Thursday, April 22, 2010

Reality TV: The New Society

I am not sure about a modern “Edith Wharton” author, but in modern medial there are hordes of television shows that capture the same emotion and style of Wharton. Shows such as Gossip Girl, Sex in the City, and even Desperate House Wives are just a handful of examples. The attraction to these shows is that they expose the “dark side” of society, a seemingly flawless hyper-reality. Shows about people with money often reveal characters that are very put together and have everything on the outside, but turning inside reveals depression, anger, and bitterness.
The reflection of Wharton’s writings in popular media is almost laughable. Something that was extremely scandalous and shocking during the nineteen-hundreds is viewed as normal and expected today. The connection between society back then and now is very similar. Everyone wants to be in the select few to be considered “society” but the rules and constraints are still in place. They are extremely different, but what you own and how much money you have is still the driving factor.
In my research about The Age of Innocence I discovered that Gossip Girl had an episode entitled “The Age of Dissonance” where a theatrical production of The Age of Innocence was put on by the characters. In this case there is so much connection to Wharton that they styled the show after her writings. The creation of magical women who are beautiful and seemingly have everything in the world, and yet are not happy, is very appealing and allows a person to become lost in the drama of the story.
I personally question the effects this type of media has on society. I feel that the majority of the time people with money do not act like the women living the “Sex in the City” life, drinking cosmopolitans, having promiscuous relationships, and ignoring the responsibilities of life to go shopping. It creates a false reality (interesting in a world of “reality TV) where the extreme becomes normal.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Gerber and Twain

The Book that I used for my PrĂ©cis is called Mark Twain by John C. Gerber. A known historian on the subject of Mark Twain, Gerber has edited several revisions of Twain’s works such as The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. I looked at a chapter in his book about the adventures Twain went on himself and how they influenced his writings. It did not directly correlate to Puddi’nhead Wilson, but I did find it very interesting in Twain’s travels through the American West and how much he desired travel.
Gerber relates Twain’s travels through the American West and the different groups he ran into on the way. He had several interactions with Native Americans and even made a stop off in Salt Lake City to visit the Mormons living in the area. Gerber also said that although his travels were true, in his writings some of the stories were fabricated to entice buyers to purchace his travel books. I found the use of the source interesting. It showed that Twain was not satisfied with only writing the stories, he needed to live them. Learning the information about the fabrications has opened my eyes to the validity of Twain’s works, I wonder how much was made up for sensationalism and how much actually happened. I plan on using this source again for my paper; I am interesting in the influences of Mark Twain. Although Twain was not directly influenced for Puddi’nhead Wilson by his western travels he was fascinated in science and new ideas, which were inspired by his other travels. I hope to find out more about these inspirations and hopefully find this influences for the use of fingerprinting in Puddi’nhead Wilson.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Silent Perfection

I enjoyed watching Greed today. I have always been intrigued by early film and the techniques they employed to convey emotion and meaning. Watching a silent movie is like reading the writings of William Shakespeare, it is extremely difficult to grasp the meaning if you have not done it very much. Our society has been corrupted with “instant gratification” in regards to movies. We expect explosions a quick plot line, and even plotlines that are complicated have a standard of keeping up the interest of the audience. Instead of action and dialogue actors used Melodrama.
Melodrama is the term most people associate with a silent films. The over acting and extreme facial expressions often get a comedic reaction to modern audiences, but it is important to remember that melodrama is how emotion was conveyed. Norris wrote McTeague in the fashion of a melodrama. His characters are at the extremes of the spectrum, Mac with his larger than life frame and Trina with her innocents. The beauty of classic film is that you have to wait and stay active in the story. Greed did a wonderful job of connecting to McTeague, in my opinion better than a modern film could.
I have considered, however, if there was a movie made in the last twenty years that would compare to the plot line of Greed. Any ideas?

