Review: The Awakening by Kate Chopin

I read this novella a few years ago now, but for some unidentifiable reason I keep recollecting it. Especially recently. It was read for examination purposes and so perhaps the brightly coloured-coded pages throughout the text are still imprinted on my brain, and being around other people doing exams has brought it back. Perhaps it is because I have been watching French dramas on TV and I have made links to the Creole society. Either way, it is on my mind.

The story follows the awakening of Edna Pontellier who realises that she is able to be independent and does not have to live the rest of her life in the traditional and restrictive Victorian society. During this transformation Edna has both a sexual and emotional change, she begins to love another man, leaves her husband and her children and moves into her own cottage where she can paint, draw and swim at her own leisure. Swimming presents itself throughout the novel, and at some of the most crucial moments; Edna is swimming when she first realises that she has the power and strength necessary to create a happy life for herself. Women were to raise children, look after their husband and perform all kinds of domestic duties; which often left little time or ability for the mother and wife (she was labelled as both those terms, not an independent woman, but as either a possession of the man or of the children) to care for her own well-being.

What I found most interesting in this book, was the ending. So I apologise for those of you who haven’t read it, but then why are you reading a review of it if you haven’t read it!? SPOILER ALERT. The book ends with Edna swimming out to sea as far as she can, but the text ends before we learn if she dies or not. She is forever swimming. Her suicide attempt reveals more about the Creole society the text is set in than the rest of the book.

Just keep swimming, just keep swimming, all you've got to do is swim, swim, swim.

Just keep swimming, just keep swimming, all you’ve got to do is swim, swim, swim.

Edna has been driven to this. She was oppressed, she was liberated and then she did not belong. The people she loved and had valued were no longer able to communicate with her, they do not grow and develop at the same rate that she does/ or alternatively Edna does not allow them to do so. Her awakening is a rebirth, she is reborn as a new and enlightened person. In a childlike state Edna is able to view society differently and both realises that she has found a better position for herself but that society is unwilling to get there yet.

Often seen as an early feminist novel The Awakening exposes the oppressive Victorian society and also blames it for the death of Edna. Edna as a woman discovers a better life, a more equal life but is unable to make other people see her opinion. Her swim out to sea happens because it is the only way Edna can conclude her awakening, but also save her family. She has become a different person, one that society is not ready to accept and so she does not belong anywhere. Her husband and children still have a place in Creole New Orleans and so by leaving them she also saves them from the knowledge that she has learnt. Although her potential suicide can be seen as undermining to the feminist cause, there were limited other possibilities on Edna’s horizon.

Review: Animal Farm: Politics and Fantasy

Now that I am finished reading for exams it is quite nice to read for fun again. The pressure is off, there are little to no time constraints, I can just sit back, relax and enjoy turning the pages as slowly as I like. However if I a to finish Ulysses and then Anna Karenina any time soon I should probably get a move on.

Not like Animal Farm, I whizzed through that little novella like a boy racer down the motorway (not the M25 of course, nobody really whizzes down there…). Aside from the political aspect of the text which I will come to later, George Orwell has written a relatable story that can easily be transferred and understood by various audiences. Both adults and children can appreciate the songs, poems and the slogans that are used to create the revolution, regardless of the propaganda agenda they possess. But the story is simply about animals that decide to run their own farm. To a child that can be nothing but comical. How can a pig that likes to roll around in mud and walk on four legs possibly run a farm that would normally require a farmer and the rest of the family to do it well? To me, I can’t help but see Napoleon and Snowball as the character from one of my favourite childhood books The Pig in the Pond. Yes they are malicious and easily corruptable and seem to represent everything that is bad and tragic about the human condition, but at the bottom of it, they are pigs.

How Napoleon should be through our eyes, regardless of the transcendental nature of politics.

How Napoleon should be through our eyes, regardless of the transcendental nature of politics.

What I remember liking most about this book was Boxer. Boxer is the loveable character that tries to be his best, he is the ultimate hero and has the characteristics many people would like to possess. He is dedicated and loyal, perhaps to the point of his own detriment and ultimately his hard work goes unappreciated. But like most things in life, this remains pessimistically universal. He is the figure that holds the farm together, although nothing more than the epitome of the working class exploited labourer he is crucial to its’ success and development. While Boxer is present to work on the farm, rebuild the windmill and plough the field when the other animals are just too tired, Animal Farm effectively experiences the roaring 20’s.

Why I think this novella is most successful is because it transmits its’ message through animals. The story of the Russian Revolution  is not a nice one, in fact most of it is pretty grim. Trotsky threatening men to sign up to the Red Army whilst he has their wives and children under threat, not an easy thing to narrate. Telling a story through images or animals somehow lightens the load, dulls down the harsh quality of it. Art Spiegleman’s Maus is a graphic novel that tells the story of a family who survive the Holocaust and does so by depicting the Nazi’s as cats and the Jews as mice. Some may consider this derogatory, or demeaning but I disagree. By representing troubling but important issues through animals it takes away the direct human quality and makes them relatable. They are less likely to be judges; but as with the case of cat and mouse, animal instincts are implied intuitively.

