The Black and White in the Red, White, and Blue: To Kill a Mockingbird Review

To Kill A Mockingbird is arguably one of the most iconic works of American literature. Written by native Alabamian Harper Lee, it captures many aspects of the South in the 30s, from the rampant racism to the extreme social inequality, all seen in their small community in Maycomb, Alabama. It also tackles important issues like good vs. evil and the destruction of innocence. Overall, To Kill A Mockingbird is a captivating book for the ages…

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I definitely enjoyed reading this book. It had its ups and downs for me (which I’ll get into later) but it was enjoyable and its unconvoluted style (thanks, Scout!) allowed me to actually read it and find deeper meaning without my eyes rolling into the back of my head after one chapter. The few things to discuss:

Black and White #1: Good vs. Evil

TKAM tackled a lot of heavy subjects, all of which I think can be summed up around the topic of “human nature.” Is mankind inherently cruel? Is there some good in all of us and if so, how does it show?

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While there are some bad things in TKAM (oh, you know, racism, police brutality, classism, murder, rape…) it’s themes are overwhelmingly feel-good-y. We see a lot of tropes such as bad guy dies [for his sins], that weird kid no one talks to (Boo…) ends up being alright, etc… not only that, but the main themes revolve around dignity, morality, and respect. For example, when Atticus says:

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…until you climb in his skin and walk around in it.”

Atticus stands for the morally ‘good’ in the book. He is still a part of the community, yet goes against many of them to advocate for what he believes, no, what he knows is right. Even if he knows he just put a target on his head. But even when he is attacked, i.e. when Bob Ewell spits on his face, he takes the high road, maintaining that basic shred of human decency that adults are generally expected to have (but often lack, if you’re asking me).

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And he believes in this traits of compassion so fiercely that he does whatever he can to teach them to his children, thus the “you can never really understand a person…” quote. He treats them with respect, never raising his voice or beating them, but he still gives them a stern talking to when they misbehave. This reflects on the children at many points, but especially at the end of the novel, while the kids loved to make wild stories about Boo, as kids do, painting him as a monster, they were willing to accept him after he saves their lives. All because they learned about compassion through Atticus.

Black and White #2: Literally Black and White

However, some people are just not willing to learn. Take Bob Ewell. If Atticus stands for the good, Bob Ewell is certainly the evil. He lead a crusade against a black man that has done nothing but help his family simply because he felt as if he was wronged (try being a black person in the 1930s, Bob…). He remains a coward until his very last seconds.

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Which could possibly explain why Lee made a big deal out of the school scene where Scout explains to the teacher that the Ewells choose not to go to school. They are also the dirtiest, poorest, most reprehensible family in town (mostly talking about Bob here, considering he’s the man of the house…). It’s not just access to education, because clearly they had that- it’s the fact that they had the opportunity, but pass it off.

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A lack of education isn’t just what makes us think that pyramids were built to store grain—  It’s what spreads disease. It’s what makes us murder someone in cold blood. It’s what makes us start wars. Oh, and it’s what makes us elect complete idiots. An unwillingness to learn allows the mind to be poisoned by bias. There is no true reason as to why things like sexism, racism, and homophobia exist– but at the same time, prejudice will always exist.

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It existed in 1932 in Maycomb, Alabama. It exists in 2018 in Collegeville, Pennsylvania. And it’ll exist in thousands of years when we’re all cyborgs who travel to the moon for fun. So maybe mankind really is inherently cruel. Maybe we are all irredeemable and doomed to spend eternity in the fiery depths of hell. But most likely, it’s that delicate balance between good and evil within each of us that keeps the world spinning.  

Scout, the O.G.

I feel like the answer to the above questions would not be as clear and perhaps completely different if Scout was not the narrator. Her perceptiveness of the world around her leaves no doubt in the reader’s mind, yet her childlike innocence allows you to form independent opinions. Her narration is completely unfettered from the shackles of bias, these preconceived thoughts about race and class that society imposes on us as we mature– whether we like it or not.

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One of the most interesting scenes to me was the court scene. The juxtaposition between the adults in the room and the kids in the room clearly illustrates the divide that innocence creates. All of the kids (at leas the one’s we’re exposed to, anyways– Jem, Scout, and Dill) crave justice in the Robinson trial.

“It was the way he said it made me sick, plain sick.”

“He’s supposed to act that way, Dill, he was cross—”

“He didn’t act that way when—”

“Dill, those were his own witnesses.”

“Well, Mr. Finch didn’t act that way to Mayella and old man Ewell when he crossexamined them. The way that man called him ‘boy’ all the time an‘ sneered at him, an’ looked around at the jury every time he answered—”

To them, it’s clear as day that Atticus won the case and Tom Robinson is not guilty. Which suggests that justice is an intrinsic quality– it’s that damned transition into adulthood where adults have learned to be unjust.

