Archive for the ‘Vol. 7: Spring Essays 2015’ Category

BedHe just didn’t understand. He didn’t know that I was starting to feel like a dog being trained through some type of classical conditioning that you only hear about in psych class: “No one’s home” was code for sex. “Everyone’s sleeping” was code for sex. The words “I want you” were code for sex. And soon enough “I love you” meant have sex with me. The only way he showed love was through “making love.” But what is making love if you can’t speak the language of love? What is making love when you can’t look a girl in her eyes and tell her what you feel about her? What is making love if you refer to sex as “it”—that was all he ever called it.

But like any girl in love, I held on. I hid my insecurities like a teen boy telling his mom to drop him off a block away from school. I made myself believe that this was my destiny. That he was my broken, yet paved, path to true love. After all, love endures all things right? Every time I saw him, I plastered a smile on my face like the smiles you’d see on clowns—ridiculous, yet oddly convincing.


“Layne! Tell me you didn’t have this bed since you were five,” I said jokingly. “I think you should—I don’t know—maybe seriously consider getting a bed that fits all 6 feet and 2 inches of your body?? Ha! Let alone one that doesn’t look like it’s about to create a sink-hole right in the middle of it.”

“No way, Jean! All the more reason to be closer to you when we lie together,” he said as he kissed me lightly on my hand and stared right into my eyes.

Wait. Is he indirectly trying to say he wants me right now?

“Ohhh right!” I gasped sarcastically. “Of course! Well in that case, how bout a king-sized bed so that we can be as close as you want, but when we get tired of each other we can at least move to the edge of the bed and our bodies don’t have to touch! I wouldn’t even have to send you to the couch!” I giggled as I kissed him back on his forehead.

“Yeah, yeah. Verrry funny, Jean!”

While he turned back around to laugh hysterically at the latest episode of Duck Dynasty, I lay there envisioning the young man I once fell in love with: chocolate brown hair, light brown almond eyes, and rosy cheeks that could probably make anyone feel flattered while talking to him—Heck! You’d probably think he’s blushing by your way of words—but nope! It was just those rosy cheeks of his. He had broad shoulders, a long torso, and hands that were soft enough to hold yet rough enough to know he was hardworking.

You know what? Maybe things are starting to turn around. Maybe I’m overreacting. He just wants you Jean. He’s attracted to you! That’s a good thing! But it’s not like it’s the only thing he cares about.

“Well! Time to turn this off,” he said as he cut off my train of thought.

“But you were so into your show and it’s not even done yet,” I said.

Here we go. Cue in the classical conditioning mode! Turning off the T.V. in the middle of his favorite show is code for Sex.

I told my mind to shut up and just let him have what he wanted. The questions running through my head were just nonsense. Four years together? Of course he loved me! Of course there’s more to me than just my body! And of course he sees that in me!

But my mind and heart were at battle of who wanted to be heard more. I wrecked my brain as I replayed all the moments of us “making love.” Call me the fairy-tale type, the romanticist, or the cheesy dreamer, but why can’t our brown eyes lock when we make love? Why does it have to be a rush job? Why does every single time we are together have to end up in sex?


Hopeful, I got into my car and drove over to his house as I ran through the lines of what I wanted to tell him. There must’ve been a lot to think over because the next thing I knew, I was parked in his driveway.

“Hey love! Come in!” he said. “I was just playing some games upstairs.”

“Oo alrighty, well make some room for me,” I said.

I could feel my heart pounding out of my chest as I watched him play a couple of games on his PS3. How was he going to react? Would he respect my decision?

“Hey Layne, can we talk for a minute?”

“Uh-ohhh, well we all know what that means,” he said with a smirk on his face.

“Well, I think we should refrain from having sex right now,” I said.

Geez. Way to drop the news like a bomb, Jean.

“Wait. Why not, Jean? Where is this coming from? Sooo, you mean absolutely nothing then? We can’t do any of it anymore?? Like you can’t touch me here and I can’t touch you there?”

