Monday, June 8, 2020

The Illusion of Power in Orwell’s “Shooting an Elephant”

The Freedom of the Press: George Orwell on the Media's Toxic Self ...

    Orwell’s essay “Shooting an Elephant” both receives high regards for its political stance against imperialism and a healthy amount of criticism regarding his misrepresentation of the Burmese natives. However, “Shooting an Elephant” is not post-colonial in the sense that it is a perfect stand against ethnocentrism, as surely many examples of the narrator’s ethnocentric behavior have and could be extracted. It does, however, speak to the audience about a conflicted, insightful experience which exposed “the real motives for which despotic governments act” (Orwell 736). Through the officer’s (Orwell’s narrator’s) experience shooting a frenzied elephant, he understands that at the root of his job and the British Empire at large is the obsessive creation of power, or the illusion of power, that works to establish the domination of colonized areas.

            The narrator in this essay, who may or may not be young Orwell himself, claims repeatedly to be anti-empire while also subscribing to an ethnocentric, discriminatory attitude towards the natives in Burma. He crudely refers to them as “evil-spirited little beasts” and claims he “thought the greatest joy in the world would be to drive a bayonet into a Buddhist priest’s guts” (736). These remarks tell a lot about the narrator and make very clear that the narrator is not fully on the Indian’s side, despite his belief that the British Raj represented an “unbreakable tyranny”, which he makes apparent in the same thought as the former remarks. Paul Melia insists in his article “Imperial Orwell” that this text is, at best, “a half-hearted attack on the imperial project” and argues that the narrator’s description of the Burmese is lacking depth while also scapegoating the natives as villains who forced him to shoot the elephant when he did not want to (16). However, “Shooting an Elephant” has been claimed as a great, political story about dominance, imperialism, race, and culture (Yeasmin, et al. 27). Nellufar Yeasmin, Md. Abul Kalam Azad, and Jannatul Ferdoush stylistically analyze the story through the post-colonial lens, finding that ultimately Orwell was successful in using form to articulate his political and thematic points. Through the assumption that the narrator’s shooting of the elephant is parallel to Britain’s rule over the natives, it seems as though Orwell makes many choices to highlight his anti-imperialist stance. However, even in this analysis it becomes clear that the narrator “subconsciously associates the natives with the animals” (33). This is evident when the trampled coolie is described as a skinned rabbit (Orwell 737). What Yeasmin, Azad and Ferdoush offer to the scholarship of “Shooting an Elephant” is evidence that Orwell is well-intentioned even though his narrator may not be, a perhaps intentional move on Orwell’s part to compel the reader to look elsewhere for meaning where the narrator only seems confused. Or Orwell simply missed the mark on creating a protagonist that accurately represents his anti-colonialist attitude. Regardless, there is more to the story that the narrator alone does not contribute.

            Despite the narrator’s first person telling of this story, he is not the vessel through which this text embodies a post-colonial mindset or pushes for change.  Instead, what James A. Tyner refers to as the “landscape” of the text does. Essentially, a landscape is a concept of human subjectivity, a matrix where “who we are” meets up with “where we are” in a given moment in time (Tyner 263). The narrator finds himself in a peculiar position when his inner turmoil is manifested physically into a situation that is out of his hands. As an officer of Moulmein, he is placed into a position of supposed power over the Burmese people, which troubles him greatly as it is. When the elephant shows up raving around the village, eventually killing a man, the narrator is then placed into an unfamiliar and unstable landscape. Tyner refers to this moment as “a temporary displacement” before asserting that: “The narrator’s moment of understanding, his transformation, occurs in the space of the Other, a setting in which the social situation of colonialism was reversed” (266). It seems, then, that meaning comes from the situation or “landscape” that Orwell’s narrator is in rather than the narrator himself, though it is translated through the narrator’s realization by the end of the essay.

            Orwell begins “Shooting an Elephant” by asserting that the story is what made him see “the real motives for which despotic governments act”. The narrator in the story does not come to realize the horrors of imperialism by the end of the story, he was already riddled with guilt from his own position in the tyranny: “In a job like that you see the dirty work of the Empire at close quarters. The wretched prisoners huddling in the stinking cages of the lock-ups, the grey, cowed faces of the long-term convicts, the scarred buttocks of the men who have been flogged with bamboos – all these oppressed me with an intolerable sense of guilt” (736). After witnessing the abuse of human beings during his time of service, it would be naïve to believe that the (admittedly disturbing) death of an elephant would bring him to a new realization about the brutal nature of the empire. Instead the narrator realizes that in this moment he is powerless despite being “seemingly the leading actor of the piece” (738). The landscape, or literary situation, of the story bring the first-person speaking narrator to the realization of his lack of power by isolating him among the Indians, who gather into a crowd in excitement for him to shoot the elephant. Up to this point, the narrator makes small moves to maintain the look of power. When learning of the elephant’s frenzy, he grabs a .44 that he knows is not strong enough to kill the elephant. Therefore, it is safe to assume he is grabbing it for the appearance of having things under control, of maintaining power. Later, the narrator claims “a white man musn’t be frightened in front of ‘natives’ and so, in general, he isn’t frightened” (739). Again, this perpetuates the attitude that he must stay in control, even though at that point he has already admitted he felt like a “puppet pushed to and fro by the will of those yellow faces behind” (738). This conflict occurring in the narrator ultimately leads to his realization of the government’s “real motives”, but is only fully realized as he actually decides to shoot the elephant and in moments afterward.