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Some things are just plain as day. But then why can’t people wrap their heads around things like Ferguson? They’re not blindly innocent like a child, but some things are difficult to process and we are all extremely stubborn by nature. Wait, you’re telling me that the same police force I saw saving a puppy from a gutter in a Facebook video last week has also been engaging in senseless and horrific killings of innocent black people for the past hundred years? Not if I turn my TV off they aren’t…

You can probably point to the part where Scout realizes that the world isn’t all hunky dory and not everything can be solved by the old-fashioned fisticuffs:

“How could this be so, I wondered, as I read Mr. Underwood’s editorial. Senseless killing—Tom had been given due process of law to the day of his death; he had been tried openly and convicted by twelve good men and true; my father had fought for him all the way. Then Mr. Underwood’s meaning became clear: Atticus had used every tool available to free men to save Tom Robinson, but in the secret courts of men’s hearts Atticus had no case. Tom was a dead man the minute Mayella Ewell opened her mouth and screamed.”

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Mockingbirds

Which brings me to the point of killing a mockingbird, a central point of many of our lit circle discussions that I’d like to explore further.

I’d rather you shot at tin cans in the backyard, but I know you’ll go after birds. Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit ’em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.”

That was the only time I ever heard Atticus say it was a sin to do something, and I asked Miss Maudie about it.

“Your father’s right,” she said. “Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat up people’s gardens, don’t nest in corncribs, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.”

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You can examine many things as the mockingbird- overall, it’s associated with the cruel and pointless aspects of our world (so… all of it? Just kidding. Maybe.). The world that allowed Tom Robinson to be sent to jail solely for the color of his skin, the world that blamed all the bad things on one recluse simply because they did not know enough about him. Or maybe, the sin is killing children’s innocence in itself. But as cruel as this may be, there will always be evils in the world. Children must be exposed to them eventually- sheltering kids produce adults who are comically unaware of the environment around them, which is all too dangerous, especially in a democracy like ours. Perhaps killing mockingbirds is a part of human nature, however cruel it may be. We all grow up in the same world, but it’s up to us what we do with it.

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To Kill A Mockingbird (1-9)

“Shoot all the blue jays you want, if you can hit ‘em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird… Mockingbirds don’t do one thing except make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat up people’s gardens, don’t nest in corn cribs, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.”

To Kill a Mockingbird is an American classic written by Harper Lee. It is told through the eyes of young Scout, and throughout the course of the novel, the reader learns about the mysteries and controversies enshrouding their tight-knit Southern community.

I remember reading this book when I was in 2nd grade (for some reason…) and I liked it, so it should be interesting to read it again from a different perspective now that I’m older. I found it a lot easier to read than a lot of other classics, probably due to the fact that it’s told from the perspective of a young girl, so while the book still has substance, the constant dialogue and non-convoluted language kept my attention a lot better.

Another thing that stood out to me early on is how much the setting of the novel impacts the plot and the characters. It’s set in the fictional town of Maycomb, a small town in Alabama.The “southern culture” comes out not only through their dialect, but also how isolated they are from the rest of the country. They are only focused on their own small-town drama, like what the Ewells are up to or what cake Miss Maudie is making, which makes it seem as if the reader was there and in on all their gossip.

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“Maycomb was an old town, but it was a tired old town when I first knew it… There was no hurry, for there was nowhere to go, nothing to buy and no money to buy it with, nothing to see outside the boundaries of Maycomb County. But it was a time of vague optimism for some of the people: Maycomb County had recently been told that it had nothing to fear but fear itself.”


Words From the Wise

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

This is a quote from Atticus Finch when he is trying to teach Scout a moral lesson about having empathy for people she doesn’t really understand, such as the mysterious Boo Radley.

This is where the division of thought comes in that philosopher William James was talking about, what he meant when he said: “Now the blindness in human beings is the blindness with which we all are afflicted in regard to the feelings of creatures and people different from ourselves.” There is a fine line between understanding what someone is going through and knowing what they’re going through. When a friend is crying on our shoulder, we usually say something along the lines of “it’s okay, I get it, I understand.” But these statements are usually just empty reassurances. Do we really understand?

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Even if we’ve experienced it in the past ourselves, every experience is unique, so we truly cannot understand what a person is going through unless we try to imagine ourselves as them. Which also ties into Brent Staples- he wrote the article “Black Men In Public Spaces” to try and bring awareness to the issue of racial profiling in America. But an interesting thing that he does is he tries to understand the point of view of the profiler- for example, a woman walking on the street at night with a large man behind her is bound to be fearful for her safety. In many ways, it is unfair for Staples to speak of his opinion without at least considering the other side. Ultimately, we can never really know both sides of the coin ourselves, but we can do our best to understand what others are going through.

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Jean Louise Finch aka “Scout”

In the beginning of the novel, Scout is introduced as a headstrong tomboy who’s concerned with pretty much everything a normal six year old would be concerned with: the games she plays with her friends over the summer, neighborhood drama, and the start of school. She is the narrator and protagonist of the story, and while she is seemingly innocent in the beginning, she matures as a character even in just the first nine chapters.

