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Allison’s Class Summary for October 8

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To start the day off, Katherine and Jessica brought their new puppy Volta to show Dr. Foss (which he enjoyed meeting). As Volta left, I found it ironic that puppies were a part of the novella Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck. Before we started, Dr. Foss said it was going to be laid back kind of day for our class, and that he hoped to end the class a little early. He reminded everyone that there should be no problem with the online quizzes, and he’s ready to draw the line about anyone missing them. After announcements, we went right into the day’s class meeting prompts. Dr. Foss asked us to get into small groups to talk about the first three prompts to Of Mice and Men which focused on Lennie. Afterward, we would come together to talk about other disabled characters. Throughout the prompts, he asked us to think about if Steinbeck invited readers to critique looking at the disabled, and how. Steinbeck did invite the readers to critique disability by looking at the treatment between the disabled and nondisabled. Though most of the characters were in the lower class, Lennie, Crooks, and Candy, were treated differently by their nondisabled peers due to their disability.

One of our first discussions in the small group was the first prompt, which looked at how we (the readers) characterized Steinbeck’s representation of Lennie’s disability. Obviously, Lennie had a mental disability (or as the flap of the book suggested, ‘simple minded.’) One group member said that Lennie, from the way they read it, had a linear mind because he didn’t express any opinions or emotions, but instead, repeated what everyone said to him. When Lennie tried to say something, George silenced him. When George silenced Lennie’s voice, he didn’t object. This made George the superior one manipulating Lenny’s appearance by advertising him. By advertising him, Lennie became a machine. Lennie always talked about their dream, but George would warn him not to do anything bad. When Lennie obeyed, George would say, “Good boy! That’s fine, Lennie! Maybe you’re gettin’ better.” (14) George talked to Lennie as if he was a misbehaved child. Because Lennie stuck with George, he wanted George to tell him what to do. When Curley tried to fight Lennie, some of his childish characteristics came out (putting his hands over his face). It wasn’t until George told him to “get him.” Lennie obeyed and crushed Curley’s hand.  

The second prompt talked about George and Lennie’s relationship and whether it was a good one. Their relationship could be compared to Victor and the Creature from Shelley’s Frankenstein. George and Lennie’s had more of a brotherly bond, while Victor and the Creature have a fatherly-son bond. George felt guilt towards Lennie, but always took advantage of him, while Victor felt disgusted by the Creature. Lennie was simple minded and didn’t know his own strength. The Creature was well educated and knew what he could do; creating cause (he’s evil because he’s physically disabled). George wasn’t afraid of Lennie, and controlled him. Victor feared the Creature’s appearance. To me, George and Lennie’s relationship wasn’t good because George turned Lennie into a machine, treated him like a child, and tried to hide his disability. However, my group members disagreed. They believed that the relationship was altruistic and symbiotic because they both influenced one another. They used Lennie’s, “If you don want me I can go off in the hills an’ find a cave.” (12)  They argued that George alone could have no control because he would just be George, and therefore have no friend or puppet. Even though George complained about how his life would be easier without Lennie, he couldn’t leave him because he felt guilty. They also argued that unlike Victor and the Creature, both Lennie and George were from the lower class, and no hierarchies were between them, which made the “bond” stronger. However, “aesthetic nervousness” is still presented throughout the text, including tension between the characters and the readers because, “…aesthetic nervousness overlaps social justices to disability that themselves often remain unexamined in their prejudice and bias.” (15) When the nondisabled reader looked at Lennie, they noticed lots of cover ups, from George telling him to behave, to Slim trying to forget about Lennie crushing Curley’s hand. The readers hoped that he wouldn’t do anything out of the norm. However, Lennie brought the reader into a reality check when he killed the puppies and Curley’s wife.

The third prompt asked whether we thought about the ending of the novella and whether we bemoan Lennie’s fate while accepting that there’s no place for him. My group mates and I agreed that we couldn’t really bemoan him because he died due to his fantasy. He kept living in a dream by petting anything tactile (which could also represent his child image). When he petted anything soft, he dreamed of petting the rabbits. We do however question whether George did the ethical thing in shooting Lennie. George had no one to turn to because everyone was against them. He had nowhere to turn, but was Lennie no use to him anymore? Perhaps there were social factors (Slim and Carlson, two nondisabled figures) influencing him to detach himself from Lennie by the memory of Candy and his dog.  

When we came back together, we talked about the other disabled characters, and how the nondisabled marginalized them. Candy’s disability was old age, Lennie’s disability was cognitive, Crooks had a physical disability and Curley’s wife was disabled due to being a dependent female. Building on to issue disability was race. Crooks not only had a crooked back, but was also black. Lennie could hide his disability, but Crooks couldn’t. The discussion then turned to the use of the “n” word and what it might have implied. It was exciting because we talked about it the other day in my African American Literature class, discussing how reclaiming the “n” word could still work against one because of its past use and meaning. We questioned whether Steinbeck did this for a reason whether it was supposed to enlighten us. Some argued that it really didn’t have any meaning. It was just what people said. However, being the English majors we are, we like to add ideas to the “n” words and what it might mean for them from the past to today. Some would like to forget those words, but Curley’s wife brought back reality when she said to Crooks, “You know what I can do?” (76) The “n” word, the “r” word, the “c” word, no matter if it’s a good or bad meaning, will still classify someone according to their appearance, therefore separating them from everyone else.  

Before class ended, we wrapped it up by talking about how there are still division within minority groups or classes today. Crooks now have a group to back him up, but there are still not a lot of people defending Lennie’s position. Robert pointed out that the division was just like the show Glee, where a black girl and a gay guy were grouped together because of their “otherness.” We were left to ponder whether these were dynamics between the different images we looked at, or if were those dynamics the same. No matter what, the nondisabled characters in the book had the power to shape the reader’s perception of the disabled character by pointing out their defects.

