The Dragonfly and Raven

The Dragonfly and Raven

Friday, March 10, 2017

Genderfluidity in Virginia Woolf's Orlando

At the center of Virginia Woolf's Orlando is the issue of gender expression and gender identity. In the beginning of Orlando, Orlando is a boy—and quite clearly male-identifying. Orlando is described with he/him/his pronouns (henceforth referred to as male pronouns), and does nothing to defy gender roles, nor voice discontent or conflict with their identity. In Constantinople, however, this changes. Orlando has their biological sex change from biosex male to biosex female. Because of this change of biosex, Woolf's biographer makes the decision to switch from male pronouns to she/her/hers pronouns (henceforth referred to as female pronouns). I believe that this is a mistake on the part of the Woolf's biographer—as I do not believe that Orlando identifies as a woman the entirety of the time that they exist after the transformation; rather, that they are gender-fluid. This belief comes from Orlando's internal struggle that occurs throughout the novel after their transformation, and from the actions that Orlando takes after their transformation. Thus, to eliminate confusion, I will use they/them/their (henceforth referred to as gender neutral pronouns) to refer to Orlando.

The first hint at Orlando not belonging to the gender assigned to them takes place almost immediately after their biosex transformation, “Orlando had become a woman—there is no denying it. But in every other respect, Orlando remained precisely as he had been. The change of sex, though it altered their nature, did nothing whatever to alter their identity” (Woolf 102). In these lines, Woolf's use of the gender neutral “their” pronoun is most intriguing. By employing this pronoun, it acknowledges the gender identity of Orlando. If Orlando was truly a man or a woman, then Woolf would have used male or female pronouns. Instead, she uses the gender neutral ones. Additionally, the lines following those quoted above explain that female pronouns are used “for convention's sake.” By using this as the explanation of the use of female pronouns, Woolf is saying that it is not because Orlando is a woman that female pronouns are used, but because of Orlando's biosex that female pronouns are used—granting credence to their pronouns not being female. The historical context is important when discussing the use of gender pronouns in Orlando. After all, Woolf was writing during the early Twentieth Century; a time when gender was contentious—and breaking from the gender binary was not something that was done lightly. Even today, this is not an easy topic to discuss—with politicians as powerful as the President of the United States wanting to legalize discrimination against people within the LGBTQIA3+ community. Thus, given the context, it does make sense that Woolf uses female gender pronouns to refer to Orlando after the transformation.

After the biosex change, Orlando has to come to terms with the difference in their lives that having a different perceived gender entails. For Orlando, this comes with resistance to the norms of the gender binary that is omnipresent in English society, which occurs nearly instantaneously in Orlando after their return to English society aboard the Enamored Lady after their time with the Romani:

And here it would seem from some ambiguity in her terms that she was censuring both sexes equally, as if she belonged to neither, and indeed, for the time being she seemed to vacillate; she was man; she was woman; she knew the secrets, the weakness of each. It was a most bewildering and whirligig state of mind to be in (Woolf 117).

Here, we see the clear admission by Woolf that Orlando does not accept their assigned gender, nor the gender that they had been assigned prior to their biosex change. Further, it shows that they know about, and have experienced the aspects of both genders—and that, in fact, they are both man and woman at the same time. Further though, the biographer talks about how Orlando “pitted one sex against the other, and found each alternately full of the deplorable infirmities, and was not sure to which she belonged” (Woolf 117). This shows that Orlando, while belonging to both the male and female genders, also belongs to neither. This further lends to Orlando being a gender-fluid individual through their own thoughts.

The next night, Orlando goes back on what they said before, thinking, “[ignorant] and poor as [women] are to the other sex” (Woolf 117). This line, on its own, seems to say that Orlando has settled the internal turmoil that their mind was the night before, settling the “whirligig state of mind,” and accepting the assigned gender given to them by the gender-binary. Indeed, they yell out at one point later that day, “Praise God that I'm a woman!” (Woolf 119). This appears to be a full-fledged acceptance of their assigned gender. However, after praising God, the biographer notes that Orlando pauses on the word “woman.” If Orlando does truly embrace their new assigned gender, with the fervor that is implied by their exclamation, then it behooves us to ask why Orlando paused on the word “woman.” The normal reasons for pausing in speech usually come about for the benefit of the audience—such as letting what was said sink in, or building tension to emphasis what is being said. However, Orlando does not have an audience. This leaves but one reason for Orlando to pause—for uncertainty. Orlando pauses after saying “woman” because they are uncertain as to their truly being a woman. This confusion is compounded by the sexuality of Orlando, as Orlando, at the time of this exclamation, does express sexual desire for women (Woolf 119). So, not only is Orlando dealing with existing outside of the gender-binary, but they are also confronting the power of heteronormativity. While this is another interesting aspect of Orlando's life, it warrants an investigation of its own, which is not within the purview of this essay. Though it would appear that Orlando is bisexual or pansexual based on the partners that they have throughout the novel.

The gender identity of an individual is something that every person must decide for themselves. In order to know the gender identify of others, we must ask them how they identify. However, there are also assumptions that everyone makes based off of the gender-expression of individuals. In the case of Orlando, gender-expression can key the reader in on their gender identity, as their mind is in conflict with this point. One of the ways in which gender-expression occurs that is most apparent is clothing. Men and women, throughout history in a majority of societies, have different ways in which they dress. This is acknowledged by Woolf's biographer, who goes as far as to say that the clothing is what ties the gender of an individual together, and that this can be completely independent, if not “in opposition” to the sex beneath the clothing (Woolf 139). This showing of clothing affecting expression is seen distinctly when Orlando encounters Nell. In this encounter, Orlando dresses and acts like a man—because, at that moment, Orlando is a man. Woolf's biographer continues to use female pronouns to refer to Orlando during this encounter, however, I believe that that is due to the time period and the power of the gender-binary, and the fear of it influencing her work (through censorship or just refusal to publish her work), because Woolf does acknowledge that at the moment Orlando is a man. This occurs when Woolf says, “Yet, having been so lately a woman herself” (158). With this phrase, Woolf is writing in the past perfective tense, meaning that Orlando was a woman recently, but is no longer. Woolf reinforces this point when she says, “She had, it seems, no difficulty in sustaining the different parts, for her sex changed far more frequently than those who have worn only one set of clothing can conceive” (Woolf 161). With this, Woolf is acknowledging both the changes of gender that Orlando undertakes, and how that is influenced by the clothing that Orlando wears.


