Thursday, October 28, 2010

Prison Pain

In "The Cross of Soot," Albert Wendt, in his capacity as a storyteller, demonstrates the ability of a tattoo to strengthen a "friendship a culture [one] admires," a concept he talks about in his essay "Tatuing the Postcolonial Body" (409). In "Soot," the unnamed boy clearly holds respect and feels affection for the inmates of the prison he regularly visits. Because he is able to enter the prison grounds merely by burrowing under the fence surrounding it, the boy has been able to regularly "cross...from" the civilian "world" to that of the incarcerated. This ability blurs a social divide which seems much more immovable in our culture between the criminal, who in being imprisoned is to a large degree ostracized from society, and the supposedly free citizen. Whereas in this country there are numerous barriers, both physical and bureaucratic, to be passed before the prisoner and non-prisoner can come into communion with one another, in "Soot" the boy largely disregards both the material and civil indicators which attempt to demarcate him as a different kind of person than those who live behind the barbwire fence.

Throughout his interactions with the prisoner known only as "the man," as well as in his conversations with Samasoni and Tagi, the boy repeatedly attempts to show that he is an integrated member of the jail community. In bragging about how he has been taught to roll up cigarettes, in pretending to know what rape is, and in lying to Samasoni after he has been knocked down by an aggressive inmate even though his initial inclination is to "cry," the boy exhibits his desire to be esteemed at the same level of prowess as his imprisoned friends (14). Simultaneously, the fact that he feels the need to make these shows of strength underlines his and the reader's understanding that the boy is perpetually at an emotional distance from the prisoners because he does not share their experience of the horrors of life, and of the guilt that comes from having committed some of those horrors. The old man and Tagi must "control" the "pain [they are] feeling" because they know it is a pain the boy does not understand (9). Similarly, the boy is able to joke with the policeman in a way the prisoners cannot, because he has not made the mistakes which would lead him to fear or avoid contact with law enforcement.

In being tattooed by Tagi, the boy comes to have a better understanding of pain, and is therefore able to strengthen his "friendship connection" with the prisoners while -- as Rosie talked about -- like "Jesus," remaining innocent of a crime (409; 20). He is still not fully a part of the prison community, his unfinished tattoo acting as a reminder of the crimes which Tagi has committed and he has not However, the boy has shared an experience with his friends which deepens his bond with them.


Readings and conversations about prison life in Drew Leder's HN280: The Modern World.

Prejean, Helen. Dead Man Walking.

Internal Tattoos

As we travel to distant places we all struggle to find our place within foreign lands. At times, we all may be confronted with feelings of awkwardness, uneasiness, and confusion. However, as Wendt demonstrates within his works “Tatauing the Post- Colonial Body” and “ The Cross of Soot,” as human beings we all have the ability to submerge ourselves and be accepted within a world different than our own. In both of his works, Wendt uses the tattooing process to symbolize how travelers can embark on an external journey and come out of it tattooed internally.

Within his work “Tatauing the Post-Colonial Body,” Wendt writes “many non-Samoans have been tataued. It is incorrect to think that you cannot be tataued unless you are Samoan or connected by blood and title to Samoan aiga” (408). Later, he builds upon this point when he writes of Elsie Bach, an older woman who was one of the most successful volunteers the nation had ever seen. Throughout her time spent in Samoa, she marked her connection to the land on her body when she accepted her malu tattoo. As Wendt writes, “the malu was the bloodletting that allowed her to be connected to Samoa, to aiga, a culture she admired” (409). As Bach let the ink onto her body, she also allowed herself to fully become a part of the Samoan culture. Through her service, Bach broke down all feelings of “other-ness” and crossed any cultural lines that may have existed. Although she eventually returned to America, her tattoo marks her external journey, which changed her life for the better.

Similar to Bach, the young boy in “The Cross of Soot” travels into a world different than his own. As he spends his days at the prison, the young boy learns about the community and becomes apart of it. He knows when he should act, when he should keep quiet, and when he should ask questions. However, although he is aware that he is a “foreigner,” the boy continuously makes an effort to connect with the members of the community. In his work, “The Cross of Soot,” Wendt uses the boy to demonstrate how we all have the ability to make connections with others. As the boy gets a tattoo from Tagi, he also is marking on his body how this external journey has changed him. As the young boy leaves the prison, Wendt writes “he paused on the other side and looked back as if he had forgotten something- as if he had crossed from world to another, from one age to the next” (20). At the end of his visit, the young boy has not only become a member of an alternative world, but the experience has also led to his internal journey of growing up. Like Bach, the tattoo the young boy has on his hand will forever mark the external journey which changed him forever.

The Lost Children

I got a phone call about my little brother making his communion a few weeks ago. Its on May 7th and my crazy mother actually asked me when my finals are. How in the world could I have told her when, at the tome I didn't know my schedule?? No idea. I thought back to my communion for some reason. One of my friends who just graduated here had the same communion dress as I did. It was really interesting, and I wrote on her wall, "Feel old, Liams making his communion". What do a tattoo and a communion have in common? I beieve they are both a right of passage.

In our society religious ceremonies are the same significance that a tattoo is for the characters we read about last week and Wendt's. The innocence of the child in Wendt's story is what made me think of the communion. For me, it had nothing to do with God, I just thought I looked really awesome. In a way though, it does strike up a kid's curiosity about Catholicism. In our church we have to go to 2 hour liturgies on Saturday and its brutal. In a way, when you are that young its like prison LOL!

Wendt's story of a child made me think of the children who have no bearing on faith. My mother's lovely sister whose kids are Liam's age, 7 and the other is 10 are not being given a religion. The only reason my aunt christened them is b/c my great aunt Mary offered her the convent for the event. I might be weird, but since I have friends whose parents don't give them a religion, they tend to grow up lost. I can't explain it, but they don't have anything anchoring them into the ground. Then they wind up searching for it as adults. Maybe b/c I am so close to this unorthodox practice and I see what damage it causes, I admire the boy in the story. He knows who Jesus is, but his right of passage is just different in terms of finding Him.

Innocence and the Cross

As Mike pointed out earlier, Wendt's short story, "The Cross of Soot," is a coming-of-age tale of a young boy who receives his first tattoo. The way in which Wendt narrates the story (third person limited) allows the reader to know the thoughts of the boy and observe the events that occur at the prison through the boy’s simple and childlike eyes. Only the boy’s simple yet gentle questioning is able to soften the prisoners and his keen observance of dynamics and undertones of the adults allows us to see the softer side of these men as well. The beginning of the novel displays how the boy breaks into what could have been the jaded and hostile atmosphere of the prison with genuine concern for the men and innocuous, simple naivete. This in turn, allows the prisoners to care for him in return.

As it is clear that the boy has the innocence and curiosity that is unique to children, it is no wonder that only he relates to the “stranger” at the end of the story, who he later describes as Jesus. Jesus in the Gospel clearly says “Unless you become like children, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven,” which shows that the beautiful, unbiased and kind way that the boy approached the prisoners and the stranger particularly is the way of Jesus, the way of the Kingdom of God. The boy receives a permanent mark from the stranger in the form of a tattoo of a cross. The cross on the boy’s hand juxtaposed with the ensuing death and name of “Jesus” of the stranger implies that in some way, the man passed on his own cross to the boy. The boy feels changed after he meets the man and receives the tattoo because he has accepted the painful cross of humanity, the same cross of Jesus Christ.

This alternative view of Christ and the tattoo of the cross makes even more sense in the context of understanding the meaning of the tattoo in the Samoan culture that Wendt speaks of in his second article “Tatauing the Post-Colonial Body.” As Wendt says, the imprint of the tattoo is shows that you have triumphed over physical pain and are now ready to face the demands of life” (400). This idea of conquering pain from the tattoo mirrors the idea that Christ, too, had to suffer and die in pain on the cross to conquer sin and death of mankind.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Growth Through Tattooing

Albert Wendt, in his writings of tattooing and the post-colonial body, draws connections with the physical body, tattooing, and animal imagery. He writes of the importance of tattooing in Samoan culture as a coming of maturity and presenting it as a civilized, necessary practice for the culture. Wendt further connects the tattoos and their symbolic representations beyond that of animalistic to a larger meaning. His implications are that of a greater purpose for tattoos and he furthers the definition of images inked on the body for current generations.

