All That Glitters is NOT Gold

         Some of the most interesting characters that we did not have time to discuss in Zadie Smith’s White Teeth were the members of the Chalfen family. What interested me most about the Chalfen clan was the way that Irie saw them, “She wanted to, well, kind of merge with them. She wanted their Englishness. Their Chalfenishness. The purity of it” (Smith 272-73). She saw them as picture of perfect Englishness and she strove to be more like the family and spend more time with them despite the fact that they were just as dysfunctional as the rest of the families that were portrayed in the novel. I couldn’t decide whether Irie’s fascination with the Chalfens was due to their supposed lack of being immigrants, although Smith does reveal they are immigrants from Germany and Poland (273), that they are middle class, or that their family seemed “normal” on the surface. The reader finds that all of the airs that the Chalfens put on are just an act, and that just because they are white and middle class does not mean they don’t have issues.

         The omnipotent narrator gives an advantage to the reader, because the reader can see into all of the issues that the Chalfens have, like Joyce needing the attention of her family, but also ignoring them, or the way that Marcus lusts after Irie. Irie cannot see these defects, or she chooses to look past them, and it makes the Chalfens appear perfect in her eyes. I think that Irie’s blindness to the Chalfen’s problems was done intentionally by Zadie Smith in order to show how blind society can be simply based off of skin color. The Chalfen family was a white middle-class family, and to Irie, and probably to most English citizens, the Chalfens were perfect because they looked the part of what Britishess should look like. It did not matter that they were also descended from immigrants, or that the family was dysfunctional in their own way. As long as they looked the part, they were British. At least more British than Irie, Milliat, or any of their other family members could hope to be perceived as. I think Archie is included in this because although he is white, he married Clara, very un-British.

          This trend of stereotyping people by the color of their skin is an unfortunate trend that continues to happen. I’ve heard countless stories of colored people being targeted in stores by security or management, simply because they are not white. In my own experience, I have walked out of a store with a cart full of items that I bought and was not stopped by the greeter, but the Hispanic person behind me was stopped and asked for a receipt. Maybe it is because I look sweet and innocent, or maybe it is because I am white. And for many, despite it being 2016, as a white person I embody what an American is. I think that Zadie Smith was criticizing this characterization of skin color and showing the dangers of assuming authenticity based on race.

Smith, Zadie. White Teeth. Vintage International Books, 2001

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Parallels from This is England and the United States

Watching Shane Meadows’ This is England was shocking to me because of how relevant the content of this movie is today. The movie depicted Britain in 1983, but I saw so many parallels between that society and the society that we currently live in.

Combo was able to gain followers by playing off of the fear and anger that some of the characters, especially Shaun, felt. This technique is nothing new, but it is effective and it continues to be employed throughout society. In this last election Donald Trump played off of the fears and anger that white working class America was feeling, and it worked. Many people voted for him because they believed that he would bring change for that group of people without even understanding what his policies would be. Instead, many people focused on the rhetoric that Trump used and his promises to “make America great again.” This became Trump’s slogan, but at what cost? Does making America great mean splitting up families? Does it mean denying women their rights to choose? And does it mean that the white man will continue to sit at the top with no opposition? I want to be clear that I don’t think everyone who voted for Trump is racist or misogynistic, but when Trump was elected president all of the hateful rhetoric that he spewed throughout the election became legitimized. The same thing happens in the film, especially through Shaun’s eyes. Combo took them to a rally where hateful and racist rhetoric was used, and it became validation for their actions because other people felt the same way.

I think one of the hardest scenes to watch in this film, other than Combo beating Milk, is the scene that depicts the skinheads’ violence against children who they believe are from Pakistan. Grown men threatening children because they are a perceived threat is completely unacceptable. I also thought it was inappropriate that just because of their skin color and their clothes that these children were automatically “pakis.” I think that these children could have been from any culture but that it would not have mattered. All that Combo and his group saw was that they were not white. This scene disgusted me because Islamophobia is still something very real happening today. Just the other day I read a news article that talked about the rising rate of violence against Muslims in the United States. It hurts me to know that Muslims are being targeted simply because people fear or disagree with their religion.

