Gerritsen Creek

Published in: on May 9, 2011 at 10:58 pm Comments (0)

Thoreau’s “Walking”

In the chapter “Time and Place,” Tuan explains that “attachment, whether to a person or to a locality, is seldom acquired in passing” (184). He says that because people acquire “attachment to place as a function of time,” it only makes sense that we should develop a connection to our surroundings once we have spent time their, and developed a relationship with the space that has witnessed our experiences. A teacher of mine from high school once said that spirituality is the feeling of connectedness within an environment. I find this quote to be particularly applicable for this week’s reading because Thoreau discusses walking through a forest for the sake of spirituality. In this reading, it is almost as though Thoreau is arguing with Tuan. He says that when walking through nature, “the landscape is not owned and the walker enjoys comparative freedom” (Thoreau 267). Thoreau brings it to our attention that “while almost all men feel an attraction drawing them to society, few are attracted strongly to Nature” (284). This is because of Tuan’s point that in order to develop a connection to a space (and turning it into place), people need to have spent time there and had experiences there. For most, this is easiest to do within a society. Societies are familiar to us, we easily recognize our roles in society, and our experiences come more easily because they involve others. Thoreau says though, that only once “you are a free man, then you’re ready to walk.” One needs to have his mind clear of worries and distractions before he is able to walk through nature and get what Thoreau believes to be the appropriate reaction. While Tuan says connections to places are seldom through passing, Thoreau says that one should feel a connection while passing through nature, and this isn’t something that should be taken for granted. However, while I agree with Thoreau, I believe that what Tuan describes as normal is more common because it’s easier. It does not as readily provoke profound thought or self reflection as strolls through nature often do. It is also very difficult to rid oneself of the troubles that worry one’s mind. So while Thoreau says that his is the way we should connect to nature, it is far more easily said than done, and hence most of us give way to Tuan’s reasoning that we must develop a relationship to our spaces over longer periods of time.

Published in: on May 5, 2011 at 8:50 am Comments (0)

The Search for Marvin Gardens

In “The Search for Marvin Gardens,” John McPhee weaves together accounts of what Atlantic City is like through a running competition of Monopoly the narrator is playing with an unnamed competitor. Throughout the story, McPhee provides highly detailed images of what the streets of Atlantic City contain as well as the history of why the streets were designed the way they were. In the chapter “Visibility: The Creation of Place,” there are a number of statements Tuan makes about places that pertain to McPhee’s descriptions of Atlantic City.

On the very first page of the chapter, Tuan says that “it is not possible to look at a scene in general,” but rather “our eyes keep searching for points of rest” (161). If we think about our experiences looking over scenes or landscapes, this statement makes a lot of sense. Whether it’s the small fisherman on a boat in the middle of a huge body of water, or a massive canyon among a stretch of mountains, we tend to search for things to look at. This reminded me of the beginning of McPhee’s story in which he describes the lighthouse. He informs us that “George Meade… built the lighthouse… to reach up high enough to throw a beam twenty miles over the sea” (McPhee 9). Tuan also explains that “place is whatever stable object catches our attention” (161). By introducing us to the lighthouse, a fixture that serves as a symbol of hope and guidance for many a sailor, McPhee tells us that Atlantic City is more than just a town, it is a “place” despite the “crumbling walls of the buildings” and the “shattered glass,” and that the lighthouse serves as what Tuan described as the resting place for our eyes (McPhee 9).

Another very important point that Tuan makes is that “many places, profoundly significant to particular individuals and groups, have little visual prominence” (162). This is extremely relevant in “The Search for Marvin Gardens” because nearly the entirety of the story is spent describing how drab, run-down, and trashy Atlantic City had become, and yet clearly it was significant to our narrator, perhaps because of his attachment to Monopoly, for he spends his time roaming the broken city in search of the one spot on the Monopoly board that remains hidden from the rest of Atlantic City. We get pages of proof that the city is no longer beautiful, no longer filled with the glory it once held, and yet it remains close to our narrator’s heart, just as Tuan explained often happens.

