SAMPLE RESPONSE PAPERS
Below is a collection of strong (and exceptionally strong) response papers from students.All received high grades.They are good examples of insightful thinking and strong writing.I would especially encourage you to notice that most of them don’t have obvious organization; most of them let their ideas develop and wander.Many of the best responses are later in the list.I continue to add to this collection as I find new examples of strong writing.As always, I will look at drafts when I can.[Please Note: Responses here are single-spaced to be read quicker.]
The first example, however, is one I wrote as a sample for the first reading response.
Of all of the common assumptions that we discussed in class, I think one of the most common is the idea that a children’s text should in some way teach the reader something.We of course talked about the term didactic, and how a didactic book strongly pushes a lesson onto the reader, telling them that they should believe this or that.Many times a reason for that lesson isn’t even given, as though the young person reading the book should just accept that lesson because they are told to, because the other knows better.As I was reading Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss, the book I selected for the assignment, I was hoping that it wouldn’t be as didactic as most other children’s books, and that it would be as playful and exciting as I remember as a child.On the last two pages of the book, however, the absent mother returns home, the cat has disappeared, the children are behaving nicely, sitting in chairs, and it is pretty obvious that even though they got into mischief they are still good children after all.Nothing really has changed at the end of the book.Although all sorts of things got played with, and the children broke the rules I am sure they know about (like, “Don’t fly kites in the house”), major boundaries were never crossed.
We talked about how the opposite of a didactic book might be an ambiguous book, or a book that encourages the reader to think about issues, to make decisions for themselves.In that kind of book, the author usually wants to the reader to think for her or himself, to understand that some things are difficult, even for adults.The author may present a problem and ask you what you think, or might just never come around to saying exactly what you are supposed to believe.The last page of Cat in the Hat ends with the narrator saying, referring to the mother, “Should we tell her about it? / Now what SHOULD we do? / Well . . . / What would YOU do / If your mother asked you?” (61).In some ways, this is probably a pretty ambiguous ending.The author asks the reader that if your mother left, if someone wanted you to do what you weren’t supposed to, if you did it anyway, and if you didn’t get caught, then would you tell your mother or father what happened?Most adults wouldn’t tell what happened themselves, but the question is there anyway, and it seems to be really asking children what they believe.
But it doesn’t seem really that ambiguous.If the book were really ambiguous it would be breaking the Typical Case Prototype of children’s books, and in almost every other way the book keeps to those prototypes.As Nodelman describes it, children’s books are typically bright, colorful, funny, entertaining, and maybe sometimes rhyming.Children’s books portray children as the way adults typically think of them, as crazy kids who aren’t serious like adults, or innocent angels who would never really do any harm when they play.Dr. Suess portrays typical kids, bored by the rain, wanting to do something wild.Although Seuss’s style is strange, the children even look like the sort of standard white children that appear in most books, the girl in a dress and ribbon in her hair.We saw in class how these children are a lot like the standard one’s in Cassie’s history textbookAnd although strange things happen in the book – a talking cat, a couple of strange Things, a lot of things getting thrown around – it is the kind of play we come to expect in children’s lives, especially in the sorts of standard things shown on television and in movies.
In fact, the children never quite seem to trust the Cat, and they always just sort of watch him play.The children never really do anything that crazy themselves.The Fish, who sounds a lot like an adult, is always there to warn them, and in the end everything gets cleaned up.Of course the book is fun and playful, and is obviously one of the most famous and liked picture books ever made, but it is still pretty straightforward.Cat in the Hat reinforces and demonstrates almost all of the typical assumptions about childhood, and it fulfills all of the typical case prototypes of children’s books.Examining it made me think about how the book might have changed in recent years, especially since children are rarely bored when they are at home any more (with all of the stuff they own to play with).But more than that, it made me think about why we expect all children’s books to be like this, why it is always considered one of the best books for children.Although I like typical children’s books, it makes me also interested in books that don’t do what we expect.The book was written 1957, and in so many ways children’s books have become so incredibly different since then.But in a lot of other ways, some good, some bad, they haven’t changed at all.
STRONG EXAMPLES FROM STUDENTS
The book George and Martha (as well as all of the other books in the series), by James , is in most ways a typical case prototype.The reading level that is assigned to the book is for ages four through eight.Each book is divided into five stories, and the stories are about two hippopotamuses that are best friends and act like humans.Each of the stories starts with a title page that has bold yellow bubble letters.As the pages are turned the left hand page has the print for the story and the right hand page has the illustration for that portion of the story.This is very much typical case prototype—very consistent, very simple in both a visual and a reading sense.And each story is short in length endorsing the idea that children get bored easily.
All of the illustrations are simple—basically white backgrounds with bold black outlines and three or four colors used to emphasize certain parts of the images (namely grey, green, yellow, and red).The pictures tell the story of everything that is going on, which makes it more or less unnecessary for a child to be able to read in order to understand what is going on in the story.In fact, the pictures include almost no object in that is not directly involved in the story, meaning there is nothing used in the background of the pictures to fill the space.
The story is as simple as the illustrations using little or no complex language or difficult vocabulary.The story, however, is not told using rhyming endings or any kind of rhythm in the sentence structure, which is less typical case prototype, even though plenty of children’s literature does not utilize rhythm or rhyme.The story also includes only two characters (save the image of the dentist in the last story).There are no other characters introduced which also keeps the story simplified.
George and Martha supports many of the assumptions posed with typical case prototypes; in some cases the story even supports two opposing assumptions about children.The assumption that children like books about fantasy is supported in that the main characters are animals that have the characteristics of humans—they are hippopotamuses walking around on two feet, wearing clothes, and talking to each other.At the same time, the assumption is made that kids are so egocentric they only like literature to which they can personally relate.While the main characters are animals, everything else about the book is based very much in a reality they can understand.George and Martha live in a world like ours, where everyone lives in houses, cooks meals, takes baths and goes to the dentist.The issues brought up in the book are even those to which children could relate, such as: not liking split pea soup but having to eat it, losing something that is dear to you, irritating habits that friends have, or invasion of privacy.These are all concepts that a child can understand, and therefore it fits this typical case prototype as well.
The book is extremely didactic.Each story ends with the moral that is presented in it, and the morals are very plainly stated in no uncertain terms.There is no real room for coming up with one’s own ideas or opinions on how the presented situation should be dealt with, because the answer is given—the writer’s view of the issue at hand is almost shoved in the face of the reader.In some ways, a child who thinks beyond simply what the book is telling him/her, might look at what takes place and determine how he/she might have dealt with that situation, but so many people treat reading as such a passive activity that they simply would not occur to them to look any farther than what is directly presented.
Though the book seems so simple at first glance, it might also be argued that the book brings up more adult issues in the sense of right and wrong, such as in the story in which George is peeking through Martha’s window when she is in the bathtub.Now, on the surface this is an issue presented and treated in that it is wrong to invade one’s privacy, but looking at it more deeply might be suggesting peeping-toms and a much more sexual elements of invading privacy than is obvious at first, and that is certainly not a typical case prototype.Nor is the response that Martha has when she realizes that George is peeking in her window, which is to dump the bathtub on his head and yell at him; that could be construed as a violent reaction.The story of the mirror brings up the issue of vanity or even pride.George deals with Martha’s pride in her own appearance by pasting a funny picture on her mirror to trick her into not looking at it anymore.That is a scenario that may be funny to children, but it may also be looking at the more “adult world” of the seven deadly sins for instance—pointing out the negative tendencies of the human being.
Despite these deeper rooted possibilities of what the book may be trying to convey, in most cases it would be considered a typical case prototype.It is built around most of the assumptions made about kids and their views of literature and of the world.Only when looked at closely does this book show any evidence of underlying meaning or issues being presented, and those clues may be simply a complete coincidence.
Nodelman discusses the Typical Case Prototype portrayed in adult-written children’s books.Nodelman’s stereotypes include bright colors, fantasy, common childhood experiences, and simple linguistics.Richard Scarry’s picture book, THINGS TO KNOW demonstrates all of these qualities producing a didactic anecdote.
Color radiates from the pages of this short story.From the pink background on the front cover to the bright blue costume worn by an elephant on the title page, the book is filled with bright shades.The use of color culminates to the very last page, which exemplifies and identifies the colors used in the book (23).The book ambiguously teaches correct color schemes by ensuring each object is the color found in nature.For example, in the “Seasons” grass is green, the sky is blue, sand is brown, apples are red, pumpkins are orange, and snow is white; the author easily could have painted these objects in hues of imagination, however the writer chose to demonstrate these objects in their naturally expected forms, encouraging standard ideals of the world (14,16,18, 19).
While the color usage discourages imagination, Scarry’s use of fantasy promotes creative ideology.A personified animal or insect represents every character in the book.Animals play instruments, eat with spoons, count to ten, have hands, arms, and noses, rake leaves, watch TV, write, and eat cookies (5,6,8,12,11,17, 22,9).Scarry limits the readers’ imagination, allowing only classic fantasy.Richard Scarry personifies the characters to be similar to his readers.
Nodelman’s research suggests the ideal that children enjoy characters they can relate to.Scarry creates childlike characters based on their actions.Illustrating childlike behavior, a pig spills a glass of juice, a cat wears an inner tube to swim in ankle deep water, and a worm jumps in a pile of autumn leaves (8,16,17).The children are distinguished from the adults by size, position, and in some cases clothing.On page one, a giraffe sits on a stool wearing a suit and tie reading a book to a tiny, casually dressed mouse.Of course the mouse is the childlike character and the giraffe is the adult; the giraffe know how to read, is formally dressed, and is much taller than his counterpart. This example signifies the view of adults being superior to children and being responsible for the knowledge children gain.In the manners section a tall pig wearing a dress helps a short pig in red overalls put on a rain jacket, obviously this is the mother aiding her child (10).This suggests that children require parents to guide them even in simple tasks.
