Defiance and Acceptance: A Spectrum

Coincidentally, I just finished reading two works that oddly relate. Written by Erika L. Sanchez, I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter directly references The Stranger. In a moment of betrayal, Julia (the protagonist) sits by the lake to read The Stranger in order to calm herself. Since she’s on a school field trip, her English teacher finds her to check if she’s ok.

It’s Mr. Ingman. ‘Hey!’ he says, and sits down next to me. ‘What are you reading now?’

I hold it up for him to see.

‘So, a light beach read?’ Mr. Ingman chuckles.

I nod. ‘I guess so.’

‘What do you think of it?’

‘It’s like nothing means anything. Nothing has a real purpose. I guess that’s how I feel a lot of the time. Sometimes I really don’t see the point of anything.’

‘Existential despair, huh?’

‘Yes, exactly.’ I smile.

(Sanchez, 2017, p. 132)

Throughout the book, Julia’s biggest hurdle is her strained relationship with her mom. Her mom is an undocumented immigrant while Julia is a second generation American. Julia’s story spectacularly paints the struggle of a cultural divide between Mexicans and Mexican Americans. What does this have to do with The Stranger and Meursault? Meursault is a perplexing character for most readers. Readers are challenged to understand his way of thinking because his thinking is unlike the common person. I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter parallels with The Stranger because both of the central characters challenge the idea of “normal.” Throughout The Stranger, Meursault constantly proves to be different from every other character because his thinking and expression of emotions is different. He belittles every event to simplicity. Similarly, Julia is distinct from the other characters of the book because she is not the ideal Mexican, the ideal Mexican daughter. Be that as it may, Julia differs from Meursault because she challenges everything and she steps outside of conformity, while Meursault submits to conformity in almost every situation by being indifferent. I think this can still be leveraged to prove that both characters test the extreme ends of a spectrum on their societal norms.

The Stranger and No Longer Human

As I’ve been reading The Stranger by Albert Camus this last week or so, I have constantly been reflecting and comparing it to a previous book I´d read this summer, No Longer Human by Osamu Dazai.

Through further inspectional and revisiting of No Longer Human, I’ve found that the two books, especially the characters, are both opposites and somewhat parallel. 

The main character in No Longer Human, Oba Yozo, is a more sensitive and emotional person but feels no joy, only an overwhelming feeling of estrangement. While Meursault the narrator of The Stranger is very nonchalant and emotionally dull. However, both of these characters bring about a feeling of unease and emptiness to the reader. An aspect of these two characters that binds them together is their indifference to other people and life itself.

To grasp this better, the following are both books opening lines:

“Maman died today. Or yesterday maybe, I don’t know.”

The Stranger

¨Mine has been a life of much shame. I can’t even guess myself what it must be to live the life of a human being. ¨

No Longer Human

Both these lines pull the reader in through uncomfortability, from the get-go they leave the impression of being an outsider and mentally peculiar, not being normal. 

The two books have the same destination, or rather these two characters have the same outlook on life but have different ways of getting there. I think this line from No Longer Human Shows their similar mental state well, “Now I have neither happiness nor unhappiness. Everything passes. That is the one and only thing that I have thought resembled a truth in the society of human beings where I have dwelled up to now as in a burning hell. Everything passes.”(169) Oba is a reflective person, Meursault just accepts his belief, “I opened myself to the gentle indifference of the world.”(122) Meursault feels too little and finds life meaningless and on the flip side, Oba Yozo feels too much, too inferior, that he finds life meaningless.  

 The approach to this mindset though is a stark difference, Meursault does not show or feel emotions. Oba cannot feel happiness, he is stuck in a deep depression to the point that nothing matters. By this same principle, Meursault sees nothing wrong with his nature, Oba understands that he is not normal, thinking of himself as other or not human, he’s a “clown”, acting in a way acceptable by society (laughing and joking around).

Both the Stranger and No Longer Human illustrate that life isn’t full but futile, by following abnormal figures through a span of time and observing the experience and insight they gain as rejects from society.

