Wednesday, May 11, 2011

"To be yellow... is to be weak and small. Yellow is to be chicken. I am not yellow... When the yellow chicks grow up they turn white."

 - Naomi (Obasan)

Binaries are forever woven into our literature, whether in classical antiquity and mythological archetypes or contemporary fiction and the fairy tales of our childhood. As Hegel posits, this binary relationship is more than often “unequal and opposed… one is the independent consciousness… the other is the dependent consciousness whose essential nature is simply to live or to be for another” (544). This lord/bondsman (master/slave) relationship in turn mirrors the other significant binaries found in society – good/evil, white/black, man/woman, etc – in which one side is always favored above the other.

But what about West/East?

Post-colonial theory states that the East is a fabricated construct of the West, that is, what defines Asia, its inhabitants and culture is what the West believes or deems it to be. Following this line of argument, it is clear that the West holds considerable power and influence over the East. The West is the master, the East its slave. Edward Said argues in “Orientalism” that in addition to being a cultural hub, “the Oriental has helped to define Europe (or the West) as its contrasting image, idea, personality, experience… The Oriental is an integral part of European material civilization and culture” (1866). Even more importantly, Said argues that by “setting [European culture] against the Orient as a sort of surrogate and even underground self,” it grabbed the reins of control and authority (1868). The combination of European colonizing much of the Asian continent/Pacific islands and viewing the native people as something uncivilized and in dire need of cultural edification allowed the White Man to tip the scale of balance between the two parts of the world. Classic literature is filled with stories of power struggles and the fear of the “Other” – for example, Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, or even Shelley’s Frankenstein.

(Larger version found here )

This semester, I took Asian American Fiction with Professor Turnmeyer. I signed up for the class for my last general education credits, not really expecting much self-discovery. I guess I figured that since I was Asian American, the class would be “easy” – or at the least, interesting and relevant to me. Part of what I had to come to terms with – aside from considerations about my own identity as half Japanese/half white and confronting the horrible reality of my grandparent’s internment during WWII – is that the East really is modeled and controlled by the West. At least, that’s what I got from the fiction we read. So instead of applying the theory to a single text, I’m going to show how it appears in works by several Asian American authors.

Throughout three works of fiction that we read in class – Don Lee’s Yellow, Joy Kogawa’s Obasan and Jessica Hagedorn’s Dogeaters – there was the overwhelming sense that most of the characters were struggling to define themselves against the stereotypes and assumptions that surround the distinction of “Asian” and more importantly, “Asian American.” Coming from backgrounds of Korean, Japanese, and the Pilipino ethnicities – respectively – the stories address the schism between being one race and having another nationality (for example, being Japanese by genetics but American by place of birth). Lee and Hagedorn were born in Asia and subsequently moved the United States later in their lives. Kogawa is an exception, as she was born in Vancouver, Canada, but perhaps her story is much harder to stomach: the internment of Japanese-Canadians during WWII saw Canadian citizens stripped of their nationality simply because of their Japanese ancestry.

Characters in Lee’s short stories (Yellow) often note times and places when they have heard or been confronted with Asian stereotypes. In the story “Yellow”, the character Danny Kim notes that a woman he used to date had the peculiar habit of mocking people, and “eventually her stereotypes about Asians became a source for her romantic repartee… ‘Your manhood,’ she said slyly, glancing down at his cock. ‘If I could find it.’” (Lee 197). Two woman poets – one Korean, the other Chinese – in “The Price of Eggs in China” are deemed the “Oriental Hair Poets, The Braids of the East and the New Asian Poe-tresses” by literary critics who “couldn’t resist reviewing them together” (Lee 20) as if those of Asian descent are interchangeable and not viewed as individuals. Obasan’s narrator Naomi describes a game called The Yellow Peril, ironically made in China, in which “to be yellow in the Yellow Peril game is to be weak and small. Yellow is to be chicken… When the yellow chicks grow up they turn white” (Kogawa 181).

