Monday, September 28, 2009

The Mabel Effect

The mother in “Shiloh” is partially responsible for the dissolution of Leroy and Norma Jean’s marriage. She resents Leroy, emotionally dominates Norma Jean, reminds the couple of their terrible loss, and tells them to go to Shiloh. Leroy notices that his mother-in-law, Mabel, is spending more time with his wife, suggesting that she is influencing Norma Jean’s view of her husband. Leroy’s lack of an occupation suggests his inability to live up to his name, since his wife points out that his name means “the king.” Leroy’s truck accident, and subsequent physical weakness, makes him inferior to his wife. In contrast, Norma Jean’s physical strength and independence make her comparable to Wonder Woman, from her body building classes to her English classes; Norma Jean has become estranged from her husband. The disparity between the two is only deepened with the addition of Norma Jean’s meddling mother, as she only heightens the tension between the couple.

Mabel has never really accepted Leroy and Norma Jean’s marriage. Leroy knows that she “has never really forgiven him for disgracing her by getting Norma Jean pregnant,” (30-607) suggesting that Mabel still does not approve of their marriage. Earlier in the story, it is reveled that Norma Jean and Leroy got married when they were eighteen, and that a baby came only a few months later, implying that their marriage was one of necessity to avoid having a baby out of wedlock. Mabel’s response to the death of the baby is selfish; she says, “fate was mocking her” (30-607). Mabel would naturally resent Leroy, and the tension between the two is obvious when Leroy states that he “gets along with his mother-in-law primarily by joking with her” (30-607). Mabel also does not hide her disapproval of the couple when she implies that their baby died because of “neglect” (73-609). Since Mabel makes her view of Leroy and the couple very obvious to Norma Jean, it is only natural that Norma Jean’s view of her husband and their relationship begins to resemble that of her mother’s.

Mabel’s one last push to end Leroy and Norma Jean’s relationship is convincing Leroy to take Norma Jean to Shiloh. Mabel convinces Leroy that “a little change is what,” (115-611) Norma Jean needs. Mabel adds that there is a log cabin in Shiloh; however, the log cabin has bullet holes in it. The log cabin in Shiloh symbolizes the log cabin Leroy fantasizes about, but can never have with Norma Jean, since she no longer wants to have any home with him. By convincing Leroy to take Norma Jean to Shiloh, Mabel has selected the perfect battleground for the end of their relationship. Leroy and Norma Jean are left to fight the final battle of their relationship at Shiloh, and after having seen the dead log cabin, Leroy realizes that his home with Norma Jean is dead too. At the battleground, Norma Jean makes her final decision on their relationship; she decides to dissolve it. Norma Jean mentions that “everything was fine until,” (152-612) Mabel caught her smoking, and that it “set something off” (152-612). Mabel’s presence in Norma Jean’s life has influenced her decisions, and when she says that she feels “eighteen again,” (154-612) she realizes that she has a second chance at her life, and that now she must make the decision her mother would have wanted her to make.

Mabel is one of the main causes for the dissolution of Leroy and Norma Jean’s marriage. With her negative opinion of Leroy and his marriage to her daughter, she is able to influence Norma Jean. By mentioning their dead baby and suggesting that it was their inability to be good parents that caused the baby’s death, Mabel adds to the already existing tension in their marriage. She convinces them to visit Shiloh, so that they can engage in the final battle of their marriage. Norma Jean finally leaves Leroy, waving her arms in the end as if to symbolize her victory. (665)

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Biblical allusions in "Parker's Back"

Asmit Sanghera

Parker’s Back

“Parker’s Back” is filled with biblical allusions as one man’s journey towards God and pleasing his wife ends unsuccessfully. Parker has always been a rebel; however, his wife is a devout, plain woman who has an indescribable control on him, possibly due to his subconscious wish to be saved. Parker wishes to leave her, but finds he never can do so. Not only is he unable to please his wife, but also he is unable to experience spiritual satisfaction, and in the brief moment at the end where he does have a connection to God, his wife rids him of it. Biblical allusions are spread throughout “Parker’s Back,” and they serve to emphasize O.E. Parker’s failure as a spiritual person.

