Kate Chopin’s novel The Awakening presents a woman’s quest for self-fulfillment in a society that limits the freedom of women. Through Chopin’s depiction of Edna Pontellier’s individualistic awakening in 19th century society alongside characters that exude the custom and expected qualities esteemed for women of her class, Chopin shocked her contemporaries by illustrating a woman’s quest for personal desires. Although “The Awakening” was initially criticized because of its controversial subject matter, most critics today applaud Chopin for her feminist portrayal of an individual woman’s quest for self-expression, for she utilizes local color such as setting and Edna’s fellow characters to emphasize this awakening. However, bringing a critical eye to Chopin’s novel, some critics call attention to the limits of Edna’s awakening because even though she pursues individuality she never fully succeeds in her quest for selfhood because she still adheres to the confines of her society. In this way Chopin’s novel uses contrasting cultural forces in Edna’s society to reveal an unfulfilled quest for individuality. Continue reading
The final chapter in The Theory Toolbox about agency explains that agency “is always a response to given contexts,” meaning that we are always reacting depending to specific contexts (204). Even if you choose to ignore someone greeting you instead of acknowledging them, that act of ignoring them in itself is a reaction. In this way, it seems to me that we are not preemptive but instead always reacting to our surroundings depending on contexts. Even though our reactions are triggered by contexts that are out of our control and are “not of our own creation,” we have the agency to choose our individual reactions (204). Calling back to ideas behind self versus subject, even though we are subject to different contexts depending on situations, we do have a degree of agency because we can choose to some extent how to act within these contexts. Although subjects are influenced by contexts, “subjects are not merely or simply determined by their contexts” (202). While one may lament our lack of individuality to some extent because of different contexts, in the end we are still relatively independent selves because we do have the agency to not conform entirely to these contexts.
The reading on Differences in The Theory Toolbox helpfully dovetailed with the discussions simultaneously going on in my sociology class this semester. Studying the difference between “sex” and “gender,” in sociology sex is seen as the definition for the biological and physical differences between males and females. Gender is much more complex because it divides men and women by characteristics associated with each gender, whether one is masculine or feminine. Nealon and Giroux incorporate the difference between these two identifying words in the Differences chapter because they recognize the stark distinction between what society signifies as one’s sex and one’s gender. While all can agree that differences do exist between the sexes, our reproductive organs being one example, the sharp dichotomy between the masculine and feminine genders is murkier. Society constructs the characteristics of masculinity and femininity associated with each gender instead of there being unchanging facts associated with each (169). In this way, the differences between genders can shift depending on the context for “the differences themselves don’t contain a specific meaning” (168). Rather, it is within our specific social and cultural contexts that we assign different meanings to each gender, giving them specific characteristics of masculinity and femininity.
The New Historicism is intriguing because it involves many different forms of criticism throughout its process. Ross C Murfin explains that New Historicism should not be called “new” because it often “work[s] on the border of another school” (124). Instead, this collaboration, I believe, makes New Historicism interesting because it allows the critic to delve into issues often addressed in a Marxist or feminist reading, just to name a few, in regards to the historic context of the topic. New Historicism breaks away from the New Critics because it approaches literature by taking the text’s historic influences into account. Rather viewing history as constant facts presented in a linear pattern, New Historicists recognize history as a reconstruction, one that is greatly influenced by our own perceptions of it. With this in mind, New Historicism studies texts within history but they stay away from defining texts based on some general “Spirit of the Age” that historians have assigned to different time periods. Looking at literature this way presents a new way of studying works in relation to the time period they come from, for they often reflect aspects of life that do not fit in the “Spirit of the Age” that their time period supposedly possessed.
I think it’s interesting to see the difference in how people measure and objectively view time and space in comparison to how people feel and perceive them. The Theory Toolbox explained using several examples that although within society we have numerical measurements for time and space, whether it is seconds or days and different lengths of distance, how time and space is experienced often depends on the individual. In regards to the idiosyncrasies of personal experiences, many people can relate to the idea of time moving ridiculously slow during one activity but flying by in the next just depending on one’s attitude or perspective. For instance, a student who has done all the reading and understands the chapter on Space/Time for this class may have felt the discussion time move quickly because they were fully engaged. However, the exact opposite could be said for the student who didn’t read the material and had absolutely no desire to even be in a classroom, let alone talk about The Theory Toolbox. What appears to be a set one hour and fifteen minute class can actually feel completely different depending on a student’s attitude and perspective.
In the same way, Nealon and Giroux propose that space can also be dependent on the individual instead of just basic dimensions and measurements of distance. Take, for instance, the idea of the city as a space. In regards to a class system, some would view the city through its positive and “high-culture” characteristics such as fine dining and cultural works like art and the ballet. However, the same city can be seen as dangerous and run-down due to high poverty, crime, and poor infrastructure in lower-class neighborhoods. Space relative to an individual’s perspective is interesting because people often view space as a static backdrop for the events of our lives, yet it constantly changes due to how we perceive it.
The view of ideology as how things ought to be, as prescriptive, pertains to many pressing issues our society faces today. There seems to be a disconnect between how people think of certain problems, like college binge drinking for example, and “concrete explanations” for these problems (85). In regards to binge drinking on college campuses, Nealon and Giroux explain that many individuals place blame on low morals in students, poor parenting, and lack of enforcement of college rules. These reasons, especially the enforcement of laws on campus, are particularly addressed because college administrators can strengthen rules on campus and then the problem would seemingly by solved. Yet, as we discussed in class, the root of binge drinking does not stop at college and with young adults, alcohol abuse happens in any setting and at any age. I saw an article recently from Washington Post about Catholic University’s new plan to revert to single-sex dorms in an effort to stop underage drinking and promiscuous sex. By blaming the co-habitation of both genders, the University has found a practical response to this problem by eliminating co-ed dorms. I thought this article tied in with our discussion of binge drinking on campus because although Catholic University addressed their problem through changing the dorm styles, I feel the problem with young adults drinking and having sex connects to broader social ideas, for our culture has greatly integrated alcohol into our society so we don’t want to change its role in our culture.