            The reader comes to understand that an impossible choice is being made, one in which both options are equally unprincipled. This lack of choice, in turn, makes Orwell’s narrator feel powerless. He understands that not shooting the elephant would have made him look like a fool in front of the Indians, thus agitating the power relationship between them; it would make his power meaningless if he did not shoot. However, his sense of power is threatened still by the decision to shoot the elephant, as his free will seems stripped from him. He is not powerful enough to withstand the judgement of the natives. Barry Hindess describes this as Orwell “regretfully acknowledging, at least for that moment, the unpleasant demands of the [white man’s] burden” (369), which could be interpreted as self-reflection on Orwell’s part, or undeserving sympathy for imperialists oppressing the Other. Regardless, this moment is the climax of the story, to which the early assertation of discovering the empire’s “real motives” has referred to. In this moment in the essay, Orwell’s narrator is struck by his lack of power in his decision to shoot and even to commit to elephant’s death fully, as he misses the brain and dooms the elephant to a long and painful death. Orwell also cleverly uses the symbolism of the elephants slow death to drive home the lack of power the narrator has realized, when suddenly the mad beast that must be shot is “powerless to move and yet powerless to die” (740). Ultimately, the post-colonialist theme being pulled from the story is the fact that the power one nation asserts over the other is an illusion, and thus is the “real” motivation behind the actions of the oppressors – to attain and maintain this illusion of control.

            Orwell’s “Shooting an Elephant” illustrates the flaws of domineering imperialists, particularly the fact that the power one nation has over another is an illusion and thus is significant to any modern reader. The Indians had power over the white officer, even as they looked to him for a decision to be made about the elephant, it is under that pressure that he collapses. Though written in the early 20th century, “Shooting an Elephant” has much to offer oppressed populations for its perspective on the power of the people over a tyrant leader (represented by Orwell’s narrator). The native Indians in Burma do not overthrow Orwell’s narrator or riot over the death of the elephant, but they are pleased as they take the meat for themselves as soon as the elephant is finally dead. However, the Indians do influence the behavior of the man supposedly in charge through presence alone. A modern American reader might be struck in 2020 in how relatable the conflict in “Shooting an Elephant” is as POC and allies protest and, in some cases, riot against the oppressive nature of the police as an institution. In this case, the police grab guns and riot gear even before needed, much as Orwell’s narrator grabs his .44 knowing its not enough to stop the “must” frenzy of the Elephant, and through this a modern reader may realize the “real motives” of our own despotic government, and decide to pay attention to literature after all.


Works Cited

Hindess, Barry. “Not at Home in the Empire.” Social Identities, vol. 7, no. 3, 2001, pp. 363-377.

Melia, Paul. “Imperial Orwell.” Atlantis, vol. 37, no. 2, 2015, pp. 11-25.

Orwell, George. “Shooting and Elephant.” The Norton Anthology of British Literature: The Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries, edited by Stephen Greenblatt and Jahan Ramazani, Norton, 2018, 735-40.

Tyner, James A. “Lanscape and the Mask of Self in George Orwell’s ‘Shooting an Elephant’.” Area, vol. 37, no. 3, 2005, pp. 260-267.

Yeasmin, Nellufar et al. “’Shooting an Elephant’: A Stylistic Analysis.” ASA University Review, vol. 7, no. 1, 2013, pp. 27- 36.