Scout is completely different than all the other female characters- she’s unusually smart (she can read and write while the majority of her classmates cannot), she is kind and stands up for her peers, and is considerably more wise than other kids her age. This is all probably due to her father, Atticus, who is the town’s lawyer. Despite being busy with work and a single father, he is probably the most formative figure in their lives.

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“that one could be a ray of sunshine in pants just as well, but Aunty said that … I was born good but had grown progressively worse every year . . . . but when I asked Atticus about it, he said there were already enough sunbeams in the family and to go on about my business, he didn’t mind me much the way I was.” Chapter 9, pg. 86

Even though Scout is taught countless lessons in morality by her father (like the one above), she is still relatively sheltered from the evils of the world and is still innocent at heart. Like in the quote above, where her aunt is reprimanding her for wearing overalls, Scout seems to be constantly causing trouble even though she means well. Her moral/decision making compass is just a little off. For example, she is constantly getting into fights, like in Chapter 9 when she got into a fight with her cousin Francis after he said:

“If Uncle Atticus lets you run around with stray dogs, that’s his own business, like Grandma says, so it ain’t your fault. I guess it ain’t your fault if Uncle Atticus is a n****r-lover besides, but I’m here to tell you it certainly does mortify the rest of the family-“

While she might have legitimate reasons to get in fights with people, fighting usually isn’t the answer. While Atticus tries to teach her that, that’s one lesson she’ll have to learn firsthand when her family gets involved in one of Maycomb’s biggest controversies.

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As we progress into the book and continue having discussions, there are a few questions I would like to bring up:

  1. How would the novel be different if it was written in third person?
  2. How does Maycomb’s social hierarchy play a role in the community dynamics?
  3. What is Atticus’ parenting style like and do you disagree or agree with it?

 

-Taja

 

Fahrenheit 451

“The books are to remind us what asses and fool we are. They’re Caesar’s praetorian guard, whispering as the parade roars down the avenue, “Remember, Caesar, thou art mortal.” Most of us can’t rush around, talking to everyone, know all the cities of the world, we haven’t time, money or that many friends. The things you’re looking for, Montag, are in the world, but the only way the average chap will ever see ninety-nine per cent of them is in a book. Don’t ask for guarantees. And don’t look to be saved in any one thing, person, machine, or library. Do your own bit of saving, and if you drown, at least die knowing you were headed for shore.”

― Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451

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In Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury manages to pack in scathing commentaries about the government & censorship, disillusionment, and the role of literature in society in just under 250 pages. It is a dystopian novel set sometime after 1960 and follows the journey of Guy Montag throughout three parts: “The Hearth and the Salamander”, “The Sieve and the Sand”, and “Burning Bright”. Guy is a “fireman” whose job is to burn outlawed books and the homes of people who own them. This is where the title comes from- 451 degrees Fahrenheit is the temperature needed to burn paper. 

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He initially loves his job and believes he is doing a great favor to society by ridding it of impure literature. However, after developing a friendship with his 17-year-old neighbor Clarisse McClellan, his loyalties begin to change. Clarisse is very critical of her society and believes that life’s greatest pleasures are the simplest ones. Her thoughts are considered quite subversive for the time considering that everyone is over-stimulated and so glued to media and technology you’d think it’s an episode of Black Mirror.

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While these thoughts contribute to kickstarting Montag’s journey of self-discovery, it is really one day he had on the job that changed his life: he is forced to burn an old woman’s house that is filled to the brim with books. Instead of leaving the house, she lights a match and sets herself on fire so she dies together with all her books. This leaves Montag with a question: what do people find in books that’s so valuable that they would rather die than have to suffer through seeing them burn? What’s the point of it all? Just before the fire, Montag manages to steal a book to see for himself. And by the end of the book, his loyalties have done a complete 180 and he has dedicated his life to enriching society with literature.

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The book deals with many themes, especially those of government censorship and ignorance in an over-stimulated world. The themes really come out through the character of Montag and how he goes from a somewhat sadistic, government puppet who burns books to a rebel that is dedicated to building a society full of literature.

I would definitely recommend this to anyone who enjoys allegorical dystopian books that are very critical of society (if you liked 1984, Handmaid’s Tale, Animal Farm, Hunger Games, etc, you’ll like this). I read it by coincidence after needing to read a book for school and just finding it on my shelf. It was definitely slow and confusing at parts, especially in the very beginning, but if you are able to look past that it becomes enjoyable.

