Where are you going, Where have you been by Joyce Carol Oates | Short Story Analysis

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Connie is your typical attractive teenage girl – she likes going out with friends and flirting with boys. She’s annoyed with her family, especially her mother who’s constantly criticizing her. Her flirting is mostly innocent fun until she’s confronted by a strange older man named Arnold Friend at her home.

Some may view this story as a cautionary tale -a young woman ends up being punished for venturing into adult sexuality. And although her fate after leaving with Arnold is undescribed, all the clues in the story make it clear it will be something horrible (rape/murder). Another way some view the story is that Connie is a hero – she went with Arnold because he was threatening her family and she wanted to keep them safe.

However, I think there’s much more to it than that. Arnold could be something more sinister than a creepy guy. Look at how far he takes his façade – stuffing his boots to look taller, the sunglasses, possibly wearing a wig and such. A more simple explanation would be that he’s hiding his age and wants to seem young and cool to teenage girls.

But there’s also a possibly that Arnold has supernatural origins, possibly a demon. First off his name ‘Arnold Friend” seems artificial. Along with his appearance it’s like he’s trying to imitate a human being rather than being one naturally.  At one point when Connie observes his appearance and demeanor more the narrative states, “But all these things did not come together.” Meaning that he seems very unnatural.

The way  he seems to entrance Connie also indicates he’s not wholly human. He uses his persuasion to get Connie to come with him, rather than physical (which would have been the last resort). He’s confident in his power of persuasion and snaps at his friend Ellie when he suggests taking other measures.

While the supernatural theory could be wrong, I do think Arnold is basically meant to embody the ultimate predator. He disguises himself to lure in victims and he knows to entrance them.

“And he drew an X in the air, leaning out toward her. They were maybe ten feet apart.
After his had fell back to his side the X was still in the air almost visible.”

Here is where it shows that Connie’s fate is sealed. She has been “X’d” out and the predator will succeed by the end. Arnold shows how evil can appear suddenly and in the most unlikely of places. Connie was just an average teenage girl, but meeting Arnold has forced her to confront the terrible aspects of the world which Arnold embodies.

 

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The Duff by Kody Keplinger | Book Review

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The Duff is a Young Adult book about a girl named Bianca Piper who is best friends with two beautiful girls and is “plain” by comparison. She gets labeled a Duff (designated ugly fat friend) by a popular, attractive boy named Wesley who’s known in school for sleeping around. Bianca throws cherry coke when he he gives her the label and claims to be repulsed by him. But things aren’t so good at home and soon sex with Wesley becomes a distraction for her issues.

This book is definitely a page turner, Bianca’s drama really pulled me in. I think many teens could relate. Even though I’m an adult now a lot of things in the book reminded me of my own teen years. Bianca’s bad attitude annoyed me at times, I understand why she was this way but it was still a bit much at times. That doesn’t mean I didn’t like her, she’s definitely a decent character and someone I could see myself being friends with.

Bianca’s friendship with Jessica and Casey (the pretty, popular girls) was something I really liked. I love seeing good female friendships in books and this book does a good job with that. They’re all supportive of each other and care about one another. Normally in books like this they’d make the pretty girls shallow and stupid but in here they actually have substance. Now as for Wesley, I liked him overall even though at times I wasn’t sure. I don’t usually like the whole falling in love with the jerk/man-whore thing but here it was somewhat tolerable.

Another great thing about this book is it’s stance against labels often given to women like “duff” and “whore” all meant to make women feel bad about themselves. It’s great to see a YA book without the slut shaming. The Duff has been on my “to read” list for a year now and I’m really glad I finally read it. 4/5. 

Eve’s Apology in Defense of Women by Aemilia Lanyer | Poetry Analysis

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Eve’s Apology in Defense of Women is a poem by Aemilia Lanyer (1569-1645) that comes from her work Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum and when I first read it I was fascinated – the poem basically makes an argument that blaming all women for Eve’s sin is silly, and that if she is to be blamed then Adam is just as at fault. She also makes a defense for Eve’s actions.

Lanyer is very bold with this work and that’s what I like about it. She turns societal notions about women upside down by using them in her argument.

Here are some excerpts from the poem:

“Till not your indiscretion sets us free,
And makes our former fault much less appear;
Our mother Eve, who tasted of the tree,
Giving to Adam what she held most dear,
Was simply good and had no power to see;
The after-coming harm did not appear:
The subtle serpent that our sex betrayed
Before our plot had laid”

Here, the speaker argues for Even’s innocence – she was ignorant of the consequences and only offered Adam the apple out of love for him.

“But surely Adam cannot be excused;
Her fault though great, yet he was most to blame.
What weakness offered, strength might have refused;
Being lord of all, the greater was his shame;
Although the serpent’s craft had her abused,
God’s holy word ought all his actions frame;
For he was lord and king of all the earth,
Before poor Eve had either life or breath,”

So, basically Adam is more at fault because he should have known better. Still, it could be that the speaker’s goal is to show if you’re going to blame one, you can blame the other. The conclusion should be that either both are punished for their actions or no one takes the blame for what another committed.

