Adah’s Connection to Mother Nature in Second Class Citizen–Meghan

Surprise! I’m going to talk about nature and apply a little bit of ecofeminism.

While reading Buchi Emecheta’s Second Class Citizen, a specific passage stood out to me about Adah’s relationship to Mother Nature:

She wished the Presence was still with her to give her a clue but it seemed to have deserted her when she landed in England. Was the Presence her instinct? It had been very active in Nigeria. Was that because in Nigeria she was nearer to Mother Nature? She only wished somebody would tell her where she had gone wrong. (55)

There are a quite a few interesting things going on in this passage.

Thinking back to our discussion about “what is civilization” and “what it means to be civilized” in class on Thursday, I think it is very significant that Adah’s “Presence” leaves her upon her arrival to England. If Adah’s Presence is indeed her instinct, the idea of civilization and the departure of instinct is really interesting. A quick Google definition of “instinct” says “an innate, typically fixed pattern of behavior in animals in response to certain stimuli.” Thus, instinct is associated with the animal kingdom rather than humanity. This could then imply that Adah has animalistic qualities/instincts that are not common among the “civilized” person. However, once Adah arrives in England, her instinct leaves her because she enters a civilized sphere in which her instinct is looked down upon. I think this is especially interesting because Adah is a women and the men in the novel are never described as having instincts (they are only described with physical animalistic qualities). Women are often associated with emotions and instinct. This might be a stretch, but perhaps this could mean that civilization or being civilized takes away from a woman’s identity as a woman. If a woman is stripped of her instinct and nature, she is no longer a complete version of herself.

Could this mean that the more “civilized” a person becomes, the further the person gets away from their natural instincts? It seems as though civilization makes instinct an unacceptable characteristic. Since civilization implies education, command of language, common law,etc., it appears as though instinct would not be considered an important part of such civilization. In order to be civilized, a person must be able to participate in society by abiding by the rules and maintaining socially acceptable behavior. This problematizes instinct because instinct is natural inclinations to behave in specific ways.

This reading of civilization and instinct supports the idea of England being civilized and Nigeria being uncivilized. If Nigeria is the place where Adah feels most comfortable being her whole self (instinct and all), than this implies that Nigeria is uncivilized. The use of Mother Nature in this passage is interesting because she can be present in one place and absent in another. Typically, Mother Nature is used as a general term to refer to nature and natural elements, which can be found everywhere. However, Mother Nature’s absence in England could imply there is nothing natural about England–perhaps because of industrialization and the “civilized” elements present in the novel.

The last sentence in this passage indicates that there is a problem with leaving Mother Nature. Adah wishes someone “would tell her where she had gone wrong.” It is interesting that she wishes someone, no specific person, would tell her what was wrong. Perhaps, the “someone” she is referring to is her Presence or Mother Nature. However, since both of these entities have left her upon her arrival into civilization, they cannot communicate to her that it was actually wrong to leave Nigeria and distance herself from her nature.

Overall, I think Adah has a connection to nature that becomes conflicted when she is required to act outside of her nature as second class citizen and as a woman being oppressed. Speaking of oppression, I think her instinct leaving her in England may also have to do with the fact that Francis obtains a more oppressive control over her in England. Not only does Adah feel disconnected from her nature, but Francis feels more controlling in civilization. As I said previously, women are more connected to nature because they act on emotions and instinct. In addition, men are closer to “civilization” because they are closer to “logic” and “rationality” (I’m not saying I necessarily agree with these things–men can be pretty silly and impulsive–but these are common conceptions among ecofeminist scholarship). Thus, because Adah is away from her natural environment and Francis is thriving in his new environment, he oppresses Adah through emotional and physical abuse. These are things that he would not have attempted to do in Nigeria because in Nigeria (being closer to Mother Nature) Adah had a “home field advantage.” By oppressing Adah, Francis is also oppressing Mother Nature because Adah is representative of nature.

Though there are many “brands” of ecofeminism, here is a cool video that presents many fundamental aspects of ecofeminism well:

The Witch and Lolly Willowes: Spoilers (Did I mention spoilers?)

john_henry_fuseli_-_the_nightmare

by Simon Cropp

Understanding modernity in a literary context becomes difficult as Rita Felski notes in “Modernity and Feminism” due to “a cacophony of different and often dissenting voices” (13) trying to explain exactly what the modern is. Felski writes, “To be modern is to be on the side of progress, reason, and democracy, or, by contrast to align oneself with ‘disorder, despair, and anarchy’” (13). But this is only a piece of what modernity can be for Feslki.