Finally, the language of the book signifies children’s short attention span and the idea of reading levels.The syntax is limited to include no more than eleven words, the longest sentence being, “We rake the falling leaves and pick apples in the autumn.” (17).The vocabulary of this book is simplistic, using predominately one or two syllable words to identify objects, directions, or sizes.The book contains only two four-syllable words; accordion and interrupting (5, 8).The language is simple for young readers and the identifying nature of the book is most likely targeted toward a preschool audience.
The book overtly teaches the things adults believe small children should learn; like distinguishing the four seasons and naming body parts (13-20, 11).The most obvious example of a moralistic or instructive agenda is the section titled “Manners”.Scarry devotes four pages to “Manners”, while most other topics have two pages.Scarry clearly encourages his ideas of etiquette when he writes, “Everyone should have good manners. Do you? I hope so.” (9).Other examples of the educational goals appear in sections labeled “Count to Ten”, “Opposites”, “Shapes and Sizes”, “Things We Can Do”, and “Colors” (12, 3, 1, 21, 23).The book didactically impresses children with adult view of essential knowledge and encourages the stereotypical natures Nodelman mentioned.
In the 2003 Universal Pictures version of “Peter Pan,” the children are depicted as strong, independent individuals with their own agency throughout a great portion of the film.However, there are numerous examples of interpellation, during which the children fight against and conform to the interpellation of family and society.In the following paragraphs, I will explain how “Peter Pan” is a movie with both interpellation and agency.Also, I will explain how the film is adult-centered in spite of the agency the child characters possess.
The movie “Peter Pan” begins with three children living in a nursery all together.One day, the children overhear the adults talking about Wendy, the oldest child in the nursery.They are saying that it is time for her to grow up and spend more time with adults.Wendy does not like the idea of growing up, and the children go on a magical adventure where children never grow up, where there are pirates, fairies, and countless adventures.However, soon Wendy realizes that she truly does wish to grow up and decides to return to her home with her parents.In the end, Wendy, her brothers, and the lost boys all end up home with parents.However, Peter Pan still refuses to give up his childhood fantasies and flies away forever.
The adult characters in “Peter Pan” are highly interpellated into their roles in society.For example, the mother and father are wealthy socialites who attend grand parties, wear grand clothing, and (attempt to) conduct themselves in a dignified, proper manner.At one point, the father is seen practicing his small talk because Aunt Millicent has told him that “wit is very fashionable at the moment.”They are very much concerned with what the neighbors will think of them and their proper place in society.Wendy’s adult family has been interpellated into their roles in society.However, the children are still concerned with fun, games, and adventures.The thought of growing up is not an appealing one for them at this point.It simply does not look like it is any fun.
In one scene, the entire family is gathered together in a family room.The children are telling stories and being generally silly.When Wendy begins to talk of her dreams of adventure, her Aunt Millicent puts a stop to it.After all, a young lady should not think of adventure, but marriage according to the interpellation in this film.During this scene, Wendy talks with her Aunt Millicent about her future plans.“My unfulfilled ambition is to write a great novel, in three parts, about my adventures,” Wendy says.Aunt Millicent replies, “What adventures?”“I’m going to have them,” Wendy says, “they’ll be perfectly thrilling.”Aunt Millicent clearly indicates what role she believes Wendy should possess in society with her reply, “But child, novelists are not highly thought of in good society, and there is nothing so difficult to marry as a novelist.”In this same scene, Aunt Millicent asks Wendy to walk toward her and turn around so that she might appraise her.Afterward, she declares Wendy as having possession of a “woman’s chin” and a “hidden kiss” on the corner of her mouth.She declares the kiss as the “greatest adventure of all” and states that it “belongs to” someone else.Aunt Millicent clearly thinks that Wendy will believe that possessing woman-like qualities will make her want to act more grown up and that possessing a hidden kiss that belongs to someone else will begin Wendy’s search for a respectable husband.Aunt Millicent is attempting to convince Wendy that her proper place in society will be an adventure if only she lives up to the expectations of her family.Aunt Millicent is attempting to interpellate Wendy into a certain role.She addresses the “problems” of Wendy’s need for adventure and desire to become a novelist, neither of which will do for a young lady in high society.
By watching the whole first half of the film, one might believe that Wendy has not been interpellated into the role her Aunt Millicent wishes for her.She is clearly against the idea of giving up her adventures to become a wife.Soon after, she meets a magical boy and runs away with him, along with her brothers to a world where children have their own agency.In Neverland, children live with no parents, do as they please, and fight their own battles.There are Indians, mermaids, and pirates.It is a great adventurous place for children to live when they do not wish to be interpellated into a role in society by their parents.
During one Neverland scene, Hook has captured Wendy’s brothers and taken them to the .There, the adult pirates treat the children as worthy adversaries.This indicates that the adult pirates believe that the children do, indeed, have their own agency.The pirates do not indicate for a moment that these are only children and easily defeated.Rather, they wait in ambush for Peter Pan and Wendy to attempt to rescue the boys.Wendy shows Peter that she is entirely capable of brandishing a sword against the pirates.Here, Wendy is displaying her own agency and letting him know that she will not need protection any more than the boys.Then, Peter tricks the pirates into releasing the other children.This shows that the children in the scene are much more cleaver than the adults.Afterward, a great fight scene ensues between the children and the pirates.The pirates sword fight with them as if they were adults.In fact, the children manage to defeat the pirates and escape unharmed, once again indicating that they have their own agency in that they are clever and able to take care of themselves.When there is a problem, they figure out a way to get out of it on their own.They do not rely on adults to solve their problems.
In spite of all of the agency the children display during the Neverland scenes, I would argue that this film is adult centered.After being in the Neverland for a while, Wendy realizes that she does not belong there and chooses to return to the safety of her family.Even the Lost Boys desperately want a parental figure in their lives, and they end up returning home with Wendy and her brothers to live with their parents.Wendy has been interpellated by her parents after all.She realizes that she wants her life that she left behind.The power that Wendy felt at the beginning of the film seemed repressive to her; however, it has become ideological.In other words, the ideological power that Wendy’s family has over her has worked.She now sees that her happiness lies in the role that her family has been trying to establish for her.Furthermore, Wendy’s brothers and the Lost Boys all realize that they want to have parents who will care for them and that growing up is not all that bad.In the end, all of the children have parents except one.And, all of the children seem happy except one – Peter Pan.
While it is odd to think of a film having both interpellation and agency, I am suggesting just that.However, I am also suggesting that there are two separate worlds in this film in which the two issues occur.Interpellation clearly occurs in the beginning of the film while the children are with their parents and Aunt Millicent.They are taught how life should be and who they should be when they grow up.The Neverland world is a place where children have agency.It is clear to the adults and children in Neverland that children are to be taken seriously and treated as equals.However, in the end, the children choose interpellation over agency and return to the nursery and their home with their parents.In this film, the children have been interpellated to believe that their role at home will be much more fulfilling and rewarding than the agency available to them by remaining children forever in Neverland.
In closing, Peter Pan is a complicated film that displays agency and interpellation.While it displays both, the film is adult centered, as the children end up interpellated into the roles their families wished for them.
Resisting Interpellation: Beauty and the Beast
As a little girl, I pretended I was Belle from Beauty and the Beast. I wanted desperately to find my prince charming. I danced around to the songs, and I would have loved a castle filled with enchanted creatures, or a library filled with books up to the ceiling. Years later, after watching the same story unfold, I can honestly say that Belle could be a role model for me in the way she lived her life. Her personality is one of strength, open-mindedness, and abundant love. Throughout her story, Belle is faced with opposition and obstacles that push her to define and think about who she is. Gaston and the rest of the townspeople try to push and mold Belle into the type of person that they feel is “normal.” The story of Beauty and the Beast is one of Belle defying the idea of what is normal, what is right, and what is supposed to be.
A major way of society interpellating a person is by shunning the marriage or union between people with huge differences. Society applauds when the normal path is taken, whether it is a marriage between a man and woman, or the relationship between two people of the same race. The main motif or theme of Beauty and the Beast, which occurs in many children’s stories, is that of two people of different species falling in love and overcoming their obstacles. Belle, a human, and the Beast, a human enslaved in a beast-like body, are blinded to reality by their love. They do not look at each other with eyes focused on appearances, but look through the skin into each other’s souls. In the garden playing with birds, the Beast and Belle come to realize that they care for each other, despite the hesitations that first accompanied their situation. The beast is surprised that “when we touched she didn't shudder at my paw,” and Belle is taken aback “ that he's no Prince Charming but there's something in him that I simply didn't see.” Though surprised, Belle resisted the temptation to fall in love and marry a human, thus not giving in to interpellation. This movie also expresses distaste for interpellation in the sense that it expresses the acceptance of things not of the norm. It basically says that you do not have to settle for the town football hero, just because you are the cheerleader. Instead, you can hold out, find a person with whom your souls connect, and live happily ever after. There is also a trace of the “if you truly love them, let them go, and if they love you too, they will come back” theme present in this movie. For example, when the Beast releases Belle as his prisoner, he gives her the freedom to truly love him. It is only through this relinquishing, that Belle can understand her true feelings.
A different way society tries to interpellate a person or a person’s life is by giving them a name. By naming a person, the parent is predetermining their child to answer and identify with that name. The name Belle translates to beautiful or beauty from the French language. Yet while Belle is beautiful, she does not let her name, or it’s meaning, get in the way of her personality. Traditionally, an interpellated “Belle” would be flirtatious, using her good looks to gain social standing. This type of behavior would be accepted in Belle’s community, as other seemingly beautiful women gush and moon over Gaston, throwing themselves at him in the hopes he will throw them a bone. though, almost seems unaware of her good looks. For example, while Belle walks through town, her head buried in a story, she is oblivious to all the commotion she is bringing about. One man even goes as far as to say, “Now it's no wonder that her name means 'beauty' Her looks have got no parallel!” As the story unfolds, she does not dress to impress anyone, and never gives the impression of caring what others think of her appearance. I believe the rose in Beauty and the Beast is a reminder of Belle’s inconsistence with the typical towns lady. The rose, while beautiful and seemingly fragile, has managed to live for ten years. While it is enchanted, the rose must still be protected, and is held in high regard. Belle, similarly, is beautiful and dainty, but strong. She earns respect through her decisions, and does not need to be taken care of. She is strong enough to find her father, strong enough to give her life for his, and strong enough to stand up to the Beast.
