A Southern Belle in Decline.

The South, The Smell and The Societal Moral Descent in William Faulkner’s ‘A Rose for Emily’.

"Alive, Miss Emily had been a tradition, a duty, and a care;
a sort of hereditary obligation upon the town".

A_Rose_for_Emily

A corpse revealed: “in the second pillow was the indentation of a head […] ad a long strand of iron-gray hair”.

William Faulkner’s 1930 short story, ‘A Rose for Emily’ is an example of Southern Gothic. Lloyd Smith (2004, p. 21) describes Southern Gothic as a tradition that sees “the return of the past […] whatever the culture does not want to know or admit, will not or dare not tell itself”.  He claims that this is due to the fact that, historically speaking the South is haunted by “tensions between a culturally sanctioned progressive optimism and an actual dark legacy”. Faulkner’s story tells the tale of one of the most iconic southern belles in literary tradition. Set in the fictional county of Yoknapatawapha, in Mississippi, the tale opens with the funeral of Miss Emily Grierson. Emily is an elderly southern woman whose funeral is attended by the entire populace of the town. But alas, she is no Scarlet O’Hara. ‘A Rose for Emily’ features one of the darkest Southern Belle. She is very much a Southern Belle in decline.

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Carpetbagger cartoon by Thomas Nast

‘A Rose for Emily’ can be read as a metaphor for the dematerialization of the ‘Old South’. References to the legacy of the American Civil War manifests in the character of Homer Baron. Homer is a Yankee carpetbagger whose purpose in coming to town is to install “sidewalks”(Faulkner, 2012). ‘Carpetbagger’ was the term used to refer to the Northern Republicans who migrated to the South after the Civil War. Local residents often viewed them as intruders who were looking to exploit the South’s post-war turmoil for their own gain. The fact that Emily, as a southerner, murders the Yankee carpetbagger, means this text can be read as a revenge story. The revenge Emily exacts on the north and its inhabitant derives from an unsettled and unforgotten culture clash of the American Civil War. In particular, in his novel Requiem for a Nun, Faulkner claims that “the past is never dead. It’s not even past”(2011, p. 85). This attitude is focalized through Emily’s depiction. In describing how Emily “vanquished them, horse and foot”, Faulkner establishes her behavior as indicative of a re-fighting of the civil war (2012, p.7). Emily’s identity as a “fallen monument”, establishes her as a representative of the ‘Old South’, a way of life that was destroyed (p.3). Moreover, Emily is seen to preserve an image of the ‘Old South’ by her insistence of being called a “lady” (p.8). Here, she is hoping to retrieve and preserve an image of herself that no longer exists. Her once familiar mode of address as a ‘lady’ is no longer applicable. She is determined to preserve an image of herself that has already been destroyed by her grotesque depiction as “bloated” and simultaneously “skull-like” (p. 6).  Her change in appearance is indicative of the change of time. Like the progress of time, where the customs of the ‘Old South’ no longer survive due to the way it was destroyed in the war. Time has changed not only herself but the world she exists in. Emily resists this change. The fact that she preserves only an image of the past, as a “tableau”, suggests that seeking to preserve the past is impossible. It is a futile effort that will only inspire an artificial copy of a bygone era (p. 9).

The town locals are also complicit in the act of seeking to preserve the past. Society clings to an idea of Emily that can no longer sustain itself. For instance, when the governor implores, “would you accuse a lady of smelling bad to her face?”, he reveals an inherent contradiction about Emily (p. 8). There is a disconnect between the way people think about her, that she is a ‘lady’, and the reality of how she presents herself- as unhygienic. In identifying Emily as a ‘lady’, the governor reveals his idealization of the upper-class. He would rather keep silent and endure her unpleasant scent than offend her. In offending her and admitting that there is such a disconnect in her characterization, the governor would be deconstructing the romantic image of the past. Here, the signifier of a ‘lady’ is empty. A lady by definition would not smell ‘bad’. As a member of the upper-class, with unlimited access to wealth and comfort, a lady would be hygienic. Thus, they deny the progression of time and hang onto an image of the past- an image untouched by the brutalities of the Civil War. To admit that she now ‘smel[t]’ and fell short of her previous persona, would lead to the unpleasant realization and acknowledgment of the ‘new’ South as one that has fallen from grace. In particular, Rutherford (2010, p.32) claims that during the Civil War, the Old South was largely “destroyed” by the Northern Army. Property was burnt and confiscated, and the collapse of their economy, brought about by the abolition of slavery meant that the South could no longer sustain itself. The South had to then enter into a struggle for survival.

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“It was a big, squarish frame house that had once been white, decorated with cupolas and spires and scrolled balconies in the heavily lightsome style of the seventies, set on what had once been our most select street”.