Parker notices a tattooed man at fair, where he became inspired to get tattoos. The man’s tattoos are of “beasts and flowers,” (384) full of “intricate design of brilliant color” (384), as they represent an Eden that Parker cannot have. Parker’s response to the man’s tattoos can never be replicated; Parker always feels dissatisfaction with his own tattoos. The man’s tattoos seemed to be alive and have “a subtle motion” (384), and Parker is never able to experience the emotion he felt when looking at the man’s tattoos, as if he can never experience Eden again. On the other hand, Parker’s tattoos seem to represent something entirely different. The serpent on Parker’s arm represents the wrongs he has done, and with the serpent on his arm, Parker cannot truly experience the religious and spiritual satisfaction that his wife does. This biblical allusion of Eden and the serpent shows that Parker has struggled to find peace, and has had a troubled life.

As a tattoo-clad high school dropout, a dishonorably discharged ex-navy, and a heavy drinker, O.E. Parker is a failure. His soul is a “spider web of facts and lies,” (393) and compared to his devout wife, he is a failure in religion because of his lack of faith. Parker detests his own wife, calling her “plain,” (382) but he still stays with his wife, an action that caused him to be “puzzled and ashamed of himself” (382). Perhaps the real reason he is staying with his wife is that she “had married him because she meant to save him,” (382) and Parker is waiting to be saved. Sarah knows that O.E. Parker’s real name, Obadiah Elihue, is significant when she says it out loud in “a reverent voice” (387). She seems to want Parker to live up to his real name of Obadiah, which means servant of god.

Parker experiences a divine intervention, and even this intervention is a biblical allusion to Moses and the burning of the bush. After this instance, Parker has a newfound belief in God, as Parker yells “GOD ABOVE,” (388) and rushes to the city to get God tattooed on his back. After their divine intervention, both Moses and Parker returned to God; however, in the end, both are unable to be completely free, as Parker is unsuccessful with his wife and Moses never reaches the Promised Land. When Parker enters the tattoo artist’s shop, he is frantic and “washes his back,” (390) just as Pilate washed his hands, as an effort to rid him of whatever wrongs he had done in the past. When Parker finally identifies himself as Obadiah, he catches a glimpse of Eden again, as he feels his soul turning into an “arabesque of colors, a garden of trees and birds and beasts” (394). His relief is short-lived; however, when his wife beats him with a broom, forming large welts on the tattooed Jesus. Parker looses his brief connection to God, and is reduced to helpless man “leaning against the tree, crying like a baby,” (394) and a complete failure.


Monday, September 14, 2009

Dee's New Identity

What interests me the most about Dee’s character in “Everyday Use” by Alice Walker is her feeling of oppression from her own name. She never seemed interested in her culture before her transformation into Wangero; instead, she seemed almost ashamed of it. Once she changes her identity, she becomes a new person with a new outlook. This new outlook is one where she looks to materialize the past and turn family belongings into relics, while her mother is living in the past and plans to use the family belongings, i.e. the quilts. Dee never tries to fully realize her culture, so the creates a new one which clashes with her family’s real history.

Dee was previously embarrassed by her mother’s standard of living, and was even happy when their old home burned down, practically ignoring the pain it caused her mother emotionally and sister physically. She previously wrote to her mother, telling her that “no matter where” they “choose to live, she will manage to come and see” them (445). Her condescending tone makes it apparent that she wants nothing more than to have a limited contact with her family. By simply “managing” to visit her mother and sister, her actions seem forces in that she is only visiting them to complete the very basic, and somewhat mandatory, family traditions. But really she wants to have as little to do with them as possible. She expresses this when she adds in her letter that she “will never bring her friends” (445). Her embarrassment of her family has kept her away from them, and therefore, she never embraced her culture or history like her sister does. However, when she changes her identity, her attitude towards her family and culture has changed. She has a newfound interest in her past, but her interpretations are vastly different from her mother and sister.

Dee, now called Wangero, has adopted a new outlook on her culture. She sees the old way her mother looks at African-American history as a weakness. Since Dee believes that her name comes from whites, the “people who oppress” her (446), she disowns it, even going so far as to say that Dee is “dead” (446). Dee feels oppression from her own name without ever really knowing the true history of her name. Her mother, on the other hand, is able to trace “beyond the Civil War through the branches” (446). I truth, Dee’s name comes from her own culture, the African-American culture, and not from a people who oppress her. Her inability to understand the real significance of her own name reflects her inability to understand her real culture. To compensate for her lack of understanding, she creates a “new” culture, with a “new” identity. In order to sustain her adopted self, she must have some evidence and proof of her culture, which is why she wants her mother and sister’s family belongings. She just want the material, but not the history or significance of it, since it clashes with her new culture and identity. (505)