Belle also questions the interpellated messages she receives from the general public. The people of Belle’s town believe that, as a young lady, you should live up to specific social standards. Belle breaks these traditions in numerous ways. To begin, even as Belle walks through the “quiet village,” the townspeople talk about how she is so strange and unusual; how she does not quite fit the mold. They shake their heads and cannot understand why she is “Never part of any crowd.” She “doesn't quite fit in” with the ladies trying to find a husband, or with the ladies who sit around doing what it is the conventional ladies do. Instead, she is described as “Dazed and distracted” because she always has “her nose stuck in a book!” It is evident that Belle is resisting interpellation by continuing to read, and to read often. Instead of succumbing to the ideals and values of the townspeople who feel “It's not right for a woman to read--soon she starts getting ideas...and thinking,” she relishes her stories, and continues to be excited about new possibilities. She also does not try to hide the fact that she loves to read. She sat on a fountain, in the middle of the town, and sang about her love of books. People like Gaston, who try to force their ideas on society, feel that all a woman should be is a “little wife, massaging [her husband’s] feet, while the little ones play with the dogs.” When Belle flat out refuses Gaston’s attempts at wooing her, the other ladies of the town, who have fallen into the common way of thinking, say, “What's wrong with her?” Yet Belle knows that “There must be more than this provincial life!”
Indeed, there is a different way to live life, at least for Belle. Unlike many women, Belle is not one to be influenced by appearances, good or bad. She is not impressed with Gaston’s impressive looks or rippled muscles (because he is, after all, “Perfect, a pure paragon”). Instead of dreaming about being Gaston’s wife, Belle is more interested in enjoying life, taking care of her father, and being true to herself. She does not fall into the trap of liking the cool guy, just because everyone else does. She knows that Gaston is “handsome all right, and rude and conceited and” not for her. Another example of Belle’s passiveness towards appearance occurs with the Beast. While her first reaction to the Beast is terror, she does not actually fear him. If she feared him, she would not have spoken out to the Beast like she did. Not intimidated by his looks, she talks to him like the mean-spirited person he is. This showcases the amount of agency Belle has determined is rightfully hers. In many instances, she does not give in to the Beast’s demands, even though, technically, she is his prisoner. For instance, she does not give in to the Beast’s demand that she come to dinner, instead, she tells him, “I'm not hungry” and refuses to eat with him.
Some may feel that Belle is the typical young lady, looking to find her prince. After all, her favorite part of the book she reads by the fountain is when the girl meets her prince, but does not know it yet. I would argue that the books she finds so intriguing are an escape. While the particular storyline read by the fountain does predict the outcome of the movie, it also illustrates and shows how Belle is feeling. She feels trapped, like the only way she can escape her suffocating world is to read about others where there is adventure and romance. She may want the romance and the white knight on the horse, but she is not willing to compromise who she is inherently, for the gain of something she does not deem true and worthy. Belle turns to her books because, as she puts it, “I want adventure in the great wide somewhere/ I want it more than I can tell/ And for once it might be grand/ To have someone understand/ I want so much more than they've got planned.” So she is not dreaming of her prince, or a life as a princess. She wants to be a person, first and foremost, and have someone understand what she feels. Before meeting and falling in love with the beast, the only “people” who understand her, are the people in the books she reads, because they have the same desires as she.
Belle avoids the interpellation of her peers and society through staying true to herself, and, in the end, she gets her prince. She does not succumb to the prodding of Gaston, and even her father in the beginning, to marry and become a mainstream household wife. Instead, she uses her ability to love truly to find the man, or beast, with which she is meant to be. It is through this rebellion of society’s norm that Belle uses her agency in life to stand firm against interpellation.
“: Bigger, Longer and Uncut” is a true depiction of carnivalesqueimagery. The entire film is centered on a movie the children go see, called “Asses of Fire.”This movie causes great controversy between the children and parents, because its only purpose is to, make fun of bodily functions, and curse as much as possible.The children in “” love this movie, and even claim that it will make their lives “complete.” The idea of carnivalesque is that is mocks and humiliates what is supposed to be official, and customary by focusing on humorous and grotesque bodily functions.These children who praise a movie that is clearly derogatory, and gross degrades the ethical teachings they should be learning.The stereotype for children is that they should learn valuable, and critical lessons that will help them in life.“” greatly destroys these lessons, as the children perpetually get more offensive and silly as the mimic the actors in “Asses of Fire.”
The movie also demeans authority figures such as, the government, the president, teachers, principles, parents etc.One of the best examples of this idea of carnivalesque is when Cartman defies his authority figures.While sitting in class Mr. Garrison (the boy’s teacher) demands Cartman to answer a question.Unwilling to cooperate, Cartman instead curses at the teacher and is sent to the office.In the office, he again curses at the principle. Both authority figures are surprised by these acts of defiance; they do not know how to punish this behavior.Instead, Cartman is free to say and do what he pleases, to whomever. This scene depicts the role reversal of authority.It is Cartman who holds the power, and not the typical adult authority figure.Throughout the movie the adults struggle to gain power over their children’s tainted behavior.They are repeatedly unsuccessful.This is the essence of carnivalesque, as it uses absurdity and humor to undermine what is normally revered.
proves to be a progressive movie for a number of reasons.Although, it is seemingly playful, silly and gross, it explores new grounds by mocking norms for children’s movies.Much like a traditional Disney musical, “: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut” begins with the character Stan singing a song.In this scene, Stan is walking down a snow-covered street as he sings about his “quiet mountain town.”Deer cross his path, and beautiful Pine trees line the road.As Stan approaches his town he is singing about how wonderful it is, and how people treat each other well.However, it is obvious, that the people are actually pushy, rude and hateful towards one another.By no means is this place the “quiet mountain town” Stan describes.In fact, by the end of the song the entire town joins in on the chorus and adds that they live in a “quiet little white trash redneck mountain town.”This is an ironic twist to how the film first began.In the beginning “” seems to be a normal children’s movie.It depicts the innocence of nature, and a song about love, happiness, and people getting along. As the song continues, it drastically changes from pleasant, to disturbing and silly. People are cursing one another, babies are being thrown through windows, and homeless men are drinking on the side of the road.These images mock and criticize the normal innocence in children’s film.Therefore, with its mocking nature “” challenges what we deem as a stereotypical normal children’s film and proves to be progressive.In addition, “” is progressive as it gives power to those that would not normally have it.Kyle, Stan, Cartman and Kenny all have a great amount of power within this movie, as they defy their parents and curse at authority figures.
However, this movie also gives a great amount of power to a woman.Kyle’s mother consistently gains command as she speaks out against the two Canadian actors in “Asses of Fire” that have contaminated the children’s minds.In one seen Kyle’s mom pushes President Clinton out of the way of a camera interview and provides a speech on ending the actor’s lives to save the children. Her forceful behavior of pushing the President out of the way shows how “” truly defies the norm.In a normal situation the President would be seen as the highest authority, but here a mother from a “redneck town” is depicted as stronger. By giving power to both the children and the mother, “” is extremely progressive by challenging and defying the ideas of a stereotypical normal children’s movie.
Much like the “” movie, the TV series “Family Guy” also portrays carnivalesque imagery.One of the main characters in “Family Guy” is Stewie, a baby who has an adult British male’s accent.His hilarious, uncommon voice greatly shows carnivalesque.Unlike a normal baby, Stewie not only can speak his mind, but he also can do it articulately, like an adult.In fact, he is smarter, more talkative and wiser than the stupid immature dad, Peter, in the show.Specifically, the episode “Emission Impossible” shows how Stewie is more competent than his parents.Repeatedly, he disrupts his parents from making love in order to stop them from creating another baby. In one scene Stewie walks into his room, hits a button on the wall, which collapses and shows a hidden spaceship behind it.He uses the spaceship (which shrinks to a microscopic level) to go in Peter’s body and terminate all his sperm.Stewie succeeds and the parents never end up having a baby. Symbolically, the spaceship represents all the power Stewie has in his life. Such a complicated, high-tech machine for a baby to control signifies how he has the command to manipulate what he pleases. By inhibiting their chances of creating a baby, Stewie clearly portrays the carnivalesque idea of role reversal.It is not coincidental that Stewie’s strong character is that of a baby.“Family Guy” is using this role reversal of giving a baby power over it’s parents to, like “South Park”, mock what is supposed to be authoritative.Parents are normally the ones that direct the life of their baby.However, Stewie diminishes this norm, which is an apparent depiction of carnivalesque ideas.
“The Simpsons” is another great example of carnivalesque.In the episode “Tis the Fifteenth Season,” Homer realizes he is a selfish person and thereby declares he will become “the nicest guy in town.”However, already holds that title. In result, a battle breaks out between them, as they struggle to gain the title of the “nicest guy in town”.In one scene Homer becomes jealous when he hears has given everyone a Christmas gift.He therefore begins to plan on how he will buy everyone a car to exceed act of generosity.However, Lisa stops her dad and explains, “Dad you don’t have to out-do .Just remember the spirit of the season.”She then declares that Christmas is not about presents or competitions, but about family and love.Once again, the roles are being reversed.Lisa, a little girl, has to explain an extremely important concept to her father.Parents are usually the ones to teach these lessons to children; however, Lisa is the true “parent” in this scene.In addition, this episode depicts Homer to be as dumb as a cat or dog.All three (Homer, the cat and the dog) are wearing Christmas sweaters. As the dog and cat roll on the ground biting at theirs, so does Homer.Carnivalesque often portrays these types of role reversals, and undermining of authority.Stereotypically, the male adult figure is one that carries the most knowledge, power and authority.However, Homer truly acts like a child.He is selfish, silly and immature.Instead this intelligent and powerful status is given to a seven or either year old girl.Carnivalesque is depicted, as a complete opposite role reversal is apparent.Without Lisa’s insight and awareness, Homer would have succeeded in ruining the concepts of Christmas.
