Damsels in Distress and Draconian Dogma

I decided to creep though my school folders from last year. This was also written last fall, and is a response to Arthur Miller’s The Crucible

I don’t remember the prompt and at the moment am too tired to read this particular essay, but I do remember this: it was fun to write… Or that could just be my usual response to everything I have ever written.

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Damsels in Distress and Draconian Dogma

Religion has played a fundamental role in most, if not all, societies. Its parameters are used to create either an implied or explicit social order; when compromised, the offender is usually punished or ridiculed and regarded as a nonmember of his community. In many ways, this form of retribution is logical. Murder, for instance, is wrong in most religions; these religions are the bases of legal codes in many countries; thus, in these many countries, murder is outlawed and the murderer is aptly punished. Yet, religious justification is not always righteous. The United States was founded on Puritan-Christian principles; while our literacy rate and other aspects of our culture flourished, some Puritan tenets lent themselves to flagrant misinterpretations. Salem, Massachusetts was adapted to provide a safe-haven for Puritans. Religion in Salem was corrupted when its stringent individual permissions provoked a vicious hysteria.

Puritan faith is deemed an almost extremist creed for its zealous God-fearing mentality. Historically, the Puritan sect was a group of people who believed the English Reformation (England’s breaking away from the Catholic Church and the Pope) had not gone far enough and still sanctioned some Catholic convictions. The Puritans endorsed only ascetic lifestyles; they reproached not only others, but also themselves. To them, dressing expressively was sinful because it begged attention and did not live out God’s word, for God did not want self-important people. Moreover, they believed they were constantly being watched not just by God, but by the entire world: they were the City upon a Hill, God’s prototype and chosen people. The self-induced pressure on this culture was the primary catalyst to the Salem Witch Trials. Puritan social code was repressive in order to instill social discipline. Arthur Miller’s Abigail Williams and afflicted girls are the symbolic victims of the tyrannical rule of austerity: dancing and other forms of expression, because they were strictly forbidden, were translated as irrational behavior, for who would forsake God’s law if not possessed by the Devil? The girls danced and took part in what today’s standards would be acceptable behavior for young girls; however, due to the nature of their community, these activities were interpreted as aberrations: “Witchery’s a hangin’ error…you’ll only be whipped for dancing and other things” (Miller 18). The girls knew what they were doing was wrong from the very beginning, but they secretly engaged in the activities because that was their only way to communicate creatively; they channeled their repressed emotions through an unhealthy and antisocial conduit- to Puritan standards. When they were caught, their initial reaction was to lie to evade punishment: a simple action-reaction situation. Because they had always been subjugated, they realized that with these lies, they were now in power. One Abigail Williams soon realized that she could manipulate other people through deceit. A once oppressed Abigail perpetuated the Trials in response to her inhibitions. Many people would model her actions but for their own individual reasons.

Salem quickly spiraled into a bottomless pit of greed and revenge. People prolonged the Trial by accusing others as a way of lifting their own condemnations and escaping death. Only the honest few would refuse to succumb to the hysterical ongoings and stand by their morality. Nevertheless, Abigail had spawned a viral concept. Some people became cognizant of the idea that they could accuse others as a means of getting what they wanted. Thomas Putnam, for example, exploited his daughter; he strategically operated her to accuse certain people of witchcraft. Because he was a wealthy man, he was able to buy their land when they would not sell it to him. Though Giles Corey discovered and accused Putnam of “killing his neighbors for their land” (Miller 89), when asked to provide evidence, Corey chose to remain faithful to his beliefs and died as a consequence. The disintegration of piety in Salem was exemplified by hanging of the truly moral and selfless people.

Communities based purely on rigid religions or philosophies do not work. Unwavering and seemingly perfect authority has almost always been reformed at some point, if not destroyed (see: every monarchy ever to exist, American Transcendentalist communities, etc). The desire to break free of oppression, even when oppression is nearly infinitesimal, is the essence of humanity. The afflicted girls played in the forest against the consent of society, and when society went to punish them, they reacted defensively. It was when one of them finally became conscious, that she realized what she and the others should have had all along: freedom. Were Puritan faith not the autocratic creed that it was, would the Trials have ever begun?

