Thursday, January 31, 2008

Journal #3: “Good Country People”

Hulga is sure that she believes in nothing. Trapped in a house with a mother who treats her as a child and several “good country folk,” she sulks until she meets a bible salesman, Manley Pointer, who accepts her as she is and leads her on a wild chase, where he finally betrays her.

The main idea here is the concept of “nothing.” The story addresses this question in several ways, with dialogue with Mrs. Hopewell and Mrs. Freeman, Hulga’s futile task of getting her mother to see her as she really is, and Hulga’s unsuccessful attempt at seduction. Other important ideas are what is “good,” which is illustrated with Mrs. Hopewell’s overgeneralizations and then Manley’s wordplay of the word “good.”

My heart goes out to Hulga, not because I liked her particularly, but because she was so snobbish and intellectual that I had a feeling that she was going to get it at the end. Usually, I wouldn’t be able to stand such characters, but because of Mrs. Hopewell’s ambivalence towards her daughter and Mrs. Freeman’s cool black eyes, I felt sorry for her at once. It is interesting how her fake leg is described as where her soul is kept, and perhaps the reason why she is so resentful of everyone is that nobody seems to care. Her mother begs her to go on walks, ignoring her leg entirely, while Mrs. Freeman is curious about that leg, in a very creepy way. It seems like Manley Pointer is the one who was genuinely fascinated by it.

When Manley Pointer came in, my interest was piqued at once, because he did seem to be an angel in a way, since he was actually able to annoy Mrs. Hopewell and everyone else, yet they ended up liking him well enough in the end. I also figured that he would start a romance with Hulga, though I had no idea it would turn out like that.

It is interesting how Hulga imagined seducing him, saying, “She imagined that she took his remorse in hand and changed it into a deeper understanding of life. She took all his shame away and turned it into something useful.” In effect, this is what happens, but it happens to her, not him. Her firm belief in “nothing” is shattered, because he tears away her “soul” and she realizes that there is something after all.

My main question is, why is there such an emphasis put on Mrs. Freeman? I feel like I am missing something important here, because I can imagine this story occurring without her, yet she seems to play an important role. Also, besides comparing her daughters with Hulga, why do her daughters keep getting mentioned?

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Notes on "Good Country People"

The setting seems to be after cars and roads were built. Rural America?

Mrs. Freeman ---> name means something significant? Someone who is free to do what she wants. Could possibly be seen in a bad way.

Black eyes-- seems stubborn, dull. Avoids the point.

Mrs. Hopewell ---> a hopeful person, maybe falsely optimistic?

Joy ---> the name seems to contradict her character.

Mrs. Hopewell seems a bit too eager to explain how she met Mrs. Freeman. Perhaps Joy's grudges are reasonable?

Possible themes?

"Nothing is perfect."

"That is life!"

* "Well, other people have their opinions too."

Pacifist, appeaser character.

Mrs. Freeman seems to be intimidating Mrs. Hopewell.

Mrs. Hopewell is a tenant renter--maybe in the Southern America part?

Joy wants to be accepted as an equal to her mother. “If you want me, here I am – LIKE I AM.” Wants to be free of her situation.

Joy's legal name is Hulga. Mrs. Hopewell refuses to call her this--not accepting at all.

Mrs. Freeman is creepy--relishing in Hulga's leg. Vulture-like behavior.

Hulga---> Vulcan, Roman mythology.

“Woman! Do you ever look inside? Do you ever look inside and see what you are not? God!” she had cried sinking down again and staring at her plate, “Malebranche was right: we are not our own light. We are not our own light!”

Malebranche= French philosopher who believed that God was active in every aspect of our world. Possible reference may be that we need God to be our light -- we cannot have hope by ourselves. "Malebranche argued that human knowledge is dependent on divine understanding in a way analogous to that in which the motion of bodies is dependent on divine will." -- Wikipedia

"That was something that had ended with the Greeks and Romans." <--- Hulga = Vulcan

Mrs. Hopewell thinks Hulga is dealing with un-Christian ideas.

The bible salesman! Possible love interest for Hulga?

“I know you believe in Chrustian service." <--- Chrustian? Possibly a drawl.

