"A Little Cloud" by James Joyce

In this short story from Dubliners, Joyce explores the tension between Ireland (Little Chandler) and England (Gallaher). England comes across as an almost threatening force to Ireland, poised to rob Ireland of its identity.

Little Chandler comes across as a very insecure figure, called “Little Chandler” “because, though he was but slightly under the average stature, he gave one the idea of being a little man.” Throughout the story he struggles for identity. He walks to his appointment with Gallaher “tr[ying] to weigh his soul to see if it was a poet’s soul” and while he believes he has emotions that he wishes to express in poetry, his mind does not begin to form the poems but rather the reviews he will receive for his poetry. He feels that to succeed he must leave Dublin for England, as Gallaher did, where he may be recognized for the Irishness of his poetry. Hoping that his (English) critics will recognize him as a member of the Celtic school, he considers under what name he will publish his poetry, wanting to include his mother’s maiden name so that his name will look more Irish. [As a side note, judging by Joyce’s tone I don’t think he thought much of the Celtic school of poetry.]

Poetry does not seem to serve Little Chandler well in the story, however. At the beginning of the story, he thinks of his books of poetry at home and how “he had been tempted to take one down from the bookshelf and read out something to his wife. But shyness had always held him back.” When he finally does read from his books of poetry at the end of the story, the poetry only upsets his crying son more. Also within his home sphere, Chandler cannot seem to find a place. His domineering wife [Thank you for that portrayal of the only woman in this story, Joyce.] completes errands herself that he forgot to do and accuses him of doing something to their son when she returns and finds the baby crying. Chandler wonders “Why had he married the eyes in the photograph [of his wife]?” Chandler is also presented as a rather naïve individual, asking Gallaher if Paris is a “moral” city like Dublin. The other stories in Dubliners (that I have read at least) do not present a very “moral” portrait of Dublin, therefore Joyce intends Little Chandler’s comment to seem naïve to the reader.

Gallaher, in contrast to Little Chandler, is brash, obnoxious and overly confident. His Irishness has been subordinated by Englishness, revealed in his speech and even in his clothing. His orange tie suggests a loyalty to England [William of Orange and all that]. Chandler has come to Gallaher for help in gaining success, but Gallaher is a very unhelpful, off-putting figure, who mocks Chandler for his naïveté.

In this story, Dublin seems to be a prison from which Little Chandler must free himself to achieve success and happiness. Gallaher, by leaving Dublin, gained fame and success in London and he introduces the prospect to Chandler of “thousands of rich Germans and Jews, rotten with money, that’d only be too glad [to have a relationship with him].” When Chandler returns to his home and is wondering why he married his wife, that image of those foreign women returns to him as an appealing thought.

"My Man Bovanne" by Toni Cade Bambara

This story takes place in the generation gap, specifically the gap between the people involved in the Black Power movement of the 1970s and their parents. There are two distinct voices in this story, that of Miss Hazel and Bovanne and the more political—and less “common”—speech of Miss Hazel’s children.

Her offspring are also the voice of the new Black community. Black Power, as it is presented in this story, intends to unite the Black community through a shared African heritage—Elo scoffs at the idea of a generation gap in the Black community—but the Black Power ideals have isolated Miss Hazel and Bovanne.

Hazel and Bovanne share a common trait of helping those who need help, which perhaps is a value of the former Black community. Hazel recognizes Bovanne as the blind man who always fixed children’s skates and scooters and, to be kind, dances with him so that he has company. Hazel’s children chastise her for acting “like a bitch in heat”…and for wearing a dress that is too revealing, and for drinking and for swearing… After such a show of disrespect from her children, Hazel becomes more determined to help Bovanne, “like the hussy [her] daughter always say [she is].”

