Salman Rushdie, "The Prophet's Hair" (1142-1153)
There are elements of magical realism sprinkled throughout Rushdie's "The Prophet's Hair" that serve its comedic and hypocritical purpose. When Huma arrives to visit her injured brother, she asks for a thief while she's on the run from her " high-up policeman uncle" who "will move Heaven and Earth to punish [her] assailants" (1145), along with magical references to "newborn goblins of nostalgia" (1146) and "the gelatine bosom of the lake" (1147). From my knowledge of magical realism predominately in Latin American culture, the genre is used to exaggerate and distort reality to reflect a culture's view of a concept. Latin American magical realism twists themes of nature and time in most literature. In Rushdie's short story, he uses magical realism to comment on a distorted relationship with religion. When Huma tells the story of why she has come to this "grey-haired giant," I fear their home life is too comfortable, describing "the glassy contentment of that household, of that life of porcelain delicacy and alabaster sensibilities...[only] to be shattered beyond all hope of repair" (1146-1147). The author's biography says that Rushdie grew up "within a relaxed Muslim climate, almost secularized by the variety of other religions surrounding it" (1143), which relates to Hashim's decision to keep the vial of hair for its silver, overlooking its religious worth by noting that it's "a secular object of great rarity and blinging beauty" (1147). He feels guilty about keeping the vial, and more elements of magical realism are revealed when the vial appears to have Hashim under a spell, with his eyes bulging and his body "filled up with some spectral fluid which might at any moment ooze uncontrollably from his every bodily opening" (1148). This takes the form of spilling "streams of awful truths," and he admits to several truths: having a marriage that's "been the worst of his afflictions," having a mistress, frequently visiting prostitutes, criticizing his son for academic failures, and chastising his daughter for going out in public "barefaced" (1148). This is all very odd for Hashim to admit since his family was described so perfectly before he had found the vial. Relating to Kureishi's "My Son the Fanatic," perhaps Rushdie is commenting on how westernized Hashim has become in that he has no moral values within Islam anymore. Also similar to Rhys' "The Day They Burned the Books," Hashim then abruptly burns all of his family's books except for the Qur'an. Despite previously claiming he isn't a religious man, he enforces his family to follow strict rules, but slaps his wife when she calls him out for the double-standard of him getting away with abusing his debtors. The more strict Hashim becomes, the greater backlash he faces from his family, especially from his daughter Huma who claims she will go outside without wearing a head-covering. Rushdie uses personification in describing the fear in the house that "had become so thick that it was difficult to walk around" to show the magical realism connected with the vial of hair. Atta thinks that the vial is the sole reason for driving Hashim mad and is determined to rid of it before anyone else gets verbally or physically abused. It magically disappears from Atta's pocket and back into the lake where Hashim finds it again, driving him to raging violence once more.
Hashim's behavior at this point reminds me of Tolkein's greedy, Lord of the Rings character, Gollum. With Hashim sleeping with the vial of hair, he has let a tiny object completely rid him of any positive humanity. The characters from Lord of the Rings believe that all efforts to get rid of the ring will result in a peaceful realm once again. Throughout the trilogy many characters lose their lives to protect Frodo along his journey, and so do the characters in "The Prophet's Hair' to eliminate the vial of hair to bring peace to the home again. As if the events in this short story couldn't get any worse, Atta's cries of "Thief!" awaken Hashim right when Sín is about to steal the vial. In a panic, Hashim slays his own daughter by accident. Struck with grief he ends his own life, leaving his wife as the only one alive. She ends up going to an asylum. No wonder; I don't blame her.
Ultimately, the vial of hair represents the relationship Hashim has with Islamic faith. When he has the vial in his hands, he is more rooted in Islam and enforces its doctrine. Without it, he is more lax and lives more devoted to a secular family-life. Perhaps his ignorance to a hybrid identity's effects on his family is what leads to his family's destruction. To lead a life representing both secular and religious devotions is difficult, especially with regards to how English society views immigrants at the time this story was published. The vial represents how difficult a hybrid identity is to maintain, that society will only see an individual as one or the other.