I looked up at the ceiling praying to God that my tears could grow a pair of muscles and hang onto those eyelids of mine.

“No Layne, we can’t. Sex shouldn’t be the foundation of our relationship. Let’s just find other ways to love each other.”

Crap. So much for tears with muscles.

“OK. Whatever. We’ve been doing this for the past couple years and now you want to stop?? Alright,” he sighed as he rolled his eyes.

I shuffled uncomfortably while I tried to make sense of his anger,

“It’s just—it’s just that I feel like this is all we’re doing…And—and if we stop…then…maybe we can—ye’know…find other ways to love each other? You know what I mean right? Show affection outside of these closed doors for once?”

“Yeah okay,” he said.

Wait. That’s it? That’s all he has to say?

He’s mad, but of course he’s mad. I just took away the one thing he likes to do with me! But realizing that he was more upset than understanding played with my heart strings a bit more than I anticipated. So I cried. But oddly enough, he brought my chin to his face and kissed me on my salty lips and said,

“I still love you. If that’s what you want, then that’s what we’ll do.”

Ease rushed over my body as I realized that maybe this could really work. I kissed him back and expressed my gratitude for his willingness. He grinned as he took my hand and slid it down his body to his private area and said, “But how ‘bout just one more time though?”

I felt my face turn flush as my jaw dropped in a pool full of confusion. What is his problem? Either he’s trying to make light of this situation or he’s already testing his boundaries. Red flag Jean. Red flag.


As I took the 23-minute drive back home, I found my heart reasoning with my mind again. I found myself sorting out my unspoken feelings as I reflected upon what love was between Layne and me. And ultimately, I quickly realized that the only witnesses of Layne’s love for me were the faded blue sheets on his bed, his 32 inch flat screen TV, four deep blue walls, and the plaid-patterned tissue box sitting at the right-hand corner of his night stand. This time, my mind won. I tucked away my vulnerabilities and continued putting on my ridiculous clown mask for the next week.


We walked over to our next class only to find out that our professor had canceled our class at the last minute.

“Well, what is there to do now?” I said as I took his hand.

“Let’s go back home. No one’s there,” Layne said as he grabbed my backpack and tossed it over his shoulder to hold for me while we headed back towards his truck.

Don’t go Jean.

“Yeah, okay! Should we get something to eat?” I said.


“No. Let’s save money,” Layne said. “I got a couple things I can make you at home.”

“Alrighty!” I replied. “Let’s go then.”


He led me through the door and instantly kissed me on my right shoulder, then on my neck, and ever so lightly on my lips.

“Uhh…Hey, what were you gonna make? I’m actually super hungry,” I said as I directed our bodies towards the kitchen.

No you’re not Jean.

My stomach could’ve probably regurgitated anything I put in my mouth because I knew exactly what was about to happen: No one is home.

“How ‘bout we go upstairs first?”

Wait. What is he trying to pull? Didn’t we just talk about this?

Heart pounding. He took me by my waist and led me up the stairs in front of him—I felt my face turn bright red as I searched my head for answers. I found nothing. He pushed me down to the bed, kissed me more, and proceeded to ask, “So can we do this?”

I lay there in shock with my denim shorts unbuttoned around just one leg. It was evident that he went through the motions of trying to be a modern day chivalrous gentlemen—asking if it were okay to make oh so sweet love to me. Jerk. I stared at him thinking I could somehow find the guy I once knew.

I lay there lifeless scanning the room to find something to stare at while he went about satisfying himself. He was so focused on getting the job done that he didn’t care to notice the tears streaming down my face. Everything in his room that once had so much meaning somehow started to match his faded blue sheets. I noticed the picture frame and note I gave him a few months back collecting dust under his TV stand next to the set of video games that he no longer plays. That picture was my favorite—we stood beside a cocktail table that was dressed in white linen with our arms locked while the fiery sunset gave our skin an orange glow. I wore one of those little black dresses that complimented my curves and hugged my waist. My long black hair was tied back and swept to the side, but he was so handsome: a long sleeve, grey button down with a black and silver tie to add to the finishing touch. I snapped back to reality to notice his body still shifting in and out of me.