Felski explains that modernity for some “comprises an irreversible historical process that includes not only the repressive forces of bureaucratic and capitalist domination but also the emergence of a potentially emancipatory, . . . self-critical, ethics of communicative reason” (13). These concepts are important in Sylvia Townsend Warner’s novel Lolly Willow’s when Laura sheds the oppressive shackles of “repressive forces” to ultimately find a kind of emancipation from the life she lived under a dominating, patriarchal rule.

Much can be said about the fact that Laura moves under the rule of another male authority– represented by Satan–when she becomes one of the witches of Great Mop. But it is also worth noting, the repressive order of Britain’s primarily male hegemonic structure no longer rules her, and Satan’s “rules” are easily understood to be much looser and more in line with Laura’s self-interests. Whatever rules he may have.

An interesting recuperation of the spirit of Warner’s story has recently occurred in thethe_witch_poster world of independent movies with the release of 2015’s horror film The Witch. Whether or not director Robert Eggers is a closet Lolly Willowes fan is not worth the debate, but the thematic core of his film is remarkably similar to Warner’s classic text. While vastly different in tone, Eggers presents his viewers with a young female protagonist named Thomasin who is the oldest daughter in a family run by a strict, puritan patriarch. Her father’s adherence to religious doctrine places Thomasin in the role of serving her family with no regard for herself. When her father decides the seventeenth-century puritan village they live in is not holy enough, he moves his small family deep into the woods to be closer to God. Instead, Thomasin and her family find themselves overcome by a series of tragic events that could be due to nature, madness, or perhaps a haunting by a witch who lives in the woods.

This concept of Puritan developments in the seventeenth-century becoming too big, too modern, is not something only believed by Thomasin’s father.

In her article “The Puritan Cosmopolis: A Covenantal View,” Nan Goodman writes about recent scholarship on Puritan globalism “that defined English sovereignty in this period and that characterized the colonization and imperialism inherent in the Puritans’ settlements in New England” (4). Compare this concept of Puritan globalism to Felski’s expanded notions on modernity. Feslki writes, “On the other hand, the idea of the modern was deeply implicated from its beginnings with a project of domination over those seen to lack this capacity for reflective reasoning. In the discourses of colonialism, for example, the historical distinction between the modern present and the primitive past was mapped onto the spatial relations between Western and non-Western societies” (14). Colonialism has a long history in the United States, and despite commonly held views that Puritans retreated from the modernizing of the world, the opposite is perhaps true in the sense that Puritans used the modernizing of the world for their own proselytizing.

eggers-witch-650So when The Witch begins with Thomasin’s father, William, delivering a speech before his friends, neighbors, and perhaps family, that he has presumably traveled from England with to start life anew, the meaning of the speech has particular relevance given Felski’s and Goodman’s context. William says in the opening of the film, “What went we out into this wilderness to find? Leaving our country, kindred, our fathers’ houses? We have travailed a vast ocean. For what? For what? What went we out into this wilderness to find? Leaving our country, kindred, our fathers’ houses? We have travailed a vast ocean. For what? For what? . . . Was it not for the pure and faithful dispensation of the Gospels, and the Kingdom of God?” Here seems to stand a man who does not understand the method and practice of those he thought he knew. So William takes his family and moves them deep into the New England countryside to find a more pure way toward “the Kingdom of God.”

Soon puritanical madness overtakes the family, and because Thomasin is on the verge of womanhood, the family turns on her and believes she has made a pact with Satan. That she has become a witch herself. As viewers, we know this to be untrue, and if the images on the screen are to be trusted, we know a witch in the woods is causing the family’s torment. Thomasin behaves exactly as a young woman of her time is supposed to behave. She takes care of children, cooks, cleans, prays, and does everything the hegemonic order of her community has asked.

At one point in the film, her father—who seems to be her only true ally in the family—suggests to her mother that they take her back to the village and marry her off. That her problems will be fixed by this solution.

The mother’s anger wins the father over though, and they decide Thomasin is a witch, though the film clearly depicts her as innocent. Dutiful, good-natured, kind-hearted. Everything she has been raised to be. It seems as if her fate will be to be burned as a witch though she clearly is not one at all.

