Posted in Explication

Passage Explication for To Kill a Mockingbird – Chapter 1

To Kill a Mockingbird
Image via Wikipedia

QUOTATION EXCERPT from To Kill a Mockingbird:

The Radley Place jutted into a sharp curve beyond our house. Walking south, one faced its porch; the sidewalk turned and ran beside the lot. The house was low, was once white with a deep front porch and green shutters, but had long ago darkened to the color of the slate-gray yard around it. Rain-rotted shingles drooped over the eaves of the veranda; oak trees kept the sun away. The remains of a picket drunkenly guarded the front yard “swept” yard that was never swept-where johnson grass and rabbit-tobacco grew in abundance.

Inside the house lived a malevolent phantom. People said he existed, but Jem and I had never seen him. People said he went out at night when the moon was down, and peeped in windows. When people’s azaleas froze in a cold snap, it was because he had breathed on them. Any stealthy small crimes committed in Maycomb were his work. Once the town was terrorized by a series of morbid nocturnal events: people’s chickens and household pets were found mutilated; although the culprit was Crazy Addie, who eventually drowned himself in Barker’s Eddy, people still looked at the Radley Place, unwilling to discard their initial suspicions. A Negro would not pass the Radley Place at night, he would cut across to the sidewalk opposite and whistle as he walked. The Maycomb school grounds adjoined the back of the Radley lot; from the Radley chickenyard tall pecan trees shook their fruit into the schoolyard, but the nuts lay untouched by the children: Radley pecans would kill you. A baseball hit into the Radley yard was a lost ball and no questions asked. (Page 8-9)


The setting of the Radley house is described by Scout as the haunted house that is in close (perhaps too close) proximation to “our” [the Finch’s] house.  Years have worn the home from its once white, innocent status of belonging in the neighbourhood to its derelict and segregated condition that now exists with its “darkened … slate-grey”, “rain-rotted”, and “drooped” haunting.  The house is clearly neglected and the children’s perspective of it is not so much of an eye-sore, but as an ever-present threat and terror in their life.  However, it is not only the children who fear the home; the fear is perpetuated by the adults, to mythic proportions.  Folktales of the “malevolent phantom” – Boo Radley – who silently haunts the neighbourhood with his occasional visitings around the neighbourhood, under the shroud of darkness, terrorizes the children and reinforces their belief that the house is haunted and the “Boo” must be feared or else the forces of evil will prey upon the children.   The perspective of fear also arouses intense entertainment and curiosity within the children.  Their imagination runs away with these tales as they attempt to torment the “phantom” in the hope of verifying the truth.   The “heroic” attempts of the children reinforce the victimization of Boo as being an outcast, undeserving of dignity or respect by the residents of Maycomb.

Thus the conflict of the novel – societal prejudice – is established through this passage with the maligned Boo, and then later paralleled through the scapegoat of Tom Robinson during the trial; thus, the perspective of a society controlled by their fears initialized early in the novel through the character of Boo.   As such, a prejudicial perspective is bred by fear, and the haunted house symbolically reinforces the childishness of such fear.   Such childishness is ignorant; ignorance breeds disrespect towards anything that is unknown or misunderstood.  Consequently, the passage clearly characterizes the immaturity of the Maycomb society and foreshadows what will happen to Tom Robinson in the hands of this society.

Finally, the Radley’s porch becomes a powerful symbol by the end of the novel, offering hope.  When Scout returns Boo to his home, her fear has disappeared and her perspective has dramatically changed: “Atticus was right.  …you never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them.  Just standing on the Radley porch was enough.” (Chapter 31, page 279)   For years the children challenged their fears to get a glimpse inside the “haunted house”, but now Scout stands on the porch looking out on the neighbourhood from Boo’s perspective.   She “see’s” through Boo’s eyes that the real evil and horror is the prejudicial perspectives of the society, not the “malevolent phantom” within the Radley home.  This act creates a profound shift in Scout’s perspective and is a moment of maturation as she moves past her fear, and comes to understanding.

Posted in Film, Personal Response

Australia – the film

Cover of "Australia"
Cover of Australia

This is a piece I wrote a few years ago after seeing the film AUSTRALIA.  Last night I watched it again and decided to post this piece.

