Friday, May 15, 2009

Saussure and Britney

Saussure believed that the sig is always related to another sign, bringing forth the idea of the signifier and signified. There is an oral/ visual that people relate to each other. In the above picture to the left of Britney Spears she is sitting on her knees, looking up at the camera, very innocent and child like. What we know of Britney currently, this is not the image she portrays. The visual instigates the positive feelings of health, youth, innocence, happiness. The visual of a young Britney gives birth to the words as we perceive them, the signifier and the signified.

In the top picture, Britney becomes the archetype for crazy, angry, sickly and a loss of innocence. This is much different than the other picture. Though it is the same person, the signifier and signified go hand in hand. Saussure says, " Language is a system of signs that express ideas" (77. The signs of Britney in these two pictures provoke thought and language, positive and negative.

Saussure, Ferdinand de. "Course in General Linguistics." Literary Teory: An Anthology. Ed. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Blackwell. 1998.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Group Presentation

My role in the Gender/ Feminism group was that of the housewife. I picked out three quotes from Gilbert and Gubar which best explained the “role” of the housewife. I also brought/ bought props
including the housewife necessities (apron, towel), Barbie dolls with clothes, provided numbered note cards for the game. I adapted to the role of housewife while passing out cookies. Based on the idea that housewives are supposed to be quiet, I fit my role in the group nicely especially since I am by nature quiet (at least in class.)
Our group wanted to spark discussion about gender roles and let the class construct their own ideas about gender. In the last game they each wrote three adjectives describing themselves and based on what they wrote had a classmate write if it was a boy or a girl. This was great because some girls were thought of as more masculine because of their descriptions and some guy were more feminine because of theirs. This proved that people do have preconceived notions of words and what they mean.
The class was very participatory throughout the entire presentation, especially the debate about existentialist vs. constructionist. This conversation was sparked by bringing barbies and GI Joe’s questioning whether children are naturally driven to feminine/ masculine toys or if they are guided. Personally, I feel that it is dependent on the child, the parent, and their situation. I’m a nanny for an 8 yr old boy, 5 yr old girl, and a 2 ½ yr old boy. The youngest likes to paint his nails when his sister does, but he also is obsessed with garbage trucks and fire engines. The little girl similarly likes her barbies and dressing up, but also dresses up in her big brother’s clothes and plays basketball. However, the oldest boy will not do anything remotely girly and only involves the sister if it is something he wants to play. So, as it was pointed out in class, it is not only existentialist or constructionist, it is both.

The "Trifles" of Feminism

The bone of contention for feminist theory is centered at the treatment of women living in a patriarchal society. Feminists raised questions about why women were being forced into a position of subordination and their affairs looked at with marginal importance. Susan Glaspell’s story “Trifles” depicts the plight of women and their subordination while subversively commenting on the negative effects this had on the female psyche. “Trifles“ begins with an investigation into the murder of John Wright, which takes place at his farm house. His wife, Mrs. Wright, is found at the crime scene and put in jail. She asks three of her friends, who are wives of the detectives investigating, to collect her apron and shawl. While the men scamper about trying to solve the crime of who did it, the women rifle through Mrs. Wrights belonging in search of her request. Noticing simple things out of place in the home or the trifles (as the men call it), they inadvertently find clues that reveal Mrs. Wright to be the murderer. It is said, the devils in the details which proves to be accurate in this situation. Glaspell’s story is a commentary on the societal values of women at the time and their roles in the home. By using theorists such as Gilbert and Gubar, Fetterly, and Irigaray, one can see how Glaspell uses a feminist critique to call to question the inequalities of women and highlighting the detriment this subordination has on females.