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HBO is also releasing a television series based on Fahrenheit 451 that will come out sometime this spring. You can watch the teaser trailer here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gwHA7d1OkAY

Read more reviews here:  

https://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/23/books/review/fahrenheit-451-read-by-tim-robbins.html

https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/blogpost/post/fahrenheit-451-50-years-later-still-sharply-divides-readers-over-ray-bradbury/2011/08/26/gIQAn596fJ_blog.html?utm_term=.4faed0b0354a

 

Haroun and the Sea of Stories: Final Project on Hero’s Journey

     Group Members: Jeremy Kohn, Stephanie Land, Matt Tremba, and Connor Roop


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The Pre-Process

     From the beginning of this project, our group was very certain in what we wanted to do. We felt that a game board would best represent how the Hero’s journey works: hitting all the steps, going on adventures along the way, and eventually restarting. Not only was it a way to clearly explain the Hero’s journey, but we could be creative with it as well. We designed it after Candyland (pictured below), with different blocks to land on and different adventures in each section, as well as game cards that tell you things like “you’re doubting your adventure, move back 4 spaces” or “you met your mentor, take another turn!” We also decorated the board with aspects of Haroun, which I’ll get into later. 

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Symbolism & Drawings

            My group member Jeremy and I decided to split the board between the “ordinary world” (left) and “fantasy world” (right), just like the Hero’s Journey is split up. I wanted to include symbolism and characters on my side of the board. So, I split the middle of my side of the board between the happy-go-lucky land of Gup and the dark, depressing land of Chup. The sides of the board also correlate with the steps: Haroun crosses over onto the land of Gup, meets his allies and enemies in both gup and Chup, and goes through an ordeal and seizes the sword in Chup, and so on. On the tests, allies, and enemies section, I drew Mudra the shadow warrior, as he is first thought to be an enemy but ends up being a crucial ally. For the approach, I drew Iff, Butt, and Haroun staring into the distance at the dark ship, deciding on whether or not they should risk their lives and go there. For the ordeal, I drew two hands sword fighting to symbolize the war. Finally, for seizing the sword, I drew two things: one, Kahani turning again, and two, the two sides of the moon combining again. Apart from specific parts, I also put Haroun and Iff peeking out from the top of the board. However, my favorite part of the board was the sea of stories. I drew the different “strands” of stories in the sea as colored strings intertwining, and at the bottom, I drew the “pollution” coming from the land of Chup and combining with the stories. In the corner, I drew a book with the pages flying away, and each page is losing more and more words, until the entire page is just blank. This was symbolic for Khattam-Shud and how he wanted to get rid of all the stories on Kahani.

 

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The early stages of the product. 

Self-Assessment

          The product overall was very satisfactory. Throughout our research, we learned about the different stages and the different versions of the Hero’s journey that exist, as well as the stories that apply to it. Once we learned about the Hero’s journey, it really opened up my eyes- I can now spot the Hero’s journey in most fiction books I read, even biographies. And the best part was that we created a tangible product to show what we’ve learned. Learning feels much more satisfactory when you can hold the knowledge in your hand than when it’s crammed into the back of your brain.

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If I had to rate us on the designs specs rubric, I think we most definitely hit the requirements for “make it beautiful, poignant, relevant, and unique,” and the “Surfer on the Sea of Stories.” We worked to make our project as unique and creative as possible while still describing the process of the Hero’s Journey as it related to Haroun, and I believe we were successful. The other groups also did a great job at relaying their information back to the class- I especially liked how the different skill sets of each group resulted in many unique projects. 

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While the Hero’s journey might be a lot more simple and “clear” than, say, allusion or allegory, it provided a lot of insight into the book itself, especially towards the question of “what’s the use of stories that aren’t even true?” The Hero’s Journey showed how Haroun progressed and grew as a character through meeting his mentor, deciding to go on an adventure, being tested by man and nature, failing, and eventually coming through in the end. Once a character goes through the Hero’s Journey, they gain knowledge and experience that fundamentally changes who they are as a person. So, the Hero’s Journey answers Haroun’s question: once he embarked on this fantastical adventure through the land of Chup and Gup and literally living his fathers stories, he learned the importance of friendship, family, perseverance, and yes, stories.

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If you haven’t already, head over here to view all of the posts I made on Haroun and the Sea of Stories!

-T.M.

Haroun and the Sea of Stories: Khattam Shud (Final Post)

Final Thoughts

             As Haroun and the Sea of Stories comes to a close, we say goodbye to all the colorful characters and dramatic plot. The novel ends on a quick, harsh note, after the war. This was actually a shocking aspect of the ending for me: the entire novel had been building up towards a war between the Guppees and Chupwalas, the war itself was very abrupt and more like an impromptu comedy skit than a war. I assume it is because Rushdie didn’t want to glorify war, and show that no matter what side of the war one is on, they will always look foolish in the end– this is just one of the many ways throughout the book that he slyly makes fun of the Western World.

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Happiness is a Social Construct

            Well… not really, but it’s true to a certain extent. The main point that the ending of the book revolved around was the true meaning of a “happy ending.” Haroun wishes for a happy ending for his city, and while he notices that they are happy now, nothing has truly changed- the happiness is only superficial. The following quote by the Walrus expands on this point:

“Happy endings must come at the end of something… If they happen in the middle of a story, or an adventure, or the like, all they do is cheer things up for a while” (202)

           Rushdie uses this point to show that there is really no such thing as a happy ending for a story. Haroun’s father got his storytelling abilities back, Haroun’s mother came back, their city is happy again, and the Guppees won the war. Despite all of this, the book leaves you feeling empty and melancholic at the end. But this is not truly the ending to Haroun or Kahani’s story: happiness, in the end, is short lived, just like sadness is. No one’s story will ever end.  