Ultimately tragedy befalls the entire family, and Thomasin learns there is a witch in the woods, but worse, Satan has been on their property the entire time hiding amidst their livestock. He has been watching her suffer at the hands of her family, and in the end, he takes a human form and offers her freedom from the oppressive control of her community. All she has to do is sign his book, or consent to his rule, become a witch, like the other witches that have been in the woods all along.lucifer-renewed-season-2

Thomasin takes him up on his offer, and the film ends with her gleeful laughter as she leaves Satan behind and joins a coven of witches around a fire. Finally, she is free from the oppressive rule of her society.

A Little History about Witches and their References in Lolly Willowes

Throughout Lolly Willowes there is a variety of references to witches (and the history of witches) before Laura Willowes makes a deal with the devil. As we find out later in the novel, Laura’s interest in brewing, botany, and nature is because she is a witch. Although Laura has a fascinating connection with nature and the feminine, I will save this discussion for my response paper on Thursday. For this post, I will take a quick look at a few (not all) of the references or allusions to witches or witchcraft in the novel.

The first encounter with witchcraft history is alluded to in the setting of Somerset. Though Laura did not commit herself to witchcraft during her youth in Somerset, her interests in brewing, botany, and nature are rooted there. In my brief searching, I found that witchcraft has an interesting history in Somerset (and still has an active Wicca culture today). During the 1660s the Somerset Witch Trials took place (though not as prominent as the Salem Witch Trials). Though I did not find extensive research on the Somerset Witch Trials, I found that Robert Hunt, an English lawyer and politician, uncovered a cult of witches in Somerset. I think it is interesting and purposeful that Townsend chose Somerset as Laura’s first home considering the history of witchcraft. (Somerset pictured below).

 

There are also a few places in the novel where specific books are referenced that discuss witches. On page 25, Laura mentions learning from “Locke on the Understanding or Ganvil on Witches” (Townsend 25). Though I couldn’t find exactly what Laura was referring to, I found that John Locke and Joseph Glanvill did some writing about witches. I could not find exactly what Locke wrote about witches; however I found that Glanvill wrote Saducismus Triumphatus (pictured below), which is a book about the existence of witches and witchcraft.

 

After moving to Great Mop, Laura develops an interest in getting her landlady, Mrs. Leak, to talk to her. Though this relationship takes time to build, eventually they discover their shared interest in distillery. Mrs. Leak begins opening up to Laura and telling her vivid stories about the townspeople. During some of Mrs. Leak’s stories, Laura compares her to “the Witch of Endor calling up old Samuel” (Townsend 115). The Witch of Endor (pictured below) is an interesting character in the Bible’s Book of Samuel. This is also a fascinating connection to make because the Witch of Endor brought Samuel back from the dead. I would say that this comparison implies that Mrs. Leak has the ability to “bring” people “back to life” through the use of her stories. However, I think it is also significant to note that Laura is comparing Mrs. Leak to a witch (and a biblical witch for that matter) before she even knows that she or Mrs. Leak are witches.

 

Here are a few other links to sites with history about witches and witchcraft:

http://www.historyextra.com/witchcraft

http://www.witchcraftandwitches.com/history_modern.html

http://www.pendlewitches.co.uk/witchcraft/

And here is an interesting video about witch trials that occurred in the 16th and 17th centuries:

 

Warner, Sylvia Townsend. Lolly Willowes. New York Review Books, 1999.

~~Meghan~~

Red and White Roses: Love and Silence-Meghan

Warning: I’m going to nerd out on plants again.

As I briefly discussed in class last night, one of the articles from my annotated bibliography discussed the meanings of plants in Mrs. Dalloway. In her article, “Nature as Symbol and Influence: The Role of Plants in Mrs. Dalloway,” Jeanne Shearer explains a bit of history about plant symbolism. I am just going to throw in a few fun facts here from Shearer’s article because they are fascinating, and then I will talk about Mrs. Dalloway, I promise.

Fun fact 1: “In nineteenth-century Europe, flower symbolism appeared in the popular flower language…[which] consisted of certain flowers representing specific words or phrases; combinations of significant flowers could thus spell out whole sentences” (Shearer 26). Isn’t that cool? I wish we still spoke in flower language.