I still thought that I could somehow bring back that moment from the picture. I was determined to keep my eyes fixated on it, but there was no use in that because somehow everything in that picture seemed so constrained by the borders of the bold, black, pointed-edged frame. What happened to him? Here we are, flesh to flesh, and yet I can’t find anything admirable about his long torso or his broad shoulders, and his eyes aren’t the same brown anymore—more like the color of darkened deceit. His cheeks blended with the rest of his face, and his hands…his hands were busy working hard to make love to me that I never wanted.

After he was done pleasuring himself, he gathered his clothes and left the room as I lay there still and naked. The sound of water running from the bathroom cued me in to single-handedly dress myself. He looked refreshed as he re-entered the room and hopped back on the bed only to turn on the T.V. to ESPN.

“You okay?” he asked.

I couldn’t believe he actually had the balls to ask me that.

“Yeah…fine…” I replied. Then as if it were written in the rulebook to say to your girlfriend when you know something’s wrong, he said, “Oh, sorry. I love you.”

I love you? Oh please. I love you means, “Hey, have sex with me Jean. I want you so badly.”

“I want to go home,” I said as I stared off into the ceiling.

“Why are you mad??” He asked.

I was fed up. This wasn’t love.


I got home, dropped the backpack that he bought me for school to the floor, walked into the bathroom and took off my clothes one by one. I was so tired of undressing. I stared at the same denim shorts lying on my bathroom floor and instantly had a flashback of him taking it off for the sole purposes of having sex with me. I stared at my white t-shirt wondering if he could even recall what kind of shirt I was wearing if someone had asked him. I stared at my glossy brown eyes in the mirror that looked back at me and was curious as to whether or not he noticed that I curled my eyelashes and put on an extra coat of mascara today. I wondered if he took the time to notice how I braided my bangs back today. I wondered if he was staring at himself in the mirror realizing that he had pushed his girlfriend too far.

I turned the radio on and turned the volume up in hopes that I’d find a song worth listening to. As if I were in a trance, I slowly washed my body while I thought about what happened between him and me. Where do I go from here? Did I give off the signal that I wanted it? Was it rape? Why do I keep letting him manipulate me? Suddenly the music stopped and a commercial came on.

“Yeah man, I took my girlfriend to this sweet spot last night!” one guy said.

“Nice! And what did you guys do?” the other guy said.

“Well, the usual… she said no, but I knew she wanted it,” the guy replied.

It was clear it was one of those rape-victim commercials.

“No means no. Rape is rape…even if it’s your boyfriend.”

Jean? You told him you didn’t want it and yet he manipulated you into thinking that you did—that’s rape. So as my body soaked up the soapsuds, I soaked in that same thought. I then realized that we were two people whose visions of love got caught up in what we seen love as. While I was busy pursuing his heart, his strongest desire was to pursue my body.

Written for Dr. David N. Odhiambo’s ENG 313: Creative Writing


Rolling_the_RsIn America, before a baby is born, before a baby is even conceived, its identity has already been determined or partially planned out. The parents, family, or friends start coming up with possible names for it, names that are divided into “girl” and “boy” names. When the fetus has grown large enough to have its genitals visible via ultrasound, the sex of the baby is announced. Baby shower gifts are specific to the newfound sex of the child (e.g. pink for girls and blue for boys). In addition to adhering to gender roles, it is often assumed that the child will be heterosexual. And from the moment the child is finally born they will be bombarded with binary genders and gender roles throughout childhood. But, these predetermined gender assignments are premature— they do not take into account the possibility of the child not fitting into the heteronormative structure. So when the child finally realizes that their identity is not what other people say it is, they are left with only heteronormative terms and ways of being. In order to create a space in which this queer subject can exist comfortably, terms and concepts must be reworked and transformed. R. Zamora Linmark created an atypical novel, one that reflects lives outside of the American heteronormative society. Similar to how subjects in the documentary Paris Is Burning reconstruct the meaning of typically heteronormative words and ways of being, Linmark uses literary techniques and characters to produce a space for queer meaning and ideas to exist and grow.

