Monday, November 22, 2010

Gingerbread Houses

Robert Coover's "Gingerbread House" caught my eye because its title seemed so festive (I'm thoroughly embracing the commercialistic urges to celebrate the holiday season as much as possible). However, this poem is far from a happy holiday tale of sugarplums and Santa's elves. In this work, a young girl and boy follow an unhappy old man into the forest, knowing that he leads them to a fabled house where many children journey, but from which none return. Along the way, the boy surreptitiously drops breadcrumbs on the path, hoping to outsmart the aged guide and be the first to see the wondrous house and live to tell about it. During the journey, the children sing, perhaps to calm themselves down, perhaps because youth is simply that carefree. I know that I was not that easy-going in my youth, but then again, I am a rather uptight person.
A shift in the poem occurs when a witch, dressed in black rags appears. She attacks a dove and rips its heart from its chest, holding the beating, bloody organ in her hands. Somehow, this gore is attractive to both the old man and the young boy. The rest of the poem ricochets between the old man's care and protective instincts over the children and his wishes for their good dreams and his lust for the red heart, also symbolized by the ruby heart-shaped door of the witch's delectable abode.
I was rather confused by this text, but I did manage to draw a few possible connections from it. The journey into the woods, complete with the happy-go-lucky attitude of the girl, the seemingly kind, yet grim guide, and the boy's attempts to outwit fate, represent each person's trek through this perilous world. The witch is all that is evil in our lives-lies, lust, envy, greed, all our sins. Her unbelievably delicious house is the ultimate temptation. This take on the Hansel and Gretel story is also the story of the human plight. To resist or give into temptation and accept the consequences.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Oh Brother!

Robert Coover's "The Brother" is a poignantly harsh reimagination of the Biblical Noah's Ark story as seen through the eyes of Noah's brother. When read through the lens of the tale in Genesis, the unorthodox point of view, harsh tone, and shrewd poetic devices of Coover's piece conjure an entirely more humanized rendition of the situation.
The point of view in this story is atypical. Coover chose to write in first person, but the narrator is a bit unreliable. The speaker rants about his brother's strange actions and attitude and tells of his begrudging efforts to help Noah, and all the ways it affects his own prosperity and happiness. Such a temperamental account is most likely a bit off the mark in its judgements.
The tone of "The Brother" is markedly different from that of the original story. In the Bible's account, the tone is serious and instructive, and Noah is portrayed as the ever-obedient, reverent servant of Almighty God. The narrator in Coover's work commences with a snide, mocking voice, then, after realizing that perhaps Noah did have it right and facing drowning destruction, he slips into a tone of harsh desperation and distress, and even hopelessness.
Poetic devices in the story help humanize the historically unrelatable scene. The format of this work is that of a stream of consciousness-no capitalization, paragraphing, or punctuation. The author's diction is carefully constructed and filled with slang, contemporary language, including expletives, that enhance the idea that this event happened to a real family. The details straight from the Biblical text tie the retelling into the traditional tale and provide a sense of legitimacy.
"The Brother" sheds a new light on an old story.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Clinton Administration

For my AP U.S. History class, I read and analyze historical texts, including letters, speeches, official documents, and analysis by historians. Chapter 41 of our textbook, which is the thirteenth edition of The American Pageant by David M. Kennedy, Lizabeth Cohen and Thomas A. Bailey, is entitled "America in the Post-Cold War Era" and details the Clinton Administration. Many people view Bill Clinton's reign in the White House as an overwhelming success for the nation. Others are critical of the 42nd President of the United States of America. After reading this chapter and some documents in a supplementary reference book, I recognize not only the good Clinton did for our country but also the negative effects of some of his actions and policies.
Clinton's economic policies ultimately brought America out of its long period of financial deficit. The government was actually faced with the long-forgotten issue of how to deal with a federal surplus during his terms. In the 1990s, America was a formidable economic power in the global economy because, thanks to Clinton's genius budgeting, we were no longer so dependent on foreign borrowing. The economic developments Clinton made are probably his best known and by far his most successful policies.
In the diplomatic realm, Clinton felt pressured in his last days in office to establish a legacy for himself. His Middle East Peace Initiatives between Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasir Arafat and Israeli premier Yitzhak Rabin resulted in a shaky agreement in the principle of self-rule for the Palestinians living in Israel. But Clinton's hopes of being known as a peacemaker were dashed two years later when Arafat was assassinated. This unfruitful conference actually stirred up controversy in the Middle East and was a source of political turmoil in the global community.
Today, Bill Clinton is the most popular living former President of the United States. Just last week, he appeared in my hometown, stumping for local Democrats. He still pushes his successful economic frameworks and is immensely respected by most citizens. However, he was not successful in all aspects of his presidency. Despite his flaws, I still consider him one of our nation's greatest leaders.