In The Cross of Soot, Wendt compares his characters to that of animals in a way that makes them appear slightly less than human, particularly in their confines of the jail. Here the characters themselves become that of the animal description that they are paired with. Wendt writes, “He snaked himself under the barbed-wire fence,” (The Cross of Soot 8). Wendt makes his character out to be that of an animal rather than that of a civilized, mature man. This mature, humanity is gained however, through the boy’s getting of a tattoo. The boy feels, “as if he had crossed from one world to another, from one age to the next,” (The Cross of Soot 20). Through the use of the tattoos, the character gains knowledge of maturity which separates him from an animal and allows him to wear an animal on his flesh rather than to be like one. He furthers this in his afterword on the post-colonial body stating that once, “you have triumphed over physical pain and now are ready to face the demands of life, and ultimately to master the most demanding of activities: language and oratory.” (Afterword: Tatauing the Post-Colonial Body 400). This demonstrates by wearing a pe’a or flying fox tatau, a boy can wear an animal in order to become fully grown or human.

Through his writings, Wendt expands the definition and understating of a tattoo or tatau. He connects the tattoo in a way that makes it civilized and beyond that necessary. This practice becomes that of a coming of age and overcoming of pain and strife. A tattoo or tatau, than can be seen as a story of importance or power. With these implications, Wendt works to undermine negative perceptions of current tattoos in American society by depicting their meanings and histories as they transform the inner person and their physical body.

What can I say? That tattoo really shows who I am, so what?

When looking at the idea of a tattoo, it easily said that identity and external and internal travel are easily part of the art form. In the essay and the short story, it can be see that the boy has grown up. It is not easily visible but it is through the actual tattoo that readers can learn this concept. For instance, the boy is shown to have the mentality of a child, constantly worried about others think. For instance, he is with the old man and he constantly bombards him with questions. He continues this childish play with Samsonia and how he trying to be around him and impress him. These little acts exemplify and really how readers to visualize how our young selves act. It shows the innocence in the things we would do. When the Tagi appears, the boy continues to be interested and becomes inquisitive the stranger. He sits next to him and constantly attempts to understand what he is thinking. It is through the tattoo that he grows up. Earlier in the story, it is mentioned that a prisoner of the prison is a rapist. When a person is raped, the act incorporates a person using brute force to put a sexual act upon someone taking away his or her choice and innocence along with it. In a way, the rape, to a certain extent, of the boy occurs with the cross on the hand. The boy wishes to receive the tattoo by his own free will. With the tattoo, his innocence leaves and this is shown when he returns to his mother and asks the question of who died on the cross. When he asks, he can tell the mother is upset but that doesn’t bother him, rather he is grown up and wishes to know more. He wants to continue growing.

With Wendt’s essay, he explains the story by showing tattoos as an art form and what incorporates tattoos. With tattoos comes this sense of gaining an identity. With gaining a tattoo, you show the external and internal change that a person is going through. Physically, tattoos will change the skin and appearance of the person. Inside, the tattoos are engraving a person’s history and all that accompanies it. The tattoos show how we have chosen to show our identity and display it to the world. We have made a choice to grow up and accept the person we are. With the essay, he gives a better and more technical understanding of what the boy went through. With that cross on his hand, he is now wearing his identity and what will define him. Jesus and everything that Jesus stands for will be tagged along with the boy. He made the choice to show the world that change he has gone under.

With such a strong belief in tattoos, it is easy to see why we must pick the images carefully as they come to define who we are and show others what makes us, us. In understand ourselves and going through the internal travel to grow and discover the identity, then it becomes easier for us to pick an image that we will be proud to wear as the call sign for us and what we stand for.

Tatau as Past and Future

Wendt in his “Tatauing the Post-Colonial Body” describes the tatau as one of the most important practices of the Samoan culture, as the collective symbol for everything that makes up one’s life. In getting a tatau or a malu, a man or woman sacrifices his or her life for the Samoan community, allowing the body and the final design to be forever a record of communal or familial history. The tatauing process is therefore a painful experience that represents an appreciation for the past and for one’s culture as well as it represents an individual’s own journey or recognition of his or her place in the world. The tatau or malu becomes a record of one’s development, marking his or her acceptance of what has occurred as well as one’s openness to what will happen and what future will be passed on to the next generations.

The tatauing process coincides greatly with the idea that only after one accepts and learns from the past or from history can he or she grow and achieve individual greatness. Malu of Fiegel’s Those Who Do Not Grieve shows this understanding and therefore a new sense of self-development when she translates her grandmother’s and her mother’s pasts into a beautiful and hopeful future. And Wendt himself depicts a journey similar to that of the tatau in his short story “The Cross of Soot” in which the boy receives through the cross tataued into his hand the sorrow and grief of the prison men and becomes a grown boy that can finally look into his mother’s scolding eyes; the boy becomes, through the experiences of the men that are relayed and tataued to him, a more mature being. Although the men of the prison may not have another chance to alter their pasts or start anew, the boy represents a fresh start for them all, a symbol of the positive communal future that awaits them through the boy and his life experiences. Wendt portrays, through his seemingly lighthearted short story and essay, the significance of community and of the tradition of the tatau, no matter how small the tatau itself may be. The tatau is a form of travel for the individual and for the whole, a journey that can never end because it’s tradition will forever be passed on to those who are willing to accept.

Innocence and the Cross

As Mike pointed out earlier, Wendt's short story, "The Cross of Soot," is a coming-of-age tale of a young boy who receives his first tattoo. The way in which Wendt narrates the story (third person limited) allows the reader to know the thoughts of the boy and observe the events that occur at the prison through the boy’s simple and childlike eyes. Only the boy’s simple yet gentle questioning is able to soften the prisoners and his keen observance of dynamics and undertones of the adults allows us to see the softer side of these men as well. The beginning of the novel displays how the boy breaks into what could have been the jaded and hostile atmosphere of the prison with genuine concern for the men and innocuous, simple naivete. This in turn, allows the prisoners to care for him in return.

As it is clear that the boy has the innocence and curiosity that is unique to children, it is no wonder that only he relates to the “stranger” at the end of the story, who he later describes as Jesus. Jesus in the Gospel clearly says “Unless you become like children, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven,” which shows that the beautiful, unbiased and kind way that the boy approached the prisoners and the stranger particularly is the way of Jesus, the way of the Kingdom of God. The boy receives a permanent mark from the stranger in the form of a tattoo of a cross. The cross on the boy’s hand juxtaposed with the ensuing death and name of “Jesus” of the stranger implies that in some way, the man passed on his own cross to the boy. The boy feels changed after he meets the man and receives the tattoo because he has accepted the painful cross of humanity, the same cross of Jesus Christ.

This alternative view of Christ and the tattoo of the cross makes even more sense in the context of understanding the meaning of the tattoo in the Samoan culture that Wendt speaks of in his second article “Tatauing the Post-Colonial Body.” As Wendt says, the imprint of the tattoo is shows that you have triumphed over physical pain and are now ready to face the demands of life” (400). This idea of conquering pain from the tattoo mirrors the idea that Christ, too, had to suffer and die in pain on the cross to conquer sin and death of mankind.

Post-Colonial Oceanic Literature

Christopher McCune                                                                                               October 27, 2010

EN 384.01: Travel Literature                                                              Hau'ofa and Wendt Readings

Post-Colonial Oceanic Literature

            Among the people of Oceania, tattooing is not just an art form, but also a way of defining one's identity, on a historical, familial, cultural, and personal level. As Samoan author Alfred Wendt explains, the tattoo is a source not of pride or adornment, but instead "has to do with identity, status, age, religious beliefs, and relationships to other art forms and the community." It makes sense, therefore, that the tattoo should play a major role as well in Oceania's search for identity in literature. In his speech "Tatauing the Post-Colonial Body," Wendt makes reference to the idea of tattooing the "body" of post-colonial literature. Wendt asks of literature, "By giving it a Somoan tatau, what am I doing, saying? I'm saying it is a body coming out of the Pacific, not a body being imposed on the Pacific. It is a blend, a new development, which I consider to be Pacific in heart, mind, spirit, and muscle; a blend in which influences from outside have been indigenized."

            This idea of blending internal and external life, in order to develop a literature that is unique to the indigenous people of the Pacific, is also stated strongly in the work of Tongan author Epeli Hau'ofa. Applying this "blending" to the islands' economies, Hau'ofa rejects the deterministic, belittling view that post-colonial Oceania is dependent upon foreign aid for survival. Instead, Hau'ofa argues that Oceania is not a small group of "islands in a far sea, but rather a "sea of islands," with the ocean included and interconnecting the various land masses. Additionally, Hau'ofa stresses that the world and resources of Oceania encompasses all of the cities where its people go to work, including Australia, New Zealand, the United States, and Canada. The people of Oceania work and contribute within these external societies, sending money home to support their families, friends, and communities.

Thus, we see that Oceania is a land not of dependency, but interdependency. Just as its people depend on one another for survival, so too does Pacific literature depend on the contributions of many different authors. Whether the author is Tongan, like Hau'ofa, or Samoan, like Wendt, Oceania's identity in literature is an interdependent one, compromised of contributions from the regions many different nations. The things that tie the region together, like the all-encompassing ocean surrounding them, and the central role of the tattoo in their cultures, unite this literature into one whole and infinitely more powerful genre.