He has a heart condition. Could he be lying?

Haha, Joy and the bible salesman... what is his name? Salt of the Earth. English idiom: "People who are salt of the earth are decent, dependable and unpretentious."

The exact meaning of the expression salt of the earth is disputed, in part because salt had a wide number of uses in the ancient world. There are several different possibilities for the originally intended meaning of the salt metaphor:
Exodus, Ezekiel, and Kings present salt as a purifying agent
Leviticus, Numbers, and Chronicles present it as a sign of God's covenant.
The most important use of salt was as a preservative and hence the most common interpretation of the metaphor is as asserting the duty to preserve the purity of the world.
In the Rabbinic literature of the period salt was a metaphor for wisdom.
Salt was a minor but essential ingredient in fertilizer and so a few scholars such as Gundry believe that earth should be translated as soil (i.e. salt of the soil), and hence the metaphor asserts that the audience should help the world grow and prosper.
One interpretation of salt of the earth is that it orders the audience to take part in the world rather than withdraw from it

We still don't know his name. He's so awkward though. I sort of like him.

"It was like losing her own life and finding it again, miraculously, in his." <--- Christianity? Symbolizing Jesus, maybe?

Uhhh... yeah. He just stole her leg. That's slightly kinky.

And Mrs. Hopewell has got to be joking. She is the essence of simplicity.

And his name is apparently Manley Pointer. Weeeird... why didn't I catch that before?

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Journal #2: “Seeing the 100% Perfect Girl”

In the story “On Seeing the 100% Perfect Girl One Beautiful April Morning,” a man sees a girl who he knows is 100% right for him, and lets her walk past, too tongue-tied to speak with her the words he is meaning to say.

At first, I hated the story with a deep and burning passion. It was too simplistic, I hated the main character since he seemed such a wimp, and I didn’t like the girl either, because of the way she was described; the main character seemed to be astounded that he didn’t objectify her the way he usually did with women. All the characters seemed to be completely shallow characters.

Nor did I like the fairy tale. His assumption seemed to be that there was somebody who is 100% perfect for him and thus would always be always be 100% perfect for him, except that didn’t seem to be the case. If they were still 100% perfect for each other, then why wouldn’t they meet happily because they would love each other 100%? Or was there something more? The title suggested this as it seemed too complex, too mathematically precise for a story as bare as this, so perhaps this story symbolized something else that, for the first reading I didn’t get.

A couple of things of the reading intrigued me: the title and the constant use of the percentage 100%; the repeated sentence where he describes himself as going west to east and her going east to west; and the fairy tale.

The fairy tale was the first thing that I probed into. It seemed too simple, but one sentence stuck out for me: “One winter, both the boy and the girl came down with the season's terrible influenza, and after drifting for weeks between life and death they lost all memory of their earlier years.” This suggests some form of reincarnation, which means that the story turns from what is said to a whole new religious level. Instead of being two people who randomly meet again, they meet again after several lifetimes, which would make the story more realistic and would make their confusion so much more tragic. Instead of embracing each other, realizing that they are meant for each other, they avoid each other, too afraid to speak out, too afraid to recognize the other.

If they are reincarnated, it hints of the divine, which brings the attention to the directions, with him going west to east and her going east to west. The first thing I thought of was the sun and moon. The sun and moon go opposite directions from each other. So according to the story, the girl would be the sun (going east to west) and the narrator would be the moon (going west to east). At first I was confused, because in mythology, usually the woman is the moon goddess and a man is the sun god, but after a quick look at Japanese mythology, I found that it was the other way around--there is the sun goddess, Amaterasu, and the moon god, Tsukuyomi.