The Women of King Lear

The portrayal of women in Shakespeare’s King Lear at first glance seems very progressive. Once you start to read further you notice that the progressive nature of the women is only used to further the gender norms of the time. Goneril and Regan who are the most progressive female characters in the book are portrayed as villainous even though if they were men they would only be perceived as taking what’s theirs. On the last page of act 3, when the servants are talking about Regan and Cornwall, they say that they don’t care what they do as long as Cornwall advances in life however discussing Regan they say that women will all turn evil if justice isn’t swift upon Regan for what she has done. This discussion is very telling of the true nature of how women should be viewed in King Lear. One may argue that Cordelia is another strong female character in the play and I can’t dispute that however, she is not portrayed as progressive like Goneril and Regan. The one time Cordelia truly stands up for herself and speaks her mind she is ridiculed and disowned by her father. She comes back later in the play to help defend that same father who disowned her, once again serving the men of the play. She resumes her “rightful” place by her father’s side, respecting him as her better even though he was so awful to her. 

Family = Love? Maybe Not

Many characters in King Lear do not seek true love but only selfish and false representation of love. True love is unconditional and honest while selfish love is motivated by money, lust, or merely approval from others.

At the start of the play, Lear stages a love test. Lear tests each of his daughters on how much they love him. Opportunistic Goneril and Regan flatter him and he accepts this because he sees verbal love as true love. Lear rewards Goneril and Regan’s love for him by giving them land and wealth. This only enforces the idea that material things are not apart of true love.

The youngest sister, Cordelia, is not as eager to confess her love to her father.

What shall Cordelia speak? Love and be silent.

(Act I, Scene 1)

Cordelia makes it clear that she loves him, but she can’t put it into words. She knows that words can’t truly express true feelings. True love does not require mere words as a dedication to devotion. Unfortunately Lear does not understand that so he disowns her when she refuses to flatter him.

Soon after, Cordelia is to get passed off. She is expected to marry Burgundy or France. But now that she is disowned with no dowry or title, her status has decreased. Soon, Cordelia gets rejected by Burgundy because he only seeks authority and power from a possible relationship with her. But France steps forward and takes her hand because he understands the true meaning of love, which enforces Cordelia’s representation of true love.


Then arrives the second plot of the play – Gloucester and his two sons, Edgar and Edmund.

Gloucester makes fun of Edmund’s illegitimacy and refers to him as “whoreson” (Act I. Scene 1). Edmund is desperate to feel loved so he selfishly plots his father’s and Edgar’s demise to feel above from his title as a bastard child.

Edmund lies to Gloucester and puts Edgar against Gloucester. Gloucester is quick to accept these claims without any proof. Gloucester rejects Edgar the same way Lear disowns Cordelia. Gloucester then tries to execute Edgar while Lear banishes Cordelia.

While Lear and Gloucester reject their respective child that represents true love, they fall for the characters that represent anti-love. Goneril, Regan, and Edmund represent false love. They are only motivated by money, lust, or self-serving love.


Edgar and Cordelia are the epitome of true love. They are forced to suffer banishment, rejection, and Edgar has to disguise himself to remain loyal. Cordelia rushes to help Lear when she learns of his new state and Edgar kills Oswald to defend Gloucester. They consistently prove their love for their respective fathers despite when their respective fathers’s have casted them out.

At least in the beginning, Lear and Gloucester are similar to Goneril, Edgar, and Regan because they all represent false love. They all have flawed perceptions of love. Lear and Gloucester see true love as approval from others while the three antagonist are motivated by money, lust, and their self-serving nature.

But Lear and Gloucester are forced to confront their mistakes. They spend most of the play suffering and facing the consequences of their actions. Soon they learn that verbal love does not equate to true love. But that true love is more than skin deep.

