A Musical Theater Nerd’s Guide to Beloved

*This post includes a spoiler for the musical Next to Normal. And also for Beloved, but my guess is that part won’t be a problem for the majority of this blog’s readers.*

I love musicals. So when Mr. Heidkamp suggested that we blog about an addition to the Beloved soundtrack, a couple of show tunes immediately popped into my head, even though the musicals they are from have pretty different stories from Beloved. I wanted to share them in hopes they make the soundtrack, so here goes:

  1. I’m Alive” from Next to Normal

While, in my personal opinion, the lyrics of this song fall somewhat short of Toni’s Morrison’s signature originality, I feel like it has to be part of the Beloved soundtrack because it is just so on the nose. It is sung by the son of the main character, who died as a baby and now returns to “haunt” the main character in the form of her hallucinating that she sees his teenage self. (I told you it was on the nose!) Like Beloved, Next to Normal explores a mother’s grief at losing a child and how it contributes to mental illness in her life. Gabe, the main character’s son and the character who sings this song, wants to pull his mother back into the past and prevent her from moving on and confronting the reality of her present, much like Beloved does with Sethe. 

To me, some really key lyrics of the song are when Gabe sings, “I’m your wish, your dream come true/And I am your darkest nightmare too.” He also asserts that he is both, “what you want me to be” and “your worst fear” and that he will both “hurt” and “heal” his mother. Like Beloved, he represents the past as both a place of comfort that people can be nostalgic for (because it was a time when a lost loved one was alive) and a place of horrors and trauma (in Next to Normal, because of Gabe’s tragic, premature death; in Beloved, not only because of Beloved’s tragic, premature death but also the many other horrors Sethe faced). And although this strange dichotomy exists, it is also true that part of what makes the past so dangerous to dwell on is how good parts of it were– that is the seductive part that keeps people from moving on, recovering, and getting to a better present. 

  1. Mama Who Bore Me” from Spring Awakening

This song deals with a young woman’s resentment toward her mother because her mother shelters her and wants to keep her a “baby” forever rather than allow her to learn about the harsh reality of the world. While I have never actually seen Spring Awakening, and so don’t entirely know the young woman’s mother’s motivation for sheltering her daughter, this song reminds me of how Sethe wants to protect her children from everything. Not only does Sethe attempt to kill all of her children to prevent them from being enslaved, but before the reader even finds out about that, she is shown keeping Denver inside 124 and treating her like she is much younger than she actually is, much to Paul D’s frustration. As Sethe says on page 54, “‘I don’t care what she is. Grown don’t mean nothing to a mother. A child is a child. They get bigger, older, but grown? What’s that supposed to mean? In my heart it don’t mean a thing.’” (54) I find “Mama Who Bore Me” a really beautiful song, and think its general theme, as well as its use of motifs that also show up in Beloved (such as sleep, religion, and fire), would fit the Beloved soundtrack very well. 

One other thing that is interesting about this song that also reminds me of Beloved is that the character who sings it at first sings that her mother made her “sad” and then later sings that her mother made her “bad.” I feel like this relates to how the pain and suffering that Beloved experienced (for example, on pages 248-252, when she recounts being on what seems to be a slave ship and being abandoned by the one person she loves and feels like is “herself”) is what causes her to become a toxic person who drags other people down. Beloved is not just a “devil-child” who derives pleasure from doing evil, but rather a character who is so deeply sad and broken that she cannot help but poison everyone around her with the sadness and brokenness that seeps out of her through her behaviors (such as clinging to Sethe and not permitting her to take care of herself in any way). She is “bad” because she is “sad.” I think this holds true whether she is merely a ghost of Sethe’s daughter or a personification of past sadness.

Exit West and Carnival Row

Throughout reading this book, I found myself constantly comparing it to a TV show that I watched recently called Carnival Row. Carnival Row is an eight episode Amazon Prime show set in an expansive fantasy world based off of the Victorian Era of England.

In this world, the Fae, or Faeries, come to the Burge as refugees when their home kingdoms become war torn by the ongoing international conflict. The Burge is the land of the humans, but not all of the humans are willing to accept the Fae into their society. Many murders and crimes are plaguing the Burge and the newly migrated Fae are the first to get the finger pointed at them.

While the cast of this show is quite large, the plot of Carnival Row mainly revolves around two central characters and their journeys throughout the episodes. The characters are Vignette, a fierce-willed warrior Fae who has come to the Burge for refuge, and Philo, an open hearted and curious investigator of the Burge.

The journey of Vignette and Philo in Carnival Row reminded me of the journey of Saeed and Nadia because they are both trying to navigate their relationship in a society where some separation and prejudice occurs regarding migrants. In addition to this, Vignette’s story parallels that of Saeed and Nadia because she, too, came from a place that she watched succumb to war right in front of her eyes.

Maria and Matthew: 2 Meursaults, One Movie

When I first read about Trust, a movie directed by Hal Hartley, and how it was supposed to be from the perspective of a “female Meursault”, I was expecting there to be only one character similar to Meursault. Instead, while watching, I found myself looking at 2.