This discovery brought forth exciting new prospects, and I, being the scientist I am, immediately thought of astronomy. What if this was a poetic metaphor describing a solar eclipse? The story is set in Japan in April 1981, so I quickly looked for any solar eclipses in that year. It turned out there was a total solar eclipse that occurred on July 31, right over Japan, though it wasn’t the April date I had hoped for. Still, the story was written in 1993, so maybe the author used poetic license instead. After all, in late March, early April, the cherry trees blossom, which is a huge event in Japan. During these months, there are celebrations of Sakura where people simply relax and enjoy each other’s company. The cherry blossom also holds interesting symbolism which Wikipedia describes as, “the transience of life because of their [cherry trees] short blooming times.” So, from being a metaphor of the solar eclipse, this becomes an event where the divine meet each other in a moment of peace and celebration, just briefly, and then fade away, only to have a blurry feeling of disconnect with each other and the world. So the gods can never connect with each other and everything fades away in monotony. The sun disappears into her people, the Earth, and the moon desperately looks after her, aware that he will never catch up with her as she goes from the east to the west. She is disappearing as a sunset. The “cosmic miracle” he has described is never long-lasting.

This symbolism sounded good initially, but it had to connect with other parts of the story to make sense. Already, we can see that numbers place a very important part of this story and they carry a certain weight. In the fairy tale, the narrator describes that it is fourteen years before they will meet up again--so they would have first met in 1967. A quick look at eclipse confirms that there was a total solar eclipse in November 1967, except instead of occurring over Japan, it occurred over Antarctica and could barely be seen by anyone. This gives the fairy tale an even more dreamlike quality. There is a cliché that says, “If a dog barks in a forest, is he making a sound?” Because nobody sees the sun and moon in meeting together in a total eclipse, are they really meeting? And, as they seem to be living in different lifetimes, then it gives their meeting more uncertainty, that quality heightened by the fact that the story is told as a fairy tale.

After all that research, the second rereading seemed much more fuller and I actually liked it. Instead of the story being about a man who loses his perfect girl, the story transforms into a story about a man who has a chance encounter with the divine after he lost it for fourteen years, just as he hit puberty. As he watches it for only a brief instance, he longs for an encounter with the divine, an intangible substance which he can barely recognize, save for the fact that it wasn’t pretty and it burned him so that his chest ached and his mouth grew dry. But as he grows tongue-tied trying to think of the proper words, the divine leaves him, slipping into the world as he stares, trying desperately to find it and wanting it more than ever. A sad story, don’t you think?

Monday, January 28, 2008

Freewrite on "Seeing the 100% Perfect Girl"

I don't like writing in my books. I hate it in fact. Whenever I write something physically in my books, my eye will constantly wander from my bad handwriting to the typed pages until I forget what I am reading. If I type, I don't have that problem. So I'm typing instead. :P

These are my thoughts as I read Haruki Murakami's "On Seeing the 100% Perfect Girl One Beautiful April Morning." They will be disjointed and weird, but whatever. They are simply notes to myself.


Geep! We're in Tokyo! Big cultural gap, anyone?

This guy is lame. I mean, I know I am shallow and everything, but he didn't really he see her or anything, and yet she was perfect for him? WHY??? And what does he want to do with her? Not sex or anything like that like you would expect (think: 1984 with Winston, the first thing he wanted to do with Julie was rape her--not very nice, but still). He wants to talk to her about fate. Fate. There was this commercial on the radio that "summarized" Serendipity" and it consisted of this annoying female voice saying ever couple seconds or so, "It must be fate!" It annoyed me to no end. That is why I remember it so vividly.

So... I think the other guy the MC was talking to was obviously more of the Winston-type.

There is another thing that this is reminding me so far. There was this one random unicorn short story I read (a really weird one... the unicorn got gang-raped in the end... O_o) but it had to do with two ghosts meeting each other who were condemned to hell, unless they could work something out. Each had the opposite sin--an excess in love/lust for one and an excess of abstinence for the other--and they had to mingle together, to love each other fully and without any reservation. T'was interesting. The main character in that was also sort of a wimp, but at least he was a more forceful wimp.

Moving on!

AHA! SO HE DOES WANT SEX! Maybe he has more balls than I thought he did. Though he says, "we might end in bed." With his show of manliness, that may just mean Parcheesi. Hmmm...

Yay for bad one-liners?

And now she's gone! That may be a good thing. GOD, HE IS SUCH A WIMP.

