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The gaze from different theoretical perspectives

The concept of the gaze and an expanded awareness of it can be applied extensively in the analysis and criticism of literary texts. To understand the gaze, it is necessary to first dissect Jean-Paul Sartre’s thoughts about the subject versus the object.

Humans, according to the field of philosophy, are subjects, which implies that they are capable of thinking and feeling, as well as having thoughts, emotions, desires, goals, and interests. Thus, humans are subjects capable of having their own consciousnesses. As a result, everything surrounding humans constitutes objects. Sartre initially expressed these ideas in Being and Nothingness, a key text in the development of existentialism. Vaz argued, this dichotomy, of self-as-object and Other-as-subject, for Sartre, is the essential concept of interpersonal relationships.”[1]

According to Sartre, we are not limited to our own personal subjectivity; we exist in connection with other people as well. Later, he discussed “the look,” or what we can call “the gaze.” This gaze is essentially a realization of sorts—when someone realizes their existence and sees the self as a conscious being, they see another person, and that person is gazing at them. As a result, when other people look at us, we realize that they have conceptualized us as objects in their world because every one of us has our own subjective reality. We are aware that everyone lives in their own world, and when they look at us, we cease to be subjects and are transformed into objects in their eyes, which is how they see and perceive us. The way other people look at us profoundly impacts us. In other words, “the Other is that which interrupts one’s lived experiences and affects the very structure of the self.”[2]

We subsequently discover that we are doing the same thing—looking at others, objectifying them, and transforming them into objects because everything in our environment is ultimately an object to us. We are the only thing that is not a thing; we are the only thing that is a subject. As a result, this phenomenon makes us realize that we are both looked at and looking at and that we are both objectifier and objectified. We exist as objects in someone else’s reality, and we create others and objects in our own.  

This type of gaze described by Sartre is an objectifying gaze. Some feminists later developed another sort of objectifying gaze which is the idea of the male gaze. Laura Mulvey, in her essay “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,” elaborated on this kind of objectifying gaze. She talked about women as images and passive objects and men as bearers of the look and active subjects: “In a world ordered by sexual imbalance, pleasure in looking has been split between active/male and passive/female.”[3] She further discussed the male gaze from a cinematic perspective, examining how everything in film is oriented around the male viewpoint. In cinema, it is assumed that the audience is male, and thus, movies accommodate the male gaze. That is why, in cinema, women are objectified and seen and shown as objects.

This objectifying gaze is a form of oppression. Women are objectified in our culture in such a way that they are then expected to accommodate the male gaze and appear appealing. If women do not adjust to the male gaze and do not appear attractive, then they are not perceived as valuable human beings.

Later, bell hooks claimed that Mulvey was right but argued that Mulvey did not go far enough. Mulvey failed to consider the plight of Black people, a racial group that had long been overlooked by feminist theory. In many major forms of feminist theory, non-White people were completely excluded from the analysis and discussion, an issue that also applies to various critical theories. hook’s oppositional gaze argues that there is a lack of representation or simply insufficient representation of Black women. This gaze is essentially a sort of rebellion against the oppressive kind of gaze; the oppositional gaze is where one stands in defiance of something, opposes it, and actively combats it.

In reflecting on her childhood experiences in which her parents punished her for staring, hooks highlighted that there is a long legacy of Black people in the United States and elsewhere being punished for staring as well. Looking was considered an act of opposition and resistance, and a gaze was more than just a gaze. Staring was seen as “confrontational, as a gesture of resistance, [and as] challenging to authority.”[4] hooks’ oppositional gaze thus goes beyond the sexualized, gendered gaze described by Mulvey, which highlights the psychoanalytic aspects of the gaze, with phallocentricism being one of its main characteristics. hooks’ discussion disrupts power, as the gaze she described is not only gendered and sexualized but also racialized. Furthermore, hooks introduced an intersectional approach to the gaze, asserting that we must consider the history of race and recognize looking as a function of race and racial power dynamics. Experiences of being told not to look have caused Black people to develop what hooks called an oppositional gaze rooted in “defiance and critical interrogation.” In addition, the Black woman’s gaze goes beyond a phallocentric gaze and has its own agency.

hooks’ oppositional gaze is not about looking abstractly; it is about looking at television, cinema, or other screens. In hooks’ segregated childhood neighborhood, when a Black woman watched television, she saw certain depictions of Black people meant to confirm the racial dynamics dominant at the time. Looking at these images, hooks would interrogate them, determining that they were not accurate reflections of her life but representations of certain people’s ideas about how Black people lived. When Black people gained the authority and wealth to make films, the depictions continued to be inaccurate or biased. Something was still lacking. These Black filmmakers were men, and their films reflected their interests. As a result, similar oppressive and stereotypical images were depicted, but this time, it was at the expense of Black women only. However, the oppositional gaze interrogates, and from that interrogation, a desire to create different images is born. hooks argued that the Black female oppositional gaze offers a new way to look beyond resistance to White supremacy and gender inequality. Instead, it can read ruptures or breaks in both White and male gazes, creating looking relations in which visual delight is produced by “the pleasure of interrogation.”[5] This sort of gaze looks for and creates images that affirm the possibility of Black women’s freedom, seeking recognition of the agency of Black female spectators.

As previously stated, the male gaze is discriminatory, but another more explicit discriminatory gaze is one associated with more colonial or postcolonial types of gaze, such as Fanon’s ideas about the colonizer and colonized gaze presented in his book Black Skin, White Mask or postcolonial gaze in Edward Said’s orientalism argument.

The colonizer’s gaze is essentially an implicit form of violence. Colonized peoples were not considered humans. Fanon claimed that when the colonizer/White person saw a colonized person and stared or gazed at them, the colonizer transformed the colonized into an inferior object to himself. This is more reflective of looking at a slave, as opposed to a master’s gaze.[6] This is also similar to hook’s argument that when Black people were enslaved, they were not allowed to stare. If the slave looked at the master, the master beat the slave. According to Sartre’s argument, when someone looks at someone else and the other person looks back at that person, it leads to the development of a relationship. They both recognize the other as an object, and they both respect each other’s objectivity while simultaneously affirming their own subjectivity. Therefore, if a slave stares at their master, the master can detect thought and comprehension behind those eyes, which is dangerous. For example, this may make the master feel terrible about slavery as an institution, and the slave master might then consider the possibility of slave rebellions and the eventual awareness that slaves could truly perceive themselves as equal to their masters.

However, the colonizer does not allow the colonized to engage in the act of gazing equally and forbids the colonized from seeing them as equal to the colonizer. Consequently, the colonized will inevitably internalize the colonizer’s gaze and start to perceive themselves and the world through the colonizer’s eyes.[7]

Edward Said also adopted a postcolonial stance when he discussed how the West, which underpins the White gaze, looked at Oriental or Eastern nations and described how they saw the people or nations in those regions. White Westerners who explored the East compared it to the West. They used their observations to argue that the West is rational, hardworking, moral, etc. by describing the East as sensual, irrational, exotic, etc. This binary perspective on people from the West and East, as well as a peripheral view of Eastern people, turned Easterners into objects with a distinctive character that Westerns then considered inferior to themselves.[8]

The other type of gaze is a more regulatory/disciplinary gaze. Foucault developed the concept of panopticism based on Jeremy Bentham’s panoptic jail system. He came up with the concept of a perfect prison: a cylindrical circular building with all the cells facing a central guard tower. There is only one guard inside the tower, and the visibility of the guard might be obscured by a bright light or other objects. Nobody in prison is aware of whether they are being observed by the guard. At the same time, the guard is unable to keep an eye on everyone every minute. Because there is only one guard and so many cells, the likelihood of one being spotted is extremely low. However, prisoners have no way of knowing whether the guard is looking at them. Therefore, prisoners are powerless. Enforced self-regulation is the aim of this kind of prison. Prisoners refrain from acting because they are terrified of being observed at any moment.[9] According to Foucault, we have built our own panopticons as well. We cannot engage in certain acts that may be socially unacceptable because we are afraid of being watched. Someone could be observing us at any time, and they could gaze at us without our knowledge. Therefore, “visibility is a trap.”[10] This form of self-regulation has become more common in the age of the surveillance state. There are cameras everywhere, and we do not want to do certain things because we are worried that the neighbor, for example, might be watching us. We are worried that someone is looking at us or that someone will comment on what we do. Therefore, we are compelled to control our behavior. In such a situation, the police do not need to exert an oppressive amount of pressure on us; we are already oppressing ourselves and our desires, and we control and police our actions.

As we can see, both objectivity and subjectivity are socially constructed, and the idea of the gaze from various perspectives can be adopted by literary or cultural critics. All these different aspects and analyses of the gaze are interrelated and linked to each other. Fanon’s insight into the gaze is closely related to Foucault’s discussion of panoptic surveillance. Additionally, Mulvey's essay on visual pleasure is connected to bell hook's oppositional gaze. These two also related to Foucault and Fanon's gaze insight. The aim of the gaze, whether this relates to the discriminatory gaze, oppositional gaze, or regulatory gaze, is to put the other person under constant scrutiny and control. It is a matter of power. There is power in looking at and passivity in being looked at.

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[1] Angelina Vaz, “Who’s Got the Look? Sartre’s Gaze and Foucault’s Panopticism,” Dalhousie French Studies 32 (1995): 33–45.

[2] Pallavi Sharma and Archana Barua, “Analysing Gaze in Terms of Subjective and Objective Interpretation: Sartre and Lacan,” Human Studies 40, no. 1 (2017): 61–75.

[3] Laura Mulvey, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,” in Critical Theory: A Reader for Literary and Cultural Studies, ed. Robert Dale Parker (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012), 236.

[4] bell hooks, “The Oppositional Gaze: Black Female Spectators” in Critical Theory: A Reader for Literary and Cultural Studies, ed. Robert Dale Parker (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012), 270.

[5] hooks, “The Oppositional Gaze: Black Female Spectators”, 274.

[6] Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks, ed. and trans. R. Philcox (New York: Grove Press, 2008), 93–149.

[7] Cynthia R. Nielsen, “Resistance Through Re-narration: Fanon on De-constructing Racialized Subjectivities,” African Identities 9, no. 4 (2011): 363–85.

[8] Robert Dale Parker, Postcolonial and Race Studies, “How to Interpret Literature: Critical Theory for Literary and Cultural Studies (New York: Oxford University Press, 2020), 307–308.

[9] Michael Foucault, “Panopticism,” in Critical Theory: A Reader for Literary and Cultural Studies, ed. Robert Dale Parker (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012), 494–495.

[10] Foucault, “Panopticism,” 497.

 

 

References

 

            Fanon, Frantz. Black Skin, White Masks, ed. and trans. R. Philcox. New York: Grove Press, 2008.

Nielsen, Cynthia R. "Resistance through Re-narration: Fanon on De-constructing Racialized Subjectivities." African Identities 9, no. 4 (2011): 363-85.

Parker, Robert Dale. Critical Theory : A Reader for Literary and Cultural Studies. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012.

Parker, Robert Dale. How to Interpret Literature : Critical Theory for Literary and Cultural Studies. Fourth ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2020.

Sharma, Pallavi, and Archana Barua. "Analysing Gaze in Terms of Subjective and Objective Interpretation: Sartre and Lacan." Human Studies 40, no. 1 (2017): 61-75.

Vaz, Angelina. "Who's Got the Look? Sartre's Gaze and Foucault's Panopticism." Dalhousie French Studies 32 (1995): 33-45.

 

[1] Angelina Vaz, “Who’s Got the Look? Sartre’s Gaze and Foucault’s Panopticism,” Dalhousie French Studies 32 (1995): 33–45.

[2] Pallavi Sharma and Archana Barua, “Analysing Gaze in Terms of Subjective and Objective Interpretation: Sartre and Lacan,” Human Studies 40, no. 1 (2017): 61–75.

[3] Laura Mulvey, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,” in Critical Theory: A Reader for Literary and Cultural Studies, ed. Robert Dale Parker (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012), 236.

[4] bell hooks, “The Oppositional Gaze: Black Female Spectators” in Critical Theory: A Reader for Literary and Cultural Studies, ed. Robert Dale Parker (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012), 270.

[5] hooks, “The Oppositional Gaze: Black Female Spectators”, 274.

[6] Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks, ed. and trans. R. Philcox (New York: Grove Press, 2008), 93–149.

[7] Cynthia R. Nielsen, “Resistance Through Re-narration: Fanon on De-constructing Racialized Subjectivities,” African Identities 9, no. 4 (2011): 363–85.

[8] Robert Dale Parker, Postcolonial and Race Studies, “How to Interpret Literature: Critical Theory for Literary and Cultural Studies (New York: Oxford University Press, 2020), 307–308.

[9] Michael Foucault, “Panopticism,” in Critical Theory: A Reader for Literary and Cultural Studies, ed. Robert Dale Parker (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012), 494–495.

[10] Foucault, “Panopticism,” 497.