The town’s decision to remain ignorant about Emily’s decline has wider moral implications. The extent to which the town chooses to overlook Emily’s decline, and by proxy the decline of their own existence, takes a sinister turn. In ignoring her unpleasant smell, the town are unwillingly made complicit in the act of ignoring Emily’s potential as a murderess. To acknowledge the ‘smell’, which is the decaying body of Homer who the town, upon Emily’s death discover has been “lay[ing] in [Emily’s] bed” for all these years, would reveal that which they seek to resist (Faulkner, 2012, p. 20). Society would rather uphold its traditions than admit to the potential moral depravity of the once matriarchal figure. The town squash their anxieties concerning the decline of their respected ‘monument’ when they seek to further distance themselves from this realization. This occurs when they take it upon themselves to sprinkle “lime” in Miss Emily’s garden so as to avoid the embarrassment of confronting her directly (p. 16).

Therefore, society’s denial is a resistance to modernity. The more society embraces the additions of ‘sidewalks’, the further they transgress from the once powerful image of the ‘Old South’ as the land of plenty and gentle manners. Thus, Emily murders Homer because he represents progression. Progression and modernity reveal an uncomfortable truth about the broken and destroyed existence they now lead.

Bibliography:

Faulkner, W. (2011) Requiem for a Nun. London, Penguin.

Faulkner, W. (2012) ‘A Rose For Emily’. Logan, Tale Blazers.

Lloyd-Smith, A. (2004) American- Gothic Fiction: An Introduction. London, Bloomsbury Academic.

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An Imprisoned Female Sexuality.

Sex and Sexuality in Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’. 

"There are things in that paper that nobody knows but me,
 or ever will".
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“It is the same woman, I know, for she is always creeping, and most women do not creep by daylight”.

Published in 1892, ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ is an example of American feminist literature. Gilman’s short story illustrates 19th Century attitudes towards women’s physical and mental health, as well as female sexuality.  In this post, I will argue, that the narrator’s attitude towards her self-directed pleasure embodies late nineteenth century ideologies about the unmentionable and uncanny expression of female sexuality. The narrator’s continual interaction with the ghostly double of the trapped ‘woman’ in the yellow wallpaper and her fixation with the yellow smell, indicate an engagement with the act of self-directed sexual pleasure. “The Yellow Wallpaper” reflects late nineteenth-century ideological views of the expression of female sexuality. Ideological views of female sexuality and the female body during the nineteenth century were established and controlled by a male-dominated society. Such views led to what Starr (1986) describes as the “subjection and exploitation” of women. Women were rendered powerless in terms of their own autonomy. Male views categorized women as “sexually unstable”. Starr argues that such views determined the exercise of female sexuality to be perverse. This was because the female body was supposed to be unseen. He argues that male views led to acts of sexual pleasure performed independent of marital intercourse, being regarded as a horrid form of self-abuse. Although the narrator in “The Yellow Wallpaper” contests these restrictive values, she simultaneously embodies the fear of female sexuality through her unnerving process of sexual self-discovery.     

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An early illustration of “The Yellow Wallpaper”.

The ghostly double represents the growing sexual awareness of the narrator in response to the restrictions placed upon her by the social construct of her marriage. The metaphor of the trapped “woman” behind the yellow wallpaper illustrates this.  The trapped woman is a symbol used to mirror how the narrator herself is unable to escape the controlling convention of her marriage, as well as the nineteenth-century attitudes towards the unmentionable sexuality of the female body. Murillo (2013) claims that the text “seethes with ghostly encounters with one’s Other self”. She argues that the imagined existence of the ghostly double occurs as a result of restrictive measures enforced on the narrator’s self-expression. The use of the impersonal noun ‘woman’ evokes a sense of imprisonment the nameless narrator experiences as a result of the enforced Rest Cure she has to undergo. In losing her autonomy, she also loses her identity. The woman who “cannot leave” the wallpaper is synonymous with the nameless narrator who cannot leave her bedroom. For Kautz, the narrator is not only trapped in a “prescriptive cure” but also by a diagnosis that heightens “the powerful and public language of male scientists”. “The male world of discourse”, where males represent that ultimate authority, causes the narrator to try and escape through her sexuality. Kautz details the problematic conflict of the doctor figure in literature and what it suggests about the social construct of the medical practice throughout history. She argues that the role of an authoritative gynaecologist in literature is to represent the exploitation of gender socialization with regards to his access to the female body and his dominant linguistics. Thus, the conflict of control in this text occurs when her husband enforces the unwanted authorization of the rest cure. Bloch (1984) provides historical evidence for the medical relationship between female masturbation and mental illness. One such medical view included that of “the subject of female sexual perversion” which was “full of horror and disgust [and] must receive from our physicians and surgeons the same attention as would be shown to those diseases with which we are more familiar”. Medics viewed female sexuality as something that was extremely harmful and thus needed to be controlled. Within the text, the husband’s authority and discourse enable him to pathologise her. The narrator becomes object, rather than subject. This invalidates her sense of autonomy. The narrator lacks compliance. She is controlled by an authority figure.