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Genetics and Iola Leroy

Faces of America is a show on PBS that demonstrates the new advances in genetic testing. A person’s heritage can be traced by using just a sample of their saliva. The show raises some interesting questions, some of which we have been discussing in our classes. Some of these are what makes a person’s culture? Is it where he/she is raised or how he/she is raised. One example was with Eva Longoria, a famous Latina actress who is very proud of her heritage. Before being shown her genetic makeup she was very confident that her “pie chart” would show her being seventy percent Mexican, twenty percent White, and Ten percent “other”. Her results revealed that she was indeed seventy percent white. This shocked her and when asked what she thought about the results she said that it sort of changes how she feels about her Mexican heritage. Even after being raised thinking she was a certain race, and identifying her whole life as one “type” of person she questioned her identity.
This reminded me of the “one drop” mentality in Iola Leroy. Although the racial discrimination has been removed from the majority of our society it still matters what group you identify with. Iola, like Miss Longoria, even after being raised to think, act, and identify with a group of people, in an instant of revelation questions identity. I am certain that if genetic testing existed during the days of the civil war it would have been used to marginalize people even more.
One interesting fact on people’s mentality is changed for the better is with those who did not discover any “ethnic” heritage. In Steven Colbert’s “pie chart” he was shown that he was one hundred percent “white man” and he was disappointed. He was hoping for some form of ethnic descent. This would not have been the case in the days of Iola Leroy, I am glad that time and equality has changed this fact.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Twain and Beatty

If I was to choose a modern book to represent the tone and sarcasm of Mark Twain’s Pudd’nhead Wilson it would be Paul Beatty’s The White Boy Shuffle. I equate Beatty’s character of Gunner to Twain’s character of Chambers with their relation of mistaken identity. Gunner is an African American boy who is raised in a white middle class community. All of his friends are white, his interests reflect those of a “white boy”, and he talks and walks like as if he is white. Chambers is in a similar, yet ironically opposite situation. He is a white boy raised as if he is African American; he talks like as if he is African American, treats others as if they are better than him, and relates to the African American community he is raised by.

Gunner’s mother sees that he thinks he is white and moves their family to the “ghetto” so he can learn who he is. Gunner experiences a lot of anxiety when faced with the “reality” of who he is and what he is expected to do as a “black man”. He is forced into sports stereotypically associated with African Americans, and little by little his “White Boy Shuffle” is conditioned out of him.

Contrasting that with Chambers, who after discovering he is not a slave is forced into the life of a white heir. There is not a lot of detail with how his life ends up, but Twain does make mention of the difficulties he faces with his new life, and how unhappy he is for the rest of his life.

The comparison between these two men is very similar, even though they are in opposite situations. The fragments of racism and stereotypes are exposed through the paradoxes and irony Twain and Beatty use in their novels.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Great Paradox

The great Paradox of The Rise of Silas Lapham: Morality verses looking out for yourself.

I was really socked in class on Tuesday when I found myself saying very contradictory things about what is morally right and ethically right. It was a struggle deciphering why I could justify one action but not the other. I agreed with the majority of the class that Silas was correct in sticking true to his morality and not selling the worthless property because he knew it was wrong, but I also thought that Penelope was justified in her decision to discount Irene’s feelings and marry Tom. I had to ask myself, why is it morally right for Lapham to take the hit to make sure that no one gets hurt and why was I encouraging Penelope to not care about her sister’s feelings?
It comes down to the systems we have created for both business and moral obligations and in the book the characters break free of the system finding their true selves. In the business world the accepted norm is “dog eat dog” meaning who cares how you treat the other person as long as you get ahead? Lapham goes takes a stand against this by refusing to be dishonest by selling the land to Rogers. He refuses to follow the business standard and in doing so he discovers his voice and true character.
With Penelope, she has always been the quiet and meek individual fitting into the system accepted for women during the 1900s. She breaks free of this and gets her voice by potentially hurting her sister and doing what she wants. The radical idea reflects some of the rights women take for granted today in our modern society. The Rise of Silas Lapham is about finding your true voice, and morally they both make the best decisions for themselves.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

American Dream: How its Changed

Down With the Empire!