Gender is a constant in the lives of everyone. Whether subtle or explicit, it affects how we act, how we express ourselves, and how we think. Likewise, gender is central in the life of Orlando in Virginia Woolf's Orlando. In Orlando, Orlando begins as a man in the court of Queen Elizabeth I, and is later the subject of a biosex change from their original biosex male state to that of a biosex female. While the biographer, and others in the novel, refer to Orlando as a woman, Orlando is actually a gender-fluid individual. Woolf shows this through her use of the gender-neutral “their” pronoun at the time of the transformation and with the internal conflict that Orlando has between identifying with being a man and being a woman and their feeling that they belong to both and neither of the genders at the same time. This uncertainty is compounded by the lack of language and discussion of the gender-binary, and of heteronormativity (as Orlando most certainly does not “fit” within the heteronormative framework of society at the time that they lived). Gender expression, then, is important for us, as readers, in determining Orlando's gender identity, as Orlando may not be able to express their own identity. With this, clothing is a vital way for Orlando to express their gender. When examining their expression through clothing, we find that the clothes that Orlando wears define the gender that Orlando has at that moment. Putting all of these things together allow us to clearly see that Orlando is a gender-fluid individual.  

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

"Edric Maddock's Speech at Lincoln Castle to the TUC (1910)"

This is an essay that I wrote for my PS 386 class on the differences between the British and American Labour movements.

"Thank you President Haslam! What a great introduction! I think that you were talking about some other guy, because you definately weren't talking about me." Laughs.

"Greetings, comrades! Before I begin, I would like to thank Her Majesty's Government for allowing us to use this space, and the staff of Lincoln Castle for being so excellent and accomidating. For those of you who don't know me, my name is Ederic Maddock. I am a member of Northern Counties Amalgamated Association of Weavers, and I have come here to speak to you today about my assignment to the United States of America, by President Shackelton, to investigate why the labour movement, which looked like it was going to be as successful in the United States as it was here in Britain, back thirty years ago, in 1880, has since failed.

"Thirty years ago, the labour movements of both Britain and the United States looked very much alike. Both of these fine countries had labour working with, and in, politics. In the United States, this was primarily with the Knights of Labor, and here in Britain, there is our great union, and the Labour Party, a bit later on. In both countries, the people sought to have better and safer working conditions, rights for children, and shorter working days. In short, in both of countries, there was a push toward policies that would not only help those organized in labour seeking to pass them, but rather policies that would benefit all workers. Here in Britain, I would say that this quest has been successful, with the passing of the Golden Formula and the Trade Disputes Bill1. We have achieved our goals. We, the workers, the proletariat, have risen, and have made the world more equitable and just. In the United States, however, it has only gotten worse for labour since the 1880s. Labour has stopped federating, and seeking universalist policies altogether, instead opting for policies that benefit individual unions more2. Further, labour has withdrawn almost entirely from politics, as the leaders of the AFL (known rather ironically as the American Federation of Labor) have taken the position that working through politics is a waste of time3.

"This is why I was given my assignment by President Shackelton, well over a year ago now. He wanted to know why the labour movement in the United States failed so utterly, when here in Britian it has succeeded. So, I hopped on a boat, and sailed across the Atlantic, finding myself in New York City. There, I talked with an old union organizer who was associated with the Knights of Labor, an early American federation of unions, named Daniel Blackstone. Mr. Blackstone told me about the history of the Knights, and how they brought together both skilled and unskilled workers to help each other with strikes and boycotts, but then, additionally, to form labour parties in different states to help pass pro-labour legislation4. However, the judiciary in the United States, along with President Taft, worked together to strike down any and all reforms that the Knights were able to pass, eventually leading people to turn to the aforementioned poorly named American Federation of Labor, which focuses on craft labourers, and works with the existing political system instead of trying to change it fundamentally5. This, I was told by an AFL member named George Chapman.

"A momement ago, I mentioned that the judiciary in the United States struck down the legislation and reforms that the Knights and Labour passed. I understand if this is a confusing idea, as here in Britain, the Parliment is the most powerful part of government. However, in the United States, it is the judiciary that holds the reigns of power. Due to how the American Constitution is set up, the judiciary can rule laws to be valid or not based off of if they act in accordance with the Constitution. They call it judicial review. A helpful process, perhaps, but as I learned through my discussion of the matter with former federal judge Tristan Adams, it was used tyrannically in the United States against labour. Working off of common law, and the Constitution, Adams told me, that both he and most of his compatriots, saw the legislation being passed by the Knights and Labour and affiliated groups and persons, to be part of a conspiracy to deprive business of their capital6—just as happened here, in Britain. However, here in Britain, Parliment has the power7. This is why, we, the workers, were able to organize and pass our reforms and legislation—because we have a system that allows us to do so. At first, we aligned ourselves with the Liberals8, and we had the Golden Formula passed. Eventually, we created our own party, and passed the Trade Disputes Bill, something that would not have been possible in the United States9.