We also discussed this for most of our group’s Socratic seminar: we eventually came to the conclusion that happiness cannot be given, but it must come from within. This is why Haroun was genuinely happy when his mother came back, because it was what his adventure was driven by, but his city was only “fake” happy- they might have been laughing and dancing in the rain, but nothing changed at it’s core.

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So… What’s the Use In Telling Stories that Aren’t Even True?

            In my opinion, Haroun’s journey to Kahani is a metaphor for stories in the real world. I broke it down into two main points:

  1. As said above, Haroun’s wish doesn’t solve the deep-seated issues of his town or magically erase all the heartbreak him and his father have endured since his mother left. Instead, it provided everyone with a superficial happiness. While it might not last forever, it still counts for something. This is part of the reason we read stories: to make us feel. Obviously reading a journey about saving the princess won’t make you a hero, but you can live vicariously and experience the pain, love, heartbreak, and fear right along with the narrator.
  2. Before Haroun embarked on his journey, he never imagined something like this happening. Overnight, he saw fantasy lands, creatures, magic, and overall experienced things that otherwise would not be possible in the “real world.” But does this mean his journey is all for nothing? Of course not. What really matters is what he went through and the stories he learned. He learned of the importance of friends and family, perseverance, and the beauty of both silence and speech. These values, not the magic creatures, are what will stick with him until he grows old. The same holds true for stories: It doesn’t matter if stories are made up or 500 years old, because they contain “eternal” truths, which end up enhancing and guiding one through their understanding of their own life. Morals are the most valuable things a reader can take away from a book.

Hero’s Journey

                 I was assigned to read the novel through the lens of the Hero’s Journey, the path that most heroes follow within a novel. The Hero’s Journey is very sequential and concrete, which gives readers little to analyze through this lens. The end of the book saw Haroun hitting a few crucial steps, including “Reward/Seizing the Sword” (when The Walrus gives Haroun a wish, and he wishes to make his city happy again), “Master of Two Worlds” (when Haroun makes Kahani start spinning again and restores peace), and finally, the “Return With Elixir” (when Haroun and his father return from Kahani. The Elixir can either be thought of as happiness, his father’s storytelling abilities, or his mother).

 


Overall, while it was extremely confusing and a little tedious to read at times, Haroun and the Sea of Stories was a fun and sweet book to read. The values that Rushdie managed to convey through a children’s story definitely made an impact on me and how I perceive storytelling. I would definitely recommend it! 6.5/10

-T.M.

Haroun and the Sea of Stories #2

Note: if you haven’t yet read my first post on Haroun and the Sea of Stories, click here.

Since the last few chapters, Haroun is already well on his journey to the magical storytelling moon of Kahani. In terms of the Hero’s Journey, he already received his call to adventure and supernatural aid and has crossed the threshold into the unknown with his mentor, Iff. So far, the book is getting more and more complicated with an abundance of complex characters. In fact, there are, in my opinion, way too many named characters- despite already reading the book, I found myself going back and trying to track who’s who, which made reading a very tedious process.

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Once I learned that Rushdie wrote this book during the time he had a fatwa placed on him by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, I saw the political allegories he made deepen even further. To be honest, this ruined the book for me, because one of the reasons I was excited to just read a children’s chapter book was because they aren’t convoluted and they don’t have anything to do with a ~~deeper political meaning~~ (and, let’s be real, politics ruins most good things). Unfortunately, Haroun no longer fits into either of those categories.

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Apart from that, in the actual plot, Haroun, along with Iff and Butt, arrive in the Sea of Stories. In terms of the Hero’s Journey, Haroun is currently on what is known as the “Road of Trials,” which, according to Joseph Campbell, is when “…the hero moves in a dream landscape of curiously fluid, ambiguous forms, where he must survive a succession of trials. […] The hero is covertly aided by the advice, amulets, and secret agents of the supernatural helper whom he met before his entrance into this region. Or it may be that he here discovers for the first time that there is a benign power everywhere supporting him in his superhuman passage.”

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Overall, in the Road of Trials, the hero (Haroun) must face multiple trials, most of which he will fail. When Haroun drinks the wish water in hopes that his father’s storytelling abilities would come back, but ultimately fails, this is one of the many examples of a Trial he must face. The Road of Trials is often not a singular step within the Hero’s Journey but rather a long process that overlaps across the many other steps in the cycle.


Haroun also goes through “Atonement with the Father,” a step in which the hero must confront his father-figure. This happens when the Land of Gup captures his father for venturing into the Land of Chup, which will eventually lead into the war. This plays itself out when Haroun and his father have a talk about the reality of the Sea of Stories, but also the imminent danger they are both in.