Saturday, May 2, 2020

"Ode to a Nightingale": Industrialization and Romanticism

Haley Adair
English 346
Dr. Beth Torgerson
1 May 2020
An introduction to 'Ode to a Nightingale' - The British Library
            Britain was an ever-changing landscape in the 18th and 19th centuries, where rapid alterations were made to the ways of living. Romantics like John Keats dealt firsthand with the fallout of political revolutions in France, Haiti and America. These revolutions marked a change in the attitude of what we know now as Romantic England. Keats’ “Ode to A Nightingale” perfectly captures many Romantic tropes and show a poet grappling with social change, emotion, and a deep appreciation for nature. Keats spends eight stanzas pondering the nightingale’s song and appreciating its beauty while condemning man’s nature.  The nightingale’s song in “Ode to a Nightingale” is the focalized point, bringing forth Keats’ observations of the disconnect between humans and nature, all which are products of the Romantic era; man’s sudden change of lifestyle which troubled many and brought man further separated from nature and into a place that lacked simplicity and profound pleasure.
            In “Ode to a Nightingale”, John Keats ponders man’s new position in the world and longs for the simplicity of the Nightingale’s nature. The Industrial Revolution, spanning from 1760 to around 1820, sparked change for the lifestyles of British individuals. The movement from farming and agriculture and rural lifestyles towards urban lifestyles created the rise of a middle class where before only rich and poor existed. Proma Tagore calls this phenomenon an “Age of Consumption” – where the consumption and/or ingestion of goods became the new lifestyle which poets such as Keats abided by (67). “Ode to a Nightingale” was first published at the tail-end of the Industrial Revolution and thus is impossible to remove from this context. As Tagore gestures to, Keats uses consuming language in his ode, particularly in the first two stanzas where he refers to the “hemlock [he] had drunk” and a “draught of vintage” (lines 2-11). In order to reach a state of bliss, Keats implies man must consume. On its own, this may seem as a neutral sentiment, bearing no negative or positive connotation. However, in contrast to the nightingale’s “ease” while singing its song, it seems that Keats is convinced that there is an inherent “dis-ease” in man’s nature of consumption that has come forth from the revolution. Keats, presumably the speaker of the poem, consumes the nightingales’ song much as he would consume his wine and foods with a “purple-stained mouth” and the “drowsy numbness” which a good wine would allow. Much as Keats admits wine is used to cope with life, he is using the bird’s song, of which he acknowledges is “pouring forth” its soul for consumption. The dis-ease comes as Keats realizes that this is not natural as he listens “in vain”.
            Perpetuated by the sudden change of lifestyle, but perhaps always present in human nature, is the longing for emotional fulfillment, a theme present in a range of Keats work but especially prominent in “Ode to a Nightingale”. The poet projects his musings of the intricate relationship between himself and the nightingale; of human and nature. Andrew Kappell explores the ontological difference between humans and nightingales which Keats implies and claims that the bird’s simplicity and joy comes from its obliviousness while humans are painfully aware of reality which they are situated in (272). Ontology, dealing with the nature of being, is vastly different between humans and birds, even though humans are technically as natural as birds. Human life is forever changing and altering to benefit society while birds live the same type of lifestyle over centuries. The changes occurring in the Romantic period directly affected poets like Keats and pushed them to cherish and desire a more natural way of existing as a sort of pushback to newly implemented, industrialized living.
Keats’ assertation of the birds’ immortality brings up the questions of what exactly makes the bird immortal while the human is not. As has been claimed by many Keats scholars, the immortality of the bird has nothing to do with death itself or even life cycles in general but in its simplicity and constancy as a species. “And thus the immortality of the nightingale; it is a question of focus. Nature is always dying but always alive, forever changing but always the same” (Fogle 221). Keats is not dwelling on the mortality of himself or even the human race, as nightingales live the same type of life cycle which includes death. However, the changing pace of humanity is in stark contrast to “ease” in which the nightingale carries on despite its sad song. The nightingale’s song is known historically (aka immortally) as being “solemn and plaintive” and “associated with sadness and pain” (Lawrence 24), despite the joy it brings its consumers and John Keats himself. In the seventh stanza, Keats exclaims “Thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird! / No hungry generations tread thee down” (61-2), and in doing so he presents the key to this poem’s meaning. “Hungry generations” refers to the greed-based changes occurring in society as generations live on. These changes tread on the happiness of individuals such as Keats who long for the emotional fulfillment they felt they were missing.
“Ode to a Nightingale” is a poem that has been long analyzed and interpreted, and the nightingale’s song lives on as an iconic poetic symbol paid homage to even in modern poetry. Keats, who specialized in the emotional nature of Romantic poetry, digs deep into the implications of the nightingale and his song in relation to humanity as he knew it. The rapid changes occurring simultaneously to the Romantic period influenced the poem “Ode to a Nightingale” as Keats deliberates the immortality of the bird versus the hunger of humanity which created an ache for fulfillment. The profound impact of the natural song on Keats marks the importance of bird song on the joy of humanity, and embraces nature as a most wholesome outlet for both introspection and consumption on a different level than day to day life allows.