"I have been rather hard on the American Federation of Labor today, and I think that it was a tad unjust of me to do so. After all, the reason that they are not working to seek political gains is because the only political gains that they can make are really within the legislatures of both state and federal government. And, to be frank, that is simply not enough in the United States. In order to truly see political reform in that country, labour will need to replace the judiciary with sympathetic candidates. This means that our brother and sister workers across the pond will have to play the long game, continuing to elect pro-labour candidates, and hopefully presidents, until judicial positions become vacant, and then they can be filled by pro-labour judges. This is what they should do. However, comrades, I do not think that this is going to happen...at least not any time soon.

"I talked with a printer in Washington, a Mr. Horace Vlain, who told me about how it was working as a skilled worker in the United States. Being a craftsman, Mr. Vlain knew that he could not be unceramoniously replaced by any random John on the street. However, unskilled workers could be. This is why Mr. Vlain and his union joined the American Federation of Labor, which focuses on craft workers. Because of the job security granted to them by their education and training, they could work together to gain benefits for their unions and members in a way that was much more efficient, and plausible, than if they had worked with unskilled union workers. This was good for Mr. Vlain, and for many like him. But it also left many in the dust, like Mr. Thomas Wozniak, a Polish immigrant who works in the steel mills, who has had no improvement to his work life with the dominance of the American Federation of Labor's "Voluntarism."

"That, comrades, is what I learned in my assignment to the United States to study her labour movement. While both her and Britian started with a strong mindset for change through politics and for policies that would benefit workers everywhere, the fundamentally different governmental structures in the two countries led to oppossing outcomes. Here, in Britain, Parliment is the most powerful part of government, and being democratic, we were able to use it to pass our legislation and reforms, and thus solidly root social democracy in the hearts and minds of our country. In the United States, however, the judiciary is able to overturn laws that it deems to be "unconstitutional." This, paired with a conservative judiciary, has led to all of the laws and reforms that American labour has passed to be shot down, which then has led to the abandonment of politics by labour, and a fragmented movement, and the rise of the American Federation of Labor and their particularist polcies and tactics. Awful as it is, it does make sense.

"Again, I would like to thank Presient Haslam for having me to speak to you all today, Her Majesty's Government, for allowing us to use Lincoln Castle—is it not a beautiful place?—, the Lincoln Castle staff, and of course, I would like to thank all of you for listening to me. I hope that in the future, American Labour will be able to suceed, like we have, here in Britain."

1Forbath, "Law and the Shaping of Labor Politics," 215.
2Ibid, 210
3Ibid.
4Ibid.
5Ibid.
6Ibid, 212.
7Ibid, 214.
8Ibid, 214-15.

9Ibid, 219.

The Southern Civil Rights and Black Power Movements

Race has always been a problem in the United States. The fledgling republic nearly committed genocide against the various Native Americans. Italian, Irish, and Jewish immigrants were treated with disdain. Chinese immigrants who helped build the West were openly discriminated against, as were Japanese Americans during the WWII. Today, the Republican Party and President Trump actively work to injure and remove Hispanic and Muslim Americans and immigrants. However, none of this compares to the treatment of Blacks in the United States. Since its founding, the United States has built its progress and growth on the broken backs of black bodies. Slavery was a fundamental component of the Southern economy, taking a civil war to remove the de jure slavery from the United States—however this did nothing to combat the de facto slavery that existed for Blacks in the United States that stemmed from segregation laws and the complete lack of economic and political power after their emancipation. In response to this state of inequality (both racially and economically), two disparate, yet interconnected, movements rose in an attempt to improve the lives of Blacks in the United States. There were the Integrationists (also known more broadly as the Southern Civil Rights Movement or the Civil Rights Movement) and the Black Power Movement. Both movements viewed the then-present condition of the United States and race relations differently. Both had different goals, politically and socially, and different ways of achieving those goals. However, these discordant movements did influence each other, and their leaders did have a dialogue.

The Integrationist and Black Power movements were born out off the mass-suburbanization of whites in the US and the mass urbanization of blacks post-WWII with the collapse of the sharecropping system, and the advent of the GI Bill (Hall 1239). The Integrationist Movement sprung out of the Black Churches that grew to incredible prominence, both politically and socially, with the massive influx of blacks from rural America (Morris 4). The Church served as a social nexus for blacks in America, allowing for political organization that would otherwise be impossible for impoverished individuals (as almost all blacks were) to undertake. The NAACP was also created around this time, with a goal to end of the de jure segregation that was so prominent in the country at the time. While the Integrationist Movement was large, and had many leaders, the most well-known of the movement's leaders is Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He saw the United States as a nation that was segregated—a nation divided culturally. This divide, to Dr. King, prevents Americans from seeing the promise of freedom and human rights that is promised to all both in the foundations of the American Democracy, and then also with the common Hebraic-Christian heritage that is shared by many in the nation (Washington 118-119). It is this belief that Dr. King and others in the the Integrationist Movement held that led to their use of nonviolent demonstrations in the form of civil disobedience, boycotting, sit-ins, and freedom-riding that still hold a striking image in the national psyche of the era—for it was the goal of the Integrationists to first desegregate, and then integrate both Black and White America. However, not everyone saw the United States in such a positive light.

While the Integrationist Movement was rising the in the South, the Black Power Movement was rising in the North, Midwest, and the West. Unlike the Integrationist Movement, the Black Power Movement did not think that integration was the answer. Instead, the Black Power Movement advocated for self-determination and racial solidarity (Joseph 22), as well as proper representation within government (Marable and Mullings 445). The Black Power Movement saw the US since its inception as being flawed—having been built on the backs of black slaves—comparing the US to a colonizer, and blacks as the colonized (Ibid.). Integration is also, in the mind of Stokely Carmichael, a further subversion of the black vis-a-vis the white—as integration is not a marriage of black and white cultures, but rather black culture being consumed and destroyed by white culture (Ibid. 445-446). Thus, Black Power is a type of self-defense against White America and Supremacy (Ibid. 444) This view of the world does not lend itself to the idea of nonviolent protest. If the problem is not one of ethics, but one of power, then arguments to morality will not be sufficient in the alleviation of the plight of blacks. Rather, it will take direct action, through the accumulation of economic and political power by blacks in order to force positive social change—which, at its core, was the goal of the Movement.