Both “Family Guy” and “The Simpsons” are progressive as well.The strong characters in these two shows are the children, Stewie and Lisa.These shows dramatically change what is normally viewed as traditional.Parents no longer teach their kids, rather the children teach them.In addition, the parents do not have the ability to direct their children’s lives; instead their children are directing their lives. Much like “,” “Family Guy” and “The Simpsons” depict families as if they are on the other side of the mirror.They are merely reversed.These thoughts encourage us, as the audience, to rethink what we consider as normal.In addition, like the “” movie, both of these shows counter and mock stereotypical children’s shows.Conservatively children’s shows are supposed to protect innocence, show adults as authority figures and teach what is typically right. “Family Guy” and “The Simpsons” obviously bend these rules and are therefore extremely progressive.
“,” “Family Guy,” and “The Simpsons,” are only a few of the shows that possess these ideas of carnivalesque and progressiveness.However, all three portray these concepts beautifully.From role reversal, to degrading authority, and to using humorous situations, voices, and bodily functions to mock the revered, these shows are carnivalesque.In addition, they break the stereotype that creates a conservative work.Instead they are progressive as they challenge us to rethink what should be, and uniquely see the ideas that contradict our norms.
The fairy tale Snow-white and Rose-red, by the Grimm brothers, is an excellent example of a conservative, adult-centered text.In this text, the agency is with the adults and the children are seen as nostalgic images of childhood.Snow-white and Rose-red prove that children are good and follow the direction of adult figures even when the adult may not be present.
The conservative nature of this text is overwhelming.The author is not challenging children to do anything; but rather teaching them that if they are obedient then they will be happy.For example, Snow-white and Rose-red are described in various ways throughout the story: “ . . . the sweetest and best children in the world, always diligent and always cheerful . . . they always walked about hand in hand whenever they went out together . . . they drew round the fire, while the mother put on her spectacles and read aloud from a big book and the two girls listened and sat and span . . . the tender-hearted children . . .”The children are described as wonderful and obedient children who help anyone in need.They are seen as a quaint family that never argues, listens to their mother read stories around a fire, and did traditional “girl” things like spinning.The ending shows that because of their good hearts they were rewarded: “Snow-white married him, and Rose-red his brother, and they divided the great treasure the dwarf had collected in his cave between them.The old mother lived for many years peacefully with her children . . .”This “fairy tale” ending shows that if you are a good child then good things will happen to you.The text does not wish for children to challenge the things that their mother tells them to do.The text reinforces a sense of good behavior and family closeness.
In this family, the mother is the one with the authority and all of the agency.The girls are attentive to the instructions of their mother and follow them with haste.There are several things that the girls did to help their mother around the house and around the woods: “Show-white sat at home with her mother and helped her in the household…[they] kept their mother’s cottage so beautifully clean and neat that it was a pleasure to go into it…the mother sent the children into the wood to collect fagots…the mother sent the two girls to the town to buy needles, thread, laces, and ribbons.”This shows their obedience because the children did what their mother told them without hesitation or argument.In an adult-centered text, children understand that adults know better than children so they must follow what adults say.Another example when the children listen to the knowledge from their mother is when the mother tells them, “‘Rose-red, open the door quickly; it must be some traveler seeking shelter.’ Rose-red hastened to unbar the door… ‘Snow-white and Rose-red, come out; the bear will do you no harm; he is a good, honest creature.’”The text ends with the mother being correct when the bear’s “skin suddenly fell off, and a beautiful man stood beside them, all dressed in gold.”By listening to the mother and her knowledge, the story had a happy ending.This shows the readers that children should listen to their mothers or other adult figures because, of course, they know more than a child.This adult-centered trait is highly visible throughout the text.
Yet another image of the children, in this adult-centered text, is when they follow the directions of their mother even when she is not there.The mother has engrained the children with the importance of being kind to everyone.They show kindness to the dwarf throughout the story even though he was not nice to them.Some of the rude comments that the dwarf makes about the girls are: “‘You stupid, inquisitive goose!’… ‘Crazy blockheads!’… ‘Curse these rude wretches, cutting off a piece of my splendid beard!’… ‘you toadstools’… ‘Couldn’t you have treated me more carefully?You have torn my thin little coat all to shreds, useless, awkward hussies that you are!’” The girls have saved his life three times and yet the dwarf can only be ungrateful and mean to them.This does not deter the girls from their kind-heartedness and helping anyone in need.“The girls were accustomed to his ingratitude, and went on their way and did their business in town.”This shows that, without their mother’s advice, the girls continued to rescue the dwarf and treat him with kindness.This is an excellent example of an adult-centered trait.
Snow-white and Rose-red are perfect symbols of the nostalgic childhood images who end up being rewarded for their good nature and kind hearts.The authors are showing that if a child is obedient and good then they will surely receive a reward in the end.There are many attributes of an adult-centered text that this story has which contributes to the conservative nature of the text. This text is extremely conservative and adult-centered in various ways.
“Hard by a great forest dwelt a poor wood-cutter with his wife and his two children,” begins Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm’s famous fairy tale, “Hansel and Grethel.”“Hansel and Grethel” is a magical tail about two children who cleverly outsmart their evil stepmother, and a wicked witch to stay alive.This fairytale encompasses some of the topics we have discussed in class.It not only is incredibly child centered, but it also is progressive.
“Hansel and Grethel” is extremely child centered. The Grimm brothers depicted both Hansel and Grethel as smart, capable people.After she told her plan of leaving the children off in the woods alone to the father, the wife maliciously stated, “They will not find their way home again, and we shall be rid of them.”Fortunately, Hansel and Grethel both heard this speech, and decided something must be done to outsmart her evil plot. As Hansel dropped pebble after pebble on the road to help them find their way home, the wife noticed that he consistently looked back at the house.“Hansel what art thou looking at there and staying behind for,” the wife demanded.He replied, “I am looking at my little white cat, which is sitting up on the roof and wants to say goodbye to me.”“Fool, that is not thy little cat, that is the morning sun which is shining on the chimney,” explained the wife.Although Hansel’s answer is silly, the wife and father did not suspect his pebble trail.Therefore, his plan worked and he and his sister are able to find their way home after being left in the woods.By, having the ability to outsmart the adults, Hansel proved to have a great amount of agency.He not only had the courage to secretly plot against them, but also managed to trick them into believing he was just a childish boy fantasizing about his cat.His lie about the cat is significant because it shows that he understands adults have these assumptions that children are childlike in their thinking.He is able to use this stereotype about children against his parents, ultimately tricking them into thinking he is incapable of “adult like” complex thinking and planning.
Grethel also had her moment of greatness when she tricked the witch.Smartly, Grethel told the old witch she did not understand how to get in the oven.The witched replied haughtily, “Silly goose, the door is big enough; just look, I can get in myself!”As the evil hag climbed into the oven, Grethel courageously shoved her inside and locked the door.Ultimately, the witch was engulfed in flames resulting in her ruin. Like Hansel, Grethel is depicted as a stronger, smarter character than the adults, especially the witch, within this fairytale.Since, child-centered texts always portray the children as the most powerful, capable, independent characters, it is fitting that “Hansel and Grethel” would fall under this category.Both children easily trick the adults.In addition, they have the power to find their way through the woods at the end of the story with no pebbles or bread to guide them.The two children truly have an enormous amount of agency as they not only can outsmart the adults, but also can manipulate nature to help them.As they came to a “great piece of water” on their journey home from the gingerbread house, they realized they had no means to cross it.However, Grethel noted, “a white duck is swimming there; if I ask her, she will help us over.”Indeed, the duck does help them, and they return home safely.It is as if Hansel and Grethel gain more confidence, and agency as they manipulate and conquer every obstacle crossing their path.
Another example of why this text is child-centered is how the adults are depicted.First, it is important to note that it is only the children who have names.All of the adults in this text are referred to as, the “father,” the “wife” and the “old witch.”This is a very child-centered quality, as it gives no individuality to the adults, thus exemplifying their lack of importance.In addition, the adults are all portrayed as selfish, weak, and evil.The wife was clearly selfish and evil, as she wanted to “be rid” of her children so she could have more food to eat.In complaint to his wife’s wishes the father replied, “How can I bear to leave my children alone in the forest? The wild animals would soon come and tear them to pieces!”Selfishly and uncaringly the wife cried, “O, thou fool! Then we must all four die of hunger, thou mayest as well plane the planks for our coffins.”She would rather her children be torn to pieces by “wild animals” than have to share her food, and sacrifice her own hunger.
Also, although, the father was undoubtedly seen as the “good” parent of the two, he was plainly a weak character.The father barely stood up for his children, and let his wife send them to their deaths. After agreeing to go along with her plan he sadly said, “But I feel very sorry for the poor children, all the same.”Not once, was the father threatened by his wife. He merely gave into her, even though it was clear that he loved his children dearly.This lack of confidence completely undermines the father’s authority as an adult.Although he is a good character, he has no power to stand up for what he believed and felt strongly for. In addition, describing the old woman with the candy covered house, the Grimm’s wrote, “she only pretended to be so kind; she was in reality a wicked witch, who lay in wait for children, and had only built the house of bread in order to entice them there.” She, like the stepmother is evil. Therefore, it is apparent, that all three adults in this story are perceived as evil or weak, making this a truly child-centered text.