“Trifles” embodies the problems of alienation women faced in the hands of a patriarchal society. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan say “the subject of feminism was women‘s experience under patriarchy, the long tradition of male rule in society which silenced women‘s voices, distorted their lives, and treated their concerns as peripheral“ (527). We see this in the beginning of “Trifles”, “Mrs. Peters: Oh, her fruit; it did freeze. She worried about that when it turned so cold. She said the fire’d go out and her jars would break. Hale: Well, women are used to worrying over trifles” (Glaspell, 1043). The women’s voice is silenced by the man’s failure to recognize her concerns as legitimate. When presented with a concern from a woman, instead of paying attention, the men dismiss the women and their observations and silence them from speaking further. This alienates the women, placing them in a lower status. Of this Luce Irigaray say, “ A direct feminine challenge to this condition means demanding to speak as a (masculine) “subject”, that is, it means to postulate a relation to the intelligible that would maintain sexual difference” (570). By Glaspell participating in the canon of literature and bringing attention to the female issue of subordination, she is challenging and demanding to speak in “masculine” terms, as literature was dominated by males. According to Judith Fetterley “ American Literature is male. Our literature neither leaves women alone nor allows them to participate” (561). Glaspell shatters this. She is participating in a genre of art that was viewed as predominantly male. Also, she not only gave her female characters a participatory role, they had the most important role, while the men were secondary and almost needless.

Speaking to the “silencing of voices” Glaspell writes, “Mrs. Peters: [looking in cupboard] Why, here’s a bird cage. [Holds it up] Did she have a bird, Mrs. Hale? Mrs. Hale: Why I don’t know whether she did or not-I’ve not been here for so long… She used to sing real pretty herself” (1047). It goes on to read about Mr. Wright, “ Mrs. Hale: But he was a hard man, Mrs. Peters. Just to pass the time of day with him-[Shivers.] Like a raw wind that gets to the bone. [Pauses, her eye falling on the cage.] I should think she would ‘a wanted a bird. But what do you suppose went with it?” (1048). As Rivkin and Ryan state, as mentioned above, the man silences the woman. Mr. Wright silenced Mrs. Wright, not allowing her to sing, “distorting” her life. Judith Fetterley believes that there is a certain amount of “power that marriage puts in the hands of men”(563) and “ownership of women is invoked as the index of power”(564). Because Mrs. Wright was so changed by her husband, “Mrs. Hale: She-come to think of it, she was kind of like a bird herself-real sweet and pretty, but kind of timid and-fluttery. How-she-did-change” (1048), she was not only isolated in her home with her husband but her life was de valued, therefore she changed. Mr. Wright wanted her to be silent which is reminiscent of what Gilbert and Gubar say that a woman should be waiting “silently, without calling attention to her exertions” as it would detract from her focus on others (601). “Trifles” also reads, “Mrs. Hale: I might have known she needed help! I know how things can be -for women. I tell you it’s queer, Mrs. Peters. We live close together and we live far apart. We all go through the same things-it’s all just a different kind of the same thing.” (Glaspell, 1049). Here Susan Glaspell is pointing out the alienation that is a prevalent feeling amongst women. This feeling is induced by the patriarchal society that does not allow them to have a life of their own.

Glaspell’s character Mrs. Wright sacrifices everything because that’s what her husband demanded, which was the status quo. Gilbert and Gubar also state “For to be selfless is not only to be noble, it is to be dead. A life that has no story…” (602). Mrs. Wright is the embodiment of these ideas. She is isolated, alienated, and quiet; she’s expected to be angel-like.
The angel/devil binary is discussed by Gilbert and Gubar. The idea is that women have two sides to them. One side that is silent, submissive, obedient, and the other that is a monster, conniving, and deceitful (605). Though Mrs. Wright could be critically looked at as being a product of this angel/devil binary, more importantly Glaspell is challenging the male’s role in this binary. Essentially she is pointing out that by men placing women in a submissive role they are contributing to this angel/devil behavior they are critical of.
“The fact that the angel woman manipulates her domestic/mystical sphere in order to ensure the well-being of those entrusted to her care reveals that she can manipulate; she can scheme; she can plot- stories as well as strategies” (602). The woman can do no right.