"Brooklyn" by Paule Marshall

I was surprised that the main character of “Brooklyn” is an older, white, Jewish man. But he provided an interesting counterpoint for the young Black woman. Both he and the young woman have been alienated from their cultures and have suffered for this alienation. His insincere involvement in the Communist party as a young man concerns him in the McCarthy madness and leads to his dismissal from two jobs. This feeling of existing outside of society precipitates his attraction to Miss Williams, whom he describes as “exotic” and who reminds him of a Paul Gauguin painting. Like Gauguin escaped the French social structure by going to Tahiti, Max looks to escape the unfriendly American society of the 1950s in Miss Williams. He also seems to think that a liaison with Miss Williams would somehow be redemptive or at least therapeutic for him:

Her slight apprehensiveness pleased him. It suggested a submissiveness which gave him, as he rose uncertainly, a feeling of certainty and command. Her hesitancy was somehow in keeping with the color of her skin. She seemed to bring not only herself but the host of black women whose bodies had been despoiled to make her. He would not only possess her but them also, he thought (not really thought, for he scarcely allowed these thoughts to form before he snuffed them out). Through their collective suffering, which she contained, his own personal suffering would be eased; he would be pardoned for whatever sin it was he had committed against life.

Dismissed by his father for failing to remain a devout Jew, dismissed by society as a “Communist,” Max has had his power and his feeling of power stripped from him. By sleeping with Miss Williams, he would somehow regain a sense of power, dominating a person of a subordinate sex and race. (Though Max is Jewish, he is still white.)

Similarly, Miss Williams exists in some marginalized space of American culture. She was taught by her parents not to trust white people, but not to associate with Black people whose skin was darker than hers. While a relationship with Miss Williams was supposed to empower Max, his proposition actually empowered her. Finally forced to confront a white person, Miss Williams realizes that they do not have as much power over her as she thought. She tells Max:

“Because how could you harm me? You’re so old you’re like a cup I could break in my hand.” And her hand tightened on his wrist, wrenching the last of his frail life from him, it seemed….Suddenly she was the one who was old, indeed ageless. Her touch became mortal and Max Berman saw the darkness that would end his life gathered in her eyes.

In this moment, Miss Williams reverses the race roles and, indeed, drains Max’s power. Outside of this moment, she gains a confidence and self-assuredness that she did not possess at the beginning of the story, while at the story’s finish Max drives “back through the darkness” to his home.

"An Interest in Life" by Grace Paley

I don’t know what to say about this story!! I thought about it, I read criticism about Grace Paley’s work—I could not find any criticism about this story specifically—and I still don’t know what to say.

What I learned about Paley’s work through the criticism:

  1. She uses various New York dialects, particularly Yiddish, that she heard in her youth to create a distinctive voice for her characters.
  2. “Paley’s stories portray women struggling to raise their families alone or trying to regain their balance after a failed love relationship.”
  3. “As Paley’s fiction has developed, she has shown an increasing interest in the nature of fiction itself and its relationship to the life of the reader.”

From this story, I can say yes, yes, and no.

The story was irritating on the whole. The main character, Virginia, is frustrated at the beginning of the story by her husband giving her a broom and leaving her to join the army. And rightly so. But Virginia seems to agree with her husband’s decision once her anger subsides a little. Her husband becomes disgusted when she becomes pregnant with their fourth child, saying “Oh, you make me so sick, you’re so goddamn big and fat, you look like a goddamn brownstone….All you ever think about is making babies.” And Virginia blames her “own foolishness for four children when I’m twenty-six years old, deserted, and poverty struck, regardless of looks. A man can’t help it, but I could have behaved better.” She becomes involved with John Raftery, who, while married, comes pretty close to being an ideal man. However, at the end of the story Virginia fantasizes about her husband reappearing at home and their….doing dirty things on the kitchen floor.

I…. Sh…. He…. Er….why?

"Janus" by Ann Beattie

A woman lusting after a bowl….kinky.

The end of the story very clearly connects Andrea’s attachment to the bowl with her unresolved feelings about a former relationship. But the bowl seems to represent the allure of “deviant” sexuality for this woman. The bowl is a remnant of a deviant relationship—an affair she had while she was married. And, to get a little Freudian, the bowl is a fairly yonic symbol. Her “lust” for the bowl suggests a lesbian attraction. Basically, the bowl seems represent everything that is not her marriage. In Beattie’s description of Andrea and her husband, their marriage sounds a little lifeless. Her husband declares the bowl “pretty” but “He had no more interest in the bowl than she had in his new Leica.” In the bowl, she looks for “one small flash of blue, a vanishing point on the horizon.” This view of the horizon suggests that Andrea sees no limit in the bowl, while she cannot even bring herself to tell her husband about her opinion that the bowl has made her a successful real estate broker.