In addition to child-centered, “Hansel and Grethel” also is significantly progressive.In the beginning of the story, when the stepmother described her plan to leave the children, she stated, “They will not find their way home again.”The stepmother assumed that the children were naïve and incapable of taking care of themselves.She believed that they could never locate their way out of the woods because they were mere children, and would have no adult to guide them.However, they break these assumptions by finding their way through the forest not once, but twice. This is extremely progressive, because it challenges some of the stereotypical assumptions about childhood.Children are often thought of as very dependent on their parents and innocent; however, Hansel and Grethel clearly do not need their parents to find their way.They are also far from naïve.They are well aware of the stepmother’s wicked intentions.
In fact, the children not only found their way through the confusing woods and saved themselves from the horrid witch, but they also saved their father. The Grimm brothers wrote, “Grethel emptied her pinafore until pearls and precious stones ran about the room, and Hansel threw one handful after another out of his pocket to add to them.”This shows how much agency the children had, as they saved themselves and then came home with enough diamonds and jewels to support their father as well. The story ends, “Then all the anxiety was at an end, and they lived together in perfect happiness.”This fairytale is truly progressive as gives the power over to the children. In a more conservative text the father would have been the savior; however, it is Hansel and Grethel who hold all the power and save the day.
“Hansel and Grethel” is an excellent example of a progressive, child-centered text. It challenges assumptions about children, and gives children a great amount of agency.Hansel and Grethel are depicted as capable strong characters, whereas the adults are seen as evil and weak.The children also reject the norms of childhood that suggest life for a child is simple and fun, as they understand their lives are complex, and they work hard to control the situations around them. In total, “Hansel and Grethel” challenges us as readers to truly see how powerful children can be.
8.(from Final Exam)
~Interpellation is the idea that we are “bred” to think, act and react in certain ways.
~We are interpellated from the day that we are born into specific roles that society has created for us
~Girls being portrayed in magazines playing with dolls and loving the color pink is an example of gender role interpellation
~Interpellation is subtle—the point of interpellation is for a person to feed into something without even realizing that they are doing so.
~ Interpellation is used in almost every aspect of our society, especially in the marketing of merchandise
~Interpellation can be found in many situations, but the most prominent example of interpellation that I always think of is the typical male and female roles that we are “assigned” from a very early age. There are certain things that are “normal”, if not expected of a boy, simply because he is a boy. By there same token, there are certain things that are expected of a girl to maintain her societal femininity. From a young age, we are lead to believe that boys are the dominant, more powerful sex. Females are portrayed as care takers and are often seen as being more compassionate and caring then males are. Men are expected to rougher and less sensitive. The men are expected to work hard to bring home money to support their families. Females are often portrayed as being more in touch with their emotions. None of these ideas applies to any one person any more so then do personality traits, but our society interpellates these ideas into our minds every minute of every day. The following passage is from my paper on the Goonies, in which I highlight some examples of the interpellation typical female and male roles in this movie.
“The interpellation of society’s view of typical female and male roles is very obvious in this movie. The boys seem to be portrayed in the usual ways, as being mischievous and thrill seeking, while the girls are shown as weak and scared. The oldest girl, Andy, seems more concerned with her crush throughout the movie then she does with finding the gold and taking an active role in the adventure. There is a point in the movie where Mikey tells Andy that she may want to hold his hand because it was dark up ahead and it may be dangerous. This is another example of the girls and the guys being put into common roles that society has created for them. As we have been told since we were young children through fairy tales and everyday life, men are supposed to take care of females and be there to protect them. Another example of interpellation is when Brent, Mikey’s older brother, makes a comment in the movie asking why he couldn’t have had a little sister instead of a little brother, as if to say that only a boy is daring enough to start the trouble that they are in.This statement reaffirms the idea of interpellation of typical male and female roles in this film.”
~ The following excerpts looks at an example of interpellation from the 1980’s classic, The Goonies:
“Something that is interesting in this movie is that the Goonies all seem to be misfits. There is a scene where the developer’s son drives past Mikey’s older brother, Brent. The developers son is driving a convertible and wearing his letter jacket and has two girls in his car, while Brent is wearing ratty old sweats and is riding his little brothers bike. Interpellation is shown in the idea that the rich kids are cool and popular, while the poor kids are unpopular and outcasts.”
“Mikey’s family seems to be having some emotional problems. Mikey’s older brother, Brent, always makes fun of their father and doesn’t seem to have a lot of respect for him. This shows the idea that families who don’t have a lot of money are less stable and ultimately less happy.At the end of the movie, when the family realizes they have enough money to save their home, they come together and hug each other and really show affection towards each other for the first time in the movie. Again, interpellation is shown in that money and material things bring happiness. “
~We seem to idealize wealthy families in our society because we are under the warped impression that they are happier then ourselves because they have everything that they want. Children who are born into wealth and privilege are showcased in reality television and documentaries, further rubbing our noses in the fact that there are parents who can provide for their children in ways that you or I could never imagine (from a material standpoint). Our culture seems to go out of its way to display this quality, to make those who have more feel better about themselves and those who have less feel worse. We are interpellated be jealous of other peoples luck and fortune, when we should be thankful for the opportunities that we have instead of being angry about the opportunities that we don’t. I think this reoccurring theme is strong in the Goonies. As described in the excerpt Mikeys family is portrayed as poor and unhappy. Nothing seems to go right for them, mainly because of the fact that they don’t have any material wealth. The rich family holds the happiness of the poor family in its hands. The rich family has all of the agency while the poor family has none. Like in our society, the poor are at the mercy of the rich.
~We are interpellated to believe that the main centers of power and authority in our society, i.e. the government, our parents, the president, are inherently good and always right—they(the powers that be) do this to try and keep us in our place. They want to keep power in the hands of those who have always had it, and usually on of the only ways to do that is to interpellate society to believe that that is where the power and authority belong in the first place.
~Like the magazine add that you showed us that said “All girls love princesses, pink and parties” (or something to that effect), we are spoon feeding interpellated gender roles to our children. Certainly, all girls DON’T love princesses and all girls don’t love pink. In fact, I always hated princesses and pink for that matter. By saying “All girls”, marketing agencies are really embracing interpellated gender roles and using them to try and sell their product, which often works (unfortunately).
~I wrote about the role of interpellation in Jack and the Bean Stalk. Below are some detailed examples of interpellation that I found in this particular version of the story:
“Jack goes into town to sell Milky-White to try and get money for he and his mom. He is stopped along the way by a strange old man. The picture of the old man in this story is interesting because the old man is dressed rather uniquely. I think that this shows interpellation because it shows that strange people dress differently from normal people. The illustration provides the reader with a distinction between “strange” and “normal” based solely on appearance. It reaffirms the idea that one can determine who is normal and who isn’t, simply by looking at them.”
~I think that this is a common idea in our society. In the , we assert ourselves and are identity at first impression, based solely on our clothing. We have been interpellated to look critically on those who dress strange or different then ourselves and are often interpellated from a young age to be weary of those who “look” different from us. Like I said in the paper, distinctions between strange and normal are made all of the time based on clothing. If I were to dread lock my hair, someone might look at me and think I was perhaps dirty or unprofessional, when my goal is doing so was only to embrace a low maintenance lifestyle. We make assumptions like the previous constantly, based on appearance alone. First impressions, based almost entirely on looks, determine who we do and don’t interact with. We are interpellated to believe that we must dress certain ways for certain occasions. Different outfits are appropriate for different events and not knowing what is appropriate when can prove to be a very big problem in some people’s eyes.
~Below is another part of my Jack and the Bean Stalk paper which highlights an example of interpellation through male and female roles within the text:
“The depiction of typical male and female roles in this story are almost overwhelming. After Jack climbs the beanstalk, he finds the giants wife, who just returned from picking flowers. He asks her for something to eat and she says that she will make him something to eat, but that they must be fast because her husband gets home soon. The female giant is portrayed as the common “homemaker” type. She is patiently waiting for her husband to get home and is picking flowers to pass the time and she is the one who does all of the cooking for her husband. The wife also seems to be at the mercy of her husband. In the story she invites Jack inside but warns him that her husband likes to eat little boys. Interpellation is shown in the idea that the giant has the control over his wife and her opinion on the welfare of Jack is irrelevant to him. As soon as the giant gets home, he demands dinner and his wife, who has already had it prepared, brings it to him right away. Again, this is reaffirming typical male and female gender roles in that it is the female’s responsibility to wait on her husband. Another good example of interpellation is when the male giant says “wife, bring me my bags of gold, and I will count my money before I take a nap” (11). The female giant seems to act like a servant to her husband; throughout the story he demands things and she brings them for him right away. It is also interesting that the husband is only concerned with eating, sleeping and money, which is a very typical depiction of males.
~ We are interpellated through religion, politics and the school systems.
Kingdom Hearts as a Child-Centered Text
In the Playstation 2 game Kingdom Hearts, players are introduced to a young boy named Sora who is thrown into a struggle to save not one, but multiple worlds from a mysterious force known as the Heartless. Sora finds himself suddenly wielding a magical weapon called the Keyblade, which just happens to be the only thing that can fight the Heartless, and an artifact that Donald Duck and Goofy have been ordered by Mickey Mouse to find. Sora has a different mission- he is looking for his two best friends, Riku and Kairi, who disappeared when his world was destroyed by the Heartless. Together, Sora, Donald and Goofy venture to different worlds, meet many other Disney characters, and battle the Heartless in hopes of restoring balance to the worlds. However, their quest is much more complicated than saving the world from evil- the line between good and bad becomes blurred as the corrupting power of the Heartless affects Sora’s friends, and Sora himself must learn where his strength lies and decide whether or not to use it. At first, Kingdom Hearts appears to be a light fairy-tale about good fighting evil, but it soon becomes apparent that Sora and childlike characters like Donald and Goofy are dealing with issues not typically found in adult-centered texts, and more importantly, they are doing it without the aid of just, authoritative adults.