As mentioned above, the Integrationist and Black Power Movements utilized different tactics to work toward their goals. The Integrationist Movement, seeking to bring Black and White America together, implemented tactics that aimed to change the hearts and minds of White America. Their choice of tactics was heavily influenced by those used by Mahatma Gandhi to win independence from the British (Washington 124). The Integrationist Movement used boycotts (cf. the Montgomery Bus Boycott), sit-ins (cf. Greensboro) (Black Southern Student 748), speeches, and rallies (cf. March on Washington). The Black Power Movement worked towards its goals by first gaining control of black organizations (cf. SNCC) from the top-down, allowing for self-determination (Marable and Mullings 445), along with attempts to take over majority-black districts in the South, and the appointment of sympathetic individuals into county-level positions of power (Ibid. 454), the creation of a third political party in the Black Panthers (Joseph 28), and the accumulation of capital by blacks to increase their economic positions (Marable and Mullings 445).

These two movements were quite different, in terms of worldview, goals, and the ways in which they sought to accomplish those goals. However, they did influence each other greatly. Perhaps the best example of this comes with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). SNCC was founded around the same time as the NAACP, and was an instrumental part of the early Integrationalist Movement that would eventually be taken over by Stokely Carmichael, and shift its allegiance to the Black Power, it did retain its political activism and engagement. Furthermore, Dr. King's “Beyond Vietnam” speech spoke of and with the same anti-colonial conviction that Black Power utilized for many years prior.


With the mass suburbanization of whites and the mass urbanization of blacks in the United States, two disparate yet interconnected movements came into existence—those being the Integrationist Movement and the Black Power Movement. The Integrationist Movement saw the United States as being divided, and overlooking its bonds and obligations both to the fundamental nature of the democracy, and of the shared Hebraic-Christian heritage. The goal of the Movement was integration of blacks and whites in society. To do this, the Movement utilized boycotts, sit-ins, and other forms of nonviolent civil disobedience, in an argument to the morality of White America, hoping to change its antiquated beliefs. Meanwhile, the Black Power Movement viewed America as a flawed state—one built on the exploitation of black bodies—a colonizer. Seeing the condition of blacks as being resultant of economics and power dynamics, the Black Power Movement believed that it would only be through these approaches that Black America would be able to achieve their ultimate goals—self-determination and racial solidarity. This involved complete control of black organizations, as well as actively seeking to consolidate political power in majority-black districts and capital through control of county political positions, among other methods. Lastly, both movements, while different, influenced each other, as is proven with Dr. King's “Beyond Vietnam” speech. Thus is how both the Integrationist and Black Power Movements had similar goals which they then approached differently.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Primeval Elements and the French Revolution as Portrayed by Dickens

Earth. Fire. Water. Air. These were the four original elements recognized by European scientific thought. These powerful, primal elements, exist both as the mundane (cf. drinking water and a campfire) and as the extraordinary (cf. a rising tide and a great blaze)—able to exert a massive and terrible force upon those unfortunate enough to be in their paths. They are overwhelming. They are unstoppable. They are inevitable. The rising tide of the sea cares not if one is a king or a peasant—they will be swallowed just the same. In Chapter 21 through 23 of A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens uses the imagery of the primal elemental forces in his description of the French Revolution and the actions that the revolutionaries take. This is meant to give the Revolution the feeling of being an overwhelming, unstoppable, and inevitable force—which it does quite well. However, this is a disingenuous invocation on the part of Dickens, as the Revolution was by no means unstoppable, nor inevitable. Further, with this feeling of inevitability comes a feeling of disorganization and chaos—which is also untrue in the Revolution in its insurgent state; though it is an appropriate analogy of the Revolution after it switches from being a revolt to a “government.”

Dickens invokes primal elemental imagery at every level of the three chapters dealing with the storming of the Bastille, and the period of time immediately thereafter. Chapter 22 is titled “The Sea Still Rises,” and Chapter 23 is titled “Fire Rises.” Now, “Fire Rises” is a quite literal title, as fire does indeed rise throughout France, as many homes of nobility are razed (Dickens 242). However, it does carry the double meaning of the the Revolution being this fire, rising and ruining the old social order by utterly destroying it. In order to understand the title of Chapter 22, one must first go back to Chapter 21, where the water analogies first appear. Dickens begins his water analogies with his description of the action around the wine-shop of Monsieur Defarge, comparing it to a whirlpool of boiling water, and telling of how it consumed the blood of the fallen, fueling it further (223). Here, Dickens establishes the idea that the Revolution is all-encompassing, and that it brings all that is around it into its influence. This is true, in the sense of the power of the influence in the immediate vicinity of Paris, but then also France as a whole. It is not true, however, when looking at the larger picture, many states did not spring into democratic uprising—and many still have not.