Rows and rows of mice from Maus.

Rows and rows of mice from Maus.

Although the novel resembles the Russian Revolution and the changes that were implemented under Stalin and Trotsky’s rule of terror, the main characters can be seen as general symbols for authorial figures. Napoleon could represent his namesake, a political tyrant who at first used his power for the good of the public but then once he had declared himself Emperor and had supreme power, those ideals altered somewhat. Mao, Tito and Stalin are just a few more examples of despots who can be represented through Napoleon the pig. At the heart of Animal Farm is a socialist agenda, the novel critiques the corruption of the Soviet State and the impact that it had on the people. Similarly the novel contains a striking class division between the animals in power and those that work. The intellectuals and the physical labourers; which is a symbolic reflection of the Bourgeois/Proletariat relationship. The working class are naive and believe the animals in charge, with Boxer being a tragic example. The novel is a literary example of Marx and the Russian Revolution in action.

Unless you were aware of the history of Russia, then this becomes apparent. It is more than possible to read the novella without having any knowledge on that part, and it is more than possible to enjoy it as such. I read the text a few years ago before I had studied Russia in depth and loved it just for the characters that are lovable and the hope that they represent despite the gloomy circumstances. Plus the story is only 100 pages long and so can be read over a couple of lunch hours. Easy peasy.

The day Game of Thrones destroyed my soul

I think this may be the only means I have to express myself properly. The rage and anger and sadness and hurt and betrayal I feel from watching the most recent episode of Game of Thrones needs to be said. I was warned, but I did not listen. Oh why did I not heed those warnings and go back and wait till next weeks, just skip an episode, it will be fine. I mean how much devastation can happen in one episode? Surely the writers can only incorporate a certain amount of George R. R. Martin’s novels into one episode.

Oh hell no. They went and did. The Rains of Castamere is potentially the worst thing to come into existence since, since, I can’t even think of a good comparison. Death comes with the territory of Game of Thrones. We all knew that when we signed up for the show, we knew we would be watching a testosterone fuelled programme full of sex and bloodshed. We all knew that this would happen; but not in a million years anything along that colossal scale.

Robb Stark

It is one thing to kill one of your favourite characters in an episode. It is one thing to kill one character that you vaguely like because of what they stand for. It is an entirely different things to go and butcher them all in one sitting. And I mean sitting, because yes, they were sitting down at a feast. Even the pregnant queen was sitting when they crept up behind her and stabbed her five or six times in the stomach.

Not only was the butchery violent and painful to watch, even for the shows standards. But they really played at our heart strings. Twice in that episode the Starks were almost reunited after all this time. Since the very first episode. Jon Snow was just outside the tower where Bran and Rickon were hiding, and Arya was just outside the building whilst she realised her mother and brother were being slaughtered inside. We all knew it was going to happen. The scene where Arya stood watching her family in the distance as she spoke of her worry that they would slip away again foreshadowed it all. Yet we still carried on watching.

Death is not a surprise anymore...

Death is not a surprise anymore…

Why? Why do we become attached to things that are clearly no good for us? Game of Thrones used to be a laugh, sit down and play the drinking game, taking a shot every time somebody died. But not now. Those days are long gone. I don’t think they are coming back either…

On Gatsby and the loss of its’ greatness

I finally have seen it. After all this time waiting in anticipation, and also a lot of angst that I wasn’t going to like this film, or even enjoy it. I watched Gatsby. Yes, I was right I didn’t like it.

I enjoyed the film, I really did, but I didn’t like it. I decided before I went into the screening that I would try to appreciate it as a film and not compare it to the novel. This was a good decision but it was so hard; having the day before sat an exam on the book. The film was a good film, there were stunning visuals and the props and wardrobe clearly had a never-ending budget because the glamour and the wealth was extravagantly done. The houses were big and the champagne glasses were fuller and I think it really created the atmosphere well. The cars were fast and shiny, freshly made to help belong in the new fast and free world that the new American culture was supposed to offer.

The Great Gatsby and Gatsby

The Great Gatsby and Gatsby

There was also some really impressive acting I thought on behalf of the minor role, particularly George and Myrtle Wilson. George captured that hope of a social climber at the beginning and then the despair and rage that accompanied the death of his wife. Myrtle, although I have to say I really cannot stand her as a character, nor Daisy for that fact, but I thought she was acted well. She was a wannabe wag. Social climber who tried to act the leisure class lifestyle that she wanted. I really did like the juxtaposition of the introductions of both Daisy and Myrtle. They happened one after the other, Daisy elegantly lounging amongst blowing white drapes and Myrtle walking down the stairs with big red hair and lipstick, kissing her sister on the cheek with as much effort as could be. She was as far from the leisure class life as could be, which I liked. Not in a sadistic way, but purely because it was in-keeping with the book.