The Evil Villian- A Strong Woman

Due to the circumstances of the patriarchal society that has been present in society for hundreds if not thousands of years, gender roles have always been a prominent underlying issue throughout history. Gender roles are prevalent in literature and are expressed in many different ways. Shakespeare explores the theme of gender roles throughout King Lear regarding women in power. The main idea of his argument is that women are incapable of achieving control on their own. When they do receive power, it will corrupt their judgment and ultimately bring their downfall as a person. So basically, women are not able to handle the responsibilities of leadership as well as men can. Shakespeare challenges the traditional gender roles of women in society while at the same time sticks to the societal norm in King Lear. He gives them power, whereas, in many novels, women aren’t even the chance to possess any ability. Still, once the power is given to the women of the story, he makes failure imminent for them, which causes him to fall back into the traditional norms of gender roles for women in power.

As seen in Shakespeares’ play, King Lear, Reagan, more so than Goneril, loses her morals while in a blood lust search for power. This can be seen when she orders to have Kent put into the stocks or orders to have Gloucester’s eyes ripped out. These events show her lack of morals as a woman in power, which furthers the theme that women cannot handle power. However, Regan’s actions also promote a feminist ideology. Reagan opposes the usual gender roles by representing a more independent and cruel female role.

The feminist theme is also seen at the beginning of the play when his two daughters, who later turn evil and turn against him, Goneril and Reagan, profess their love to Lear. While his third daughter, Cordelia, refuses to fuel his ego. Shakespeare’s action and character challenge gender roles, specifically during the period in which the play was written by having Cordelia disobey her father, therefore giving her independence. Her power furthers when she gets married and becomes the queen of France. Her other two sisters gain power from marriage as well by marrying the dukes of Albany and Cornwall. While this growth of authority for the women supports the feminist ideology, it also supports a misogynistic view. For the women to gain power, they had to get married and receive power from their husbands.

Shakespeare builds on gender roles throughout the play, supporting both the feminist view and the patriarchal view with examples throughout The Tragedy of King Lear. 

The Struggle of Being a Woman

Back in Shakespearean times, being a noble woman carried a lot of weight. Males sexualized us. We would have to look and dress a certain way. Our mannerisms mattered (even if they were not authentic). And last but not least, we were expected to be docile and follow the lead of the men in our life, especially our fathers.

The struggle of being a woman is very present in the play, King Lear, by William Shakespeare. In the play, King Lear’s daughters, Goneril, Regan, and Cordelia are expected to proclaim their love for their father in order to receive their inheritance. Regan and Goneril overexaggerate their love for their father, while Cordelia remains true to herself and does not blanket her father compliments in order to gain his favor. Because of this, she receives none of his power or inheritance, despite her authentic love for her father being more than her sisters’. This is just the first of many examples in the play, where the struggle of being a woman is very real. Non-submissiveness results in great consequences, as seen with Cordelia. “Fortunately” for her, the King of France decides to court and marry her, which means she will remain in nobility. This further exemplifies how difficult it is to be a woman because she must marry someone in order to remain above water. Without a noble man, she would have been nothing.

Later in the play, the portrayal of Goneril and Regan is quite dramatic due to the power that they hold. When Goneril requests that Lear downsizes the amount of knights that he brings, Lear exclaims that Goneril has a “wolfish visage” (1.4.325). In the play, women of power are frequently described as rabid animals. In this case, because Goneril was exerting her authority over her father, who distributed all of his power, she was bashed and described to be a wolf. Moreover, after abandoning their father. the Duke of Albany condemns Goneril and Regan when he states, “Tigers, not daughters, what have you performed?”(4.2.49). By describing them as tigers, he is emphasizing that they are acting wild and animalistic.

Even more, the fact that the females in the story act out of control when in power plays on to a theme that we as women cannot hold power without being ruthless. In reality, women can act and rule in a very normal way. The chaos in King Lear does not serve as a proper example of women in power, but does emphasize the many bad perceptions of women. In this modern day and age, ruling as a female is still quite difficult. It is nice to think that progress is still happening. With Kamala Harris as the first female vice president of the USA, we can clearly see change and understand that females are very capable of leading. There is still hope for future women in power.