Breakfast at Tiffany’s the Movie as a Vehicle for Discrimination

I wrote this earlier in the year.

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I am a hedonist. I believe in pursing whatever makes me happy. It is a selfish endeavor, I will concede, but it is exclusively my own because no one else wakes up every morning and thinks about ways to make my life better. It is part of my process of self-realization, and sure, I act outlandishly from time to time. Holly Golightly is not so different from me: we are “top bananas in the shock department” (Capote, 61), and we are free. Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s is a novel about fulfillment and freedom, assimilation and aberrations. The film adaptation of Capote’s story defiles the very essence of Holly and her cause: freedom. It panders to the audience, and offers them the happy ending and closure they yearn by marrying her to the narrator, or rather, “Paul,” who may or may not be gay. But Holly was never supposed to be incarcerated in a cage because she is a wandering spirit; therefore, Capote’s original and intended “conclusion” is best, though not because it provides closure (because it does not), but because it leaves the audience where Holly has grown, but remains careless enough to do what she does best: live; where she is not assimilated to the realm of commitment that our chauvinistic society so religiously extolls.

Holly was always a vagrant. The daughter of misfortune and unbridled resilience, she was left to fend for herself and her brother Fred. They incurred upon the Golightly family, a family of loving and nurturing people. At the young age of thirteen, Holly took on the role of Mom with the Golightly “churren,” and the role of wife with Doc Golightly, a man who loved her unconditionally. Seeing her parents die and taking on the role of an adult as hardly an adolescent herself, Holly is introduced to the cruelty of the world- reality, but this only serves to fortify her. Like blood that coagulates, Holly receives her life on a day by day basis, hurting and living, and creating new skin- more resilient with each passing person, with each passing sorrow. The moment Holly decides to leave the Golightlys is not entirely definitive, as her wanderlust developed gradually, “looking at pictures. Reading dreams” (Capote 69). When she did eventually leave, she hurt many people: Doc, her “churren,” and her adored companion Fred. She, however, left without regrets, as any good hedonist would.

The pursuit of happiness is the most personal goal we as humans can have. Many people view hedonism as separate from the pursuit of happiness, but the dichotomy is not so clear cut. Hedonism is the principle of seeking pleasure of any kind, whether spiritual or carnal, to make life worth living. Similarly, the pursuit of happiness follows the same idea, but it carries a more positive connotation because it does not use a risqué term. Regrettably, its very implication very often suggests following materialistic goals, even worse, these objectives are more accepted by society than say, the quest for self-fulfillment in the form of enjoyment, in the form of carnal pleasure. The hedonist, as professor of philosophy Roger Crisp states, attempts to “undermine the evidential weight of many of our natural beliefs about what is good for people.” Holly lives as a hedonist because her life revolves primarily around herself. She is at first regarded as an egoist with less depth than bath tub, but I would argue that she was more human than most of us. Leaving her family, particularly Fred could not have been the product of a cursory idea, as she was always looking after him, so it is clear that her departure was contemplated and important; she realized it was a path she had to take to live her life to the fullest, and I cannot judge her for wanting to exist.
Moving to New York was the capricious relocation of Capote’s bon viveur. Holly frees herself from the responsibility of family and attending to social duties, shows off her hedonistic qualities. New York, the home of dreams and dreamers, freedom and fulfillment, elation and expression makes of Holly a metropolitan goddess. She lives with a nameless cat and scant furniture, a testament to her belief that she does not belong to anyone, and that no one belongs to her. Her days are booked with dinners and parties with rich men of whom she takes advantage. A bad habit? Not really. She rules men with her charisma and her face, and they allow her to have her way and their money. She rules all of them with the slight exception of her neighbors: the narrator and Yunioshi. The narrator strikes the reader as an affable man, a typical man. He is preferred over the antagonistic Yunioshi who at every opportunity tries to sabotage Holly. Throughout the novel, Yunioshi is overtly against everything Holly stands for: freedom and pleasure, while the narrator gives off the sense that he admires her uninhibited character. In the movie, Yunioshi remains the same while the narrator is skewed into a manlier, more aggressive alpha- the first of many vile discrepancies in the list of offenses towards the book. At the end of the movie, he confronts Holly with an oppressive soliloquy in which he desperately -though indirectly- begs her to stay. She had plans to leave and to have many affairs with many rich men, her ultimate goal being to find a place where she belonged and perhaps even someone to whom to belong: an exciting endeavor I must say. But “Paul” would not let her go; “I won’t let you do this,” because “[he] loves [her], and [she] belongs to [him]” (Edwards, 1961). So Holly stays.

