Wednesday, December 12, 2007

This Week in Print

As all of my adoring fans have probably noticed, I have fallen off the map. While I've been absent, I've still been obsessing over my blog hits. Apparently, I am a hit with the gay Parisiennes on the other side of the pond. who knew?
Anyway, I figured to make up for my absence that I would post what has been occupying my times. (because everyone loves to read college essays, right?) whether you do or don't will determine whether you read or won't. if for nothing else you can know what has been making me crazy lately.

The Dream is the Truth
Zora Neale Hurston’s novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God, is often described as one woman’s journey of self-discovery. While I believe this to be an accurate analysis overall, it is not sophisticated enough. By describing the journey of one’s self, Hurston is able to accomplish an immense depth of collective understanding. In this story of self-discovery there are outlines of gendered norms and societal restraints. Hurston employs vivid metaphors of pollen, entanglement and inner self to personify roles of agency. Through the use of these metaphors she is able to depict one woman’s path to discovering how norms and society play a role in shaping circumstances and how these circumstances shape people. Through Hurston’s words Janie embarks on a journey of self-discovery and through this discovery of Janie’s self there is also an unspoken understanding of women as a whole.
The first paragraph of Hurston’s novel addresses man’s agency in post-Civil War America. Hurston artfully describes the ambitions of men, “ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board” (Hurston 1). This implies that men have their dreams right in front of them. They can see them and they can aspire toward them. The following two sentences describe the difference between men. This sentence refers to those who are privileged, “for some they come in with the tide” (1). The reader has to decide for whom wishes come in with the tide. It is never explicitly stated but Hurston seems to allude to a racial and a class divides. The well-off are white and only need to wait for the tide to come in. Other men are not so lucky: “for others they sail forever on the horizon” (1). The horizon represents a condition of not having. The horizon is always in front of oneself and always just out of reach, the same way that tomorrow never comes. Wishes then become something that is dangled in front of these men. This implies an expectation inherent to masculinity. Until eventually the sun sets on their horizon. This lifetime of fruitless dreaming is what defines the life of men who are in want. The only similarity between these two men lies in the amount of inaction with regard to the perusal of dreams. We do not see men asserting themselves and having the fruits of their labor rewarded. Instead, we see some men waiting and other men watching. Either way, we are not seeing men pursuing and taking. Instead, they are simply acted upon with the changing whims of the tide. This negates a state of willful agency.
The second paragraph sets up the normative dichotomy between men and women. Men sit in wait for their dreams. Women, on the other hand, seem to take more initiative regarding their dreams, without actually executing power. Instead of steadfastly watching one’s dreams, women employ the art of selective remembrance. They figure out the situations that are out of their control. “Now, women forget all those things they don’t want to remember, and remember everything they don’t want to forget” (1). Their selective memory becomes their reality. This helps them deal with the hardship in life that is unfathomable and equally intolerable. They exercise agency when they can and forget about the instances they cannot. This act of willful amnesia makes an unbearable life bearable. They acknowledge they lack power in some situations and attempt to navigate around that the best they can. This creates a state of willfulness, without necessarily creating a space for agency. Understanding these first paragraphs helps one negotiate the constant strife between the sexes in this novel. Men and women are inextricably bound together. However, women’s acceptance of reality seems to undermine the men who are not satisfied with the dream being the truth.
There are many intersecting themes throughout the novel that flesh out the tension and ambiguity between men and women. Understanding love and marriage is one of these critical themes that helps navigate gender relations in this novel. Janie describes the union of love in the poetic language of birds and bees. She spends her time examining love and marriage while outstretched underneath the shade of a pear tree. She is witness to flies tumbling, interconnected, “marrying and giving in marriage” and, through a haze of pollination, she finds love and kisses Johnnie Taylor (11). We will see the critical themes of bound interconnectedness, pollen, inner self and issues of agency continue throughout the novel.
Pollen-induced haze and lying beneath the pear tree are also reoccurring symbols throughout the novel. They symbolize the haze of romanticism and Janie’s attempt to make the truth the dream. She wants the elements of marriage to be sweet, like when one sits under the pear tree to think. When her first marriage does not bring her this, she begins to stand near the gate and wait for something, like when she got her first kiss from Johnnie Taylor (23). It is at this point that she comes to realize marriage does not automatically bring love. Her dream had died, “so she became a woman” (24). Pollen imagery returns when she is describing the realization of her shattered dream of marriage with Joe. She is described as having “no more blossomy openings dusting pollen over her man.” She was no longer subdued by the haze of love and realized the truth was not the dream. The dream was merely a cloak for the man to wear (68). She forgot about love and molded her dream to fit the truth.
We see the shaping of dreams in relation to truth through Janie’s proximity to self, which is directly reflected by the circumstances of her life. We see this during her first marriage to Logan Killicks. Prior to her marriage, she believes that husbands and wives love each other without question. So she “went on inside to wait for love to begin” (21). The inside alluded to in this passage refers to Janie’s inner self. This is the first time we see her altering the proximity to herself. This is a continuing thread throughout the novel. We see it again in chapter 6 with Joe Starks. She is described as not being “petal-open” with him anymore. She came to this realization immediately after the first time he administered a beating upon her. Following the incident, she felt something fall “off the shelf inside her.” She looked inside herself and realized it was her dream of Joe. This is the point in the novel when she addresses that she has an inside and an outside and they are not meant to mix (68). If she can separate her emotions from herself, then she can make her dream of Joe the truth.
