for what felt like a century, Bateman kills Allen with an ax. Even in the earlier parts of the movie, we see the superficial nature of the wealthy. Bateman is living what seems to be the high life, and appears to get along with his other rich, and often repulsive friends, but he can only feel rage and hatred.

All of the businessmen, who are all men, are relentlessly misogynistic. Bateman also exhibits this sort of insensitive behavior, but supplements with violence and disgust towards women. This violence that Bateman regularly displays and the abrasive nature of his coworkers satirize the often idolized idea of Wall Street, and exposes it for what it is: a battleground. With how brutally these men compete with each other to achieve the impossible amount of wealth and power they dream of, women often become obstacles or nuisances tossed to the side. The environment Bateman surrounds himself with nurses narcissism, self-destructive behavior, and misogyny. This is shown through Bateman’s love interest, Evelyn, who really isn’t a love interest at all. The two of them have been engaged for what feels like quite some time, but every interaction between them feels forced and disingenuous despite Evelyn’s very real affection for Bateman. This is because, with the life Bateman leads, he cannot possibly find time for affection nor find a reason to waste his time with a woman.

Another point of satire in this movie is towards the very end as Bateman fully falls into madness. He spirals into a murder spree he can’t control after hallucinating, and in his tirade, kills four cops and many more innocent people. Bateman is then chased by the police and flees into his office where he calls his lawyer, confessing to every little crime he had committed in the last couple of weeks in a voicemail. The movie then cuts to the morning, where Bateman finds his lawyer to discuss the contents of the voicemail, but his lawyer shrugs it off as a joke and commends Bateman for how funny it was. Despite his best efforts, Bateman fails to convince his lawyer that he’s committed this horrible crimes. The movie ends leaving the watcher uncertain if Bateman convinced these crimes at all, but the satire here is very present. Bateman essentially getting away with murder satirizes how it seems like a rich businessman can get away with anything, and the attitude of invincibility that the elite feels. The movie attempts to leave the audience with the idea that there is no justice where the good guy wins and the bad guy loses. The world of the elite or just America itself is devoid of compassion and empathy, and there is no reason to prioritize being caring over being successful.

Pure Comedy

Pure Comedy” is a grandiose satire voiced through perspective of an unhinged, broken skeptic of humanity. The title song is no different, as Father John Misty simplifies the existence of humanity to its most basic core in an almost unbearably nihilistic tone. His tone gives off a sense of superiority, making him a bit unlikable in this song. The satire starts immediately as Misty begins, “The comedy of man starts like this:/ Our brains are way too big for our mother’s hips.” This opening line exhibits satire through the duality of its meaning. While our large brains, and heads by extension, cause birth to be quite painful for the mother, this line also suggests that humanity is too smart for its own good. This line leads into the central idea of the first verse: the satire of early societal structure. Misty starts his idea by stating that “…half of us are periodically iron deficient/ So somebody’s gotta go kill something while I look after the kids/ I’d do it myself, but what, are you going to get this thing its milk?” Misty alludes to early societal structure in hunter-gatherer groups, as the men would often hunt for meat (a strong source of iron) while the women would stay and tend to the children as only they can nurse them.

Today, this structure isn’t needed anymore. Grocery stores hold all the food and nutrition we need to survive, yet women still often are the ones to stay at home. Through describing the process of gathering food to be primitive and basic, Misty makes the idea of raising a child and providing seem backwards.

In the second verse, Misty begins to dismantle Religion in an extremely superficial tone, but he also discusses the hypocrisy and idolization of corporations. When FJM says “They build fortunes poisoning our offspring/ and hand out prizes when someone patents the cure,” he discusses how we are stuck in a cycle of gluttony. The “poison” refers to could be seen as alcohol, drugs, and cigarettes, which when overused, can lead to health issues or death. As a society, we’ve showered these industries with money, and when someone comes up with a cure or solution to a societal issue, we shower them in money as well, creating a cycle of greed and wealth.

The final chorus closes with the irony of survival: “The only thing that seems to make them feel alive/ is the struggle to survive/ but the only thing they request/ is something to numb the pain with.” Humans innately want a challenge to occupy themselves with, but this challenges can easily become overwhelming. This can result in substance abuse to simply carry on. This song is certainly poetic, but I’ve always found it difficult to truly enjoy due to the larger-than-life FJM seems to project. The song, while insightful at times, is almost consistently pessimistic and depressing.