What’s also significant about Tuan’s chapter that relates well to McPhee’s story is his description of sculptures. Tuan says that “sculptures have the power to create a sense of place by their own physical presence” (162). He continues, saying that “a single inanimate object, useless in itself, can be the focus of a world” (ibid). At the very end of McPhee’s story, the narrator turns to the statue of Charles B. Darrow, creator of the game Monopoly, and asks him the question he’s been trying to answer throughout his entire journey in Atlantic City. For the narrator, a huge weight was represented in this statue. Darrow knew that Marvin Gardens was not located in Atlantic City, and after asking various locals about this secluded area, it seemed as though this statue, this “bronze, impassive” depiction of the man who created the classic game of Monopoly was the only one who could tell him where to look (McPhee 19). The reason was that the game of Monopoly was a whole world for the narrator, and the statue represented this world and hence the hidden location of the only property in the board game that the narrator couldn’t get a hold of.

Published in: on April 28, 2011 at 11:53 am Comments (1)

Everyday Use

In the chapter “Attachment to Homeland” in his book Space and Place, Tuan mentions many concepts that pertain to Alice Walker’s short story “Everyday Use.” In the story, the narrator’s eldest daughter has made various efforts throughout her life to rise above her family’s social status by learning to read, moving away, and adorning herself with bangles and earrings, luxuries her family could never dream of. Tuan says that “exile [is] the worst of fates” for a person, but in the story, Dee leaves her home behind in search of something better (154). This, to me, indicates clearly that Dee was not interested in remaining connected to her family at all. Dee also changes her name to Wangero because it’s more “authentically” African than “Dee.” While this might seem like Dee is trying to connect back to a homeland that dates further back than Georgia, she disregards the fact that she was named after her aunt and other family members. Tuan quotes a Native American chief, saying, “our ancestors are sacred” and the Athenians saying that “our ancestors deserve praise, for they dwelt in the country without break in the succession from generation to generation” (154-155). While it’s true that the African Americans were forced into The States, Dee’s family was clearly one with much history in the country considering her great grandfather fought in the civil war. Yet she obviously disregards the ancestors that are closest to her by changing her name. Another interesting thing that Tuan point out in the chapter is about the specific landmarks of a homeland. He explains that the “visible signs serve to enhance a people’s sense of identity; they encourage awareness of and loyalty to place” (159). This is significant for the story when we reach the turning point as Dee tries to claim the family’s quilts instead of letting her younger sister Maggie have them. It becomes clear that Dee has no regard for the sentimental value of the quilts and only finds them “precious” in the same sense as a hipster might find a retro piece of jewelry. Dee has no loyalty to her homeland, would rather turn the sentimental pieces of her past life into artwork with which to adorn her walls, and hence storms off when she can’t get her way.

Published in: on April 14, 2011 at 11:44 pm Comments (0)

Paper 2, final draft

In Margaret Atwood’s “Death by Landscape,” the main character, Lois, is trapped in her past because of a tragic experience at summer camp when she was younger. On a canoeing trip, she and her best friend, Lucy, separate from the group to investigate a lookout point and Lucy mysteriously vanishes. Now, Lois’ apartment is practically wallpapered in landscape paintings, reminding her constantly of that horrible memory. Her relationship with the landscape paintings indicates that she is trapped within those memories, and needs those paintings to feel that Lucy is still with her. In a literal sense, it was Lucy who met her death at the lookout, but upon closer inspection it becomes clear that Lois is the one who stopped living past that point in time. Analyses of landscapes and time by Yi-Fu Tuan and Edward S. Casey help us to understand the way in which Lois remains in the past by surrounding herself with the landscape paintings.

On the canoeing trip, the girls stop to make camp at a marked lookout point. Lucy and Lois decide to venture up the cliff, in which “spindly balsam and spruce trees grow to either side” (Atwood 111). They’re in the middle of the forest, on top of a cliff, where no one can see or hear them. Tuan explains that “in a dense forest environment… aural space is less focused” and that “forest sounds are not precisely located” (Tuan 119). This is because of the many trees and other dense geological structures that turn the space into “a dense net of place with no overall structure” (ibid). It’s not hard to understand then, how someone can easily go missing, or why if Lucy had fallen off the lookout into the water, “there had been no sound of falling rock; there had been no splash” (Atwood 114).