However, of the fictional works we read, Hagedorn’s Dogeaters is the most critical look at the effects of post-colonialism found in a disjointed, un-linear and fragmented account of the citizens of Manila. In fact, the chaotic and uneven description can also be prescribed to all the characters, from The President and The First Lady (obvious caricatures of real-life corrupt Philippine president Ferdinand Marcos and his wife Imelda) to Joey, a gay, drug-addicted prostitute, to Rio, the young narrator – the citizens of Manila are touched in some way by the idea of Western cultural supremacy. The book opens in 1956 with young Rio and her cousin Pucha coming out of an air-conditioned theater after seeing the film All That Heaven Allows. The first page itself makes direct references to Technicolor, Rock Hudson and other film stars, Hollywood, Christmas, “perfect picture-book American tableau,” and the fact that the theater shows “English Movies Only!” (Hagedorn 3). It’s not until the second page where code-switching (switching between languages) appears, a reference to drinking “TruCola” is made and the fact arises that the girls are accompanied by a servant that the reader begins to get the idea that this story isn’t set in the United States. As such, throughout the rest of the book are references to other “Americanized” consumer products like SPORTEX, a sort of Pilipino Wal-Mart, where Rio’s mother buys Miracle Whip and Kraft Mayonnaise along with “local items [like] patis, kalamansi and shrimp bagoong” (Hagedorn 234). There is also a beauty contest in “a nation betrayed and then united only by our hungry for glamour and our Hollywood dreams” (Hagedorn 101).

If Said is correct in saying that “the relationship between the Occident and Orient is a relationship of power, of domination, of varying degrees of a complex hegemony” (1870) then it is obvious that the power and domination lies in the hands of the West. Unable to escape the cultural expectation that “West is best,” all three authors are forced to forgo their cultural identities to align themselves with what or who’s in power. Lee’s characters in Yellow battle cultural stereotypes by acting “white” - most of his Asian male characters don’t speak another language other than English and participate in “white” sports like surfing and golf, instead of something “Asian” like karate or Tai-Chi – while Obasan’s narrator Naomi chooses to remain silent about her feelings on her family’s internment during the war in contrast with her Aunt Emily’s more vocal insurgence. And at the close of Dogeaters, the reader finds out that Rio moves to the United States – just like the author Hagedorn did – shortly after the events that unfold over the course of the story. When she returns to Manila, Rio finds herself “anxious and restless, at home only in airports” (Hagedorn 247). This fragmented, incoherent existence perfectly sums up the experience of being Asian American, of having to embody and satisfy two separate identities and somehow make them one. However, this struggle may be in vain, for in a binary relationship, one side must tip the scale and hold the power.


Hagedorn, Jessica. Dogeaters. New York: Penguin Group, 1990. Print.

Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich. “Phenomenology of Spirit” The Norton Anthology of Theory & Criticism, 2nd. Ed. Vincent B. Leitch. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010. 544. Print.

Kogawa, Joy. Obasan. New York: Anchor Books, a Division of Random House, Inc., 1994. Print.

Lee, Don. Yellow: Stories. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2001. Print.

Said, Edward. “Orientalism.” The Norton Anthology of Theory & Criticism, 2nd. Ed. Vincent B. Leitch. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010.1866-1888. Print.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

"She learns that to be happy, she has to be loved; to be loved, she has to await love...

...Woman is Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Snow White, the one who receives and endures. In songs and tales, the young man sets off to seek the woman; he fights against dragons, he combats giants; she is locked up in a tower, a palace, a garden, a cave, chained to a rock, captive, put to sleep: she is waiting…”

- Simone de Beauvoir (The Second Sex)


Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own is often touted as one of the greatest feminist manifestos ever written. In it, she inspires woman to develop and wield their creativity and, through their written work, subvert the patriarchal domination of the fictional (and real) world. She argues that women need a room of one’s own, as well as financial freedom, in order to write fiction. Her plea is inspiring and revolutionary, yes, but Woolf neglects to address one major issue: women of less fortune and opportunities as the ones given to her as a white woman living in contemporary times.

And, unfortunately, women of these less-than-auspicious backgrounds and circumstances particularly abound in literature.

In Lisa See’s novel Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, two young Chinese girls, Lily and Snow Flower, paired together as laotongs, which means “old same.” This bond, created by the parents of the two girls, “[lasts] their entire lives… To have a laotong was very special indeed” (See 22). These matches are made to ensure not only a female support system for the young girls, but also for families to achieve higher societal standings. As such, Lily’s family agrees to match their daughter with Snow Flower, after hearing the other family comes from a much better social background than their own. Girls are used as commodities throughout the entire novel, “a means to make a profit” (See 23).