Tattoos as Clothing that Speaks to the Rest of the World

In Wendt’s “The Cross of Soot” he tells the story of a boy who grows up and comes into his own through his interaction with prisoners in a jail near his home. The boy seems to look up to Samasoni and he greatly admires his tattoo of an eagle, leading him to ask Tagi to tattoo him with a star. Although Tagi leaves the boy before he can finish his tattoo so it ends up being a cross instead of a complete star, the experience of tattooing has a profound effect on the boy. When the boy goes to return home, “He paused on the other side and looked back as if he had forgotten something – as if he had crossed from one world to another, from one age to the next” (20). When his mother questions him about where he has been and why he now has the cross tattoo, the boy realizes that for the first time in his life he doesn’t fear her anger, and he realizes this is because “he had changed, grown up” (20).

The boy’s tattoo clearly reflects his journey of growing up and becoming an adult, but I found this particularly interesting in light of the way Wendt describes tattooing in his paper “Tatauing the Post-Colonial Body.” He talks about how for Samoans the tatau and malu clothe them more than actual clothing does, so much so that they require little clothing in addition to their tattoos. However, it is not the fact the tattoos physically cover the body of the Samoans, for they are full body tattoos, that is important. Rather they exist “to show you are ready for life, for adulthood and service to your community, that you have triumphed over physical pain and are now ready to face the demands of life” (400). This idea seems very relevant to the boy. He endures the pain of the tattoo and once he has it he is marked as an adult and acts as such. It seems as if the tattoo acts as an external marker to indicate the completion of an important internal journey to the rest of the community.

Having the tattoo lets everyone else know what the individual has gone through and indicates that they have developed an identity and should therefore be treated with respect. I think that this idea explains why Wendt would tattoo the post-colonial body. He wants other nations to respect the journey that the Pacific has gone through in the process of creating an identity. The tattooing process represents the way in which the Pacific has defined itself, incorporating pieces of other cultures into it as its grown but still retaining an unique identity that it created as opposed to adopting an identity that was forced on it. Both the boy and the post-colonial body wear their tattoos with pride because they signify to the world the important internal travel they have undergone.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Samoan Soot

Far from the dystopia illustrated in Black Rainbow, Albert Wendt provides a humbling coming-of –age tale in his short story “The Cross of Soot.” The unnamed protagonist, referred to simply as “the boy,” embarks on a journey away from the warmth of his home towards the confines of a cold prison compound. The people he encounters at the prison are surprisingly welcoming, however; allowing the kid to spend (or rather repeat) a day in a life way past his years. In accordance with our last discussion, we see that the classroom may not be the proper place of learning for some. After the death of his headmaster, the boy prefers to travel towards the prison in search of life’s lessons. He learns how to scrape breadfruit from the old man, how to roll cigarettes on behalf of Samasoni, and how to defend himself at the hands of the playful policeman. Yet the most important lesson (as well as the least expected) is taught to the boy by Tagi, a murderer on the cusp of facing justice.
As opposed to Those Who Do Not Grieve, receiving an incomplete tattoo brings the boy one step further on his journey to becoming a man. Yes, tattoos are definitely a sign of age; however, his mark instills a deep philosophical lesson. Tagi proves to the boy that the pains of life do not all appear at once, and instead complete our picture over time. Pain will undoubtedly appear in our lives, yet it is so crucial because it provides the most powerful lessons. The story has intense religious undertones as well, as Wendt illustrates Jesus’ ability to appear to us individually at the most random of moments, always being sure to leave his mark. Tagi is absolutely aware of his fate, and although it is undesirable, he approaches the end of his journey with no complaints. He spreads knowledge (and even gains some from the boy) up until his final moments, remaining well aware of the fact that journey to understanding life ends at death.
In the second reading, “Tatauing the Post-Colonial Body,” Wendt explores the historical aspects of the Samoan tattoo culture and highlights just how important the practice is for the unnerved outsider. Wendt explains that the native words for blood and for earth are the same – either “eleele” or “palapala.” He goes on to say, “Our blood, which keeps us alive, is earth. So when you are tatauing the blood, the self, you are reconnecting it to the earth, reaffirming that you are earth, genetically and genealogically” (409). At the end of this chapter Wendt reveals to his reader that he himself has a small cross tattooed on the back of his hand. Whether or not he is actually the little boy in “Cross of Soot,” Wendt is aware that his own journey, his short time on Earth is one marked by pain. The pain is necessary though, for just as in the case of a tattoo, it is a mark that only the individual can bare. We must remain humble along our journey, even in the face of hardships, and accept the end when the time comes.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Part III

Jess Cassidy
Part III- Voyage of the Dawn Treader
In the second half of Dawn Treader we see more use of Catholic symbolism within the story and characters. During Lucy’s quest to find the spell for the Dufflepuds, she finds the Magic Book itself is a kind of looking glass. After her witness of the two friends eavesdropping on her, she becomes upset at the things that they say about her. During the time I first read these, I remember thinking how cool it would be to have a way to see what people are talking about. Now there is a way and the way is called Facebook. Aslan was not far off when he informed Lucy that it was wrong to eavesdrop, even if it was through magic. Could C.S. Lewis been predicting the technology of video chats?
Lewis also brings up many Christian symbols. The obvious is Aslan, and he is very much like Jesus. In the second half, during the Dark Island chapter, Lucy begs him to help save them, much like we do God in times of difficulty, “Aslan if you have ever loved us, please save us now (Lewis.” Edmund also gives of the Christ reference to the lion when he explains to Eustace, “Lucy sees him most often (Lewis).” Both have a savior type quality to them.
Caspian and the colonizing of the various places they go gives off an interesting view to what Lewis thought about overtaking lands. In one sense I see him as freeing others from oppression, but on the other hand he is trying ‘civilizing’ them at the same time. How he gets away with it is by reiterating that he is on a journey to find the lost royalty. That does not make it right, but he gives a good reason to make himself not seem so dictator-like.
The themes that Lewis brings up are relevant to what we have today. There are still many uncivilized people, or people we feel must be shown democracy. We have blurred the lines between what is private and what is public with Facebook, to where we have created our own Magic Book with writing on walls. Our ties to God have, in many ways become about showing off religion and not about celebrating our faith. Many people simply keep it in their back pockets and use it when it is convenient for them. In a way Lewis was predicting our technology, world, and faith.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

A Different Kind of Travel

Christopher McCune                                                                                               October 21, 2010

EN 384D: Travel Literature                                                                                    Blog Post: Figiel

A Different Kind of Travel

            They Who Do Not Grieve, by Sia Figiel, is a powerful account of the hardship and struggles that Samoan women must face as they grow up amid crippling poverty and overwhelming feelings of sorrow and grief. Although Malu and Alofa, the two young Samoan protagonists, are the main focus of the story, Figiel also weaves in an incredibly captivating portrait of another island inhabitant, Mrs. Winterson. Living in a big house on the island, with Malu hired as one of her servants, Mrs. Winterson is tragic character in her own way. She is a white, rich, pretentious, American trophy wife, who is also sad, lonely and insecure in her relationship with her husband. In Malu's words, Mrs. Winterson is constantly "wearing masks" to hide behind, and for that reason I found her to be one of the most interesting characters in the novel.

            Early on in the book, Figiel gives us a look at Mrs. Winterson back when she was just Cath, the college student, caught up the sixties, in the mania of rebellion, sex, and rock n' roll. Here we get a look at Cath before the masks went on, before she became Mrs. Winterson, back when she was young, ideological, and full of dreams. But, as Figiel writes, "suddenly the sixties were over. And the seventies. The eighties. And now the nineties. And we realized that the 'trust no one over thirty' world we once lived in was gone. And right before anyone knew it, we were all over thirty ourselves. In our fifties for crying out loud…We became our own worst nightmare."

            Here, in They Who Do Not Grieve, Figiel is touching on a universal issue, one which we all will face, and that so many people seem to fear. I am talking, of course, about the natural process of aging. I never want to graduate. I don't want to grow up. I'm not ready for the real world. These are the lines one will hear, especially among the upperclassmen, tossed around frequently on college campuses all over the nation. As students we say these things honestly and without a shred of shame, and receive sympathetic nods of agreement from not just our peers, but from our teachers and parents as well. College students, young adults already whether they want to realize it or not, are currently suffering from an epidemic that I think of as acute Peter Pan Syndrome. I won't grow up, the college student declares defiantly, afraid to leave the $50,000 per year daycare centers that we know, and love, as college.

