Just Thinking….

Today I’ve been thinking what to blog about. Being the week before finals, I’ve been thinking a lot about my future, and what to do with a degree in History and Literature. I plan on continuing on in the field of Library science, mainly because I love books. I have always loved the way they gave me a new world to explore, a new way to think about a situation, an escape from reality when I needed it…and the idea of working in a nice quiet library after over a decade of being home with young children sounds more like a vacation than a job. However, this semester had really shown me to importance of books/literature to our culture, and on a worldwide scale.
I really think it was my children’s literature minor that made me think. As adults, especially those with an English degree background, we realize the importance of literature…we have spent many weeks in this class looking as texts and articles from different angles and accessing their importance and value to use and society. We even spent time discussing the importance of teaching this value to a younger generation, one who is slowly turning to quicker answers and immediate gratification through the use of technology. However, this generation is also becoming more global and accepting others because they are now part of a global world.
I have seen the benefits of reading outside your comfort zone, even using graphic novels to learn about different cultures. I have learned how to choose entertaining books to read to children, and what they can take away from them. I have seen how books that promote stereo-types can be the beginnings of re-enforcing un-equality. I have learned to look at both sides of an argument before making a decision, as it only makes me that much stronger in my convictions.
But I think the most important lesson I have learned is a simple one…and one I hope to pass on to my children. That reading and the written world can be more. It is a lasting legacy that can last through generations. It can teach valuable lessons even while entertaining us.

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Persepolis

After reading Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi, I am left wondering whether this was a story of assimilation or a type of coming of age. The first novel, or half of the complete works, seemed to lay the ground works for what Iran was going through during a particular period of history, and a child’s understanding of the world around her. Persepolis 2 seemed to be more of her life story, and a record of how she handled her life away from her parents (which is a theme found in young adult literature). I have to admit that I was shocked and a bit disturbed by how Marji changed Persepolis 2. However, the ending left me thinking that she had found herself, even if she had to begin a new life to do so.
In class we talked about how Marji tried to assimilate into the culture of Venice and into the other groups she came into contact with. However, I found her situation to be a familiar one. There is no doubt that the violence and war that she experienced as a child, such as seeing her friend’s house blown up, became a piece of her inner being that affected who she would be as an adult. This is shown during the panels in the second volume when she describes her friend’s idea or anarchy and her own. But her journey to discover who she is, is a journey that all youth take.
I am not belittling what Marji went through at all. But I do see similarities with my own youth. We talked about the rebellious teenager in class, but I don’t think this is the case. Marji was on her own for most of the second part of the story. She wasn’t rebelling because it was an unfamiliar concept to her, not to mention that her parents didn’t know what she was up to anyway. I think she was trying different situations to find where she fit, and where she would be accepted. Many teenagers do this, even in our own country. Acceptance is important, and many adolescents are willing to try different things to find this. Hopefully the journey isn’t as difficult as Marji’s, but I can know many people who struggled with this concept that ended up with a worse ending.
I believe that this ‘graphic memoir’ should be read by youth. We read how it was banned in the Chicago school district, due to the passage about torture, among other things. However, I would argue that the lessons that can be gained from the novel outweigh this concern. Being a parent, it did take me awhile to come to this conclusion, but I fully support this book now in an age/maturity appropriate setting. We are not told out right that Marji gets her life together, but we are left with the feeling that after all she has experienced, she was able to accept it and move on. The negative experience that she had remained a part of her, but I think she discovered a way to live them. I would hope that other teens that have had negative experiences can and will decide the same…

Culture and Literature

Long Blog Post #2

Two weeks ago we were focusing on poems translated from a foreign language into English and discussing issues found in translation.  While I am still usually wary of poetry, I enjoyed the piece by Li-Young Lee.  In his poem “Persimmons,” Lee describes the feelings of losing his birth language and exchanging it for the language of his new environment.  As he explains in the first stanza, learning to speak English did not come easily.  He tells of his teacher placing him in the corner until he learned the difference between a persimmon and precision. 

Lee continues to explain that it is through precision that language is learned.  Step by step, language assimilates as you gradually take on a new culture, and he likens this to preparing to eat a persimmons.  He explains the act of assimilation as the merging of two people in the act of love.  His lover in the poem, Donna, could be seen as American culture.  They exchange languages as they lay together.  Her beauty and the words Lee speaks to her in his native tongue show that he is lost somewhere between the two cultures; seduced by one, while losing the other.