The male chauvinism seeps from the film onto the audience in this final scene. Holly, the enlightened, liberated, and winged soul, who in the book leaves behind all who loved her once again, is hitched with Paul. Paul, the more-than-likely gay character in the book- …she stays with him in the movie. Not only is this wrong in terms of sexual designation, but it is wrong in terms of fundamental principles. The movie flagrantly defiles the very essence of Holly Golighty, her very name. She no longer lives in an eternal state of holidays, days of merriment, nor does she lightly go everywhere she does. After the closing scene, we are to assume Holly and Paul marry. She is to live days of marriage not merriment, and to lightly go with a baby in her womb would be inconsistent with nature. America cannot accept a woman free of responsibility. Historically, women are only keepers of the house and bearers of children. A woman who is not, is an anomaly, or worse a hedonist, a lustful pleasure lover. Both options are never really an option. This is why Holly stays with Paul. The book ends inconclusively because Holly is unpredictable and because she can choose her fate. The book was written by homosexual man who dealt with social disapproval his entire life. He understood what it was like to be different, and he bestowed his vision onto Holly. The movie was created by a heterosexual man who saw in Capote’s book a woman and her lack of inhibition, so naturally he righted the wrong and made her committed to a man in the end… after she had seen how wrong she was about everything, including her life.

Disgusting.

Sexism is everywhere. Women cannot make their own decisions and cannot live their lives without a man to which correspond, according to the movie. So as not to be regarded as a common whore who seeks only lascivious satisfaction with many men, women are supposed to commit to a single male, preferably in the form of marriage. Any man can say that he has had many sexual partners and have his life be generally accepted by society, but for a woman to concede the same feats would be sacrilegious. Whether the directors of the movie married Holly to be kind and preserve her image as America’s sweetheart or to act upon their misogynistic impulses, we may never know, but what we can confirm is that the movie was essentially a defamation to Holly and women all around the world.

Please refer to http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/hedonism/ for more information on hedonism and Roger Crisp.

Lo-lee-ta and a bit of Cholera

There was overwhelming beauty to be found in Gabriel García Márquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera. Most of the time I felt as though it were I who lived on the plagued island; that it were I who fell in love with Florentino Ariza; that it were I who chose Dr. Juvenal Urbino over Florentino; that it were I who felt guilty; that it were I who lived in a sad and melancholic fog.

In spite of his crude scenarios and racy dialogue, García Márquez has a very heartwarming story. He explores the concept of love and liveliness in the epoch of uncertainty and death. Duality in the story continues as we follow the romances of the characters: we see both young, naive love and ripe, mature affection, and everything else sprinkled in between. We can see the confusion that follows attraction and the denial that results of fate. The woman protagonist is a precocious, beautiful Fermina Daza who goes through all the motions of falling in and out of love, of questioning herself and her society, of making mistakes and regretting, and of hating and coming to terms with her life. At the end of the day, I think we all have some Fermina Daza in us. I think that we all long to be inflamed with love.