But some characters really felt so fake and unbelievable that I couldn’t warm to them. Gatsby. I don’t even know where I can begin. The overuse of his catchphrase “Old Sport” in the first few moments he was on-screen bugged me. Yes he says it a lot in the novel. But that was just ridiculous. His accent was also very confusing, it seemed like a mixture of English and American, was he trying for the sophisticated education that he supposedly had in Oxford, whilst also showing his Americanism? I don’t know. I really don’t know how they could possibly think that he would sound good talking like that. What annoyed me most was the Gatsby/DiCaprio hero-worship. There were times when it was difficult to differentiate between the actor and the man he was acting. The moment we are first introduced to Gatsby, he spins around, smile painted across his face, cocktail in hand and fireworks exploding in the background. This would have been a great unveiling of the elusive Mr Gatsby, the man who was possibly second cousin to Kaiser Wilhelm, a Prince, a murderer if it had been done right. Swift and brief and it wouldn’t have been too cheesy. It would have probably even told the audience that this is a great man. But instead we had to wait for the music to crescendo and the fireworks to fade, Nick to get a grip of his grin and DiCaprio to lower his class. It felt like an eternity.

Old sport, why of course fireworks are absolutely necessary. Of course they are.

Old sport, why of course fireworks are absolutely necessary. Of course they are.

Nick. Nick Carraway. A failed author who tried to make in the stock business. A man who throughout the novel is not only the narrator to the story, but is also perhaps the one and only decent and real character among the lot: and they send him to a mental institution. This not only horrified but truly saddened me. He was the one figure that I just about liked in the book, and he was turned into a depressive alcoholic, who in order to make himself better, writes down his story; which, you’ve guessed it, becomes The Great Gatsby. The writing out of your story is overused in film in my opinion too, generic and easy way to have a narrator voice-over events as they unfold. I know that in the novel Nick is effectively the author of the events, but he does so from the comfort of his own home, in order to preserve Gatsby’s memory and set the truth straight. Not in the selfish way the film does it.

Sex sells. I know that. I understand that this film has been made for a modern audience and with a modern twist on it, but it felt a bit out of place. The party lifestyle was overdone I felt. The scene at the beginning when Nick is drugged by Myrtle’s sister and then ends in the destruction of pillows, the removal of clothes and the music getting louder just felt unnatural and entirely staged. There is a lack of sex in the book, which has often been criticised by academics as down to Nick’s romantic narrative voice and his aesthetic censorship of the gender politics and the social differences. That doesn’t mean that sex wouldn’t have happened between the characters, I just felt that it was made too prevalent in the film. Too much attention was focused on it. I was a huge fan of the soundtrack as can be seen in my previous post I wrote in the run up to Gatsby’s release and I did like its’ use in the film. But sometimes it just felt too modern.

Sex sells.

Sex sells, perhaps I am just a prude. 

Perhaps The Great Gatsby is just one of those novels that cannot be transferred to screen well. The novel has so many layers to it that it is both dark and light simultaneously, this film focussed mainly on the dark aspects I felt, which is perhaps why it was unlike the novel and why I found it hard to like it. I really wanted to like it and I really tried, but there were just so many things that I couldn’t see through that made it hard for me to do so.

On surviving revision with creepy children and the world of Disney

Finishing exam season is just one of the best feelings. I now have so much free time on my hands, not that I was ridiculously rushed of me feet before; but now I am even less busy. Which means I can stop neglecting the blog and all the other activities I used to do for fun. I can read…FOR FUN!

This post doesn’t really have a known destination, it is more of a waffle/ramble of my ponderings. I did see a great article on the metro during the week that I wanted to bring to light on here however. It was the 10 creepiest things that children have said.

Creepy children

While I was in my darkest hour of revision this really brightened up my day. There really are some shockers on here though, ranging from a 7 year old giving dating advice, to a 3 year old threatening to throw her new baby brother in the fire. Images of the Omen and Sixth Sense are interspersed with the quotes the public sent in, just to add that extra touch of creepy.

I would also like to share this youtube video that really saved my sanity. I had never really thought about what would have happened realistically to the Disney characters after the films were over, and if, of course they were real. Being a huge Disney fan all my life, and probably for the rest of my life (I have won many Disney quizzes, my knowledge of the songs is pretty unmatched I would like to point out!) it just hadn’t occurred to me that anything bad could happen in their utopia’s.

Not only are the lyrics nothing short of pure genius, the harmonies are pretty spot on too, the choice of Disney princesses were perfect. Belle being accused of bestiality, Aladdin captured by the CIA as a terrorist. This song only gets better the more you listen, not to mention the catchy lyrics, just like the Disney songs themselves.

"I'd like her better if she'd lose at cards"

“I’d like her better if she’d lose at cards”

While I am on the topic of favourite childhood films that have stayed with us till now, although not DIsney, The Swan Princess will forever be important. The songs are amazing, although a typical love story that doesn’t particularly bend any social conventions, or is new or original in any other respect, it is one of the easiest and most enjoyable ways I can think of spending an hour and a half – as long as people around me can put up with my singing…otherwise I will be made to watch it on my own. Although I am corrupting my youngest brother, he too now loves the film which proves it is not just for the females.

My review of the Gatsby film will be out very soon now that I will finally have the time to go and watch it!