Lois reminds herself of this moment every day by looking at her landscape paintings. All of the paintings are “pictures of convoluted tree trunks… of a lake with rough, bright, sparsely wooded cliffs… of yellow autumn woods” (Atwood 100). Lois surrounded herself with the images; the walls were covered in “blocks of pictures, above and beside one another” (99). Lois preferred them like this. She wanted these pictures to be prominent because they were important to her, and having them cover her walls “[had] more of an impact” than if they were few and farther apart (ibid). In this way, Lois made it so that she could never leave the lookout point where she lost her best friend, never escape her memory, and remain in her past forever.

Throughout the story, there are many different implications of time passing. A very clear indicator is that the story revolves around a summer camp. “Lucy was [Lois’] summer friend” (103); their entire relationship revolved around seasonal change, and because the girls were apart for a full ten months out of the year, “when they met in the summer, it was always a shock… It was like watching someone grow up in jolts” (105). Lois also thinks to herself at some point that her and Lucy’s names “date [them]” and that “now [they were] obsolete” (ibid). These things indicate that, while in camp, time actually felt as though it were passing very quickly.  It is only later on that Lois finds herself stuck in the past. In “Time in Experiential Space,” Tuan explains that the different perceptions of time are either located in objective space or in subjective space. He says that “subjective space belongs to the mental realm,” while things like “cyclical time [such as] the movement of the sun… [are] located on objective space” (Tuan 120). This is interesting in Lois’ case, because her sense of the physical passing of time—what should be located in objective space—has been taken over by her subjective space in which her haunting memories reside.

Atwood makes mention of Lois’ relationship to time at various points throughout the story. For example, when the girls reunited in the summer “they had changed so much, or Lucy had” (105). Here, Atwood clearly plants the hint that Lucy was the one moving through time, but that Lois remained the same, clearly foreshadowing Lois’ entrapment in time. It is also no coincidence that “when she heard the shout,” “it was noon,” the time of day when the sun seems held suspended in the sky at its highest point (112). The sun seems held in its place, as though time halts altogether, and it is at this point that Lucy disappears, keeping Lois as suspended in time as the sun seems to be at midday. Atwood also makes Lois’ awareness of time particularly prominent when, just before Lucy disappears, “Lois looks at her watch” (111). Clearly, when Lucy was still around and the girls were in camp, Lois was very much aware of the passing of time, for “she [was] the watch-minder” while “Lucy [was] careless of time” (ibid). It is only after Lucy disappears and Lois is left to carry out her life without her friend that she forces herself to stay locked in that moment instead of moving on. At this point, we gain understanding of Atwood’s title for the short story, “Death by Landscape.” Upon first glance, it seems as though the death in the title refers to Lucy’s death. However, with closer analysis, it becomes clear that it is Lois who loses her life at the lookout in the lush forest landscape. Once she loses her friend, she loses her sense of objective time, and as a result keeps herself locked within her memories forever.

It’s clear that the way in which Lois surrounds herself in her past is through her landscape paintings. Tuan explains the significance of these paintings in the latter half of “Time in Experiential Space.” He reminds us that upon looking at landscape paintings, “we almost automatically arrange its components” to be able to set them in terms of our own lives (Tuan 123). We picture ourselves inside the painting, and “imagine ourselves traveling down [the countryside] road” in the picture (ibid). Distinguished professor and phenomenologist Edward S. Casey also explains that landscapes are more than just representations of geological formations. Rather, when painting the landscape, “the artist’s body… displays its sense of the place it paints” and not just “the landscape’s precise contours” (Casey 261). We look at landscape paintings, and become a part of the scene. Casey explains that in these portrayals of wide horizons and lush trees, Casey “feel[s] that [he is] already over there, out there” in the scene (265). When Lois looks at the paintings in her apartment, she too is transported back into the scene that they represent, for when she “looks at her pictures… it’s the same landscape they paddled through” (Atwood 117). Of course, these images are not paintings of the same lookout on which Lucy and Lois stood years before. But to Lois, they were exactly the same, and she chose to surround herself with the images so as to constantly live within them, and be transported back to that crucial, tragic moment in her life.