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The portrayal of reproduction in Salvage the Bones and the vulnerability of female human and non-human bodies

Esch, the narrator of Jesmyn Ward’s novel Salvage the Bones, tells the reader, “Bodies tell stories.”3 This essay will examine the vulnerability of female human and non-human bodies and their reproduction function in Salvage the Bone and the importance of the roles played by racial and socioeconomic factors in the rural south. The goal is to examine how Ward’s novel highlights the tensions and contradictions surrounding Hurricane Katrina for female bodies and how situation, social experience, and social position reveal these dimensions.

The narrative of Salvage the Bones begins with China, a pit bull, giving birth. The reader learns that the protagonist’s mother died giving birth to her younger brother. In the absence of her mother, Esch identifies herself with the female figures that she is familiar with, which include the non-human China and a mythical figure named Medea, who comes from a story about revenge. Esch also sometimes identifies with Hurricane Katrina. In tandem with Esch’s association with mythological heroes, the lines between China, Esch, and her mother are frequently blurred: “What China is doing is nothing like what Mama did when she had my youngest brother, Junior.”4

With only a few days before Hurricane Katrina arrives, an inner storm is brewing for Esch. Her financial struggles have forced her to steal a pregnancy test from a store, and she is shocked to learn that she is pregnant.

In Salvage the Bones, the bodies of Esch as a human character and China as a non-human figure represent gender, race, and class inequalities, as well as sexual, racial, and class oppression. In Ward’s novel, China is more than a pit bull; she is the clearest symbol of nature’s force. She also symbolizes the power of motherhood and female strength. She exemplifies the dual nature of the natural world by having the capacity to both create and destroy. She also acts as a mirror image of the novel’s protagonist, as the vulnerability, challenges, and problems the dog faces are extremely similar to those of the narrator and main protagonist, a girl named Esch.

 

 

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3 Jesmyn Ward, Salvage the Bones, 83.

4 Ward, 1.

 

Even though Esch’s female body has the potential to be a source of pleasure, fertility, and empowerment, in this pregnancy situation, her pregnant body becomes a source of horror, confusion, and shame. Although both China’s and Esch’s pregnant bodies make them vulnerable in some ways, China’s pregnancy does not cause shame, and her ability to give life to another creature does not make her weak. This is evident when China wins a fight with her mate, even though she only recently gave birth. Ward makes it clear that China’s postpartum body is strong, and that she enjoys the love of Esch’s brother; Skeetah as well. When Esch sees China’s strength during childbirth, she compares it to that of her own mother, wishing that her mother could have survived childbirth and that she had been able to fight as fiercely as the dog. Furthermore, every time she sees China's frailty and helplessness, she is reminded of her mother's fragility and vulnerability during childbirth. “The dog barks loudly, …and something about the way the bark rises at the end reminds me of Mama’s moans, of those bowing pines, of body that can no longer hold itself together, of something on the verge of breaking.”

However, Esch’s pregnant body is not a source of power, and she is rejected by the baby’s father, Manny, whom Esch loves and craves the attention of. These differences between Esch’s and China’s situations as a human and a non-human female, respectively, can be viewed from the perspective of the phenomenology of female bodies as having lived in specific situations. As Simon de Beauvoir writes, “if the biological condition of women does constitute a handicap, it is because of her general situation … It is in a total situation which leaves her few outlets that her peculiarities take on their importance.5

The dogfight between China and her mating partner, Kilo, is one of the most violent acts of femininity in Salvage the Bones. During their fight, “China grabs Kilo at the back of the neck,” similar to how she grabs her puppy, “burrow[ing] into him with her head like a worm tunnelling into red earth.”6

The concept of sexual violence can further be seen is the following excerpt: “Kilo has just seen her breasts, white and full and heavy and warm, and he bows his head like a puppy to drink. But he doesn’t drink. He bites. He swallows her breast.”7 Kilo, the male dog, literally

 

 

 

 

5 Kathleen Lennon, “Feminist Perspectives on the Body”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy , Edward N. Zalta (ed.), December 14, 2022. URL = <https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2019/entries/feminist-body/>.

6 Ward, 171.

7 Ward, 173.

 

devours the source of China’s maternal nutrition and feminine signifier, her breast, with “the nipple, missing.”8

From a feminist perspective, the body is not simply a representation of a biological object. Even though the female body can be perceived as weak, having fewer muscles than the male body, it is not only a source of vulnerability. It can also be a source of sensual pleasure and strength, as reflected in China’s situation. The potential of becoming pregnant prevents Esch, a human female, from celebrating her feminine body as a source of sexual pleasure. The burden that Esch’s reproductive function imposes on her body is mostly a result of her social experience, gender, or race, rather than her biological imperative or anatomical heritage. This shows “a complex and non-reductive picture of the intertwining of the material and the cultural in the formation of our embodied selves.”9

In addition, Esch does not seem to have much control over her body, or to be more specific, she does not have the right to control what happens to her body. From a young age, Esch has been sexually objectified by the males around her and has been taught that she is not allowed to say no. This extends to her relationships as a teenager, when she is unable to say no to the sexual requests of her male peers: “… held him the way I’d embraced those boys I’d fucked because it was easier to let them get what they wanted instead of denying them…” 10 When she has sex with Manny, whom she loves and wants to sleep with, she either does not know how to prevent pregnancy or is forced to bow to the law of reproduction due to her class, gender status, and position.

Not only is Esch’s body an object for others, but she experiences and only knows her body through the perceptions of others, as explained by de Beauvoir. “The way in which the young girl and then the woman experiences her body is, for Beauvoir, a consequence of a process of internalizing the view of it under the gaze of others.”11 As Foucault explains, there is another existence that makes us aware of our own existence, and this applies to both sexes.

Unfortunately, in Esch’s situation, she desperately needs Manny to look not only at her body but also into her eyes. At the same time, she refuses to remove her clothes when they are swimming at the beach because she is embarrassed or worried that other people will see her

 

 

 

 

8 Ward, 174.

9 Lennon, “Feminist Perspectives on the Body.”

10 Ward, 238

11 Lennon, “Feminist Perspectives on the Body.”

 

pregnant body. She both wants her body to be seen and seeks to avoid having her pregnant body viewed.

Manny, however, wants to define Esch as the other. He chooses to ignore and misuse Esch, pointing out her perceived weakness to make himself seem stronger. According to Michel Foucault, othering is strongly connected to power and knowledge. When we “other” another group, we point out their perceived weaknesses to make ourselves look stronger or better.

Thus, Esch’s body is merely an object for Manny’s use, and Esch has no agency over it. Manny wants to keep his power over Esch. He turns away from her and her pregnancy, as Esch describes: “I think Manny saw me, and that he turned away from me, from what I carry,… and then I am crying again for what I have been, for what I am, and what I will be, again.”12

Despite the fact that the female body has the potential to be a source of pleasure and that the ability to reproduce does not necessarily make females weak, as seen in Salvage the Bones, social experience, social position, race, and socioeconomic circumstances can weaken female bodies. Thus, it is important to consider Beauvoir’s assertion that the experience of embodiment is a result of situation.

 

 

 

 

References:

 

 

 

Ward, Jesmyn. Salvage the Bones. London: Bloomsbury, 2017.

 

Lennon, Kathleen, "Feminist Perspectives on the Body", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2019 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), December 14, 2022. URL =

<https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2019/entries/feminist-body/>.

 

 

12 Ward, 147.

The significance of Audre Lorde’s famous phrase: “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.”

Audre Lorde, a Black lesbian feminist, was invited to speak on a panel at New York University. Though feminism was the major topic of the conference, Lorde acknowledged that she also belonged to marginalized groups, Black and Lesbian. Addressing a mostly White, politically liberal group of feminist academics, she noted that racist, patriarchal power systems continue to dominate the narrative. Her famous statement “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house” challenged Western feminists, defying them to address the racism and homophobia they had experienced as well as the “fear and detest of any diversity that resides inside each of us.” The metaphor “master’s tools” implies exclusion.

White feminists repeat the power dynamic and create otherness, but Lorde argues that one can’t change anything by repeating the power dynamic.

Even if we aren’t aware of it, many of us are intricately linked to power structures that contribute to oppression. Lorde asks the following question: What does it mean when the tools of a racist patriarchy are used to examine the fruits of that same patriarchy? It suggests that only a few alteration parameters are viable and acceptable. Lorde’s key point is that fighting oppression through the methods of an oppressive society is impossible. Instead, we must understand and respect the true power of difference.

Though Kimberlé Crenshaw coined the term “intersectionality,” Lorde created a new language to express the concept, giving us the language to critique. She also emphasizes the notion of “the personal as the political,” which has been broadly used in feminist theories. In her essay, Lorde questions the presumption that we can achieve equality or tolerance without a genuine and profound knowledge of difference: “Advocating the mere tolerance of difference between women is the grossest reformism.”

In Lorde’s argument, tolerance implies something negative; it is not about respecting or celebrating difference but about bearing it. Academic feminism ignores the restorative power of female interdependence when it only pays lip service to these distinctions, tolerating them rather than appreciating them. Women who rely on one another despite their differences provide mutual stability, enabling them to achieve liberation. Lorde’s call to accept diversity is more than ideological. White feminists struggle to comprehend racism. They genuinely and firmly hold that racism is bad but cannot comprehend that their way of life may repress others and polarize social groups.

How is The Tempest a play about freedom?

Each of Shakespeare’s plays islike itsown universe or cosmos, which one could study for a lifetime. If we could understandall his plays and put them together, we might be able to solve the puzzle of humanity. Despite the fact that many people disagree with this viewpoint, but some believe The Tempestis his final performance, and this play appears to be his farewell to the theater. It has long been arguedthat when Prospero abandons his magical arts, Shakespeare abandons his own dramatic arts[1]. Moreover,the play attempts to providea retrospective look at Shakespeare’s entire career.[2]

The genre of The Tempest seems to be comedy–tragedy. We can call it tragicomedy because it appears to begin tragically, and we do take the tragic components seriously before veering into comedy toward the end.[3]The storm is a tragedy—a threat tohuman life. The beginning is full of catastrophe and instability, and then toward the end, the disorder transformsinto order and happiness.

In some ways, the distinction between comedy and tragedy breaks downlike this: tragedies are aristocratic, emphasizing the diversity of humankind, while comedies are democratic and emphasize human similarity. Comedy is highly suspicious of differences. It focuses on those dimensionsof human existence that give our lives continuity and prosperity and that unite us, offering us success.

Freedom, slavery, and power are major concepts in The Tempest. Every character in the playstrives for their freedom, which pushes them to abuse their positions of authority, clash with those in power, or be willing to do anything for their freedom. Power and freedom are thusnot only important but also affiliated.On the other hand, the concepts of confinement and freedom are equally tied together. Without the first, the other cannot be understood or defined. The play is set on an island, and everyone on the island is isolated from the rest of society. This makes the island a symbol of isolation and confinement.

At the very beginning of the play, act 1, scene 1, line 11—Antonio asks, “Where is the master?”[4]This is the central query that permeates the entire first scene. It is also the central issue in politics:who is in charge, who is powerful, who is free, and who is a slave? This demonstrates how political issues are tied to The Tempest. We can better understand the nature of comedy and tragedy with the aid of political analysis. Shakespeare seems to have a remarkable awareness of human diversity.

It could be argued thatShakespeare has an aristocratic vision of humanity andbelieves in both natural and conventional hierarchies. It seems that he believes in the existence of intrinsic distinctions between individuals. The main political dilemma in The Tempest is that conventional and natural hierarchies do not correspond to each other. Conventional hierarchies are not based on natural human distinctions. Moreover, in most circumstances, those in positions of authority are not usually the oneswho most deserve them. This is a painful reality that cannot be avoided. In The Tempest,Prospero is not interested in politics. He is interested in art and philosophy and ismore concernedwiththe rule of nature than the nature of politics.

In the chaos that resultsfromdissolving the conventional hierarchy,a natural hierarchy starts to emerge. In fact, in some ways, it is nature, or the storm, that challenges the established order. In this play, Prospero loses his position, and the conventionalhierarchy is dissolved. Shakespeare wants to investigate whether he can reconstruct society by first dismantling it into its component parts.

One of a few distinct characters, Prospero embodiesa theme of power and freedom by holding onto formidable power throughout the play. Prospero’s magical abilities enable him to take charge of events. He has control over his surroundings, which he exploits to his advantage during the play. Shakespeare plays with master–servant relationships and employs Prospero to dominate other characters in The Tempest, illustratingpower dynamics and freedom. Prospero is the master of Ariel and Caliban in the play; although Prospero manages each of these relationships differently, they are both master–servant relationships.

Miranda and Prospero have been trapped on the island for 12 years because Prospero has been exiled from Milan and wishes to return. As a consequence, he is preoccupied with his own freedom. Prospero is not free because he is enslaved by his own yearning for justice; he is a slave to the wrongs done to him in the past.