The adults in Kingdom Hearts are a far cry from the knowledgeable, caring, strong individuals typically found in adult-centered texts. The first major group of adults consists of the villains from various Disney movies who are working together with the Heartless to take over their worlds. This group includes such characters as Jafar, Captain Hook and Maleficent, all of which are most likely already infamous to the player for their deeds in their respective films. The game presents them as completely irredeemable- they are evil, corrupt, and will stop at nothing to achieve their goals, even if it means dealing with the mysterious Heartless. Of course, one by one their plans backfire and they are either defeated by Sora or betrayed by the Heartless, which is a rather adult-centered way of dealing with bad adults. However, the second major group of adults makes up for this. These characters are the heroes that the villains originally battled- Aladdin, Tarzan and Jack Skellington, for example. While they are on Sora’s side, these characters are still far from all knowing and perfect, and can even act more like children than Sora does. Upon arriving in , for example, Sora, Donald and Goofy are shocked to see that Jack has recruited the Heartless in the annual Halloween festival. Fortunately, they soon learn that Jack doesn’t actually realize how dangerous they are- he just thinks they’re really scary-looking and would be a great addition to the celebration. In addition to these two groups of adults, Kingdom Hearts features adults that appear to be in positions of authority, but in reality have little or no power over children. In the world of The Little Mermaid, King Triton has lost much of his control over Ariel- the scene where he originally destroys all of her treasures becomes much less devastating in the game, where he only destroys an item that is later revealed to be useless anyway. In fact, Triton’s power as an authoritative figure is decreased so much that Ariel and Sora have to save him from Ursula. The game makes brief mention of Sora’s own family, but it is clear that like King Triton, they have very little control over Sora. His mother is heard once at the beginning of the game, where she calls him for dinner, but the same exact scene shows Sora sneaking out of the house through his bedroom window. After that, there is no mention at all of his parents- Sora doesn’t even appear to miss them. Mickey Mouse is the closest thing to a central authority figure the game has because he is the main reason why Donald and Goofy are exploring the worlds, and thus, the reason why Sora is brought along. He also knows much more about the invading Heartless and the Keyblade’s powers than anyone else. However, it is interesting to note that Mickey is more of a childlike character than an adult, due to his being an animal.
In addition to Mickey Mouse, Donald and Goofy are also very childlike. Donald still has a short temper and is very annoyed at the idea of the legendary Keyblade Master being a kid. He and Sora do not get along very well, but their arguments are small and childish, and they usually make amends shortly after. Goofy tries hard to be the mediator between the two, but he usually ends up doing what Donald tells him to avoid causing more trouble. Both characters display a large amount of agency late in the game when they are forced to make a difficult decision regarding being with Sora or following Mickey’s orders- Sora loses the Keyblade for a short time, during which Donald and Goofy leave him because they can’t let it out of their sight. However, Goofy soon realizes that Sora is too good a friend to just abandon and has a change of heart. Donald is a bit more stubborn, but sees Goofy’s point and rejoins them. Sora himself also has a huge amount of agency, possibly more than anyone else in the game. His agency is represented by the Keyblade, which is regarded as a symbol of great power in every world he visits. When he loses it, he can only get it back by realizing that its strength comes from his heart. Sora receives the Keyblade by resisting the Heartless when his world is destroyed- it recognizes that he is strong and good-hearted. When he learns of his destiny as the Keyblade Master, he embraces it rather than running from such a huge responsibility, if only because he hopes that it will lead him to his missing friends. One of Sora’s friends, Riku, also displays agency, but it comes at a price- instead of resisting the darkness that destroyed his and Sora’s world, Riku joins it and ends up being possessed by the leader of the Heartless. However, he realizes that he is being used to hurt his friends and fights back. In an attempt to atone for the things he did while working for the villains, Riku offers to help Sora seal off the Heartless, but this act will leave him trapped with the Heartless as a result. Sora is distressed at the thought of being separated again, but Riku insists, and his confidence in Sora allows them to seal away the Heartless.
Kingdom Hearts still has some elements common to adult-centered texts, one of which is the mostly conservative plot. Sora is trying to restore the norm instead of change it, and the forces trying to cause change and disrupt the balance are the Heartless and the Disney villains. Even so, bringing order back to the worlds is not Sora’s main concern- to him it is just a means of finding his friends and repairing his own world. Sora also learns lessons throughout the game by interacting with the various characters within the Disney worlds. These morals typically connect back to Sora’s search for his friends- for example, Hercules and other competitors in the Olympus Coliseum teach him that true strength comes from friendship, and Tarzan teaches Sora that his friends are always with him if he keeps their thoughts in his heart. The lessons are highly didactic and Sora ultimately accepts them, but at the end of the game, it is clear to the player that he is still given the choice of acknowledging them or not. Finally, there is the question of what the Heartless truly represent. There is no doubt that the Heartless are pure evil- they corrupt everything they touch and bring out the very worst in anyone who deals with them. By looking at the Heartless as an adult-centeric
"The one book that teaches all that books can teach"
"I shall pass through this world but once; any good thing therefore I can do, or any kindness I can show to any human being let me do it now, let me not defer it or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again."
Robinson Crusoe is not simply about shipwreck, survival and rescue, but Defoe's novel also relates one man's spiritual journey in search of self and his goal of setting things right and making amends. Finding the self may take a lifetime. It took twenty-eight years on the island for Crusoe to discover more about himself, and, of course, he had to wait that number of years before he could make up for past mistakes. However, we do not have an ocean preventing us from making amends, and if only readers were to open themselves to this book, for all its clumsiness, flat style and Eurocentricity, it can, by illustrating one man's life, illuminate ours.
To begin opening ourselves we must begin to identify with Crusoe. This is not as easy as it might seem. For one thing, in my case, he is a man, and I am a woman. He lived two hundred years ago so had very different values. He was white. I am not. It is, however, necessary to push these things aside and go to the text. Look especially at instances when Crusoe is not the most politically correct of heros- -when he seems most at odds with our thinking. Consider Crusoe's treatment of Friday. Friday has no name of his own, and he, the "savage," automatically becomes a servant. Here, Crusoe is condescending and racist. Yet, when I look at my own actions towards others, I have to admit that many times they fall short of being good or just. Let us be honest, don't we all shun or dislike those not like ourselves in color, age, social standing, or religion, at some time or other?
One other important flaw--some might not call it a flaw at all--is Crusoe's bond of utility rather than bond of mutual respect that forms the basis of his friendships. Crusoe is a man that, early in the novel, is a friend when the other person can give something. This can be seen after Cruosoe's "entering into a strict friendship with this captain." The captain, "to my great misfortune" writes Crusoe, dies soon after his arrival. At first readers are a little taken aback by this and other instances of Crusoe's utilitarian attitude. But closer examination of our own personal behavior is necessary before we give up on him.
What of our own utilitarian behavior? For instance, here in college we sit beside other students for months at a time making small talk and borrowing each other's notes. But when 18th Century English is finished, the same students that depended on one another for notes and encouragement do not even say hello in the corridor! We rather turn away our eyes rather than have to bother with all that is involved in making a new friend. A real new friend. Were not, then, all those pleasantries merely for utility?
This theme of people being used simply for personal gain is interesting when we consider that Defoe had his hero denied any human contact for most of his stay on the island. And in such a manner does Crusoe rage, as we all would, at his predicament. The hero is at his lowest ebb when he realizes there are no survivors of a later shipwreck, and he let loose all of his emotions as he laments, "Oh that there had been but one! .... Oh had there been but one" (186). Now remember, this is the same man who, earlier in the novel, sold little Xury, a boy willing to give his life for Crusoe, into slavery for a few bits of silver.
So Crusoe was bad. So we are all users! We all fall short. Perhaps this is why Crusoe constantly speaks of his unworthiness. This is a man who examines himself and definitely feels he has fallen short. He constantly speaks of his "original sin." This is supposed to be the sin of disobeying his father and going to sea instead of following the relatively safe path of middle class ordinariness. Crusoe's sin of disobedience to his father is something that hangs over him for his entire stay on the island and is deeply wound up in the fiber of his spiritual questioning. But is Crusoe's sin as terrible as all that?
Perhaps we can see this disobedience towards the father as a veil for a bigger issue. Is the sin Defoe really speaking of the sin of being born human? What is described as "this propension of nature" (1) may be what is, in actuality, a description of our frail human nature. A human nature so frail that it becomes very hard to do what is right. This frail nature keeps us down in the quagmire of humanness--with our brother Crusoe. I do not think, then, that we are at liberty to point fingers at him. Instead, we should ask ourselves why is it so hard to rise above our smallness, our shallowness, and become great?
Yes. Why is it so hard to ascend to that higher level of existence? We often try to convert ourselves, like Crusoe did, to become better individuals, but as Defoe details so well in his book, we know how hard it is to truly convert. Sometimes we only pray a little, like Crusoe, when the storm threatens or the earth rumbles. Perhaps it is not possible to convert at all. One thing that must be realized is that we certainly have many opportunities in a lifetime to do so. I had an opportunity a few weeks ago and I let it pass me by.
We moved into our new parish six months ago. Usually, by this time both my husband and I have met all the sick and shut-ins. There was one lady though, Anna, whom I never went to see. One of Anna's sons killed himself, one of her daughters is a bag lady, her last daughter has Downs syndrome, and her other three children never visit her. This lady and her husband of nearly sixty years had their share of personal hardship. To add to this, Anna had advanced cancer, so never got out much. A few weeks ago Anna died.
Since the funeral, yes, everyone goes to the funeral, I have met her husband. Now that Anna is gone, he goes for long walks and dropped in one night. Through speaking with him, listening to his mourning, I have gotten to know his wife. But the guilt of never bothering to visit and get to know her, the person, is still with me. The selfish reason for not visiting her was I did not want to share in her unhappiness. I did not want the emotional burden of going to her home and sharing in her life. I did not have time to feel sad. I have enough of my own sadness, I thought.