Sexual liberation allows the narrator to contest the self-control imposed on her by the society in which she lives and by extension her husband. Repetition in the text implies that the narrator engages in an act of self-directed pleasure. For example, the continuous rubbing “over and over” connotes images of masturbatory activity. Further evidence to support this is found in the repeated “round and round”, where the syntax is disrupted by the presence of a dash, resulting in a climatic expression of confusion. The exclamatory statement explaining how “-it makes me dizzy!” connotes excitement at the abnormal expression of her own sexual desires. As a result of this, the narrator establishes herself as having rebellious intent against the unmentionable exploration of the female body. Hall (2003) implies that the narrator acts with the intention of deviating from the constraints of “a crucial time period in the construction and contestation of […] sexual norms”. Using queer theory, Hall claims that the sexual ideology in ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ appears to be the absence of any explicit sexuality. He details how queerness is established through the tension between the sexual norms of the era and the narrator’s self-assertion. The engagement in sexual expression reflect the contextual attitudes towards the ‘queer’, due to the textual language used to cause the reader discomfort. So, the absence of sexuality implies that during the nineteenth century, sexuality was supposed to remain hidden from view.

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“I’ve got out at last,” said I […] “And I’ve pulled off most of the paper, so you can’t put me back!”.

Ultimately, despite her initial rebellion, the narrator does still identify visible sexuality as a “condition of perversion ” (Bloch, 1894, p.230).  The narrator’s uncertainty suggests that she is somewhat unnerved by her sexual activity. The use of the dash and her feeling ‘dizzy’ implies a level of confusion. Sexual expression still appears unnatural. This is seen in the repetition of the symbolic colour “yellow”. The use of the superlative “strangest” implies that the female body is unnerving. Upon analysing the significance of the yellow as well as the etymology of the word “smooch”, the reader can infer that the yellow smell is that of her own genitals. Meaning a dirty smear, the description of the “smooch” symbolizes the narrator’s own discomfort in experiencing her new found sexual liberation, in terms of familiarizing herself with her body. Evidence for this includes the modifiers of “foul” and “bad” that render the female body as repulsive. Repressed knowledge of the female body can be overwhelming when attained. The fear evoked from the female genitals is personified by the “skulking” smell that “creeps” around the house. The use of these active verbs that frighteningly move in a way that posses the narrator creates a gothic tone where the unknown is dangerous. Fear evoked by the personified smell is seen through the active verb “met”. The overpowering effect that the narrator’s new-found sexual liberation intimidates her. She perceives the yellow smell to possess human characteristics. Moreover, her perceived unhygienic smell evokes a sense of fear about the female body. The adjective “awful” embodies the social ideology of the time, which viewed the female body as unclean and repellent. This unpleasant imagery represents the narrator’s unnerved attitude to her own genitals. She perceives danger in sexual behaviour. Thus, the narrator, in the process of breaking free from the constraints that deem her sexual freedom as perverse, comes to embody the views that initially imprison her.

Bibliography:

Bloch, A. (1998) Sexual perversion in the female. In: Bauer, D. ed. The yellow wallpaper. Basingstoke, Macmillian, pp.229-236.

Hall, D. (2003) Queer Theories. Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan.

Kautz, E. (1995) Gynecologists, power and sexuality in modernists texts. Journal of popular culture, 28 (11), pp. 81-91.

Star, A. (1986) Crazy by definition. The New York Times, [Internet], 19 January. Available from www.nytimes.com/1986/01/19/books/crazy-by-definition.html [Accessed 7th November 2015].

Murillo, C. (2013) The spirit of rebellion: the transformative power of the ghostly double in Gilman, Spofford, and Wharton. Women’s studies, 42 (7), pp. 755-781.

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Girlhood Interrupted: Identity, Femininity and Anxiety in the ‘Alice’ Books.

The struggle for identity in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Alice Through the Looking Glass.

"She generally gave herself very good advice though 
she seldom ever followed it".
Alice-in-a-blue-dress-from-Macfarlane-colouring

“I knew myself this morning but I’ve changed a few times since then”; Alice’s dilemma.

Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland ([1865]1988) and Through the Looking Glass, and What Alice Found There ([1871]1988) focus on Alice’s identity crisis. Set against the backdrop of a nonsensical land where the inhabitants are “all mad”, the adventures Alice undergoes makes her question her role as a child, specifically a female child, in an adult world. Alice’s anxiety about her upcoming maturation is focalised through the theme of transformation. Alice’s anxiety surrounding her continuous transformation is indicated through the identity crisis she undergoes in defining her role as a child and a future woman. This post will analyse the latter in relation to three key moments from the ‘Alice’ books. These include her size, her femininity and her sense of autonomy.