I can’t quite figure out the significance of the title. Janus, of course, is a Roman god — the god of gates and doors, of beginnings and endings. Janus is represented as a head with two faces looking in oposite directions. Sometimes one face has a beard while the other does not. The beginnings and endings part of Janus’ description makes sense to me in context of the story—the bowl suggests the ending of a past relationship, and perhaps her current relationship, and an infinite number of new relationships—but I’m not sure what to do with the double face thing. While I suppose that Andrea was deceitful, in that she hid a relationship from her husband, I wouldn’t really call her two-faced. And I can’t quite fit a notion of duality into the story either.

"A View of the Woods" by Flannery O'Connor

Yikes. What a disturbing story.

There is a very messed-up, Oedipal-like triangle (tinged with narcissism) going on in this story. Mr. Fortune and Mary Fortune’s relationship seems more like that of lovers than of grandfather-granddaughter. And Mary Fortune was named after Mr. Fortune’s mother and bears a strong resemblance to Mr. Fortune himself. Mr. Fortune competes for Mary Fortune’s “favors” from her father, Pitts. Mr. Fortune becomes extremely angry and jealous when Mary Fortune submits to Pitts (and allows him to whip her) and, though he claims to like the fact that she stands up to him, Mr. Fortune ultimately resents the fact that Mary Fortune won’t submit to him, as the final scene reveals. O’Connor puts a narcissistic twist in this Oedipal tale, in that ultimately Mr. Fortune destroys himself. When Mary Fortune attacks him, “He seemed to see his own face coming to bite him from several sides at once.” And his killing Mary Fortune leads to his own death by heart attack.

If violence displaces sex in this triangle, Mr. Fortune’s heart problems act like some bizarre substitution for sexual pleasure. He experiences a feeling of his heart being “slightly too large for the space that was supposed to hold it” whenever he knows that Pitts is beating Mary Fortune — he experiences vicarious sexual pleasure through knowledge and fantasy of Pitts’ “sexual” gratification. Mary Fortune’s violence in the gas station excites Mr. Fortune and causes his heart to feel as big as a car. When Mr. Fortune finally dominates her at the end of the story, he experiences something akin to orgasm and has a heart attack.

I thought it was interesting that O’Connor used very human words to describe the environment – “indifferent,” “gaunt,” and “sullen” – while the humans are often described as animals – “large bug,” “wheezing horse,” and “hyena.” There was also some clay symbolism that I couldn’t quite figure out. Mr. Fortune, when he observes Mary Fortune’s one flaw of submitting to Pitts, says that he wishes she had been “made of his own clay.” Mr. Fortune drives them down a clay road, to get the spot when they have their final showdown, and the conflict itself takes place in clay exposed on the ground. The final sentence of the story refers to Mary Fortune’s lifeless body “gorging itself on clay.”

'The Island of Dr. Moreau' by H.G. Wells (1896)

For such a “gods and monsters” tale, I was surprised how (relatively) early in the story Dr. Moreau dies ("offscreen" no less) and without any remorse for his project. Until the end, he seemed determined to build a better Beast who would not revert to its animal form. I dunno. I suppose I am accustomed to the “god” learning a little lesson before the last page of the story.