Bread

In his essay “Canon Fodder” written for The Washington Post, Viet Nguyen discusses race in terms of the exclusive and predominantly white literary canon taught in curricula. He concludes his writing by saying, “the culture that produced the canonical greats also produced mass slavery and colonization that killed millions. Both Shakespeare and slaughter are part of Western civilization. Can we recognize both these faces of the West? Not if we read only Shakespeare.” (38) The attention he draws to the binary between the WHITE writer and not necessarily white reader (as literary audiences are arguably one of the most diverse populations out there) is also applicable to the binary central to the story “Conversation About Bread” in which Eldwin and Brian are anthropology majors discussing the implications and expectations that go along with being either a black writer or black reader. At one point, Brian asks, “Like why would you want to tell this story about a bunch of black Southern guys discovering bread anyway? What purposed does it serve unless it’s to show yourself as somehow better than them?” (92) Theirs is a tricky line to traipse as too much attention to a specific story like this could present as a patronizing piece of writing. However, ignoring little details in favor of coming across as less ‘superior’ risks ignorance and insensitivity. Thus, it is vital to strike a balance between the two.

It is also important to note that just as there is diversity between cultures and races, there is diversity between the individuals in every culture and race. Additionally, the common binary oppositions the mind is often drawn to are not any more prevalent than those that are more complex, crossing the dividing lines between people that make one group the ‘other’. For example, in the short story, there are several instances in which the binary of WHITE/black is noted (i.e. the white woman in the library). While this is the expected and easiest to observe, there is also a binary between the two men as one is a black writer and the other a black reader. It can even be shown that there is a binary between the men as both black readers and writers versus the white canon under which they are learning. So essentially, the argument could be made that even Brian and Eldwin are looking at themselves and the bread story through a ‘white’ lens.

MAN-woman

When reading the short story “Good Country People,” by Flannery O’Connor, I became uneasy towards the ending; The MAN-woman binary in the excerpt clearly highlights the discrimination towards women in the real world.

In the passage, a man who claims he is selling Bibles takes advantage of Joy, a woman with a plastic leg. He steals her leg and she is unable to fight back, losing an important part of her life and regular functionality. This scene has an underlying message: many women aren’t able to use their full potential because it is taken from them with sexism; they are often seen as less than men. The loss of Joy’s leg symbolizes her inability to “get ahead” in the real world. It also highlights the fact that many women are unfairly taken advantage of and have no satisfaction of punishing the perpetrator.

Although Flannery did not specifically state this, it reminded me that the man to woman and binary is evident in society. We have a lot of work to do with many unjust binaries. This is just a very unique way of looking at the scene.

Follow Your Own Destiny

This summer I started watching the Avatar the Last AirBender series, which takes place in a world where people can bend the 4 elements; water, fire, earth, and air. It follows a group of friends helping an all powerful bender, called Ang, the Avatar. This story shows the kids powerful growth and strength as individuals, and lessons about choosing your own destiny. From this series the most powerful quote I can pull is from a wise character, “it’s time to look inwards and begin asking yourself: who are you? and what do you want?” 

This series shares similar overarching greater human truths with Escape From Spiderhead. That which argues that humans are innately empathetic and are against conflicting pain on another innocent human. In this story we follow a group of teens who’ve committed crimes, and are sent to a facility that unethically performs out of body tests on them. Readers find the struggle in an unequal power dynamic, of the oppressed and oppressor. While the characters struggle with their emotions and inability to inflict pain on other patients. In the end of the story where Jeff refuses to give consent to take the drug and start the trial. This scene shows your ability to choose your own destiny and that the path our basic human principles (compassion and family) that we follow unknowingly. As Jeffs suicide to escape the system, lays way to a underlying greater human truth, that humans have a inhearit deposition to follow compassion. 

Similarly the actions and tests all these characters face shows us how empathy and freedom drive humans. As both these stories fight for freedom from oppression, driving a final question to question.  What side of the conflict are you on, good or evil? Additionally start wondering, are you following your destiny? Or someone else’s destiney for you?  