So I missed that one chance to raise myself up--on to higher ground. This is, I am sorry to say, all too common, not only in my life, but in general. We are so busy becoming successful that it is easy to forget what is really important--people and relationships. There is only time to concentrate on the physical and neglect what is spiritual. And this is what Crusoe is all about. He shows us the race for things is not as important as a human voice or human companionship. What we have to strive at is to overcome the need to be in that race for things, that "obstinacy" of human frailty, that wants to eat, to swamp us, as the storm or wild animals want to consume Crusoe.
Those wild animals never did get Crusoe. He was, in fact very lucky. In Defoe's prodigal son parable, Crusoe might not have had his biological parents to come back and make amends to, but the old captain and the widow, with their unconditional goodness, make appropriate substitutions. And while Crusoe is on the island a small fortune accumulates, so he is well able to put things in order on his return. I know now that "providence" will not always be as kind to me. I may not get the chance, as Crusoe did, to make things right when I choose to. As the writer Stephen Grellet says, I have to do it now.
So you see, there is a lot to be learnt from Robinson Crusoe! It teaches us the basics so we do not have to spend twenty-eight years on a desert island. We learn that what really keeps us down is our human self absorption and that we have to rise above this terrible selfishness. We learn that finding the self is acknowledging our frailty and working, in spite of it, towards making our spiritual side strong. If I realize what is important in life, I know I have learnt from Crusoe's experiences and will never have to cry "Oh had there been but one ....
"...I observe that the expectation of evil is more bitter than the suffering..."(p.181).
Only after several readings of different portions of Defoe's Robinson Crusoe and several attempts at drafting a different type of paper, did I finally decide upon using this particular quotation. For me the best kind of writing is the one that does itself, and this quote is the basis for that kind of writing. All I have to do is hold the pen.
My first recollection of being "locked into" fear (aside from the boogey man, ghosts and witches) was the first time I had to be absent from school for several days. I believe I was ill with a sore throat and fever. At the age of five or six, an hour often feels like a day, and a day like a week, so to be out of school for four days seemed quite a LONG time. Anyway, I remember my mother finally telling me I could go back to school the next morning. While part of me was happy and excited at the thought of seeing my friends and my teacher, the other part of me was terrified. What if when I got to my classroom no one talked to me? (because I hadn't been there). What if my teacher was mad at me? (because I hadn't been there). What if they all made fun of me? (because I hadn't been there). What if I didn't know any answers? (because I hadn't been there). I would die: I just knew I would. Well, after several hours of this kind of thinking along with the escalating of fear and anxiety that accompanied it, I really didn't have to worry about school the next day; I was making myself too sick to go back! The next morning after refusing to eat breakfast (which my mother said I was too excited to eat), I got dressed in my favorite outfit (red corduroy pants, checkered shirt- -with solid red scarf, red socks and white sneakers), and sat on the couch-waiting for my older sister, Susan, to finish getting ready to take me to school. The old fear-thoughts started again, and this time I had neither the comforts of my bedcovers nor of a day's respite. With that realization I threw up, all over myself and my chance to return to school. On the third morning that pattern failed. I really did recover, and my re-entry into first grade was in reality very pleasant. My friends crowded around me; my teacher greeted me warmly; and the most negative thing that occurred was that I forgot my milk and cookie money which I was told I could bring in the next day. This memory agrees intellectually and somatically with Crusoe's above-quoted observation.
The application of this quotation is not limited in my experience to my early youth. I have been "locked into" fear and acted in direct opposition to it many a time and more often than not been surprised and rewarded by the results. My marital separation and subsequent divorce was such an experience. At the time of my separation, my son, Terence, was five years old (one of the first full-day kindergartners) and my daughter, Maryellen, was two and a half (a terrible toddler). While there had been arguments and cold-war silences and an ever- growing accumulation of heart hurts, major disappointments, and financial failures, there was also a desperate desire to keep the marriage together.
We sought help through our minister and a marriage counselor. After several months of couple therapy, I realized that the only recourse was an end to the marriage. I was terrified. Wanting my freedom was one thing. Breaking up a home and taking the responsibility for raising two children alone was another. All the horror stories I had heard about `single parent' households flooded my head. Terence became a tragic juvenile statistic and Maryellen an unwed mother at best. These were two of my more positive visions of the future. How would I support them? Would we lose the house? I thought we would drown in my inadequacy. Only through listening to my own voice, sharing with friends and family and accepting their help and guidance was I able to act on what I knew to be the best for me, my children and even for my ex-husband. The night he came and packed his clothes to move into his parent's home came and went. I remember sitting on my couch after he had left with his father, saying to myself, "so this is it. Two children and seven years later, this is it." That was the deepest moment of sorrow I had and almost the last. I can suggest the significance of my loss of Billy by saying that the only time I noticed he was gone was when I set one less place at the supper table. In fact, life without Billy was delightfully unrestrained. We all ate together (no more arguments across the table); I had no more five-thirty deadlines; the bills were paid (unlike before); and there was much more laughter in our house. I joined Terence in attending school. I began taking college courses at Kingsborough with Maryellen attending the daycare center there. And even surviving turned out to flow more easily than I had feared. I was able to keep the house (through financial help from friends). The kids saw their father on weekends (much like before), and I was able to fill my time with my own pleasures. My decision to end my marriage opened the door for the life I enjoy today.
Fear, or the expectation of failure or defeat does not guarantee its own fruition; non-action, tunnel vision, loss of choices or options do. The worst kind of decision is one made by indecision. Where there is faith, choice or hope, there is an alternative.
Perhaps it is no more than the accumulation of years, the simple passage of time that accounts for the recent turn in my thoughts towards the manner in which the events of my life have occurred and brought me to what I politely call "the current state." After all, when those accumulated years require the placement of a number with (to my thinking) the heft of a 29 in front of them to be described, and there is (again, to my thinking) so little to show in the way of accomplishment for so great a span of time, well, a fellow can't help but begin to wonder "how?" or, more to the point, "why?" These recent thoughts of mine dovetail nicely with one of the themes in Laurence Sterne's Tristram Shandy: the randomness of life. Although an acceptance of the randomness of life may seem somewhat frightening at first, with all it portends for the futility of human planning. I think the opposite case is more frightening still. Personally I would hate to think that the sequence of events that have led me to the current state have happened by design. That, trust me, is the truly frightening thought.
Sterne highlights the theme of the randomness of life by exposing the ridiculous extent to which events can be linked by cause and effect. For example, the flattening of Tristram's nose can be traced back in an almost straight line from the end of Dr. Slop's forceps to the marriage articles between Mr. and Mrs. Shandy. The articles stated that Mrs. Shandy should be permitted, when pregnant, to lay in (if she chose) in London. This right, however, would become void if she should cause Mr. Shandy to go to the expense of a journey to London without her being pregnant. Unfortunately she takes such a trip and, as a result, is obliged to lay in at home during her pregnancy with Tristram. When her time comes, Dr. Slop is called in and, consequently, Tristram's nose becomes caught in the doctor's forceps and is flattened.
Tristram, therefore, sees the weight of the marriage articles as falling directly upon him. This judgment may appear absurd as the connection between the articles and the nose is somewhat tenuous, but I can understand it. My very existence can be traced to a no less tenuous circumstance. It seems my parents met during the summer at the beach. What if it had rained that day? What If my father had gone to another beach? It would seem that my presence on the planet can be accounted for by the lack of rain on a summer day some thirty-odd years ago and on the result of a debate among my father's friends on the relative merits of Coney Island and Riis Park.
Before I let the topic of noses get away, I would like to say something on the subject. I have a bump on my nose. I suppose I noticed it as long as 10 years ago although it is only in the past five years or so that I have become truly conscious of its existence. My father has recently taken an interest and has asked me what object did I walk into or have fall upon the bridge of my nose to account for the presence of so pronounced a bump. When I confess that I do not remember any incident which could possibly account for the bump, I usually follow it up with the query, "But Dad, tell the truth, wasn't it (the bump) always there?" His response never wavers, "No. no. When you were a child you had a beautiful, straight nose�are you sure you didn't hit something?"
One may wonder what the point of all this is and, to be honest, I am not sure. Except for this: Tristram seems to believe that the poor quality of his nose has had a negative impact on his life and I am not sure that he is far off the mark. For although I cannot pinpoint in history the moment in which my nose acquired its present dimensions (like Tristram can), I do know that it is something that I have only noticed within the past 10 years; that is, roughly since my graduation from high school. Since it is these past 10 years with which I am less than enamored and since I did have a relatively pleasant childhood, I cannot rule out the possibility that the shape of one's nose does indeed have a direct bearing on the quality of one's life.
Another example of the randomness of life in Tristram Shandy is the manner in which Tristram acquires his name. Through a combination of the faulty memory of Susannah, the difficulty of some buttonholes on Mr. Shandy's breeches and the obstinate insistence of a curate (who just happens to be named Tristram himself), the name is bestowed and made permanent. I have not bothered to hide my dissatisfaction with the position in life with which I find myself currently confronted and so I shall address that presently.
Why is it that my contemporaries are marching forward in the world clutching their degrees ("with all the rights and privileges pertaining thereto") while I, on the cusp of 30years of age, am still an undergraduate? The reason is no more complicated than this: I did not want to be an accountant. Since it will not require an excessive I.Q. on the part of the reader to understand the logic inherent in the reason I have given,I shall move along.
I am not completely dissatisfied with my life. One of the happiest moments of the past ten years was my marriage some two and one-half years ago. Yet when you read of how trivial an occurrence it was that has accounted for this happiness you will surely shudder. It was in ninth grade biology that our teacher threw out for our consideration a statistic, namely this: that the vast majority of us would eventually marry people who lived within a five mile radius of us. My friend Donald, next to whom I sat, and I exchanged looks of a highly dubious cast being, as we were, not entirely unacquainted with the sort of girls who lived within a five mile radius. But to get on with my story.