The realistic nature of this movie was disturbing because it still resonates in society. I have always been told that we have come so far and that soon racism is going to be a thing of the past. I used to believe that, but now I am not so sure. As I said earlier, I don’t think that everyone who voted for Trump is racist, but I do think he validated that behavior. Seeing someone who acts in that manner and spews hateful rhetoric has opened the door for people who are racist to be more open about it. This is England has so many parallels with our society that sometimes I wonder how much progress we have actually made.

This is England. Directed by Shane Meadows. Warp Films Limited, 2006.

Samantha Hudspeth

Breaking the Chains of Domesticity

Something that struck me in Buchi Emecheta’s Second Class Citizen, is the way the protagonist Adah used domesticity as a form of strength instead of a crutch. In class this semester we often discussed the norms of society within twentieth century Britain, and a lot of those norms discussed are oppressive to women. The sphere of women that we discussed is in the realm of the home where she is usually wife, mother, and homemaker. We have seen women who have fallen into this norm and lost their individual identity, such as Clarissa in Mrs. Dalloway, and women who have rebelled against the norm, but disgusted readers, like Deborah from To Bed with Grand Music. Adah is a different type of woman. She remains in the domestic sphere, but she uses that to empower and motivate herself.

Adah is often called a second class citizen, and not just in that she is black, but also that she is a woman. Adah does not let this discourage her though. Instead, her status as a mother, a homemaker, and a provider for her children empowers her. Perhaps Adah’s resilience can be attributed to the “Presence” that she felt so strongly in her when she was seeking an education. This “Presence” helped Adah overcome her own doubts about her limitations and her abilities; “’You are going, you must go and to one of the very best schools; not only are you going, you’re going to do well there,’ Adah heard the Presence telling her” (Emecheta 20). This “Presence” becomes synonymous with Adah’s will, and it refuses to let her give up despite her situation. Adah is also different from other female protagonists because she does not let her children act as a burden to her. She recognizes that by having children that doing simple things like working and finding an apartment are going to be more difficult, but she does not condemn or blame her children for that. Adah often tells the reader that her children are the only thing of worth that Francis ever gave her, and she sees potential in her children.

Adah’s character offers a new and refreshing way to look at women. Instead of being held prisoner by domesticity Adah uses it to her advantage.

Emecheta, Buchi. Second Class Citizen. George Braziller Inc., 1974.

Samantha Hudspeth

 

In Search of Identity

During our class discussion of Absolute Beginners tonight there was some discussion about identity regarding the narrator. The idea was posed that the narrator is trying to find his own identity within the realm of 1950s London. It is interesting to think of the identity of a nameless character in a landscape that is also finding a new identity. London is moving past the old societal norms and expectations, but there are still instances when it seems like the adult generation is attempting to hold on. At the same time, the narrator is in the last year of his teenage years and is stuck between the realm of teenager and adult. Absolute Beginners is about finding an identity, both as a nation and as an individual.

One of the things that set the narrator apart from other characters in the novel is the language that he uses. The narrator sometimes uses words that seem to too sophisticated, and even complicated, for teenage use; such as when he uses “masticate” instead of “chew.” The narrator also describes his encounter with Ed the Ted saying, “Ed the Ted said nothing, just looked sinister, and stood breathing halitosis on me” (Macinnes 55). According to the OED Online, “halitosis” is “an abnormally odorous condition of the breath; foul breath” (“halitosis” n.). Halitosis is an extremely sophisticated word for something as foul and menial as bad breath. The sophistication of the narrator’s language is able to set him apart from other teenagers who are more childish or brutish than he is. On the other hand, the narrator using sophisticated words when they are not necessary can also set him apart from the adults as well. The language that the narrator uses is out of place sometimes for the situation. This implies that perhaps the narrator is not as smart as he thinks he is, and he is just throwing around fancy words without considering his context or his audience. This would imply that the narrator is not an adult either. Even though he knows big, fancy words he still has not mastered language on an adult/educated level. This reading suggests that the narrator is stuck somewhere in between his beloved teenage years and adulthood and he does not have a category anymore that he really belongs in.