In the storming of the Bastille, Dickens refers to the revolutionary forces as “the raging sea,” “the living sea,” “the raging storm,” and “the ocean” (224). Dickens uses these analogies to describe the way in which the revolutionaries fight against the defenders of the Bastille. By invoking the imagery of the sea and storm, Dickens evokes a feeling of an overpowering, unrelenting, unavoidable—and mindless—force in the Revolution. This is problematic for a few reasons. First, there is the unstoppable feeling that the Revolution gains with this imagery. By no means was the Revolution unstoppable. Democratic uprisings have occurred several times throughout history prior to the French Revolution, and many times since then. From Athens to many of the South American States and Eastern European States, republics and democracy fails fairly consistently. With the proper organization and response, it is entirely feasible that the Revolution could have been destroyed with the storming of the Bastille, instead of succeeding. Second, there is the mindlessness that accompanies with the sea and storms. These are primeval powers, which are not selective nor exclusive about what they do to other persons or things, they simply exist as they are. They consume all that stands in their way, and ignore any blows against them, as they are completely ineffectual. This is not the case with the Revolution—at least not in the case of the storming of the Bastille. This calamitous event had a tremendous amount of planning and organization behind it, with Defarge and several of the Jacques giving orders—both to strike against the Bastille (223), and then later the tactical positioning for the assault of the accursed place (224).

This, in turn, shows the third problem with the sea and storm analogies: the seeming inevitability that exists with these two forces. Many proponents of ideologies, if not all, believe that the adoption of their ideology is inevitable. This is the case with Marx, and with many today in regards to globalization, capitalism, and the free market economy—and this is the case with democracy, especially as described by Dickens. With Marx, and Communism, the world has seen it attempt to emerge, and fail, at several points in time, namely with the USSR and Mao's China. The same can be said in regards to free market capitalism, which several key states actively resisting it (viz. China). Looking at democracy and republicanism, neither is inevitable, for if it was, would democracy and republics not be the default form of government? And further, why would democracy fail so often, if they were the inevitable trend of humanity? No, democracy and republicanism are by no means inevitable. The other aspect of inevitability is  the implication that what is inevitable should happen on its own. However, that is not what happens with the Revolution. It takes years upon years of planning and preparation by Defarge, and others, to commence the revolution. If it was not for the actions of organizers, like those aforementioned above, the Revolution would not have happened. Thus, the sea and storm analogies are disingenuous.

At the same time, however, the mindlessness that is evoked by these analogies is incredibly apt in describing the behavior and the actions of the fledgling democracy that emerges from the Revolution. Full of executions, and without any real course of appeal, the First French Republic is a shining example of the chaos of democracy, and the tyrannical nature of a government controlled by the majority. With the united power of the majority of the population against the ruling minority, the majority is able to dethrone the minority, and institute their equally as tyrannical rule of law—rather it simply targets a different group of people. Given this newfound power, and a spiteful, vengeance-fueled collective mindset, the First French Republic acts with the same destructive, mindless, and overwhelming power that a true storm would1. And, save for the minority having some sort of weapon or other device (physical or incorporeal) that can “even the odds” between them and the majority, or some other third-party's interference, the actions of the majority, once in power, are truly unstoppable.

Originally, the fundamental forces of our world were earth, fire, water, and air. While they are no longer seen as the basis of all things that exist in our world, these elements still hold an important, and powerful, position in our collective consciousness. Great typhoons and tsunamis, earthquakes and forest fires all evoke feelings of helplessness for those thinking of them from their overwhelming, unstoppable, chaotic, and inevitable nature. To invoke these awesome primal forces in writing is to evoke these same feelings in the mind of the reader, thus associating the object described with this language to that which describes it. In the case of A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, the use of primal elemental invocation is utilized with the description of the French Revolution, and in particular, the storming of the Bastille. This invocation is disingenuous, as the Revolution is not at all unstoppable, nor is it inevitable or even chaotic. Democracy and republicanism is also misrepresented by the purposeful use of this imagery. It is only after the Revolution has concluded, and the First French Republic takes its place, that such imagery begins to fit that which Dickens is describing.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Sethe and Sethe

Central to the story that Toni Morrison's Beloved is trying to tell is the relationship that exists between Sethe and the thing that is called Beloved. As far as Sethe is concerned in the novel, the thing called Beloved is the ghost of the child that she kills when the men without skin come to take her and her children back to Sweet Home that has taken a physical form to live again with her mother. Morrison also presents Beloved as a metaphor; a representation for all of the slaves that suffered and died during their forced passage into the Americas, which is made clear in the epigraph of the novel, and the chapter containing no punctuation (Morrison 323-24; 248-52). While the presentation of Beloved as a metaphor for those lost in the passage is both true and clear, Beloved being the child that Sethe kills when the slavecatchers come, that has returned to her mother is an erroneous belief that Sethe, Denver, and the other characters within Beloved hold. The thing that is Beloved is, in fact, the manifestation of the subconscious of Sethe, that takes physical form and torments Sethe in the real world, until Sethe is finally able to come to terms with herself and her actions at the end of Beloved.

If Beloved is the manifestation of Sethe's subconscious that has taken a physical form, this behooves one to ask why Sethe's subconscious would be bothering her. The answer is quite simple, really. Sethe's subconscious is bothering her because of her guilt for killing of her child. Throughout the novel, Sethe denies feeling any guilt for killing of her child, saying to Paul D. when he confronts her on the incident, “It felt good. Good and right,” (190). Perhaps Sethe does not feel conscious guilt at the time that she is talking to Paul D. about her killing her child. After all, she does not want to see her children live a life of slavery, as she did (192). However, it does not seem as though she truly accepts this rationalization, as she does feel guilt subconsciously, which is revealed in the third book, when she “plead[s] for forgiveness,” from the thing called Beloved—from her own subconscious. At this point, her subconscious is not willing to reconcile with Sethe, which is why “Beloved denie[s] [her pleas of regret and claims of love],” (284). It is important to note that this admission of guilt does not happen between the Sethe and another individual, as she is not able to admit guilt to other people. It happens only between her and herself. This is also why Sethe's subconscious takes the shape and name of the child that she killed, because she still feels the guilt of the act—and what better way to represent this guilt, and to elicit Sethe's guilt to the forefront of her mind.