Perhaps thisis why he denies freedom to characters such as Ariel and Caliban. Even though he is preoccupiedwith his own freedom, he does not acknowledge Ariel’s or Caliban’s freedom. However, he frees Ariel atthe end of the play, showing thathe learns more about what freedom means and becomes more compassionate as the play progresses. The fact that Prospero ends the play by asking the audience to set him free underlines how significant the subject of freedom is throughout the play.

Ariel has been confined not just by Prospero; prior to that, he was also confined in atree. For Ariel, the spirit of the air, freedom is life itself. He is thankful toProspero for saving him from his suffering in the cloven pine tree, where the evil witch Sycorax had kept him until Prospero freed him. Prospero promises to let Ariel free once his purpose is completed, and Ariel constantly reminds Prospero of thiscommitment while yearning for liberty. Ariel asks for his freedom several times, and Prospero constantly repeats his promise of freedom. Ariel takes satisfaction in performing labor that he finds distasteful in order to fulfill Prospero’s promise of freedom. He serves his master and obeys his orders without a grudge or complaint:“Remember I have done thee worthy service, Told thee no lies, made no mistakings, served Without or grudge or grumblings. Thou did promise To bate me a full year.”1.2.247-249.[5]Arielis flattered by Prospero’s compliments. He achieves his freedom at the end of his play, after all of his labors have been completed, to the complete pleasure of his lord and master, Prospero. In fact, Prospero is no better than the witch Sycorax, who imprisoned Ariel in a pine tree before Prospero arrived and "rescued" the sprite, because he makes Ariel serve him.

Caliban, the evil, ugly, dull son ofSycorax and the devil, views service as a chore. After Sycorax, his mother, passes away, he resents Prospero and curses him for depriving him of his due inheritance of the island. Caliban does not repent despite receiving a harsh punishment for his curses; he keeps cursing Prospero the entire time because he genuinely believes that "this island’s mine by Sycorax, my mother, Which thou tak’st from me."1.2.332-333.[6]

Caliban sees saviors in the drunken butler Stephano and the jester Trinculo. His yearning to be free of Prospero’s slavery drives him to join forces with them to conquer Prospero.

While escaping one power dynamic, Caliban endsup creating another for himself. He expresses his desire to become Stephano’s servant, exclaiming, “I’ll show thee every fertile inch o’ th island, And I will kiss thy foot. I prithee, be my god.”2.2.125-126.[7]As Caliban appears to shift from one power relationship to another while being perceived as the inferior person in each, Shakespeare makes an essential suggestion concerning power relationships and freedom. In act 2, scene 2, line 156-161 Caliban sings, “No more dams I’ll make for fish, Nor fetch in firing At requiring, Nor scrape trenchering, nor wash dish. ’Ban, ’ban, Ca-caliban Has a new master. Get a new man. Freedom, high-day! High-day, freedom! Freedom, high-day, freedom!”[8]

At the closure of the play, Prospero does not provide Caliban with the same freedom that he grantsAriel. This depicts the colonial tone of the conversation:we are reminded thatCaliban isthe only indigenous person on the island, so,of course, Caliban is both offering to be Stephano’s slave and declaring his desire to be free of Prospero. He cannot, therefore, free himself from his own confinement. Since Caliban has spent his entire life as a slave, the definition of freedom for him is being free from Prospero.

Prospero learns about people’s nature and improves his interpersonal skills through his interactions with Ariel and Caliban. Ariel and Caliban represent two aspects of human nature that are presented in all human beings. Caliban represents the force of eros:he has strong desires and sexual yearning. He wants to eat and drink alcohol. He also tries to rape Miranda. Symbolically,Caliban represents political opposition to the established system as afigure so powerful that herefuses to comply with political authority. Embodying such a pure type of eros without any sense of pride or shame is what makes Calibanso challenging to cope with. Showing no regret or shame, he might not even be humanbecause humans, at least, struggle to control eros. However,no one treats Calibanlike a human. Nobody shows him respect.

Ariel’s situation is also difficult. He has a very strong yearningfor freedom and independence. He has no desires other than freedom and no interest in anything sexual. He rejects being ruled by any masters. How can you rule someone whose only impulse is not to be ruled? Prospero will, therefore, be tough against him as well. Prospero threatens Ariel with the loss of freedom while threatening Caliban with pain, which is the opposite of pleasure. He teats Ariel like a dog and lets him free in the end. Prospero learns from Caliban and Ariel how to balance these two aspects of the soul to rule others.

Ferdinand is a very lively young man whois willing to accept imprisonment for the sake of Miranda after falling in love with her.[9]In act 1, scene 2, line 489- 492 he says, "Might I but through my prison once a day behold this maid. All corners else o’the’earth let liberty make use of; space enough have I in such a prison.”[10]

He is willing to give up his freedom and even act like a slave.In act 3, scene 1,about line 63, Ferdinand says he would not tolerate such “wooden slavery” in his own nation, but he accepts his fate because he is serving Miranda, his love.[11]Thislightens his load. He finds true freedom in service and does not complain about it. Miranda, too, offers to help him by carrying largelogs. Her passion for the attractive prince drives her to offer Ferdinand voluntary bondage. Both Ferdinand and Miranda, who are yoked to each other’s enslavement and bondage, win their freedom when they fall in love. Sebastian is the sole exception to this rule. Alonso’s brother, who suffers under bondage, seeks to escape it by plotting with Antonio and murdering his brother in his sleep, much as Antonio did to his brother twelve years ago, when he deposed him asDuke of Milan. All the characters in the play, with the exception of Sebastian, regenerate and heal in the end.

Atthe end of the play, Prospero realizes that abusing his power to the extreme will deprive him of what he truly longs for: freedom. “This is why, in short, revenge transforms into forgiveness. Prospero’s purpose is not, despite his attitude on the island, power: it is freedom and that is what he achieves in the end: ‘Let your indulgence set me free.’”[12]

Conclusion

In The Tempest, Shakespeare plays with the master–servant relationship andhighlights power dynamics by employing Prospero to influence other characters. He thereby demonstrates how these ties are unavoidable within the play. The Tempest seems to provide a metaphorical explanation for how people have a tendency to favor freedom, power, or obedience. He demonstrates how individualsin positions of authority show little regard for those they rule over and utilize manipulation to their advantage. This implies not only that power is the polar opposite of slavery but also that the desire for power is incompatible with freedom. In the end, it is power versus freedom; we must choose between being powerful or being free.

 

 

 

 

References

Cantor, Paul A. "Shakespeare's The Tempest: The Wise Man as Hero." Shakespeare Quarterly 31, no. 1 (1980): 64–75.

Potter, A. M. "Possession, surrender, and freedom in ‘The Tempest’. Theoria (Pietermaritzburg) 61, no. 61 (1983): 37-49.

Salas-Lleal, Jordi. "The Ideas of Power, Slavery and Freedom in Shakespeare’s 'The Tempest': A Political Re-Reading Based on His Characters’ Tendencies." Odisea(Almería, Spain), no. 21 (2020): 21–43.

Shakespeare, William. The Tempest. Edited by David Lindley. Updated ed. The New Cambridge Shakespeare. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013.

 

[1]A.M. Potter, "Possession, surrender, and freedom in ‘The Tempest’." Theoria (Pietermaritzburg) 61, no. 61 (1983): 48-49.

[2]JordiSalas-Lleal, "The Ideas of Power, Slavery and Freedom in Shakespeare’s 'The Tempest': A Political Re-Reading Based on His Characters’ Tendencies," Odisea(Almería, Spain), no. 21 (2020): 24.

[3]Paul A.Cantor, "Shakespeare's The Tempest: The Wise Man as Hero," Shakespeare Quarterly 31, no. 1 (1980): 68.

[4]William Shakespeare, The Tempest, ed. David Lindley (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013),1.1.11. References are to act, scene, and line.

[5]The Tempest, 130.

[6]The Tempest, 136.

[7]The Tempest, 171.

[8]The Tempest, 173–174.

[9]A.M. Potter, "Possession, surrender, and freedom in ‘The Tempest’, 44.

[10]The Tempest, 145.

[11]The Tempest, 178

[12]Salas-Lleal, “Ideas of Power,” 40.

Exploring Intersectionality in Nella Larson’s “Passing”

Introduction and background

 

The novel Passing by Nella Larsen examines the effects of racial "passing" on the two AfricanAmerican protagonists, Irene Redfield and Clare Kendry, and their struggle with racial identity. The novel was released in 1929. It is a Harlem Renaissance classic as well as a classic American modernist novel. Larson does some interesting and complicated work around what it means to be Black, what it means to pass for White, how these issues affect individuals’ social and personal lives, the power structuresthat define racial identity and the internalization of racial hatred andracism in this slim novel of about 150 pages.

            The Harlem Renaissance is reflected in Larsen’s work. This novel was written during the Jim Crow era, which was a period in American history when Black people and White people were more separated than at any other time in their shared history.[1]

            During the reconstruction era in the late 1870s, the southern states implemented the Jim Crow statute, which separated Whites and people of color in schools, transportation and other public areas. The aim of this law was not just separation and discrimination but more about Black subjugation and isolation.[2] This law reinforced racism and discrimination against African Americans in society as well as awareness and discussion about race and racism.[3]

In America, the 1920s was an era of intense debate over racial boundaries, or the so-called color line between White and Black people.The movement of Black people from the south to the north of the United States sparked these debates. The Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s was a cultural explosion driven by 'New Negroes,' who created and developed new kinds of art, literature, music, and entertainment for not only black people but white and racially mixed audience.”[4]

            Set in the segregated society of Harlem, New York in the 1920s,the novel’s plot centers around how the protagonists’ identities are established. Irene, one of the main characters, iswholeheartedly committed to the Harlem renaissance and the uplifting and empowering of the Black community. On the other hand, the other main character, Clare, totally ignores it; in some cases, she is a mere consumer of that community.

            When people opt to change their backgrounds or social identities to cross the color line and move from a lower to a higher casteand to achieve specific advantages, this is known as passing. Passing, in this sense, means claiming recognition in a racial or caste group other than the one to which they are supposed to belong. In the American caste system, this can only be accomplished by deception on the part of the White people with whom the passer becomes connected, as well as by a conspiracy of silence on the part of other Black people who may be aware of the situation.[5] In US history, the most commonly discussed instances of passing are usually people pretending to be of European descent;this is because, at various points,whiteness, or being of Western European (particularly Anglo-Saxon) descent, has carried with it certain legal protections and benefits, as Cheryl Harris notes in her article “Whiteness as Property.”[6]

            The novel is narrated from a third-person limited omniscient perspective, which means the reader is grounded in Irene’s mind,consciousness and memories. The very first chapter is about Irene Redfield receiving a letter from her friend Clare, which elicits a whole memory of an interaction they had at the rooftop ofthe Drayton hotel in Chicago.This rekindles their friendship and then the whole memory of their childhood together.  

            As children, they grew up in the same community. However, Clare was always a bit of an outsider to that community. She wanted out of it more because she belonged to a low economic class. It seems that shewas bothered more about being poor than about being Black. Clare was sent to live with her aunts after her father’s death. That was the last time they saw each other as children. They encounter each other again on the rooftop at the Drayton Hotel many years later as adult, married women. Irene realizes that Clare is "passing" as White and has complex struggles with her identity. When Irene goes to Clare’s house, she discovers that Clare’s White husband is unaware of her Black heritage and makes racist remarks. Thereafter, she made the decision to avoid socializing with Clare.

            Clare, on the other hand, keeps in touch with Irene in a variety of ways and gradually gets closer to her and her husband. Irene, whose relationship with her husband is not very secure and becomes increasingly strained, is scared that her husband finds Clare more attractive. She then sees Clare as a danger and becomes suspicious that her husband will leave her because of Clare.

            The narrative finishes with the tragic occurrence of Clare's death while Clare and Irene are at a party in Harlem. The secret that Clare has kept from her husband for years is revealed. Clare’s husband comes in, voicing his racist remarks toward Clare, who is standing by an open window. Clare falls to her death from a great height, and it is unclear whether she fell or was pushed by Irene.

            Through dialogues, discussions, and recollections, the author portrays two Black women and their struggle with the reality of what it could be like living as a Black person and as a woman in the United States in the early 20th century. Larson shows that there are many different aspects of human identity that are critical. 

            Despite these two women having similar backgrounds and growing up together in the same neighborhood, their lives take very different roads. Their choices, thoughts, and relationships with their families and particularly with their communitiesare quite different. 

Both women have fair light skin. Unlike Irene, who rarely uses the advantage of passing as White, Clare almost refuses to acknowledge her Black origin. Irene is married to a Black man who is a successful doctor in Harlem, andone of her children has dark skin. She lives in a predominantly Black neighborhood. Although she is committed to her Black community and works hard to uplift that community, she occasionally passes as White to gain an advantage when it is convenient. She is quiteself-conscious about that sort of passing. The dynamics around the way that she negotiates her own femininity, her race and her class are totally different from those of Clare. Even though she is worried about her relationship with her husband, she seeks security through her community, her husband and her children. She is a mother who is very committedto her family.