Here’s a link to the article online if you’re interested in what it had to say: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/campus-overload/post/catholic-university-reverts-to-single-sex-dorms/2011/06/14/AGHbHjUH_blog.html
Tonight’s guest speaker was really great. Although I took geology to fulfill my science requirements, I wouldn’t classify myself as a rock fan by any means, but tonight’s lecture was actually very interesting. Like Dr. Seaman mentioned in her opening, Dr. Cohen is magnetic and made his topic of stone engaging and informative. He used many visual examples like Stonehenge and the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin which made the lecture memorable. Also, the food was excellent! The mushrooms were delectable; I can easily say that that spread was the best food I’ve ever had on campus. Tonight was really great because of the perfect combination of an engaging speaker and tasty appetizers!
The chapter on Culture in The Theory Toolbox addresses a view of culture as a separation of “high” and “low”. Nealon and Giroux claim that people can easily distinguish between this high and low culture because each category has certain qualities that make it identifiable (64). High culture supposedly has values that we ought to be taught, while low culture lacks substantial meaning (65). While I agree that high culture does involve positive aspects of society that we should appreciate, I still feel that what others deem as “low” culture does have some merit. Nealon and Giroux note that although Steven King is simply a writer of horror, not an author of literature, he still publishes many bestsellers (61). Clearly there is something in his writing that the general public enjoys or he wouldn’t be such a success. With this in mind, I believe that although popular aspects of culture, those that are deemed as “low,” may not contain timeless values like high culture, these staples of American culture should still be respected as influential in our generation. For example, everyone looks down upon the tv show Jersey Shore because it is trashy and vulgar, yet scholars who focus on cultural studies find it important because this show has impacted our society today. Even though aspects of our popular culture may not be as intellectually stimulating as they could be, they should still be granted some respect in the academic world because whether we like it or not they do affect our society. Nealon and Giroux explain that we learn from low culture even if it is not valued like high culture (68). I agree that we do learn much about ourselves and society through popular culture and therefore we should respect it, maybe not as much as high culture, but we should still appreciate it as an important aspect of our society.
This Monday, in honor of English Studies Day, we had two
guest speakers, Dr. Chris Warnick and Carol Ann Davis, come in to class and
answer some questions about English Studies along with the ins and outs of
being an English major. This class was particularly interesting because we
addressed the changes currently happening in English, not only in our
department but in schools all across the country. Dr. Warnick noted that
English departments are experiencing a great shift with the growth in writing
studies, for some schools even offer a Writing Studies major now. I believe
this is an exciting time to be an English major because now classes are
focusing on elements of English Studies that were once on the “fringe.” For
instance, instead of just taking classes that expand upon literature and the
history of different periods, in the new major here at the College students are
additionally encouraged to take courses that address composition and rhetoric. This
shift provides students with an opportunity to study different elements of
English Studies that have not been as stressed upon in the past. I know I for
one never took any kind of rhetoric courses in high school so I look forward to
exploring that aspect of English under the new major. With this in mind, I
intend to take Dr. Devet’s Technical Writing course (Engl 334) this spring
because it will focus on forms of writing that I have never encountered before.
This sub-field of composition is one that I am interested in and look forward
to learning more about next semester.
In addition to discussing the shifting aspects of English
Studies, our two guest speakers gave helpful advice in regards to what to do
with an English major. With the job market appearing tough these days, it seems
extra difficult for those in the humanities to find a job they that enjoy and that
brings in money. Both speakers explained that students shouldn’t go to graduate
school unless they receive tuition waivers or stipends for teaching. This advice
is helpful because oftentimes students go to grad school if they don’t know
what that want to do yet career-wise (I know that’s what I was planning). However,
their advice was realistic and helpful for English majors because we can go
into almost any field, which at times is scary because there are almost too
many options to choose from. Overall, the guest speakers were a great addition
to this course because they explained the changes in English Studies and what
we can do with the tools we gain by being English majors.
In the chapter on subjectivity, Nealon and Giroux suggest
that race is not inherently natural but instead invented by society and pressed
upon us based on politics and ideology (40). Although skin pigmentation can be
seen physically, the attributes associated with different races are products of
cultural views. I found this example very interesting because if one, like me, doesn’t
happen to spend a large amount of time dwelling on the institution of race then
one wouldn’t recognize its unnatural qualities. Nealon and Giroux explain that
there was a time when the Irish were not considered “white,” which is
completely different from how we view them in society today. I found this
example fascinating because it truly proves that race can be interpreted and is
not just a static “fact.” Instead, “subjects or selves are constructed by being
subject to certain social categories or definitions” (40). The self, one’s core essence, is subject to these categories like race, but this category is “culturally constructed” and can thus change over time (40). I feel this connects back to the idea of fact as an
interpretation because definitions such as race or even gender, which are often
considered scientific, are actually wide-spread interpretation (36). In class
we discussed the definition of gender and the idea of there actually existing
more than just the distinct two sexes; there may exist grey area in between instead
of just a strict dichotomy. I believe this approach to social categories, such
as race and gender as social constructs rather than set facts, gives us freedom
to escape from such strict labels. It promotes the idea that one is not limited
to the scientific distinctions of race and gender and the cultural views
associated with these labels.