In the novel, a great deal of focus is put in the process of footbinding, a cruel but culturally-tolerated procedure of binding a young girl’s foot in order to achieve a perfect “lily flower”, a pair of beautiful and tiny feet which were greatly admired and desired in China. Lily explains the novel that “the poorest girls don’t have their feet bound at all. We know how they end up… sold as servants…” (See 17). The more perfect the feet, the better the chances of marrying into a respectable, wealthy family. During the lengthy process, in which toes are broken and curled into the foot, the girls are forced to reside solely in an upstairs room. Here they wait until their feet become completely “set” and there they stay until they are married off, never traveling much outside their own home. Lily speaks about this confinement when she says “I knew that men rarely entered the women’s chamber… Whether you are rich or poor, emperor or slave, the domestic sphere is for women and the outside sphere is for men. Women should not pass beyond the inner chambers in their thoughts or in their actions” (See 24).

While footbinding is not practiced today – it was outlawed in 1912, even though some survivors of the practice are still alive today (Lim 1) – the social and sexual restrictions placed on women remain much the same. Only the bindings have changed. Women today aren’t breaking and binding their feet, but they are breaking their bank accounts and binding themselves to a rigid ideal of what is “hot” or “normal” through the use of cosmetics, plastic surgery, gym equipment, diet fads, weight-loss pills, tanning salons, etc, etc. Susan Bordo speaks about this idea in “Unbearable Weight,” arguing that “our bodies are trained, shaped, and impressed with the stamp of prevailing historical forms of selfhood, desire, masculinity, femininity” (2240). While we as Westerns may regard the Eastern practice of footbinding as cruel, unnatural and highly grotesque, it may be wise to turn that critical eye on what women are doing to their bodies today. One look at some of the Playboy models or adult-film stars – even just opening up a copy of People magazine – shows us that the processes may change, but the ideology behind it remains the same: “our contemporary aesthetic ideal for women, an ideal whose obsessive pursuit has become the central torment of many women’s lives” (Bordo 2241).

Girls are taught from a young age – whether it’s directly from a parent or through immersion into today’s sexually-charged media – that they should aspire to occupy a particular role: namely, that of a wife. As de Beauvoir says “…the supreme necessity for woman is to charm a masculine heart; this is the recompense all heroines aspire to, even if they are intrepid, adventuresome; and only their beauty is asked of them in most cases” (305). Lily and Snow Flower, intelligent, daring and resourceful young women, are desired only for their beauty (or rather the beauty of their feet) and for their ability to produce children (or more specifically, male children). They suffer through the anguish of footbinding. They wait until a marriage match is made for them, with the family’s social standing the most important concern, with no regard to how they feel themselves. They produce children and sit quietly until they die, becoming “a totally other-oriented emotional economy” (Bordo 2245). While Lily enjoys a relatively happy marriage with her husband later in her life, Snow Flower is abused, mistreated and emotionally neglected at the hands of her husband and in-laws. But neither girl escapes the confines, whether physical or emotional, that bind women in a patriarchal society.


de Beauvoir, Simone. The Second Sex. Ed. Constance Borde and Shelia Malovany-Chevallier. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc., 2009. 305. Google Book Search. Web. 16 May 2011. 

Bordo, Susan. “Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture, and the Body.” The Norton Anthology of Theory & Criticism, 2nd. Ed. Vincent B. Leitch. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010. 2240-2254. Print.

Lim, Louisa. “Painful Memories for China’s Footbinding Survivors.” NPR, 19 March 2007. Web. 16 May 2011.

See, Lisa. Snow Flower and the Secret Fan. New York: Random House, Inc. 2009. Print.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Klekeke wth ungular song; catch vising & gouu.

…with the reader caught completely off-guard by a sentence that is happening, or perhaps already happened and is also happening, or perhaps neither, or both. Especially when the first two paragraphs bring forth words and phrases like penisolate, tauftauf thuart peatrick and sosie sesthers. There’s no dictionary or easy translation tool to uncover the meanings behind these awkwardly constructed, mismashed black and white characters – for, what else are these “words” without meaning but a series of random letters shunted together to form what seems like a real word?