Janie’s final marriage is a turning point in the novel. Through Tea cake we see the culmination of imagery introduced to us so far. For instance, we get to see reference to Janie’s inside and outside again. Janie and Tea Cake had just left Eatonville and been married. Janie had brought along some safety money, which Tea Cake had stolen and lost while gambling. Tea Cake promised that he would win it back. This passage comes after his return. He has been injured in an altercation after winning back Janie’s money. Janie observes him drifting off to sleep. As she looks down upon him while he sleeps, she describes feeling a “soul-crushing love. So her soul crawled out from its hiding place” (122). It is interesting that she does not use the typical imagery of pollinated haze to describe a joyous love embrace or an ecstatic shiver (11). Instead the love she feel is one that crushes with its embrace. Therefore, her soul cannot gaily frolic out from its hiding place. Her soul, so crushed by the weight of her love for Tea Cake, can do nothing but crawl out from its hiding place. This suggests a lack of willfulness. Perhaps it was only the crushing that squeezed it out in the first place.
Through Tea Cake we see the reemergence of tangled bodies of relationships and are introduced to a complicated matter of intimacy. In chapter 15, Janie learns how jealousy feels. She believes that Tea Cake is cheating and confronts him with a blow. We then see them fighting from room to room. All the while, Janie is flailing and Tea Cake is holding her wrists in restraint. They continue, tangled, until their clothes are ripped away and Tea Cake hurls Janie onto the floor. In this passage we see and eroticism of their violent struggle. We also see a quagmire between want and volition. Saidiya Hartman examines this perplex in her work looking at racial justifications for the sexual subjugation slave women. In this violent encounter, the “language of passion expresses the essential conflation of force and feeling” (Hartman 79). However, during slave era there was a defined evil—the slave holder. In the climate of the novel, there is no defined evil outside of the slave system. Tea Cake holds her down until her resistance is melted away. They continue, tangled, doing with their bodies what cannot be expressed with words (Hurston 132). Is this a desired sexual encounter or is this seductive duress? We see the same conversation popping up in nineteenth century theory, through the work of Pamela Haag. It seems the conversation is unfinished through the unspoken norms in Tea Cake and Janie’s relationship.This portion of text illuminates the “evocatively ambiguous relations of power” between Janie and Tea Cake under which an imperfect choice was made (Haag 3). If she had continued to struggle, the reality would have been rape. The melting of resistance gives a space to Janie to refuse the existence of forced coercion. The sex they engage in is full of passion, not force, so Janie can make the dream of passionate love her truth.
The struggle continues. In this case it is man versus animal: Tea Cake versus a dog. This is during the hurricane that drives them to higher ground. After falling into flood water, Janie latches onto a cow to avoid drowning. There is a vicious dog on the cow and she is in danger of being bitten. Tea Cake dives into the water and rushes to her rescue. The dog was strong and Tea Cake was exhausted. Tea Cake was unable to kill the dog with one stab of the knife, but the dog was also unable to free himself from Tea Cake’s grip. They fought in a tangled mess, with the dog’s teeth in Tea Cake’s flesh and Tea Cake’s knife in the dog’s flesh. They are eventually separated when the dog dies, leaving Tea Cake with what will eventually become a mortal wound (Hurston 157).
The struggle of entanglement concludes when Tea Cake is consumed by rabies. He becomes as blood-thirsty as the dog that bit him. Inside of him was a need to kill. Unfortunately, Janie was the only living thing in his sight. She was forced to shoot him and as he crashed toward the floor, Janie lunged to catch him. As the two bodies came together, Tea Cake sinks his teeth into Janie’s flesh and they crash to the ground a tangled mess (175). Interconnectedness, as we see it in this novel, addresses the need of reliance upon another person. It is safety in numbers and it is circumstance binding people and things together, for better or worse.
The conclusion of the book echoes the metaphorical sentiments of the beginning. Janie says that she has been to the horizon and back. She has served to embody the dreams of Tea Cake and she sailed in just as the sun was setting on his horizon. In the end, “she pulled in her horizon like a great fish-net…so much of life in its meshes” (184). . She had so much life in her fish-net’s meshes, so she pulled it in. She was not watching the horizon, dotted with ships at a distance which forever hold the dreams of men. Instead, she remembered Tea Cake because he was everything that she did not want to forget. She beckoned her soul back inside for the last time. Then there was peace and the dream was the truth.
In conclusion, by analyzing pollen, entanglement and inner self we are witness to the distinct differences between men and women in regard to personal agency. Men wish upon ships at a distance; while women accept the facts. This puts men in the position of being blameless victims; while women seem to be more responsible for their hardship. These diverging perspectives cause ambiguity: who is the oppressor and who is the victim? The ambiguous state of blame serves to inform the relationships of tension between men and women throughout the novel. In the end, Janie discovers herself and she represents the journey required of women during that time period. Hurston’s words describe a tale of self-discovery, but what is left unsaid details the difficult road of collective discovery for women in the post-slave era.

I'm hoping this maintains or boosts my GPA as opposed to bring it down. This class has been the most challenging for me in regard to meeting my professor's expectations. Overall, I have good feelings about it.

In other news, I auditioned for a UW production...
I'll find out in the next day or two whether I get a part or not. I actually don't know whether I have the time for the production in my schedule next quarter. So, if I do get a part, I'm hoping I don't get three. During the audition, they asked me to talk about my vagina to see if I would get squeamish. I think what I said made them blush. I suppose this could be good or bad. Either I'm just bold enough or a bit too bold. Anyway, it will work out either way. I mostly just wanted to remember how fun it is to audition for a play again.
Good night and Happy Festivus!