Hanif Kureishi, "My Son the Fanatic" (1200-1209)
I felt emotionally torn by this story. While I am not an immigrant nor a follower of Islam, I can relate to Parvez in many ways. I grew up in a very small town that is heavily influenced by a private, religious university and a church by the same faith. My family does not belong to a church, and I have been judged and bullied all my life for not going to the same church my small class of 52 students did. I have been told by several men and women that I'm going to hell for decisions I've made, and I've had several people cut me out of their life because I don't follow a particular branch of faith. I've been hurt a countless number of times. What's worse is that I returned to this school district to teach for two years, and I've had a few students come to me in distress that they heard the same hateful speeches I received years ago, that my students were going to hell for the choices they made and that they needed to be saved in order to go to heaven. I remember discussing one particular incident with my fellow faculty in the same classroom. One advocated for the students expressing their religiously devoted concern, and one advocated for the student being the victim of this situation. I shared my experiences without giving too much detail for sake of having a private life, yet both of them were unwilling to reach a middle ground, instead notifying our guidance counselor about the situation.
I can completely relate to Parvez when his son looks him straight in the eye and says that he's going to hell for his westernized way of living. Several times I found myself rooting for Parvez, but I was conflicted in that Ali completely has the right to follow his own path. I agree with Bettina, that Parvez needs to support his son no matter what. What this support looks like is what I feel Parvez is struggling to discover. Parvez feels his son has betrayed him when he first discovers Ali getting rid of all his belongings because Parvez moved to England to create a better life for his family, and he bought those belongings with his hard-earned money. Since we are limited to Parvez's point of view, we aren't able to see the progression of Ali's journey and how he has come to this newly-discovered religious devotion. I could also argue that Parvez may not have a son at all, and that Ali is a hallucination when he is drinking, or is a made up figure that represents Parvez's struggle with his own religious path. I more likely believe Ali is indeed his son, but since we don't find out any details about their personal relationship other than how it has been demised, I'm not certain their relationship is strong enough to be real.
Regardless, Ali reverses the roles between his father-son relationship from the result of cultural alienation. Ali suggests to his father, quite subtly, that he has been the victim of racial intolerance, especially when he claims that "'the Western materialists hate [them]'" and asks him, "'how can you love something which hates you'" (1206)? Ali criticizes his father for his anti-Islamic behavior (eating pork, drinking alcohol, spending time with prostitutes, avoiding prayer), and says "'Western education cultivates an anti-religious attitude'" (1207). Since Ali is studying at college to become an accountant, this seems to me like he has faced discrimination at school, and his program is not fulfilling him enough to want to continue on to graduate. Ali throws away his belongings because he has probably tried to fit in with Western culture, but he has been isolated in the notion of "trying to hard" to become something he's not, as most likely encouraged by his English-born peers in school.
Parvez's relationship to Western culture in England is much like that of Ali's relationship with Islam. The more Parvez and Ali each become devoted to their preferred lifestyles, the more they grow apart. Based on Parvez's lifestyle, Ali judges his father to become more lost and disconnected with his true identity. This is especially seen at the short story's conclusion, when Parvez is so lost in alcohol that he kicks his praying son. Ali views alcohol, abundant eating, and unrestrained behavior in the presence of women as the toxic reasons why Parvez has lost control of his life. Reading Kureishi's "You Will Always Be a Paki," I can observe several reasonings for crafting his characters' traits. Kureishi felt "ashamed" for his identity when he first moved to England, saying he "wanted to be rid of" his Pakistani culture just so he could fit in (888). I find these aspects in Parvez's character because he finds that England will let him do almost anything that Islam won't. This is why Parvez is so against his son’s decisions to become more devoted to Islam. When Kureishi entered his "'temporary' period," he left his school life "to make another kind of life, somewhere else, with better people," much similar to how Ali seeks out Islam to escape the toxic college culture (888). While Parvez does not reflect on any personal experiences he has had with racial intolerance, he most likely does not face the same hatred Ali does because Parvez actively chooses to fit in with Western culture. By giving up his Pakistani identity he gains privileges by participating in English society and surrounding himself with the culture; however, Ali's religious devotion is not met with the same privileges. Since Ali is still relatively young, he is more vulnerable to experiencing trauma from cultural alienation, therefore causing a greater reaction against Western culture.