This novel was a very interesting exploration of humanity — and the lack of humanity and the shades in between. Dr. Moreau’s beasts often seem more “human” than he. He has forced an arbitrary conception of humanity on the Beast People to keep them in check. Many elements of “The Law,”

Not to go on all-Fours; that is the Law. Are we not Men? Not to suck up Drink; that is the Law. Are we not Men? Not to eat Flesh nor Fish; that is the Law. Are we not Men? Not to claw Bark of Trees; that is the Law. Are we not Men? Not to chase other Men; that is the Law. Are we not Men?

those considered to possess humanity simply by virtue of their physical appearance do not even follow. Montgomery drank, but that somehow made him closer to the Beast People rather than distancing him from them by his violation of The Law. So the novel raises many interesting questions. Can one bestow humanity on animals, even for a short while? What is humanity? Do all humans necessarily possess humanity? Are Dr. Moreau’s experiments evidence of humanity? Do the results of his experiments justify the pain of the experiments themselves?

I thought the different types of power Wells explores were interesting. There is the brute physicality of the Beast People, the man-made weapons such as the guns and the whips, the manipulative power of religion or law, and the power of medicine. The animal’s physicality seems to be the power that Wells feels trumps all others. Yes, Prendick does manage to survive with the help of a few man-made weapons, but he doesn’t conquer the Beast People and claim the island for himself — he must flee the island. Religion/law is the power that falters first, and I doubt that religion would have been very effective if Moreau had not had man-made weapons and a scalpel to enforce the law. Therefore, I suppose, “The Law” really was law and not religion. The unknown holds religious observers in check while the known enforces the law.

There is something devious about the power derived from law and medicine. They all rely on a deception of some sort to have effect. Even the weapons….because Montgomery and Moreau wield a couple of whips and revolvers, they seem more powerful than they actually are. Though it is as deadly, there is something more honest about sheer physical strength — strength coupled with instinct.

"Shiloh" by Bobbie Ann Mason

I thought the militaristic aspect that Mason imposes on Leroy and Norma Jean’s relationship was interesting. Norma Jean’s various activities — weight training, night school, even her organ playing — seem like boot camp or field maneuvers for her battle to leave Leroy. (The image of her marching around her kitchen with weights around her ankles is a particularly powerful example.) She even strategizes, waiting until she can leave Leroy — on a battlefield no less — without the dominating presence of her mother. Mason even references the origin of Norma Jean’s name as the Normans who invaded England.

I can’t quite decide what precipitated Norma Jean leaving Leroy, if there was just one thing. Obviously, she felt suffocated by his presence at the house: “In some ways, a woman prefers a man who wanders.” But Leroy might have invaded her domain in more ways than one. He has started all of these homey, though not specifically “feminine,” activities. His influence seems to dominate the home sphere; he continues to obsess about building a house throughout the story. Norma Jean responds by seizing a former piece of his sphere, weight training, and then moving out into Leroy’s former domain by pursuing activities outside of the house. Norma Jean’s confrontation with her mother also seems to be a crucial factor in precipitating the break up. She has been living under Mabel’s control for thirty-four years, hiding her smoking habit like a teenager. When she survives the confrontation over the cigarette, she gets braver in her interactions with her mother, correcting her mother’s pronunciation of “dachshund” and telling her to “shut up.” A tension existed between Leroy and Mabel over the fact that Leroy and Norma Jean got pregnant and, thus, married. Mabel seems determined in the story to keep Norma Jean and Leroy married so perhaps Norma Jean’s gaining confidence in dealing with her mother ultimately leads to her leaving Leroy.

"No Place for You, My Love" by Eudora Welty

I wasn’t quite sure what to make of this story.

Welty seems to be playing with the mythic quest narrative. These two strangers journey to the end of the world (or Louisiana) but not to bring back a treasure or magic elixir, rather to have their fling. This quest doesn’t seem to be a coming-of-age narrative as many mythic quests are. Rather, in this quest this man and woman are trying to escape the social constraints that prevent them from exploring romantic urges. At the beginning of the story, the two are displaced from their usual environment and are hyper-aware of the social situation in which they were placed — the only Northerners seated at the same table at a party to keep each other company. They must journey to the more primitive part of world to have their brief romance, a dance and a kiss. The woman’s reminder of social constraints — her question about the man’s wife — prompts a slap from the man.