“Whom, if unjustly you condemn to die,
Her sin was small to what you do commit,
All mortal sins that do for vengeance cry
Are not to be compared unto it;
If many worlds would altogether r try
By all their sins the wrath of God to get,
This sin of yours surmounts them all as far
As doth the sun another little star

The speaker’s argument turns to discussing how it was men who betrayed Jesus — the greatest sin of all.

“Then let us have our liberty again,
And challenge to yourselves no sovereignty.
You came not in the world without our pain,
Make that a bar against your cruelty
Your fault being greater, why should you disdain
Our being your equals, free from tyranny?
If one weak woman did offend,
This sin of yours hath no excuse nor end.”

Again, this emphasis that men have committed a greater sin – and that if women are to be punished for there’s then men should be punished as well.

This poem is a pretty harsh one but I didn’t really get “punish men” out of it, I got the idea that entire groups shouldn’t be punished for the actions of a biblical figure. I imagine this was a radical idea in Lanyer’s time.

Goblin Market by Christina Rossetti | Poetry Analysis

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Goblin Market is probably one of the most interesting and strange poems I have read. I mean it terms of lyricism and prose it doesn’t wow me. But the little story the poem tells and how drips with erotic undertones does.

Come on it’s hard not to think of sexual innuendos when reading this poem. I mean look at this:

“She suck’d and suck’d and suck’d the more
Fruits which that unknown orchard bore;
She suck’d until her lips were sore;”

I’m not saying this is a bad thing I find it quite entertaining. I even wrote a paper on this poem for one of my classes. It was a psychoanalytic analysis, and wow this poem gave me a lot of material to work with. Now I’m going to write some of my thoughts here.

According to Sigmund Freud’s theory of psychosexual development there are these stages: Oral, Anal, Phallic, Latency, Genital.  A person is supposed to pass by these stages normally, but sometimes if something goes wrong a person can become stuck in one of the early stages.

Now the oral is the first stage and starts in infancy. I bring this up because in Goblin Market there’s a lot of oral fixation going on. Laura, especially has not advanced past the oral stage of development and so her sexual fantasies fixate on it.

The image of Goblins and fruit is childlike imagery – both of the sisters in the poem are naïve and inexperienced. Therefore, their sexual temptations are taking the form of childhood fantasy creatures. Laura is the one who gives into the temptation and Lizzie has save her.

Because of the childishness in association with sex – this is why there is so many references to the mouth within the poem such as the quote above. Here’s some more examples from different parts of the poem:

“Stamp’d upon her tender feet,
Held her hands and squeez’d their fruits
Against her mouth to make her eat.”

“Lizzie utter’d not a word;
Would not open lip from lip
Lest they should cram a mouthful in:”

“Shaking with aguish fear, and pain,
She kiss’d and kiss’d her with a hungry mouth.”

“Her lips began to scorch,
That juice was wormwood to her tongue,”

And so on. After Laura had given into the goblin’s temptation she begins to rot away – this gives reference to the societal idea that a woman is “used” up after she has given into temptation.

Lizzie has to win back her sister’s virtue – she faces the goblins and is able to refuse their advances. But Lizzie is also a woman in control of her sexuality. She takes what she wants from the goblins and is able to return to her sister.

In the end, sisterhood beats the goblins.

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad | Book Review

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Hating Heart of Darkness is almost cliché at this point. Sure it’s a classic and all, but many people hate the book. Reasons range from it not being a fun read to the racism found within the text.

Well I guess I’m a cliché when it comes to this.

Heart of Darkness was not fun to read, and recently I’ve read it for the third time.  But this isn’t a good enough reason to disparage it – plenty of books are not “fun” but should still be respected. However, Conrad’s book isn’t one of them.

Another thing, I’m not writing off this book because it’s racist either. Coming from a black girl:  when it comes to classic works, even racism can be forgiven the work is good enough.

My issue is that Heart of Darkness gets its point across very poorly. First of all, it’s too brief. Conrad doesn’t make his themes into anything meaningful in the short amount of time.

I got the impression that Conrad simply didn’t know how to portray his overall meaning, and so it resulted in a brief novella that doesn’t reach its full potential.

And what is he saying? That colonizers will become “savages” themselves by interacting with the Africans? Offensive or not, this idea is not presented in any masterful way.

Like a lot of colonial writers, Conrad also doesn’t grasp the African setting he writes about – to him it’s some dark abyss that he doesn’t know how portray or understand.

In the end, the truth is we don’t have to forgive Heart of Darkness for its racism since it isn’t very good.