            Clare is also wrestling with her own identity. She is completely separated from her past Black life. That social transformation is probably a very big part of her life. She lives in an area where most of the residents are White. She is living with a White man who thinks she is White. Her husband is openly, aggressively racist and uses the N word to refer to Black people. She has a low commitment to motherhood and does not play the traditional role of motherhood. Her femininity is also shown in a free and non-traditional way.

 

            With this brief introduction and reference to the contentsof the novel and background, the next step is to clarify the purpose of this essay. The aim of this essay is to analyze and interpret the novel Passing through intersectional theories to understand the text, the main characters’ struggles with their identities,and theirstruggle with consistently navigating multiple identities.

 

Theoretical Concepts 

 

            In this essay, to analyze and comprehend the content of Passing, intersectionality theory is used.However,for a deeper understanding of intersectionality, some other theories, such as identity, racism, Whiteprivilege and gender and class identity are mentioned as well.

  

Race and racism

 

            Race is constructed and reconstructed to fit a particular paradigm, and it is created by people with power to solidify their power. Race has a socially constructed dimension, and because it is constructed, it can also be unconstructed.[7]As Audrey and Brian Smedley mention, it has no biological basis. “Race as biology is fiction, [but]racism as a social problem is real.”[8]Racism is very much tied to an economic system,particularly in the US, which is home to a capitalist system that created race to justify ways of exploiting other human beings.[9]As Ta-Nehisi Coates says, the history of categorizing people by their physical features, putting people into different sets of categories and the tale of race as an idea, was created to justify racism, not the other way around: “Race is the child of racism, not the father. And the process of naming ‘the people’ has never been a matter of genealogy and physiognomy so much as one of hierarchy.”[10]

 

Identity and its multiple dimensions

 

            Identity is described as a mostly unconscious process that unifies personality and connects the individual to the social world.[11]People consistently navigate multiple social identities. The starting pointof intersectionality, which emerged from women of color’sscholarship and feminist theory, is the assumed reality of multiple identities; that is, individuals possess multiple social locations that are lived and experienced parallel and collectively. Multiple identities are constructed as integrally connected and carry meaning separately and in relation to one another using an intersectional framework.[12]

 

Intersectionality

 

            The term “intersectionality” was coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw “to address the marginalization of Black women within not only antidiscrimination law but also in feminist and antiracist theory and politics.”[13]Crenshaw felt that the antiracist and feminist movements were both overlooking the unique challenges faced by Black women. She stated that legislation about race is framed to protect Black men and legislation about sexism is understood to protect White women. Therefore, simply combining racism and sexism does not protect Black women. Without an intersectional lens or an intersectional perspective, the racism or sexism that was particular to the Black woman’s experiences would not have surfaced. The first thing that intersectionality draws attention to is that this is a false dichotomy. Critical race theory uses the idea of intersectionality to show how multiple dimensions of identity impact inequality. From this perspective,inequality is not just about race, but also class, sexuality, disability, age and a whole range of different factors.[14]

            According to Crenshaw, intersectionality is a tool for expanding what feminist and antiracist theories failed to do. She claims that feminist and antiracist philosophy is a one-dimensional framework that ignores race and gender intersections.[15]Intersectionality is a way of understanding social relations by examining intersecting forms of discrimination. This means acknowledging that social systems are complicated and that many forms of oppression,such as racism, sexism and ageism, might be present and active at the same time in a person’s life. “The term intersectionality references the critical insight that race, class, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, nation, ability, and age operate not as unitary, mutually exclusive entities, but as reciprocally constructing phenomena that in turn shape complex social inequalities.”[16]

 

Intersectionality and class

 

            Race and economic status are intricately connected. Racism has been considered a sociological, anthropological, or ethnological issue. Recent research has revealed the economic underpinnings of racism. Racism has always been attached to the economic system in which it arises, and they are interconnected. By examining the origins and historical background of racism, one discovers that racism was used to exploit colonial peoples by imposing a system of discrimination on them; racial or national minorities have been historically and currently either dominant or dominated, depending on their economic roles in society.[17] “In the case of dominant groups, racism appears as the mantle under which the economic antagonism between sections of the ruling class takes place. In the case of dominated groups racism is the ideological background of the discriminatory system created for the sake of exploiting a racial minority.” [18]

 

White privilege

 

            The word "privilege" has the implication of something that everyone should desire. Some privileges work to over-empower groups on a systemic level. Because of one’s ethnicity, race, sex, social class, economic class or religion, such privilege merely grants power and offers permission to control or rule.[19]As Peggy Mcintosh points out, “Whites are carefully taught not to recognize White privilege, as males are taught not to recognize male privilege… Whiteprivilege is like an invisible weightless knapsack ofspecial provisions, assurances, tools, maps, guides, codebooks, passports, visas, clothes, compass, emergency gear, and blank checks”[20]

 

Analysis

 

            Nella Larsen's novel Passing depicts the identity struggles of the protagonists of the novel. In a segregated society, their multiple social identities are related to a special period in American history when people were classified as either Black or White, with Black denoting deprivation and White denoting social privilege and advancement. Considering the intersectionality standpoint via the perspectives of race, gender, and class structure, this essay argues that these three-dimensional elements interact together to shape the protagonists’ identities and their struggles.

            The first thing that probably comes to mind when reading this novel is to ask,what drives someone to disguise their race or other characteristics? To answer this question, one should look at the novel’s content from different perspectives.

            At the beginning of Passing, Irene Redfield remembers Clare Kendry as a child, “a pale small girl sitting on a ragged blue sofa, sewing pieces of bright red cloth together, while her drunken father, a tall, powerfully built man raged threateningly up and down the shabby room.”[21]

            This image does a great job of setting the scene for the story. The contrast is between the pale young girl and her angry, drunken father. In this image, Clare appears in the novel in her most vulnerable state, a heroine who refuses to be pitied or pity herself. There are marks of poverty in these images. Irene’s attention to such details as “the ragged sofa” and “the shabby room” reveals a lot about her middle-class background, which is in contrast with Clare’s lower-class background in childhood and her upper White middle class as an adult. This image also says a lot about Claire’s later efforts to pass as White and marry a wealthy White man to escape from that stuffy, shabby room. The reader first meets Clare on the rooftop of a hotel as a delightfully fragrant woman dressed in a luxurious green dress. What Clare has always wanted is to escape the shabby room and poverty.

            Passing can also be considered a novel about a longing for Blackness. Whiteness is a choice that characters slip into and out of as a matter of convenience. Clare’s desire to become White stems from her failure to be accepted in the Black community. She is not accepted in the Black community as a child and as an adult, Irene refuses to let Clare return to Black life when she subsequently wishes to do so.Instead, Irene sends her back to the White world, where she believes Clare belongs.Clare uses her passing features to her personal advantage to secure a very wealthy husband and secure the life of leisure and ease that she had always wanted.Irene,on the other hand, feels secure within racial boundaries. Her husband Brian wants to move to Brazil, which he imagines as a utopia where they will be free from American racism. Irene rejects his fantasy of a raceless nation. 

 

            Irene remembers Clare as a risk-taker, and someone who has "no allegiance beyond her own immediate desire"[22] when she was younger.“This, she reflected, was of a piece with all that she knew of Clare Kendry. Stepping always on the edge of danger. Always aware, but not drawing back or turning aside. Certainly not because of any alarms or feeling of outrage on the part of others.” [23]

            Irene judges Clare for pretending to be White and keeping her race hidden from her husband. Clare, unlike Irene, has no internal conflict about passing as a White. Clare is not obligated to be a member of the African-American community. Her goal in passing is to ascend the social ladder, which she does when she marries her wealthy White husband. 

Irene passes for White when it is convenient for her. However, unlike Clare, she is proud of her Black roots.Irene perceives herself based on her interactions with others and as a result of her social status. She is married to a Black doctor, which allows her to live a particular lifestyle and belong to the upper middle class. In social interactions, Irene seems to pay a lot of attention to the social classes of individuals, and in this way,she identifies herself through other people. Her interaction with Gertrude, who is married to a lower-class man, is totally different than with Clare, who has a better social rank than Irene. Gertrude is disregarded as a second-class citizen.

            Irene is committed to the uplifting and empowering of the Black community. She is a part of the Negro Welfare League, and being committed to empowering the Black community is part of what it means to be Black for her.  In contrast, Clare is someone who intentionally divorced herself from theBlackcommunity and has no such commitment toward that community. This frustrates and irritates Irene. In the pursuit of her own gain—social status, access to wealth, and access to power—Clare divorced herself from not only Black community, but a commitment to the uplifting of the Black community. 

            Even though she is stepping away from theBlack community, at the same time she seeks a reunion with that community and is desperate to get in close contact with her old friends as Irene. Later, she attempts to be closer to Black friends, as we see how she insists on being at the party and dancing with Black men. It is hard to tell whether this is seeking a lostcommunity or it just originated from her adventurous and risk-taking features. Both are probablyher motivation to make contact with theBlack community. Her behavior toward her community can be interpreted in a different way. She is a consumer of that community—one who not only ignores empowering and uplifting the Black community but also is a consumer of it.

            It seems that Clare is conscious of how race and economic status are intricately connected,and she is aware that race, racism, and the economic system are interconnected. Clare lives and grows up in a country where the American Dream is constantly mentioned, with the slogan that you can be whatever you want to be. She is smart enough to know that the American Dream is true only for some people from a particular class, race or gender. She is aware that she as a Black woman cannotattain the ideal of the American Dream if she belongs to the Black race and lower class. Therefore, Clare is completely aware that the American Dream doesnot feel trueunless you are someone like Clare with the ability to pass and therefore access power and wealth. From this perspective, we can observe Clare’s passing and interpret it not just as a personal advantage but as a reinforcement of the power structure as well. 

            The novel also depicts repressed sexual tension between Clare and Irene.Clare’s beauty is attractive and erotic for her, and Irene describes Clare’s beauty with very poetic phrases. She finds her voice “appealing” and “seductive” and her mouth like a “scarlet flower.”[24]There is constant mention of her golden hair and dark eyes, and she is captivated by her beauty. Is this jealousy? Even though it feels that she is jealous toward Clare, at the same time it can be interpreted in this way that there is arepressed sexual desire and sexual tension between these two women.

            As derived from the descriptions about her, Clare dresses in ways to receive not only the White man’s gaze but also the male gaze in general. She uses her body as a woman not only togain attention and privilege but also to conceal her racial identity. She dresses in a way that symbolically communicates the level of her status in society. Her beauty might distract people in the sense that they donot even begin to question her racial identity. Therefore, her physical presentation is another function of trying to racially pass. She tries to attract attention to her body so that people don’t question other parts of her life, her identity or especially her racial background. 

            What makes Larson’s Passing a brilliant book is partially the author’s ability to use multiple lenses to interrogate Irene and Clare’s identity struggles. Both characters wrestle with their own multiple identities in different ways. Irene also struggles with her identity and her gender role. As a woman who has chosen to live in Harlem, she is married to a Black man, and one of her children is dark, but she can also pass as White occasionally when it is convenient for her. The dynamics around the way that she negotiates her own femininity, her race and her class is very interesting. َIn the novel, it is obvious that even though Irene is fascinated by Clare, at the same time, she judges and dislikes her. Besides her fear about her husband’s affair with Clare, she probably dislikes her because she is a representation of her repressed desire, both sexually and socially.  I believe part of why Irene holds disdain for Clare is because Clare represents aspects of Irene that Irene doesnot have the freedom to pursue. Usually, people hate what they cannot have.

            Apart from her flaws,Clare has the sort of audacious freedom that she lives into. Irene is overwhelmed by social and racial expectations and commitments. Clare stays on the edge of risk, but she is not suffocated by racial or social commitments. Irene has a commitment to her children, her husband and her Black community. Clare does not have those commitments. They both view motherhood in drastically different ways. Clare doesnot feel any specific sympathy toward being a parent or seeing the importance in that, and in this regard, too, she doesnot have a twinge of conscience. Irene is aware of Clare’s absence of commitment to her racial community, and this frustrates her. Clare comes in and out of that community and slips in and out in a parasitical way.

            Viewing all this through an intersectionality lens, Clare represents not only some aspects of Whiteness but also an audacious femininity. She practices her femininity in a different way than Irene does. Her gender role is drastically different as well. She also represents the level of feminism that transgresses gender roles. Meanwhile, Irene seekssecurity in the frame of family. Her refusal to go to Brazil with her husband shows that she wants her social security and status quo—the security of the role of wife and mother.

            At the very tragic, dramatic ending, Clare is finally exposed by her husband. Her husband bursts into the party in Harlem and confronts her. Clare’s death can interpreted in different ways. Either Clare’s life has ended, or all her dreams had come true, because now she can finally walk away and return to Black community and finally be a part of that society. That is probably why she has a smile on her face at the last moment of her life. She has been liberated from her marriage. It seems that when her husband bursts into the party, she is partly enjoying this experience. 