I found the fifth stanza of the poem interesting.  The teacher brings a persimmon to class for the children to taste, yet she doesn’t understand that the fruit wasn’t ripe.  The children taste the un-ripened fruit, but don’t enjoy it.  This sounds like a lack of globalization.  The American children can’t taste the fruit at its peak because the teacher doesn’t know enough about persimmons to know when they are ripe.  This lack of understanding starts with the teacher.  Perhaps the poet is making a point that our educators need to understand other cultures in order to pass the beauty of them onto their students.

As the poet ages, he sees the importance of the Japanese culture that he has left behind.  His father reinforces this belief, and it is through eating persimmons that he remained happy, even though he was going blind.  He teaches his son that his first culture doesn’t need to be forgotten to become American.  The tone of the ending of the poem leaves the reader to believe that the poet now understands this and has found peace knowing that he can be both Japanese and American.

This poem reminded me of a children’s book we studied in my multi-cultural children’s literature class.  The Arrival by Shaun Tan tells the story of an immigrant to America using only pictures.  It begins with household items on a shelf, then being packed away.  The father leaves to journey to a new country, presumably to find work.  The pictures in the beginning of the book are realistic.  However, one he gets to the new country, the pictures look strange.  There is a statue that resembles the Statue of Liberty, but distorted.  The sky line of New York is also recognizable in a distorted way.  As an American we recognize the signs, but the author wants the reader to view these through the eyes of an immigrant. 

The pictures tell the story of the father trying to find work in an unfamiliar place where his native tongue is not understood, and how frustrating it is for him.  He finds an apartment, but again doesn’t understand some of items in it, or how they work.  An animal enters and startles the man, which once again is distorted.  I still am not quite sure what type of animal it is, but I think that is the point.  It is uncomfortable to read (or in this case, look) at a story and not totally understand it.  I believe that the author uses this to show how other cultures feel coming into a new one.  Eventually the father’s family joins him in America.  The items from their shelf at their home in Japan find a new place on the shelf in America.

As literature students I believe that we have the responsibility to pass on works such as these.  Literature is often the first place a child begins to see other cultures, and the first step towards developing understanding and acceptance of new and different ways of living.  We live in a global world now.   Sometimes cultures come together in peace, but all too often it causes violence.  Teaching those around us the beauty found in other cultures from an early age can be the beginning of long-term changes in globalization.

“Protective Tomboyism” in The Hunger Games : An Example of Adolescent Literature as a Learning Tool

“Protective Tomboyism” in The Hunger Games

By Kelsey Breen

The use of the “tomboy” has been found in literature as early as the nineteenth century, and while it has brought up many conflicting views, its definition hasn’t changed.  A “tomboy” is a character who refuses to conform to the conventional forms of femininity (Foster and Simmons, 97).  While the past purpose of the tomboy in adolescent literature was to question gender identity and stray from stereotypical female roles, such as Jo in Alcott’s Little Women, new adolescent literature puts the “tomboy” in the role of the hero, allowing female characters to cross the boundaries of gender roles in order to dissolve the masculine/feminine binary. This character trait has recently been seen in Katniss Everdeen from Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games.  Thrown into a situation where the survival of herself and her family depends on her ability to provide for them, Katniss enacts a tomboy, taking on skills she learned from her father and male friend in order to survive.

At the age of eleven, Katniss is thrust into the role of providing for her family after her father is killed in an explosion and her mother becomes ill.  The government of Panam provides little nourishment, and without the extra meat that Katniss hunts, her family would starve.  As Katniss lies starving in the street, she sees a dandelion that reminds her of her father.  The image of a delicate dandelion providing the instinct to hunt is one that carries throughout the novel.  It is in this instance she understands that survival is in their grasp, if she can provide for her family like her father did.  She begins to hunt and trade, activities that her father had done, and by doing so, begins to enact the tomboy.