            Certainly, though, I am not looking down from my high horse on my fellow students who are, ironically, dreading the day on which they will finally receive that eviction notice, their college diploma. Indeed, every time my mom calls to ask me how life is going at Loyola, I reply, "It's great. I never want to graduate." If college has become our Neverland, than I'm right behind Peter Pan, flying over Great Britain, following "the first star on the left, straight on through morning." But still this novel, just like all the travel literature we have read this semester, really made me think hard on why, like Mrs. Winterson, we view growing up as "our own worst nightmare." After all, aging is really just another form of travel. Just as traveling the globe helps us learn things about ourselves, so too does our journey through life. Truthfully, it would not be any more natural to avoid the journey into adulthood, than it would be avoid ever traveling outside of our own homes. Just as our physical travels define, change, and enrich us, the process of growing, in years, maturity, and responsibility, enriches us as well. Mrs. Winterson threw on a mask and refused to grow as she left her youth behind, just as some people refuse to immerse themselves and be changed by their travels.

So maybe, just maybe, it is time for us to welcome our growth and all the changes that come with graduating from college. But what's that you say? When do I plan on doing this you ask? No, not now. I'll grow up soon. But never now.

Connections of the Body and Soul

Sia Figiel’s novel, They Who Do Not Grieve, depicts the story of a family through their same of an unfinished tattoo and the dishonor that it shows. The story tells of growing up and the women’s comings of adulthood. In book one, the family is plagued with despair and grief. This grief is evident in the women themselves as well as the idea of the female body. The grief that the body experiences, becomes a place which prevents the development or travel of the soul.

Lalolagi’s shame is in that of her non-tattooed body. Malu explains, “my grandmother woke up suddenly to find that the fish, the starfish, the spear, the centipede did not take to her flesh,” (Figiel 6) continuing that where others took their lives her grandmother decided to live, “living and impossibility after failing such as operation.”(Figiel 6). Lalolagi’s body then becomes an object of shame and this shame affected her family and continues to affect them. Her body holds the grief and pain that affects her family. The body of a woman without tattoos thus becomes something of humiliation for this person within the body and for the family whose blood also runs through the body. The lack of something on a physical body negates any hope or good that lies within. It is the woman’s body that holds the dishonor and traps the soul preventing it from traveling. With the despair of the body, the soul cannot travel beyond this shame, for the soul resides within the body and the body itself becomes a place of death.

Figiel furthers the body as a place for death, in this novel, through the birth of Malu’s baby. Malu cries, “‘I’ve given birth to a dead baby.’“(Figiel 57). The place most associated with life, the female body, thus becomes a place of death giving birth to death. Although the baby turns out to be alive, the implications of the female body still remain. The body becomes a place for others to die, for souls to die. This is similar to Lalolagi’s body which was a place for her power and her spirit to die or remain trapped in the confines of her grief. Travel of the soul and in general then becomes limited to the body and what the body holds or does not hold.

The grief of the body then gets put onto that of the soul and of the traveler. The physical female body becomes a way to confine the soul through its shame, particularly the physical, visible shame. The women of the novel depict this in their grief which prevents them from traveling beyond their history. Their souls are also trapped from traveling do to the dishonor put into the minds based on the actions of the body. The body becomes a place for which the soul cannot always travel beyond.

The Unborn State for Sia Figiel

In They Who Do Not Grieve, Sia Figiel experiments with a number of ambitious narrative techniques, among them writing extended sequences that take place in a dream reality -- or what might be more appropriately called an alternate reality -- and switching regularly between first and third-person narration. She also, in what is arguably her most daring storytelling risk, has one of her main characters, Alofa, retrospectively narrate her experience as a fetus within her mother's womb. Figiel depicts Alofa as not merely projecting her current speculations about the unfolding of her early development onto history, but as one who is relating in detail her memories of a past struggle. Though Alofa admits that as a "foetus" her "powers of memory were less developed," she presents her determination to survive her mother's multiple attempts to abort her as vividly as she describes her much more recent move from Samoa to Giu Sila (175). By depicting Alofa's gestation so vividly from her character's unborn perspective, Figiel seems to, whether intentionally or not, enter into a moral and political debate about when a fetus can be called a human, while contributing to a literary discussion of how to depict states of existence which humans either do not remember or of which they have no direct experience.

The issue of when a fetus can be considered a person is obviously a contentious one, because it inevitably ties into the cultural disagreement over whether abortion is a woman's right or murder. For some, though far from all, this debate hinges on the question of when a fetus becomes self-aware, therefore rendering it, by the logic of that viewpoint, truly human. As someone who, because of his father's career, has grown up surrounded by the pro-life argument and has therefore sought to participate in and read about discussions on the issue, I am perhaps too ready to interpret literature in such a way that illuminates my position in this debate, and I am therefore somewhat hesitant to analyze this episode in Alofa's story, lest my discernment of Figiel's intentions is distorted by my own beliefs. Nevertheless, Figiel does not write in a moral and political vacuum, making it extremely easy to construe Alofa's observation that she had a "goal" to stay alive "at the moment of conception" as an implicit commentary on the larger abortion debate (177).

If Figiel is trying to weigh in on the issue through her narrative, one could argue that the fanciful nature of Alofa's story undermines any validity it might aspire to as a contribution to the debate of when humanity begins. Regardless of one's beliefs on the extent of a fetus's awareness in the womb, few would contest that an unborn child actually possesses knowledge of "mathematics, calculations, [and] logic," as Alofa claims she did at that early age (176). What one must judge at this point is whether the fantasy Figiel is employing illuminates or obscures reality. Like Jane Kenyon in "Notes from the Other Side" or C.S. Lewis in Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Figiel is trying to depict a period of which humans have no memory and on which they therefore disagree. While both Kenyon and Lewis depict the afterlife, Figiel is depicting the earliest stage of human life, which one could argue is just as mysterious. What one can ask, and it is a question I am still pondering, is if imbuing Alofa with such early self-awareness ultimately makes her fetal self seem less or more like an "abstraction" than any other unborn child (176). While in reality the difficulty of seeing an unborn child up-close makes its existence easier to dismiss, one could argue that, by presenting such a metaphorical depiction of the unborn state, Figiel makes the experience seem even farther removed from reality.


Hatrack River: Books, Films, Food and Culture. Various Threads on Abortion including, but not limited to:;f=2;t=043143#000015
Alcon. "Hypothetical on Abortion -- Now For All to Consider." 2008/01/08. Web. 2010/21/10.
Threads. "Re: Hypothetical on Abortion -- Now for All to Consider."
Alcon. "When the Disagreement is Fundamental (a rant)." 2009/21/08. Web. 2010/21/10.
B-Gurl. "Is Abortion Bad?" 2005/20/12. Web. 2010/21/10.
imogen. "Regulating Reproduction (a hypothetical)" 2009/05/03. Web. 2010/21/10.
PSI Teleport. "*sigh* It's your average abortion thread." 2007/25/07. Web. 2010/21/10.
Belle. "Alabama Abortion clinic shut down -- horrible story." 2005/20/05. Web. 2010/21/10.
AltName. "You know me. And I had an abortion." 2006/27/05. Web. 2010/21/10.
Christine. "Late-Term Abortions." 2009/03/06. Web. 2010/21/10.
"Stop FOCA,""Against So-Called Freedom of Choice Act" and Various Other Pro-Life Discussion Groups. Facebook. Web. 2010/21/10.
Figiel, Sia. They Who Do Not Grieve. New York: Kaya Press, 2003.
Lewis, C.S. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. New York: HarperCollins, 1980.
Kenyon, Jane. "Notes from the Other Side."
MacIntyre, Alasdair. After Virtue: Third Edition. United States: University of Notre Dame Press, 2008.
National Right to Life Press Releases. Print.
Web. 2010/21/10.

Dream On

Over the course of the semester we have touched upon various forms of travel within each novel. As readers, we have shared experiences with characters such as Marco Polo in Invisible Cities, Eric in Black Rainbow, or Lucy in Voyage of the Dawn Treader as they embark upon rigorous journeys, whether internal or external. However, it wasn’t until I began reading Sia Figiel’s They Who Do Not Grieve, that I took a closer look at an alternate form of travel; one that I have been neglecting. Such an excursion does not take into account one’s past, one’s family, or one’s current situation. Instead, this travel is comprised solely of our deepest, or perhaps hidden, desires, dreams, and goals. It is the kind of travel that gives hope to us readers. Figiel illuminates the internal voyage by focusing intently on the desires that inspire us. Throughout the journeys of Ela and Malu, Figiel ignites within all of us the idea that we can change because we are human. Figiel’s characters encourage us to put our plans to action; that we all have the capability to achieve our dreams because we are free.