In the same way, London is also in a transitory phase during this novel. London is caught between the old ways and the new, and I think there are instances in the novel where this tension shows. The narrator makes a point to show the reader that the old London is dying and that Victorian houses have gone from grand and beautiful to essentially the ghetto. Youth culture is beginning to take power in a way that was not seen before, and to the narrator London is the place where teenagers rule. At the same time, though, there are still people holding on to the values and traditions that defined the past. The narrator’s mother exhibits this when she discusses the narrator coming home after his father dies; “‘You want me back,’ I said, ‘because you’ll want a man about the house’ [. . .] ‘To keep the dear old place respectable, till you get married once again'” (Macinnes 53). The narrator’s mother cannot let go of the expectation that she needs a man of the house for appearances, even if she is the one who currently runs the house already. The word “respectable” places a lot of value on appearances, Appearances and tradition are things that the narrator’s mother can’t seem to escape, even in post-war, progressive, young, and new England.

The search for identity as a nation is just as present as the search for identity as an individual. I think that in both cases, the nation and the narrator, do not find the identity that they were seeking and the tension will continue unresolved

“halitosis, n.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, September 2016. Web. 4 November 2016

Macinnes, Colin. Absolute Beginners. Allison and Busby, 2011.

Samantha Hudspeth

Raver Culture

I loved reading Hebdige because conversations about society and culture always fascinate me. I think it was so interesting that we could not really pin point a subculture in today’s society that we can see based on their style. As I was mulling over this I began to wonder if we can consider ravers a subculture. Just in case there are any different definitions of raves, I mean concerts where people listen to dance/electronic music, dress in neon colors, and are usually characterized by drug use.

When I first started hearing about raves in high school it seemed really isolated. It was not something that many people seemed to be doing. There were a few kids interested in raves, but interestingly enough, for the most part, I could not identify them as ravers directly from their appearance at school. Instead, the internet became the platform where I found out about people who were ravers. Online it was easy to distinguish ravers from their crazy outfits. There were people in neon shirts, tutus, bright colored pants and shorts, and a lot of bright makeup. Ravers were definitely the “other,” during most of my time in high school, and they were frequently demonized. I was warned against going to raves because I was told that all anyone did at raves was take drugs and have sex. Then, it seems as if one day that all just changed.

All of a sudden the rave culture wasn’t a subculture in the shadows anymore. Everyone was a raver. Big name venues like Red Rocks started holding raves, artists like Deadmau5 and Skrillex were becoming more mainstream, and raver clothing was becoming more prominent in clothing stores. Tickets to some of the big concerts happening in Colorado,  like Decadence and Global, for instance, can cost up to $200. Suddenly this exclusive subculture wasn’t so exclusive anymore. This was addressed in the novel when Hebdige discussed the commodification of subculture; “The conversion of subcultural signs (dress, music, etc.) into mass produced objects (i.e. the commodity form) [. . .] Each new subculture establishes new trends, generates new looks and sounds which feedback into the appropriate industries” (94-95). Anyone could be a raver now as long as they could pay for it, and this is a trend that I have seen continuing in the past few years.

I don’t have an answer as to whether I think that mass culture subsuming subcultures is malevolent or coincidental, but I do think that exploring this subject is fascinating and worthwhile for scholars.

Hebdige, Dick. Subculture: The Meaning of Style. TJ International Ltd., 1979.

Samantha Hudspeth

 

 

Divided We Fall

            I loved Graham Greene’s The Third Man, and I am very excited to watch the movie. This book painted such a vivid picture for me, and as I read it I imagined every old school detective movie I had ever seen. The vivid pictures that this novel paints also shows a side of Europe post WWII that I hadn’t thought about that often. This novel shows the aftermath of war, and how torn and divided the county still was despite the Allied victory.