In a new study into tomboyism titled “Tomboy as Protective Identity”, Traci Craig and Jessica LaCroix explore psychological reasons while females may feel the need to take on the role of a tomboy.  Their study draws attention to the idea that “tomboys, as a gendered social identity also provides temporary ‘protections’ to girls and women…[enabling them to gain] limited privilege to spaces which masculinity is an unspoken requirement(450).  By taking on the role of provider and protector for her family, Katniss uses her typically masculine skills to survive.  She also gains acceptance into a typical male gendered world, as shown by her relationship with Gale.  Their friendship, at least in Katniss’s view, is purely platonic, and based on their shared skills and beliefs.  But she does show her feminine instincts when thinking of Gale as “husband” material as she describes her feelings when the other girls around District 12 notice him, “Gale won’t have any trouble finding a wife.  He’s good looking, he’s strong enough to handle the work in the mines, and he can hunt.  You can tell by the way the girls whisper about him when he walks by in school that they want him.  It makes me jealous but not for the reason people would think.  Good hunting partners are hard to find” (10).  Throughout the novel, Collins portrays Katniss as a “tomboy,” while allowing her to express stereotypical female traits as well. Katniss is allowed all the tools she needs to succeed in the Huger Games of Panem, despite their gender connotations.  She uses her skill with the bow along with her beauty and relationship with Peeta to further her success and chance for survival.  By not allowing her skills to outweigh her compassion, Katniss becomes a true action figure by fighting and beating those who are physically stronger than her and by doing so, dissolves gender stereotypes. Through her experiences in the arena, Katniss discovers new traits, such as compassion for others outside her social circle, and an in the end, evolves as a person, rather than a “gender” alone.

In the novel, Katniss’s use of “protective tomboyism” is based on her skill as an athlete rather than her appearance. “You’ve got to get your hands on a bow.  That’s your best chance,” advises Gale (39).  Mainly it is her talent in archery that tips survival in her favor, but also her compassion and skills in identifying plants, traditionally female activities, that add to her success.  The Hunger Games provide an arena where all her survival skills are seen by the reader, and highlighted without gender bias. Katniss’s determination to win the Games is portrayed equally as she blows up the supplies held by the Careers’ and as she plays Peeta’a girlfriend.  Throughout the novel she crosses gender lines in order to survive.  Collins created gender balance in her hero character allowing her an athletic ability that causes the Careers’ believe her to be a threat in the games, which makes her an early target, while putting her in the role of girlfriend and sister.  Once again, her history of enacting the tomboy allows her access into the male dominated group of Games winners; but her compassion and sensitivity appeals to the friendship of a young girl, who admires her for who she is.

Collins also challenges the idea typical “tomboy” appearance.  In studies as current as 2007, both children and adults believe that tomboys were girls who took on the appearance of boys (Paechter and Clark 349).  This ideology dates back as far as Alcott’s Little Women when Jo cuts her hair to add to the family finances (Foster and Simmons 96).  The depiction of one sister who is considered a tomboy as the only one with short hair adds to the imagery of the tomboy resembling an actual boy.

The descriptions in the first chapters of the fragility of Katniss’s other female family members begins to show a contrast between Katniss and other females, however these descriptions are not based only on outward  appearances.  Like their mother, Katniss’ sister Prim is delicate in looks and in personality.  She is described as being “as lovely as the primrose for which she was named” (3).  However, neither of these other women is able to provide for the family in the same ways that Katniss is able to.  Katniss describes trying to teach her sister to hunt as “disastrous” (35).  The first person narrative used in the novel causes the reader to rely on other characters view of Katniss’s physical appearance.  As Peeta states to Haymitch, “She has no idea.  The effect she can have” (91).

Katniss appears as the stereotypical tomboy of the past throughout the novel.  As Craig and La Croix state in their study, tomboys are more apt to dress in a more masculine way due to “function rather than form,” and this is true for Katniss (451).  At the beginning of the novel, this is the case, as Katniss wears clothing that helps her blend into the woods, and her hair pulled back in a braid.  Both of which help her gain access into the “male” world of “tomboyism”.  However, in both the reaping and the first parade she maintains a classic appearance in hair and make-up, similar to her appearance in everyday life, so that she looks like herself, but dresses in a way that shows her femininity.  The impression the text gives through the other characters is that she is beautiful in a classical womanly way, even though she chooses to dress in masculine attire on an everyday basis.  On the day of the first parade where the goal is to impress the audience, Katniss describes the look that her make-over team gives her, “My face is relatively clear of makeup, just a bit of high-lighting here and there.  My hair has been brushed out and then braided down my back in my usual style” (67).  There is little need to adjust her hair or make-up to gain acceptance into the female public.  She is also in her everyday hunting attire when the males in her life show interest in her.  Gale broaches the idea of family and running away while they are hunting in the woods, and Peeta fall more in love with her during their time in the Games.  Ironically, Katniss doesn’t show displeasure while getting dressed for the first parade.  She is more in awe of the actions women of the Capitol do to their bodies then showing displeasure in it happening to her (63-64).  This contrast is explained in Craig and La Croix’s theory as requiring the tomboy to “‘play’ femininity in order to conform to a normative gender role in specific situations so that in other situations the tomboy identity will be supported or allowed” (459).  Katniss comes to realize that “the Hunger Games aren’t a beauty contest, but the best-looking tributes always seem to pull more sponsors” (58).