It is not until we are immersed deep into book one that Figiel reveals Ela’s back-story to the reader. However, once we encounter her tale, we come to learn that Ela went to America to pursue her dream. “I’m going to be a dentist. You-know, I’m going to be the first woman dentist my country has ever had! That’s what I wanna be! I wanna inspire more women to know their potential” (120). Her tiny Samoan village fails to provide her with a world of opportunity, yet it has instilled in Ela such a strength that she is able to stumble upon her personal potential. As she embarks upon her journey towards self-discovery, she devotes herself to morphing her dreams into her reality. Although it took her twelve years in America to accomplish the first part of her dream, she finally got her degree. According to Figiel, it was a “qualification she equated to freedom. Freedom to return home. Freedom to be” (123). Ela’s internal desires lead to action. Her newly acquired degree brings her back home, allowing her to form the foundations of her goal. She eventually succeeds and becomes the first woman dentist in Samoa.

Like Ela, Malu has opened her mind to desire. At one point in the novel she says, “Sometimes at night I think about my life and wonder what will ever become of me. At twenty years old, my life is to serve others…Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to give those orders. To walk around with a cigarette while the breeze blows in the background” (83). Figiel’s protagonist is consistently battered, both physically and verbally, yet she refuses to deny herself a mental passport. However, unlike Ela, Malu has not gone about making her dreams a reality. As a reader we watch Malu journey into adulthood, and can only hope that by the conclusion of the novel she will be ready to put her own potential to practice.

Within her work, Figiel provides readers with a sense of hope through the characters Ela and Malu. At one point in the novel, grandma Lalolagi tells Malu, “we are all covered with scars…all kinds of scars, Malu” (35). Yet although Malu and Ela may be scarred, Lalolagi says, “it doesn’t become us” (35). In this moment, Figiel is yearning for her audience to realize that no matter what obstacles are present in the past or future, we absolutely cannot remain immobile. Figiel demonstrates that like Ela and Malu, we all have the ability to dream, encouraging us all to mobilize our minds. When Ela began to dream, she took herself as far as she allowed her dreams to take her. In the case of Figiel’s Ela, we learn that we must dream big if we expect big results.

The Importance of Learning a Person's History

My parents both come from very big, talkative families, so I’ve always grown up hearing stories about their lives before me. We have family reunions every year and all of their siblings tell embarrassing stories about each other, laughing about the ridiculous things they did when they were younger. When I was little these stories fascinated me; they were a glimpse into a part of my parents that I never saw otherwise, but as I got older I also realized that they were a superficial glance. These stories were funny anecdotes but they didn’t reveal who my parents truly are or why they are that way.

I’ve always had a good relationship with my parents, but as I’ve gotten older it has evolved in a way that has allowed me to better understand them and I think this is mostly because they actually talk to me now. Once I got into college it was like I had passed some invisible line and had become a “real person” to my mom. By this I mean that she started to tell me things that actually mattered to her, things that she didn’t have to tell me and I didn’t necessarily ask to know, but that are part of who she is. At first it was strange because she’s a very positive, upbeat person and some of the things she started telling me were not so happy or cheerful and were actually critical of other people, something she almost never is. She told me things about her past that radically changed how I looked at her and understood both her and my dad.

Among other things, this change in our relationship helped me understand how important someone’s past is to who they are. As a result of my mom’s willingness to share herself with me and my willingness to accept that she was a real person who makes mistakes and has flaws, I was able to get to know her on a deeper level and better understand why she does things that she does even if I don’t necessarily agree with them.

While my experience is definitely not nearly as dramatic, in ways it is similar to Lalolagi’s confession of her history to Malu. Malu knew some aspects of her history and why her family carried such shame before this, but it seems as if knowing her grandmother’s past is what truly allows her to understand Lalolagi as a person. At the end of the book it says, “Do not grieve. That’s what she remembers most of Lalolagi, her grandmother” (267). In light of all of the past betrayals, struggles, and rejection Lalolagi experienced her take on life finally makes sense to Malu. It wasn’t that her grandmother was a person without feeling or compassion, but rather Lalolagi was hardened by experiences like her best friends betrayal, the rejection of her mother, and even the loss of her original name. It seems to me that her experiences forced her to learn to trust no one but herself and also to continue on with her life rather than grieve over her hardships. Her original name was Tuto’atasi, meaning independence, and it seems that since it was taken from her, she has lived her life in a way intended to assert her independence from both her difficult circumstances and others. However, until Malu understands Lalolagi’s past she is unable to understand why it is that her grandmother lives her life in the way she does.

I think that it is also interesting that we as readers better understand Lalolagi in light of learning her history. When I first read the back I couldn’t get over how mean she was to Malu, spilling hot coffee on her, kicking her and beating her, and putting her down constantly. Lalolagi’s history seems sheds some light on this. Her Aunt Ela reveals that Malu looks remarkably like her mother, Mary, whose death Lalolagi blames herself for; this offers some insight into why she wishes to disfigure Malu and seems to despise her so much. Part of her behavior towards Malu is probably also reflective of a desire to teach Malu the values she views as important in life, one of which is not to feel sorry for yourself no matter what because life needs to keep going regardless of what happens, and thus there is no use in grief. They Who Do Not Grieve reveals the way in which learning a person’s history can deeply influence how you understand and view that person. No person is without a history and until they choose to reveal that to you it is difficult to fully understand why they are the way the are; learning a person’s history is a form of travel because it evolves the way that you understand and view them.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Connecting Past and Future

Many children and young adults purposely repress the negative experiences of their childhood or of their parents or ancestors to move on or to form an identity separate from that of their elders. While repression and avoidance or ignorance may seem the best route of separation or the best way to mark one’s own individuality, one simply cannot avoid the past or form a new past. One’s childhood experiences or parents’ experiences will always have happened, will always be a part of history and of one’s being. As depicted in Black Rainbow, one cannot fully erase the past because it will always find a way to resurface. And the repressing and resurfacing often ends in the past repeating itself, most likely through a more horrible or more emotionally testing experience.
However, those who can find a means of accepting or learning from past experiences can grow and travel internally. In the place of repression, this form of inner travel allows one to build upon and work with the identity that cannot be erased. Like Marco Polo in Invisible Cities, whose physical and mental travel provides him with the numerous opportunities to view his past and his Venice in multiple different ways, those who choose not to ignore the past can find, through different life experiences, a new way of viewing the past, a new way of accepting or understanding what may have seemed a horrible, sad, shameful, or confusing experience. In seeing the past through a new perspective, one can then officially move on or fully seek individuality and an identity separate from past restraints. This method of reviewing and accepting the past can apply to everyone, even to those who do not experience extremely negative situations. One just needs to find his or her own way of making the internal journey that incorporates the past, the present, and even the future.
Sia Figiel’s They Who Do Not Grieve proves, through the character of the girl-young woman of Malu, that one can escape from the constraints of the past, that one can turn her ancestor’s shameful and emotionally draining experiences into a positive future. Malu, who at first comes off as shy and embarrassed or ashamed, manages to escape the reality of her grandmother and of her mother and discover her own reality, her own imagination. Through this imagination, she builds a powerful identity that distinguishes her from the other female members of her family, the identity of a female that is not ashamed to love passionately and procreate. Malu recognizes that she can have the power to change and direct her future, that her family history will not inhibit her growth because she has her own ideas and beliefs. The young woman recognizes, through her created reality, her true purpose.
In accepting the shameful past of her female ancestors, Malu is different from her grandmother, mother, and aunts because she is willing to learn from their mistakes and to build off of them to create a promising future. In choosing, in the end, to birth her bastard child to a positive atmosphere, an atmosphere of acceptance and praise, Malu proves that she is willing to turn the negative experiences of her predecessors into something great: she is willing to offer her child the opportunity to have a voice and to have an identity, things that she, as a child, continuously struggled for. Malu sets in motion for her family a new generation of females, a generation that will produce fruitful rather than shameful experiences. Following the idea of the tattoo that gives her her name, Malu becomes like a tattoo on her family’s history, a changing point in the family’s overall journey. She becomes, for her family and her family’s history, a female symbol of growth and newly discovered strength, a symbol of the family’s past as well as it’s positive future.


Inner travel is very important for the characters in Sia Figiel's They Who Do Not Grieve, particularly for the protagonists, Malu and Alofa, but also for their families. Inner travel can relate to any journey we make, geographical or internal, and in addition, relates to a recurring theme in Book Two of this novel, the idea of the multiplicity of layers each person has.