Works Cited
Fogle, Richard Harter. “Keats's Ode to a Nightingale.” PMLA, vol. 68, no. 1, 1953, pp. 211–222. JSTOR,
Lawrence, Elizabeth A. “Melodius Truth: Keats, a Nightingale, and the Human/Nature Boundary.” Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment, vol. 6, no. 2, 1999, pp. 21–30. JSTOR,
Kappel, Andrew J. “The Immortality of the Natural: Keats' ‘Ode to a Nightingale.’” ELH, vol. 45, no. 2, 1978, pp. 270–284. JSTOR,
Keats, John. “Ode to a Nightingale.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature: The Romantic Period, edited by Stephen Greenblatt and Deidre Shauna Lynch, Norton, 2018, pp. 977-9.
Tagore, Proma. “Keats in an Age of Consumption: The ‘Ode to a Nightingale.’” Keats-Shelley Journal, vol. 49, 2000, pp. 67–84. JSTOR,

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

"Ode to a Nightingale" Keats' Connection to Romantic Ideals (Poetry Project #1)

Beautiful Songbird 'Wings of Nightingale' Faces Risk of Extinction ...
Poetry Project #1: “Ode to a Nightingale” by John Keats
             John Keats’ “Ode to a Nightingale” is a classic Romantic poetry that represents the romantic era and its charm in many ways. Romantics, as we’ve learned, valued nature, emotions, and imagination in response to a changing world. What people felt became important in the face of revolution, and poets used these movements as momentum to create art that spoke to average people about their very average and heightened emotions.
The emotional depth of Keats’ poetry is the most outstanding Romantic factor at play. This is a common factor in many of his poems from this anthology, but in “Ode to a Nightingale”, Keats begins his first stanza relaying his emotional distress. “MY heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains / My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk” (1-2). Keats’ poetry often focuses on the dark emotions like sadness and depression. However, in this same stanza, Keats contrasts these emotions to the light-hearted song of the nightingale: “’Tis not through envy of thy happy lot, / But being too happy in thine happiness, / That thou, light-winged dryad of the trees, / In some melodious plot / Of beechen green, and shadows numberless, / Singest of summer in full-throated ease” (5-10). This contrast places the reader in a position to analyze the emotions in relation to one another, perhaps if it were not for the speaker’s own distress he could not have acknowledged or appreciated the song of the nightingale in such a profound manner. The nightingale’s song provokes him to ponder the contrast of these emotions, and the nightingales’ place in the world in comparison to his.
Keats’ connection with nature for the sake of his emotional well-being is clear in “Ode to a Nightingale”. The emotional piece of Romanticism ties in closely to the part of Romanticism that valued nature – and nature’s direct connection to God and spirituality. I think in Keats’ case that the connection to nature is more emotional than spiritual, as God is not directly mentioned in the poem, though he muses on Death. “Darkling I listen; and, for many a time / I have been half in love with easeful Death, / Call’d him soft names in many a mused rhyme, / To take into the air my quiet breath; Now more than ever seems it rich to die” (51-5). The nightingale’s song is allowing him to contemplate the deep feelings he has surrounding death and his own melancholy, in the next stanza he discusses the immortality of the bird, whose natural presence is profound to him in the sense that it allows him to ponder his mortality in comparison to nature’s everlasting presence.
The use of imagination and the supernatural is present in Keats’ “Ode to a Nightingale”, as he dreams of the Nightingale and its song as a sort of “immortal”, “charmed” and “magic” presence. While I feel that Keats really focuses on emotion and nature more than other Romantic pillars, the use of imagination comes through as Keats describes the bird as magic and immortal because it is reasonable to assume that he knew this was not the case. Instead, the nightingale’s song is immortal, as it is ever present in nature as nightingales die and new ones grow up. The magic comes from the feelings he experiences while listening to the song, which he compares to “a draught of vintage”, “tasting of Flora”, and “blushful Hippocrene”. Keats, or the speaker here in “Ode to a Nightingale”, is mesmerized by the song in a way that allows him to believe it is of supernatural presence. His imagination runs wild as he is blissfully engaged with the song, inspired to compare himself to the bird in every way he knows how.

Works Cited
Keats, John. “Ode to a Nightingale.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature: The Romantic Period, edited by Stephen Greenblatt and Deidre Shauna Lynch, Norton, 2018, pp. 977-9.

