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.