            However, at the end, Irene potentially pushes Clare out the window and kills her. Although it is ambiguous whether Irene pushed her, this moment can be interpreted metaphorically as a symbol of killing the Whitesupremacistin Clare. On the other hand, Clare can symbolize what is already in Irene. Perhaps Clare is the projection of an inner Irene. The conflict between Irene and Clare can be interpreted in this way that she is projecting aspects of herself onto Clare, and then killing Clare is a way to try to entirely cleanse herself.  In other words, she dislike Clare because she dislikes some aspects of herself, such as her own desire, sadness or fear, and tries to get rid of it.

            This metaphorical killing of Clare is a triumph over the internalized racism that she might have. At the same time,that metaphorical killing is anacknowledgement or perhaps submission of herself and her femininity to the repressive and oppressive roles.

 

Conclusion

 

            By way of concluding this analysis, I have examined the intersection of class, sexuality, and race in Passing’s main characters, Irene and Clare, using a comparative method. I tried to analyze how their multiple social identitieswere shaped in a segregated society related to a special period in American history when people were classified as either Black or White.

            Clare uses her passing features to her personal advantage to ascend the social ladder and secure access to wealth and power. She has no internal conflict about passing as White. She intentionally divorced herself not only from theBlack community but from the commitment to the uplifting of that community. She is a consumer of theBlack community. Even though she is stepping away from theBlack community, at the same time she seeks reunion with that community, whether in seeking a lost community or just from her adventurous and risk-taking nature. Clare is aware of the interconnection between race and economic status, and she is pursuing the American Dream. Even though she stays on the edge of risk, she is not suffocated by racial or social commitments. She has no commitment to motherhood, either. She practices her femininity in a different way than Irene does. Her gender role is drastically different. She also represents the level of feminism that transgresses gender roles. Viewing all this through a lens of intersectionality, Clare represents not only some aspects of Whiteness but also an audacious femininity. Clare attracts attention to her body so that people donot question other parts of her identity.

            Irene, on the other hand, feels secure in racial boundaries and is committed to uplifting and empowering her Black community. She is overwhelmed by social and racial expectations and commitments. Irene seeks security in the frame of family and her commitment to motherhood and her community as well. However, she is not secure about her sexual identity, her desires and her feminine role. She identifies herself through other people, and her class and status quo are very important to her. Passing also depicts repressed sexual tension between Clare and Irene. Clare is a representation of her repressed sexual desire.

            Clare’s tragic death can be interpreted metaphorically as a symbol of Irene projecting some aspects of herself onto Clare and want to be get rid of those aspects. It can also be interpreted as pushing and killing a White supremacist. Passing can be considered a novel about longing for Blackness. Whiteness is a choice that characters slip in and out of as a matter of convenience.

 

 

 

Bibliography

 

           

Boyd, Robert L. "The Harlem Renaissance and Blacks’ Employment in Cultural Expression Occupations." Journal of African American Studies (New Brunswick, N.J.) 25, no. 1 (2021): 82-101.

 

Carbado, Devon W, Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, Vickie M Mays, and Barbara Tomlinson. "INTERSECTIONALITY: Mapping the Movements of a Theory." Du Bois Review 10, no. 2 (2013): 303-12.

Carter, Perry L. "The Penumbral Spaces of Nella Larsen's Passing: Undecidable Bodies, Mobile Identities, and the Deconstruction of Racial Boundaries." Gender, Place and Culture: A Journal of Feminist Geography 13, no. 3 (2006): 227-46.

 

Coates, Ta-Nehisi. Between the World and Me. First ed. New York: Spiegel & Grau, 2015.

 

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Nikolinakos, Marios. "Notes on An Economic Theory of Racism." Race 14, no. 4 (1973): 365-81.

Peggy McIntosh. "White Privilege and Male Privilege." In Critical White Studies, 291. Temple University Press, 2010.

Pollak, Benjamin H. "‘A New Ethnology’: The Legal Expansion of Whiteness under Early Jim Crow." Law and History Review 39, no. 3 (2021): 513-38.

 

 

[1]Perry L. Carter,“The Penumbral Spaces of Nella Larsen's Passing: Undecidable Bodies, Mobile Identities, and the Deconstruction of Racial Boundaries,” Gender, Place and Culture: A Journal of Feminist Geography 13, no. 3 (2006): 228.

[2]Benjamin H. Pollak,“A New Ethnology: The Legal Expansion of Whiteness under Early Jim Crow," Law and History Review 39, no. 3 (2021): 514, 515, 538.

[3]Carter, “The Penumbral Spaces,” 228.

[4]Robert L Boyd, “The Harlem Renaissance and Blacks’ Employment in Cultural Expression Occupations,” Journal of African American Studies (New Brunswick, N.J.) 25, no. 1 (2021): 82.

[5]Cheryl L. Harris, "Whiteness as Property," Harvard Law Review 106, no. 8 (1993):1712.

[6] Harris,“Whiteness as Property," 1751, 1769, 1770.

[7]Audrey Smedley and Brian D. Smedley, "Race as Biology Is Fiction, Racism as a Social Problem Is Real," The American Psychologist 60, no. 1 (2005): 16, 19, 26.

[8] Smedley, “Race as Biology,” 16.

[9]Smedley, “Race as Biology,” 22.

[10]Ta-NehisiCoates,Between the World and Me(New York: Spiegel & Grau, 2015), 7.

[11]RuthellenJosselson, Finding Herself: Pathways to Identity Development in Women (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1987), 10

[12]Susan RJones,Yoolee Choe Kim, and KristanCilenteSkendall, "(Re-) Framing Authenticity: Considering Multiple Social Identities Using Autoethnographic and Intersectional Approaches," The Journal of Higher Education (Columbus) 83, no. 5 (2012):699.

[13]Devon WCarbado, Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, Vickie M Mays, and Barbara Tomlinson, "INTERSECTIONALITY: Mapping the Movements of a Theory," Du Bois Review 10, no. 2 (2013): 302.

[14]Bonnie Thornton Dill, and Ruth E. Zambrana. Emerging Intersections: Race, Class, and Gender in Theory, Policy, and Practice. (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 2009),2, 3, 4, 7

 

[15]Carbado et al., "INTERSECTIONALITY," 311.

[16]Patricia HillCollins, "Intersectionality's Definitional Dilemmas," Annual Review of Sociology 41, no. 1 (2015): 2

[17]Nikolinakos, Marios. "Notes on An Economic Theory of Racism," Race 14, no. 4 (1973): 365.

[18]Nikolinakos, "Notes," 378.

[19]Peggy Mcintosh, "White Privilege and Male Privilege," in Critical White Studies(Temple University Press, 2010), 7.

[20]McIntosh,"White Privilege," 2.

[21]Nella Larsen, Passing(New York: Modern Library, 2019), 4.

[22]Larsen, Passing, 5.

[23]Larsen, Passing, 4.

[24]Larsen, Passing,35, 23.

The theme of individual responsibility as it is presented in Giovanni’s Room

This article looks at how the theme of individual responsibility presented in Giovanni's Room. The focus will be to show how the form of the novel impacts the development of the individual responsibility's theme. To doing so, it is important to show that Giovanni's Room is a novel with multiple themes and the theme of individual responsibility can deeply be understand through understanding other themes in the story. In addition it will be shown that how the above-mentioned theme is woven all the way through the story, through the characters' actions, interaction and motivation, and how the author is trying to convey it through the characters and events of the story. This essay will show some evidence and digging in to the patterns to build the bridge between the evidence that will lay out the interpretation.

To go further with the theme of Individual Responsibility in this essay, one should first understand the meaning of Individuality and responsibility. Based on Merriam-Webster dictionary individuality defines as: "total character peculiar to and distinguishing an individual from others". And, Responsibility defines as: "a duty or task that you are required or expected to do or something that you should do because it is morally right, legally required". Some of the main things which make individual distinguished from others are their gender, sexuality or their sexual orientation, ethnicity, and social class. In this short novel by James Baldwin, he explores deeply to show how it is to an individual to be struggling with sexuality, nationality and social class. In one hand we can see the differences between characters like David, Giovanni, Hella, Jacques, Guillaume and others in term of their gender, their sexual desire or sexual orientation, and in other hand reader can perceive the societies' expectation of them based on their of their individuality. In other words the reader can comprehend the relationship and entanglement between responsibility and individuality.

From the very beginning of the novel, before reader begins to read the book, the title "Giovanni's Room", could indicate as a metaphor for coming out of the closet and as the reader begin to read the novel, the reader can see the struggle and difficulty of coming out of the closet or coming out of the room and how everyday expectations surpass greatly one's deep desire. The novel's protagonists, David and Giovanni are immigrants (non-French), homosexual and from lower or middle class.

In this short novel, the writer did a great job with mix up the individuality and all its aspects with sexuality, race, and desire and societies expectation. The individual's identity is based on all over mentioned aspects. The novel begins by anticipating Giovanni's execution and then through a flashback recounts the events that lead to the execution. . The novel begins at the end and through the rest of the novel we can know how the story unfolds. The novel focus on the social-psychological pressures that characters face in order to fit into the societies expectation. One of the social-psychological pressures that characters like Giovanni, David and Guillaume faced was homophobia; an unreasonable fear which society had against homosexuality made it very difficult for all of these characters but for Giovanni the degree of difficulty was higher. David as an individual who could fit the socialites' expectation had opportunity to free himself from the stigma and pressure that society puts on his shoulder and save him from drowning. David's decision to leave Giovanni and marry with Hella, shows the struggle he faced to make this decision and shows how societies expectation made him irresponsible toward Giovanni. If the writer of this story wants to convey the message that the human selfhood, independency of social and familial constrains is important, the reader realizes that David has been incapable of doing this and has failed to accomplish this important task. Thus his failure to face his true individuality makes him to fail to face his responsibility to Giovanni, to Hella and to himself as well and makes not only himself unhappy but also destroy the life and happiness of Giovanni and Hella.

Another main point which can be analyzed is contradiction between desire and individual responsibility. On one hand Davids sexual desire in in contradiction with societies' expectation or the responsibility he has toward the society, and in other hand his sexual desire is in contrast with his responsibility toward his best friend or his love of life Giovanni. This is an extremely complex problem which he faces in the novel moment by moment.

As we can read from the novel David is the first-person narrator of the novel. The first word of the first line of the novel begins with the word "I", which immediately tells us that this novel is written from a first person narrative perspective. The narrator is a blonde American who moves to Paris; Here we can interpret another point. Even though the writer is black and his previous works was related to black people we can see that there is no black character in this novel. Even though in this book there are no black characters at all, but this can be interpreted with this fact that in 1950s when this book was written people were outraged already about the facts as homosexuality. The writer who considered as back or "Negro" writers they expected to write about "Negro"s. The writer was already marked by his race. But the writer wanted to point out the important social issues not based on the marks he had as a black writer but just as a writer. Thus the writer, from the first-person narrator; a blonde American tells a story about homosexuality and homophobia and individual responsibility. The narrator has a sensuous relationship with Giovanni in his girlfriend Hella's absence. Hella meets David in France and then goes to Spain to contemplate David's marriage proposal. She returns to David and accept his proposal but abandons him when she discovers his homosexuality. Here David cannot meet Hellas expectation and in the same time cannot fill his responsibility toward Hella.

 

On the other hand we read that Giovanni; the poor Italian bartender falls in love with David, but David leave him when her fiancé turn back to him. Giovanni shattered when David leaves him for Hella. He falls into the trap of depression and unpleasant events. And finally he faces execution for murdering his ex-employer Guillame, In this part we see how David's irresponsibility toward Giovanna destroys his life totally. In David's narrative about his memories in past we can see the same irresponsibility he had toward Joey; a boy from Brooklyn with whom David had his first homosexual experience. One can interpret David's individual irresponsibility related to his relation with his father and his father's role in his upbringing. The father cannot ot bear to acknowledge that they are not close and feels guilty he may have failed to raise his son.