Intellectual Superiority as a Power Structure

In Flannery O’Connor’s Good Country People, one element of the complicated storyline focuses on the conjunction between Hulga’s non belief in “everything” (though her human feelings of privacy and connectedness to her identity are highlighted) and the impact it has on her perceived dominance. It at first appears that she is the definition of negative: she was dealt a bad lot in life and, to cope, made herself into a miserable person with no belief in the world. She thinks of herself as inherently enlightened for realizing that nothing matters and that, as she puts it, “We are all damned” (70). It also appears at first that the Bible salesman is her complete opposite: he has a similar condition, but instead of wallowing devotes himself to positivity and God. Hulga prides herself too much, however, in her power as a superior person because of her education. In the binary she sees herself as “educated” and him as a “country boy” with no real substance. She allows this view, which is only what she wants to see, to cloud her judgement; it opens the door to him to scam and take advantage of her. However, by parading as a foolish Country Boy, the boy takes her position of power and leaves her helpless, furthering the power cycle.

Reverse Relationships in Emergency Contact

The summer reading book option, Emergency Contact by Mary H.K Choi was about the relationship between a Penny and Sam. But the relationship that I want to write about today is the relationship between Penny Lee and her mother Celeste Yoon. From the start of the book the reader is aware of the strange dynamic between Penny and Celeste. In the first chapter we see how Penny is often embarrassed of her mom and wishes that she could be a “normal mom”. They do not have a tight knit relationship, nor do they completely hate each other. They are share a home and have some good moments, but also share a lot of rocky moments. At one point of the book Penny complains to a friend “She’s the mom. I’m sick to death of looking out for her and being paranoid she’s going to do something dumb.” (359) At this part of the book, the reader learns a lot about how Penny thinks and feels about the relationships in her life.

This relationship is an interesting relationship because it has reversed the normal PARENT/child binary. Usually the parents are the ones who have charge over the child, while the child is in the submissive role. And while Penny does not exactly control her mother, her mother was no parent to Penny either. Penny does not feel that she was able to live her life as a kid because she was busy taking care of her mom. You notice the sacrifices that Penny has made in order to ensure that her mom is okay, one being her choosing a college that is close to home despite wanting to go far. Penny accounted that Celeste is a single mom living on her own, so she stayed close for her mom in case she was needed at home.This reverse in the normal binary was a very interesting aspect to the book. It is also seen by noticing that Penny refers to her mom by her first name, Celeste, because she does not feel that “mom” is appropriate given their relationship.

Throughout the book Emergency Contact, Mary H.K Choi wrote about many relationships and connections. Penny’s relationship with her mom was one that stood out because she went against the typical binary that we see between a daughter and her mother.

Jeff’s Inner Conflict

“Basically, what I was feeling was: Every human is born of man and women. Every human, at birth, is, or at least has the potential to be, beloved of his/her mother/father. Thus every human is worthy of love.”- Jeff Pg 33

“I hated it. I’m a person. I have feelings. Still personal sadness aside, that was good. You did terrific overall. We all did terrific. Heather especially did terrific.”- Abnesti pg35

Jeff, a criminal, watching Heather going through the effects of the Darkenfloxx makes him feel that even though she has done horrible things in her past she is deserving of love. He sees the good that Abnesti is doing at that moment: that he is giving people that feel that they are not worthy of love, the love they deserve, with this new drug. But then it shifts, Jeff also sees the bad- that Abnesti is a monster for making Heather act this way and killing her. In that moment, Jeff is conflicted with Abnesti’s intentions. Throughout the story, Abnesti is constantly reasuring Jeff that he is a good person, but Jeff ultimately sees him differently, and commits suicide at the end. He doesn’t want to be associated with the act of killing anymore.

Jeff’s Stockholm Syndrome

In “Escape from Spiderhead” by George Saunders there seems to be a sort of Stockholm Syndrome scenario between Jeff and Abnesti. Instead of going to “real Jail”, Jeff’s mother paid for Jeff to go to Spiderhead. However, this might not have been the best choice because Spiderhead is deceivingly an evil institution. Jeff seems to adopt a friendship with Abnesti and have a pleasant time at Spiderhead. Jeff knows that he is a prisoner, but he is manipulated by Abnesti without knowing. This can be seen when Abnesti tells Jeff, “You know me … how many kids do I have … what are their names” (68). At that moment Abnesti tries to persuade Jeff into hurting Heather by bringing up their “friendly” relationship. Abnesti attempts to build a connection so Jeff remains complicit. Another reasong Jeff falls for Abnesti’s tricks is because Abnesti creates a false sense of security by leaving the door to Spiderhead unlocked, remembering birthdays, and giving medicinal creams to Jeff. Abnesti tries to seem like a friend to Jeff but he sees Jeff as a criminal, like all of the other “participants”, and could never truly be friends with Jeff. Abnesti believes he is the outstanding citizen while Jeff is just another low life criminal.