Fetterley points out “the sacrificial scapegoat is the woman/wife and the cleansed survivor is the husband/male. In such fictions the female reader is co-opted into participation in an experience from which she is explicitly excluded; she is asked to identify with a selfhood that defines itself in opposition to her; she is required to identify against herself” (562). Typically this is true because the male perception of women is that they should be angels, self sacrificing, subordinate but criticize this because they also believe the binary opposition to women is the devil. They are eliminating an identifiable character for the female reader, alienating them. Glaspell however, allows the female reader to identify with her female characters. In “Trifles” the women are doing “female things” looking about the kitchen, paying attention to the sewing, noticing the rotten fruit. Essentially everything that has to do with house hold matters. The men are outside looking for clues in the barn, completely unaware or unaltered by the fact that a woman could possibly have committed such an atrocious crime. After all, action is male and silence is female. Gilbert and Gubar quote from Eichner, “the ideal of significant action is masculine” and “ women are defined as wholly passive, completely void of generative power”(599). Because women are viewed as having no power the men over look the evidence in the house; The house is for the women and their trifles.
At the end of “Trifles” the women find Mrs. Wrights dead bird, with a broken neck. Coincidentally the same way her husband was murdered. The bird is wrapped up in her quilt, when it is found the story reads, “Mrs. Hale: [Jumping up] But, Mrs. Peters- look at it! It’s [sic] neck! Look at its neck! It’s all-other side to. Mrs. Peters: Somebody-wrung-its-neck” (Glaspell 1048). It is at this moment the women realize that Mrs. Wright has killed her husband. The attorney walks in and says “ [As one turning from serious things to little pleasantries] Well, ladies, have you decided whether she was going to quilt it or knot it” (Glaspell 1048). By asking about quilting or knotting he is referring to the stitching on Mrs. Wrights quilt. The quilt is one of the “trifles” indicating Mrs. Wright as the murderer. Once again, Glaspell is drilling it into the readers head that the men think women’s concerns are unimportant. As the story goes on, the women allude to the fact that Mr. Wright could have played a hand in the death of the bird Mrs. Wright loved so. Glaspell continuously points out the domination and control of the men (Mr. Wright in this case) and the psychological effects it has on the women. “Mrs. Peters: [ In a whisper.] When I was a girl- my kitten- there was a boy took a hatchet, and before my eyes-and before I could get there-[Covers her face an instant.] If they hadn’t held me back I would have- hurt him”(Glaspell, 1049). Not only are grown men oppressive of women, it appears that Glaspell is also commenting on the societal values of child rearing, pertaining to sex. The little boy is allowed to act violently (action is masculine) but the little girl has to be held back, and allow whatever grief she feels to over come her with not outlet. This speaks to Rivkin and Ryan’s idea of a constructionist or essentialist child rearing. In other words, are children taught their roles of femininity and masculinity or are they innate? By the child scenario given in “Trifles” Glaspell notes that the different genders abide by different ideals. The little boy (fulfilling essentialism) is allowed to be “active” fulfilling his innate desire to take a hatchet to the cat. The little girl is fulfilling the constructionist role. Her gender is being created when she is being told how to act, being held back and constrained, none of these being her first choice. As children, it would appear, little boys are able to act on their natural desires, while little girls have to grin and bear it. Of these two ideals Gilbert and Gubar say, “two perspectives began to form, one “constructionist” or accepting of the idea that gender is made by culture in history, the other “essentialist,” more inclined to the idea that gender reflects a natural difference between men and women that is as much psychological, even linguistic, as it is biological” (529). These roles the children learn, carry with them into their adult lives where women are oppressed and men are free. This is another example of women being isolated from a young age.

The last scene of “Trifles” is Mrs. Hale putting the dead bird in her pocket, keeping Mrs. Wrights secret. “ County Attorney: No, Peters it’s all perfectly clear except a reason for doing it. But you know juries when it comes to women. If there was some definite thing. Something to show-something to make a story about- a thing that would connect up with this strange way of doing it-” ( Glaspell, 1050). The men in their ignorance don’t see what’s in front of them. The evidence was there, they just let their social conventions detract from the situation at hand. In a way, Glaspell is making the male gender look foolish. By placing the evidence in conspicuous places, their inability to find clues is commenting on the narrow scope of males.