My wife and I grew up in the same town and, though aware of each other's existence, were not friends until our senior year in high school and then for no other reason than this: I changed the route I took when walking home from school. After years of walking along Main Street to Smith Avenue and then down Smith to our house on the corner of Maple Street, I changed my routine to taking the earlier turn on Ocean Avenue, taking Ocean down to Maple and then walking along Maple to Smith Avenue and home. My wife walked home via Ocean and, without belaboring it, we began walking together, became friends, were dating two years later and were married over two years ago. So you see, the foundation of my marriage (and happiness) rests on no more than a desire for a change of scenery some 12 years ago. By the way, Donald also married a girl from home. In fact, our weddings were a mere two weeks apart!
There is one question that is not adequately addressed in Tristram Shandy and that is whether or not Tristram would change, if he could, anything in the past. Although I am not entirely pleased with where I am currently, I would have to answer that question with a "no." Life is, to a large extent, random. Were I to change some past event there is no telling what unwanted consequences it might have on subsequent events and thus on my life as a whole. Since I would not risk the loss of many happy times and good friends to the vagaries of cause and effect, I must conclude that for all its (however unpleasant) randomness, my life up to now has turned out rather well.
For me reading Jane Eyre was no mere intellectual exercise; it was an experience which served to reflect a mirror-image of what I am. Jane's rainbows and cobwebs are mine; we are one. I think that she would be as engrossed in reading an account of my life as I was in reading hers. I see her reading Linda Levy on a stormy night, covers up to her chin, with candlelight flickering and wind whistling across the heath. I read hers tucked into bed, as wind rattled the windows and bellowed through the caverns of Trump Village. Every page of Jane Eyre seemed to uncover another similarity between us. One passage was particularly meaningful to me because I found it to be a melding of several characteristics:
No reflection was to be allowed now; not one glance was to be cast back; not even one forward. Not one thought was to be given either to the past or future. The first was a page so heavenly sweet--so deadly sad--that to read one line of it would dissolve my courage and break down my energy (p. 323).Here we see Jane as romantic, moral, passionate, vulnerable and highly principled. pr> My past grinds at my guts, but I realize now that I couldn't have done otherwisee taking into account my romantic and moral inclinations, my passions, my vulnerability and high principles. Jane was tormented by her choices for the same reasons. Jacques Brel said, "Perhaps we feel too much and maybe that's the crime, perhaps we pray too much and there isn't any shrine..." But that's cynical, and defensive and incurable romantics like Jane and me would argue vehemently with Mr. Brel's lyric. To me (and probably to Jane) without passion and the Quest, life is a living death; without the willingness to do, to try and perhaps, to fail, we are automatons.
Philosophers and psychologists tell us that we do what we do because of what we are. As kindred spirits, Jane and I would find ourselves in emotional and ethical quandaries and flight would be the only choice. It is a flight fueled by principles.
Flight was Jane's only alternative when St. John Rivers proposed. He didn't seek marriage on the basis of love, but as a device to woo her into becoming a fellow-missionary. She was appalled by this bloodless, lifeless request. She could envision going with him, single, as a co-worker, but St. John felt that marriage was a `must' for propriety's sake and could not be moved on this point. Jane found it necessary to run from St. John, a man of reason, and track down Mr. Rochester, a man of passion.
I, too, had to run. I was married to a man I didn't love or respect. My husband was cold and rational, I was the antithesis. My reason for marrying wasn't greed, but my insecurity, a negative self-image and a desire to please him and my parents. As I grew stronger in myself, I couldn't tolerate the marriage any longer. I was selling out on my dreams if I continued to live with a man for whom I felt no romantic love, a man who in no way lived up to my 'ideal.' I gave up many things: comfort, security, the worship of my husband (in his cold, self-contained way) and set out to seek my fortune. At my side was my two-year old child. I was guided by my determination and my newly-acquired principles of respect and self love.
Very such in love with Mr. Rochester, Jane accepted sadism, neglect, sarcasm and almost anything he chose to inflict because she was insecure, previously unloved, unworldly and romantic. Even when there was a mutuality of feeling, the relationship was unequal. Growth was needed on both sides. She ran away from Thornfield because she discovered, on the day of her wedding, that Mr. Rochester was already married. She acted quickly, took nothing with her and was willing to endure any hardship to resist temptation. Jane was very moral and very romantic. The quality of her love would be altered, sullied if she remained. In flight her principles overshadowed her passions.
During my odyssey, my romantic experiences paralleled Jane's. I encountered the `White Knight' and he was everything to me that Rochester was to Jane; but he was more sensitive, less abusive. He loved me; I worshipped him. He was music, poetry, light, air. I couldn't get enough of him. I wanted more, then I wanted forever. He could have complied; he was a man motivated by love and principles. His principles weren't nine and we eventually clashed over them. For him, being the step-father of an autistic child would require too much energy and provide too little reward. He wanted an unencumbered wife who could provide his with a child of his own and he wanted to seek his `ideal' while continuing with me (as a cushion against the pain of separation, I suppose). I was as appalled as Jane was when Mr. Rochester asked her to be his mistress. How could this man, my 'White Knight,' who claimed to love me totally and wholeheartedly, turn his back on Forever? Doesn't a lover accept everything climb--the highest mountain, etc.?
Devastated and outraged, I had to run, to hide, to seek safety and oblivion both. I had to insulate myself from blinding, excruciating pain. My love was being trampled, made ugly. The running away was mental: I withdrew from life, friends, works and, especially, love; I contemplated suicide. The pain, emptiness and feeling of betrayal were as real as the emotions that took Jane on her journey through the moors. Still, I had to end the relationship, regardless of the consequences. In the final analysis, I made the only decision I could abide. In Jane's flight as in mine, we were tempted to remain. If we weren't, there'd be no urgency.
Though we were sorely tempted to stay and savor the wine, we feared that the vintage would soon turn to vinegar. Flight, for us, was the only option. Compromise on love is unacceptable--for love is the sum of who we are, what we give and what we get in return and can only endure in its highest, purest form: a love based on mutuality, self-respect, sacrifice, equality, direction and growth. I couldn't have done otherwise�nor could Jane Eyre.
Emily Dickinson has always been one of my favorite poets. I love her poems because of the pain and sorrow they contain to which I can easily relate. She often writes of funerals and death. I myself have watched too many friends die and have wondered why God would let this happen. At every funeral, some well meaning mourner would say--,"The Lord called him" or "She's with Jesus now." My gut reaction was always, "Bullshit." Then Emily Dickinson's poem "My Life Closed Twice Before its Close" would come to mind, especially the last two lines--,"Parting is all we know of Heaven and all we need of hell." More than anything I've ever heard those lines summarize the doubts I've had about an afterlife and the pain of those left behind.
My friend Molly Moynahan, recently wrote a novel and titled it Parting is all We Know of Heaven. The book opens with Dickinson's poem in its entirety. It is the story of a young woman whose life is destroyed by grief following her sister's death. I too have been at the point where grief combined with my own stupidity (drugs and alcohol) almost destroyed my life.
My best friend since childhood killed herself by eating 56 valium pills. Her suicide note said that she was too ashamed of herself to face her family anymore. Her parents didn't even bother to come to her funeral. We had to take up a collection in the bar to bury her. Two weeks later another good friend choked to death on his own vomit. His three year old daughter found him the next morning. I was overwhelmed with guilt when I realized I had been drinking with him the night before. To this day when I see his wife and children at the supermarket, I can't look them in the face. Within the next two months I lost three other friends to a drunk driving accident and one to AIDS.
In my stupidity, I didn't think to question the kind of lives my friends and I were leading; instead I dove deeper into the world of cocaine to make myself feel better and to hide from the reality of the death that was all around me. However, it wasn't only me. Every time one of my friends would die, the whole crowd of us would greatly increase our drug and alcohol intake. This would inevitably lead to the death of another one of us and so the cycle continued.
None of us believed in heaven, but we all knew the private hell of being left behind on this earth to suffer. The dead were at least at peace in their little cushioned boxes. The rest of us had to keep living and wondering who would be next. I believe in hell on earth and during the last two and a half years that I have been straight, I've come to appreciate this even more.
I don't keep the same friends that I used to. I can't if I want to remain sane, but I often see members of my old crowd around the neighborhood and in the bar on dart night. I see them sitting in front of the post office drinking beers when they should be working or going to school or taking care of their children. I see them coming home when I leave my house in the morning. I see them coming out of the bathroom in the bar with cocaine still clinging to their nostrils and I wonder who will be next.
There was another death a week ago Sunday--a heart attack caused by an overdose of cocaine. A twenty-eight year old woman should not die of a heart attack. Heart attacks are for old men. I didn't go to the funeral. I was afraid that I might have turned into one of those "She's with Jesus" people, and I know that that is probably one of the least comforting things one can say to a grieving husband and children. I also felt that I didn't deserve to be among the mourners. They were all mourning for themselves as well as for Michelle. In the back of each of their minds, they were all wondering if they would be next.
One day we discussed in class the tradition among New England Puritans of looking in the face of the dead and reading their emotions to determine whether or not they were going to heaven. I've thought about this a lot since I've found God and I hope that it isn't true. Everyone I've known has died a horrible death. They were all cut down in the prime of their lives--face down in their own vomit, on the cold, dirty floor of a bathroom, decapitated in a car wreck, in a crowded AIDS ward in a city hospital. None of them had a chance to make their peace with God or with themselves for that matter. I'm sure none of them died looking content or peaceful but terrified and at best surprised. Therefore I would like to believe that hell is all that has gone on here in this life and that after the parting there is a heaven where those who suffered on earth are given a second chance.
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