Towards the end, Jeff starts to realize that Spiderhead and Abnesti are corrupt. When Verlaine mentions that he refreshed Jeff’s MobiPak, “While he was sleeping”, Jeff starts to understand that he his a prisoner and tries to break out of Abnesti’s hold (66). Jeff tries to be a good person but Abnesti refuses to let him. Abnesti manipulates Jeff into giving Heather Darkenfloxx but the results push Jeff to his limit. Jeff finally escapes from Abnesti’s evilness, when he kills himself on Darkenfloxx, not wanting to kill again.

Power vs Free-will

In Escape from Spiderhead, there is an inherent power dynamic in which the scientists have power over the inmates however, I found it interesting how the inmates always had some degree of free will and how the scientists tried to manipulate that. Whenever Abnesti performed an experiment he had to request permission to administer the drugs and the inmates had to say acknowledge to allow the scientist to administer the drugs.

Abnesti works hard to gain the inmates trust so they think of him as a good person and listen to him. Abnesti uses the goodwill he has garnered to try and persuade Jeff to allow him to administer the new round of drugs when Jeff originally refused to do so, by saying “do I remember birthdays around here? When a certain individual got athlete’s foot on his groin on a Sunday, did a certain other individual drive over to Recall and pick up the cream, paying for it with his own personal money?”(68). This shows us that the scientists aren’t all-powerful in the Spiderhead and Abnesti knows this so he manipulates the inmates including Jeff into thinking that he is good and the inmates are bad. Abnesti realizes that Jeff wants to be better so he uses the fact that he is supposedly “good” to his advantage when trying to manipulate Jeff.

Later in the story Jeff doesn’t acknowledge again only this time Abnesti asks Verlaine for the obedience drug, which oddly enough, needs permission for use. This reinforces the idea that even though the scientists have power over the inmates the inmates still have some degree of control and free will.

The Binary in “Escape From Spiderhead”

Within the Spiderhead, there’s an established binary between the criminals and the “humane.” Absenti makes sure to enforce this by reminding the criminals that they are lesser than. He’s “always reminding [Jeff] about [his] fateful night” (58) because he wants to remind Jeff that he’s a murderer. He does a similar thing later in the story by telling Jeff about all the crimes that Rachel has committed, painting her in an extremely negative light. By establishing this binary, he makes it seem like they deserve the torture they’re going through.

Then, in contrast to the criminals, he establishes himself as being a good person. He’s constantly trying to prove this to Jeff, saying things like “Am I a monster?” (68) and “I’m a person. I have feelings” (72). However, despite his attempt to categorize himself as the better of the two options in the binary he’s created, his actions prove that he’s just as bad as the other murderers in the Spiderhead. He’s fine with killing Rachel and Heather, whereas Jeff “had not killed, and never would” (81).

The Remote in Escape from Spiderhead

Escape from Spiderhead is all about power dynamics and binaries. There is a very clear power dynamic from the very beginning: Abnesti is in the position of power, and Jeff is required to submit to him. This power dynamic is reinforced by the technology of the world in which the story is set, as it states early on in the story, “Abnesti used his remote. My MobiPak whirred” (45). Abnesti has the control in this situation, because he has the remote. As the story continues, we see the way that Abnesti exercises his power over Jeff and other subjects and finally, at the end of the story, Jeff takes back power by using the remote himself. The remote in this story is a tangible representation of the power dynamic regarding Abnesti, Jeff, and the others.

Is Crazy Rich Asians Enough?