It only gets worse. The third paragraph begins with “The fall (bababadalgharaghtakamminarronnkonnbronntonnerronntuonnthunntrovarrhounawnskawntoohoohoordenenthurnuk!)…” (Theall 1).

But all is not lost for the literary world, it seems, for the novel (or non-novel, non-narrative, non-nothing) has propelled, in part, the very theory I am using to talk about it (talk about a cyclic relationship!)

Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, in their essay “Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature” reference the language (or non-language) used in the novel for it “the utilization of English and of every language… never stops operating by exhilaration and overdetermination and brings about all sorts of worldwide reterritorialization” (1454). Critics have noted that not only is the author using traditional English words and insane, fabricated constructs of letters, but also words from a number of other languages, in order to better stir in ambiguity to the book. Language, as Deleuze and Guattari explain, isn’t a perfect system for things always can mean something else. They compare language to nature, pointing out that “in nature, roots are taproots with a more multiple, lateral, and circular system of ramification, rather than a dichotomous one” (Deleuze 1456). The author of the particular novel in question can “accurately [be] described as having ‘multiple roots,’ [shattering] the linear unity of the word, even of language, only to posit a cyclic unity of the sentence, text, or knowledge” (Deleuze 1457).

And anyone attempting to read this particular book can easily see that the cyclic nature as described above works from start to finish. The novel starts off in the middle of a sentence and ends with the beginning of the sentence, in a sense, starting where it began. But no questions are answered. In fact, there seems to be the situation that both a LOT of questions are raised and yet no basis for the questions exist. The argument goes that there is no discernible plot, no identifiable characters, and all the typical structure of a novel is thrown out in favor of eccentric rambling and headache-inducing twists and turns of language. Again, Deleuze and Guattari note this in “A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia” as they describe the plateau being “a continuous, self-vibrating region of intensities whose development avoids any orientation toward a culmination point or external end” (Deleuze 1459). How can a novel truly end when it never truly began? How can a narrative solve the issues the characters have that arise during the plot when those things may not exist within the framework of the cover?

Jacques Derrida, who was greatly influenced by the author, is said to have written to his Japanese translator that “the question of deconstruction is also through and through the question of translation” (Leitch 1680). I posit that this particular book is a perfect example of a truly postmodern novel, for there is no true translation possible. When words are constructed as to make them ambiguous, foreign or unintelligible to logical minds, when there is no dictionary or repository of information in which to find “meaning” of the words – when even the words themselves can be described as complete and utter nonsense – what hope does a reader have in finding the “truth” in the text? This novel should be celebrated as an inspiration to all experimental, postmodern writers, encouraging those who are afraid to step out of the rigid confines of conventional academic study in order to express themselves. Words are nothing more than symbolic representations of ideas, so why not create new ones? In fact, with that in mind, who is to say that the title of this very blog post doesn’t make “sense”? Who can say those words don’t “mean” anything?

Which brings us to the end (or the beginning):

Finnegan’s Wake starts off in media res…


Deleuze, Gilles and Felix Guattari. “A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia.” The Norton Anthology of Theory & Criticism, 2nd. Ed. Vincent B. Leitch. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010. 1454-1462. Print.

Deleuze, Gilles and Felix Guattari. “Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature” The Norton Anthology of Theory & Criticism, 2nd. Ed. Vincent B. Leitch. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010. 1451- 1454. Print.

Leitch, Vincent B. Introduction. Of Grammatology. By Jacques Derrida. 2010. 2nd ed. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010. 1680-1688. Print.

Theall, Donald. Finnegans Web. Trent University, 2002. Web. 02 May 2011.

Monday, April 18, 2011

It's a Small (Fake) World!