Word Count: 1,241

Written by library1288

October 15th, 2010 at 9:27 am

Susan’s Formal Post on Samuel Beckett’s Endgame

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HAMM: “It was a glorious bright day, I remember, fifty by the heliometer, but already the sun was sinking down into the… down among the dead.

(Normal voice.)

Nicely put, that.

(Narrative tone.)

Come on now, come on, present your petition and let me resume my labors.

(Pause. Normal tone.)

There’s English for you. Ah well…”

This quotation from Samuel Beckett’s play Endgame is part of one of the stories that is told by Hamm, a blind man confined to an armchair with wheels.   Although he is not a very optimistic character, Hamm takes delight in telling stories.  He uses different voices for different characters and interrupts his own story to compliment and/or comment on his storytelling techniques.  In this quotation, Hamm is complimenting himself for his choice of language as he tells the story.  This is indicated by the directions in parentheses that let the reader (or actor) know when Hamm is narrating the story and when he is speaking in his “normal voice”.

I found this instance to be an example that supports Ato Quayson’s idea that in Beckett’s work “the comedic disposition of his disabled characters is used to deflect attention from the pain and anguish that are involved in carrying physical impairments” (35).  In the above quotation, Beckett gives his disabled character, Hamm, a chance to draw the audience away from focusing solely on his disabilities.  Instead, we see Hamm as a man who impresses himself with his storytelling abilities.

Quayson contrasts Beckett’s use of deflection with works in which “disability takes on a pantomime character and is meant to generate laughter” (35).  He says that this occurs in comedies and gives the example of a man with failing hearing who “is given to hilarious malapropisms” (35).  Although, Endgame is not exactly a comedy, I found there to be at least one instance where Hamm’s blindness is poked fun of, possibly to the point of provoking laughter.  This occurs when Hamm demands Clov to bring him his dog and then wants to know if it can stand.  The stage directions let us know that the dog only has three legs and that “Clov holds up the dog in a standing position” so Hamm, who is blind, can reach down and touch it when it is “standing”.  The stage directions also tell us that Hamm “proudly” asks if the dog is looking at him “as if he were asking me to take him for a walk”.  Hamm firmly requests the dog to be left where it is and of course, as soon as Clov lets go of it, “the dog falls on its side”.  This is an instance where Beckett does not try to deflect attention away from a Hamm’s lack of sight.  Instead, he does the opposite.

Although Beckett does deflect attention from Hamm’s disability, I believe that, in Endgame, he also purposefully draws attention to a character’s disability in a mocking, negative way.  However, I also believe that if Beckett were to stick completely with one method it would make for a less interesting and less complex play.

Here are youtube videos of the two instances I refer to:  the quote I chose is at 2:29 in the first video and the 3-legged dog is right at the beginning of the second video (although in this version Clov doesn’t actually hold the dog up on the floor like the stage directions say to).

[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/R0rbFlQr4AA" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/mLiq51_n9OE" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

Written by Susan

October 3rd, 2010 at 8:27 pm

Katherine Sullivan’s Formal Blog Post on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein

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Remember, thou hast made me more powerful than thyself; my height is superior to thine, my joints more supple. But I will not be tempted to set myself in opposition to thee. I am thy creature, and I will be even mild and docile to my natural lord and king if thou wilt also perform thy part, the which thou owest me. Oh, Frankenstein, be not equitable to every other and trample upon me alone, to whom thy justice, and even thy clemency and affection, is most due. Remember that I am thy creature; I ought to be thy Adam, but I am rather the fallen angel, whom thou drivest from joy for no misdeed. Everywhere I see bliss, from which I alone am irrevocably excluded. I was benevolent and good; misery made me a fiend. Make me happy, and I shall again be virtuous. (Shelley 84)

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein paints the portrait of a monster that is equally a disabled human form, and super-abled cyborg.  The Monster is characterized as being created from deteriorated human parts (parts that were inherently un-abled in that they were dead and non-functional) that were revived in their final successful form as a gruesome conglomeration of defiance of the world’s natural order.

Tobin Siebers refers to Donna Harroway’s assertion of cyborgs as “a hybrid of machine and organism” (178). Although The Monster is not composed of artificial mechanical parts as we traditionally think of prosthesis, he is indeed composed in an unnatural way that employed the use of semi-functional parts to replace failed parts. In this way, I believe that he does satisfy the category of cyborg.  The characters that we see interact and respond to The Monster are not exactly repulsed by his “disability,” but by his ability. Even after being resurrected from rotting flesh, he is still stronger, he is still larger, and he is still a cyborg.

The above block quote features The Monster’s views of himself as an unnatural creature.  He asserts that although his creator has formed him to ultimately be “more powerful,” “more supple,” and essentially “superior,” he does not intend to use this power in violence or to take advantage of is “naturally”-fabricated abilities.  Instead, he wished to suppress these characteristics that make him unique from the individuals he has met and observed.  He denies the potential, positive or negative, that his new form has alighted him and desires only to be submissive and respectful to Frankenstein if he will, in turn, protect him and take responsibility for his creation.

Instead of initially taking responsibility for his creation and taking the opportunity to form a relationship as he would with any unaltered living thing, Frankenstein exhibits what Ato Quayson would describe as an “aesthetic nervousness” when facing The Monster.  He is paralyzed by ignorance in the face of the super-abled cyborg, and wracked with fear caused by that ignorance.  This tragedy of misunderstanding forces The Monster to feel outcast and despised.

Written by Katherine Sullivan

September 24th, 2010 at 12:16 pm