The Inescapable Quest

The first chapter of Thomas C. Foster's How to Read Literature Like a Professor is entitled "Every Trip is a Quest (Except When It's Not). In this section of the book, the author describes the ancient archetype of the quest. He explains that "the real reason for a quest is always self-knowledge." There are five elements to every quest: a quester, a place to go, a stated reason to go there, challenges and trials, and a real reason to go. After reading this explanation and discussing it in my AP English Literature class, I realized that this pattern applies to practically every story I've ever come across.
At first, this appeared to me to be a good thing, helpful in writing stories of my own. However, the more time I spent pondering the subject, the more frustrated I became. I tried and tried to come up with a tale that did not fit this mold. I failed. In some form or fashion, every worthwhile story tells of a character doing something for some reason, encountering an obstacle, and learning something in the process. The thought crossed my mind, "How stupid are we humans if every one of our stories follows the exact same pattern?"
After some more pondering, I decided that perhaps I was being too cynical. Maybe the fact that our stories can be dissected into similar parts is evidence of our perpetual journey for self-revelation and higher knowledge. Or maybe it's just evidence that we tend to over-analyze our actions to give them greater significance. There I go with the cynicism again. Regardless of whether this model reveals human simple-mindedness or insightfulness, it was an interesting revelation to me.

Friday, October 15, 2010


Have you ever watched a movie and thought, "Wow, that's offensive!"? For me, this happened a few weeks ago while watching Monty Python and the Holy Grail. This film, directed by Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones, members of the comedy group Monty Python, is a 1975 British comedy. I should have known. But, determined to experience this cultural icon, I watched the movie. It was stupid and pointless and only funny in certain small parts.
What upset me though was the blatantly sexist portrayal of females in this film. The only scene containing women is scene 11, in which Sir Galahad the Chaste catches a vision of the Holy Grail above the Castle Anthrax. Upon entering the castle, he is bombarded by young floozies who try to tempt and seduce the poor knight. He tries to resist and asks to see the Holy Grail, please let him see the Holy Grail, oh he only wants to find the Holy Grail which appeared above their castle. When he mentions his vision, one of the girls, admits that her twin sister Zoot, who invited him into their dwelling, had been "setting alight to [their] beacon, which, [she] just remembered, [was] grail-shaped." Galahad realized he'd been duped and quickly began to fall for their permiscuous pleas. Before he could enjoy their company, Sir Lancelot drug him away in a "rescue" attempt.
In addition to the crude references, I was upset to see that the general public is amused by powerless, dependent women whose only desire is sex. Women can be intelligent, powerful people, when they choose to be. People annoy me when they settle for less than their potential. And when their settling reflects badly on me, I become indignant. Because of stupid, shallow girls, I have to work twice as hard to prove myself as a respectable, honorable, strong woman.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Spewing From My "Fountainhead"

I began reading Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead for three reasons:

  1. To make myself appear more sophisticated

  2. Because my boyfriend recommended it

  3. Because I wanted to challenge myself with this classic piece of literature

All noble causes, right? Well, the point is that I read it and that I'm very glad I did.

Ms. Rand's unconventional novel outlining her philosophy of Objectivism really made me contemplate why people are the way they are, what motivates them, what it's like not to let others define you, and what love truly is.