“To all who come to this happy place: Welcome. Disneyland is your land. Here age relives fond memories of the past, and here youth may savor the challenge and promise of the future. Disneyland is dedicated to the ideals, the dreams, and the hard facts that have created America, with the hope that it will be a source of joy and inspiration to all the world.
Walter E. Disney, July 17 1955 (ezmason512)

Jean Baudrillard's critique of the postmodern world has referred to “the phenomenon of global financial speculation, ever-increasing tourism, and the frenzied stimulation of consumer desire through the media” (Baudrillard 1553). And what better example of all three of those things than Disneyland? In an excerpt from “The Precession of Simulacra,” Baudrillard discusses Disneyland as a simulacrum – an illusion or representation of something fabricated and somehow inferior to the original – was quite shocking to me. I never figured Disneyland in all its consumer splendor and flashing lights to be a false representation of the real world. Taking in part what was discussed in class, the concept that each of the “worlds” in Disneyland – Tomorrowland, Adventureland, Fronterierland, Fantasyland and Main Street – representing places, times and histories that never existed makes the theme park seem perverse and twisted. Where is the roller coaster that tells us of how the frontier folk slaughtered the Native Americans? Why aren’t there dead bodies piled up on the banks of the Jungle Cruise ride to represent the thousands killed by transmitted diseases from European conquerors? If Tomorrowland is the optimistic vision of the future, have the dystopian fiction writers like Huxley and Orwell been lying to us? Main streets exist in small and large towns all over the country, and yet none of them blend the home-grown, small-town feel with Victorian-esque attire that Disneyland’s Main Street has. As Baudrillard says, Disneyland encompasses American ideals, an “idealised (sic) transposition of a contradictory reality” (1565). Having Sleeping Beauty’s castle looming in the distance as visitors enter the park casts an unrealistic setting on the area, as if to say “here is where your boring real life ends; welcome to the fantastically wonderful and exciting dreamland of discouragement and unreal expectations!” for the perfect world that Disneyland claims to represent can never exist in real life.

Each cast member – and yes, this is what the park employees are called; they use show terms including backstage, on-stage and audience – is expected to be “on” all the time in order to keep up the illusion that this is how Disneyland is all the time. Last year, there was controversy when a Muslim park employee who was told she couldn’t wear her head scarf in observance of Ramadan because it wasn’t “part of the costume… [of] somebody in an on-stage position like hers” (Flaccus 1). While the Disney company is held in high esteem by mass culture, they have often blatantly ignored their own employees’ rights and individualism. I would argue that this directly opposes the Disney concept of a world of inclusion, equality and happiness, and thus voids the power that Disney holds. By identifying Disneyland as a simulacrum, we can understand that it is a fabricated, constructed and meticulously deliberate portrayal of worlds, cultures and people that never existed, as well as concepts (like equality) that are good in theory but much harder to put into practice.

If Disneyland is presented as a representation of American life, culture and values, what does that mean for reality? Because the truth of reality is covered up, toned down - there is, for example, no piles of trash blocking ride entrances from the overflux of overweight stroller-pushers - then Disneyland isn't based in reality at all. 

And don’t even get me started on the “It’s a Small World” ride!


Baudrillard, Jean. “The Precession of Simulacra.” Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. Ed. Vincent B. Leitch. W.W. Norton & Company: New York, 2010. 1553-1566. Print.

ezmason512. “Walt Disney Speech.” YouTube, 3 May 2009. Web. 18 April 2011.

Flaccus, Gillian. “Muslim Disneyland Employee: Park Banned My Scarf.” HUFFPOST: Los Angeles. The Huffington Post, 19 August 2010. Web. 18 April 2011.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

"People who claim they're evil are usually no worse than the rest of us. It's people who claim that they're good, or any way better than the rest of us, that you have to be wary of.”

- Boq (Wicked)


There is something so intriguing, familiar and almost scandalous about reading a well-known children’s tale that has been re-told and adapted for adult readers, for that is where simple legends become complex examinations of society. That’s exactly how I feel about Gregory Maguire’s Wicked (1995), a parallel novel to L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900) and the story of the “life and times” of one of the most popular evil figures of literature. Each time I read the novel, I find myself greatly enjoying the story from the Witch’s perspective, but I have also noted with great interest and surprise the level of social and political commentary that Maguire has added to the land of Oz.