AUSTRALIA – “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”
~A Personal Response~

Every once in a long while comes an epic film that completely sweeps me off my feet. As a child, I would love to spend a Sunday afternoon curled up in my nest to watch the great epic films of Gone with the Wind, Doctor Zhivago, Ben Hur, Cleopatra, The Ten Commandments, and Out of Africa. These films would transport me across time and place and developed my insatiable love for a great story; such stories I could often only find hidden within the pages of great books. As time passed, and I grew older and wiser, I continued to find enchantment with epics that would occasionally emerge – The English Patient, Saving Private Ryan, Titanic (yes that one too), Gladiator, and the more recent entries of Troy and Atonement. These films, due to essence of their genre, always managed to weave their magic on me and turn my adult wisdom into child-like innocence and awe. True to form, Baz Luhrmann’s latest film, Australia, completely wooed me last evening.

Australia is truly a breathtaking heroic epic that crossroads Australian stories of the attack on Darwin during World War II, colonizing ranchers, folk tales, and the Aborigine’s Stolen Generation. Australia uses all the magical ingredients of an epic film: sweeping landscapes, legendary characters portrayed by Hollywood’s élite , mystical foreign lands, treacherous antagonists, decorative costumes, dramatic lighting, harmonious musical scores and poetic motifs – where human drama is set against the backdrop of a society in conflict. But in the aesthetic theatrical genius hands of Baz Luhrmann – recall Moulin Rouge – this film takes the concept of epic one step further into a transformative shamanistic dreamy semblance of cinematic artistry and symbolism that delivers on the motif dream of taking us “somewhere over the rainbow”. This is mix of ingredients that my innocent heart indulged in and was completely swept away into the land of Oz – Aussie-land that is!

To begin, we must consider the land itself – the majestic landscape of the Northern Territory in Australia. Initially, the landscape is barren, desolate and unforgiving, and like Lady Ashley (Kidman), the viewer is left wondering what would ever draw someone to settle in such a bleak locale, especially in the dry season in this tropical arid land. However, as Lady Ashley begins to “see” the real beauty of the land – with its ravines, rivers, and billabongs, so too, do we. Throughout the film, we are mesmerized as the landscape transforms into a tropical heaven of greenery, waterfalls and flora during the wet season. It becomes a landscape that embeds into our hearts and we too fall in love and want to stay transported in this bewitching place.

Not only does the landscape bewitch us, but so too does the bewitching star-power cast. Nicole Kidman is pure enchantment as she delivers a dynamic and fascinating character that begins in snooty caricature of a haughty English grand dame, but transforms into a beguiling, brave and alluring heroine. Hugh Jackman is our hero (in a legendary kind of way) who is magnificent as a rugged loner who forsakes society and their social mores to stay true to his freedom as a drover (cattle herder), and who is more at home in the aborigines world than the colonial world of Australia. Jackman’s character makes the women in the audience swoon and makes men relive the cowboy heroic ideal of their childhood. There are a host of wonderful Australian actors who add their talent to this show, but the greatest charm is the new blood of 11-year-old Brandon Walters who shines as the child Nullah. Nullah as the central figure – and our innocent-eyed narrator – is an orphaned, half-indigenous victim of the Stolen Generation. Walters’ innocence, energy and charm completely wins our heart with the flash of his smile, the mischievous twinkle in his eye, or the singing of his angelic hypnotic voice. This film follows the innocent journey of Nullah as he finds happiness and identity by following the dream promised to him in The Wizard of Oz! Walters proves that he does have the acting chops to stand up with the likes of Kidman and Jackson. This is a special array of characters and these actors really made them unforgettable.

Although Australia is a hit in terms of entertainment value, it is also a film that educates us historically, morally and ethically. World War II, the colonial exploitation of New World resources, and the prejudicial mistreatment of indigenous societies are not new concepts, but the perspective shift to look at these through the unique Australian experience was enlightening. These are weighty issues that have carved a common history in the world and Baz Luhrmann’s confident exploration of them has really brought them into a modern sensibility.

In North America, there is little to no mention of how World War II affected Australians. Yet their vulnerability to Axis Japanese forces – at least in the North – was the same as any European country to the Nazi’s. It really puts into perspective the scope of what a “world war” means. However, the war really becomes the catalyst for the romantic war backdrop reminiscent of a Casablanca or a Gone with the Wind where the survival of love – mother, father, and child – becomes a battle of survival against enemy bombs, bullets, and bloodshed. Perhaps this romantic side is trite, but nonetheless, it does satisfy.