A fairy tale. Oh god, he needs to grow up. I mean, seriously. A fairy tale? Obviously I am totally not the 100% Perfect Girl for him because I would probably laugh in his face or give him a really, really, really weird look and I would have made him fall in pieces. Hehehe, pieces... like the Backstreet Boys. <3


The fairy tale was lame. Seriously. He's glossing over so many things that it is quite unbearable. The first assumption seems to be that there is somebody who is 100% perfect for you, and thus will always be 100% perfect for you. But obviously that CAN'T BE THE CASE. If they were still perfect for each other, then they would meet each other happily, because they would love each other 100%. Or is this the case? Let's think about this. They left each other, though they both "knew" that they were 100% perfect for each other. There must be something important with the title, with the 100%. It might be a play on numbers, since literary folks sometimes make fun of math. :P Hmmmmmm...

So! What it could mean is that love is not certain. That you can't quantify it and that you can't say, "This person is 100% for me, because that will just backfire. Because it can't be quantified.

A question: Do the Japanese people believe in reincarnation? If that is the case, which I think it might be (I've forgotten) then this story can have an interesting dynamic to it, so that they might have met in a different life. This fairy tale, admittedly, could be turned into a myth. What emphasizes this fact is that the humans seem to be forgotten gods, in a way. "She's walking east to west, and I west to east." That sentence implies that she is the sun goddess and he is the moon god. A quick look up on Japanese mythology proves that this seems to be a correct statement: the sun goddess is a lady named Amaterasu and the moon god is Tsukuyomi.

This brings really really exciting new prospects. Maybe this is not just a stupid story about a man meeting a lady and then quickly going away. Maybe this is a metaphor, something poetic to describe a solar eclipse! Upon another quick look up, I found that there *was* a total solar eclipse that was visible in 1981--but it was in July. Still, the story was written in 1993, so maybe there was some poetic license involved. Doing some more research, I find that in April, the cherry trees blossom! This is very very important to Japan and it is a time where people simply relax and enjoy each other's company. The cherry tree blossom also holds interesting symbolism. Wikipedia says, "In Japan, cherry blossoms symbolize the transience of life because of their short blooming times." So, from being a metaphor of a solar eclipse, this becomes an event where the divine meet each other in a moment of peace and celebration, just briefly, and then fade away, only to have a blurry feeling of disconnect with each other. So the gods do not connect with each other and everything just fades away, in monotony.

However, this symbolism doesn't quite connect with some things. The narrator of this story seems to be very simple, and the way he describes the woman, as a lover fourteen years ago, didn't quite make sense. This story would have to be significant, in order for the author to write so many words about it. A quick look up on solar eclipses confirms that at least that part makes sense -- there was a total solar eclipse in 1967, one which nobody could see. In the story, such a meeting might not have existed, and in reality, this total solar eclipse would have been not really cared for, so this lines up with the story. They met up in another place, another time, so that no one but they would see.

Another interesting thought, from Wikipedia, detailing Amaterasu and Tsukuyomi:

After climbing a celestial ladder, Tsukuyomi lived in the heavens, also known as Takamagahara, with his sister Amaterasu, the sun goddess.

Tsukuyomi angered Amaterasu when he killed Uke Mochi, the goddess of food. Amaterasu once sent Tsukuyomi to represent her at a feast presented by Uke Mochi. The goddess made the food by turning to the ocean and spitting out a fish, then facing the forest and game came out of her mouth, and finally turned to a rice paddy and coughed up a bowl of rice. Tsukuyomi was utterly disgusted by the fact that, although it looked exquisite, the meal was made in a disgusting manner, and so he killed her.

Soon, Amaterasu learned what happened and she was so angry that she refused to ever look at Tsukuyomi again, forever moving to another part of the sky. This is the reason that day and night are never together. In later versions of this myth, Uke Mochi is killed by Susanoo.

They will never meet.

Okay, enough! Now, to get this organized...

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Journal #1

Responding to Literature

For pages 3-6, the most important idea is that reading critically is important, not only to grasp some of the more hidden meanings, but also to make reading a fulfilling experience.