“County Attorney:: Oh, I guess they’re not very dangerous things the ladies have picked out. [Moves a few things about, disturbing the quilt pieces which cover the box. Steps back.] No, Mrs. Peters doesn’t need supervising. For that matter, a sheriff’s wife is married to the law.” (1050). As everyone leaves the scene they police suggest checking what Mrs. Peters is removing from the house. The attorney is almost amused at what he finds to be trifles that she is collecting ( the apron, shawl, quilt) when she is in fact removing the evidence he was searching for. The women in this story feel bad for Mrs. Wright. They are not “married to the law” but dedicated to the common bond of the alienated woman. The law that the attorney says Mrs. Peters is married to, is a patriarchal law that oppresses women and makes them subjects of the system. These women’s devotion truly lies with each other and their struggle to survive an oppressive society. If in marriage a woman is isolated and dominated, her only sense of self lies within the common struggle. Because she identifies with the sadness of Mrs. Wright she with holds evidence.
Susan Glaspell’s “Trifles” provides a solution to many of the inherent problems the feminist scholars bring to light. She writes about the alienation of women and how a patriarchal society is silencing. Women’s voices are not heard and when they are, there opinions and concerns are dismissed, regardless of their importance. Glaspell uses the relationship between her male and female characters to exemplify this. Glaspell challenges the notion of the male writers point of view in that she, simply by writing and challenging, is taking on the male characteristic of action as opposed to silence. She also plays with the duality of the notion of woman, angel and devil. She constructs a character that could be seen as the angel/devil, but subversively comments on society pushing the woman into these roles they find so disagreeable. This further leads into the idea of constructionist and essentialist where girls identities are constructed while boys are innate, causing a future of oppressive relationships.

Works Cited

Fetterley, Judith. "On the Politics of Literature."Literary Theory: An
Anthology. 2nd ed. Ed. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Malden: Blackwell, 2004. 812-

Gilbert, Sandra and Susan Gubar. “The Madwoman in the Attic.” Literary Theory: An
Anthology. 2nd ed. Ed. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Malden: Blackwell, 2004. 812-

Glaspell, Susan. "Trifles." The Heath Anthology of American Literature. Vol D. Ed. Paul Lauter. Houghton Mifflin, 2006. 1041-1050.

Irigaray, Luce, "The Power of Discourse and the Subordination oftheFeminine."Literary Theory: An
Anthology. 2nd ed. Ed. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Malden: Blackwell, 2004. 812-

Rivkin, Julie and Michael Ryan. "Introduction: Feminist Paradigms."Literary Theory: An Anthology. 2nd ed. Ed. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Malden: Blackwell, 2004. 812-825.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Wonder Years: Gilbert and Gubar

