Interchapter VII

Posted: September 14, 2010 in Reading Responses
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Interchapter VII is a short excerpt from For Whom the Bell Tolls, by Ernest Hemingway. The passage is about a soldier who is immersed in battle in Fossalta, northern Italy, during WW1. The soldier prays to God, vowing to spread the Lord’s word to everybody in the world if God spares his life. As the shelling moves further up the line, God saves the soldier’s life. Rather than keeping his promise, the soldier fails to tell a soul and instead spends the night with a prostitute.

Themes of war and battle, including the atrocities of trench warfare are prominent in this text. Some connotations associated with soldiers are bravery and loyalty, although, this text challenges these cultural assumptions and allows readers to judge the actions of the soldier. I was at first sympathetic toward the solider due to the culturally embedded ideology that our soldiers are heroes, fighting in dire conditions for the freedom of this country and for such deeds they should be honoured. However, after learning that he failed to keep his oath to God, I negotiated my reading position and suddenly felt unsympathetic toward him. Considering the war period was a time of extreme pressure for soldiers, a number of men would have been seen praying, many as a last resort rather than an act of faith. However, despite the text’s representation of this as ‘normal’, I took on a resistant reading, due to my cultural background and the importance that is placed on religion and the sacred act of prayer.

Considering I am a middle class, Caucasian female, I was subjective toward the marginalization and lack of voice from women in this text. The story objectifies the woman by making reference to her as ‘the girl upstairs’. Due to my intertextual knowledge, I knew this was in reference to a prostitute. Not once is the female character given a name or any status and as I am too a woman living in a largely patriarchal society, I am able to identify with this fellow female. In many novels, the female character is usually a damsel in distress or simply portrayed as a sex symbol. Interchapter VII naturalizes this ideology, as the woman’s single role is to pacify the male protagonist in order to sustain her livelihood. Considering that I am accustomed to the representation of women in fantasy novels as powerful and strong, this text has failed to adhere to the codes and conventions of other novels in my literary repertoire. Therefore, I resisted the marginalization of the female. Furthermore, as I am a young female and have no personal involvement with war, I feel as though my ability to adopt a dominant reading position and understanding of the soldier’s identity is inhibited.

In addition to the discussion with the tutorial group about the silencing of women in the text, we also conversed about the prevalence of the binary oppositions at work. The oppositions of day and night, war and peace, promise and betrayal, pleasure and pain and everybody and nobody, all appeared in the text. While day, peace, promise, pleasure and everybody denote positive polysemous meanings of light, safety, innocence, bliss and assurance, their counterparts attract negative connotations. Such negative words are effective in creating a heightened atmosphere, in this case the dire state of the war, thus reinforcing the dominant reading.

By incorporating this text into my pedagogy, I would be able to effectively further on Moon’s (2009) notion teach students about the utilization of different voices, points of view and narration. The author swaps between first person, to make the text appear more personal, first plural to involve the reader and third person to fill the reader in with detailed information that dialogue alone cannot provide. I would ask students to complete an activity whereby they are to play with the voice and narration of the story. Additionally, I would ask students to rewrite the story from another characters point of view, for example, the silenced prostitute or God. Not only would this teach students about voice and narration, but it would allow them to embed their own cultural, social, economic and educational values into the story and create an alternative reading, such as an open or closed ending.

Works Cited:

Hemingway, E. (1941). Interchapter VII: For Whom the Bell Tolls. London: Cape.

Moon, B. (2001). Literary Terms: A Practical Glossary. Cottesloe, WA: Chalkface Press.

 

Scarlatti Tilt

Posted: September 14, 2010 in Reading Responses
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“It’s very hard to live in a studio apartment in San Jose with a man who’s learning to play the violin.”  That’s what she told the police when she handed them the empty revolver.


 

Scarlatti Tilt is a short story comprised of two sentences and is written by Richard Brautigan. I will be discussing its appearance in the novel Reading Fictions, written by Bronwyn Mellor, Annette Patterson and Marnie O’Neill in 1991. This text complies with the codes and conventions evident in numerous crime and detective novels, including the theme of intrigue and mystery. The story exhibits an open plot and is consequently subject to a myriad of explanations. However, despite the polysemous nature of the text, I entertained the dominant reading and assumed that a lady shot the man living next door to her because he would not stop playing the violin.

My cultural and social values shaped the way in which I read and reread this text. As a result of my culturally rooted ideologies from television shows like Law and Order and detective crime novels from my literary repertoire like Sherlock Holmes, I am aware that a gun can cause murder or injury. Consequently, I assumed that the lady killed the man because she was the one handing over the empty revolver. However, it is not alluded to in the text if it was her who shot the gun, what she shot or even if the gun was used at all. Despite the gaps and silences, my intertextual knowledge and my culturally entrenched assumptions lead me to this conclusion. Although numerous other peers in the tutorial also took on a dominant reading of the text, a brainstorming activity allowed us to formulate alternative readings. It was suggested by members of the group that the woman may have been living in the apartment block and found the gun after hearing the shot go off, that she was a mother trying to put her children to sleep and became sick of the noise or even that it was a suicide. Therefore, the tutorial discussions made me aware of alternative and resistant readings of the text and encouraged me to negotiate my reading position.

