What is an identity? How is it formed? Who are we, really? In Jean Rhye’s “The Day They Burned the Books” these questions are asked. The main character, a young inter-racial boy, faces an identity crisis, and struggles to relate to his father until after his death. His father, a white British man, has a resentful relationship with the boy’s mother, a black Caribbean woman who holds her cultural values very strongly while, Eddie, the young boy relates more to his mother and her Caribbean culture and world perspective. This was a large contributor to the tension between his father and his mother.
When his father dies Eddie begins to gravitate to his father’s books. He finds answers and clues to another part of his identity that he had not known existed. This eventually lead to him finding meaning is his British heritage. Outraged his mother burns the books, as she sees them as a symbol of oppression. In her mind she was protecting her son. Eddie did not see it this way. He had found a connection to his father and found that he actually identified more strongly with his white British father.
We do things out of fear so much that we sometimes don’t even realize the actions we are taking are in response to not understanding something fully. That’s what fear is, the lack of knowledge. There are those who will prey on that fear. They do this to gain control. Governments, political groups and protesters or activists have burnt books of literature, pictures, bras, and albums of music to make political and religious statements. I can draw connections with the divisive tale in this text to modern times and current affairs in our nation and around the world. We face issues dealing with identity and race today, even in America.
Reading this short story brought to mind other losses of knowledge by fire. I immediately thought of the burning of the Alexandria Library in Roman times, rumored to be the work of Julius Caesar. I then thought about the book burnings in Nazi Germany. I then went to the memory of the country music group, The Dixie Chicks, and the ramifications of their lead singer making a political statement against the then President George W. Bush. All these examples we made in attempt to control the perception of others’ identity.
Then I thought about the times that this sort of thing brought about positive revolution in the way society sees things and itself. I thought about how women burnt bras in the 1970s as a part of the feminist movement, and how anti-war activists burnt heir draft cards is rebellion to the Vietnam Conflict.
We are all complex and made up of many different aspects of the world we live in today. When the author of “The Day They Burned the books,” Jean Rhys, was a young she faced the same sort of story found in this reading. This was at the turn of the century and times were different. People were not as connected as we are today. People didn’t have such an easy option for knowledge, and the unknown is scary, yet sometimes those who don’t know have the loudest voices and the strongest actions. In this day of information overload one would think that we as society could move past these divisive ideas, policies and ways of living. We have made strides in so many movements, but the revolution has just begun. We must own our identity and not allow any force to try and control that. We must also educate ourselves about the identity of others and live with acceptance in a world of inclusion. We must make a choice. Is this a crisis of identity, or an identity of one’s crisis?
Molly, a women questioning everything, is the main character in this excerpt of the novel “Ulysses” by James Joyce. As she lies down next to her husband her thoughts run wild and she asked question after question about life, love and motherhood. This excerpt deals with heavy sexual themes that varied from the sexual themes of the past.
Molly is lying in bed next to her husband thinking. I loved how the entire excerpt is her thinking to herself about the affair she has recently had, whether her husband loves her and the son she has lost. It was interesting to read and to put yourself there in someone else’s head.
When she began to compare her husband and the man she had an affair with it was clear that she felt very differently about them both. She really loved her husband, but the fire between them has seemed to go out. She decided to give him another try and test his love for her. By the end she decided that she will give him another try since her love for him is so strong.
I found the sexual themes so interesting because when thinking of women of that time it shows how women had begun to become liberated in so many ways, even sexually. This was the dawn of the modernist period and I think women had begun to have stronger feelings about their sexuality and stronger urges to express these feelings.
By this time in British history women had made so many advances, and for a woman to be able to read this novel it just shows how far women had come. Especially as the novel ends with this excerpt about a women discussing these themes inside her own mind. Women have always been sexual, but to want to be seen that way by their husbands may have been a new thing in this time. DO you think that this novel helped women feel more comfortable with their sexuality?
Thinking back to the years, prior to the release of T.S Eliot’s “The Wasteland” in 1922, that preceded World War I it evident that the themes of the day are presented in this dramatic poem. The themes of love, lust, death and new beginnings or rebirth are ever present in the text.
These themes shadow the post-war era in British society and can be found woven throughout the piece. After World War I British society had faced massive death and destruction, and the world had begun to change drastically. New technologies and social movements transformed the very fabric of daily life for the average citizen, and many felt disoriented and lost during this time.
Disoriented and lost is exactly how I felt while reading this poem. I found the way Eliot used themes, settings and time to be confusing. He abruptly changes scenes and thoughts making it harder to keep up with, but it was enjoyable all at the same time.
As society had begun to welcome home those who had been at war, it is understandable why Eliot made reference to this multiple times. The theme of lust is present a few different times. In the scene with the typist and in the pub scene when the husband wants his wife after returning from the war.
The pub scene was interesting as the bartender speaks about her friend Lil. She speaks about how Lil is only thirty-one and looks much older. Her friend Lil replies that her body is tired from the pills she has taken to carry out abortions. She mentioned she had gotten them from her “chemist” or pharmacist.
To me this just shows an even darker part of the post World War I society. I was totally unaware that abortion was a thing that long ago. That may be naive of myself, but it was an eye opener none the less. I suppose that many people felt so lost during this time that they couldn’t imagine bringing a new life into it. I think that looking at a time in history with so much change and chaos can be confusing, especially when reading text from that time. What themes did you find while reading T.S. Eliot’s “The Wasteland”, and did you find this text as hard to keep up with as I?