I have now seen the movie Crazy Rich Asians 3 times. What can I say — it’s a great movie. Awkwafina is hilarious, Constance Wu is brilliant, and Henry Golding is attractive. But something I hadn’t taken into account until recently is that maybe it’s a little too simplistic. I’m not here to bash the movie because at the end of the day, it was a HUGE win for Asian Americans. But it was exactly that: a win for Asian Americans. What never crossed my mind, though, was how it portrayed Singaporeans. Once again, I still believe this was a landmark film in increasing representation in Hollywood. As director Jon Chu said a while back, it’s a movement. While the movie has enjoyed massive success and shed light on a non-white cast, some people still think it could’ve gone even further.

Take this quotation from a profound article on Vox, “While it’s definitely significant that Hollywood is finally producing an all-Asian film, the anticipation for this film demonstrates that representation can mean different things to different groups of people, and that there is a divergence between the needs and priorities of Asian Americans and Asians in Asia.” I couldn’t agree more. Here, as a Singaporean of Chinese descent, author Kirsten Han touches on how she felt the film was flawed in more ways than one. What she wrote next made me come to another realization. In western films, we really only see Asia depicted in 1 of 2 ways: as “rising Asia” with modern architecture, servants, and next-level wealth, or as an extremely impoverished place with a lack of social mobility. When I think about the films I’ve seen with an Asian cast in the past year, it totally fits the description. In one of my personal favorites, Parasite, we see this deeply-entrenched divide between the rich and the poor. In Raise The Red Lantern, we see extreme generational wealth and tradition. While I loved both of these films and I actually think they did a great job with representation, it makes me wonder. Is Orientalism at play here? Is this really an accurate depiction, or are these over simplistic?

In other western movies, what we see of Asian countries is very little. And what we do see motivates these 2 narrow stereotypes. We see overwhelming markets with foods that seem foreign to us, tech-savvy people, expensive homes, and action movie backdrops. We see a place with more than 4.4 billion people through one, white-washed lens. I think it’s interesting because something perceived so incredibly progressive in the U.S was actually perceived as not diverse enough to people from Singapore.

 

Orientalism in “The Nutcracker”

A few years ago, back at my old dance studio, I participated in the annual “Nutcracker” ballet that always took place around Christmas. Everyone would dress up in their fun costumes and go out and perform amazing choreography. While I always remembered it as a time of joy and cheer, I now see “the Nutcracker” for all of it’s faults. These faults came in the form of obvious culture stereotyping all throughout the ballet.

Because it has been around since 1892, the Nutcracker has been performed countless times by a countless amount of famous ballet companies. It is so ingrained into the ballet world, that many fail to recognize the Orientalism that plagues it. In particular, this exists in “the Land of Sweets” section of the ballet, and is abundantly present in the “Chinese Dance” and the “Arabian Dance.

While the “Chinese Dance” of the Nutcracker is often completed with many different variations, the most popular versions of it include movements with the index fingers pointing upwards and many bows from the waist. In addition to this, many of the variations include fans or umbrellas. This portrayal is both inaccurate and highly stereotypical.

Another dance that exhibits Orientalism is the “Arabian dance” which has been most popularly done as a pas de deux (dance between a man and a woman). The costumes for this dance usually include a woman in a bejeweled bra top and flowy pants and a man in pants and no shirt. The movements are often slow and the woman is supposed to be seen as beautiful and alluring. This promotes the common and inaccurate western stereotype of Eastern women as existing solely for a man’s pleasure.

All in all, I hope that major ballet companies can work in the future to alter the Nutcracker so that it does not exhibit such blatant Orientalism. Not only this, but many other ballets such as La Bayedere and Le Corsaire also need to be edited to remove all to present Orientalism. While many choreographers feel the need to preserve the historical roots of dance, Orientalism should not be something that is accepted.

God of Small Things and its Showcase of Broken Rules

I would like to start off with my opinion of novel, and I must say, it was not necessarily a favorite. I think the imagery throughout the novel was nice, and I enjoyed how certain characters developed throughout the story. But many times I was left absolutely confused. I think that may have been intentional as questions I had were answered throughout the story, but I think it being written that was didn’t allow readers to truly make connections with the characters and their stories and personal struggles. My favorite character was Velutha, simply because he seemed to have the most depth in character in my opinion.