In this episode of The Wonder Years, Kevin’s mother (Mrs. Arnold) is fitting into the stereotype of the housewife. In the first part of this clip (1:16-1:47) the family is sitting down for breakfast, she is serving everyone while simultaneously situating their lives. She hands her husband coffee when he comes in, responds in rhythm to a multitude of questions like, mom can you, will you, do you know where… etc. She doesn’t miss a beat, but she also seems to be lacking any other identity other than “housewife” at this point. Her role in the family is to be the caretaker, as Gilbert and Gubar state, “ shine like a beacon in a dark world, like a motionless lighthouse by which others, the travelers who’s lives do have a story, can set their course” (599). Each member of the family (the travelers) presents themselves with having “external events”. She is the “lighthouse” that sets them in the right direction. She is the selfless character, nurturing her family while loosing her own identity.
In the middle of this clip (4:25-5:40) Kevin’s friend Paul is upset about his glasses. While he is complaining about them, Mrs. Arnold comes in with a load of laundry and asserts her role as housewife/ nurturer to make him feel better. About this sympathy role Gilbert and Gubar say, “She has no story of her own, but gives advice and consolation to others, listens, smiles, sympathizes…” (599). She is the embodiment of “advice and consolation” as she makes the boy feel better and soothes his ego with hot cocoa.
In the last part of the clip (7:10- 7:50) the boys are playing basketball and Paul starts talking about Kevin‘s mother and the life she had before her family. Because Kevin see’s her in this housewife/ mother role as far as he‘s concerned she is leading and has lead “a life without external events” (599). Gilbert and Gubar also say “a woman of right feeling should devote herself to the good of others… silently, without calling attention to her exertions because all that would tend to draw away her thoughts from others and fix them on herself” (601). In her failure to expose a life outside her family, Mrs. Arnold plays into the theory of the “angel” and therefore continues the cycle of her housewife ideology.
One could also say the character of Mrs. Arnold also embodies what Gilbert and Gubar define as the Angel with qualities of, “Submissiveness, modesty, selflessness; reminding all women that they should be angelic” (600). This character is angelic not only by action but appearance: with her golden hair, smiling face etc. When the family is at the table during the beginning she asks her husband about going to a play to which he essentially says no. She doesn’t respond but with only a look of dismay, “if Woman owes her Being to the Comfort and Profit of man, tis highly reasonable that she should be careful and diligent to content and please him” (600). Mrs. Arnold does not question her husband or refute his decision, she simply says nothing.
The character of Mrs. Arnold is the stereotypical housewife. She plays up themes from Gilbert and Gubar while reinforcing that women should be silent keepers of the house. For this character her identity becomes the angelic eternal feminine and continues having no story.

Gilbert, Sandra and Susan Gubar. “The Madwoman in the Attic.” Literary Theory: An Anthology. 2nd ed. Ed. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Malden: Blackwell, 2004. 812-825.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Foucault and Faulkner

In As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner, the omniscient narrator Darl can be analyzed with Foucault’s theory of Panopticism. The story is as follows, Addie Bundren in an attempt to get back at her husband for making her conform to society with multiple children and a loss of freedom, requests that after her death be buried in the town she was originally from, Jefferson, which is a week’s trip. With decaying body in tow, Addie’s husband and her children make the journey to fulfill her desire. The narrator, Addie’s second eldest son, is all knowing, all seeing, much like the supervisor in Foucault’s Panopticon. The family are very much in their cells, being watched until the tide changes ultimately reversing the roles. Darl becomes even more so, the outsider of the family and once this happens, he is sent away for mental help. The Panopticon idea encompasses two areas of focus. According to Foucault, “ The first is that of a pure community, the second that of a disciplined society” (Rivkin, 468). The need in society to categorize with binary division labels people as productive members of a society or parasites. For example those that are crazy as opposed to sane, those that are dangerous as opposed to harmless, and those that are normal in society as opposed to those that are abnormal (469). In Faulkner’s novel, Darl Bundren seems to threaten the pure community and disciplined society of the family. He is the least favorite of his deseased mother, hated by his half brother, despised by his sister, and also ultimately replaced by his brother as omniscient narrator. In looking at the Bundren family as a society, he becomes undisciplined and eratic as implied in some of his behavior. The family begins to view him as crazy and not in compliance with their norms. They use binary brandings dubbing themselves normal, where Darl is the abnormal one, although in my opinion he is the most sane. Because Darl is “abnormal” he is sent away to the hospital on the basis of insanity. At the beginning of the novel, Darl starts out as the supervisor in the middle of the panopticon. He watches everyone in their “cells” and thus is the all knowing narrator. However, once his family see’s that he is not acting like them in relation to determination in transporting his dead mother for burial, he breaks the normalcy’s of the family and therefore becomes himself in a cell, being watched. Foucault says, “ Hence the major effect of the Panopticon: to induce in the inmate a state of conscious and permanent visibility that assures the automatic functioning of power” (470). This causes a change in power as Darl having power over the reader, is replaced by Cash. Not only is Darl sent away, but it is at this point the reader may question Darl’s reliability as a narrator.