Alice’s inability to remain one size is indicative of an anxiety associated with growing up. Throughout Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Alice’s body size transforms as a result of a number of “magical” substances in Wonderland that have the ability to both help her grow taller and shrink her in size. The continual transformation Alice undergoes results in an identity crisis. She can neither remain a child-like height or an adult height. Alice’s inability to remain constant and by extension control, her own body enhances her sense of self-doubt. Alice’s struggle for identity is first established in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland when she encounters the caterpillar. In avoiding all pleasantries, the caterpillar pressures Alice to recognize her identity as something other than her name. This is seen through the direct question of “who are you?”. Alice’s reaction indicates her struggle for identity when she hesitates. In responding “shyly” she contemplates; “I-I hardly know sir”. Signified by the use of a dash, Alice’s hesitation suggests she is struggling to make sense of who she is. In addition to this, it implies that she has never properly contemplated her true identity before and is this daunted by venturing into the unknown, and by proxy discovering who is actually is. Alice’s journey to self-discovery is further implied through the caterpillar’s own identity. The caterpillar symbolizes the act of transformation. This is because caterpillars undergo their own form of maturation in the form of a transformation into a butterfly. Transformation is indicated and anticipated by the chrysalis stage where the caterpillar with metamorphosises into its mature form- a butterfly.  This reflects the transformation that occurs during adolescence where the state of

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‘Advice from a caterpillar’.

childhood is left behind in order to become an adult. However, Alice appears to be stuck between her own two stages of transformation. When she is small and meek she fits into the category of ‘child’. As a child, Alice is unable to sustain the authoritative and powerful position she held whilst she was tall. Therefore, Alice’s identity is in a state of flux. Alice is constantly moving between the state of potentiality in childhood, to the state of actuality. She then, in turn, moves from the adult-like authoritative position, back to being immature. Alice’s fluctuating identity is indicated further by the Caterpillar’s insistent question “who are you?”. This use of repetition suggests that the question of who we are is difficult to answer. Thus, the caterpillar possesses a confrontational presence. He makes Alice question her own perception of herself; awakening her to her impending maturation.

Alice appears to reject her impending maturation. In particular, Alice rejects her anticipated gender identity. Alice rejects her femininity. This is seen through the transformation of the baby into a pig. When Alice picks up the baby she becomes a surrogate mother in that she is assuming responsibility for its welfare amidst the chaos of the Duchess’ kitchen. However, in the process of enacting motherhood Alice experiences a sense of repulsion. This is symbolized by the transformation of the infant into a pig. Associated with excrement, dirt and greed, the pig baby presents Alice with an insight into the depths of infant dependency and as such the hardships of motherhood. Alice’s distaste for such a role is indicated by her scorn for the animistic baby. For instance, she declares; “I’ll have nothing more to do with you”. This statement implies that Alice intends to refuse her possible role as a future mother. because she is disgusted by what it entails.

The chess analogy used in Through the Looking Glass reflects the struggle Alice experiences in outgrowing her childhood and acquiring knowledge of an adult world. In describing herself as “pawn”, Carroll identifies childhood with a lack of power and autonomy over one’s fate. This is because in a game of chess the pawn holds the least amount of power and is consequently is controlled by other players. The struggle of growing up is further illustrated by the juxtaposition created in Alice’s identification with the ‘pawn’ and the Queen’s literal identification as “Queen”, in a game of chess. In being named “Queen”, the Queen is suggested to obtain more power than Alice. In a game of chess, the Queen has the most amount of control. This juxtaposition in power mirrors that of the adult vs child interaction between the Queen and Alice. The Queen exhibits a parental authority over Alice when she dictates to her. For instance, the Queen uses imperatives such as “remember who you are!”. In giving Alice instructions about how best to play the game, the Queen is also providing her with advice concerning her own identity. This interaction whereby the Queen acts a gate-keeper reflects that of a parental figure advising and providing guidance to a child. In particular, in instructing Alice, the Queen controls and determines the flow of conversation.  Here, adulthood is inextricably linked to knowledge. Therefore, in identifying herself as a piece of a chess board, Alice recognizes the role she must undertake in maturing into her role in adulthood. This is due to the fact that the game of chess can be considered an adult game of logic. This, Alice has to participate in a game of skill in order to make sense and acquire mastery over the seemingly nonsensical world of adulthood.  