2.5/5

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte | Book Review

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I suppose this is technically a re-read. When I was a kid I read Jane Eyre but I wasn’t that invested into it. So really, reading it was like reading something new. And I have to say I loved it.

Jane’s experience throughout the novel was relatable to me. I loved her narration. Although, like many classic books from this era, there are some long descriptions I didn’t really mind them too much.

One thing I don’t understand though is why so many ladies are head-over-heels in love with Mr. Rochester. I mean, he’s an interesting character and all but I didn’t find him to be some amazing literary heartthrob. But I suppose it’s a matter of taste.

Funny enough, I actually thought Jane would be a better match with St. John, a cold, religious man she meets near the end. I know I’m a minority on that but I just thought they would make a more compelling couple.

However, relationships aside Jane Eyre is a beautiful novel overall. It is one of the best classics I have read. The way the text presents Jane’s life is masterful. I’m glad I gave the book another chance.

 

Now for a few quotes I really like:

“They are not fit to associate with me.”

“People think you a good woman, but you are bad, hard-hearted. You are deceitful.”

“I am very happy, Jane; and when you hear that I am dead, you must be sure and not grieve: there is nothing to grieve about. We all must die one day, and the illness which is removing me is not painful; it is gentle and gradual: my mind is at rest. I leave no one to regret me much: I have only a father; he is lately married, and will not miss me. By dying young, I shall escape great sufferings. I had not qualities or talents to make my way very well in the world: I should have been continually at fault.”

“Women are supposed to be very calm generally: but women feel just as men feel; they need exercise for their faculties, and a field for their efforts as much as their brothers do; they suffer from too rigid a restraint, too absolute a stagnation, precisely as men would suffer; and it is narrow-minded in their more privileged fellow-creatures to say they ought to confine themselves to making puddings and knitting stockings, to playing on the piano and embroiding bags. It is thoughtless to condemn them, or laugh at them, if they seek to do more or learn more than custom has pronounced necessary for their sex.”

“She was not good; she was not original; she used to repeat sounding phrases from books: she never offered, nor had, an opinion of her own.”

 

Alice by Christina Henry | Book Review

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*Slightly Spoiler-ish*

Alice in Wonderland has spawned many re-tellings. And why wouldn’t it? It’s a great story that sparks everyone’s imagination. Many like to put a much darker spin on the story. Such is the case with Christina Henry’s novel “Alice.”

The book follows Alice, a woman taken from a happy, privileged life and forced into an asylum. There she meets Hatcher, an unstable man that murdered some people with an axe. At first, neither of them remember much of the events before their imprisonment. Alice simple remembers being harmed by a man called the Rabbit. However, the details are a blur to her. Hatcher, on the other hand, lives in constant fear of the so-called “Jabberwocky.”

A fire in the Asylum gives them both a chance to escape, and they do. But life outside is far from easy. Soon Alice finds out the jabberwocky is real, and she and Hatcher have to stop it somehow. They also have to put together the pieces of their pasts. Including finding out Alice’s history with the Rabbit.

That’s the basic run of the plot. Instead of the wonderland full of weird and fantastical creatures we get the Old City – a place full of sex trafficking, violence, poverty and general misery. But don’t worry, some magical elements are definitely thrown in along the way.  We’re not giving much information about the world outside the Old City and the New City (the privileged, wealthy city where Alice formally lived, basically the opposite of the Old City). Both places are heavily guarded by soldiers so no one can leave.

The world Henry has built is fascinating but there’s a major problem – it doesn’t feel complete. Despite all the gruesome and interesting ideas, it doesn’t really come together as a whole. The original Alice in Wonderland has random image after random image but it still managed to feel complete.

Overall, the book just feels disorganized and eventually builds up to a pretty disappointing conclusion. Villains like “The Walrus”, “The Rabbit” and the Jabberwocky are built up as these monstrous individuals but when we actually meet them they’re quickly dispatched. Confrontation with them is too quick, essentially, this also adds to the book not really feeling like a coherent piece. I wanted more interaction with these villains, and I didn’t really get it.

Sex trafficking is a major issue in the Old City, and this also adds to another of the books flaws. All the women are defined by being victims or their potential to be victims. I would have liked to see some more strong female characters (judging by the synopsis of the upcoming sequel we might get that in the next book.) besides Alice have a major role, and fight all the crap in the Old City. We meet a couple cool women, but their roles aren’t really major.

This might seem like a negative review so far but I actually enjoyed reading the book. One positive is Alice and Hatcher’s relationship – it was just right. Hints of romance are giving now and again but it’s not really forced onto the reader. Their relationship is more of a really intense friendship, it’s complex and beautiful and I like that. There’s also some really cool/horrific scenes in the book.

In the end, it’s well worth the read.

Although I would have suggested a different title as well. Just “Alice” doesn’t really seem to do it justice.

Anyways, 3.5/5