            The setting of the story threw me off because the narrator explicitly tells the readers what a mess the setting is in the aftermath of war. The reader is confronted with a Vienna that is completely divided between the victors, “You must have an impression at least of the background- the smashed dreary city of Vienna divided up in zones among the four powers” (Greene 14). I think that this puts into perspective for the reader how devastated Europe really was by the war, and how it affected Europe in ways that many people might not think of. This division within the city created a perfect environment for crimes to take place. It seemed like despite being “allies,” that the law enforcement was not really able to work together effectively, and this turned Vienna into a place where crime could thrive. The disconnect between the police is seen clearly, and comically, when they are detaining Anna, and it seems that each officer and sector has his own agenda, “The Russian, you see, refused to leave the room; the American wouldn’t leave a girl unprotected, and the Frenchman- well, I think the Frenchman must have thought it was fun,” (Greene 121). There is so much discord among the Allies that it seems hard to believe they are actually allies.

           This disconnect really makes an opportunity for crime to thrive. I don’t think this excuses the severity of the racket that Lime was involved with, but I do think Vienna was the perfect place for him to commit these horrible crimes. The narrator emphasizes how divided the city is constantly throughout the novel. This repetitive image makes me wonder if Greene was commenting on the state of Europe after the war, and if anything could have been done to prevent or better the situation.

Greene, Graham. The Third Man. 1949. Penguin Books, 1977.

Samantha Hudspeth

Sleeping Around

Something that made me uncomfortable reading To Bed with Grand Music is the way that readers respond to Deborah. I am including myself in on this, because despite all of my reasoning and all of the class discussion, I still can’t get behind the character. I know somewhere in my mind that Deborah is not an awful person, but there is always still something nagging at me and telling me that I can’t support a protagonist like her. I don’t agree with all of the choices that Deborah makes, but sometimes I forget that Grant gives Deborah permission to cheat on him when he says “I don’t want to promise to you I’ll be physically faithful to you . . . I’ll never let myself fall in love with anyone else . . . Darling will you promise me the same” (Laski 2). Grant is just as much to blame as Deborah for the situation, and he is probably doing the same thing as Deborah, but the blame still falls on her. Even so, Deborah’s character doesn’t seem like a good person to me, and I think that it is because we have been conditioned to think that way.

There are so many double standards when it comes to sex in regards to men and women. If a man sleeps around he is a legend, but if a woman sleeps around she is a slut. Growing up I always heard “If a key unlocks multiple locks you call it a master key. But if a lock opens for any key it is useless.” This is such an unfair way to think about sex, and it puts women in such a tough position. This way of thinking tells women that even though sex is natural they aren’t meant to enjoy it because they don’t have a penis. I grew up in a world where I was conditioned to look down on women who slept around, and I think that is why I have the underlying problem with Deborah. Society is moving in the right direction in terms of gender equality, but I think that we still have a long way to go if the issues of women having sex are still prevalent today.

Laski, Marghanita. To Bed with Grand Music. 1946. Persephone Books, 2009

Samantha Hudspeth

The Biggest Lie?

I feel that I have to start out by praising Swastika Night. This is by far my favorite of all the books that we have read so far in class. There is so much depth in this book that I am sad that we only have one class period to cover it.

One of the things that interested me most about this novel is the ideas about religions that are present. As I was reading the novel I looked up some of the names associated with the deity figure of Hitler. One of his associates who I found most intriguing was Goebbels, who had also been recorded as a legend among the Germans. Goebbels was the Minister of Propaganda in Nazi Germany, and his policy (I found debate about whether this was actually his policy or someone else’s), was that a lie repeated often and forcibly gains legitimacy as truth. This was fascinating to me because it reminds me so much of religion. I don’t intend to persecute religion in this blog, but religion has severe impacts on people.