Before going any further, it is prudent to go back to discuss why exactly this manifestation came about in the first place, advancing from an incorporeal existence to a corporeal one. It seems that Sethe's inner turmoil came to a head with the arrival of Paul D. at 124. Moreso, it is when Paul D. and Sethe become intimate, and Sethe begins to enjoy herself that the manifestation starts to act up, throwing a table at Paul D. (22). This is because of the guilt that Sethe feels for killing her child. Because of this guilt, Sethe's subconscious refuses to allow for her to be happy with her life—as she does not feel like she deserves being able to enjoy herself. The initial combat with Paul D. was not enough to get him out of Sethe's life, however, which is why Sethe's subconscious takes a physical form as Beloved. This explains why Beloved is so hostile with Paul D., and why it slowly moves Paul D. further and further away from Sethe (134). It even explains why, when it was not able to fully get Paul D. out of the house, that it began to have sex with Paul D., to undermine his drive to have sex with Sethe, thus denying Sethe of the pleasure from Paul D. being around (138). Additionally, it explains why, when Sethe is contemplating her relationship with Paul D., it chokes Sethe. Sethe believes that she was choked by Baby Suggs, as Baby Suggs was usually the one to rub the Sethe's neck. However, the timing of Sethe's Paul D. contemplation, followed by Beloved then putting its hands around her neck as a way to provide punishment for Sethe' thinking about Sethe's possible pleasure, followed by relief (if not pleasure) from Beloved works as a way for Beloved to further cultivate Sethe's attachment to it (113). Furthermore, Denver saw Beloved choking Sethe, or at least, she believes that she did, though Beloved denies it (119).

Another reason why Beloved is not the child of Sethe, but rather a manifestation of her subconscious, is because of the knowledge that Beloved has. If Beloved was truly the child of Sethe, and nothing more, then it should not have the memories and knowledge that it has. In fact, it should not have any knowledge of the world, other than perhaps the fact that its mother killed it. Beloved knows more than that. This is first, and perhaps best seen, with it asking about Sethe's diamonds (69). There is no reason for Beloved to have known about the existence of said diamonds, which Sethe had since lost. The reason that Beloved knows about the diamonds is because it is Sethe, and it has the memories that Sethe has and is avoiding thinking about—that she is repressing. Beloved asks about the diamonds in order to get Sethe to think about her marriage with Halle, and how Halle is not around. Ultimately, it asks about the diamonds to get Sethe to think about the day in which she kills her child, so that she will not forget what she has done. So that she is forced to remember. This is also why Beloved asks about Sethe's mother, who it would also have no knowledge of, if it was indeed the child of Sethe, and not an extension of Sethe (72). Beloved asks Sethe about her mother in order to dredge up seldom visited memories of her death, in order to, as before, cause Sethe suffering.

The next, and most damning bits of evidence supporting the claim of Beloved being a manifestation of Sethe's subconscious come late in the novel, in the chapter inside of the mind of Beloved. This chapter is also one of the two places in the novel in which the metaphor of Beloved—that being as representation for the slaves lost in the passage to the Americas, and those who died in servitude. Also in this chapter, Beloved says “I am not separate from her there is no place where I stop,” (248). This is a clear statement by Beloved that it cannot exist without Sethe—that it is Sethe. With this sentence, Morrison is clearly telling her reader that Sethe and Beloved are one in the same, as Beloved is but a mere extension of Sethe, existing as a cancerous, parasitic force—one that exists to bring guilt to Sethe for what she did to her child. To make her suffer, because she cannot forgive herself for what she did. Morrison gives further evidence to this by having Beloved say, “it is my dark face that is going to smile at me the iron circle is around our neck” (250). This is in the middle of a scene in which Beloved is talking about people dying on a slave ship, so it is referring to Beloved being a slave on the ship. However, this phrasing is also used by Beloved to describe the thing that chokes Sethe earlier in the novel, when she was choking Sethe (119). Beloved also refers to the iron circle being around “our neck,” utilizing the first-person plural pronoun to indicate both that it is a metaphor for all slaves, but then also to say that the circle of iron is around the neck that it and Sethe share. Furthermore, Beloved also says that, “her face is mine,” (251). Again, she is referring to another person who is on the ship with her, as she is representing the departed slaves, but she is simultaneously. This is reinforced in the following chapter, in which the voices of Beloved, Denver, and Sethe are merged together. In this chapter, one of the characters says, though it is at first unclear who, “You are my face; I am you,” (256). While it could be Denver or Sethe who said this, it seems unlikely that Sethe or Denver would say this, as neither of them have used language involving the face in such a way before, while Beloved has.

There are two additional, miscellaneous pieces of evidence that point to Beloved being the manifestation of Sethe's subconscious. First, there is the matter of how Beloved acts when Sethe is not in 124 because of her job. During this time, Denver describes Beloved as “private and dreamy or quiet and sullen,” (143). It makes sense that Beloved does not really care for, nor does anything outside of when Sethe is around, as she is part of Sethe, and exists to bring out the guilt that she holds. Additionally, there is the knowledge that Beloved has of the song that Sethe sings to her children, which Beloved then reproduces (207). This can be used to explain that Beloved in the child of Sethe (as Sethe believes) or it can be used to explain that it is a manifestation of Sethe's subconscious. Paired with the rest of the textual evidence though, it further supports the manifestation claim.

