Marisol was a very fitting play to watch during my birthday weekend, since the genre of the story falls firmly into the realm of magical realism. The stage was well done, with the darkly lit atmosphere and graffiti lending to the concept of a post-apocalyptic, desolate New York City. While the play was for the most part enjoyable, there were times when the actors spoke too swiftly, and it was difficult to catch the gist of their conversation. The actors themselves undoubtedly looked the part, in terms of their appearance. The burn victim certainly appeared as if he had been burned in real life, and the gauze contributed to that effect. While there were no lags in regards to the action and dialogue that occurred throughout the play, the sense of depression that settled on me by seeing the themes of racial tension and economic turmoil was difficult to shake, even during the more light-hearted scenes.
Writer Chinua Achebe explains the definition of “African literature” in his essay “The African Writer and the English Language.” According to Achebe, at a 1962 conference in Uganda’s Makerere University, he and those gathered at the conference were unable to find a satisfactory definition for it. With the many questions he poses, (“Was it literature produced in Africa or about Africa? Could African literature be on any subject, or must it have an African theme? Should it embrace the whole continent or south of the Sahara, or just black Africa?”) Achebe provokes the idea that nearly anything that somehow relates to Africa can be deemed as “African literature.” An interesting point that Achebe raises is the fact that most African literature is, or will be, written in English. He states, “Quite simply the reason is these nations were created in the first place by the intervention of the British, which, I hasten to add, is not saying that the peoples comprising these nations were invented by the British.” On the one hand, it is understandable that reaching a wider audience would be another reason as to why the African authors should write in English. Furthermore, Achebe explains that “those African writers who have chosen to write in English or French are not unpatriotic smart alecks…They are by-products of the same process that made the new nation-states of Africa.” However, the idea that the authors would be “betraying” their respective heritage by writing in another language other than their own (and a language that so brutally colonized the continent, at that) is unsettling, regardless of how I look at it.
While author Chinua Achebe’s purpose is to contradict the “savages” stereotype perpetuated by European colonialist writers, in his novel Things Fall Apart, the way the protagonist Okonkwo is portrayed is not exactly the picture of civilized, tamed people. He is brutal in his dealings with those who test his patience and merciless in the way he beats his wives. In chapter two, it is illustrated that “Okonkwo was a man of action, a man of war. Unlike his father he could stand the look of blood. In Umuofia’s latest war he was the first to bring home a human head. That was his fifth head and he was not an old man yet. On great occasions such as the funeral of a village celebrity he drank his palm-wine from his first human head.” It is entirely understandable that Achebe would want to explain the Nigerian culture in detail to the reader, but these particular traits are probably the reason the colonialists came to regard the African continent as “savage.” For me, it is difficult to accept a man who beats his wives out of frustration and brute strength as “civilized.”
Wendy Faris says “realism is what tethers the world of magic.” In the short story “Light is Like Water” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the author incorporates elements of mysticism in his story in such a casual way that the concept of magic is not as fantastical as it should be, were it introduced as a separate entity in the story. Thus, the story is relayed to the reader as if it is to be taken at face value, reducing the shock factor, and ultimately drawing one in a lot deeper. Critic Scott Simpkins suggests that instead of viewing magical realism as a departure from realism, one could see this form as an attempt to get closer to it. Through the reading, I definitely got this feeling–I became more attuned to the events on a much more personal level than a removed, objective perspective. The idea of the children “drowning” in the light was a fascinating one, and makes me want to revisit my English 3375 Creative Writing class and ask the professor for a re-do on my fiction assignment.
Creating the presentation on Italo Calvino the week prior to reading Invisible Cities led to a better understanding of the text, due to my awareness of the historical background behind the novel. The most fascinating element about the novel was the lack of plot—the entire story was a series of short descriptions Marco Polo, the Venetian explorer, would relay to Kublai Khan, the Emperor of the Tartars. Another interesting thing to note is the idea that the two characters of the story did not speak nor understand one another’s language. This provoked the concept of “gains in translation” and made me wonder what exactly Kublai Khan imagined as Marco Polo relayed that “arriving at each new city, the traveler finds again a past of his that he did not know he had: the foreignness of what you no longer are or no longer possess lies in wait for you in foreign, unpossessed places.” I wondered to what extent he pictured Marco Polo’s illustrations of these cities. I also wondered how much subtext and layered meaning was understood—on both parties’ end.