“Beloved” and the Power of Perspective

Throughout “Beloved” Toni Morrison intentionally provides possibly limited but illuminating points of views. The stories of struggles and triumphs are told almost selectively from the perspective of former slaves and their relatives. While some may argue that it limits the scope of the story, I think it is important to hear the story from the lion’s perspective instead of the hunter’s. Through the textbooks that circulate our country’s public school systems, we are desensitized to the atrocities of slavery. These books often sugarcoat the horrors that took place on many plantations during the era of slavery. Until reading this novel, I had never heard of a “bit” or many other forms of systematic torture of slaves. Slavery was almost primarily discussed through the scope of civil war. We were taught that it was a divisive topic between the north and south, but rarely were we taught about the slave’s lives stuck in between the Union and Confederacy. That is why Morrison’s utilization of perspective is so essential. This novel, while fictional, gives a voice to a underrepresented community.

Morrison also shows the reader how dangerous the hunter’s perspective can be. While Sethe and Baby Suggs tell their own stories of escape, Sethe’s infanticide is told through the perspective of the schoolteacher. This perspective spreads to all of Sethe’s neighbor, essentially ostracizing her from her own people. Those that knew what happened didn’t care for Sethe’s reasoning. They didn’t care that Sethe did it to protect her infant daughter from a fate worse than death. They only cared about the story of a mother killing her child in cold blood. That is why the hunter’s narrative is so dangerous in isolation. If left unchecked, inaccurate information spreads like wildfire until the lion’s point of view is eradicated.

Exit West and the Strains of Migration

Exit West provides and interesting perspective on the migrant experience, giving the reader a unique insight into how migration can affect relationships and mental states. Like many migrants, Saeed and Nadia attempted to migrate in hopes of finding a better life for themselves, but the effects of migration show immediately through their relationship. The abuse they face at every turn from so-called natives is straining and eventually leads to the dismantlement of their relationship. In their native country, it was clear that Saeed and Nadia were fond of each other, but as they migrated from country to country, they avoided each other more and more. While it is possible that they never truly loved each other and they only dated due to their dire situation in their home country, I choose to believe that they were once in love. Throughout this novel, Hamid illustrates just how impossible the migration experience can be through Saeed and Nadia. Maintaining a relationship in a new world, especially one with so much instability, is extremely difficult. What Saeed and Nadia had was strong and passionate, but to be in such close proximity with someone through almost constant turmoil is a recipe for disaster.

Existentialism and its Relation to Isolation

Existentialists value the rejection of standard social constructs as a pillar of humanity, but this conviction can be extremely ostracizing. Unfortunately, while leading an existentialist life may be personally liberating, it is extremely unpopular. Outside of those who share in the existentialist ideology, an existentialist would have quite a difficult time fitting into society. In The Stranger, Mersault keeps everyone at an arm’s distance. He has some friends (Marie, Raymond), but it is very clear to the reader that Mersault isn’t particularly close to these people. The reason behind this is because Mersault’s outlook on life holds him from coexistence. He can no longer understand conventional societal norms.

Existentialism isn’t an ideology for the social. Its lonely, and besides the perceived personal freedom, it could ultimately be unrewarding. It is difficult to judge whether or not existentialism is truly worth the effort. Sure, you may have a new outlook on life, but said outlook immediately puts you on the outside looking in to society. The norms that existentialists reject are pillars of mainstream society. Existentialism imprisons one in their own mind, as they can no longer willingly be apart of a society that contradicts their beliefs. By choosing a path of existentialism, one creates a cycle of rejection. By rejecting societal constructs and norms, society will reject the existentialist right back.

Why The Elephant Never Mattered

In “The Elephant Vanishes” by Haruki Murakami, An elderly elephant disappears from a suburb outside of Tokyo, but none of it matters. The elephant came into the ownership of the town through somewhat comedic means, and even though it caused quite the uproar for some time, the elephant was never more than an amusing oddity to the town. When the elephant disappears along with its keeper, the town sinks into a temporary state of mass hysteria, but as blame is thrown to just about anyone, the town slowly forgets about the elephant.

Our main character, despite his passion for keeping up on the happenings on this elephant, unfortunately slips back into the functions of everyday life. In time, it is clearly shown that everyone forgets, or wants to forget, about this elephant. Why do they forget? Because the elephant has no significance to them. It’s an oddity; a conversation starter. What did the elephant ever contribute to the town besides some possible publicity? It was simply an abandoned animal, and why the main character ever cared is an illusion.

At the time of the disappearance, there was a lot of attention given to the elephant. There were multiple high class investigations, and it even led to some political unrest. Even though all of these things seem significant, they made no change on the state of the suburb or those living in it. Our main character still went to his day job just like everyone else, and life moved on. The suburb before and after the elephant was the same. The status quo remained the status quo.