Beloved being a manifestation of Sethe's subconscious also helps explain the third book of the novel. Core to this book in the withering of Sethe, and the growth of Beloved. It is explained in the book that Sethe is eating barely anything, while Beloved is eating literally like a pig—albeit, a pig that favors sweets. This gives a literal explanation of the growth of Beloved and the withering of Sethe. However, this growth and withering is also a beautiful metaphor for the domination of Sethe by her subconscious. Over the course of the novel, Beloved drives away all of the joy in the life of Sethe—from her children to Paul D. Now, it is literally taking away her life-force by taking up all of her time and attention. All because Sethe cannot come to terms with what she did. Her guilt is literally consuming her. By the third book of Beloved, Sethe cannot stand up against her guilt, against her subconscious. The one time that she does try, it pushes her down, making her a mess, apologizing for what she did, trying to justify and rationalize her actions—though her subconscious does not accept this (284). It is through the chorus of black women coming to 124 that Sethe is able to break away from the dead-locked focus that she has been giving Beloved for the duration of book three. This allowed for her to see Mr. Bodwin coming to 124, which then triggered her instinct to protect her children, as she had done all of those years ago when she killed her child (309). By attacking Mr. Bodwin, Sethe is finally able to come to terms with what she did before, as this time, she defended her child by fighting the man without skin, instead of killing her child. This act settles her subconscious turmoil, which is why Beloved flees during this time. This act shows to Beloved, to Sethe's subconscious, that she really does and did care for her children and child, respectively.

Toni Morrison's Beloved is a story about relationships. The relationship between master and slave, between Paul D. and Sethe, between Denver and Sethe, and, most importantly, between Sethe and the thing known as Beloved. In the novel, Sethe, Denver, and the other characters believe that Beloved is the spirit of the child that Sethe kills twenty-eight days after she arrives at 124 when the men without skin came to take her and her children back to Sweet Home. This however, is not what Beloved really is. Beloved serves two purposes in Beloved. She acts as a metaphor for those slaves who died in the passage to the Americas and in servitude, but she also serves as the manifestation of Sethe's subconscious—namely, her subconscious guilt for killing her child. This is seen by the form and the name that Beloved takes, being modeled off of this child, in addition to the timing of the arrival of Beloved being around the time that Sethe attempts to allow pleasure into her life—which explains the actions that Beloved takes to deny pleasure from Sethe at every turn. Beloved also holds memories that the child of Sethe could not have, but that Sethe would. Moreover, Beloved utilizes language when describing Sethe and its relationship to Sethe that suggest, if not all-out says, that they are the same person. This claim of Beloved being a manifestation then makes the third book of Beloved make sense as a metaphor for the subconscious of Sethe draining her life-force away, and then explains the departure of Beloved, which is otherwise unclear as to why it happened as it did. Thus, Beloved is a manifestation of Sethe's subconscious.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Grief and Politics in Grecian Tragedy

Grief is constantly entangling itself within politics in the tragedies of ancient Greece. From Aeschylus' Oresteia to Sophocles' Oedipus Rex and Antigone to Euripides' Medea, grief created by inter-familial conflicts and struggles weaves itself directly into the political power landscape of the various city-states represented in the plays of the Greek tragedians. Every character in these plays—from the rulers (Oedipus, Creon, etc.) to their families (Clytaemnestra, Medea, etc.) to their courts (Creon, the choruses, etc.)—have their actions directly related to grief. These actions are related to grief in one of two ways: either in the way of motivating the character to seek some sort of vengeance—namely by taking the law into their own hands, and extracting some sort of pain or committing murder—or by the way of having characters, usually the rulers, take action to stop the effects that they think or see grief is causing. Either of these manifestations of grief is directly related to the political power landscape in the Greek tragedies, as the actors are all figures of significant political clout, and their actions all change the political balance of power of their respective city-states. Furthermore, grief also serves as the main force driving the plot in these plays.

Perhaps the clearest example of grief driving and influencing politics and political action is Aeschylus' Oresteia. In the first of this trio of tragedies, Agamemnon, the central conflict of the play is the return of Agamemnon from the Trojan War, and the hate that  Clytaemnestra has for him because of his murdering of their daughter, Iphigenia (Oresteia 136). This hate is the result of the grief that Clytaemnestra experienced from the death of her daughter that festered for the ten years that Agamemnon fought at the city of Pallas. Clytaemnestra also has motivation for killing her husband due to his return with the concubine, Cassandra (Oresteia 125, 143-144). However, this motivation is an additional motivation for killing Agamemnon, not the prime motivation, for Clytaemnestra's speech to the chorus of Argoan Elders shows her intent to seize control of the city from her husband through the double entendre that she so frequently deploys in the course of the Oresteia, saying, “The city is ours –  in our hands this very day,” and  “Let the best win out,” (Oresteia 115-116). These two lines are a part of a larger speech addressing the victory of the Greek forces at Troy. On their own, these phrases, and the speech itself, could be seen as simply praising the Greeks for their victory. However, given the later murder of her husband to put her and her puppet—Aegisthus—in power, and the description that Clytaemnestra gives of the Trojans as “victims” and that of sobbing infants, these phrases reveal the true, more sinister meaning behind her words.

In the second of the three plays in the Oresteia, The Libation Bearers, grief drives political action in much the same way that it does in Agamemnon. In this play, Orestes kills his mother, Clytaemnestra, because of her having killed his father in the previous play. The play begins with Orestes standing over the grave of his father, mourning him, and vowing to give him the vengeance that he deserves (Oresteia 177-178). This vengeance was also motivated by the desire of Orestes to return home from the exile that Clytaemnestra imposed on him (Oresteia 177), it is motivated by the order of Apollo to get vengeance for Clytaemnestra's actions (Oresteia 191), and it is motivated by the Orestes' desire for power (Oresteia 198). However, the visceral opening of the play gives the reader the first of the motivations for killing his mother—that being the hate that grew from his grief that was allowed to fester in his exile—and the repeated mentioning of this motivation (Oresteia 192, 199) leads one to believe that it is the driving motivation behind the actions of Orestes.