Saturday, March 7, 2020

Margaret, Maria and Martineau: Female Friendship in Deerbrook

Deerbrook is a novel that paints a picture for readers of the reality of small-town life and of the inner workings of social circles and familial relationships. Exploring these deeply imbedded social norms and practices was a niche of Harriet Martineau’s, and her interests are typically reflected in her writing in both subtle and blatant ways. Martineau frames Deerbrook around a few different plotlines – the romance plots between the Ibbotsons and their bachelors, the mistrusted country doctor, and the varying relationships occurring in the small town. Doing this allows Martineau to intimately explore the relationships of spouses, acquaintances, neighbors, and siblings, but most importantly, Martineau explores friendship in the novel and displays the reality of friendships affected by Victorian-era gender and social norms. In the town of Deerbrook, there is a surprising lack of what appears to be strong and healthy friendships – many of them are tainted by mistrust and gossip even without mention of it being so. There is, however, one friendship in the town of Deerbrook which appears far less susceptible to the drama surrounding it – and that is Maria and Margaret’s budding-to-bloomed female intimacy that marks the most important plot points, interrogating its placement as a “secondary” plot to the story. By placing the movement of the plot, the exposure to thematic content, and the bulk of friendly dialogue in the mouths of Margaret and Maria, Martineau has insinuated that the key plot to Deerbrook is in their friendship rather than in the romance plots that were popular in the era.
            Maria and Margaret are portrayed as having a very close and honest friendship. Maria Young, prior to her relationship with Margaret, seems to lack true friends. As their friendship grows, it is suggested so, “For a fortnight Margaret has spent some hours of each day with Miss Young . . . a strong regard had sprung between them. This new friendship was a great event to Miss Young; -- how great, she herself could scarcely have believed beforehand” (55). Maria is a character that is very lonely prior to the arrival of the Ibbotsons, and she apparently gained the most from their arrival considering the state of her relationships prior to it. Overtime, Margaret and Maria find confidence in one another, much as close friends would. As Dr. Hope and Hester marry, Margaret is left to get their home in order and on her final night invites Maria to stay. Martineau, here, spends time building their relationship for the audience – their friendship is finally shown rather than told to the reader as we get pages of dialogue between the two discussing marriage and love in a girl-like and fun manner (157 – 68). This friendship begins to mean as much to Margaret as to Maria – her sister has just been married and she is staring a very lonely life in the face, with only Maria as a true confidant. This alliance in the novel is key to the unveiling of other plot points and allows Martineau to utilize these two characters as focalizing agents.
            Harriet Martineau was a woman who had ideas about society and how it could and should change to bring about political, economic, and social paradise. As known, from Martineau’s work on Society in America, and in her female characters in Illustrations of a Political Economy, that she cares about the status of women in western culture. In “The Political Non-Existence of Women” from Society in America the economic issues with women and work deeply perturbed her. Socially, Martineau had interest in female relationships and, according to Valerie Sanders’, a deep “respect for female friendship” (“Introduction”). Friendship, over time, has been considered an important phenomenon; however, in the Victorian era, friendship was still seen as being “ethical, public, exclusively masculine, and elite” (Schweitzer 338). The fact that friendship was once viewed as being “exclusively masculine” speaks to the dissidence in Martineau’s attempts to subvert this narrative by placing friendship exclusively in the hands of female characters.
The friendship between Margaret Ibbotson and Maria Young in Deerbrook is an example of trust and love for one another in a town fueled by gossip, but it is also is a tool used to provide plot-thickening dialogue for the novel. This technique is also used in “Weal and Woe in Garveloch” from Illustrations of a Political Economy. Katie and Ella’s friendship leads to dialogue that not only propels the plot but also displays thematic content in a way that is typically done by male characters. Katie and Ella are marked by the reader as women who are doing something outside of societal expectations, especially considering the era from which Martineau was working from. Martineau, who was a sort of social butterfly herself, was mainly friends with men. However, the friendship between Martineau and Charlotte Bronte echoes Martineau’s ode to the power of female friendships. Though truly brief, Martineau’s attachment to Bronte was long-lasting. After a falling out between the two, Martineau worked with Elizabeth Gaskell on The Life of Charlotte Brontë after Brontë’s death (Sanders 71), showing the same consideration towards Bronte as Maria has towards Margaret by faithfully helping to continue on the legacy of Miss Brontë. This is strengthened by speculation that