Sunday, November 12, 2017

A Story of Love and Loss

          Since the last blog post, I have come to read and love a book called The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood. Last time my class updated our reading wrap-up, I had read 121 pages (in 120 minutes, 20 of them outside of class), and since then I have read another 40 pages. Time-wise, this is a unique book to read because there are many flashbacks, and in just one sitting I can experience some of both the narrator’s past and present life.
What I love most about The Handmaid's Tale is the hidden breakthroughs of emotion along the way.  The narrator is a young woman full of memories, thrust into a world where suppression is survival.  Her “real” name and appearance are  never revealed (although, for this blog, I’ll call her by her “fake” name, Offred). Her tone, as shaped by her circumstances, is often matter-of-fact.  She accepts that “...there’s no escaping it. Time’s a trap, I’m caught in it” (152). Her use of short sentences is reflective of her self-discipline and ability to keep herself from dilly-dallying on anything beyond her control.  Although she often thinks about the past, she is very grounded when trying to cope with the present. She rarely cries, never complains, and she is constantly on watch for small moments of freedom and possibility.  One such example is her routine of smuggling her dinner butter into the toe of her shoe and using it later as lotion, under the hope that “as long as we (the women of society) do this...we can believe that we will someday get out, that we will be touched again, in love or desire” (105).  Although this is a quiet, discreet action, it is still solid rebellion.  Although Offred is calm in this routine, my heart races on her behalf; as a reader, it is a breakthrough to see this character, so talented at dealing with and accepting difficulty, show defiance. Her tone has shifted from matter-of-fact to slightly more wistful and hopeful.  However, above all, one of the most emotional moments of the book was when Offred sees a photograph of her daughter, whom she has been separated from since infancy, and she realizes that her daughter does not even remember her. She describes herself as “nothing more than a woman of sand, left by a care-less child too near the water...I can’t bear it, to have been erased like that” (242).  In this moment, Offred has entirely shed her matter-of-fact, collected demeanor, and she allows emotion to wash her over.  She is no longer using short sentences, and she describes herself in an open manner, using long analogies and touching phrases.
    The reason that countless women, such as Offred, are forced into prostitution in The Handmaid’s Tale is a frightening drop in fertility rates.  Although there are many developing countries where overpopulation is a demanding problem, there are also many developed countries where the opposite is true.  According to The World Factbook, Singapore currently has the world’s lowest total fertility rate at .83.  Higher than Singapore, but still below the replacement fertility rate of 2.1, the United States has a fertility rate of 1.87.  Given these numbers, it is possible that in some countries in the future, decreasing population size will become just as urgent a problem as it is in this dystopian novel.  Unlike in this novel, prostitution may never become the primary solution, but governments may still be tasked with finding solutions and strongly encouraging women to childbear may still become part of the future culture.  
    This book was particularly special because it not only highlights timeless emotional struggles about loss, nostalgia, and hope, but also depicts a young woman living in a world that has chosen a difficult solution to a population problem that our world may one day face.

MLA Citation:
“Country Comparison: Total Fertility Rate.” The World Factbook. Central Intelligence Agency, 2017.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