BLOG 7: REFLECTIONS ON PATERNAL LEGACIES: TWENTIETH-CENTURY PERSPECTIVES ON THE INHERITANCE OF EMPIRE
Jean Rhys, "The Day They Burned the Books" (721-726)
Jean Rhys was born to a Welsh father and a Creole mother, and her biography notes she "carried a heavy burden of historical guilt" from "the knowledge of her violent heritage" (721). It also points out that she had mixed feelings about her Caribbean youth, which is what most of her short stories depict. The story begins by describing her friend Eddie and his parents. His British father doesn't have a job, and he marries Eddie's mother who's a colored, educated woman. I suspect Mr. Sawyer's alcoholism is reflective of Rhys own struggle with alcohol. Similar to Heart of Darkness, this story challenges the concept of identity, specifically with race and ethnicity. The narrator is compared to a "horrid colonial," and she struggles with what she considers her identity and how she portrays it to others (724). After Mr. Sawyer's death, Mildred and Mrs. Sawyer gets rid of all the "good-looking" English books in Eddie's room (725). The damaged books that don't look appealing are going to be burnt. The narrator describes Mrs. Sawyer's actions as hateful, more than just a moment of "bad temper" or "rage" (725). The juxtaposition created by the imagery of Mrs. Sawyer sorting through and throwing away damaged books and her beautiful appearance creates an interesting dynamic in the room that matches the tension created by Eddie's multicultural clash within his family. Eddie feels conflicted about Mrs. Sawyer's decision to get rid of the English books, which were cherished by his father and act as a symbol of Edie's heritage. Meanwhile, the books are a painful reminder of imperial oppression, and now that Mr. Sawyer is no longer in the picture, Mrs. Sawyer wants to cleanse the family of those painful reminders. The symbolism from the books are also held in a similar light as the daffodils and strawberries are to Eddie. He relates these objects to British culture, and he defiantly rejects them. The narrator can also relate to Eddie's position in that she has been rejected by "'real' English boys and girls" for being mixed. Trying to balance both identities is difficult, and since they are only children, they will most likely struggle with their multicultural identity for the rest of their lives.
Seamus Heaney, "Punishment" (1097-1098)
Heaney's "Punishment" reflects themes of capital punishment. He wrote the poem in reaction to the Troubles happening in Ireland, with connections to P. V. Glob's The Bog People. In 1951, Glob photographed a girl's body discovered in a bog in Ireland. The girl was punished for committing adultery, and she was found with a rope tied around her neck, her body severely starved, and her hair completely shaved off. "Punishment" follows the narrator's description of the body and his attachment to the girl. From the first stanza he "can feel the tug / of the halter at the nape / of her neck," making his empathy a great deal (lines 1-3). He places himself in her shoes, transporting himself back in time to the moment she was punished for her deeds. The second and third stanza describe her "frail" body and "the weighing stone" she was forced beneath (lines 7 & 11). The extent to which the tribe members went to punish this woman is severe, considering they placed a heavy rock atop her body so that she would forever remain at the bottom of the water. The fourth and fifth stanza describe her now as she is unearthed. The narrator reveals her tough skin that is akin to "a barked sapling" (line 14). She has a blindfold covering her eyes, as if she didn't deserve to see the world before she left it; however, the narrator sees this as a "soiled bandage," attempting to empathize with her pain. Stanzas six and seven describe her beauty before she was "flaxen haired, / undernourished" and tarred (lines 25-27). In describing her this way, the narrator looks beyond the mistakes she's made and respects her by judging her true worth. The eighth stanza takes a turn, though, when the narrator admits he would have casted "the stones of silence" if he were there when she was punished at the bog (line 31). His humble attitude is refreshing to read. He then admits he has "stood dumb / when [her] betraying sisters, / cauled in tar, / wept by the railings, / who would connive / in civilized outrage" (lines 37-42). Heaney brings the poem to a bigger outlook by applying this instance to modern times when Catholic women were "shaved, tarred, and handcuffed by the Irish Republican Army to the railings of Belfast in punishment for keeping company with British soldiers" (1092).
Given the tension rooted in multicultural families in "The Day They Burned the Books," I find a similar tension between the Iron Age reference and the IRA issues in the 20th century. Staying silent while atrocities are happening to masses of people makes conflict more difficult to solve. This is why so many were killed on Bloody Sunday. Protestors were sick and tired of remaining silent about their plight, and took it upon themselves to march against their oppressors. Their outrage was met with brutal police force, and 14 protesters were killed. Over the twenty-five year struggle until the Good Friday agreement was met, over 3,500 people died from disputes between the IRA and the British government. The videos below describe the history of the Troubles throughout the 20th and 21st century, and it gives a fair, unbiased description of the world Seamus Heaney grew up in, with him living as a Roman Catholic in North Ireland.