Collins continues to portray gender as a natural construct of an individual’s environment when Katniss succumbs to the idea of portraying her and Peeta’s relationship as more than friends.  Haymitch instructs them to continue to let the audience see their vulnerable side while fighting for their lives.  Katniss admits that being vulnerable is not natural for her; she has been the survivor and provider for years.  Stepping into the role of “girlfriend” helps to humanize Katniss’s behavior by having her conform to a more acceptable role.  This change brings more acceptances from the Capitol public, while allowing the audience to be comfortable with her athletic attributes, once again dissolving the masculine/feminine binary that upholds gender standards.  Her relationship with Rue provides the same type of bridge between gender expectations, as Rue’s death and Katniss’s reaction to it, which results in sponsors from District 11, is portrayed directly after the scene where she blows up the Careers’ stock supply.  The side by side comparison of these scenes detail the destabilization of gender found in Katniss’s character while showing that she can rise to the environmental and societal conditions relying on her own personal skills and personality to see her through.

Suzanne Collins use of the tomboys identity for her heroine allows Katniss to access talents and character traits that she learned from her father to survive in an extreme environment and provide for her family.  Katniss’s character allows both male and female readership to identify with her story making.  Her ability to achieve likability in both her role as a young women, and as a tomboy show the adaptability of gender roles while maintain her statues as female.  Collins use of tomboyism as a temporary protective identity allows Katniss accesses to tools that would have otherwise remained outside her reach, and in the process, dissolves the masculine/feminine binary throughout the novel.

Craig, Traci, and Jessica LaCroix. “Tomboy as Protective Identity.” Journal of Lesbian Studies 15.4 (2011): 450-65. Web. 3 Nov. 2012.

Collins, Suzanne. The Hunger Games.  2009. Print.

Foster, Shirley, and Judy Simons. “Feminist Re-Readings of ‘Classic’ Stories for Girls.” What Katy Read : 85-105. Web. 11 Nov. 2012.

Paechter, Carrie, and Sheryl Clark. “Who are tomboys and how do we recognise them?” Woman’s Studies International Forum 30 (2007): 342-54. Web. 3 Nov. 2012.

Adolescent Literature as a Learning Tool

Last week in class we discussed the use of literary theory and criticism in the classroom. Many students said that they had encountered this in their high school English classes, and because it was difficult to understand, developed an aversion to using it as a way to analyze texts in college. These same students said that literary theory and criticism were taught using the texts of the cannon. Shakespeare was among the most mentioned, usually Romeo and Juliet.
I have had an altogether different experience with criticism and theory. My first encounter was in college last fall. I have to admit that it scared me and made me question not only my literature major, but my whole college career as well. It was a rough start to an already scary situation. However, I was able to fumble my way through, and realized that when I applied it to texts that I understood, I understood it better. Learning this way, I was able to become more comfortable viewing literature through theory and critical analysis.
Why then do we not see this happening in high schools?
Young adult or adolescent literature is a new genre, even more modern than Children’s literature itself. Falling under the umbrella of Children’s literature, adolescent literature has been questioned as it has evolved over the past few decades. These types of literature are a direct influence from today’s society, with the main controversy being: what defines a child or adolescent? However, as this new area of literature has emerged, new authors have as well. These authors believe that literature for children and young adults can be just as complex as literature written for adults. Because of the equal standards for writing, new criticism and theory have been attached to these works.
I love Shakespeare, and have truly enjoyed studying it. I also believe that certain aspects of his plays transcend time, which is one reason why they are still taught today. Many new authors are writing adaptations of Shakespeare’s works, placing the same social issues in today’s society. However, these situations may not form connections with the majority of high school students in America. Why is it literary theory and criticism are not taught through more accessible texts? After all, do we learn to ride a bike uphill first? I am a firm believer in learning through steps. In order for a student to become proficient in a skill, they need to understand the basics and build upon them.
I believe that schools should try using newer young adult literature as a basis for teaching theory and criticism. Just like adult literature, there is much to be learned through some of these texts. Using the familiar to teach the unfamiliar is an accepted idea, and a simple one. After students have become comfortable with the process, they would be able to adapt their new skills to more difficult texts.