Other important ideas that this section makes is that literature can show us the world around us in a different light, from different cultural, historical, and social perspectives, which can help us understand our world more and give us a richer meaning to our lives. With that said, reading cannot be a passive pastime. When reading, the reader must constantly be aware of the feelings that he experiences, of the thoughts that bubble up, no matter how insignificant they seem to be, because they will show him connections between the fiction and reality and make him aware of the larger reality that his experience alone would not compensate for.

This reminds me of something my physics teacher said. In the first class this semester, he said that there had been a study done on creative people, and one thing that they found consistent in their results, no matter what field the people specialized in, the people who showed the most creativity were the ones who could pull something that they observed or experienced before and apply it to something else, where the connection was not so obvious. So in a way, learning from literature and paralleling it with our own lives and experiences is a lesson in creativity and, as the video we first saw in this class, creativity is the driving force of our world today. By reading literature critically, we are helping ourselves by training our creativity to flourish and in the long run, we’ll help ourselves because of this.

Several questions did occur to me, but mostly the questions pertained to the author. He introduces his essay by defending literature, calling it relevant, as if this is a debate, and then he begins to discuss expanding the literary canon. Except the way he presents this literary canon, the great works of the world seem to be frozen in space and every great work is divided into cultural categories. You cannot be well read if you only read English literature--you must also read other work by other cultures to get a better picture of the spectrum of cultures. This doesn’t really jive with what I know. As a girl, I studied mythologies all over the world and I have found that we share many of the same stories, and that many cultures have developed stories that are very similar to other cultures without being exposed to those other cultures. Since much literature follows the lead of these mythologies, I have to wonder: is the author referring to the stories or the way the stories are written when he talks about being exposed to different cultures?

Writing about Literature

For pages 36-40, the most important idea is that it’s not enough to have reactions to what we’re reading--we must record them as well.

Other important ideas that this section makes is that upon reading a great piece, a plethora of intangible emotions and experiences will begin to bubble out, but these feelings and memories won’t necessarily make any sense or be meaningful unless we organize it in a meaningful way to us.

This reminds me very much of web-blogs. I have about seven web-blogs scattered across the internet, and very often, if something stressful happens to me, I will write about it in one of these web-blogs. At first, when I first start writing a new web-blog entry, it’ll feel like my thoughts are spiraling out of control, but then as I start writing, my thoughts seem to become just as concrete as the words I am typing up. This is because these thoughts that occurred to me become vocalized and now they are not mere wisps of feeling but tangible thoughts. George Orwell wrote that clear language and clear thinking go hand in hand with each other. Clear thinking cannot happen all the time, but by using clear language to describe these vague thoughts, we can transform these muddled thoughts into clear ones and make sense out of our own lives.

Since books are extensions of our own experiences, it is only natural that we should write about the feelings that occur to us as we read and react to literature. Currently, I am reading The Great Gatsby, and I know that there have been several times already that I wanted to slam the book in the wall, not because I hated it, but because events occurred that I knew weren’t right. For instance, in the beginning, there is a scene that seemed creepy to me, but I didn’t know why at first. The scene was during the meeting of Nick and Daisy, and everything is moving in the house--the white curtains the pictures, even the furniture--and it’s almost like Nick is holding his breath because he doesn’t want to move anything more. There are only two things in the room that aren’t moving--the two women, Jordan and Daisy. Instead of moving, they’re just frozen there, unaware of the tempest that is going around them. I didn’t realize why the scene was creepy at first, but as I began to write about the scene, I realized that the reason I thought it was creepy was because everything is moving in the house in such a fury that it seems like everything is alive--except for the women. They are dead to everything. So the curtains wave around and suddenly they seem to be ghosts, haunting a gaudy, empty home full of unmoving, empty people.

The only question that really occurred to me about this short passage was a question from the line that said, “...some critics argue that the reader can never fully recover the writer’s purpose.” As an as-of-yet unpublished novelist, I can say that some of my intentions for the story changed as I wrote and rewrote it, simply because as a human, I have changed as well. In fact, some of my perceptions of my story changed because of the different reactions that my test readers had to the story. So I ask those critics: is it possible for the writer to ever fully recover his purpose?

Obligatory First Post

So, this is the place that my English journal will be put online. Beautiful? I think so!

Hopefully the other entries will be more enlightening...