In The Eumenides—the last of the three plays of the Oresteia—grief shows itself in a much different manner than it has in the previous two plays. The Eumenides is essentially Orestes' trial for the killing of Clytaemnestra, with the Furies acting as the prosecutors, Apollo acting as the defense, and Athena the judge. The trail in itself is entirely about actions that were caused by grief, and in that way, the play is driven by grief. However, the influence of grief is deeper than that. The Furies have another grief that drives their actions—that being the grief that they hold for the defeat of the chaotic gods of old (of which they are members), and the rise of the new gods. The Furies see the actions that the new gods have taken, both in their ordering of the world, and in how Athena conducted the trial of Orestes, as being unjust (Orestiea 266). This grief that the Furies have regarding the loss of the old order turns into rage after Orestes is allowed to go free, and the Furies then threaten to raze the world, destroying mankind, and all of the creations of the gods. This then drives the rest of the action in the play, as Athena talks the Furies down, and convinces them that they should protect Athens—thus turning their grief into a force that changes political power, by giving Athens an advantage over other city-states (Oresteia 271-272).

Oedipus the King, otherwise known as Oedipus Rex, is a prime example of grief driving political action in Grecian tragedy. Upon learning of Oedipus being her son, and his having killed her husband (and consequently, his father), Jocasta takes her life with her own hand (Sophocles 1 131). The completion of this suicide, paired with the Oedipus learning of the identities of his mother and his father then lead him to both blind himself and go into a self-imposed exile (Sophocles 1 134, 136-137). Both of these actions were motivated by the grief that both Jocasta and Oedipus felt. Granted, this grief is in both instances mixed with guilt and a whole range of emotions—most of which are difficult to put a name to. However, with both Jocasta and Oedipus, I posit that grief is the main emotion, and therefor the driving motivation, for their actions.

In contrast to Oedipus Rex, Sophocles' Antigone has grief not only drive political action, but the plot of the play itself. The play begins in the aftermath of the brutal Thebian civil war that took place after Oedipus went into exile between his two sons—Eteocles and Polynieces. The city-state of Thebes is in a time of mourning—both for the death of the two sons of Oedipus, and then for those other men who died in the fighting. Antigone, the sister of these two brothers, wishes to bestow the honors due to all Greeks to her brother Polynieces. She wishes to grieve for him. However, their uncle Creon, who now rules Thebes, has declared that no mourning of Polynieces is allowed, as he was a traitor (since Eteocles was the rightful heir to the throne) (Sophocles 1 22). The grief that Antigone has for her fallen brother makes her defy the order that her uncle gives, and leads to her imprisonment for illegally honoring Polynieces' body. It is clear, then, that grief drives the actions of Antigone.

However, it also drives the actions of Creon. When Creon takes control of Thebes, he is given a city-state that is in shambles. The old king, Oedipus' father, had been murdered. The city had been held hostage by a sphinx. It had suffered blight and famine. The queen killed herself, and the king (Oedipus), had slept with his mother and had killed his father, the old king. Oedipus then blinded himself, and went into exile. After that mess, his two sons then engaged in a massive civil war. The last thing that Creon wants at this point is more turmoil in Thebes. He needs to stabilize the city-state so that it can heal. Banning the public expression of grief for a rebel—and by all measures, a traitor—is an entirely prudent and logical course of action. Grief can motivate great political action, especially vengeance. In this way, grief drives the actions of Creon. Now, this is not to say that Creon was right in the end, banning the display of grief for Polynieces. In fact, the banning of public mourning of the fallen son led arguably to greater turmoil than if it had not been banned, as if it had not been banned, the events that unfolded in the play would not have occurred, and Antigone and Creon's son would still be alive.

Euripides' Medea also has grief acting as the primary driver of action for the play. In Medea, Medea is faced with an awful scenario: her husband, Jason, has left her and her children to marry the daughter of the king of Corinth. This sends Medea into a great sadness (Euripides 1 19), one that she does eventually emerge from with a vengeance. Hurt and humiliated, Medea turns her grief into rage, and plots the death of those who wronged her—namely Jason and the Corinthian royal family. Ultimately, she is successful with her plots, killing the royals of Corinth, and extracting a great deal of pain and suffering from Jason through their deaths, and the deaths of his children. Grief also drives the actions of the king of Corinth, much in the way that it drives the actions of Creon in Antigone. The King, by marrying Jason to his daughter, sees the previous wife of Jason as a threat to him, his daughter, and Jason—fearing that Medea will seek vengeance. This fear is well-founded, as she does kill them all. This is why the King seeks to exile Medea and her children, to prevent them from doing exactly what Medea ended up doing anyway.

Emotions are powerful motivators. Among all of the emotions humans experience, grief is one of the strongest. In Greek tragedies, grief works as the primary driver of both plot, and political action. In Agamemnon, grief drives Clytaemnestra to kill her husband. In The Libation Bearers, grief drives Orestes to kill Clytaemnestra. In The Eumenides, grief drives the Furies to act against both Orestes and Athens. In Oedipus Rex and Antigone, grief drives suicide of Jocasta, Antigone, and Creon's son, the self-blinding and exile of Oedipus, the creation of law to curtail the power of grief, and resistance to said law. Lastly, in Medea, grief drives both the ordering of the exile of Medea, and the murder of the the king, princess, and children of Medea. Grief, politics, and plot, it seems, are all entangled in a never-ending cycle of cause and effect in Greek tragedies.

Monday, October 3, 2016

El mundo y we

El mundo es so vast,
And nosotros somos so small.
Yet los vínculos de la humanidad
Es today stronger than ever--
For somos semejanzas
Be greater than
Somos diferencias.

For somos valeres--
El valore de somos ciudadas,
De somos pueblos,
De somos paísos,
Of our world--
Son valores shared
By all of us.
Yo felices ser a part of it.