Martineau is self-embodied in Deerbrook as Maria Young. As discussed in Martineau’s Autobiography, Martineau was deaf from a young age and was thus considered unmarriable by Victorian standards (14). This is reflected directly in Maria’s character, who was lamed by an accident which killed her father. Martineau’s biography and place in history, alongside her art, portrays her as a rebel, breaking social norms in favor of her own views and opinions. Likewise, Margaret and Maria discuss matters prevalent in Deerbrook thoroughly. Through their dialogue, the reader is exposed to the thematic ideas in Deerbrook such as faith, the reality of love and marriages, as well as an awareness and investment into the friendship unfolding between the young women. The purpose of moving Deerbrook’s plot through the dialogue between Margaret and Maria is to put important conversation into the mouths of female characters for the sake of showing complex female thought, crafting characters whom women could relate to and/or be inspired by, and to crush the social norms that shun the importance and power of female friendships.
            The reader is drawn to the Deerbrook gossip in novel the as much as a townsperson themselves might be. The reader is exposed to the drama through the conversations with Margaret and Maria – as well as given moments with each character’s opinions. This is again the case as Maria interrogates Margaret’s affections for Mr. Enderby – the conversation exposes the reader to the tension between the characters as Maria is also able to confess her previous attachments to him (165-67). Harriet Martineau presents key pieces of the story which the reader could otherwise not be exposed to through the friendship between Margaret and Maria. Maria, who is keenly aware of the politics and sociology of Deerbrook, presents at once to both the reader and Margaret. Without this interaction, it is reasonable to assume that other characters may not ever acknowledge or discuss the nature of the town’s gossip, due to the parts they play within it. If the most urgent concern of the novel is gossip (Pond 177), and Maria and Margaret discuss and, thus, relay the gossip to the reader, then Maria and Margaret serve as the most important characters in Deerbrook– as they motivate the plot in ways which most other characters do not.
In a novel that is supposedly most forwardly about love, it is to be considered that Martineau concludes the novel with the parting of the friends rather than a marriage or something more romantic. Much as the dialogue between the friends from previous instances in the novel, this dialogue seems to leave the reader with parting thoughts about their friendship and friendship in general. Margaret admits that she is afraid for Maria’s impending loneliness. Maria, the type of character who relishes in independence and “little gifts of leisure” (32) early in the novel, admits that Margaret is likely right. Maria, in some senses, faces the coldest ending of the entire cast. Because of Maria’s friendship with Margaret, she is forced to come to terms with her hard-feelings about her previous relationship with Enderby. Margaret, a gentle and sensible character, trapezes the difficult situation with love and grace, showing her respect for Maria and her feelings while also pursuing love. In addition, Maria is noble in her support, showing the value she places in her relationship with Margaret. Not only is she sucking up her prior affections, but she is also forced to accept the loss of her confidant’s presence, proving her love for Margaret. Ending the novel on this note speaks to the importance of the friendship plot, and placing it even above the romance and gossip plots. The romances and the antagonistic gossip are more or less settled by the end of the novel, but Martineau spends the final few pages assessing the nature of the friendship, which leaves the audience to ponder what will come of it and to mourn Maria’s resuming solitude – thus placing importance and emphasis on this moment and again holding up the friendship as the primary plot.
            Margaret Ibbotson and Maria Young develop a strong connection with one another throughout Deerbrook, from which an intense friendship blooms. The young women propel the plot’s gossip and unveils the political and sociological significance of the rumor mill and social workings of the town of Deerbrook. With these facts in mind, the primary plot, it turns out, is the friendship between Maria and Margaret, rather than the most outward (yet unmotivating) romance plot. The significance of a strong, bold female friendship may seem unimportant to a modern reader, but the rebellious nature of such a thing present in Martineau’s work defies the social norm of friendships being “exclusively masculine” (Schweitzer). Deerbrook, which was known by male critics and peers as being a work by Martineau “more fitting of a woman” (Sanders), is actually packed with political dissidence and themes that antagonize the oppressive political society which Martineau lived in. In an unassuming nature, Martineau exploits the friendship between the young women to make a statement against sexist assumptions regarding friendship in the Victorian era, while still giving readers the relief of a loving friendship they felt invested in – giving more power to the women, who are friends outside of, as well as because of, the fraught environment they are existing in.