I have used Hunger Gamesby Suzanne Collins as an example of the above.

I used this post for my HTML code challange-

The Background of an Author

While debating the use of criticism in her article on “Traditional Criticism and Common Sense,” Catherine Belsey explains how a portion of a text taken out of context can altogether alter the intended meaning.  By showing the snippets of F.R. Levis arguments against the importance of theory in literary analysis, she reinforces the need for the understanding the background information on an author before analyzing their work.

In the article, Beasly uses a quote from Levis about Jonathan Swift where he states, “He was, in various ways, curiously unaware- the reverse of clairvoyant.  He is distinguished by the intensity of his feelings, not by insight into them, and he certainly does not impress us a mind in possession of its experience” (11-12).  Without the background information of understanding Swift as an Anglo-Irish author during a time of political upheaval in Ireland, his work may be seen as emotional rather than political works that challenged English administration in Ireland.

Jonathan Swift’s writings explain a political view on behalf of the New Irish writer.  Swift (1667-1745) never gained the political aspirations that he sought in Britain, but through his writings we see the possibility of a political conscience emerge.  In his “A Modest Proposal,” Swift symbolically suggests that the English begin to eat the Irish children as a way to solve Irish poverty.  In Stanza 12 he states:

I grant this food will be somewhat dear, and therefore

Very proper for landlords, who, as they have already

devoured most of the parents, seems to have the best

title to the children.

 

To say that this was an emotional response is something that cannot be argued.  However, put in historical context of the author and the time, the words take on a new meaning.  Swift was born and raised in Dublin, Ireland.  Being of Anglo-Irish descent he had ties to both Britain and Ireland.  While he wanted acceptance from the English literary world, this desire often conflicted with his views of the English administration in Ireland.  He lived through the time that the Penal laws were introduced, and saw first-hand how these laws impacted his home land.

As an author, Swift rallied against the English treatment of Irish citizens through his literary works.  His writings in “A Modest Proposal” pointed out the flaws of English governmental programs in Ireland by using ridicule and irony to get his ideas across.

In conclusion, knowing the background of an author, especially when analyzing political writings, is imperative.  As Besley states, without this knowledge, the text can be taken out of context, and assumptions can be made.  A response to a work of literature depends on the experience that the author is trying to get across, and this may differ from author to author depending on their own beliefs.

Truths of a Voice

In class last week we discussed the concept of Truth in literary text.  I agree with Catherine Belsey in her essay “Critical Practice” when she states that “common sense assumes that valuable literary texts, those which are in a special way worth reading- tell truths” (2).  As a reader, when we pick up a text we expect it to follow reality as much as possible.  Even fictional texts tell the truths.  As Belsey argues, the Truth, or truths as they pertain to society, are different concepts.  A text set in a specific time period or geographical should echo the beliefs of the author through the “human condition” of that time. 

It is important, however, to remember that every author has their background and story that may influence how he/she writes a scene.  One author may view the same experience differently than another.  This does not mean that one is right and the other wrong.  Instead, each piece could be viewed as a portion of the same reality.  The narratives we read at the beginning of the semester could be an example of this.  Mike Rose and Gerald Graff had different opinions of literature from an early age, and therefore, their articles came at literary criticism from different angles.   In a fictional sense, My Name is Red shows how different perspectives show different viewpoints of similar situations.

I believe that these different viewpoints are what make literature important in today’s society.  Factual information is usually seen in black and white.  The dates, battles, and winner of wars are important to tell what was going on in the world at the time, but it is the personal narratives that give each part of society a “voice.”