In my opinion, I thought that both Marie and Matthew represented Meursault’s character. I think that the similarity in names to The Stranger in some sense, is to throw the watcher’s view off. Maria, is expected to be similar to Marie, and Matthew is expected to be like Meursault. However, because of their personality traits, I think that Marie’s lack of understanding for people and Matthew’s alienation from people around his community, cause them to both be similar to Meursault. Together, both of them face problems from all sides, whether its Matthew’s abusive father or Maria’s extra controlling mother.

Matthew and Maria’s “last hurrah” can be seen as the grenade going off at Matthew’s workplace. Similarly, Meursault’s last hurrah can be seen as him killing the Arab. Though, Maria didn’t end up getting punished for the grenade (because she wasn’t the one to ensue the problem) however I think she played a large roll in the events leading up to it.

Her lack of empathy towards Matthew can be seen when she tells him she no longer wants to marry him and wants to pursue what she wants individually; Matthew is heavily affected by this, most likely because it’s his last string of hope he had. Nevertheless, I think that while the two of them are not “fully” Meursault, they both have characteristics that are very much similar to him.

I also think that Hartley’s writing up of the characters were fantastic. In my class, I found that many people found the characters weird if not just boring; I think that the lack of emotion and the grittiness of the camera work added to this aesthetic that was very much Stranger-esque(?)…

Honestly, I missed a day of viewing so to say the least, I was pretty confused watching the ending. Other than that, I thought the movie itself was pretty interesting. What are your thoughts on Trust? Do you think that both of the main characters represented Meursault? Or only one?

The Love Formula

The film Trust written and directed by Hal Hartley portrays the romance between two troubled misfits who feel disowned by their parents. 

Maria, who is pregnant and a high school dropout, supposedly kills her father because of disgust and disappointment. But in reality, he died of heart failure. Her mother immediately disowns her, forcing her to move out of the house. While Maria wanders town looking for a place to stay, she comes across Mathew, an educated and moody electronics repairman. 

They develop a strong connection to each other in which they are accepting and understanding of one another. They understand the hardships one another faces as they continue to live with their insulting parents.

Throughout the film, Maria and Mathew build a sense of mutual admiration and trust. When Mathew asks her to marry him, Maria constructs a formula: respect + admiration + trust = love

I believe that this formula represents their relationship because they are essential factors in what makes them happy. In addition, I think that Maria and Mathew’s relationship solves the problems they face because it allows them to comfort each other. Maria helps Mathew stay sane as he struggles to keep the same job for a long period of time. Mathew cares for Maria by making her feel loved. He helped her become more confident in wearing her glasses, which ultimately allowed Maria to accept herself. Both Maria’s mother and Mathew’s father are emotionally abusive, and Mathew’s father is physically abusive too. By getting married, they have the opportunity to start a new life without any constraints such as their parents.

Death to the King: Reaction to Ending of King Hedley II

SPOILERS AHEAD….you have been warned.

I’d just like to thank the Court Theatre at the University of Chicago for the production they put on of the August Wilson play King Hedley II. The cast were incredible, and it was definitely one of the best plays I have been to.

Since leaving the theatre, the scene that left the most impact on me has been the conclusion.

The Death

How more tragic of an ending could there be than a mother who has always wanted to be recognized as her son’s mother by her son, and then killing her son with the gun that was given to her by her son’s best friend when she meant to kill the man she was about to marry.

The Wedding

I would describe King Hedley II as a scale with tragic and comedic elements on both sides with King being the fulcrum. Towards the end of the play there was tremendous balance between both sides. It seemed to have even been sent over the edge by the “wedding” between Elmore and Ruby officiated by Mister. In Shakespeare plays, a wedding typically signaled that the play was a comedy, and August Wilson masterfully utilizes this to lead the audience into thinking that the play was going to end with a happy ending. But with the death of King and the way in which he died, completely broke the scale leaving the audience understanding that the play was meant to be a tragedy.

The “Resurrection” of Aunt Ester’s Cat

Throughout the play, the reoccurring theme of repetition of history is clearly seen. Stool Pigeon hoards news papers to always be surrounded by recorded history of mistakes other people have made so he can preach to others to not make the same mistakes again. Tonya’s fear of making the same mistake with King’s baby she made when she was 18. Ruby falling in love with Elmore as she did when she was younger. Tonya thinking that King will fall into the same cycle as others and go back to jail or get killed.

August Wilson is displaying the trap of the institutional cycle placed upon African Americans of the 1980s to the audience. August Wilson is making the argument that even though King has died there will always be another black man who wants to get on the straight and narrow, there will always be a Mister who isn’t living up to his potential, there will always be a Ruby who keeps on making mistakes when it comes to men, there will always be a Tonya who can’t trust those who love her, there will always be an Elmore who is the father figure that King needs but will continue to be absent, and there will always be just another……… alley cat.