Not only does the war become a historical lesson, but so too does the story of colonization. We become witness to the ruthless greed of capitalism and the profiteering of indigenous cultures to serve and support this greed – a reality throughout the world – but again told from the perspective of the Australian experience. However, with contemporary morals, our hero and heroine defy the prejudicial feudalistic social mores of the day and attempt to transform their “Faraway Downs” ranch into a multicultural mosaic that embraces a unity and extended family morality. This utopian existence – “somewhere over the rainbow” – continues to be challenged by the corruption of a villainous rival rancher who not only desires a capitalistic monopoly on the cattle trade, but also feels he must righteously destroy the “unnatural” dream-like utopia of white-folk who have the audacity to treat their “hired help” and their adoptive “half-bred” child as equals. The film takes this historical reality and transforms it into an ethical battle that is conquered by our “outsider” heroes.

The ethical battle takes on a greater importance as the film elucidates the global issue of both genocide through eugenics and identity-theft that whites have exploited throughout the history of colonization. In Australia this racial battle is known as the Stolen Generation of mixed-descent children. This issue of subjugation, by erasing cultural “savagery” through assimilation laws and missionary education work, becomes yet another antagonist in the film as we see Nullah attempting to hide from the authorities that would forcibly remove him from his home and family, in trying to expunge his cultural identity. Ironically, this lonely mixed-descent child’s personal conflict is that he doesn’t feel acceptance or identity in neither his father’s white world nor his mother’s Aborigine world. This Aboriginal world is mystical and foreign to many of us, but Luhrmann respectfully entrances us with the rituals and customs of this spiritual culture. So, as weighty as these ethical issues are, we – the audience – are appeased with the blend of both ideals where he finds familial love and acceptance by his adoptive white family, yet he still embraces his adventurist shamanistic instincts. His identity is reclaimed in the best of both worlds!  Although this is a melodramatic compromise, it is satisfying!

Ultimately, Australia may be formulaic – albeit with a hero and heroine on equal footing – but it fulfills the dreams and ideals of this formula by delivering a blockbuster hit. It is a return to the classic romantic epic film and Baz Luhrmann is resplendent as a modern storyteller. His sagacious choices of locale, cast, and storyline – along with his virtuosic cinematograph talent – combine to create a film that transports our hearts and minds to another place and time, as it fulfills our child-like desire for the enjoyment of a great story that inspires and illuminates.

Posted in Personal Response

Disillusioned Feminism

Nederlands: portret van Rebecca Walker

I have spent the better part of my life being keenly aware and proud of the feminist movement.  My mother was a hard-working nurse throughout my childhood, and my grandmother also was a widowed working woman for an insurance company, once owned by my deceased grandfather; their example and wisdom taught me much about the feminist movement for rights and liberty.  Empowerment of women has always been an allure and motivated me as a young learner to do my best academically so that I could write my ticket to success – tapping into all the potential roads that the feminist movement had mapped for me.  My reading interests were feminist trailblazing writers from Atwood and Laurence, to Bronte and Shelley, to Woolf and Chopin, to Plath and Sexton, to Angelou and Walker, among many others – too many wonderful voices to list here.

So, it was with great interest that I happened upon the writing of Alice Walker’s daughter, Rebecca Walker.  Alice is the genius writer of the beloved Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Color Purple, a Civil Rights Movement activist, and an activist writer for issues of feminism, sexism, and racism. When I saw that Rebecca was a writer too, I imagined how inspiring it must have been to grow up basking in Alice Walker’s genius.  I dreamed of what it would have been like to have had grown up in the battle for rights in the Southern United States, especially with a mother who had such a powerful voice, especially in the household of a mixed-race and mixed-class family (her father was from rich Jewish New York descent, while her mother came from poor Southern African-American farmers). But Rebecca’s article – “How my Mother’s Fanatical Views Tore Us Apart” in the United Kingdom’s Daily Mail – offered a very different perspective than any I could have anticipated; it made me reflect on my own challenges with my mother, and of my role as a mother with a career.