Eavan Boland, "The Dolls Museum in Dublin" (1139-1141)
The first eight stanzas in Eavan Boland's "The Dolls Museum in Dublin" depict images of what Dublin looked like before and after the Easter Rising the occurred in 1916. The second stanza describes the peaceful state of women in Dublin: "Recall the Quadrille. Hum the waltz. / Promenade on the yacht-club terraces" (line 5-6). The women described here are of an elite status, and are held highly in the eyes of history. Stanza 3 asks the reader to "recreate Easter in Dublin. / Booted officers. Their mistresses" in order to imagine what the chaos looked like in the perspective of a woman (lines 9-10). In the fourth stanza, Boland brings light to how women are viewed in the masculine-dominated history of Ireland by comparing the dolls to Irish women: "Here they are. Cradled and cleaned, / held close in the arms of their owners. / Their cold hands clasped by warm hands, / their faces memorized like perfect manners" (lines 13-16). Women were meant to remain civilized and passive during times of political turmoil, and part one of the Troubles video above shows how this turmoil in Ireland was no where close to civilized and passive. The seventh stanza depicts the Easter Rising to be completely separate from the women's sphere: "Laughter and gossip on the terraces. / Rumour and alarm at the barracks. / The Empire is summoning its officers. / The carriages are turning: they are turning back" (lines 25-28). The carriages turning around suggest that the woman's world of peace is about to be disturbed, and is confirmed in the next stanza: "[children] looking up as the carriage passes, / the shadow chilling them. Twilight falls" (lines 31-32). This suggests that the women must return to their homes immediately to prevent facing the looming danger of the violent protests outside their protected spheres.
The dolls represent Irish women in the timeline of Irish history in that they have been silenced and ignored, as suggested by "the hostages ignorance / takes from time and ornament form destiny" (lines 41-42). Because women have not been granted the same privileges as men, they have not been able to rightfully take their political stance by the reigns and charge towards political action that men take for granted. The first stanza of the poem could almost be placed at the end, since it takes place after the Easter Rising. The terrible wounds in the first line refer to the suffering women have experienced during times of war and political turmoil. Their point of view has essentially been eliminated from the timeline of political history, therefore placing a greater significance to these wounds than the present condition of these delicate dolls.
Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness (71-131)
Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness was a difficult read, and I am still unraveling many emotions I felt while reading it. After reaching the end, discovering that Marlow lies to Kurtz's Intended, I have trouble grasping why Conrad even wrote this in the first place.
I can observe that he was startled by the harsh consequences of imperialism by viewing the desolate state of the Congo natives. I thought it interesting, though, the point of view with which Conrad chooses to portray the story. At times Marlow refers to himself through telling the story. At crucial plot points where Marlow meets Kurtz for the first time or getting attacked by the natives, I wish I were in the present, hearing Marlow discover these things first-hand. Since Conrad presents this narrative in the past, I was surprised to find out that Marlow really hadn’t changed except for the fact that he was scarred and didn’t know how to process his thoughts. I thought by telling it in the past I would gain some more respect from him, hoping to hear that the atrocities that were inflicted upon the Congo natives, as seen in the video from the Prezi, would make him realize that it was incredibly wrong. I was proved wrong when I investigated further the motives behind Marlow’s lie at the novella’s conclusion.
When the woman asks what Kurtz’s final words are, he tells her that Kurtz had spoken her name. In choosing to lie, Marlow proves to me that he has not changed for the better. This secret he keeps about Kurtz becoming a savage is similar to the way Marlow tells his story on the boat. When Marlow tells the men of the harsh realities of imperialism, he brushes it over, saying that it is “not a pretty thing when you look into it too much” (76). Why does he bother telling an entire story of his experiences if he’s not going to actually reveal the secrets about Kurtz and the entire concept of savagery? Before Marlow even meets Kurtz, he is told that he cannot reveal anything about his identity and his activities in the Congo. With this evidence, I cannot trust Marlow as a reliable author. Hiding Kurtz’s identity to his Intended is much similar to hiding the truths of the violence occurring in the Congo; downplaying humanitarian issues doesn’t work out in the end when they are uncovered by the public.
I am also troubled by how much Marlow dismisses his accounts. He doesn’t acknowledge how terrible of a human being Kurtz is, but rather blames his savagery on the wilderness, claiming “his soul was mad. Being alone in the wilderness, it had looked within itself, and, by heavens! I tell you, it had gone mad” (122). I get that the Congo natives are a unique culture and that they’re much different than the London society that Marlow had existed in a year after telling the story, but blaming racism on a person’s environment and external forces is inexcusable.