Reading Conrad’s Heart of Darkness without Presentism was a conscious struggle for me. On the one hand, I read such atrocious, unbelievably racist things that I, living in twenty-first century United States, had difficulty comprehending. Conversely, constantly reminding myself that Conrad wrote in an era rife with a weird amalgamation of fascination and disgust toward other races engendered an understanding of sorts. After all, writing about the Congo the way he did painted it in an unsavory light, possibly making it off-putting to any (then) potential “visitors.” Given the fact that Africa was ripe for imperialism’s hold, this could have been quite scandalous as a read for his early nineteenth century European audience. One thing in particular struck me—the lack of speech given to the Africans throughout the story. In such a subtle, simple manner, Conrad managed to silence their voices, input, and feelings. The reader is deaf to their thoughts and I wondered, while reading, what I would have discovered should the “savages” have said their part on this brutal “taming” they suffered.
Metamorphosis was an interesting read due to the irony of its title in regards to the protagonist. While Gregor most assuredly undergoes a transformation, the alteration only extends to surface changes. His physical appearance is transfigured, but Gregor still remains himself in nature. He is just as docile and accepting of his circumstances as a bug as he was while living his dreary life as a salesman. The strangest thing about this complacency is the fact that not once does Gregor wonder how he ended up in this outrageous predicament or how to reverse it. Following his transfiguration, the story progresses into him shifting into the comfortable world of an insect—even though he does not belong in it. He cannot leave his apartment, fit under the sofa, and crawls the ceilings of his room. The fact that his family is disgusted by him and finds him burdensome was bewildering as well. For one, he is the only capable earner who could very well have lived alone and left the family to their own devices. Instead, he took it upon himself to make money to provide for all — parents and sister. So when the time came for him to rely on them, they found him to be a nuisance? And Gregor—accommodating, caring Gregor—decides his family is better off without him and goes to his room and dies.
T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” was a particularly interesting read—the narrator’s stream of consciousness was incredibly frustrating for me to get through, yet I felt pity toward him as well. From the very beginning, the foreshadowing that this would not be a pleasant, light work was evident through the evening sky being compared to “a patient etherized upon a table” (line 3). His weak character (the self-consciousness, fear of rejection, self-degradation) made him difficult to empathize with but feeling sorry for him was easily accomplished. At every turn I wondered what question he wanted to ask the source of his anguish. Would he ask her to marry him? Did he want to proposition her? What is most confusing is why the narrator is so unsure of himself. By the description of own person, he does not seem that different from many other men. In fact, he sounds quite ordinary. His self-loathing is sad and ultimately leads to the question never being asked. What question that is, readers will never know, but it was disappointing to come to the realization that neither would the object of his admiration. As irrational and childish as this might sound: I wish he should have asked her and fronted the risk of rejection.
Ibsen’s A Doll’s House was a highly controversial piece for the early nineteenth century. Criticizing the traditional gender roles set during that time era provoked shock and indignation within Europe, and the play was viewed in a scandalous light. It is interesting to note the title—very early on in the play, it is apparent that Nora is considered a plaything by her husband, a doll to be dressed up, coddled, and manipulated in behaving the way he deems appropriate. When Nora revealed in Act Three that Nora and Torvald both had expectations from each other that proved undoable by both parties’ end, it was difficult on my part on with whom I should sympathize. On the one hand, Torvald only ever did what he had observed and experienced societally. To him, he was performing the duties as a provider and head of household to the family. However, Nora’s aggravation at the belittling and hypocrisy on her husband’s behalf is entirely understandable. While it makes sense that Nora would be bothered by the constrictions placed upon her by society and her husband, it was not entirely uncommon for this kind of setup to be the case for marriages during that time period in Europe. Therefore, her departure from her family and duties as a wife in nineteenth century European society baffles me.
When reading this, I tried to imagine the Southern antebellum era, the atmosphere in which Kate Chopin surely must have been stifled, should one make inferences based on her writings. Her audience must have been shocked by her topic of choice, the concept of miscegenation, what with Désirée’s child showing biracial features. I wonder though, if Chopin’s audience’s reaction countered Chopin’s intention of writing this short story in the first place? Assuming that Chopin meant to shed light on the ludicrous matter of interracial mixing, would her audience have sympathized with Désirée, wrongly scorned and abandoned by her husband? I think the Southern, predominantly white audience may have supported Armand, and his attempt to purge his wife and child from his memory through burning everything would have been seen as the right course of action for him to take. But the twist at the end — finding out that it was he, in fact, who was part black… That would throw the audience for a loop. There is a sense of moral ambiguity at the end. Was all the disgust and hatred and burning for nothing?