Casey also calls these broad images worldscapes, in which the image is a “non-enclosed, ever-expanding totality” much like scenes described in Lois’ paintings of lakes that stretch out before her as seen from high up places (Casey 265). He explains that “what matters in a worldscape is the… panoramic sense of endless space and… time” (ibid). This is important because for Lois, her landscape paintings represent an endless time for Lucy. Lois is traumatized by the fact that Lucy’s fate is unclear, and therefore feels the need to ensure that she live on in some way. The paintings give Lucy endless time in which to live and last in Lois’ life. Lois feels that “every one of [the paintings] is a picture of Lucy” (Atwood 118). Because the landscape paintings are there, Lucy “is in Lois’ apartment” and “she is entirely alive” in Lois’ mind (ibid). It is for this reason that Lois feels the need to remain stuck within her memory of Lucy and that dreadful moment on the canoe trip. If Lois were to move on and risk forgetting what that moment meant to her, she would risk losing Lucy for the second time, this time forever. Lois chooses to surround herself with her paintings so that she can stay in the landscapes, and so that Lucy can peer out through them and continue to live within them.

Through her landscape paintings, Lois keeps herself trapped and surrounded by the memories of her and Lucy at the lookout over the lake. Casey and Tuan help us to understand how and why it is that Lois feels this connection to the landscapes by explaining that these images are not just representations of a scene. Rather, Lois’ affinity for the paintings shows us “the process by which… a story gets attached to an object” (Casey 14). She demonstrates “the habit of mind that looks behind objects to events, and sees in objects a sign of something else” (ibid).When Lucy vanished into the landscape, she and Lois switched places in time. On the lookout, Lois meets her “Death by Landscape,” and ceases to live her life beyond that point in time. Behind those paintings lies Lucy’s story and hence what remains of her life. It is for this reason that Lois must keep the paintings close to her, so that she can keep herself within the past and Lucy within the present.

Published in: on at 1:41 am Comments (1)

Paper 2, Rough Draft

Lois Lost in Landscapes

Rough Draft

In Margaret Atwood’s “Death by Landscape,” the main character, Lois, is trapped in her past because of a tragic experience at summer camp when she was younger. On a canoeing trip, she and her best friend, Lucy, separate from the group to investigate a lookout point and Lucy mysteriously vanishes. Now, Lois’ apartment is practically wallpapered in landscape paintings, reminding her constantly of that horrible memory. Her relationship with the landscape paintings indicate that she is trapped within those memories, and needs those paintings to feel that Lucy is still with her. Analyses of landscapes, time, and symbolic objects by Yi-Fu Tuan and Edward S. Casey help us to understand the way in which Lois remains in the past by surrounding herself with the landscape paintings.

On the canoeing trip, the girls stop to make camp at a marked lookout point. Lucy and Lois decide to venture up the cliff, in which “spindly balsam and spruce trees grow to either side” (Atwood 111). They’re in the middle of the forest, on top of a cliff, where no one can see or hear them. Tuan explains that “in a dense forest environment… aural space is less focused” and that “forest sounds are not precisely located” (Tuan 119). This is because of the many trees and other dense geological structures that turn the space into “a dense net of place with no overall structure” (ibid). It’s not hard to understand then, how someone can easily go missing, or how, had Lucy fallen off the lookout into the water, why it was that “there had been no sound of falling rock; there had been no splash” (Atwood 114).