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While it is obvious that Gup and Chup are respectively “good” and “bad” in Haroun, Rushdie makes sure that they do not fall on the extreme ends of the spectrum, which is something I found interesting (and also discussed during the Socratic Seminar). Iff says the following about Khattam-Shud:

“[he is] the Arch-Enemy of all Stories, even of Language itself. He is the Prince of Silence and the Foe of Speech” (79). Even though it might seem like the land of Gup is all about the freedom of speech, all that the Gup characters say is essentially nonsense or gibberish. Their constant talk is eventually their downfall, which can especially be seen when they are going to war with Chup and constantly arguing about their plans. Their constant gossip makes their army fall apart from the inside. And while of course Chup is made to seem like the “dark side,” Haroun finds a beauty in the way they communicate, especially the Shadow Warrior they encounter named Mudra. While he might not verbally talk, he uses a gesture language, and the words he does communicate are all purposeful and careful. Rushdie did this on purpose to show the irony in that not all speech is inherently good, and sometimes silence must exist in order to bring meaning to speech.

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In my opinion, all of this relates back to the question Haroun posed in the beginning: “What’s the point of telling stories that aren’t even true?” The greatest books in history like the Mahabharata or Gilgamesh, or works from authors like Shakespeare, Tolstoy, or Dickens, are all fiction. These authors are not speaking whatever nonsense comes to their minds like the Gups, nor are they depleting the world of storytelling like the Chups. However, the careful and considerate words they’ve chosen have shaped the world we live in today. While they might be fiction, the amazing thing about these stories is that they are always going to be true. Their lessons and characters are eternal and will always apply to society, which signifies the importance of characters like Rashid who keep spreading and telling stories.

First Impressions: Haroun and the Sea of Stories

Originally, I was excited to learn that we were assigned a Salman Rushdie book for summer reading. The first time I read a Rushdie book was in third grade: Luka and the Fire of Life (which I learned is actually a sequel to Haroun… oops.). My first impressions of this book were quite similar to with Luka. The writing style is very off-putting at first, and the eccentric fantasy plot is hard to follow at times and can become convoluted– however, Rushdie never fails to create colorful, intricate characters that really come to life on the pages. I really enjoyed reading a fun, short children’s book as a sort of break from all the textbook reading we had to do. And the great thing about Salman Rushdie is he can’t just write a children’s book and leave it at that- there’s always deeper meaning that you’ll only understand when you’re older. Of course, I’ll go more into that in later posts.

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Throughout the book, I’ll be analyzing Haroun (which, by the way, you can buy here) through the lens of the monomyth, otherwise known as the Hero’s Journey. The Hero’s Journey is used to describe a common narrative pattern in a book’s plot. Below is the cycle:

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And a cute comic that also describes the process:

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For now, I am only analyzing chapters one through three, so of course, the Hero’s Journey plot isn’t very far along. However, one thing my group and I found interesting was the matriarchial role Haroun’s mother, Soraya, played in the novel. She acted as a tipping point for the plot: all was well and fine in Perfectville until Haroun’s mother abandoned them. This is what leads to Rashid losing his storytelling abilities, which leads to Haroun going on a mission to get his abilities back, and so on. This leads us to the question: what really is Haroun’s call to adventure? Is it when he realizes everything went wrong after his mother left? Is it when he realizes on the train that everything is his fault, and he must set out to fix it? Or is it when he sees the Water Genie? We couldn’t decide on an exact answer, but we agreed that it was a combination of Everything Going Wrong that culminated in his call to adventure.

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The role of parents in Haroun brought me upon an interesting line:

“This is an affair of the heart.” (pg. 43)

This simple, sweet line struck me for a few reasons. Once I thought about it, this novel isn’t only a silly fantasy: it’s a love story. But not the Hollywood boy-saves-girl love story: it’s one about the love between a son and his father, and the father’s love for his wife. While there are high-paced adventure scenes, the princess in her castle scenes, and stories about the importance of friendship, above all, it’s about how the son loves his father so much that he’s willing to risk his life just to make him happy again, which is one of the most striking things about Haroun.

Signing out,

T

Note: follow my “Haroun and the Sea of Stories” tag to follow my updates throughout the book. 

The Darkest Minds Review

“Did you know…you make me so happy that sometimes I actually forget to breathe? I’ll be looking at you, and my chest will get so tight…and it’s like, the only thought in my head is how much I want to reach over and kiss you.”

-Alexandra Bracken, The Darkest Minds

I promised myself I would stop reading YA Dystopian books, as I was starting to lose my faith in them, but when everyone kept telling me to read Alexandra Bracken’s The Darkest Minds, I decided to give it a try. This dystopian thriller book is about a girl, Ruby, who mysteriously gains powers on her tenth birthday due to a strange illness that has killed most of America. This leads her parents to lock her in the garage and send her to a detainment camp, where she spent most of her childhood. She is labeled “dangerous” and escapes the camp with a few of her fellow detainees. She then falls in love with the boy who saved her, works through internal issues, saves the world… blah blah blah.