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‘Alice and the Red Queen’

Finally, Alice is seen to transform into an adult through her acquisition of power. For instance, in becoming Queen at the end of Through the Looking Glass, Alice develops and adopts an adult role. In acquiring a higher status on the chess board, is not the highest status, Carroll implies that Alice has finally learnt how to play the game of adulthood. The prize for this display of skill is the obtainment of authority. Alice’s transformation into adulthood occurs when she reprimands the Red Queen and then picks her up. In exerting her physical authority, as well as physical power, the Queen is described as having “dwindled down to the size of a little doll” once Alice forcibly handles her. This action highlights a clear role reversal as Alice how now become the parental authority figure. It is now Alice and not the Queen who is telling off the small meek child. However, the completion of maturity whereby Alice has now acquired her ultimate identity results in anxiety. As a child, she is excited by the prospect of becoming an adult. For example, Alice experiences a sense of glee when she states “Queen! How grand it sounds!”. The use of repeated exclamation marks connotes enthusiasm. When Alice goes on to exclaim “the eight square at last!”, she recognizes that a sense of identity will be found along with the completion of the game of chess. The games chess substitutes the process of maturation. Alice is moving towards her future. Despite her initial pleasure, Alice’s experience as an adult is overshadowed by the realization of the true nature of adulthood, The latter is shown to be that of responsibility. Moreover, this juxtaposition in ideas of adulthood is indicated through the use of asterisk at the end of the page, which demonstrates a transformation. As a result of this transformation into a position of authority, Alice feels “dismay”. The use of the noun ‘dismay’ suggests that she is concerned by the realisation of what her role as Queen entails. Now she has gained her much desired mastery of adult knowledge, Alice becomes daunted by her newfound sense of responsibilityFor instance, the “heav[iness]” pf the crown suggests that the burden of authority is metaphorically weighing her down. Further disappointment is brought about when asks herself “but how can it have got there without my knowing it”. 

This rhetorical question demonstrates the confusion Alice feels. Her confusion is a result of discovering the crown to be already on her head which suggests she is unnerved by such a sudden role acquisition. In turn, this suggests that she feels anxiety towards the prospect of growing up. This due to the way that growing up although a gradual and difficult process can still be startling when one realizes that the former identity of a child is displaced by the identity of an adult. In particular, the spontaneous appearance of the crown suggests that adulthood and growing old can quickly sneak up on one. Therefore, Alice’s maturation is a bittersweet experience once she fully is able to contemplate the level of responsibility it entails. 

Bibliography: 

Carroll, L. (1998) Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There. London, Penguin.

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Jordan Baker, Gender and The Great Gatsby.

A critical analysis of the relationship between narration, characterisation and gender in The Great Gatsby. 

"She was incredibly dishonest".
Picture1

“The bored haughty face that she turned to the world concealed something.”

In The Great Gatsby (Fitzgerald, 2001), Nick Carraway’s depiction of Jordan Baker contradicts essentialist beliefs about gender. Essentialism refers to the belief that gender is determined by biological sex. In this post, I will argue that Jordan represents a transgressive form of femininity that subverts traditional gender roles.

Jordan’s androgyny is first indicated by her name. The name Jordan does not clearly indicate which gender role she is expected to conform to. It is only when Jordan is described as being a “small breasted girl”, that the reader can identify her as female(Fitzgerald, 2001). The noun ‘girl’ is used to enforce Nick’s own masculine identity. Nick patronizes Jordan here as he renders her as immature by suggesting that she possesses a childish physique. Here Nick establishes femininity as a tool by which to measure one’s own masculinity. Moreover, in patronizing Jordan, Nick is displaying male dominance whereby females are silenced and marginalized by male authority. Nick determines Jordan’s characterisation and by extension her identity.  Therefore Jordan’s underdeveloped physique not only establishes femininity as passive in comparison to masculinity but also establishes her as boyish. In characterising femininity as identifiable by a woman’s developed physique, Nick implies that an immature female body problematises gender identity. The lack of a female form is synonymous with a sense of masculinity. Femininity is separate from masculinity. Femininity and masculinity are in binary opposition of one another. The fact that Jordan’s perceived masculinity is characterized as immature further demonstrates how male dominance distinguished males as superior to females. Jordan is depicted as an immature male and a female at the same time. Immature suggests a deficiency. Even though Jordan can be aligned with masculine traits, she lacks the full capacity to be considered completely male. Thus, Nick suggests that femininity can only be aligned with masculinity in the most limited sense. Jordan can only be perceived as an immature male and never a fully ‘complete’ male because she is essentially female. Femininity here can only be aligned with masculinity when it refers to the most limited sense of a masculine identity- that of a childish, weak, and inferior male. The problematic nature of femininity is further illustrated by Nick’s depiction of Jordan’s androgynous behaviour.