Their relationship is rather short-lived and seemingly unfulfilled. They dance in a shabby diner for a while (substitution for sex?) and then share one kiss before driving back to civilization. And the relationship seems to be an outlet only for the man. He determines when he first sees the woman that she looks like a woman who would have an affair with a married man. His desire for a relationship propels their journey. The woman seems pulled along by his desire.

“Melodramas of Beset Manhood: How Theories of American Fiction Exclude Women Authors” by Nina Baym

In this piece, Baym criticizes literary theorists for excluding female authors from the canon. Because of the United States’ split from Britain, the earliest American literary critics had no criteria by which to judge American literature—relying on British standards would have been traitorous. Thus, critics had to judge literature based on its “Americanness.” Literature of America should reflect the experience of America and, thus, the ultimate subject of the work must be America as a nation. This definition has two consequences, according to Baym: 1) stories about universal experiences are excluded and 2) detailed portrayals of some aspect of American life are also excluded.

Eventually “the essential quality of America comes to reside in its unsettled wilderness and the opportunities that such a wilderness offers to the individual as the medium on which he may inscribe, unhindered, his own destiny and his own nature.” This concept of Americanness is the ultimate perpetrator of the exclusion of women from the canon. Within novels that explore this “unsettled wilderness” women are often portrayed as the enemy. Women are the socializing forces that prevent the (male) main character from exploring this wilderness and creating his own destiny. While the evil encroaching force of society is feminized, the wilderness is feminized as well, but as compliant and supportive rather than destructive (as society is portrayed).

Essentially, Baym claims that critics have defined Americanness to represent the male psyche.

I found Baym’s argument mildly interesting, but a little too essentialist for my taste. There was too much of “men write this way and women would never do that.” Until the very last paragraph of her article, she seems to ignore the fact that male writers who have contradicted the “Americanness” concept as defined by literary critics and are also often excluded from the canon.

How do the American women usually included in the canon—Anne Bradstreet, Sarah Kemble Knight, and Emily Dickinson—clear the hurdles which this narrowly defined concept of Americanness has erected?

"Nineteen Fifty-five" by Alice Walker

In this short story, Walker relies on elements of blues music, specifically contrast and contradiction, in telling her tale. Through the two main characters, Gracie Mae and Traynor, Walker explores several dichotomies, including woman/man, rich/poor, and Black/white.

As the narrator, Gracie Mae creates the story, but also as a character she enables the telling of it. At the two main characters’ first encounter, Traynor remains inarticulate, allowing his manager to negotiate the purchase of one of Gracie Mae’s songs. The success of his recording leads to their future communication and the rest of the story. By buying Gracie Mae’s song, Traynor acquires a voice and thus a major part in the story. However, Traynor never seems to develop his own voice, but rather borrows Gracie Mae’s. In every performance of her song, he performs an imitation of her rather than an original rendition, and he never fully understands the meaning of Gracie Mae’s piece.

Traynor’s voice wavers and eventually is silenced in the story while Gracie Mae’s remains constant. She survives while everyone else seems to die: “Because just about everybody was dead…Malcolm X, King, the president and his brother, and even J.T.” And eventually even Traynor. Gracie Mae’s experience as a poor, Black woman is the enduring and universal experience, not Traynor’s life as a rich, white man. Traynor buys her gifts — tries to insert pieces of his experience into hers — that the reader never hears of again or that Gracie Mae sells. Her practicality trumps his opulence. Her emotions and experience that she put into her song resonate with Traynor’s audience in a way that his own words cannot. Even he thinks that his songs “don’t seem to be about nothing I’ve actually lived myself.”

A minor irritation: I really like Gracie Mae’s description and acceptance of her weight:

I’ll never see three hundred pounds again and I’ve just about said (excuse me) fuck it. I got to thinking about it one day an’ I thought: aside from the fact that they say it’s unhealthy, my fat ain’t never been no trouble. Mens always have loved me. My kids ain’t never complained. Plus they’s fat. And fat like I is I look distinguished. You see me coming and you know somebody’s there.