Although I was not the hugest fan of the novel, I liked how it highlighted the breaking of a number of societal norms, whether they were specific to Ayemenem or just in general.

The first one I noticed was the number of failed marriages. I think divorce is still something people feel ashamed about today (although they should not) and it was interesting to see that almost everyone that was once married in the novel was either divorced or had a terrible marriage (like in Ammu’s mother’s case). And despite it being common in her family, it was still not common in her community. The text states,

Within the first few months of her return to her parents’ home, Ammu quickly learned to recognize and despise the ugly face of sympathy. Old female relations with incipient beards and several wobbling chins made overnight trips to Ayemenem to commiserate with her about her divorce. They squeezed her knee and gloated. She fought off the urge to slap them. Or twiddle their nipples. With a spanner. (43)

Ammu was still treated as if her situation was terrible and incredibly unfortunate just because she was divorced.

Another societal norm that was broken in the novel was the idea of a loving and supportive mother. Ammu seemed anything but that most of the time. She obviously loved her kids, but her love for them was often volatile and detached. Ammu literally said that she “loved her children but their wide-eyed vulnerability and their willingness to love people who didn’t really love them exasperated her and sometimes made her want to hurt them — just as an education, a protection(pg 42).” I don’t really think that’s much of a nurturing mother way of thinking. And when she did things like shrug her kids off when they were embracing her, or telling Rahel she loved her less the epitome of a detached love that lacks insight on how her actions affect her children.

There is also the biggest societal role broken when Rahel and Estha slept together, which I really did not enjoy (but I’m sure that was the point). I was kind of expecting it as the book went on and highlighted their closeness and their “oneness.” But it was just so weird.

Sex, Gender, and Orientalism

Typical examples of Orientalism, at least historical examples, seem to have a preoccupation with gender, power, and sex. In the interview with Edward Said, many paintings are shown depicting women in positions of sensual weakness, either being generally exposed or being aggressively handled by men. This idea of women being sexual objects to be used by men carries over into many of the more popular concepts in Orientalism. The concept of the harem, for example, is one where several women are in a sense owned by one central man and are used by him for sex, often existing in addition to the man’s wife or wives.

There is also the concept, popular in times of over conflict between the United States and the Middle East, of the ravaging Middle Eastern man sexually assaulting women and children in battle. This concept is not exclusive to Oriental/Middle Eastern stereotypes, but it goes hand in hand with depictions of Islam in Middle Eastern countries being one with female oppression and assault at its core.

Finally, I want to talk about the concept of Middle Eastern women being commodities not only for Middle Eastern men to consume, but for Western men to consume. Even in children’s films such as Aladdin, the main woman, Jasmine, is shown in clothing that is often associated with belly dancing. Belly dancing itself is largely considered sensual, centered around the movement of the hips. Its typical clothing involves a low-rise skirt and something to cover the chest, with flowing fabric that moves with the dancing. When Googling belly dancing in order to write this, I found YouTube videos with “sexy” and “hot” in the descriptions. I also found some Halloween costumes for children, which I don’t have much to say about as an intellectual point. Just thought it was weird.

What is up with this preoccupation with Middle Eastern people as either sexual objects or sexual aggressors? As to the sexual objects, I think it has something to do with how India and the Middle East were (and still are) viewed as commodities themselves. Colonialism views the world as full of things to be taken and owned. Often times, those things include people. White, straight men traveled around the world and took everything they possibly could. In a way, portraying these women as scantily-clad, sensual women that were regularly dominated by the men in their countries already made it seem as though they were asking for it. Asking to be dominated, abused, and owned by the white colonialists. For the men, I think it has something to do with similarly justifying the violence and ownership of themselves, their possessions, and their land. When we portray people as savages, less than human, it makes it that much easier to abuse their rights.

Check out this video by Lindsay Ellis if you’re interested in Orientalism and musical theatre; it’s a fascinating breakdown of one of the more obscure, yet fetishized characters from Phantom of the Opera.