In addition, socio-economic and class discourses are exceedingly ubiquitous within this text. A classical instrument like the violin insinuates cultural capital and has several connotations, including a musician, sound, talent, prestige and wealth. Additionally, the title Scarlatti Tilt plays a significant role in the construction of class. Considering that Domenico Scarlatti is a famous Italian violinist, it would be correct to presume that the identity of the violinist in the text is somewhat similar. However, a binary is posed as the text elucidates that the incident occurs in a studio apartment in San Jose. Applying my cultural knowledge to the text, I become aware that a studio apartment is a small bedsit in a block of apartments. Therefore, I surmised that either, the character was well to do and humble or he was a dreadful violin player and that is why he was living there. Therefore, the link between socio-economic status and class is embedded within this excerpt.

Although not as prevalent as factors of socio-economic status and class, the representation of gender is still evident within this text. After tutorial discussions with fellow peers on the representation of both the male and the female in this excerpt, we decided that we would alter the gender roles of the two characters in order to see if the reading of the story changed. We looked at the idea of the man being the one to shoot the woman. Due to our culturally embedded assumptions of gender, we all agreed that the text would have read differently due to the power associated with male characters. Our findings reinforce the hegemonic discourse often present in society that denotes men as strong and authoritative.

By integrating this text into my pedagogy, I would be able to further Moon’s (2009) notion and teach students about the power and effect of gaps and silences. Considering that the text is exceedingly short, lacks a fixed plot and is filled with unanswered questions, I would ask students to interject where a gap or silence is present and to create their own version of this story by filling it in. I would encourage students to use their own cultural, social, economic and educational backgrounds to complete this task.

Works Cited:

Brautigan, R. (1962-1970). Scarlatti Tilt. In Mellor, B., O’Neill, M., & Patterson, A. (1991). Reading Fictions. Scarborough, WA: Chalkface Press.

Moon, B. (2001). Literary Terms: A Practical Glossary. Cottesloe, WA: Chalkface Press.

Turned

Posted: September 14, 2010 in Reading Responses
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Turned is a short story embedded with themes of feminism and social hierarchy, written by Charlotte Perkins Gilman in 1911. The story exhibits a plot of infidelity, as young and naive servant Gerta sleeps with the husband of her prosperous mistress Mrs. Marroner. Upon first reading this story, I felt that it would conform to the discourse of male supremacy and the woman would return to her husband because she could not live without him. However, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that instead of forgiving Mr. Marroner, like many female characters in conventional narratives of that era did, she took control of the situation and made a decision that was in the best interest of herself and her pregnant servant. I felt throughout the story that the narrator was attempting to guide the direction in which I read the text. Although, due to my feminist, middle class ideals, I was subjective toward this text and took on the role of a resistant reader.

Turned fails to adhere to the codes and conventions of many novels of this era and espouses the independence of women rather than male hegemony. This becomes apparent as Mrs. Marroner endeavors to gain independence by changing her name back to her maiden name Miss Wheeler and create herself a new identity. This action denotes power on her behalf and on the behalf of other females, considering that divorce and separation were not prevalent in this time period. Moreover, the sovereignty of women is later reinforced, as she leaves the home she shared with her husband and finds herself and Gerta another place of residence.

In addition to the occurrence of gendered ideologies within the text, notions of education, wealth and class are present. This is evident as Mrs. Marroner is employed at the University, implying that she is well educated. It also emphasizes the cultural assumption that education denotes affluence and high social mobility. The prosperity and social class of Mrs. Marroner is represented in the first passage of the story. The luxurious nature of the home she shared with her husband is described as a: “soft carpeted, thick curtained, richly furnished chamber” (Gilman, 1911). The socio-economic status of Mrs. Marroner was later reinforced in tutorial groups, as an activity from Reading Stories involving the comparison of Mrs. Marroner and Gerta, was completed. The activity presented many binary oppositions, for example, Gerta was represented as young, poor, naive and uneducated, whereas, Mrs. Marroner was wealthy, strong, educated, and well respected. This activity revealed the abundance of gender, class, education and economic ideals within the text.

The concluding sentence opens the story up to a variety of endings. Such endings were discussed in the tutorial. Although there was a myriad of responses due to the differing cultural, social, educational and economic backgrounds of my peers, we all agreed that the text provides the cultural assumption that infidelity is wrong. The last line of the story: “What do you have to say to us?” is polysemous and could be interpreted numerous ways. It was suggested by a fellow peer that Mrs. Marroner is leaving the conversation open for an apology. I was taken aback by this suggestion, but after rereading the text several times I negotiated my reading position and was open to this ending. However, I thought that this was a rhetoric statement implying that he could say or do nothing to repair the damage he had made. Due to my feministic ideals, I had hoped Mrs. Marroner would not forgive her unfaithful husband and instead would start a new life and relationship with Gerta and bring the baby up together. Unlike other texts in my literary repertoire, this text does not exhibit the conventional ending of ‘happily ever after’. Therefore, I thought that this proposed lesbian ending between Mrs. Marroner and Gerta would provide readers with an unconventional, but happy ending.

By including this text into my professional teaching repertoire, I hope to further on Moon’s (2009) notion and teach students about dominant, alternative and oppositional readings. I would develop an activity whereby students could write their own ending to this story, according to the reading position they took. The ending they write would be informed by their cultural, social, economical and educational backgrounds.

Works Cited:

Gilman, C, P. (1911). Turned. In Mellor, B., O’Neill, M., & Patterson, A. (1990). Reading Stories (pp. 13-24). Cottesloe, WA: Chalkface Press.

Moon, B. (2001). Literary Terms: A Practical Glossary. Cottesloe, WA: Chalkface Press.

This my friends is the very first entry I have made to my all new and exciting blog. This blog will be used for the purpose of one of my university classes and will include a series of reading responses. I have been introduced to a new world- the world of blogging. So watch out bloggers… here I come!