Reading Heart of Darkness in 2019, I still feel it’s themes are relevant today. Immigration in the United States is a tough subject. Strict laws do not grant full freedoms to refugees, men, women, and children who need to enter the country, especially across the Mexican border. Indoctrinating views of fear and danger hasn’t helped the case for many who seek refuge in the United States. Additionally, John Attridge, senior lecturer in English at UNSW, points out in an article covering the relevance of Heart of Darkness, that “Kurtz’s mendacious eloquence is just the kind of thing that unscrupulous popular newspapers like to print.” This very much relates to pompous news outlets that violate bases for unbiased reporting. This eloquence reverberates in the fake news that revolves on social media. Populist behavior is also connected to President Trump’s tactics to win the presidency by reigning in his supporters against a collectively-considered “enemy” that needs overturned. Marlow is similarly impressed by Kurtz’s remarkable abilities to “embrace the whole universe, piercing enough to penetrate all the hearts that beat in the darkness” (125).
Overall, I find it surprising that Conrad’s anti-imperialist views were not widely accepted until much later after his novella was published. This novella gives a great perspective into what imperialism looked like in 20th-century English history, and what the English people thought of superior races and imperialism as a whole. Heart of Darkness ultimately reveals how difficult it is to interpret race, and how difficult it is to base racism and superiority in the name of science.
James Joyce, from Ulysses [Penelope] (604-610)
The exposition describing this poem states that this episode depicts Molly's sexual desires. She refers to a penis as a "thing long" and a vagina as a "thing hairy" as opposed to using the proper terms (604-605). She also notes how men have more privileges than women, saying that "men...can pick and choose what they please a married woman or a fast widow or a girl for their different tastes," almost like a man can choose whatever woman he wants for whatever mood he's in. Ew. I can tell she struggles to find desire from within when she complains about turning into "an old shriveled hag" while she's been with Leopold Bloom. She has also dealt with grief after losing her child, and has not engaged in sexual activity since. Similar to postpartum depression, I think women hold too high of expectations on their sexual desires and stable happiness. Molly romanticizes that her sexual encounters with Leopold will hold true for the rest of their marriage when she’s blissfully transformed through thought to the moment he proposed to her. Life gets in the way, and the perfect sex life is not ideal. I also find Molly to be brutally honest, saying her group of female friends are a "dreadful lot of bitches," blaming their "snappy" attitude on their "troubles" they have associated with men (606). She also carries the attitude, though, that women truly run the world and are responsible for bringing balance to the unruly behavior men pose. Molly judges men to be so frivolous and wasteful with their time based on the lack of presence their mothers have in their life (606). In this case, mothers (women) are also responsible for raising men to be proper, giving more significance to the woman’s role in the world.
Throughout reading Molly's account, I felt transported through her wild, reaching thoughts that stretch to every emotion. There are several epiphany-like moments that distract her from real life, especially those rooted in nature. This relates to Joyce's ability to reflect English society that was becoming more secular. With how difficult it is to understand the phrases and the lack of punctuation, Molly’s soliloquy reflects how lost women felt with their gender role, as well as how difficult it is to grasp a woman’s sexuality and her understanding of the world (or anyone’s for that matter). The abrupt shifts also suggest that a woman’s sexual desire toward any one person can fluctuate. Molly feels a lot of guilt from cheating on Leopold, but if this adulterous, sexual desire were more flexible and openly respected, then she wouldn’t have so many conflicted feelings towards her marital betrayal.
In relation to the controversy of whether Molly is vulgar or pure of spirit, I believe this curiosity comes from a misjudgment of her witty sense of humor. She’s pretty funny to read, and I think, while she’s uneducated, she is smart enough to be able to play as different characters in the multifaceted roles she must fulfill. While she chooses to look down upon men without maternal guidance and prostitutes without morals, she is able to get away from the harsh, obligatory reality of having to get married by investing her thoughts in the beauty of nature and really honing in on her sexuality. This sense of self shows that she is very aware of her feelings, and I don’t get a sense that she’s unwavering about her sexuality or her view on having multiple partners. Similar to judging experiences of a World War I soldier, to judge Molly of her adulterous choices and slanted opinions is only a small representation of who she is as a person. This style of soliloquy doesn’t leave anything out. Every single thought is spilled across the page without punctuation to signify that she has a lot of life left to discover, and she wants to make every decision one step at a time.
Watch video below for penelope reading starting on pg. 604 of our textbook.