In comparison to Traynor, who gains weight as the story progresses, Gracie Mae’s size makes her steadfast, “somebody’s there.” Traynor’s struggle with his weight is involved with his struggle to find his identity. Gracie Mae comments on his appearance on the Johnny Carson show that he was “all corseted down” and he grows angry when the audience laughs at the sight of him trying to embrace a woman as large as Gracie Mae. Her acceptance of her size gives her the confidence and peace that Traynor never seems to have.

Here is where the irritation comes in. I don’t know what to make of the fact that Gracie Mae decides “I’ma git this shit offa me” and starts dieting at the end of the story. Not that I’m opposed to people wanting to be healthier, but it doesn’t quite seem to fit with the rest of the story.

Fenton Bailey & Randy Barbato's 'Party Monster' (2003)

To be honest, I watched this movie for one reason: Seth Green. However, I found the movie quite enjoyable. It's not a perfect film: Chloë Sevigny's and Dylan McDermott's characters felt underdeveloped to me and some of the character intrusion and narration seemed unnecessary. But Party Monster is a fascinating, entertaining and funny movie, nonetheless.

Seth Green did not disappoint me. His portrayal of James St. James is excellent and his passion and devotion to the role apparent. I am undecided about Culkin's performance. Michael seems shallow to me, but that is actually appropriate to the role, as Michael Alig seems void of humanity in the interviews I have watched. Culkin's Alig seems a mere poseur to Green's St. James, who lives and breathes fabulousness. But again, that aspect could also be essential to Michael's character who seemed to be a club kid just because it would lead to attention. Mostly, though, I was wishing that Kieran was on the screen instead. Chloë Sevigny is underused in her role of Michael's girlfriend and I could have done with seeing more interaction between Michael and Angel. And some boy-on-boy intimacy. The directors were willing to show such outrageous costumes, copious amounts of drug use, and yet no affection between men despite the heavy homoerotic overtones between the actors. The lack of homosexual interaction wouldn't bother me as much if Michael and his girlfriend weren't shown in intimate moments as well.

I'm also completely baffled by the naming of this project. Directors Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato originally made a documentary about Michael Alig and the club kids called Party Monster: The Shockumentary in 1998. This Party Monster, the non-documentary Party Monster, is based more on James St. James autobiography Disco Bloodbath, which has subsequently been renamed Party Monster in connection to promotion of this film. Why not just call this movie Disco Bloodbath and save everyone some confusion?

Andy Wachowski & Larry Wachowski's 'The Matrix Reloaded' (2003)

Before I begin, I must say that I am not a lover of action movies. However, I consider The Matrix to be one of the best films I saw in 1999. Along with movies like Minority Report, The Matrix manages to be much more than an action movie. The original film provides enough fodder for philosophical discussions to last for years, but sadly I cannot say the same of The Matrix Reloaded.

Due to the success of the first film, I assume the sequel probably had a much larger budget. But it is obvious that the money was spent toward special effects and action scenes rather than developing a script as thought-provoking as the first. The minor philosophical issues raised by characters like the Architect and Merovingian are painfully boring to sit through. These scenes attempt to cram as much philosophical discussion in the shortest amount of time so that the film might move on to the next action sequence. And while some of these action sequences are stunning – as most people have mentioned, the car chase is brilliant – many of them fail to blend CGI effects into live action footage very successfully. Therefore, several times I felt as I though I was watching someone play a video game rather than watching a film. The Wachowskis also put themselves in a difficult position because of Neo's seeming invincibility in the Matrix. Since Neo can manipulate the Matrix any way he chooses, the action sequences involving Neo have the most possibility of being spectacular. But since Neo can manipulate the Matrix any way he chooses, the audience feels safe that he will not die and, therefore, little dramatic tension is created. Fights involving Morpheus and Trinity have dramatic tension because they do not have the same control of the Matrix as Neo does, but those action sequences will not be as spectacular as Neo's.

As far as the plot is concerned, the film doesn't seem to follow through with it. At the beginning of the film, the machines are going to attack Zion and at the end of the film, the machines have still yet to attack Zion. The Matrix Reloaded felt like the first two and half hours of a five hour film, which will be continued when Revolutions comes out. The script also fails to provide any real character development, especially for the new characters.