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While my hopes were high for this book, it really only solidified how much I can’t stand YA Dystopia. And it’s a shame, because that’s basically the only YA genre anymore (except for horrible sappy romance). Almost every single author likes to jump on the YA dystopian craze, from “The 5th Wave,” “The Mortal Instruments,” and “Divergent.” It’s like all of these people just tried to recreate The Hunger Games but they obviously couldn’t. And really, check the Goodreads synopses for these books by clicking on the links I provided because they are painfully similar (here’s the one for The Darkest Minds as well).

The whole plot of the book is annoying and blander than grits on top of untoasted white bread. The “dangerous” teens get locked up in a government camp after getting sick. I mean, really? The ONLY teens who survived a plague get locked up? Trust me, I know our government can be stupid but… really? Every single YA book has to contain some crazy oppressive government. Every. One. It must be a lot of weight on the main character Ruby’s shoulders to be the only teenager who recognizes the problems with an authoritarian government. Not only that, but they just put up with the government’s abuse… they ALL have powers, and they all have the ability to make all the government guards at the camp just… walk away. But they never do that because they are poor little helpless kids waiting for their savior.

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Speaking of YA stereotypes, every novel contains these “class separations.” For example, “districts” in the Hunger Games, “factions” in Divergent, etc etc. In The Darkest Minds, it’s…colors. Based on the type of power that you have. And there are government-issued labels that shows everyone what color you are, eerily similar to Nazi concentration camp badges. And of course, our lovely protagonist is ~the most dangerous color~. But she hates that fact and continues to whine about it for literally the entire book. Even though she could use it to break everyone out of the prison. Does she have any characteristics other than being annoying? Not really. 

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Then they try to make a strong female character, but the issue is, there’s so many of these same characters that it just gets awful to see another one. Read my new book, where ANOTHER quirky teenage white girl with ~special powers~ and unique eyes saves the world! And she’s the only one who can do so! Yes, really! I will then be hailed as the ultimate feminist on my countless Goodreads reviews.

 

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Can you tell the difference? I can’t.

 

I know there is one question on your mind: seriously? Can a girl really save the world? Well, don’t worry, there is a guy who has to save HER first. In this case, Ruby falls in love with him on a road trip away from the camp (note: the road trip is literally the entire book. But don’t worry, there are also 18 car crashes because the plot has to contain SOMETHING, right?). Thank god there is a strong, level-headed male character to help our female protagonist along!!!!

 

But wait… what’s this? That’s right, it’s ANOTHER hot guy! How will our protagonist decide??? How will she remember that she has to save the world if she’s so distracted trying to choose between two macho men with amazing jawlines?????? Flip the page for a mandatory bonding session in which the female protagonist gently wraps the man’s wounds as he winces (maybe an even inappropriately timed kissing session if you’re lucky). If I could summarize this book’s romance in a sentence, I would use Avril Lavigne’s legendary song Sk8er Boi: “He was a boy, she was a girl, can I make it any more obvious?”

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The only thing that made me give it two stars is because the first 20 pages were good. I mean… that’s enough, right?? But this book reminded me of everything that is wrong with YA fiction and just… the world. The ENTIRE book was a boring road trip. It didn’t beat out Divergent in terms of YA stereotypes, but it was pretty close. Please enjoy these twitter accounts that personify horrible YAs.

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“Typical YA Heroine”: https://twitter.com/typicalyahero?lang=en

“Dystopian YA Novel”: https://twitter.com/dystopianya

 

Edit: I just found out that they are releasing this book as a movie in 2018. I literally cannot escape Hollywood’s death grip.

The Wrath and the Dawn Review

“She was a dangerous, dangerous girl. A plague. A Mountain of Adamant who tore the iron from ships, sinking them to their watery graves without a second thought. With a mere smile and a wrinkle of her nose.”

-Renee Ahdieh, The Wrath and the Dawn

I came to read The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh after a few people recommended it to me, and after it was on the New York Times Bestsellers list. While it has fantasy and thriller-like elements, it is primarily a romance based on A Thousand and One Nights. This ancient folktale is about a wife who realizes that her husband will murder her by morning, so to try and delay it, she tells him stories for 1,001 nights.  While this story has been retold hundreds of times, I thought that The Wrath and the Dawn gave a fresh new take on it that I enjoyed.

In short, The Wrath and the Dawn is about Khalid, a young king, who brings a woman home every night only to kill her at sunrise. When Khalid kills the main character Shahrzad’s friend and cousin, she decides to take revenge on him and volunteers to marry him. When night comes, Shahrzard tells Khalid a story and says that the only way he can hear the end of the story is if he lets her live until the next day. In a sort of Stockholm Syndrome case, the two slowly fall in love as the book progresses.