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“Not even the effeminate swank riding clothes could hide the enormous power of that body […]”

Jordan exhibits masculine gestures. For example, Nick explains how Jordan is seen to throw “her body backwards at the shoulder like a young cadet”. This simile suggests Jordan displays masculine behaviour as it likens her to a soldier. A cadet can be defined as a young trainee in the armed services During the early half twentieth century, the army would have consisted exclusively of men. Further evidence of Jordan’s lack of femininity is demonstrated through her masculine attributes. For instance, Jordan is known for her dishonesty in her golfing as she is seen to cheat in her tournament when “she […] moved her ball”. Here she actively rebels against traditional views of moral purity associated with females. In particular, her lie can be interpreted as the masculine trait of competitiveness. Within Nick’s narrative, competition is synonymous with male dominance. Male dominance is largely embodied by Tom Buchanan; the epitome of patriarchal power. For instance, Tom is well renowned for his dominance in the college league sporting world. As the top of his field, Tom beat all of his potential competition.  Nick qualifies him as a “national figure” in the collegiate sporting world when he uses the superlative to explain how he was “the most powerful ends that ever played football at New Haven”. Therefore, in aspiring to succeed, Jordan is actively rebelling against traditional views of femininity. Izenburg’s statement, “if women could be […] as economically productive […] as men, there [would be] no real difference between masculinity and femininity other than reproductive roles”, could provide an answer for why Nick views Jordan as possessing an androgynous form of femininity (Izenburg, 2000, p. 11). Masculinity is associated with autonomy, whereby a man is free from external powers of control and can self-govern his own life. This is made possible through a male’s role as financial provider whereby he can act independently. However, a woman in the early twentieth century would have to depend solely on a male for support. Whether relying on her father or husband, a woman would be unable to exert any financial independence. It is thus significant that Jordan participates in golf as a career. Golf provides her with a financial income which means she can act in a self-sufficient way relying solely on her own economic productivity. Therefore, competitive aspirations, for Nick, are synonymous with masculine dominance and authority. Without the need to rely solely on a patriarchal figure, Jordan can embody both femininity and a form of masculine autonomy. In aspiring to succeed, Jordan is actively rebelling against traditional forms of femininity. 

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“All the bright precious things fade so fast, and they don’t come back”.

However, Jordan does not strictly adhere to ideas of masculinity either. Nick implies this when he explains how “Jordan’s slender golden arm [was] resting in mine”(Fitzgerald, 2001). The use of colour imagery establishes Jordan as exhibiting a form of female helplessness. Gold connotes a sense of preciousness. The act of being precious is associated with the character of Daisy Buchanan. Daisy embodies femininity when she is described as “the golden girl”. This association with a delightful helplessness manifests in Daisy’s decision to remain married to Tom and fulfil her role as a submissive female, despite her apparent unhappiness. Daisy explicitly exhibits her dissatisfaction when she explains her desire to see her daughter grow up to become “a beautiful little fool”, which for her is “the best thing a girl in this world can be”. Daisy’s decision to perform the idea that a woman should be too ignorant to understand just how unhappy she is, and by proxy remain married, can be understood in terms of historical context. Williamson’s statement, “whether she was a queen or a fishwife, a woman was subservient to the man she married”, suggests that Daisy’s decision to stay married is due to her dependency on Tom (Williamson, 1986, p.38). Abandoning her marriage would lead to economic ruin. Marriage is primarily a patriarchal institution, and if she were to leave Tom she would lose not only her reputation but her security as well.  It is significant that Daisy, whose “voice was full of money” remains married (Fitzgerald, 2001).  She can only sustain her wealth as long as she is subservient and loyal to her husband. Therefore, the delicate Jordan is established as feminine when she is physically dependent on a man. This iterates a form of patriarchal rhetoric as it suggests that a woman’s identity as female derives from her value as a future subservient. Thus, the notion of being feminine and being autonomous at are odds with one another. One cannot be autonomous and feminine simultaneously.  The two concepts cannot coexist with one another. In ‘this world’ femininity and autonomy contradict each other. The fact that Jordan is financially autonomous suggests she cannot fit exclusively into either gender category. Moreover, within The Great Gatsby, traditional views of femininity are problematized by a transgressive form a femininity that is based on autonomy. In exerting autonomy, Jordan cannot be identified as strictly feminine because she rebels against a patriarchal institution that prescribes females financial dependency. For Nick, Jordan exists in a liminal space. He cannot comfortably categorize and fit her into either gender sphere. Jordan’s existence, for Nick, is a contradiction. Her androgyny disrupts preconceived notions of gender that traditional bolstered male authority. 