A Timeless Voice

Maya Angelou is the first name that I ever associated with activism. I was seven, trying to convince my mother that Shakespeare is pointless, and she countered by describing the many people that he inspired.  She told me stories of a young girl (Maya Angelou) who rediscovered her own voice with the help of his, and the great things that she went on to do. I was enthralled by the prospect of this woman, who was inspired by language and later used language as a powerful tool. 
When I picked up I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings a couple of weeks ago, the book had a cloud of fantasies and expectations to live up to.  For no founded reason, I imagined a girl playing in a garden, watching birds fly, and reading endlessly. I expected a reflective, observant tone. I did not imagine that the book would open with a four-year-old and a three-year-old alone on a train to Arkansas.  As soon as I realized the level of hardship that Maya endured, I set aside the book. I tried a light-hearted young adult novel that evolved into a version of Twilight, the first few pages of Jane Austen’s Emma, and then circled back to my original book.  I began reading for scarce minutes outside of school, in order to make up for the time spent experimenting with other books.  In the future, I hope to find more time to read outside of school, and also to have a longer to-read list that I can pull from at any given point in time.
Many moments in I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings highlight the culture of the South during the 1900s.  In one instance, for an outburst of giggling during church, Maya and her brother “received the whipping of our lives” while “Uncle Willie ordered us between licks to stop crying” (52 Angelou).  The strict whipping punishment illustrated in this scene is characteristic of the time and is no longer a common punishment today. In another instance, Maya is enjoying a slow, ordinary summer day, and says, “I often sat under the chinaberry tree in his yard, surrounded by the bitter aroma of its fruit and lulled by the drone of flies that fed on the berries” (29 Angelou). This demonstrates how children in this time frame had free time and spent it noticing the climate and nature around them.  Overall throughout her childhood, Maya noted that “the segregation was so complete that most Black children didn’t really absolutely know what whites looked like” (33 Angelou). This observation about segregation defined the separated culture in the South less than one century ago, in comparison to the multicultural communities that we live in today.
Although set in the 1900s, this book also addresses timeless issues, such as the ongoing issue of women not viewing themselves as beautiful.  Maya Angelou viewed her character as tainted and her physical appearance as unpleasant. A few days after she testified to the fact that her abuser (Mr. Freeman) hurt her, he escaped from jail and was found dead.  Maya believes that this never would have happened if she had not used her voice and therefore comes to view herself in a negative light.  Physically, she views herself as “a too-big Negro girl, with nappy black hair, broad feet and space between her front teeth that would hold a number-two pencil”.  Maya Angelou’s experience of not viewing herself as beautiful, both inside and out, mirrors that of many women today.  An article by Psychology Today discusses the phenomenon of women appearing less good-looking to themselves than they do to others.  It describes the fact that because each woman knows herself so well, she has the tendency to criticize herself and create a negative self image.  
I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings is a classic tale because it educates readers on many historical issues along with highlighting timeless issues which still exist today.

"Why You Don't Think You're Beautiful." Psychology Today, 2 June 2016,'t-think-you-re-beautiful.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

The Tone of the Future

The Circle, by Dave Eggers, is a book so beloved by Emma Watson that the young actress starred as Mae Holland (the protagonist) in the film adaptation.  As a forever faithful fan of Emma, I read the techno-thriller, researched it, and then hit Studio Movie Grill on the premiere night of April 28th.  The first page of the novel unleashes dignified fountains, glass buildings, and Californian hills - a typical image of modernism.  However, beyond the opening, this book depicts the future in a very realistic, almost rustic fashion.

Unlike many dystopian settings (which appear perfect to the naked eye), Eggers shows some tarnish of his fictional world from the beginning.  For instance, Mae was raised in Longfield, "...a small town between Fresno and Tranquillity, incorporated and named by a literal-minded farmer in 1866. One hundred and fifty years later, its population had peaked at just under two thousand souls, most of them working in Fresno, twenty miles away. Longfield was a cheap place to live, and the parents of Mae's friends were security guards, teachers, truckers who liked to hunt" (22). 
Eggers likely located Mae's hometown between Tranquility and Fresno (both in California) because the word Tranquility draws attention to the slow pace of Longfield and Fresno is characterized by a semi-arid climate (which is suitable for farming).  The mention of 1866 (which predates the start of World War 1) paints the image that Longfield is frozen in antiquity.  The total census of almost two thousand is lower than the student population of many contemporary high schools, and the continued need for ordinary professions and hobbies (such as security guards, truckers, hunting) makes the future seem more relatable to the present.