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The prominent themes throughout the book deal with love, and redemption, which are all closely related. Love, of course, because the two characters go from wanting to murder each other to falling in love, and redemption because of how much the characters change. Throughout the whole book, Khalid seems mysterious and has a “secret” he won’t tell anyone, and he finally opens up to Shahrzad and begins his character arc. And even though Khalid kills Shahrzard’s friend, he still goes through a “redemption” in her eyes.

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In conclusion, I thought it was a relatively good book and it kept me captivated from beginning to end. The way the author wrote the dialogue between Khalid and Shahrzard as well as the general descriptions were very thoughtful and detailed. All of the side characters really add a uniqueness to the plot. Of course, there were some problems with it. For example, she came to avenge the death of her friend, but ends up falling in love with her murderer after a few nights which is just…strange. But I guess love stories are just like that. All in all, I would give it 7/10 stars! I’d recommend this to anyone who likes to read new takes on traditional folk tales or someone who just likes a good love story.

*note: the book also has a sequel, The Rose and the Dagger (which I plan on reading sometime).

Romeo And Juliet Final Post

At the end of Romeo and Juliet, this is the question that’s invariably on everyone’s minds. Did the play really have to end like that? Were Romeo and Juliet being rash, and was suicide really worth it just because they couldn’t be with the one they loved?

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Overall, I would give the whole book a solid 7/10 stars. I really enjoyed the beginning of it, (up until act 3-middle of act 4), but after that, the whole thing seemed a little rushed. Like Shakespeare just wanted to get it over with (relatable). Now, I knew that R & J’s relationship was hasty, but for some reason, the whole time I was expecting their relationship to be a little more… developed. But no, they see each other a few times and then die in each other’s arms. To me, that made the “I love you so much I’m going to die for you” seem a bit fake and not genuine. But I guess some of it is probably not being able to see into a character’s mind, as it is a play.  

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So, was their love really worth dying for? This is like trying to explain the meaning of life in one word, but I’ll try to make it concise:

  1. A common motif is that love leads to death. Juliet says, “Than death prorogued wanting of thy love” Mercutio died because Romeo loved Juliet, and in turn Tybalt. Tybalt died because Romeo loved Mercutio and wanted vengeance. Paris died because he loved Juliet. Lady Montague died because she loved Romeo. And of course, Romeo and Juliet died because they loved each other.
  2. When Romeo finds Juliet dead, he expresses suicide as an act of love. “I still will stay with thee/ And never from this palace of dim night/ Depart again.” So, love and death is one and the same here.
  3. They (including Friar Lawrence) believed that love can conquer all, especially the family feud. So, if there is no more love, can you conquer anything? Or is death now the only option?

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This is at least how Shakespeare presented it. In my opinion, it’s very circumstantial. If you had a kid that was dying and for some reason, the only way they could live is for you to die, it’s worth it.

But committing suicide for a man you’ve met a few days prior? Absolutely not. Maybe you’d feel like you wanted to die, but life is so much more than romance. If anything, you have to stay alive because I doubt that loved one would want you dead.

 

Who’s to blame?

 

In a way, every character somehow contributed to Romeo and Juliet’s death. But I’m still standing behind my theory that Romeo is to blame for all of this. I’ll sort it out into a list again:

 

  1. Like Helen Fisher said, the feelings of love are more intense when you just got dumped. And he meets Juliet right after Rosaline ditched him, so it’s more of lust at first sight than love.
  2. And when Romeo is whining to his friends about his love life, Mercutio basically says “sleep with someone, you’ll feel better.” Aaaand he meets Juliet…
  3. Juliet loves him because he’s attractive, and Romeo takes advantage of that to just manipulate Juliet because he’s heartbroken.
  4. Read my last post for more on this, but Romeo is the reason why Mercutio and Tybalt died.      
  5. And of course, when Tybalt died, Juliet’s feeling that teenage rebellion (after her father threatens to disown her) and decides to not care that the love of her life killed her cousin, but that he’s banished. Really, Juliet?! And when the Nurse asks her, “Will you speak well of him that killed your cousin?” She responds, “Shall I speak ill of him that is my husband?” as if the two cancel out (pg 137).
  6. Maybe Paris isn’t the bad guy we all thought he was- Capulet tells Paris in scene two that he needs to “take things slow” with Juliet and win her over first: “But woo her, gentle Paris, get her heart,/ My will to her consent is but a part…” So, Paris actually loves Juliet… unlike Romeo, who seems to just be manipulating her.
  7. Romeo is banished, which according to him is worse than death. And then Juliet dies… so he decides to commit suicide because he’s basically screwed (and it’s better than being banished, so hey!). And all this drives Juliet to kill herself too, because that one hot guy who her parents didn’t like and acted like he loved her is now dead. Oh, Romeo!

Those are all of my thoughts, overall, I liked the play much better than I thought I would. I linked a short video from Thug Notes summarizing Romeo and Juliet, enjoy…