THE GREAT GATSBY

Nick and Jordan

Nick’s depiction of Jordan as transgressive and androgynous suggests that gender is performative. In particular, Judith Butler (1990, p. 50) states that “there is no gender identity behind the expression of gender”. She claims that culture creates the gender roles prescribed as appropriate behaviour. Thus gender identity is a “performatively constituted” (p.54) expression of societal ideals. Consequently, Nick is undecided about his own gender. Once Jordan has demonstrated how femininity can no longer be used as a way to define masculinity as a separate entity, Nick suffers his own identity crisis. For instance, he contemplates how during the course of his narration he feels both “within and without, simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life”( Fitzgerald, 2001). Here Nick shows an awareness for the contradictory means of measurement used in life. Whether it be the process of measuring one’s own position in the world or one’s gender identity against another, Nick is aware of the deterioration of such preconceived binary oppositions. This is due to the fact that Jordan destabilizes gender roles by rendering them as mere concepts. Therefore, Nick questions his own masculinity through his inadvertent critique of essentialist views of gender roles. 

Bibliography:

Butler, J. (1990) Gender Trouble: The Subversion of Identity. New York, Routledge.

Fitzgerald, F. (2001) The Great Gatsby. London, Wordsworth Classics.  

Izenberg, G. (2000) Modernism and Masculinity: Mann, Wedekind, Kardinsky Through World War I. Chicago, The University of Chicago Press.

Williamson, M. (1986) The Patriarchy of Shakespeare’s Comedies. Detroit, Wayne State University Press.

 

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The Amazonian Princess Reborn

Wonder Woman

"I used to want to save the world, this beautiful place.
But the closer you get, the more you see the great darkness
within. I learnt this the hard way, a long, long time ago."
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“I am Diana of Themyscira, daughter of Hippolyta!”

This week celebrates the come back of my favourite Amazonian Princess; Wonder Woman. Gal Gadot stars as Diana Prince in Terrance Malik’s superhero origin film. The film tells the story of how Diana transforms from a naive warrior raised on a sheltered island paradise to an inspiring feminist hero.

I myself cannot wait to see it! Take a look at the trailer below, and release your inner Wonder Woman.

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A Most Modern Woman.

The Scandalous Lady W.

"I belong to no man. And although it may be my misfortune to live
in an age of men, I will never belong to a man."
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The very scandalous Lady Seymour Worlsey.

In 1781, a man’s wife is considered to be his property, much like his home, his land or his cattle.

Last night’s BBC drama, The scandalous Lady W, documented the amazing true story of the wealthy heiress, Lady Seymour Worsley, who caused outrage when she cuckolds her husband which consequently sparked one of the greatest scandals of eighteenth-century England.

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Lady Worsley with her lover George Bissett (left) and her husband Lord Worsley (right).

Not only was this drama highly compelling and fascinating due to the fact that it actually happened, it was perhaps the biggest advertisement for radical, militarized feminism and premarital sex too. However, among eighteenth-century England, Lady Worlsely was considered to be the ultimate Scarlett woman. It was said that her sex life was so shocking that she was the inspiration for Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s play School for Scoundrel. 

She was also the inspiration behind David Eldbridge’s play, The Scandalous Lady W (quite literally). This play recounts the nasty business between Lady Seymour Worsley, her lover George Bissett and her husband Sir Richard Worsley. Lady Seymour ‘goes into her union with Sir Richard Worsley fully expecting it to be a meeting of equals. But she starts to become wary when he warns her: “You will recall, Seymour, you made a vow to love, cherish… and obey.” She is soon being tyrannised by Richard, who takes a perverted pleasure in watching her have sex with other men.

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A modern family; Lady Worsley and her lover George Bissett, with their daughter.

Unable to stand Richard’s cruelty anymore, Seymour flees her oppressive marriage and elopes with his best friend, George. Richard sues the couple, hoping to ruin them both. But Seymour decides to contest the case, refusing to accept the archaic law that defines a wife as the property of her husband, “much like his home, his land and his cattle.” She skilfully manipulates the nascent press to support her and turn the nation against her reprehensible husband’ (The Independent). Most notably, this is seen when Lady Worsley reveals the scandalous revelations of her marriage by presenting her 27 lovers in court. Thus, she was able to turn the case in her favour as it questioned the legal status of her husband, who was only awarded one shilling in compensation for damages caused.

When Richard died Seymour reclaimed what remained of her dowry and her maiden name, Fleming.

She married again, a musician twenty-one years her junior, but she didn’t take his name.

He took hers.

Her portrait hangs to this day in Harewood House, Yorkshire.

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Portrait of a Lady; the real Lady Worsley.