Lucy reminds herself of this moment every day by looking at her landscape paintings. All of the paintings are “pictures of convoluted tree trunks… of a lake with rough, bright, sparsely wooded cliffs… of yellow autumn woods” (Atwood 100). Lois surrounded herself with the images; the walls were covered in “blocks of pictures, above and beside one another” (99). Lois preferred them like this. She wanted these pictures to be prominent because they were important to her, and having them cover her walls “[had] more of an impact” than if they were few and farther apart (ibid). In this way, Lois made it so that she could never leave the lookout point where she lost her best friend, never escape her memory, and remain in her past forever.

Throughout the story, there are many different implications of time passing. A very clear indicator is that the story revolves around a summer camp. Because the girls were apart for a full ten months out of the year, “when they met in the summer, it was always a shock… It was like watching someone grow up in jolts” (105). Lois also thinks to herself at some point that her and Lucy’s names “date [them]” and that “now [they were] obsolete” (ibid). These things indicate that, while in camp, time actually felt as though it were passing very quickly.  It is only later on that Lois finds herself stuck in the past. In “Time in Experiential Space,” Tuan explains that the different perceptions of time are either located in objective space or in subjective space. He says that “subjective space belongs to the mental realm,” while things like “cyclical time [such as] the movement of the sun… [are] located on objective space” (Tuan 120). This is interesting in Lois’ case, because her sense of the physical passing of time—what should be located in objective space—has been taken over by her subjective space in which her haunting memories reside. Atwood makes this notion of Lois’ awareness of time particularly prominent when, just before Lucy disappears, “Lois looks at her watch” (111). Clearly, when Lucy was still around and the girls were in camp, Lois was very much aware of the passing of time, for “she [was] the watch-minder” while “Lucy [was] careless of time” (ibid). It is only after Lucy disappears and Lois is left to carry out her life without her friend that she forces herself to stay locked in that moment instead of moving on.

Tuan then goes on to explain the significance of landscape paintings. He reminds us that upon looking at landscape paintings, “we almost automatically arrange its components” to be able to set them in terms of our own lives (Tuan 123). We picture ourselves inside the painting, and “imagine ourselves traveling down [the countryside] road” in the picture (ibid). Distinguished professor and phenomenologist Edward S. Casey also explains that landscapes are more than just representations of geological formations. Rather, when painting the landscape, “the artist’s body… displays its sense of the place it paints” and not just “the landscape’s precise contours” (Casey 261). We look at landscape paintings, and become a part of the scene. Casey explains that in these portrayals of wide horizons and lush trees, he “feel[s] that [he is] already over there, out there” in the scene (265). When Lois looks at the paintings in her apartment, she too is transported back into the scene that they represent, for when she “looks at her pictures… it’s the same landscape they paddled through” (Atwood 117). Of course, these images are not paintings of the same lookout on which Lucy and Lois stood years before. But to Lois, they were exactly the same, and she chose to surround herself with the images so as to constantly live within them, and be transported back to that crucial, tragic moment in her life.

Casey also calls these broad images worldscapes, in which the image is a “non-enclosed, ever-expanding totality” much like scenes described in Lois’ paintings of lakes that stretch out before her as seen from high up places (Casey 265). He explains that “what matters in a worldscape is the… panoramic sense of endless space and… time” (ibid). This is important because for Lois, her landscape paintings represent an endless time for Lucy. Lois is traumatized by the fact that Lucy’s fate is unclear, and therefore feels the need to ensure that she live on in some way. The paintings give Lucy endless time in which to live and last in Lois’ life. Lois feels that “every one of [the paintings] is a picture of Lucy” (Atwood 118). Because the landscape paintings are there, Lucy “is in Lois’ apartment” and “she is entirely alive” in Lois’ mind (ibid). It is for this reason that Lois feels the need to remain stuck within her memory of Lucy and that dreadful moment on the canoe trip. If Lois were to move on and risk forgetting what that moment meant to her, she would risk losing Lucy for the second time, this time forever. Lois chooses to surround herself with her paintings so that she can stay in the landscapes, and so that Lucy can peer out through them and continue to live within them.

