Saturday, 9 May 2009

Fleur, The Beauty, Fear and Fascination.

The very first encounter that introduces Fleur to the reader, leaves an impression of fascination, fear and remarkable beauty. Who exactly is this delicate yet strong and mystical character? According to Nanapush, one of the two narrators of the tale, the sole survivor in a burnt down Pillager cabin. A seventeen year old girl, charmingly beautiful with a fate that surpasses and captures the reader all through the narration. Her wildly intriguing affinity for Lake Matchimanito where it is rumored that she has an ongoing affair with Misshepeshu, the creature at the bottom of the lake and the common belief of the natives that she is in possession of magical abilities further draws the reader to discover who is Fleur, yet her true identity remains quiet a mystery since all the reader is presented with is the tales of her that are narrated by Nanapush and Pauline.

“Even though she was good-looking, nobody dared to court her because it was clear that Misshepeshu, the water man, the monster, wanted her for himself. He’s a devil, that one, hungry with desire and maddened for the touch of young girls, the strong and daring especially, the ones like Fleur”(p.11), with such strong accusations and beliefs of the Native Indian Americans it is easy for me as a reader to see the magical fascination which frightens as much as attracts the men of the novel and the readers alike to Fleur. Like almost every society with some sort of organized belief system, the devil always has and will be an identity that is both feared and respected. And the idea that it is the devil himself who wishes to have Fleur in his possession only further fuels the intrigue and need to understand not only her character but the element which draws all the gossip and common fascination of the natives towards her. But despite all this a brave soul is introduced to the readers, Eli. Despite all the rumors that circulate around Fleur, Eli is willing to pursue her and is not afraid to love her despite the fates of the other men who have been associated with Fleur. This does not only show the magnetic force that she posses but the power she holds over men. The novel progresses with constant reminders of the supernatural state of Fleur, which remains a mystery. Was Fleur really a being with elements from another world, a world beyond the reach of the commons, or is it simply the Native way to dwell in these thoughts? With references to Fleur’s daughter Lulu, such questions remain unanswered as is portrayed with phrases such as the following: “To our minds, Lulu’s eyes blazed bright as his. Yet she had the Kashpaws’ unmistakable nose, too wide and squashed on the tip. She was good-looking. She had Fleur’s coarse, quick-growing hair. Sheer black” (p.70). This characterization of Lulu not only gives her physical features but also suggests that perhaps Misshepeshu is the girl’s father when Pauline says that her eyes were like his. But then she goes on to say that her nose was obviously the nose of a Kashpaw.
But the supernatural and the unexplained does not only circulate around Fleur, Pauline, whose narrative is not very reliable since her character is portrayed with many insecurities and flaws also embodies the strange happenings common to the lives and beliefs of the Natives. “They say, or Bernadette does, that when they found me in the tree later that morning, everyone was shot with fear at the way I hung, precarious, above the ground. They were amazed I could climb there, as the trunk was smooth for seven feet and there were no hand- or footholds of any sort. But I remembered everything, and wasn’t in the least surprised. I knew that after I circled, studied, saw all, I touched down on my favorite branch and tucked my head beneath the shelter of my wing” (p. 68-69). It seems perfectly natural to Pauline that she turned into an owl and flew to the top of this tree. She felt at peace doing this because she had just found her calling, watching people dying and harvesting souls. This is a dark characterization of Pauline; she finds comfort and pleasure in watching people die and dealing with their dead bodies.

In conclusion I would like to say that Louis Erdrich successfully captured the essence and the magic which she presented in a unique way, not only to fascinate the readers but to open their eyes to the struggle and pain that any minority faces in our modern world of taming the unknown, claiming the rights to things which are not of possession and the political struggle for power, a never-ending game of the power holders of the world.

A Role-reversing tale of the conspicuous sari in the Occident

Mukherjee’s tale of the role-reversing life style led by an Indian woman in the large city, not only is an eye opener to the male dominating society, but a fresh grasp of air filled with hope and equality to the ever existing marginalized minority also known as women. “In my red silk sari I’m conspicuous.”(p. 25), such bold statements from the author allows the reader from the start to enter the world as seen through the eyes of a woman, that knows her status in the world, yet is not complaining, instead holds her head up high and faces the difficulties with pride. This rarely described behavior was to me a candle light amid the thousand of street lights of the male domineering city. Mukherjee did a splendid job in welcoming her readers to the reality, in which she doesn’t nag and beg for pity, her character makes the differences she wishes to see, and that is what I believed made this short story a phenomenal accomplishment and a greatly influential mind feeding experience.

The heroine of the story depicts clearly and harshly the experience an immigrant faces in the new and alien place. “First, you don’t exist. Then you’re invisible. Then you’re funny. Then you’re disgusting.”(p. 26), quotations such as this one attacks with clarity the feelings that most keep locked inside and which even more people feel but are unable to turn into words. Her direct and honest, humane and merciless narration pinpoints the difficulties. But she is not the victim, quiet the opposite, the protagonist is an identity, that fights, that faces the reality and strikes back. We notice that Mukherjee’s story revolves and is fully narrated by a woman, who is not dependant on a man, in fact, the protagonist’s husband is the one who depends fully and in a sarcastically child-like manner needs and begs for her. This idea is clearly shown in the line on page 33 : “Tell me you need me. Panna, please tell me again.”