Works C983ited
Martin, Robert B. “Charlotte Bronte and Harriet Martineau.” Nineteenth-Century Fiction, vol. 7, no. 3, 1952, pp. 198 – 201.
Martineau, Harriet. Autobiography, Nineteenth-Century British Biographies, 2007.
---. Deerbrook. Edited by Gaby Weiner. Virago, 1983.
---. Illustrations of a Political Economy: Selected Tales. Edited by Deborah A. Logan. Broadview, 2004.
---. “Section VII: Political Non-Existence of Women,” Society in America. 1837, pp 71-75.
Pond, Kristen A. “Harriet Martineau’s Epistemology of Gossip.” Nineteenth-Century Literature, vol. 69, no. 2, 2014, pp. 175 – 207.
Sanders, Valerie. “Harriet Martineau and Elizabeth Gaskell.” The Gaskell Society Journal, vol. 16, 2002, pp. 64 – 75.
---. Introduction. Deerbrook, by Harriet Martineau, Kindle ed., Penguin, 2004.
Schweitzer, Ivy. “Making Equals: Classic Philia and Women’s Friendship.” Feminist Studies, vol. 42, no. 2, 2016, pp. 337 – 64.

Friday, February 14, 2020

Food Symbolism and Insecurities in Boyce-Taylor’s Arrival

Cheryl Boyce-Taylor published her poetry collection Arrival in remembrance of her mother, an ode to her immigration to the U.S., and of her attachment to her home country, Trinidad. Many of the poems in this collection align with these themes. However, looking deeper into specific poems shows the audience that Arrival is about much more than that. The author struggles with many forms of insecurities and presents them in these poems – her insecurity with her familial relationships, insecurities with food stemming from (and potentially causing) her “sugar-diabetes” diagnosis, and insecurities about being in a new place, as she migrates from the West Indies to America. Throughout the poems, Taylor incorporates references to various foods from her native country. Most prominently, mangoes, limes and hibiscus. The poet uses explicit references to food to symbolize and describe her  implicit insecurities and how they relate to and exasperate one another.
Culture, in general, is heavily defined by food and foodways everywhere one could go. Cheryl Boyce-Taylor heavy-handedly uses food throughout her poetry in Arrival, and though this collection was written while Taylor was a citizen living in America, the food she uses is familiar to her from her childhood in Trinidad. According to Fred Gardaphe and Xu Wenying, authors of the introduction of Food in Multi-Ethnic Literatures, “Food often has an ability to last longer as a signifier for ethnicity than other markers, such as language or fashion” (7). When writing Arrival, Taylor was a fully situated American citizen. She has existed within American culture long enough to be considered assimilated, but the food from her home country is what defines her as a Trinidadian immigrant – it is the piece of culture which she can hold onto. Cheryl Boyce-Taylor connects with the foods from back home years after she has immigrated, however, she does so in a complicated manner. As a diabetic, Taylor’s relationship with food is an apparent insecurity of hers, as is seen in poems such as “Sugar” and “Zuihitsu on Eating Poems”. However, it is curious that Taylor continues to use fruit throughout Arrival as she explores other insecurities she has with her body, her homeland, and her relationship with her father.
Struggling with dietary issues for a long while, Cheryl Boyce-Taylor uses poems like “Sugar” and “Zuihitsu on Eating Poems” to discuss her insecurities and expresses in these poems her issues with eating sweet foods versus eating foods that promote her health (mangoes and pineapple versus hibiscus/sorrel and caraili bush). In “Sugar”, Taylor explores her pancreas and how its failing disrupted her life, “from hibiscus to orange blossom // from insulin shock to // hospital bed // the thud of ripe mangoes falling in thick mud” (6). The symbolism of mangoes appears here, but it is not their sweet taste the poet dwells on. The sound of them falling when they haven’t yet been picked is what haunts her as she combats her failing pancreas. The sound is sudden, and remarkable, to the reader in this moment. The sweetness of a ripe mango is not mentioned, but swiftly ignored as the author ponders hibiscus and insulin shock. This turn away from mentioning the mangoes taste screams avoidance, and possibly shame – illuminating the use of the fruit to highlight Taylor’s insecurities with desiring to eat sweet fruits rather than the sorrel and caraili bush which would level out her symptoms rather than antagonizing them.
The reader is then brought to “Zuihitsu on Eating Poems”.  Zuihitsu is a genre from Japanese culture which, while taught in literature courses, “[defies] definition or categorization” (DiNitto 251). Overall, however, Zuihitsu is loosely translated to mean a miscellaneous collection, or catch-all, of written thoughts. It is interesting, then, that Taylor would name a poem “Zuihitsu on Eating Poems” – and as a reader I find it ironic that so much meaning is packed into a poem titled after a genre with means, essentially, to be without form and meaning. This poem presents itself as descriptions of foods and foodways, mentioning pineapple, hibiscus (Jamaican sorrel), quinoa and heirloom tomatoes and describes feeding her son and “sprinkling poems on [her] honeydew melon” (8). This poem contains pieces of Taylor blatantly expressing her own relationship with food and poetry – and it insinuates, by title and by content, that the two go hand in hand, at least for her. This is very common for ethnic authors, who often use their native foods to maintain comfort and safety when they feel displaced (Gardaphe and Wenying 7). In this sense, “Zuihitsu on Eating Poems” does not just deal with Taylor’s insecurities with her disease and her relationship, because of it, to food, but also with her longing for home, in the Caribbean.
Poems in this collection like “Leaving Trinidad” and “Gone” come back to back for a sort of doubling ache on the readers part. “Leaving Trinidad” addresses the fears of young Cheryl Boyce-Taylor, only fourteen, leaving her family. By the end of this poem, the fear buckles her and she is sobbing, she claims “I could barely hear anything” (24) after describing the advice and encouragement spoke by her family members in this moment. This moment portrays the sort of insecurity Taylor feels, and felt, of this moment in her life. Being unsure of her future without her Mammie, and insecure about the decision to go to the America “that’s not so bad” (24). In these poems, however, the poet does not refer to fruits or even to sorrel. Her fears are evident enough without them. As it is, the strained relationship between her new and old home involves food production itself, including her personal narrative in a much larger context than herself.