People look for something to believe in beyond themselves, and religion is a great way to control people. That is not to say that all religions are lies, but that people tend to use religion as a means to whatever end they see fit. That is why there are books that are not included in the Bible, why pagan mythology is integrated into the Christian religion, and why in the Hitlerian society women are only above worms and Christian women. The Germans wanted a society that was dominated by men and manliness and to do this, women are pushed out of the picture. The Germans then used religion to create a perfect deity who had no connections to femininity at all “Who was not begotten, not born of a woman, but exploded” (Burdekin 5). And by using this model of creation women became disposable to society. I imagine that anyone who openly opposed the myth of Hitler in this tyrannical society is forced to correct themselves after being severely punished. After a time it seems only natural that this would become truth, and I think it works this way with many religions.

Something else that struck me in terms of religion was the way that the Hitlerian religion borrowed so heavily from the Christian mythology that they despised so much. In the Hitler Bible Roehm is a traitor, and von Hess describes him as a “Judas” saying, “Judas is in the Christian religion. The friend of Jesus who betrayed him.Roehm was a man who either did rebel against Hitler soon after he came to power, or did not rebel and was killed for some other reason” (Burdekin 137). There are so many areas of overlap between the two religions, yet there is so much hate between the two. This is present in the real world in terms of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, all of whom incorporate the Abraham arc into their religion. I found looking at the Hitlerian religion comparatively with Christianity was fascinating because it parallels so much with religious conflict in society, and I think this is intentional.

Burdekin’s novel has so much to say about society, and I find it amazing that some of what she is critiquing or commenting on, like religion, still is so relevant today.

Burdekin, Katharine. Swastika Night. The Feminist Press, 1985.

Samantha Hudspeth

Expectations All Around

Reading Stevie Smith’s Novel on Yellow Paper definitely solidified the fact that I am a “foot-on-the-ground” (38) reader. Smith’s novel was difficult for me to get into, and that made it even harder to make connections with the text. It seemed like Smith would bring up really interesting issues, but as soon as I felt like I might be getting a grasp on what she had to say she would zoom into another topic. One of the things that stuck with me though was the roles that expectations played in the novel. Pompey was expected to marry and become a suburban wife, and that ruined her relationship with Freddy. Pompey’s mother was sick and she was supposed to let the illness run its course and subject Pompey to emotional scarring rather than committing suicide. The expectation that I found most interesting though was not an expectation placed on females, but the expectations that seemed to be placed on Pompey’s father.

When Pompey first introduced her father he seemed to be an average English gentleman who was ready to serve his country. Pompey described him as wanting to go into the navy initially, and then, “So when the war broke out that was the Boer War, so my papa that was then in Yeomanry he must, he would, he must go to the wars” (Smith 75). Pompey’s father seemed like the kind of English man that wanted to follow the expectations that society set out for him. He wanted to be brave, adventurous, and fight for his country. It was not those expectations that hindered him, but rather the expectations of his “female dragon” (Smith 76) mother, and later his wife. The females in his life, particularly his mother, forbade him from fulfilling the societal expectations that were placed on him, and I think that this took a toll on him as a man. I can’t condone a man running out on his sick wife and young child, but in a way, I do feel bad for Pompey’s father.

While men did have more privilege, we must not forget that men also had societal expectations that they needed to live up to. They were supposed to be the breadwinners, be strong, and brave, and if a man could not live up to that then what kind of man was he? I think that Pompey’s father cracked under the pressure because he was not able to fulfill either his expectations as a man in English society or as a family man and son. I think when he cracked and left that he ultimately chose his pride over his family and decided to fulfill the expectations of English men.

I wish I had enjoyed this novel more, and while I am not a fan of the writing style, I do appreciate all of the ideas and connections that Smith was able to fit into one novel.

 

Smith, Stevie. Novel on Yellow Paper. Virago Press Ltd. 1936.

-Samantha Hudspeth