It is by reading Maguire’s story with a Marxist mindset that allows me to delve deeper into the story’s subplots involving the authoritative, controlling and manipulative Wizard (so different from the beloved ole softie from the movie!) and the laws passed restricting animals from holding jobs and political standing. Or, rather I should say Animals, for in Oz, there is a difference between the drooling farm animals and the intelligent, personable, anthropomorphic Animals. One such Animal is Doctor Dillamond, a Goat who teaches at Shiz University and a ardent supporter of Animal rights against the Wizard’s “Banns on Animal Mobility… [restricting] in their access to travel conveyances, lodgings, and public services. The Mobility it referred to was also professional. Any Animal… was prohibited from working in the professions or the public sector. They were, effectively, to be herded back to the farmland or wilds…” (Maguire 114). These Animals, while obviously expressing human characteristics, are what Marx would deem the “subordinate graduations” (Marx 657) of Oz’s society. Elphaba (later known as the Wicked Witch of the West) and her friends take a small part in the fight for Animals, and this in turn generates some of the ill will the Witch has towards the Wizard at the end of the story.

The Banns push the Animals - some of who were teachers, philosophers or workers – even further down the social ladder, to the part of mere cattle, laboring for nothing more than a little hay or feed, the proletarian class of OZ. It is strange to read a fictional novel and then think about the cows, sheep and other livestock that provide a great deal of our food stuffs, products and livelihoods in real life, and wonder what would happen if they could talk! Would they demand equal rights, or suffer as they continue to be suppressed as the labor class of our society? For surely cattle in our society is considered to be the silent, un-acknowledged and vastly inhibited labor power of our society, toiling only for others' benefits – namely, ours.

Unfortunately in Wicked, Animals never climb back up the social ladder. Doctor Dillamond is murdered, ostensibly because of his vocal support of Animals and sometime later in the novel, the main (human) characters note that there are no longer any Animals in Oz after the Banns. As noted before, it is the Wizard and his supporters – the bourgeoisie in Oz – who help mold Elphaba into the Witch and push down Animal proletariats.


Maguire, Geogory. Wicked. New York: Harper, 1995. Print.

Marx, Karl. “The Communist Manifesto.” The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. Ed. Vincent B. Leitch. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010. 657-660. Print.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

"This was what could happen to you: you could end up this far from where you thought you were going."

- Dolores Price (She's Come Undone)


They don’t call it growing pains for nothing, I guess.

Surviving the teenage years has to be one of the most important – and potentially self-destructive – points in a person’s life. It’s hard attempting to straddle that interstitial space between rambunctious childhood and responsible maturity, all while negotiating limitations of societal constraints, peer pressure and the ever-constant internal battle of your body’s hormones. And throughout all the emotional turmoil the years between eleven and eighteen (sometimes longer!) brings, one must come to realize and accept the fact that their parents are no longer the supreme overlords of their lives. Once a child hits the age when he or she learns they don’t have to obey their parents, rebellion ensues, often with disastrous consequences.

One such fictional character that embodies this struggle against her parental figure is Dolores Price, the narrator of Wally Lamb’s She’s Come Undone.

At the age of thirteen, she is raped by her neighbor named Jack and subsequently succumbs to grotesque amounts of binging, reaching heavy obesity by the end of her teenage years. She spends the rest of the novel struggling to come to terms with her life, her weight and her sanity. However, the pivotal moment of her climb (or, more fitting, her expansion) into adulthood comes before she is raped, as she vies with her mother for Jack’s attention.

Dolores has a relatively happy childhood with her “proud and protective” father (Lamb 6). However, her problems begin when her father leaves her and her mother for another woman. Already on rocky grounds with her mother, Dolores’s relationship with her father turns cold, and she never regains a close bond with him. In The Interpretation of Dreams, Freud says that “being in love with the one parent and hating the other are among the essential constituents of the stock of psychical impulses which is formed [at the time of childhood]” (814). Additionally, Freud goes on to note that these “impulses” are important in “determining the symptoms of later neurosis” (81). I would think it’s safe to conclude that Dolores’s unsteady and emotionally traumatic relationship with her father certainly leads to her later problems growing up, for she lacks the “normal” father-daughter bond that’s important for development. Throughout the novel, she often notes her longing to reconnect with her father, as well as her inability to relate to her mother.