Florentino Ariza plays the part of the hopeless romantic. He is very much akin to Jay Gatsby, in that all he does, he does for the object (if you will) of his desire: he builds himself from the ground up, hoping to be good enough for the woman who couldn’t appreciate him as he was. As noble and romantic as I wish I could be about this situation, I confess that it makes so much sense. It makes sense that the women refused the hands of the men who were not on par to their social stature. That’s not to say that I would act this way if ever this situation arose; rather, I am saying that… I “feel” them. I feel Daisy Buchanan (though I abhor her), and I feel her, Fermina Daza, the co-queen of woman protagonists (along, that is, with Bonanza Jellybean). It’s only human to want to feel secure, which in modern times, invisibly carries the word “financially” before it. Do I wish that were not the case? Of course, I do. Alas, my friends, we live in a world where economic issues account for one of the principle reasons of divorce.

And so is born Dr. Juvenal Urbino, the attractive, intelligent, and notable wealthy person with his eyes on Fermina. Though the events that take place at every point after the introduction of Dr. Urbino, make sense: she marries, she learns to love him, etc., I could never help but to feel robbed and guilty and sad and angry and beaten. Because I had the power to observe the thoughts of both characters, I could sympathize with the efforts of Florentino, but I could also understand the hesitancy of Fermina, and her newly found affection for Dr. Urbino and his love for her. I experienced the awful feelings they felt when they were wounded by each other. It was great..

If I had to describe the book in one word, it would be human. It was a deep and colorful amalgamation of emotions.

Lolita was also human.

Fermina Daza followed the pattern of a (sexually) precocious girl, as did Dolores Haze. Conversely, Dolores, or Lolita, as was Humbert Humbert’s personal nickname for her, was not as mature as Fermina, but this was probably a product of the fact that she was a bit younger and underprotected. She wooed and was wooed by her (step)father figure. It was an interesting twist on an Oedipal relationship. As much as I would like to think of Lolita as an intelligent and sexually mature girl, she just wasn’t. She was at the age when sexuality begins to manifest itself, and Humbert took advantage of her, and she “took advantage of his disadvantage (as a sinner).” They were mutually consensual, at least for some time. It’s realistic; a lonely, traumatized, and attractive man feels in love with an effigy of his past: a beautiful and snarky young girl. With the right details, everyone is subject to do something questionable. Though they seemed to be on the same page, Dolores and Humbert, they definitely were not. Dolores’s cries at night offered a different story. She was trapped, and with “nowhere else to go,” she put up with her captor. Through Nabokov’s exceedingly gorgeous prose, it can be easy to assume that Humbert simply adores his Lolita; however, I contend that he didn’t love her as much as he loved his lost Annabel Leigh. She (Dolores) is a muted butterfly; “[Humbert] pins [her] by first naming her” (Nafisi, 36). Because this story is told by Humbert and thus everything we know about Lolita is said to us by him, we are to recognize the fact that she is his object, not girl. He manipulated Dolores to be a surrogate lover. I should think that we feel strangely close to him. I feel as though doing what he did is all too easy: filling the void with someone who is not our first choice is something we seem to do far too often.

The relationship between Humbert and Lolita was uncomfortable at first glance. They lived off a system of favors: something sexual for something material. However, Nabokov’s flawless diction and surreal syntax made even the most raunchy (of which there really wasn’t much), lovely. His descriptions of Humbert’s feelings for Lolita were more tender than anything else. In the end, it was more like a real love story rather than a sick, pedophiliac account. It also didn’t hurt to read all the many, extremely well-crafted allusions, particularly the ones to Poe.

I identified with most of the characters in these two books. Naturally, I am selfish, as perhaps can too be said about Fermina and Humbert. As Florentino, I am hopeless and relentless, and as Lolita, I am too young to understand the full extent of the consequences of my feelings and haphazard actions. The protagonists were all so related in spite of their geological, physical, spiritual, and mental differences that I guess, at the end of the day, we are all just slightly different manifestations of the same emotions.