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is a story of a man looking for solace in a drug that gives him a glimpse of the man he didn’t know. The man that would ultimately lead to his demise. The man he met by looking in the mirror. His worst fear. As a society it seems we are always looking for a drug to cure that headache, make us smile, and even mask how we feel. That drug comes in many different forms and it isn’t always pretty when the effect wears off. The truth of the situation is most often times left exposed with the consequences devastating.
What I find fascinating about Robert Lewis Steven’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is how it illustrates the fact that we as humans are complex. We are emotionally complex. Our bodies are one of the most complex things to be in existence in this universe. Our society is complex, made up of multiple groups of people with different thoughts and feelings. Many different people of different nations, ethnicities, races, religions and social groups. During the time when Steven wrote this dark account, society had been through many struggles and changes. Women were beginning to stand up and speak out against men demanding equality. Religious groups campaigned for the regulation and legality of drugs, in particular the sale of alcohol. It was a dark time in society. Anytime there is a rift in the fabric of society experienced by rapid social change tensions rise and fear ripples through populations testing how the society sees itself.
This novella is most certainly inspired by some of these social situations that were so strongly approaching Victorian society. The fear of who we may meet if we travel down the dark road of looking within ourselves. We look for the drug to cure us because of our fear of who we will see if we look to closely in the mirror. Our minds have the capacity to reveal truths that are too dark to fathom and light that shines bright revealing our true character when dealing with these social topics. Everyone is really just secretly scared that if they met their selves, they wouldn’t say “Hi, I’m you.” “Nice to meet me!”
While reading The Defence of Guenevere by William Morris you get a glimpse into the world of Sir Lancelot and Queen Guenevere. I love diving into this fantasy world of Castles, Kings, Queens, and Knights. I could picture Guenevere sitting there about to speak and face her accusers and see the sweat rolling down her forehead as she pushes back her wet hair to finally speak for herself. Accused of adultery, Guenevere points out that her trial is ridiculous and reminds Sir Gawain that his mother was also accused of the same thing.
As Guenevere defends herself against the accusations made by Sir Gawain you are able to see a women standing up and defending her actions even though it may not be the easiest thing to do. I think Queen Guenevere represents a strong woman, but that the act of standing up in front of the King’s Knights and standing her ground while defending herself would have been a difficult task even for the strongest of women of her time.
Around the time William Morris wrote this dramatic monologue, women had begun to gain more rights and even stand up for what they believed in. It is possible to think that the strength Guenevere portrayed may have had some impact on women of the 1800’s and may have foreshadowed the Women’s Suffrage Movement that was soon to begin. Morris used this fantasy world to discuss topics that may have not been socially acceptable to openly discuss. By setting his story in a different time he was able to discuss themes that were on the minds of women and men of the time. As strong women characters and the topics of sexuality began to be more freely wrapped in the themes of different text of the time it may have helped to advance society where women and sexuality are concerned. Sometimes it only takes standing up and speaking your mind to start a revolutionary movement that could grow bigger than anything you could ever imagine.
Who are we, really?
While reading “Jenny” by Dante Gabriel Rossetti I was fascinated with similarity I saw unfolding in the text with the description of the man’s emotion toward Jenny, the prostitute, and the emotion I see many people experiencing today in so many ways. It is more of a confusion or a blurry understanding of morals.
The man in Jenny’s room lying there watching her sleeping and pondering what her thoughts may be as she falls asleep is drawn in by what he can see on the outside, her beauty. He is torn between what he lusts after and what he finds to be a worthy or proper woman. I think we, in this day and age, have many of the same struggles with how we feel about many aspects of our lives. One could make the comparison between the apparent themes in “Jenny” and the things in our society that we love to hate or maybe the things we hate to love.
Take for instance how today we hold woman to a standard of beauty that is unattainable by most common people, yet when woman do attain this beauty they are many times stereotyped as “dumb”, “slutty”, or “bitchy.” It seems to me that just as the man wondering why he loved something he knew was of a lesser class, we as a society do the same when we expect gender roles to be stereotypical. We love to build women up and then knock them down just as fast, and once we have knocked them down we make them feel unworthy. I see this in reality television shows, on the internet, and in films.
Woman are forced to portray a certain role to please society. The man in the story, as perplexed as he was, couldn’t understand why Jenny had become what she had. He couldn’t understand why he loved her. He only saw two roles for women. This was evident as he described woman, who were living up to the societal standards of the time, as roses, and then described Jenny as a rose closed in a book between pages. I felt this was a symbol of the restraints put on woman of the time. Men worked and studied books, and women were either roses sitting in vase on their desk or unworthy objects only to be admired or to used by men as they shut them up between pages. We, as a society, have come a long way over the years in the way we view women, but there are still stereotypical roles that women must fall into to even be accepted or acknowledged in society.
Yes, Jenny was a prostitute. She was beautiful. She was admired. She was loathed. And she was just a woman. My question is, when will we all just be categorized as human?
I'm a literature fan and communication student at Wright State University in Ohio. I am fascinated by history and advancements of different societies. I will use this blog to analyse the advancement of British society from the Victorian period through modern times. It will be interesting to see how certain text helped to push society along. How closely do we relate to people living throughout this time period? I'd love to hear your thoughts!