Obviously, Freud’s idea of the Oedipus complex doesn’t perfectly translate to Dolores, for she is a girl where the driving force of the psychosis is typically centered on a boy child. Looking at Oedipus’s story, where he slays his father to marry his mother, “shows us the fulfillment of our own childhood wishes” (Freud 816) where we attempt to subvert and dispute our parent’s authority, all while gaining their love and respect. Again, Dolores never slays nor has a sexual longing for either parent, and yet when she first meets Jack, she seems to be in competition for his attention with her mother.

Ironically, the first notion that this opposition between mother and daughter is occurring is during church services. As Jack is passing the collection basket, Dolores’s “heart pounded almost audibly as I watched him… One time I caught Ma following his movements, too, lip-synching to the offertory prayer rather than praying it” (Lamb 73). Over dinner later that night, Dolores notices her mother flirting with Jack by teasing and poking him, right in front of his wife Rita, who perhaps awkwardly continues to serve dinner. Dolores thinks her mother is acting “so… that word kids [write]… Leaning over and giving him those little slaps whenever he teased her. Horny: that was the word. Ma and her stupid risks, her black-lace bras” (Lamb 78). And lastly, as Dolores is falling asleep right under Jack and Rita’s room, she hears the couple having sex: “I kept imagining them up there, half-naked and feverish – like lovers on the covers of paperbacks” (Lamb 76). She fantasies about Jack, exploring her sexuality through her imagination, which is a completely natural thing for a young girl to do. However, it’s the object of her desire that is a bit un-natural, for Dolores seems to be angry – jealous, even - at her mother for acting so loose towards Jack.

At the age of thirteen, Dolores is well into what Freud deems the “latent stage” of development, where typically there is a repression of desires. However, as she is still young and immature, she can’t completely understand what exactly is happening when Jack begins to flirt and confide in her. She does repress her desires, for she doesn’t come onto to him, and yet she cannot help but admire his attention and crave it. His physical advances make her uncomfortable, but they don’t become dangerous to her until he drives her out into the woods and rapes her.

Dolores has “won” the competition with her mother – and she pays the price for it throughout the rest of her teenage years. After the rape, her mother babies her, providing her with the food and outlets that make Dolores gain obscene amounts of weight. Dolores’s mother sees Jack as the evil villain, with Dolores the innocent victim – which she is – and yet I think Freud would suggest that Dolores was merely playing out the psychosexual urges of a young girl in subverting her mother’s authority to earn her father’s love, which, in this case, has been replaced by Jack. By being unable to mature normally and form a healthy relationship with her real father, Dolores develops neuroses and this directly impacts the rest of her life.


Freud, Sigmund. "The Interpretation of Dreams." The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. Ed. Vincent B. Leitch. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010. 814-818. Print.

Lamb, Wally. She's Come Undone. New York: Washington Square Press, 1992. Print. 

Monday, March 21, 2011

Reflection of a Formal[ist] Presentation

I must admit that I don’t think the presentation went as well as it could have. For starters, Structuralism and Formalism are, at least for me, very complex and I had a difficult time understanding how to present to the class what they comprised without making it sound too much like a lecture (which I also regret to admit that it did take that course). Honestly, I feel like our presentation could have been more in-depth and organized. Because of my illness and hospital stay, and because of some technical issues with my group members, we weren’t able to stay in close conversation, and I don’t think we were able to really pin down our presentation to what it should have been.

When we originally discussed our presentation, we decided to break it up into smaller parts so each of us could have something to present or talk about. I felt at the time that I understood how we could incorporate a class activity into the presentation so that’s what I choose to do, along with help from Danielle. When it came down to it, I think we had some good ideas (trying to get the class to look at symbols and consider their meanings, as well as trying to show the class how to connect structuralism/formalism to literary analysis - i.e. the practical usage of the theories) but I don’t think it went so smoothly in class.

I wasn’t able to see what the rest of the group was going to present about the theories itself, and I felt that we could have incorporated more discussion into the presentation, rather than just lecture. I do understand that what was expected of us was not a simple PowerPoint presentation, which now, looking back, I realize that’s what it became. I did try to get discussion going at the end of the presentation, but I know now I could have also tried harder (or planned better) to get the rest of the group involved in asking questions and generating discussion as well.