Through her landscape paintings, Lois keeps herself trapped and surrounded by the memories of her and Lucy at the lookout over the lake. Casey and Tuan help us to understand how and why it is that Lois feels this connection to the landscapes by explaining that these images are not just representations of a scene. Rather, Lois’ affinity for the paintings shows us “the process by which… a story gets attached to an object” (Casey 14). She demonstrates “the habit of mind that looks behind objects to events, and sees in objects a sign of something else” (ibid). Behind those paintings lies Lucy’s story and hence what remains of her life. For this reason, Lois must keep the paintings close to her, in order to keep herself within the past and Lucy within the present.

Published in: on March 31, 2011 at 5:12 pm Comments (1)

The Things They Carried

In Tim O’Brien’s “The Things They Carried,” we are transported to various scenes of a troop of young soldiers in the middle of the Vietnam War. O’Brien tells story after story about the war, the soldiers, and about the many physical and emotional things they carried with them while at war.

While there were various select sentences in Tuan’s chapter on “Intimate Experiences of Place” that pertained to “The Things They Carried,” I didn’t quite feel that the bulk of what he was talking about related too much to O’Brien’s work, particularly because Tuan spends so much time discussing the notions of “home” while the boys in the army are so very far from their homes. I can understand that in many ways, the soldiers find a type of “home” within each other, such as Norman Bowker and the way he couldn’t find meaning in life outside of the war. Still, I think that the whole point of the story is largely about how they are NOT home, they are not in a place of comfort, they are not surrounded by familiarity of childhood memories. On the contrary: they are destroying the homes of others. In this sense, I don’t feel Tuan was particularly helpful in understanding “The Things They Carried” despite how beautiful many of the concepts discussed were.

However, there were a few things I thought related well to O’Brien’s book. Tuan talks about how it is the people and objects within our spaces that turn them into intimate places. He explains that “in the absence of the right people, things and places are quickly drained of meaning so that their lastingness is an irritation rather than a comfort” (140). This holds particularly true for when O’Brien returns to Vietnam with his daughter. She couldn’t possibly see how much these scenes meant to him, and he couldn’t possibly explain it to her, because his experience wasn’t really about the place itself in its physical meaning. Rather, it had to do with the people he knew, fought with, and lost there.

Another aspect of Tuan’s work that I thought related well to “The Things They Carried” was about expressing memory. He says that intimate places “may be etched in the deep recesses of memory and yield intense satisfaction with each recall, but they are not recorded like snapshots in the family album” (141). I find this statement to be extremely significant because everything O’Brien is doing in “The Things They Carried” is recalling memory and trying to project what he saw and felt unto us, the readers. Note that whether the details in the memories are true or not is completely irrelevant. Memories aren’t like photographic evidence in which you can pinpoint exactly who was standing where and what they were wearing. Rather, what sticks out in a memory is what was important to the overall feel of the experience, and this is what O’Brien is doing in his book. Tuan sites a story of a professor in a California university whose “day was brightened” because he saw his two favorite students sitting under a skimpy looking tree waving to him (141). Tuan explains, “all who read the passage and nod in recognition, whether or not they have taught in an American college… share it to some degree” (148). This is particularly important because it shows how we all have experiences of intimacy and emotion without being able to fully express how or why it made us feel a certain way, but the knowledge that that phenomenon has occurred is enough to allow us to identify. In this way, O’Brien retells his experiences and projects emotions and occurrences revolving friendship, disappointment, and life being simply unfair. Even without having gone to war, most of  us can identify with these feelings. Reading O’Brien’s work only heightens our sensitivity to them, and allows us to share in some of the experiences he discusses in “The Things They Carried.”

Published in: on March 29, 2011 at 10:59 am Comments (1)

Death by Landscape

Tuan’s ninth chapter of Space and Place, “Time in Experiential Space,” seems at times as though it were written as a supplement to Margaret Atwood’s “Death by Landscape.” In the short story, the main character, Lois, is stuck in her past because of an experience from childhood that haunts her every day. As a girl, Lois went to camp with a girl named Lucy. On a canoe trip, Lucy mysteriously disappears off a lookout point in the forest and Lois is the only one who was there. She is made to feel responsible, and for this reason she carries the weight of Lucy’s lost life with her throughout every occurrence in her own life. This manifests itself in a collection of landscape paintings Lois keeps in her home. These landscapes serve as snapshots of where Lucy disappeared, and Lois feels that Lucy lives through the landscape paintings.