Foucault, Michel. Discipline and Punish. Literary Theory: An Anthology. 2nd ed. Ed. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Malden: Blackwell, 2004. 549-566.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Boiler Room for Marxist Theory

Karl Marx’s theory is described as “how the normality of our everyday world, with its quiet routines and rituals, its workaday habits and its working day, its monetary stresses and pressures on one end and its leisure and freedom on the other, is riven from within by… class struggle”( Rivkin 231). In this clip from Boiler Room, we see a couple examples of Marxist theory. Not only are the separate class systems showcased, but the driving force behind them: capitalism. In the first portion of the clip, the narrator is describing the values of what we see in society today, how to make the money and live the American dream. It states, “Culture may seem the least important of capitalism’s instruments of social control, but for Marxists, it is quite important, for if everyone is simply trained from birth to think alike and to think alike especially that it is a gift to be free, to seek one’s own rewards in a more or less open economy… they force will not be required” (Rivkin 232). The narrator in the clip goes on to talk about a large corporation (Microsoft) that made its employee’s large amounts of money by giving them stock. He proceeds to say that he saw a picture of a grounds keeper with a Ferrari, now if that’s not living the American dream, then what is? The point though is that this character, like Marx says, thinks his values are his own. However, he has been raised to idealize the aspects of wealth, because that is what society projects; that’s the culture. By pushing this capitalistic view point, a system is locked in place where people will work not only to live, but strive to live well. This is exactly what we see in the first half of the clip. Rivkin also states, “The ideas that prevail in a culture tend by and large to be ones that certify as legitimate the shape of that society and to reinforce the hegemony of the ruling elite” (Rivkin,237). In other words, the people with money are the ones that influence what the rest of us think we want, or need. They shape the values of society.
In the second portion of this clip, the interview, Ben Affleck’s character plays the wealth card to not only entice the men to work hard, but to disguise the inner workings of management and worker relationships. Affleck plays a top recruiter for a brokerage firm. He brings the interviewees in, sits them around a long table and proceeds to tell them how wealthy he is, how he drives a Ferrari, and how he owned a huge home. Not only does this play on the societal values, but it mask’s the fact that one class will always be dominated by another. In this instance, Affleck is higher on the chain than the men at the table; who will more than likely never reach his status. “Marx argues that this appearance conceals the relations of domination and subordination between owner and worker that allow the capitalist owner to extract from the worker more value… that he paid the worker for” (Rivkin, 235). This “value” is the time the laborers put in to the job. Affleck is motivating, to get the men to work harder, therefore making him more money. In the beginning of this clip the narrator says, “honors in the dollar, kid” and that in itself is the basis of Marxist thought.

Rivkin, Julie and Ryan,Michael. Introduction: "Starting With Zero: Basic Marxism. Literary Theory: An Anthology. 2nd ed. Ed. Malden: Blackwell, 2004. 549-566.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Defamiliarizing Liberty Leading the People

In the background of Liberty Leading the People there is a yellow cloud of smoke that you can vaguely see men coming out of, their swords and guns drawn. A man in a top hat looks unscathed by the surrounding war scene. He holds a gun while looking at lady Liberty. She is holding a flag and gun, leading the men while she tromps past bodies fallen by the war. One body is half clothed wearing only a white shirt and one blue sock, the other is fully clothed in army attire. One man, on his hands and knees in a blue jacket with a red sash, is looking up at her as if only she can save him. A young boy stands beside her holding two pistols looking ready to march on. The light in the picture is around lady liberty while there is also a spot of light on the half clothed fallen soldier. While defamiliarizing this picture it could be questioned: at what price does liberty and freedom come? In this painting there is no liberty without death, as the focal points of light show. While the eye is immediately drawn to lady liberty and the positive outcome of the revolution, the underside to this that people die for freedom.