The Caribbean and the United States have a strained relationship, as it pertains to food and foodways, between the two. Marked prosperity in the U.S. nearly always creates scarcity in the West Indies – farmers in the area, such as Taylor’s father in Trinidad, produce the fruit and foods and Americans consume it. After it is shipped elsewhere for production, it arrives back in the Caribbean, and is now too expensive for purchase by lower and middle-class West Indians, who did the growing and picking of the fruits themselves (Gardaphe and Wenying 9). For obvious reasons, this creates economic strain on the area. It is never suggested why Taylor was making the move from her home to the strange and new city of New York – but it can be inferred or assumed that it was for educational and professional opportunity that she would not have had access to, culturally or economically, in Trinidad. New York, being the landing spot for immigration from all nations, contains many Caribbean immigrants, who fare the best among other immigrants, even those of European descent (Wilson). Cheryl Boyce-Taylor, despite her insecurities and anxieties surrounding her motivation, settled into Queens and made a living for herself; becoming successful in the eyes of her family and home. Food, and the lack of food symbolism in poems directly about home in Arrival, is as such because the tension between Taylor’s differing “homes” and their relationship to food, rather than her own, is already underlying everything about the situation, rooting food to her insecurities in a deeply instilled manner.
Most clear, it seems, is the insecurity Taylor feels in her relationship with her father: a philandering, aloof figure throughout this collection of poems. Taylor struggles to know and decide whether or not she can love her father. There are moments like “Toco” where Taylor blatantly states, “I still loved him” (9), insinuating that there was a definite moment where she stopped. Later in the poem it is alluded that he abandoned her as she states she waited, “. . . for a postcard . . . for the flared crowing of his voice” (9). However, it’s apparent that the poet feels insecure even in her acts of non-love – in “Limes for the Journey” Taylor yearns for forgiveness. Her “rage” paints him as a drunken, crazy stranger while she recalls his kiss as delicious. “Toco” returns to the use of food to symbolize insecurity: ginger lemonade, a spicy/sour treat is contrasted to sweet, fresh orange slices. Likewise, both mangoes and limes are used in “Limes for the Journey”, symbolizing the sweetness that her father once showed her (mangoes), with the sour that her father last gave her (limes). These moments bring the symbolism of fruit to a bud for the purposes of this essay; of the overt and seemingly endless references to food in this collection, it is apparent that they are always juxtaposed against another to create a binary: good or bad for Taylor, or sweet versus sour.
Following “Leaving Trinidad”, a moment where the reader is exposed to a terrifying and emotional moment in Cheryl Boyce-Taylor’s life, we are presented with “Gone”. The latter is a poem that begins to include multiple levels of Taylor’s apparent insecurities. In “Leaving Trinidad”, Taylor is supported by her family and their encouragement, even if she in that moment is decidedly devastated. In contrast comes “Gone”, which shows the poet’s insecurities with leaving Trinidad as well as those dealing with her paternal relationship. In a moment of extreme fear, the climax of her departure to America, boarding the plane, Taylor looks back for support from her father – only to find him already gone. It is striking, too, the final line in this poem is, “my world already turned from me” (25). This traces back to aforementioned issues with Taylor and her feelings toward her father. While she is clearly painting her father in a negative fashion here, she is also convinced that he is her world – both her mango and her lime. Otherwise, she is equating her father and her love for him to Trinidad and her love for home, and her love from home is tied directly to the foods she eats – and it is expressed as such throughout this collection of poetry.
            Cheryl-Boyce Taylor’s collection Arrival serves as a place to recognize and honor American immigrants and where they come from. The title of the collection links each poem back to the idea that Taylor is an immigrant who has arrived in America – and when she arrived, she was confronted with her many insecurities in a lonesome fashion. Turning to poetry, it seems, Taylor has contributed to modern poetics by giving a voice to immigrants who wish to tell their story. In Arrival, Taylor does so by relaying her story through the use of foods which trace back to the Caribbean, tethering her and her insecurities to what was once her home. The symbolism of the food is to imply that her insecurities come from a place that is rooted in her, her diabetes, her immigrant status, and the relationship with her fruit-farming father. The ideas that food, foodways, and food politics define Cheryl Boyce-Taylor and her insecurities are implicit, and to be inferred in the text, tell the reader that it is possible that Taylor is not even aware of such implications herself. The cultural implications of food and foodways surround everyone in different fashions, and should be studied as such in literature.

Works Cited
Boyce-Taylor, Cheryl. Arrival. Triquarterly Books, 2017.
DiNitto, Rachel. “Return of the ‘Zuihitsu’: Print Culture, Modern Life, and Heterogeneous Narrative in Prewar Japan.” Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, vol. 64, no. 2, 2004, pp. 251–290. JSTOR, Accessed 7 Feb. 2020.
Gardaphé, Fred L., and Wenying Xu. “Introduction: Food in Multi-Ethnic Literatures.” MELUS, vol. 32, no. 4, 2007, pp. 5–10. JSTOR, Accessed 13 Feb. 2020.
Wilson, Basil. "Caribbean Immigrants in New York City and the Rise of a Black Middle Class in Southeast Queens." Wadabagei : A Journal of the Caribbean and its Diaspora, vol. 12, no. 1, 2009, pp. 33-45. ProQuest,