Fun fact 2: “Several Greek myths deal with the origin of certain flowers, many of which are described as having come from the blood or tears of certain gods and goddesses” (Shearer 26).

Anyway, back to Mrs. Dalloway. Since there is SO much plant symbolism in the novel I am going to stick to the scene that Richard gives Clarissa red and white roses and does not say what he is feeling. Shearer claims that roses in general “symbolize love and beauty” and that red and white roses “are a symbol of unity” (26). Since Clarissa is having issues with her identity and searching for herself, Shearer claims that the white and red roses signify a unity with Richard because she identifies as his wife, as Mrs. Dalloway (26). However, I looked into this a little bit more and found some other interesting factors that could contribute to our reading of the flowers. According to the article, “Flower Meanings: Language of Flowers,” in  The Old Farmer’s Almanac, white roses symbolize purity, innocence, reverence, and silence, whereas red roses symbolize love and desire (just for kicks and for the sake of this blog post, let’s pretend the white roses are a symbol for Clarissa, and the red roses are a symbol for Richard). The two words I found most compelling in these descriptions are “reverence” and “silence.” If we apply these words to how we read Clarissa, I think we can learn something about her internal struggles. Because we know that Clarissa is having somewhat of an identity crisis, I think the symbolism of “reverence” in the white roses could refer to her reflecting on her past, when she enjoyed life and was proud of who she was. She is searching for her identity but she is tied to Richard and has lost her independence, which brings me to the next word: silence. If Clarissa has lost her identity and is now defined by her husband, then “silence” becomes problematic. Although it may be a stretch, I think the white roses could symbolize Clarissa’s silence and her conversion into thinking she know nothing. This could be another way Woolf is depicting male dominance over females in the novel. Before Clarissa was married, she read Plato before breakfast and seemed to be a free-spirit; however, after her marriage, she has been silenced and does not express her opinions or engage in educated conversations. Instead, Clarissa is left worrying about domestic duties, such as throwing a party and entertaining people.

Shifting to Richard (whom I do not have as much to say about), I think the red roses symbolize him because he cannot say what he is thinking. Richard wants to tell Clarissa that he loves her, but he does not use words, he only gives her the flowers. If the flower language that I mentioned at the beginning of this post is still relevant, than maybe he got the idea across. However, let’s assume flower language isn’t common knowledge. Giving someone roses, especially red roses, is pretty cliche. Sure, it is a nice gesture and shows that you were thinking about someone, but it isn’t very original. Flowers are nice, but I think they are a default when you want someone to know (or think) you like them. Richard is hoping that Clarissa understands that he is trying to say “I love you,” but is he really? Or is he telling Clarissa that she needs to remain silent (with the use of the white roses) and that he will appear to love her (with the use of the red roses)? Just a random thought.

Note: I have not found consistent meanings on all of the flowers. I am just going along with the article in the Farmer’s Almanac, like I said before.

Here are a few other sites to check out if you are interested:

http://www.aboutflowers.com/flower-a-plant-information-and-photos/meanings-of-flowers.html

http://www.theflowerexpert.com/content/aboutflowers/flower-meanings

 

 

Mrs. Dalloway- Annotated Bibliography

mrs-dalloway-annotated-bibliography_meghan-miller

Here are a few sources that I ran into while researching, but I did not include in my annotated bibliography. Someone might find them useful:

Colesworthy, Rebecca. “‘The Perfect Hostess’: Mrs. Dalloway, Gift Exchange, and the End of Laissez-Faire.” Modernist Cultures, vol. 9, no. 2, Fall 2014, pp. 158-185.

Czarnecki, Kristin, and Carrie Roman, editors. Virginia Woolf and the Natural World: Selected Papers from the Twentieth Annual International Conference on Virginia Woolf. Georgetown University, 2010. (This one looks really interesting, but I haven’t been able to look over it because it just came through on the library exchange).

Tromanhauser, Vicki. “Mrs. Dalloway’s Animals and the Humanist Laboratory.” Twentieth Century Literature, vol. 58, no. 2, Summer 2012, pp. 187-212

Wiechert, Nora. “‘No Sense of Porportion’: Urban Green Space and Mental Health in Mrs. Dalloway.” Virginia Woolf Miscellany, vol. 78, Fall 2010, pp. 21-23.

 

Meghan Miller