In this chapter, Tuan discusses many interesting concepts that pertain to Margaret Atwood’s story. He says that physical space has been called “spatialized time” (118). This feels like exactly what Lois was trying to do with her paintings. The physical space in which that terrible moment in Lois’ life took place represents that time period itself. Lois can’t let go of the landscapes because she can’t let go of that time and event. Tuan also discusses the difference between objective and subject space. Objective spaces are physical, tangible objects, while “subjective space belongs to the mental realm” (120). He says that “cyclical time—the movement of the sun and the pendulum swing of the seasons—is located on objective space” (120). However, for someone like Lois who is trapped in one moment, the passing of time has little bearing on her life. Yes, she marries and has children, but because she feels trapped with Lucy, she feels that her life has been lived for someone else… the passing of time is more subjective for Lois than objective.

What’s especially crucial in our discussion of “Death by Landscape” is Tuan’s discussion on the way time and space is perceived in a forest. He says that “in a dense forest environment… aural space is less focused. Forest sounds are not precisely located,” which could explain why Lois may not have been able to identify exactly where Lucy’s scream came from, why they didn’t hear the splashing of water or the falling of rocks, and why they never found Lucy (119). It would have also been extremely difficult to locate Lucy in the forest because there, “space… is a dense net of places with no overall structure” (119-120).

Finally, Tuan begins to discuss landscape paintings. He says that upon looking at a landscape painting, “we almost automatically arrange its components” to be able to set them in terms of our life (123). In a scene of a countryside, “we imagine ourselves traveling down [the] road” in the painting (123). This phenomenon couldn’t hold truer for Lois in the way she needs to keep the images of that moment with Lucy in her life, in her home, to constantly live through them and to allow Lucy, who she feels looks out at life through the paintings, to live and exist within them as well. By keeping the paintings around, Lois keeps herself in that moment, never letting go of Lucy or the moment her life changed forever.

Published in: on March 24, 2011 at 11:41 am Comments (0)

Babylon Revisited

In F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “Babylon Revisited,” the main character, Charlie, is attempting to put his life back together after a three-year rough patch that involved alcoholism, the collapse of his marriage, and the death of his wife. Now that he’s been sober for a year and a half and is financially stable despite the crash of the stock market, Charlie’s main goal is to regain custody of his daughter Honoria from his wife’s sister and brother-in-law. However, Charlie’s return to Paris only reminds him of the life he used to lead, and the various settings described in the story are very telling of the relationships between the characters.

            The first place Charlie visits is the bar he used to go to with his friends. It was a busy place, full of life, and now has hardly anyone in it. Tuan says in his chapter on “Architectural Space and Awareness” that “architecture is key to comprehending reality” (102). There is a strong connection between the attachment Charlie has to the physical place itself and to all the memories he has there. The contrast lies in the fact that the architectural space has remained the same, but that so much else has changed. As Tuan says, this forces Charlie to see the reality that, although he is back to where his past took place, much has changed including himself.

            Another important instance of physical surroundings having an effect on relationships is within Marion and Lincoln’s home. Tuan explains that “built environment clarifies social roles and relations” (102). This is especially true when it comes to people’s homes. Charlie notes how protected the children feel in Marion’s house, and it’s extremely significant that Charlie needs to enter someone else’s domain in order to obtain something that is his. At this point in time, Honoria’s guardians are Marion and Lincoln, and they have been more of parents to her than Charlie has. They are the parents of the household, and Charlie feels the strain of the relationship between them every time he enters the building.