My first impressions of The Rise of Silas Lapham, were confusion. After reading books such as Blithedale Romance and Joaquin Murieta, where the focus was on the language and describing every little detail about everything surrounding the character, I was shocked to read The Rise of Silas Lapham. The focus is completely off the language and more on the characters and their experiences. I really benefited from the class discussion today when the point of differences between Brittan and the United States were brought up. We talked about how Realism, as opposed to Romanticism, is anti-aristocracy and pro-American Dream. I began to understand how the ideas of Eighteen Eighty-five, when the book was published, still reflected the hope of being separate from Brittan. The United States had only been in existence for a little over one hundred years, and was still feeling the influences of the once “oppressive” force.
Over the hundred years The United States had grown apart politically, there were attempts at separate economics; however socially society was still following the aristocracy system of worth. If you had old money you kept it in the family and married into other families of old money. Realists seemed to be breaking the mold, placing more value on what you did and not where you came from. This idea is what we as Americans refer to as “The American Dream” that anyone can make something of themselves if they try and work hard enough. It is interesting how in our society today there is still the importance of status regarding money, but it is still dependent on how you obtained the money. You are valued more as a citizen if you started off with nothing and built yourself up to being really successful. Realism was the gate through which this change took place. It will be interesting to finish this novel with the lens of today’s society and how things have shifted.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

During the time of Joaquin Murrieta the American West was undergoing severe changes. The “civilized” east coast was branching out into the wild frontier where the “law” as they understood it was irrelevant. The concept of justice for offenders and mercy for the good was not understood. The idea portrayed in the Joaquin Murrieta is that you need to take the law into your own hands, enabling the idea “survival of the fittest” and revenge solving all problems. The many fallacies of the American west were spread through many mediums during the late 1800s.
The romantic idea of the “wild west” was a ploy used by many corporations looking to raise money and secure the future of the area. The introduction of the rail road inspired a great deal of propaganda and trickery. The Union Pacific Railway, one of several companies, contracted artists to paint the land in a sublime style. Barren wastelands were transformed into lush rolling hills with vast valleys just waiting to be explored. The hope was that the people crammed into the cities would see the grand landscapes with open land and flowing water and come running. When settlers did arrive they did not find the land of milk and honey they were promised. Many lost their entire life savings relocating to a place based off of a lie.
Literature from this time also played a roll in the movement of workers to the American west. Romantic adventures tug on the heart strings of men wanting to do more with their lives. Tired of living the privileged lives, they relocated to the west looking to become true men. Owen Wister’s The Virginian, written about the same time period also plays on the concept of becoming a true man in the West. Novels such as The Virginian and Joaquin Murrieta demonstrate the a part of the American west, but they are not complete and accurate representations.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

When I started reading Blithedale Romance I was really frustrated with Hawthorn and all of the detail he included in his novel. As I went on I started understanding that, unlike some authors, he does not use as much dialogue to expose his characters. His dialogue does move the story along, but in Blithedale Romance paying attention to the physical things surrounding a character can be just as exposing.
I am really impressed with the way Hawthorn used the veils to describe the women characters, as well as foreshadow some key elements of the story. The story begins with Coverdale giving his description of the Veiled Lady. After speculating that she was a beautiful young lady with good family and a great fortune, he describes the veil. “It was white, with somewhat of a subdued silver sheen, like the sunny side of a cloud; and falling over the wearer, from head to foot, was supposed to insulate her from the material world…” p. 6 The wearer of the veil, as we come to know later in the novel, is Pricilla. Physically Pricilla is a delicate pale girl, who is described by Coverdale as one with a ghostly presence. Her delicate features and mannerisms are what the men in the current society are attracted to. In the end she ends up with not only the affection of Hollingsworth, but also the thoughts of Coverdale and is remembered last in the novel.
Contrast the white “innocent” veil Pricilla wears to the black veil Zenobia decidedly says she will wear after Hollingsworth chooses Pricilla over her. “When you next hear of Zenobia, her face will be behind the black-veil; so look your last at it now for all is over! Once more, farewell!” (p.227) Zenobia is strong and independent, which were not characteristics women were praised for having in that time period. Her affections are not returned by Hollingsworth which drives her to suicide. She takes on the “black veil” of death while Pricilla lives on still wearing her “white” veil of purity and meekness. I’m not sure if Hawthorn is trying to expose the problems of the societal expectations of women, or if he is reinforcing the standard by having Zenobia die in the end. I would be curious to see what people think.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Test Blog

Technology and I don't always get along, so setting up this blog was not only a first...but an exciting thing for me!