The most individual responsibility one can have is regarding self. One must have responsible to him/herself. But David fails to show responsibility toward himself as well. David can interpret as a self-estrangement who seems to be unable to love himself or anyone. The novel shows David's desire for men and in the same time his internalized homophobia. It is not just the people around him who are homophobic. David internalized homophobic deeply. He is constantly threatened by the loss of masculinity. Thus he tries to deny his true desire. David is unable to confront himself. He cannot face his sexuality. Thus he will never be able fully love anyone because of this simple reason that he hasn't fully accepted himself. He is facing the lack of self knowledge and intimacy with others, whether it be Hella or Giovanni. There is lot of love and loss in this novel, but most we experience the loss and disability to love. David is a gay man and in the same time he hates his own homosexuality or hides it. He is ashamed of his individuality. He lacks intimacy. As Morten Haugerud Says:

"With so much potential resistance to intimacy, one interesting way to view this novel in its totality is actually as an act of intimacy, of opening up and of reaching out. Precisely because David was not able to allow himself to be intimate with Giovanni, and rather let his shame lead the way, the act of narrating this story becomes in and of itself a testimony to what happens when you internalize other people’s expectations of you and feel ashamed when you realize that your truest, deepest nature goes against these very expectations. In this way, Giovanni’s Room becomes an act of forgiveness, a prayer and a confession. When Hella towards the end says: “‘But Little boys – ! . . . I’ll never again, as long as I live, know what they want. And now I know they’ll never tell me. I don’t think they know how’” (165), she is also pointing towards the fact that in such a society, with limited possibilities for self-expression for men, then as perhaps now, there is not a language available for them to fully express their emotions. In such a way, this book is also an attempt a giving a voice to these little boys." (Morten Haugerud, page 51)

 

 

Giovannis room makes points that what constitute individuality, identity, responsibility and love or loss. In this short novel, the writer did a great job with mix up the individuality and all its aspects with sexuality, race, and desire and societies expectation. The novel reminds us to think deeply about the question that who we are as an individual. Are we defined by our nationality, gender, sexuality, ethnicity or culture? Giovanni's room seems to suggest that we are not individuals with just one identity or individuality only. We are created by several social- cultural forces such as nationality, gender, social class, sexuality, ethnicity, ability, and all of these forces took gather together to constitute one's identity, individuality and responsibility. Then it leads us to ask who the other is and what is their individuality or responsibility? Can we say other is everything that we are not? No. If we look at other people we can see that we have more in common with them than we admit. This novel requires us to think about what is the construction of self as an individual and construction of others as individuals as well. What is our responsibility toward self or toward others? The novel suggests how we accept the notion of ourselves and our individuality. Are we ashamed of our individuality or not. Is the shame come from the society’s norms and morality? Is the shame thrust about us from the society or from our inner values? How we take away the shame and take our responsibility both to others and to self.

 

 

Sources:

 

Haugerud, Morten. "Quelle Honte: The Anatomy of Shame in James Baldwin's Giovanni's Room." MA thesis, University of Oslo, 2019. https://www.duo.uio.no/bitstream/handle/10852/70204/1/Masteroppgave-Morten-Haugerud.pdf (Links to an external site.).

 

Merriam-Webster dictionary

How Charles Dicken's novel Hard Times deals with the topic of education

Introduction and Discussion:

 

Hard Times by Charles Dickens, first published in 1854 is a book which portrays and scrutinizes English society and demonstrates the social, economic and educational conditions of the era. Charles Dickens demonstrates the reality of Vicorian England and the reality of London which the historian did not fully represent. The story takes place at a time when England was undergoing dramatic change as a result of the industrial revolution. It is set in the fictitious Victorian industrial coketown where great waving mills obscured the sky a blur of dust and smoke.

 

In this town in a gloomy house called Stone Lodge, lived a man named Gradgrind. He was a hard headed, stubborn, bald man, with his appearance, face and even forehead square and wide, but he had a thin set mouth. He had grown rich in the hardware business and was a school director of the town. He believed in nothing but "facts" He determined the value of everything in the world with calculating and only to weigh and measure. As Victorian age was full of facts, figures and calculation, he was a product of it. He followed utilitarianism. He used to say to teachers and schoolmasters "teach boys and girls nothing but facts. Facts alone are wanted in life."

 

The first few chapters depict a classroom where logic and fact- based learning are prioritized. As a father or school principal he lives his life with this philosophy, runs the school by this theory and most of all he raises his children according to this system. Throughout the course of the story the reader observes the consequences of this philosophy. Imagination had no place in their lives. His children Louisa and Tom hated Coketown, their house and most of all they hated facts. They wished that imagination could resonate in their lives and "could collect all the facts and all the figures in the world, and all the people who found them out, ... and blow them all up together."

 

There are a lot of messages and themes associated with this novel, but one of the main ones is that of fact versus fantasy and depicting a terrible educational system in which facts are pressed into school children all day, and information memorization is cherished over art, dream, fantasy and imagination.

 

During this novel, the author refers to the educational method and the philosophy related to it, and in three parts, presents the educational system in a narrative way. Part one is called sowing where we see Gradgrind sowing this philosophy into the lives of his children and school system. The second part is called reaping which shows the fulfillment and reaching of having instilled this philosophy and it shows in detail as they play out in this section. Part three "Garnering" he sees adjusting his philosophy coming to terms with all the consequences and things that have happened.

 

Dickens portrays the teachers and inspectors of school almost as monsters. The first point he conducts is through describing Mr. Gradgrind's appearance and behavior in the first chapters of the book.

 

Dickens employs a variety of strategies to convey his views on education to his readers throughout the novel, the first of which is the creation of several characters. Sissy Jupe and Bitzer are two such characters who are totally different in their educational experiences and perspectives on the educational system. Bitzer is a model student of Mr. Gradgrind's education of facts. He later became the gatekeeper of Mr. Bounderby's bank. He is cold-hearted and analytical. But Sissy's character is completely opposite of him.

 

As a result of this system of education and upbringing, some characters in this novel become very distorted and damaged. Tom and Louisa's lives are turned upside down. Not only their childhood is ruined, but their adulthoods is distorted as well. They have no right to access to their feeling, emotions and following their passion. They were constantly treated as if they had no hearts. They are encouraged to be machine like and conformist being. Tom doesn't understand moral and love. As a result of his improper upbringing based on a utilitarian system of education and upbringing, he has no sense for understanding morals and love. He gets involved in crime and dies in misery, exile, and displacement. Lousia follows her logic rather that her heart. She can't resist her father's request of marry Bounderby. This make her unhappy. As a result of her terrible marriage, louisa is on the verge of ruin. Later she tries to running off with Harthouse who seemed to understand love her. On the other hand she sacrificed her life for her brother who is the only one she loves deeply. In each case she just cannot follow her heart and dreams.

 

In the end there is only one character who turns out as a happy well- adjusted human being and it is the character from the very beginning of the story who was the student that Gradgrind had to reprimand because she was too much of an advocate of fancy. That is Sissi.

 

Cecillia or Sissy is a daughter of a man who works in a circus. She was surrounded by imagination and fantasy. The circus is a symbol which is an alternative to facts and rationality. allowed and permitted to dream and have imagination. She follows her heart, emotions and dreams. She possesses empathy and emotional strength which lead her to have moral behavior and she understands love, friendship and helpfulness.

 

Gradgrind is so devoted to his educational system that he can not see his failure and when things can't work properly, he blames others than his beliefs. In some cases we read that he blames and criticizes Sissi. This appears to be an important evaluation of those who are ideological in some way. He blames Sissi in some cases and at the same time the way he points out Sissy in chapter 2, as "girl number twenty" shows how practical and full of figures and facts is Mr. Gradgrind.

 

When facts are all and no imagination and passion and emotion and feeling the absence of love and morality and without imagination childhood snatching away. So much emphasis on facts, utilitarianism and practicality.

 

It seems that in this novel, the roots of all kinds of education and upbringing is rooted in childhood. If people are not properly educated as children, it can have a devastating effect on all aspects of their life. At the same time, if people learn something in adulthood, it has little practical impact in people's life. For example, at the end of his life, Mr.Gradgrind, realizes his failed educational method, but this perception does not have much effect on his life or those around him.

 

 

Conclusion:

 

As we can see from the novel there are two various types of education and learning philosophy which are depicted in the novel. Each of them has a profound effect on the characters and their destiny and personality as human beings.

 

Hard Time makes a compelling case that education is more than just learning facts in the school and as an uprising method. The novel emphasizes that the educational system based on emotional and fantacy components has many benefits. The narrative also demonstrates that this type of learning can occur at any point in one's life.

 

Dickens expresses his thoughts and opinion about education through this novel. It seems that he believed that education was being taught incorrectly by teachers and the education system. Teachers had too much power and imagination, fantac and creativity had very little place in the education system.

 

 

Sources: Hard Times by Charles Dickens

The significance of using the epistolary (letter) form in the “My Dungeon Shook” section of James Baldwin

James Baldwin wrote this open letter to his nephew, which was published later for a wider audience. He conveyed a message to his nephew and potential audience. Instead of dialogue-driven scenes, Baldwin employed an epistolary format to focus on his thoughts, feelings, and emotions presented as memories. The epistolary format emphasizes the first-person point of view, allowing him to demonstrate his strong emotions.

Baldwin purposefully emphasized the closeness of a specific relationship. His letter contains a sincere reflection on his family history, though it also required him to face the challenges that his family members have encountered due to their race. The letter demonstrated a balance between happy and sad situations in an intimate relationship.

The letter’s content emphasizes how the writer communicates with his nephew not only through letter-writing but also by sharing the story about his life and family history. He also pointed out that he was writing the letter to James, not to the “innocent countrymen” who supported a racist system. This important point is partly because white Americans have historically ignored the lives of boys like James. Baldwin doubted they would be interested in the story.

The letter was written specifically for Baldwin’s nephew, not for the general public.

Baldwin started with a personal letter to James. He continued with phrases like, “I am sure your father has told you something about all that,” emphasizing that James was the only audience he had in mind when writing the text. “I am writing this letter to you, to try to tell you something about how to handle them, because most of them do not yet really know that you exist,” Baldwin said later. Baldwin explained why he addressed the text in this manner: He did not believe that a larger, white American public would be interested in this subject.

Although Baldwin solely had his nephew in mind when he wrote this letter, the letter’s open format and eventual publishing in one of his books (The Fire Next Time) demonstrated his belief that personal and family problems are rooted in the political, social, and historical aspects of society where we live. This, in turn, recalls the famous Slogan “Personal is Political”.

Although he explained painful truths to his nephew, Baldwin believed in the redeeming power of love. This open letter style, which is utterly private and intimate, added to the importance of his belief.

The importance of the theme of “fertility” in Ruth Ozecki’s My Year of Meats

My Year of Meats reflects important issues, such as the interrelation between corporate profit and patriarchal forces that threaten the bodies, sexuality, and reproduction issues of women worldwide. The novel focuses on the links between reproduction and violence not only in Modern America but also around the world. In this novel, the interrelation between fertility and violence applies not only to women but also to animals. In a racial and cultural context, Ruth Ozeki focuses on human health issues, particularly women’s reproductive health.

The novel’s plot implies that Jane Takagi-Little strived to explore the issue of meat consumption due to its harmful effect on people’s health, particularly women’s reproductive health. This issue is crucial to analyzing the novel’s theme of fertility.

Due to an evil industry that has been the principal offender in the exploitation of farm animals and humans, Akiko from Japan and Takagi-Little from the United States suffered infertility.

Akiko struggled with infertility, just like Jane Takagi-Little. Akiko was forced by his husband to eat meat, and she experienced domestic violence. She lost considerable weight and became infertile. In contrast, Jane couldn’t get pregnant in her previous marriage, and finally, after many years, when she got pregnant, she suffered a miscarriage. She later learned about her DES-related infertility issues.

The concurrent pregnancies of Jane and Akiko as well as their earlier infertility struggles represent the culmination of every topic covered in this novel. Although they have distinct geographical, cultural, economic, social, and physical conditions, they both face the issue of violence related to fertility.

Violence and reproduction are a recurring theme in Meats and are typically linked to patriarchy and capitalism. The links between gender, violence, the meat industry, and meat consumption are revealed by the crosscurrents of meat, violence, and fertility in Akiko’s home, Jane’s health issues, (Jane’s work promotes meat grown with the same hormone that affected her fertility), and farms animals that face violence as well. Animals are injected with hormones to increase their productivity and thus maximize profits generated from them.