"It gave her pleasure to sit there naked. Stand there naked. Lie on the floor there naked. Naked. Naked. For she was simply fed up with teh layers people clothed themselves in. The layers of clothes" (151). In the context of this quote, Alofa's Aunt Fue has left Samoa for New Zealand, adn there, allows a white man to paint her nude. Because she has left home, and her painter is a foreigner to New Zealand as well, Fue finds the experience liberating. She literally gets to shed her traditional layers of clothing and reinvent herself in this new place. It is the very idea that foreigners can be outside the rules and have the potential to do anything they please which makes her feel so satisfied with her actions. The painter is "a nobody, as far as villagers or anyone was concerned, which made the act of posing naked pleasurable" (151).

The idea of shedding layers goes far beyond just the surface layers of clothing; it has many layers in itself. Not only does Fue feel lliberated from her clothes because that have stifled her for so long, but what irritates her even more are "the facades people wore on their faces and how they passed such facades to their children. For that is how she was raised" (151). By posing for these nude portraits, Fue erases the facade she has been given by her family through generations. No longer the daughter of a traditional Samoan family who must act according to custom and what is proper, these being deemed as such by previous generations, Fue is now her own person. She creates her own facade, a facade which is actually more of a lack thereof.

When we travel and move outside our comfort zone, we shed layers of ourselves. Trying new foods and attempting to converse with a native in his or her own language strip away our protective facades and allow us to gain something valuable out of a travel experience. In fact, we cannot truly make the most out of travel while keeping these layers intact; the people, places, and things we encounter just cannot penetrate through and make an impact. This inner travel is vital in opening ourselves up to the world, and really to ourselves. For, as we travel and shed our layers, we acquire new ones to reflect the journey we have made.

Later in Book Two, Alofa describes herself as "a woman of many layers. A woman who could survive anywhere. Under the harshest conditions. I learned to eat bone and drink blood witha straight face. I learned to swim in lava and not get burned. I learned to fly wingless into the eye of storms. I learned to keep company with sharks" (183). In this passage, Alofa seems to have become such a woman in order to protect herself from environment, people, and change. She is a "woman with secrets," and "a woman who exist[s] only in the imaginations of those believed in the possibility of [her] existence" (183). In this case, Alofa's layers appear to be the very ones Fue is so eager to remove; however, Alofa is not particularly displeased with these layers. She says she is in charge of her own destiny, and now has the ability to deal with innumerable situations.

These are the layers we accumulate after escaping from our old ones through travel; once we let down our defenses and let our experiences shape us, that shaping creates new layers. Whereas the old layers prohibited us from being all we could be, these new ones are the very tools by which we can be truly us. We shed the layer that prevents us from speaking French while in Paris, and acquire the new layer that reminds us we have the capability of speaking French in Paris. Perhaps these new layers could be better termed "facets." We gain new facets to our personality and character each time we become free of the grip of our previous insecurities.

They say people are like onions: you have to peel back all the layers to fiind the true person within. I think people are divided into two groups of onions: the ones just described, who have not yet begun shedding their layers, and the ones whose layers are just as important a part of their personality as their core.

blog post

They Who Do Not Grieve Blog

Emily B

Dreams are what we travel towards. Like many journeys we undertake, things change along the way, the unexpected happens, and we must readjust. Sometimes it is the goal that changes or maybe how we obtain that goal, the road which we travel that changes.

Ever since I was a little girl I had dreamt about going to Boston College just like my dad and my sister did. I was so sure of it, that it was the perfect place for me, that when the time came my senior year of high school to apply to college I only wanted to send one application. I hadn't even looked at any other schools. Thank goodness I had teachers and councilors who were looking out for me and practically made me sit down and look at what else was out there for me. I eventually found three other universities to apply to. Needless to say, I was devastated when the small white envelope arrived at my house telling me it was not to be. I had to reassess. I realized that while going to BC would have been ideal, it wasn't the only way to achieve my real goal; getting a Jesuit education and finding a place to spend the next four years where I could be happy becoming me.

Dreams allow us to try on different personas; they give us freedom and allow us to see the possibilities in our own futures. We can have goals but those goals can fail or impact us in ways we do not understand. Dreams allow us to see new possibilities of who we can be despite where we have come from in some cases. I wanted to go to BC because that was where my family legacy was. I wanted to be the next generation to carry on the tradition and I felt like I was letting my family, especially my dad, down because I wasn't good enough or smart enough to get in. I found a new dream. And I can't imagine being any happier living out my new dream at Loyola.

In the novel, dreams reveal a lot about the characters who have them. Malu dreamt of going to nature and becoming a woman. She sees herself as a beautiful, independent woman who has confidence and courage. She falls in love with a man and has a child on the beach all on her own. She can use her voice and feels empowered to shout and yell out against him when he has hurt her. It is here that we see the true potential in what she can be, who she perhaps wants to be. Instead, the reality is that she is a degraded young woman who is seen as an irremovable and unwanted blemish. The shame of her relatives has been passed onto her and shapes her identity quite literally; her name "Malu" represents the unfinished tattoo that her grandmother has, that has left her body and reputation scarred.

Alofa dreams of a doctor's office. How the office makes her feel, the sights and smells all represent what her new home is like with Viv; sterile and foreign. In the dream she is asked to take off her clothing, she is stripped of her layers. I think this dreams tells us a lot both implicitly and explicitly. We see that Alofa is homesick, that she misses the people, sites, and even the smells of Samoa that we would probably not miss at all. But the dream also shows us how isolated Alofa feels. She is used to living in a crowded house, always surrounded by people, and now she has been put into this new environment with a new language and culture and is forced to swim or sink on her own. She learned how to, "survive anywhere."

I think that the power of dreams and the theme of our class is exemplified in a simple passage, "The story is always changing…like the horizon…sometimes gold…sometimes pink…blue" (pg. 178). Travel, whether it is physical or through the mind and imagination, shapes our realities, who we are, and who we will become.

Like A Tattoo

OK, I'll admit its a Rehanna song! I mean what else could come up in my Millennial brain when I think of a hook with the word tattoo?

Its not like I have not thought about the impenetrable brand that we define with movie stars and motorcycle riders- I've thought about it a lot. This book just put a weird spin on it. I think we all remember those kid-stick-on ones with Power Rangers and animals, they still have them today. My little brother loves them, and guess what, they come off.

Real ones like scars do not come off. It takes soul searching to find out if you really want one. It takes thought provoking skeletal searching to see where, how, what, when this will happen. Most normal people (and my normal I mean 85% of the population) wouldn't even think about getting one. How do I know? Just look on the streets.

Although, I'm not surprised that its jumped up for our age group. It makes sense;we are from a hard scrabble economic existence. We want something to be truly ours, a symbol, a reminder, a pictorial legacy. If I hear one more person say, "You have to work even if its a job you do not want." I'm going to scream from the top of the Empire State. Is this the culprit for WHY this generation is doing this? Its one theory.

I am going to get one. When? Who knows, it keeps changing because my life never works out. I have no time to think about this little minute detail when others keep following me when all I want them to do is stay away. When all I want to do is hide under a rock, body image is not on my top list of concerns. What will it be? THEY will be two horses, small mind you. Where? Bottom of each leg, ankle area. When? No clue. Why? The story's too long and I'm not bringing it up, its already been rehashed with two shrinks.

I know what the main character goes through. I had to put the book down for a few hours because it struck such a chord. I had to stop reading it. Too bad there is no Freud in Samoa because she needs him more than Karen Horny. There are other implications to that I took into account- culture, place, time periods. But seriously, she needs mental help. I don't care how many tribes disowned her grandmother, or how many dreams she can chill in. Your hard wiring is only mailable until age four and then your as good as done. Until four you have a fighting chance, or your brain does anyway.

Fox! Hound! One for all! All for one!

Anthony Santiago

Sometimes people say” A picture is worth a thousand words.” Those people are definitely correct. The family photo from the Everglades or the group portrait in front of Rockefeller Center. These family vacations could have been absolutely terrible. They could have been taken right after a huge fight. However, at that very moment, everything clicked. Everything came together. No words could possibly be taken from the English language to describe it.

In comparison, a tattoo is also a picture. It is a picture that a person will carry along with themselves for the rest of their life. It is a picture that carries more than just “a fox” or “a hound.” It has the memories and the relationship tied with it. It brings real meaning to that cliché that “ A picture is worth a thousand words.”