Although I’m a firm believer in the concept of perspective and bias in writing – and I have yet to investigate Alice’s own counter-arguments to her estranged daughter’s claims – I must admit that I was completely devastated by this article.  To learn, from Rebecca’s perspective, that she almost never became a mother “thanks to being brought up by a rabid feminist who thought motherhood was about the worst thing that could happen to a woman.”  It is with great irony that Rebecca’s independent choice to become a parent with a man whom she loved was condemned by our beloved Alice – the same Alice who in her matriarchal power rallies for women to have the freedom to choose their hearts desire, the same Alice who advocates for the sisterhood of women who need to care for each other.  Rebecca further explains how her own existence was a burden to Alice who poetically wrote about Rebecca being a “calamity” who “impeded” her ambitions as a writer.  Oh dear Alice, how can you betray your own child?  How can you be so callous and cold when your beautiful and talented daughter has chosen the path of motherhood in conjunction with the ambitions of career?

Furthermore, the article reveals the neglect that Alice inflicted on Rebecca: “while she has taken care of daughters all over the world and is hugely revered for her public work and service, my childhood tells a very different story. I came very low down in her priorities  –  after work, political integrity, self-fulfilment, friendships, spiritual life, fame and travel.”  Ouch!  Rebecca’s neglect has known no end and she has found her voice to trumpet her tales of woe from the abuses of this fanatical feminist.  However, Rebecca needs to find peace with this condemnation.

Like Alice, my mother was a mother to all in our town.  I would grow up hearing the words: “how lucky you are to have such a wise and caring mother.”  But when she came home, and her service to our family was done, she rarely had time left.  Now, thousands of miles apart, our time is achieved through a phone call here and there, a “fwd” moment of sincerity in an email from her, an email with jpeg pictures of her grandchildren from me, and a four to five day visit once every year (if we’re lucky).  But unlike Rebecca, I have found some peace in this relationship.  Rather than rail against this reality, I’ve come to accept it.  My mother loves me – I know this.  My mother worked very hard, and taught us well, and did her best.  It is not her fault (or mine) that the demands of a working mother couldn’t find time or balance during the working week.

This article also stirred up my own fears of trying to “do it all”.  I, too, fight to find a sense of balance between work and motherhood.  I often say that trying to satisfy the demands of my work, my family, my home, and myself leads to a lot of mediocrity in all categories.  My gosh, someday my children will find their voices and will complain that I spent too much energy and time on work – like writing in this blog tonight instead of cuddling them to sleep.  The guilt of trying to be all, to all people.  The fear of failure, failure to myself.  Such are the pressures when we try to walk in two worlds.  I admit, with feminist guilt, that being a mom and housewife in those lazy, hazy days of summer are my favourite moments in life.  If only, I often say, I could afford to just stay home and fret about the crumbs on my floor.  Feminism is a powerful movement that has afforded my 21st century life a freedom unknown to women 100 years ago.  I am forever humbled and grateful to the sacrifices and battles my predecessors endured for my freedom.  Yet, this same freedom often leads me to feel like a failure, a fraud, and felon

Reading and talking about "Why War is Nev...

– living a life where mediocrity and fragmentation is a guilty reality.  I don’t blame my children for my mediocrity as a teacher; I don’t blame my teaching, or feminism for that matter, for my mediocrity as a mother.  I just recognize the internal battle and hope that someday I find a way to reconcile this divisiveness.

Like Rebecca, I am proud of being a mother to two of the most sincere and gorgeous creatures to have ever entered my life.  I love being witness and participant to the joy of my children when we make pancakes together on a Sunday morning, the squeals of their laughter as we dance and sing to Camp Rock 2 together, and the charm of their negotiation skills as they convince me away from my laptop to play with them in their world.

Dear mother and Alice, you have missed so much of the past and you are missing so much of the present and the future.  Dear me, please remember that being a mother is the most gracious of all gifts I have received in life, and traditional ways are of value to me, my children, my family, and society.  It does not diminish my feminist existence, it empowers it with the choice to enjoy the embodiment of my feminine and my feminist selves.  Dear Luca and Tulia, I pray that someday you will know that I have loved my every day with your “delightful distractions” and that my only calamity of existence is not spending enough time basking in your silly ways, and your growth-filled days .  I truly hope that you will always know that you two are my most sincere priority. I do hope that this anthem will often hold me accountable to the dream of what really matters to you and me.

(Walker, Rebecca. “How My Mother’s Fanatical Views Tore Us Apart”. The Daily Mail: Mail Online.  23 May 2008. Web. 05 Sept. 2010. )