Language, Identity, and Power in Ocean Vuong’s On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous

Introduction and Background “Have you ever watched yourself from behind, going further and deeper into that landscape, away from you?” [you said.] How could I tell you that what you were describing was writing? How could I say that we, after all, are so close, the shadows of our hands, on two different pages, merging? (p.6) The quote above is taken from Ocean Vuong’s acclaimed debut novel On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous (2019). The novel uses poetic prose to explore family, identity, and the difficulties of reconnecting with one’s roots when living in another country. The story is told through a letter from a son to his mother who cannot read. Through writing, the narrator processed his emotions regarding the family’s escape from Vietnam, his upbringing in the United States, their challenges in the new country, and his relationship with his mother. In these descriptions, language played a crucial part as a tool, identity, power, and artistic medium. In the novel On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, Little Dog described to his mother what it’s like to be a writer through words, language, and stories. Little Dog told Rose, “You asked me what it’s like to be a writer and I’m giving you a mess, I know But it’s a mess, Ma—I’m not making this up. I made it down.” (p.189) Little Dog’s letter frequently read like a collection of unrelated, trivial memories and stories. To understand Little Dog properly, one must comprehend how his stories and the language he employed to convey directly reflect his life and identity. The purpose of this essay is to examine how the novel depicts language as a source of identity and power. Analysis In Ocean Vuong’s novel, Little Dog explained how learning English allowed him to act as a link between his mother and the United States. He wrote to his mother, “So began my career as our family’s official interpreter I took off our language and wore my English, like a mask, so that others would see my face, and therefore yours.” (p.32)

 

When language plays a significant role as the world’s mediator in the distribution of power, the “right” language in the “right” culture leads to a high degree of perceived humanity. Little Dog became more American than Rose by speaking English and thus was more visible in the United States. As he wrote, “One does not pass in America, it seems, without English” (p. 52). Two interchangeable masks also created the impression of a double identity or consciousness at Little Dog. He has one foot in a culture, and the other in another. Vietnamese and English represent Little Dog’s two different worldviews: one that does not want to draw attention to him because Vietnamese marks him as different and the other that wants to make him visible by writing in English. Little Dog spent the majority of his life in the United States, whereas Rose, his mother, spent her formative years in Vietnam. Their languages and use of words reflect these cultural disparities. Little Dog claimed that the Vietnamese people express their affection for one another often in English. According to Little Dog, for the Vietnamese, “care and love are pronounced clearest through service.” To describe that feeling verbally, they must use a different language. According to these accounts, his mother only showed her love and passion for him through service and taking care of him. However, language and vocabulary do not always reflect cultural variations. Language usage can occasionally be influenced by a person’s social and economic status and access to social and economic power. Little Dog discussed this apparent paradox. He illustrated how “sorry” is employed in the tobacco field and a nail salon. “In the nail salon, sorry is a tool one uses to pander until the word itself becomes currency. It no longer merely apologizes, but insists, reminds: I’m here, right here, beneath you” (p. 91). Rose is invisible without language, and Little Dog made her visible by interpreting her to the rest of the world. Little Dog provided Rose with a voice in the United States, where she would otherwise be unable to communicate with the outside world and thus ceases to exist. However, this situation results in a power shift between the mother and son. Little Dog described how he taught Rose to read like a child. Rose felt shame about her stuttering attempts to read the words. In the end, she violently threw the book away, saying that she doesn’t need to learn to read, “I can see — it’s gotten me this far, hasn’t it?” This statement is a clear explanation of the power of language skills. The descriptions of violence that follow this scene point to how the

 

violence becomes a backlash against Rose’s powerlessness. By beating her son, she gained back some of the power she felt she has lost through her migration to the United States. People regulate power relations through the use of language. Thus, language is an important factor in how we relate to ourselves and others because these power relations contribute to the construction of identity. Another central scene took place earlier in the novel. Little Dog was riding the school bus when a boy approached him unprovoked, banging his head on the window and said, “Speak English.” A group formed around them as the boy continued to urge Little Dog to say something in English. The words became blows, and finally, Little Dog opened his mouth and said the perpetrator’s name. “That’s a good little bitch,” said the boy, before they left the crying Little Dog alone. The American boy established his power through the language as well as the idea of the “other” as inferior and inhuman by calling Little Dog “little bitch.” The establishment of power and identity is displayed later in Little Dog’s relationship with Trevor. Trevor constantly had an aversion to their sexuality and humiliated Little Dog’s feminine position in their sexual relationship. Little Dog also did not forget that Trevor is American. Trevor became Little Dog’s representative for this American masculinity that he did not fit in. Throughout the novel, names are presented with a strong association with identity. The narrator’s nickname “Little Dog,” given to him by his grandmother, evoked an image of a small dog, with its head down as portrayed by the narrator’s state. The name comes from a tradition of naming weak children after the worst things to drive away evil spirits. The narrator’s grandmother was named Lan, “Lily,” after she fled her abusive husband in Vietnam. She was born without a name, was the seventh child in the family, and was thus known as Seven. She created a new version of herself by giving herself a new name, one that has not been destroyed by the oppression of her family and first husband. She named herself after a beautiful idea in the hopes of one day looking like that. Little Dog’s name was given by his grandmother, and unlike his grandmother, he did not look for another name. However, he discovered beauty, creativity, courage, and a proud identity for himself and his family by penning the Little Dog story and giving voice to the voiceless. He is aware of this discovery and he wrote: Yes, there was a war. Yes, we came from its epicenter. In that war, a woman gifted herself a new name – Lan – in that naming, claimed herself beautiful, then made that

 

beauty into something worth keeping. From that, a daughter was born, and from that daughter, a son. All this time I told myself we were born from war – but I was wrong, Ma. We were born from beauty. (p. 231)

 

Conclusion

Language is present throughout the novel as an influencing factor in Little Dog's identity, including his need to act as his mother’s interpreter. Thus, he put on English like a mask. As a result, he gained a dual identity while also negatively affecting his relationship with his mother as she lost her power and had to reclaim it forcibly. Names are also presented as an important factor in the formation of identity as demonstrated by Little Dog. His nickname, “Little Dog,” is linked to his identity. On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous represents not only Little Dog’s character but also that of Rose and Lan who are voiceless. This representation highlights the power of language in making individuals visible. Language can establish power through the novel’s elucidation of language’s ability to transform a person. This change and its establishment of power also affect identity as power constructs identity.

An example in Ocean Vuong’s On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous where language plays an important role

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong investigates the power of language from different perspectives. As an immigrant and a writer, Little Dog frequently observed the English language from a distance and closely. The protagonist of the novel is a Vietnamese American who speaks English as a second language. The novel, which is a letter to Little Dog’s illiterate mother Rose, emphasizes the importance of words and language, particularly to Little Dog’s identity as a writer. He could understand the language but was considered an outsider.

Within the letter, he explored this apparent paradox. As an immigrant, the narrator and his family have already lost so much, and they needed English to survive in the new place. Language and words are one of the main tools for their survival. Little Dog pondered on the meaning of the word “sorry” as it was used on the tobacco farm and in the nail salon. “In the nail salon, sorry is a tool one uses to pander until the word itself becomes currency. It no longer merely apologizes, but insists, reminds: I’m here, right here, beneath you” (p. 91).

Little Dog, his mother, and his grandmother all struggled with language in their unique ways. In a strange environment where no one understands them, language cannot sufficiently describe Rose and Lan’s memories of their horror. As a writer who relied heavily on language, the challenge for Little Dog was his inability to communicate in a language his matriarchs could understand. His novel took a more intellectual approach to language’s use or misuse and how it excludes and includes people. Their mother tongue is useless because they are dependent on language, specifically English. The narrator reminisced about Roland Barthes, “No object is in a constant relationship with pleasure. For the writer, however, is it the mother tongue.” Little Dog asked, “But what if the mother tongue is stunted? What if that tongue is not only the symbol of a void but is itself a void, what if the tongue is cut out?” (p. 33).

Little Dog analyzed the English and Vietnamese languages and concluded that language is deeply ingrained in the culture that gave rise to it. Without an understanding of the larger social framework, language cannot be comprehended.

Language is simultaneously perceived as a tool for survival, empowerment, and defacement.

A passage from Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony where the character of Rocky is important and discuss

Tayo’s memory of a deer hunt before World War II (Ceremony, pp. 46–48) reveals opposing perspectives of the dominant and traditional culture. This scene demonstrates that Rocky is the exact opposite of Tayo: “Rocky turned away from them and poured water from the canteen over his bloody hands. He was embarrassed at what they did. He knew when they took the deer home, it would be laid out on a Navajo blanket, and old grandma would put a string of turquoise around its neck.”1 Rocky was Taayo’s cousin, and they were close like brothers. Rocky was the type of person who does not believe in any traditional ways because he thought that following traditional way would keep him away from success. Tayo used a modern object (his jacket) in following the old tradition of covering the deer’s head. His act demonstrated how ceremonies can be adapted to modern life. Rocky’s question of why Tayo covered the deer’s head is unrelated to the action. The question is about the meaning of the ritual, asking why respecting the deer is necessary when humans have tools that make them more powerful than nature. Rocky was critical of the Laguna “superstition and preferred scientific lessons taught by white teachers at school. The teachers told him, “Don’t let the people at home hold you back.” By the standards of these good white people, Rocky was on the verge of success, if only he could avoid being held back by the primitive traditions of his community. Rocky was interested in the Anglo definitions of success. He received a football scholarship, and the entire family was delighted and proud that he was the first to enter college. Some of Rocky’s family members, such as his grandma, didn’t like his avoidance of the traditional ways. Nevertheless, the others, 1 Leslie MarmonSilko, Ceremony (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition. New York: Penguin Books, 2020) 47.

 

such as his aunt, never scolded him. She knew that in order to progress, one must surrender to the ideals and demands of the white world, that is, the superior culture.

In this passage, Rocky’s action and reaction, according to Theda Wrede,2 reflect the “colonizing culture’s attitude toward nature.” Rocky is educated and athletic, characteristics that represent modernity and progress.

In contrast, Tayo, the son of an unknown white man and a Laguna woman, advocated the Native American ways of life and preferred tribal life to his personal life. Although both were enlisted in the war, their perspectives and thus their actions were opposite. They had different perspectives on their respective military obligations. Rocky joined the army because he was devoted to white culture and viewed white civilization as more advanced and richer than the Laguna society. He considered the spilling of blood as part of his job as an American soldier, whereas Tayo found himself unable to perform severe instructions, such as shooting a Japanese.

Rocky died in the war, and Tayo came back home. Rocky’s passing is an especially harsh indictment of white culture, which, despite its creativity and advancement, can only result in destruction.

 

References:

1.Silko, Leslie Marmon. Ceremony. PenguinClassics Deluxe Edition.New York: Penguin Books, 2020.

2.Theda, Wrede. Myth and Environment in Recent Southwestern Literature:Healing Narratives. Lanham: Lexington Books, 2014.

2 Wrede Theda, Myth and Environment in Recent Southwestern Literature: Healing Narratives

(Lanham, Lexington Books, 2014), 181.

Some of the ways that bell hooks’ “oppositional gaze” responds to Laura Mulvey’s “the male gaze.”

Hooks begins her essay by reflecting on childhood experiences in which her parents punished her for staring. There’s a long legacy of Black people in the United States and elsewhere being punished for staring. In this context, looking was an act of opposition and resistance, and agaze was more than just a gaze. Staring was seen as “confrontational, as a gesture of resistance, [and as] challenging to authority.” Hooks’ oppositional gaze thus goes beyond the sexualized, gendered gaze described by Mulvey, which highlights the psychoanalytic aspects of a gaze and phallocentric is one of its main characteristics. Hooks’ discussion disrupts power, as the gaze she describes is not only gendered and sexualized but also racialized.

Hooks criticizes Mulvey’s view and introduces an intersectional approach to the gaze. She asserts that we must consider the history of race and recognize looking as a function of race and racial power dynamics.

Experiences of being told not to look have caused Black people to develop what hooks calls an oppositional gaze rooted in “defiance and critical interrogation.” In addition, the Black woman’s gaze goes beyond a phallocentric gaze and has its own agency. Hooks’ oppositional gaze is not about looking abstractly. It’s about looking at television, cinema, or other screens. In hooks’ segregated childhood neighborhood, when a Black woman watched television, she saw certain depictions of Black people meant to confirm the racial dynamics dominant at the time. Looking at these images, she would interrogate them, determining that they were not accurate reflections of her life, but representations of certain people’s ideas about how Black people lived. When Black people gained the authority and wealth to make films, the depictions continued to be inaccurate or biased. Something was still lacking. These Black filmmakers were men, and their films reflected their interests. As a result, similar oppression and stereotypical images were depicted, but this time, it was at the expense of Black women only.

However, the oppositional gaze interrogates, and from that interrogation, a desire to make different images is born. Hooks argues that the Black female oppositional gaze offers a new way to look beyond resistance to White supremacy and gender inequality. It can read ruptures or breaks in both White and male gazes. It creates looking relations in which visual delight is produced by “the pleasure of interrogation,” and it looks for and creates images that affirms the possibility of Black women’s freedom, seeking recognition of the agency of Black female spectators.