            Tuan also speaks of a social awareness that comes with private and public domains. He says that everyone knows of the differences between “inside and outside, of intimacy and exposure, of private life and public space” (107). Unfortunately, some people are more conscious of these differences than others. The turning point in the story comes when Charlie’s boisterous friends from the past take the liberty to find Lincoln’s address and invite themselves over. They come in the middle of what started as a hopeful discussion about Honoria’s custody, and ruin Charlie’s chances of getting his child back. They were completely disrespectful of Charlie’s private life, and their loudness and disregard for someone’s intimate space shows that they weren’t concerned about interrupting anything of importance at all. They blurred the lines of behavior fit for “outside” and behavior fit for “inside,” and because of this, Charlie’s plan is ultimately ruined.

Published in: on March 17, 2011 at 1:42 pm Comments (0)

The Lottery

Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” is a terribly saddening story about a village that is so stuck in its traditions that it fails to evolve and change them, even if it would mean preserving justice and life. Every year, an innocent member of the society selects their fate at random, choosing a slip of paper from a tattered box to determine who will be stoned to death by the rest of the village. There are many things wrong with the story that cause the reader to question why the village would continue such an awful custom. Firstly, the village doesn’t seem to welcome logic, neither in terms of the practice itself nor in terms of the continuation of the practice. If the village believed in a god that needed human sacrifices, as cruel as it would be, at least this practice makes some sort of cohesive sense if it’s a genuine belief. But this lottery seems to have no purpose other than the fact that it’s tradition. At one point, the eldest member of the village makes a reference to having enough food because of the lottery. However, when a younger member explains that “some places [had] already quit lotteries” and that they were doing just fine, the comment is brushed of with disdain (Jackson 250). Obviously there was proof that the lottery was not necessary for their survival, and yet no one seemed interested in changing the custom. Apparently, nearly all humans hold fast to their beliefs and myths despite logical proof that they have erred. Tuan uses explorers searching for mythical locations such as paradise as an example. Even “repeated failure to locate [the mythical places] did not discourage explorers from making further efforts [to find them]” (Tuan 85). When it comes to myths and beliefs, more often than not logic is rejected in favor of maintaining the comfort that comes with believing one knows the infallible truth. Another thing that bothered me about the village was that their belief in maintaining tradition was very inconsistent. They no longer bother listening to the instructions, and “much of the [original] ritual had been forgotten or discard” (Jackson 248). There were very obviously many aspects of the tradition that had change. Why, then, were they so opposed to changing their tradition of murdering an innocent person? If they wanted to maintain culture, they could have held a symbolic lottery to demonstrate the customs of the past, but refrained from killing anyone to show how the culture has evolved. The hypocrisy is unbearable.

The village is also a perfect example of the human tendency to seek routine and maintain their beliefs. Year after year, the village participates in this horrendous tradition without giving their actions any thought. This is extremely common for those who find comfort in routine, especially with those traditions with which they’ve been raised since childhood. Tuan explains that “to be livable, nature and society must show order,” and to this society, order meant maintaining this yearly ritual (Tuan 88). He goes on to explain that “to discard the idea… would have threatened a whole way of looking at the world” (Tuan 86). This is certainly understandable and can be observed frequently in people’s lives. Imagine a child’s reaction when discovering that what they had believed for so long to be the Tooth Fairy was in actuality their parents coming in the middle of the night to replace their teeth with coins. Their world is shattered, and I imagine for many in this village, the realization that their beloved tradition held absolutely no purpose would have been devastating; many would refuse to believe that their annual heartless murder was for no reason at all.

Though it is rare, it is possible to let go of superstitions upon realization that they are flawed or illogical. Tuan brings in the case of the Puluwatans: “as a pragmatic people, [they] readily abandon rituals and taboos when these are shown to lack power” (Tuan 87). Many in history have let go of false beliefs, from the notion that the solar system revolves around the Earth, to the idea that tossing alleged witches into the river to drown was an appropriate response to suspicion. But in this village, the value of tradition and culture overrides that of fairness, mercy, logic, and the preservation of life.

Published in: on March 10, 2011 at 1:00 pm Comments (0)

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