Eggers' world is unique in that its modernism has one single hub - The Circle - and this modernism only reaches the general population through technology (tracking and camera products). This is similar to the present day, where companies such as Apple and Google (which also have headquarters in California) reach the general population through products such as iPhones, Google Maps, etc.  The author accounts for the fact that in the future, our world will still need farms, teachers, and humility (in contrast to science fiction movies that show whole world covered in skyscrapers with service-performing robots).  Egger's use of this rustic and realistic setting, reminiscent of our actual world, makes the story more relatable and believable.  

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Analytics of a Dream

A Midsummer Night's Dream, advertised by the New York City Ballet as "awash with magic at every turn", is a work of art that is too classic to be ignored and too quixotic to fade with time.  This tale has inspired a variance, all the way from a short Disney film (starring Mickey Mouse) to the names of three moons around Uranus (Titania, Oberon, and Puck). The one aspect of this book that is infamous for inspiring moans and groans (the Shakespearean dialect) is one of the reasons that this piece continues to stand out in the genre of romantic comedy.

Early in the play, as two lovers (Hermia and Lysander) confess their escape plans to a friend, Lysander says,
"Helen, to you our minds we will unfold.
Tomorrow night when Phoebe doth behold
Her silver visage in the watery glass,
Decking with liquid pearl the bladed grass
(A time that lovers' flights doth still conceal),
Through Athens' gates have we devised to steal" (1.1.208-213).

The use of the phrase "our minds we will unfold" (as opposed to a modern phrase, such as "we will tell you our plan") heightens the idea that the lovers are very open with Helen and that they trust her with everything that is on their minds. In short, it brings forward the magnitude of trust.  The description of the moon, "Phoebe doth behold", personifies the night and makes it seem alive, and the words "silver visage" (as opposed to the simple word "moonlight") paint a mental image of the lustrous moonlight in contrast with the dark night.  The description "liquid pearl the bladed grass" makes the setting feel whimsical, since magic often comes in the form of liquid potions.  When Lysander tops off his dialogue with the words "devised to steal" (rather than a modern phrase like "run away"), it ensures that each reader feels his clandestine (and slightly daring) determination.

The wording in the passage above makes the reader feel as though he/she is in on a secret.  The Shakespearean use of adjectives makes the reader feel as though he/she is in another, more fantastical world.  While modern English is quicker to read, the descriptive nature of the Elizabethan dialect of Shakespeare shines a light on details of the story that may otherwise have gone unnoticed.

Monday, April 3, 2017

My Passion for the Pages

Sometimes, I feel like Belle, from Beauty and the Beast: a girl caught in a fearless embrace with her imagination, with fingers that love leather covers, and with a heart that falls for romance.
Other times, I feel like Rebecca Bloomwood, from Confessions of a Shopaholic: a young lady who is restless and courted by the glamour of the moment, but who secretly appreciates the unhurried lyricality of words.

I equally adore the balmy after-scent of rain and the eccentric smell of my mother's childhood Narnia edition.  Most of my books have torn covers from traveling around the world with me.  My copy of Harry Potter has been to King's Cross Station in London, and my copy of Anne Frank's diary has been in Anne Frank's very bedroom in Amsterdam.  As a reader, my books are companions.  I read one at a time, I read the words out loud whenever those around me are willing to listen, and I even lend my loyalty to learning half the words by heart.  It is in my nature to fan-girl about great stories. 

 If I set a goal to read more pages per day, I would eventually wind up with a glaring stack of unfinished homework assignments.  Instead, I aspire to boost my reading speed from 300 words per minute to 500 words per minute.  This new speed would carry me faster through books by authors that I already enjoy, and therefore free me with extra minutes to try books that are currently just a peripheral priority.  Increasing my reading rate would also propel me to finish books that I would otherwise abandon, due to the hope of getting through them faster!  I would also like to find a few fresh titles to read (that are more sophisticated than I am familiar with) even if that means reading books that don't have a sequel.  Right now, for my required AP title, I am beginning William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, and it has already opened my eyes to literary allusions that I never before understood (regarding characters such as Puck and King Oberon).

A Story of Love and Loss

          Since the last blog post, I have come to read and love a book called The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood. Last time my class u...