The significance of the figure of “the feminist killjoy” and/or “the willful subject” from Sara Ahme

Sara Ahmed highlights the feminist killjoy in her narrative of willful subjects. She explores both negativity and its promise of agency through willfulness and acting as a killjoy. A feminist can be viewed as a killjoy when she “gets in the way of other people’s happiness” or as a willful subject when she goes against social constructions and flow. Willfulness and unhappiness share a historical path. Ahmed points out that when most of a population thrives under the protection of patriarchy, those who attempt to disrupt the system are a source of trouble, feminist killjoys who bring unhappiness. Willfulness refers not only to unwillingness to go with the flow but also willingness to block the flow. The term “striking bodies” in Sara Ahmed’s article refers to those who strike with the intention to obstruct. In all cultures, willfulness is portrayed as the character faults of disobedience. Ahmed argues that we must intentionally translate this from a project of condemnation to one of empowerment. This translation, however, is not without risk. In her article Sara Ahmed is a good example of the killjoy feminist or willful one. She is the “feminist daughter” whose contributions to family conversations at the dinner table cause people to roll their eyes. Willful subjects are an alternative to less subjectivity. Willfulness is related to stepping outside and criticizing the power operation. History demonstrates its high cost. However, it is vital, particularly for women of color and those from other minority groups. The truth is that individuals who are willful or killjoys have contributed significantly to feminist movements and other human advancements. According to Ahmed, Black radicalism are supposed to be “charged with willfulness” and comprised of agents who oppose typical White feminists by emphasizing embodiment, lived experience, and intersectionality. Ahmed makes the important point that we shouldn’t think of willfulness as lonesome people opposing social norms. We can understand how the social can be perceived as a force when we resist norms, the law, or power structure. Those fighting for an alternative existence must organize and gather under an umbrella of collective willfulness. Those individuals willing to put their bodies in the way form the history of willfulness. As Ahmed points out, “Political histories of striking and of demonstrations are histories of those willing to put their bodies in the way, to turn their bodies into blockage points that stop the flow of human traffic as well as the wider flow of an economy.”

 

Street demonstrations are one manifestation of movements and revolutions that have led to fundamental change—both throughout history and now in the movements as “Woman, Life, Freedom”. The roots of such political demonstrations are willfulness and a willingness to “killjoy.” Demonstrations are important not only for bringing people into the streets but also reshaping those streets by changing and altering social structures and norms. Though political protests are loaded with the risk of violence, they are necessary to reshape norms and laws. A position of willfulness serves as a forum for both political claims and political tensions.

The importance of the role of animals in Jesmyn Ward’s Salvage the Bones. You may discuss animals in

The important role of animals in Salvage the Bones can be analyzed from an ecofeminist perspective. Feminist efforts are not limited to human connections. One branch of feminism— known as ecofeminism—is concerned with the rights of nature and nonhuman creatures, arguing that animals and humans should be treated equally. From this perspective, women’s oppression and the exploitation of animals and nature are strongly intertwined and mutually reinforcing. Some ecofeminists concentrate on this interconnectedness, arguing that the oppression of both non-human animals and women results from the same logic of dominance.

In Ward’s novel, China is more than a pit bull; she is the clearest symbol of nature’s force. She also symbolizes the power of motherhood and female strength because she is both female and a mother. She exemplifies the dual nature of the natural world by having the capacity to both create and destroy. She also acts as a mirror image of the novel’s protagonist, as the vulnerability, challenges, and problems the dog faces are extremely similar to those of the narrator and main protagonist, a girl named Esch.

Since its characters are marginalized African Americans, the novel also conveys the racial links among humans, nature, and animals. As Christopher Lloyd points out in her academic article on Salvage the Bones, “The link between humans and animals in the South have a long history, particularly in racial discourse . . . Through a racial lens, Ward is unpacking the complex webs of biopower that have long regulated black Americans and animals of various kinds—in different but overlapping ways.”1

As Skeetah, the novel’s second protagonist, states, “everything deserve to live.” As long as we consider nonhuman species as “other” and fail to challenge human superiority or criticize institutions of patriarchal or human control, acknowledging linked oppressions and the connections between the “isms” of domination is difficult. As Greta Gaard said, “when sexism, heterosexism, transphobia, classism, racism, speciesism, ableism, ageism, and the global inequalities produced and exacerbated by industrial capitalism and the legacies of colonialism cease to be a problem, then feminism will have accomplished its goals and outlived its usefulness.”2

 

1 Lloyd, Christopher. "Creaturely, Throwaway Life after Katrina: Salvage the Bones and Beasts of the Southern Wild." South (Chapel Hill, N.C.) 48, no. 2 (2016): 246-64.

2 Gaard, Greta Claire Gaard. "Ecofeminism Revisited:..." Feminist Formations 23, no. 2 (2011): 43

The significance of Audre Lorde’s famous phrase: “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master

Audre Lorde, a Black lesbian feminist, was invited to speak on a panel at New York University. Though feminism was the major topic of the conference, Lorde acknowledged that she also belonged to marginalized groups, Black and Lesbian. Addressing a mostly White, politically liberal group of feminist academics, she noted that racist, patriarchal power systems continue to dominate the narrative. Her famous statement “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house” challenged Western feminists, defying them to address the racism and homophobia they had experienced as well as the “fear and detest of any diversity that resides inside each of us.” The metaphor “master’s tools” implies exclusion.

 

White feminists repeat the power dynamic and create otherness, but Lorde argues that one can’t change anything by repeating the power dynamic.

 

Even if we aren’t aware of it, many of us are intricately linked to power structures that contribute to oppression. Lorde asks the following question: What does it mean when the tools of a racist patriarchy are used to examine the fruits of that same patriarchy? It suggests that only a few alteration parameters are viable and acceptable. Lorde’s key point is that fighting oppression through the methods of an oppressive society is impossible. Instead, we must understand and respect the true power of difference.

 

Though Kimberlé Crenshaw coined the term “intersectionality,” Lorde created a new language to express the concept, giving us the language to critique. She also emphasizes the notion of “the personal as the political,” which has been broadly used in feminist theories. In her essay, Lorde questions the presumption that we can achieve equality or tolerance without a genuine and profound knowledge of difference: “Advocating the mere tolerance of difference between women is the grossest reformism.”

 

In Lorde’s argument, tolerance implies something negative; it is not about respecting or celebrating difference but about bearing it. Academic feminism ignores the restorative power of female interdependence when it only pays lip service to these distinctions, tolerating them rather than appreciating them. Women who rely on one another despite their differences provide mutual stability, enabling them to achieve liberation. Lorde’s call to accept diversity is more than ideological. White fe

The portrayal of reproduction in Salvage the Bones and the vulnerability of female human and non-hum

Esch, the narrator of Jesmyn Ward’s novel Salvage the Bones, tells the reader, “Bodies tell stories.”3 This essay will examine the vulnerability of female human and non-human bodies and their reproduction function in Salvage the Bone and the importance of the roles played by racial and socioeconomic factors in the rural south. The goal is to examine how Ward’s novel highlights the tensions and contradictions surrounding Hurricane Katrina for female bodies and how situation, social experience, and social position reveal these dimensions.

The narrative of Salvage the Bones begins with China, a pit bull, giving birth. The reader learns that the protagonist’s mother died giving birth to her younger brother. In the absence of her mother, Esch identifies herself with the female figures that she is familiar with, which include the non-human China and a mythical figure named Medea, who comes from a story about revenge. Esch also sometimes identifies with Hurricane Katrina. In tandem with Esch’s association with mythological heroes, the lines between China, Esch, and her mother are frequently blurred: “What China is doing is nothing like what Mama did when she had my youngest brother, Junior.”4

With only a few days before Hurricane Katrina arrives, an inner storm is brewing for Esch. Her financial struggles have forced her to steal a pregnancy test from a store, and she is shocked to learn that she is pregnant.

In Salvage the Bones, the bodies of Esch as a human character and China as a non-human figure represent gender, race, and class inequalities, as well as sexual, racial, and class oppression. In Ward’s novel, China is more than a pit bull; she is the clearest symbol of nature’s force. She also symbolizes the power of motherhood and female strength. She exemplifies the dual nature of the natural world by having the capacity to both create and destroy. She also acts as a mirror image of the novel’s protagonist, as the vulnerability, challenges, and problems the dog faces are extremely similar to those of the narrator and main protagonist, a girl named Esch.

 

 

3 Jesmyn Ward, Salvage the Bones, 83.

4 Ward, 1.

 

Even though Esch’s female body has the potential to be a source of pleasure, fertility, and empowerment, in this pregnancy situation, her pregnant body becomes a source of horror, confusion, and shame. Although both China’s and Esch’s pregnant bodies make them vulnerable in some ways, China’s pregnancy does not cause shame, and her ability to give life to another creature does not make her weak. This is evident when China wins a fight with her mate, even though she only recently gave birth. Ward makes it clear that China’s postpartum body is strong, and that she enjoys the love of Esch’s brother; Skeetah as well. When Esch sees China’s strength during childbirth, she compares it to that of her own mother, wishing that her mother could have survived childbirth and that she had been able to fight as fiercely as the dog. Furthermore, every time she sees China's frailty and helplessness, she is reminded of her mother's fragility and vulnerability during childbirth. “The dog barks loudly, …and something about the way the bark rises at the end reminds me of Mama’s moans, of those bowing pines, of body that can no longer hold itself together, of something on the verge of breaking.”

However, Esch’s pregnant body is not a source of power, and she is rejected by the baby’s father, Manny, whom Esch loves and craves the attention of. These differences between Esch’s and China’s situations as a human and a non-human female, respectively, can be viewed from the perspective of the phenomenology of female bodies as having lived in specific situations. As Simon de Beauvoir writes, “if the biological condition of women does constitute a handicap, it is because of her general situation … It is in a total situation which leaves her few outlets that her peculiarities take on their importance.5

The dogfight between China and her mating partner, Kilo, is one of the most violent acts of femininity in Salvage the Bones. During their fight, “China grabs Kilo at the back of the neck,” similar to how she grabs her puppy, “burrow[ing] into him with her head like a worm tunnelling into red earth.”6

The concept of sexual violence can further be seen is the following excerpt: “Kilo has just seen her breasts, white and full and heavy and warm, and he bows his head like a puppy to drink. But he doesn’t drink. He bites. He swallows her breast.”7 Kilo, the male dog, literally

 

 

 

 

5 Kathleen Lennon, “Feminist Perspectives on the Body”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy , Edward N. Zalta (ed.), December 14, 2022. URL = <https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2019/entries/feminist-body/>.

6 Ward, 171.

7 Ward, 173.

 

devours the source of China’s maternal nutrition and feminine signifier, her breast, with “the nipple, missing.”8

From a feminist perspective, the body is not simply a representation of a biological object. Even though the female body can be perceived as weak, having fewer muscles than the male body, it is not only a source of vulnerability. It can also be a source of sensual pleasure and strength, as reflected in China’s situation. The potential of becoming pregnant prevents Esch, a human female, from celebrating her feminine body as a source of sexual pleasure. The burden that Esch’s reproductive function imposes on her body is mostly a result of her social experience, gender, or race, rather than her biological imperative or anatomical heritage. This shows “a complex and non-reductive picture of the intertwining of the material and the cultural in the formation of our embodied selves.”9

In addition, Esch does not seem to have much control over her body, or to be more specific, she does not have the right to control what happens to her body. From a young age, Esch has been sexually objectified by the males around her and has been taught that she is not allowed to say no. This extends to her relationships as a teenager, when she is unable to say no to the sexual requests of her male peers: “… held him the way I’d embraced those boys I’d fucked because it was easier to let them get what they wanted instead of denying them…” 10 When she has sex with Manny, whom she loves and wants to sleep with, she either does not know how to prevent pregnancy or is forced to bow to the law of reproduction due to her class, gender status, and position.

Not only is Esch’s body an object for others, but she experiences and only knows her body through the perceptions of others, as explained by de Beauvoir. “The way in which the young girl and then the woman experiences her body is, for Beauvoir, a consequence of a process of internalizing the view of it under the gaze of others.”11 As Foucault explains, there is another existence that makes us aware of our own existence, and this applies to both sexes.

Unfortunately, in Esch’s situation, she desperately needs Manny to look not only at her body but also into her eyes. At the same time, she refuses to remove her clothes when they are swimming at the beach because she is embarrassed or worried that other people will see her

 

 

 

 

8 Ward, 174.

9 Lennon, “Feminist Perspectives on the Body.”

10 Ward, 238

11 Lennon, “Feminist Perspectives on the Body.”

 

pregnant body. She both wants her body to be seen and seeks to avoid having her pregnant body viewed.

Manny, however, wants to define Esch as the other. He chooses to ignore and misuse Esch, pointing out her perceived weakness to make himself seem stronger. According to Michel Foucault, othering is strongly connected to power and knowledge. When we “other” another group, we point out their perceived weaknesses to make ourselves look stronger or better.

Thus, Esch’s body is merely an object for Manny’s use, and Esch has no agency over it. Manny wants to keep his power over Esch. He turns away from her and her pregnancy, as Esch describes: “I think Manny saw me, and that he turned away from me, from what I carry,… and then I am crying again for what I have been, for what I am, and what I will be, again.”12

Despite the fact that the female body has the potential to be a source of pleasure and that the ability to reproduce does not necessarily make females weak, as seen in Salvage the Bones, social experience, social position, race, and socioeconomic circumstances can weaken female bodies. Thus, it is important to consider Beauvoir’s assertion that the experience of embodiment is a result of situation.

 

 

 

 

References:

 

 

 

Ward, Jesmyn. Salvage the Bones. London: Bloomsbury, 2017.

 

Lennon, Kathleen, "Feminist Perspectives on the Body", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2019 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), December 14, 2022. URL =

<https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2019/entries/feminist-body/>.

 

12 Ward, 147.

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