We notice that it is not only Panna’s husband who is placed beneath the critical microscope of a woman in the modern city, but other men are depicted as the women have been for so many years in literature. “Like many men in this country, he seems to me a displaced child, or even a woman, looking for something that passed him by, or for something that he can never have.”(p. 30). Quotations such as this one further prove the point that the male-dominating and constantly restated idea is one that should be looked at more closely, and after doing just that, Mukherjee proves to the readers that in fact it is the men who seem helpless and lost, unaware due to their egos of the state in which they are, parading their masculinity in an attempt to hide their insecurities and pain.

Despite all the qualities and strengths that Mukherjee gives her protagonist, we notice that Panna still is not completely comfortable in her shoes. The many echoes of the memory and nostalgia for the past plays a significant role in the story. To me personally, this is not a weakness, but a strength. At the end of the day, Panna is a woman, and her sentimental and feminine qualities must be present to complete her identity. By allowing the readers to see this side of Panna, Mukherjee places her on a pedestal of a complete woman in the big city, not fully conforming to the needs of the city, but battling all the opposing forces without having to let go of her true self. This was one the things that I found to be especially rewarding and worth of praise.

In conclusion, I would like to state that after completing this piece, not only have I found an incredibly interesting author whose works I will definitely make sure to look forward to reading in the near future, but also allowed me as a student of literature and a firm believer in the equality of the sexes to notice that there are some very strong and capable, witty and assertive literary activist, proving to the world that change happens only when we stay true to ourselves and take all the action we want to see into our own two hands and make it happen.

The finely-made for one of them & the white geologist!

Solitude, loneliness and the indifferent feelings of a white workaholic in an exotic land are apathetically yet emotionally charged, are presented by Gordimer in this short story. Dr. Fransz-Josef von Leinsdorf is a geologist with a void that he feels with his stones. His face is divided in half. The upper part, which I took to represent his knowledge and intellectuality is still vibrant, young and alive, unlike the lower part which in turn is metaphorical of his carnal needs is a dim and aging result of his knowledge taking up more of his life than one should allow it. His constant travelling and the unsettling life-style further show his inability to settle at one place with a certain someone.
The fact that the colored heroine of the story is not even given a name was not a surprise. A name gives one an identity, a privilege which can not be bestowed on a lower class working local cashier girl. Through out the entire story, we notice the author dealing with the female heroine as an object: “Her eyes went over everything in the flat although her body tried to conceal its senses of being out of place by remaining as still as possible, holding its contours in the chair offered her as a stranger’s coat is set aside and remains exactly as left until the owner takes it up to go.”(p. 1935). I don’t think that this is degrading or offensive, this is the Gordimer’s way of showing the uneasiness and the reluctance of allowing the development of feelings towards the lower class worker in a country where you, yourself is a stranger, constantly under the close inspection of the local authorities.
Even though the story takes place over a certain period of time, precisely how long the reader tends to figure out but with no certainty, events are thrown in with absolutely no warning sign. In one paragraph our heroine visits the apartment carrying the groceries and leaving with a box of chocolate, and in the next we find her making the bed after she has slept in it. This to me personally was a remarkable technique. It felt alive. This is how life is in my opinion, one day you meet a person and it seems that this encounter took place just yesterday, but you are finding yourself in the same bed with this person on the next. I would like to draw attention to the futility of language and conversation that I believe Gordimer wanted to point out. The heroine speaks English in its most simple and often grammatically incorrect way. But this does not stop the feelings and the mutual interest growth. Even the love-making act which is an act usually portrayed filled with passion and fore-warned by endless talk of, happens in muteness: “He made his way into her body without speaking; she made him welcome without a word.”(p.1937).
The melancholic and cold feeling that never leaves the reader I believe to have the purpose to foreshadow the end. This relationship is doomed from the start. The lies, the hiding and the guilt-trips as well as the inability to understand the traditions and customs of the locals by the foreign further hints at an ending that won’t place a smile on our face. There is no “bad” character; there is no scapegoat or anyone to take the blame. The characters are real, and in each of them a mixture of wrong and right equates to them being themselves. Their attempt to make things work although proven futile at the end, leave them not in a position to place blame but in the reality of acknowledging that the trial and the attempt is much more rewarding than the outcome. They tried, and they tried the best they could, it just didn’t happen, it ended. The humility that the heroine faces in the conclusion and the little aid that the Dr. provides with the hiring of the attorney is mere human interaction, nothing more and nothing less.
In conclusion, although racial, economic and class issues are brought with solid force to the reader, I find the style to be of extremely emotionally filled higher ranking since the reader finds him/herself not judging or taking sides but living with the characters throughout the entire story in notion that reality is never judgmental, it simply is the way it is, and we each cope with it the best way we can.