My friendship with Jack has gone back to when we were five years old. We went to the same grade school, Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Cleveland, Ohio. We were both accepted at Saint Ignatius High School. We had decided that we would join the football team since we played football during grade school for another school since our school did not have one. Once things started going underway with the season, we both fell into being the starting Defensive Left and Right End. Since we had known each other for so long, it was easy for us to pick up onto each other’s physical cues. At some points, we could just look at each other and we would know what we needed to do. Going after the quarterback and half back could never be easier. As time progressed, it almost became basic instincts in our attempts to get a sack or a tackle. The beautiful thing about our relationship was that the field reflected real life. We would be in school and sometimes never see each other but we always know where we “were.” We always knew that if we needed each other, we could talk to each other and be there for each other. If something was ever bringing me down, he instinctively knew that he needed to “stalk” in the background, ready to help at any moment. The same could be said for me. I was always prepared. We were then labeled “The Fox and the Hound.” We both hunted after our prey but together we were one unit, a pack. At the end of our senior year, we decided that we would get a tattoo resembling our nicknames to show our relationship and to be reminded of it every time once we graduated from college. Once we reached our adulthood and ready to tackle the world. The tattoo would be a physical image of our natural instincts, our spiritual and real relationship. I personally feel that if we didn’t get this tattoo, we would be incomplete, that our friendship would not be completed and almost not what it could fully be. In They who do not grieve, that ideology really hit home for me. The way that the grandmother is almost incomplete or almost not finished really reflected how I feel towards my friendship. Even though Jack and I are the best of friends and nothing will ever change that, it won’t be more if we don’t get this tattoo together. It would not seal that door from my childhood into my adulthood. As I get closer to that day, I see the journey I have been traveling. At that moment, when I look into the mirror and see the hound, stalking, creeping across my back, I will see 22 years flash before eyes and I will know then that I am an adult and that this is my world to take with Jack, my family, and everyone else in my life.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Confronting a Sea of Past Admiration and Criticism

While I have long anticipated the opportunity to write about C.S. Lewis in an academic setting, now that I am actually undertaking the task I find it overwhelming. Laura Miller, in her reflections on Narnia dispersed throughout her memoir, The Magician's Book, wrote on the same conundrum that I am facing now: how can you write critically about an author and series you have so long revered?

From my childhood, C.S. Lewis and Walt Disney were figures I idealized as the embodiment of imagination. Discovering The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe through a inexpensive BBC television production from the 1980s, I practically salivated at the idea of going through a closet and coming out into another world. Narnia was not my first encounter with the fantasy genre -- I already had obsession with fairy tales, especially as dramatized in the Shelley Duvall television series Faerie Tale Theater -- but there was something about the wardrobe gateway that fed my hunger for the supernatural in a way the tales before had not done as effectively. This idea of a magic gateway was not original, as Burton Hatlen points out in speaking of how Philip Pullman was influenced by C.S. Lewis in His Dark Materials, and I did indeed have an Oz obsession for a few years that I am sure was fed in part by the cyclone that brought Dorothy to that land in that series' first book. But while my Oz obsession has faded, aside from an interest in dark revisionist interpretations of its characters that are not, as others have criticized Baum as being, so sanitary, I still love Narnia.

In speaking of my ability to criticize Lewis I do not want to simplify the situation. In the intervening years since childhood I have read a significant amount Narnia criticism, and am perhaps hyperaware of what many consider unsavory in the books. I was even excited in rereading The Voyage of the Dawn Treader to discover own easily the Dufflepuds could be categorized as a culture ruined by colonial influence, a complaint which, if I had read of it before, did not stick as prominently in my memory as, for example, Philip Pullman's complaints about Susan's depiction in The Last Battle or his and others' criticism of the Caloremen culture. I am no longer an unreserved fan of Lewis, then, but because I have read so much by and about him I am almost afraid to express myself. As I weigh other opinions along with my admiration, I am at the point where I am wondering if I will ever be able to come to a conclusion on the author and on Narnia which is really mine.

Narnia: A Timeless Land

Christopher McCune                                                                                                 October 7, 2010

EN 384D.01: Travel Literature                                                     The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

Narnia: A Timeless Land

            Set in the fantastical, magical world of Narnia, C.S. Lewis' novel The Voyage of the Dawn Treader truly embodies the concept of travel literature. Travel literature has the unique power of transporting the reader to a faraway place, and making the reader feel as if he or she is actually there. As Lewis takes us on a journey through the uncharted seas of Narnia, the reader accompanies the children and crew members to such strange lands as Deathwater Island, the Island Where Dreams Come True, and the home of the Dufflepuds.

Taken along for this wild adventure aboard the Dawn Treader, the reader can choose to view Lewis' tale in one of two very different ways.  We can choose to view this adventure through the innocent, childish eyes of Lucy, the youngest crew member, who chooses to believe, unequivocally, in Narnia and to trust in Aslan. Or, we can take the narrow-minded view that Eustace embodies early in the novel, and, instead, trudge through the book cocooned in a state of disbelief, self-absorption, and doubt. Latching onto the real world, it would be easy, if one so desired, to remove oneself from Narnia, and dismiss this novel as a ridiculous, child-like fantasy. But, as even Eustace quickly learns, why would any reader, young or old, elect to commit such folly?

Lewis paints such a beautiful picture of Narnia that nobody, including Eustace, can resist its charming magic for long. Although all travel literature transports the reader to a new place, Lewis actually transports the reader back in time as well, prompting us to see Narnia through the innocent, awed, undoubting eyes of these children, who are so open to the magic all around them. At the end of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Aslan, the great lion, tells Lucy, "Dearest, you and your brother will never come back to Narnia…You are too old, children, and you must begin to come close to your own world now" (269). Fortunately, however, Alsan places no such age limit on the reader, leaving Narnia open to us, stuck in the real world, as yet another of the innumerable destinations that travel literature provides us with.

Growing up

Throughout his novel The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, CS Lewis follows characters Edmund, Eustace and Lucy on their journey from childhood to adulthood. At the beginning of the novel, these three characters are referred to as merely children in comparison to their older relatives Susan and Peter. It is because of their age that Lucy and Edmund are sent off to Eustace’s home rather than follow their parents to America. However, as the three children enter the “other world,” the reader watches them each embark on their individual journey from childhood to adulthood.

The transformation begins as the children move from one island to the next. Among the three, Eustace is the first to change as enchantment transforms him from a beastly child, to a beastly dragon, and finally to a more humane and self-less child. A reader watches as Eustace breaks away from all the darkness that once surrounded his thoughts, and allows himself to embrace the world he is now a part of. The very moment Eustace becomes a dragon, he begins to see the good in his companions. “He wanted to be friends. He wanted to get back among humans and talk and laugh and share things” (98). As Aslan, C.S. Lewis’ symbol of Jesus throughout the novel, assists Eustace in shedding his dragon skin, he is also helping Eustace shed away all the “dragonish thoughts” and selfishness that once surrounded him. In this moment, Eustace molds into an adult who recognizes the values of companionship and service.

Similar to Eustace, Lucy also endures a similar transformation. After meeting the Duffers she is sent into the Magicians’ home to make them visible again. However, as she reads the magic book, she comes across a spell that will make her absolutely beautiful. Like any girl would be, Lucy is tempted to say the spell so that she would be prettier than all girls, including her sister Susan. Right away, Aslan intervenes and steers her away from uttering the words. However, like any other girl would, Lucy then says the spell to find out what all her friends think about her and then swears off one of her best friends. She then says the spell making all things visible and King Aslan appears. Aslan exclaims, “spying on people by magic is the same as spying on them in any other way. And you have misjudged your friend, she is weak but she loves you” (170). In this moment, Lucy learns a life lesson that we all must learn as we grow up. She learns that good friends are hard to come by. Although some friends may be weak at times, we all are weak at times. Like Eustace, Lucy learns that she must see the good in people and learn forgiveness.

Although it may be harder for the reader to see, Edmund also becomes an adult throughout the journey. In The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, Edmund made mistakes that almost led to the demise of Narnia completely. However, in this work, Edmund has forgiven himself for his past and has learned from it. After Eustace is transformed back into a human, Edmund comforts Eustace and says, “You haven’t been as bad as I was on my first trip to Narnia. You were only an ass, but I was a traitor” (117). Although Edmund was once a “traitor,” in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, he behaves like a self-less and courageous king. On the Dawn Treader, he makes decisions alongside Caspian and has gained an understanding of self-worth. At one point in the novel, Edmund stands up for himself to Caspian saying, “I’m no subject of yours. If anything it’s the other way round. I am one of the four ancient sovereigns of Narnia and you are under allegiance to the High King my brother” (136). Edmund is no longer a child who is vulnerable and weak, he has molded into a courageous adult who has learned from his past mistakes.

C.S. Lewis’ three main characters all begin their journey as children, but come out of their time spent in the “other world” wise. Each character has grown up and learned values that have changed them for the better. It is for this reason that at the conclusion of the novel Aslan exclaims, “you are too old, children. And you must begin to come close to your own world now” (269). Edmund, Eustace and Lucy have all learned values of adulthood in the “other world,” which they now must bring with them into reality. However, Aslan assures each character that they do not have to continue on their growing up journey alone. Just as he was beside each of them in the “other world,” he will be there with them in their world but by another name. He says, “You must learn to know me by that name. This was the very reason why you were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there” (270). At the conclusion of the novel, the three are ready to journey into adulthood with “Aslan” surrounding them each step of the way.