When questioned about her most recent role, lead actress Natalie Dormer stated; “I found the historical fact so intoxicating that I didn’t want anybody else to play this woman. A woman couldn’t legally own or inherit until 1870-which is only 145 years ago. Most girls walking around the street tweeting or ordering on their Net-a-Porter app have no idea how minute the time is that we’ve had equality.” She says; “without sounding too earnest there are a lot of women in the world who don’t have a political voice, don’t have suffrage. We are talking about it as history, but there are plenty of places in the world where women are second-class citizens and still enslaved to their male counterparts. It’s not as distant politically as we like to think it is.”

Being a fan of Natalie Dormer’s for many years, I was so excited when I saw the advertisement for The Scandalous Lady W. She has got to be one of my favourite actresses, especially after I watched her portrayal of Anne Boleyn in The Tudors. As well as this, she is best known for her role as  Margaery Tyrell in Games of  Thrones and as Cressida in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay-Part 1.

Born in Berkshire, Natalie Dormer studied at the Reading Blue Coat School. At school, Dormer was head girl, a first-class student, vice-captain of the school netball team, and she also got to travel the world with her school’s public speaking team. She describes herself as the “academic hopeful” of the family and was provisionally offered a place to study history at Cambridge; but, in her A-Level History exam, she did not achieve the A grade she needed to attend. Dormer decided she would audition for drama school and decided to train in London.

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Natalie Dormer as the devious Anne Boleyn in The Tudors.

Initially, when I read this I felt so disappointed for Natalie as being an A-Level student just one year ago I empathised majorly for her. However, I came to think that it would have been a great shame if Natalie had gone to Cambridge because then England and America would never have seen Natalie grace our screen and experience the splendour that is her acting ability.

A tremendous and enigmatic performance.

An excellent adaptation, as well as an inspirational story about a woman who has to undergo a publicly embarrassing scandal to discover her own worth.

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Always an Unusual Girl.

Lana Del Rey

"It takes getting everything you ever wanted and losing it to 
know what true freedom is".
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Lana Del Rey’s single ‘Ride’ from the album Paradise.

In celebration of her new album; High By The Beach, I have decided to dedicate this post to my favourite piece of poetry created by Lana Del Rey. Taken from the song Ride, this monologue thematically ‘involves parental problems, alcohol consumption, and loneliness. Del Rey’s role in the video was compared to Lolita and A Streetcar Named Desire.’  Known for exploring the darker side of life Lana Del Rey truly is a great role model for anyone who has experienced disappointment and struggles in her life. Moreover, what I love most about her music, is her ability to romanticize certain undesirable and difficult situations, showing that even when the road gets tough, there is always hope. For instance, Lana herself has openly spoken about having a drinking problem in her teens which led her to give up alcohol completely. So, when people criticize her melancholic yet hypnotic music, it makes me upset. This is due to the fact that if you really listen to the lyrics, you can understand how she manages to find the beauty in almost every situation, regardless of how socially acceptable it is to discuss, advertise or promote it.

Personally, I find both the prologue and epilogue of this song moving and extremely beautiful. Enjoy.

Ride Monologue

I was in the winter of my life, and the men I met along the road were my only summer.
At night I fell asleep with visions of myself, dancing and laughing and crying with them.
Three years down the line of being on an endless world tour, and my memories of them were the only things that sustained me, and my only real happy times.
I was a singer – not a very popular one,
I once had dreams of becoming a beautiful poet, but upon an unfortunate series of events saw those dreams dashed and divided like a million stars in the night sky that I wished on over and over again, sparkling and broken.
But I didn’t really mind because I knew that it takes getting everything you ever wanted, and then losing it to know what true freedom is.
When the people I used to know found out what I had been doing, how I’d been living, they asked me why – but there’s no use in talking to people who have home.
They have no idea what it’s like to seek safety in other people – for home to be wherever you lay your head.
I was always an unusual girl.
My mother told me I had a chameleon soul, no moral compass pointing due north, no fixed personality; just an inner indecisiveness that was as wide and as wavering as the ocean…
And if I said I didn’t plan for it to turn out this way I’d be lying…
Because I was born to be the other woman.
Who belonged to no one, who belonged to everyone.
Who had nothing, who wanted everything, with a fire for every experience and an obsession for freedom that terrified me to the point that I couldn’t even talk about it, and pushed me to a nomadic point of madness that both dazzled and dizzied me.

Every night I used to pray that I’d find my people, and finally I did on the open road.
We had nothing to lose, nothing to gain, nothing we desired anymore, except to make our lives into a work of art.
Live fast. Die young. Be wild. And have fun.
I believe in the country America used to be.
I believe in the person I want to become.
I believe in the freedom of the open road.
And my motto is the same as ever:
“I believe in the kindness of strangers. And when I’m at war with myself I ride, I just ride.”
Who are you?
Are you in touch with all of your darkest fantasies?
Have you created a life for yourself where you can experience them?
I have. I am fucking crazy.
But I am free.

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Lana Del Rey photographed in the Daily Mail.

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