One passage in particular that sparked my interest is found in the eighth chapter of Part Two, which is entitled Ellsworth M. Toohey. In this passage Toohey looks out at the skyline and says,

"Look at it. A sublime achievement, isn't it? A heroic achievement. Think of the thousands who worked to create this and of the millions who profit by it. And it is said that but for the spirit of a dozen men-less, perhaps-none of this would have been possible. And that might be true. If so, there are-again-two possible attitudes to take. We can say that these twelve were great benefactors, that we are all fed by the overflow of the magnificent wealth of their spirit, and that we are glad to accept it in gratitude and brotherhood. Or, we can say that by the splendor of their achievement which we can neither equal nor keep, these twelve have shown us what we are, that we do not want the free gifts of their grandeur, that a cave by an oozing swamp and a fire of sticks rubbed together are preferable to skyscrapers and neon lights-if the cave and the sticks are the limit of your own creative capacities. Of the two attitudes, Dominique, which would you call the truly humanitarian one? Because, you see, I'm a humanitarian."

I took this question to heart and reached a conclusive personal answer. Why would I want to live in a world where the great are restricted and reduced to mediocrity to save the inept from feeling inferior? Without hope in the future, in the strength of humanity, without a glimpse at beauty and a chance to dream of something better, there is no sense in continuing life in such a mundane and futile society. To curl up in a cave with a stick fire simply because not everyone will invent the computer or paint the Mona Lisa or write a Shakespearean sonnet is to rob humanity of all beauty and hope. The truly humanitarian attitude is the one which allows humanity to be inspired, to take chances, and to live beyond the perceived possibilities.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Free Fish

Elizabeth Bishop's "The Fish" provides insight into the interesting thought process of a fisherman regarding an old fish. The fisherman is the narrator of the poem and begins by physically describing the fish. Its brown and tattered skin, resembling "wallpaper", is clearly old, dull, and worn. He notices its gills and ponders the fish's inner anatomy, pointing out how fragile the fish's life is at this point and how much he controls its fate. He speaks of its eyes, "yellowed" and "shallow" as if "backed and packed with tarnished tinfoil." Its eyes would not look at him, it would not fight. It was as if the fish had resigned itself to death by his hands.
As he continues to observe the fish, he looks at its mouth, "grim" and "weaponlike" and sees five hooks, "like medals with their ribbons frayed and wavering" set in its jaw, trailing fishing line, evidence of the battles it had fought and won. Now the narrator sees the fish in a different light. Rather than seeing an old, tired, pitiful fish, he sees a seasoned war veteran, strong and courageous, time-honored and and respectable, ready to accept its final defeat with dignity. Earlier in the poem, when describing the fish's physical appearance, the narrator used the word venerable. In that context, he was calling the fish, ancient, or obsolete, but here, after realizing all this fish has been through, the word could more properly describe the animal as "commanding respect because of impressive dignity" or "worthy of reverence" as venerable is defined at
Because of the respect he found for this fish who had fought for its life so many times, the narrator ultimately releases the fish back into the water. This sixth chance is precious in a world where life is so disposable.

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Life Lesson of Lying

After reading Po Bronson's article, "Learning to Lie," I thought about lying. About my own life and my lies. About the definition of a lie-Webster calls it "a false statement made with intent to deceive." I thought about little white lies and half-truths and how people rationalize these by telling themselves that they're trying not to hurt anybody's feelings or that it causes less trouble to smooth things over with a slightly dishonest answer. I thought about Dr. Victoria Talwar's claim that "lying is related to intelligence" and is "a developmental milestone."

I remembered the sickening feeling I got as a child whenever I lied to my parents to stay out of trouble or to avoid a subject I thought they might disapprove of. I recalled winning a contest as a child and calling my mother and telling her all about the event, but claiming I didn't know the child who had won, so that when I came home with a fifty dollar prize, I could say, "I tricked you!" I felt so proud to have been able to "pull one over" on Mom, but her sarcastic remark, "I'm so glad you've learned to lie so well," filled me with guilt.

I thought about how children are encouraged to lie by people they look up to. They see parents tell telemarketers that they have the wrong number. They hear teachers tell students that the class hamster ran away when they overheard her talking to the janitor about how it died over the weekend. Children are told to always "be polite" and "say something nice" about a gift, even if they don't like it. No wonder kids start slipping in untruths from day to day. They've been told to.

When I contemplated all this, it made me wonder if we as a society truly value honesty as much as we claim, or if we prefer positive interactions and saving face.