The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
"Oh, Aslan," said Lucy. "Will you tell us how to get into your country from our world?"
"I shall be telling you all the time," said Aslan. "But I will not tell you how long or short the way will be; only that it lies across a river. But do not fear that, for I am the great Bridge Builder."

In his fantasy novel The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, C.S. Lewis introduces his reader to a majestic land of magic, where children sail the seas and discover the wonders of the world around them. These children: Lucy, Edmund and Eustace, are presented with a great amount of responsibility (like sailing to the end of their world just to drop someone off) and adventure, which you think would usually appear too heavy for the psyche of a child. The emotional tolls are intense (when Eustace shape shifts into a dragon for example), yet every step of their adventure provides them with a lesson greater than the last. However, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader exposes its characters to such turmoil with good intentions. Lewis strongly believes in the power of imagination, and highlights its crucial role in developing the future of children, as well as their sense of faith. Lewis is aware that before we hand the world off unto the children of future generations, we must allow them to explore the world of their mind, as well as their surroundings.

C.S. Lewis skirted the fine line between faith and imagination, yet did so gracefully in order to illustrate the relationship between the two. Written on the wake of World War II, The Dawn Treader kept spirits high by proving to children that if they believed in Narnia, they could believe in anything (meaning God). When children needed a break from the all-too adult inhabited world around them, all they needed to do was escape into the pages of Narnia. An external journey of their world through an internal exploration of their imagination has proven time and time again that we all have our own Narnia. There is not one single path and the journey will be difficult, yet it is a journey you must complete on your own. Like the journey towards finding God, the children’s future attempts at reuniting with Aslan will require a bit of off-centered thinking. Yet since their imaginations were stretched to their limits aboard the Dawn Treader, they now know that anything is possible and that it is necessary to keep an open mind to the wonders of our world.

Imagination and Adulthood

C.S. Lewis’s novel, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, takes the reader on a journey through imaginary worlds. The novel brings Edmund and Lucy Pevensie along with their cousin Eustace Scrubb onto the Dawn Treader to journey with Prince Caspian to find the seven lost Lords of Narnia. The group encounters many mystical creatures and adventures throughout their journeys of the east lands. The narrator of the novel has a close relationship to the reader acting as a trustworthy friend who aids in telling the story. Through the use of the narrator, a journey is created for the reader as a safe space for the reader to grow as well as providing a place for the imagination to journey.

Throughout the novel, the narrator acts as an omniscient voice who interjects throughout the story creating a personal bond with the reader. The narrator seems to be that of an older and wiser figure then that of the reader and possibly could be the voice of Lewis himself. In the narrator’s telling to the story, he includes personal conversations with Lucy stating that,”Lucy could only say ‘It would break your heart.’ ‘Why,’ said I, ‘was it so sad?’ ‘Sad!! No, said Lucy.” (Lewis 265). By including that the narrator himself had be told of the tales, the reader feels more of a connection with the narrator and greatly values what the narrator has to say. The close relationship between the reader and the narrator also allows for the reader to take an imaginary journey with the aid of the narrator’s tales of the Dawn Treader’s. The narrator aids in the reader’s journey through the novel and through the seas and lands of the east.

By having the narrator as a wise insight to the main characters’ journey, it allows the children who read the book to feel a connection to a more so adult figure who can be trusted and who understands adventure and imagination. This is furthered through the character of Aslan who is quite wise but also an imaginary creature. Aslan says to the children in the end of the novel, “‘you are too old, children,’ said Aslan, ‘and you must begin to come close to your own world now.” (Lewis 269). By having these trusted wise, older figures in the novel, a bridge is formed between the imaginary world of childhood and the world of adulthood. This novel provides a space for children to connect and travel through their own imagination as well as to feel a connection to others as they travel into adulthood. The use of imagination thereby allows for a deeper connection to that of the adult world and understanding of others.


Reepicheep’s seemingly paradoxical quality as a valiant mouse along with his final choice to reach the utter East at the end of the novel suggests the idea that even the characters from the humblest circumstances can reach the Ultimate.

It is clear right when the reader meets Reepicheep that this mouse, a seemingly skittish and cowardly animal, is just the opposite. He is the most courageous and chivalrous of all the men on the journey. While Caspian tells the kids that his purpose is to find the seven friends of his father's, Reepicheep states that he has a more ambitious purpose for his journey: "Why should we not come to the very eastern end of the world? And what might we find there? I expect to find Aslan's own country," (21). Though others question the feasibility of this quest, Reepicheep remains faithful to his purpose throughout, challenging the other members of the crew to continue in the face of danger and fear.

Reepicheep’s ambition to seek the greater was instilled in him from a young age when he was sung from a lullaby, “Where sky and water meet/ Where the waves grow sweet/ Doubt not, Reepicheep,/ To find all that you seek/ There is the utter East” (22). This higher, greater end, the “utter East”, presumably Aslan’s country, is what Reepicheep longs for his entire life. When he finally gets the chance to go to the utter East, closer to Aslan the Ultimate, he is “quivering with happiness” (266) and lacks even the slightest amount of fear. He embarks on this journey to the utter East alone, but successfully nonetheless, as the narrator says that it is his belief “that he came safe to Aslan’s country and is alive there to this day,” (266).

Though Reepicheep the Mouse’s ambitious character adds humor to the novel, he is representative of something a lot deeper. Reepicheep is determined to take the nobler route always, to promote justice and the good at all times. Never overcome by fear, Reepicheep strives for what he thinks is right. Reepicheep, though smaller and humbler than the rest of the characters, is the only one in the entire book who truly succeeds in doing what St. Ignatius calls “Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam” or, for the Greater Glory of God. This little mouse's efforts and constancy are eventually rewarded, for he reaches Aslan’s country in the end, the place of eternal peace and happiness.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Don't Turn Back

"There's some here [...] who were talking very loud about adventures on the day we sailed from Cair Paravel, and swearing they wouldn't come home till we'd found the end of the world. And there were some standing on the quay who would have given all they had to come with us. It was thought a finer thing then to have a cabin-boy's berth on the Dawn Treader than to wear a knight's belt. I don't know if you get hte hang of what I'm saying. But what I mean is that I think chaps who set out like us will look silly as--as those Dufflepuds--if we come home and say we got to the beginning of the world's end and hadn't the heart go further" (230).

C.S. Lewis' The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is a book about adventure, travel, and most importantly, about not turning back.

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader can be read on a number of levels, but a recurring theme is the idea that we cannot go back. Lucy learns this quite literally as she is flipping throught the Magician's Boo. After reading a truly wonderful story, and wishing to go back and reread it, she discovers "the right-hand pages, the ones ahead, could be turned; the left-hand ones could not" (168). Certain delights may only be experienced once, and we must therefore take them in while they last.

In a more travel-oriented sense, we can relate this theme to Eustace's inner (and outer) transformation. He does not to go to Narnia; he is unwillingly swept away into the painting and onto the Dawn Treader. For a good portion of the book, he is absollutely beastly to the other characters, and it is only when he turns into a beast himself, a dragon, that he begins to understand how his personality is affecting his life. Upon noticing he has become a dragon, Eustace is at first thrilled, thinking he can seek revenge on the characters who had supposedly so mistreated him. However, "the moment he thought this he realized he didn't want to. He wanted to be friends. He wanted to get back among humans and talk and laugh and share things [...] he began to see that the others had not really been fiends at all. He began to wonder if he himself had been such a ncie person as he had always supposed..." (98). Once Eustace has seen the flaws in his character, he is able to make amends and start fresh. From that time on, "he began to be a different boy. He had relapses [...] but most of those I shall not notice" (119-20). The important thing is that Eustace keeps going in the right direction. Despite the fact that he begins the story as an unpleasant little boy has read none of the right books, he is able to change his life, enough so that by the end of the book, everyone can tell he is an almost different person.

In the quote I opened with, the crew of the Dawn Treader has reached the beginning of the world's end and is preparing to make the voyage all the way to the end; unfortunately, some of the men do not wish to partake in the extra step of adventure. Rynelf and Caspian try to convince them, playing into their pathos by reminding them of their original spirit and how much they would undoubtedly regret not taking the few extra steps to accomplish something amazing. They are already so close; how could they think of turning back now?

Lewis is very skilled at taking a children's adventure story and sneaking in themes and points that will subliminally latch on to younger readers but will also ring significant when those readers come back to this book years later. Of course the sailors should not turn back when they have gotten so close to the end of the world. Once we start going on a path, we must continue; where the path goes is not set in stone, but we must keep going ahead, no matter how much we may want to turn around.