To understand how heteronormativity works one may turn to the works of Judith Butler. The heteronormative, being the dominant, white, heterosexual society, is what most people are familiar with and adhere to. Heteronormative concepts are perpetuated through performativity, and this performativity is how a person acts out heteronormative concepts through actions and words. Butler specifically speaks of gender performativity. Since heteronormative standards are and were essentially created or made-up by the dominant society, these performances help to keep them alive. “In other words, acts, gestures, and desire produce the effect of an internal core or substance, but produce this on the surface of the body, through the play of signifying absences that suggest, but never reveal, the organizing principle of identity as a cause. Such acts, gestures, enactments, generally construed, are performative in the sense that the essence or identity that they otherwise purport to express are fabrications manufactured and sustained through corporeal signs and other discursive means” (Butler, Gender Trouble 173). What a person performs through physical means does not necessarily equate to how they actually are on the inside. One simply may be performing the roles that society has asked one or pressured one to do, and by performing these roles they are perpetuated. For queer subjects to resist heteronormativity and create new spaces of being for queer, they can perform a role that doesn’t “match up” with their other traits that supposedly indicate gender.

José Esteban Muñoz describes this process of the individual taking a heteronormative concept and reworking it as “disidentification” which “is the third mode of dealing with dominant ideology, one that neither opts to assimilate within such a structure, nor strictly opposes it,” instead it does both. That “instead of buckling under the pressures of dominant ideology (identification, assimilation) or attempting to break free of its inescapable sphere (counteridentification, utopianism), this ‘working on and against’ is a strategy that tries to transform a cultural logic from within, always laboring to enact permanent structural change while at the same time valuing the importance of local or everyday struggles of resistance” (Muñoz 11-2). Words and ways of being are taken in and are transformed, and in doing so work against the heteronormative meaning of the word or action. This is apparent through drag balls, as seen in the film Paris Is Burning, and the novel Rolling the R’s.

When drag is being performed there are three categories of physicality being addressed: anatomical sex, gender identity, and gender performance. Butler states, “If the anatomy of the performer is already distinct from the gender of the performer, and both of those are distinct from the gender of the performance, then the performance suggests a dissonance not only between sex and performance, but sex and gender, and gender and performance” (Gender Trouble 175). Participants in the drag ball show that sex, gender, and performance aren’t bundled together tightly in Saran wrap, a person can mix and match; there is no correlation between sex, gender, and performance. A person who is anatomically male can identify as a gender and play the part of a beauty queen. Drag performers dress up and act in a particular way to play a part “well,” and this is all they have to do to fit a specific role as the gender and anatomical sex are not relevant. This confirms how the heteronormative structure is maintained through mimicry of old ideals and behaviors.

There’s more than just gender and sex affecting the queer subject, there is also race, the color of one’s skin. Kim Pendavis states his father said to him, “You have three strikes against you in this world. Every black man has two— that they’re just black, and they’re a male. But you’re black, and you’re male, and you’re gay” (Paris Is Burning 1991). A homosexual person of color has to contend with a mainstream white gay culture, in addition to the heteronormative (Muñoz 9). This is where disidentification can be used to create room for a minority homosexual person to exist. “Disidentification is the hermeneutical performance of decoding mass, high, or any other cultural field from the perspective of a minority subject who is disempowered in such a representational hierarchy” (Muñoz 25). Disidentification gives minorities a voice in a heteronormative-dominated society, allowing them to extract, repackage, and perform meaning. Again, not becoming a part of, or completely rejecting, the mainstream, but swaying between them.

Simply by studying the structure of Linmark’s novel one will notice how it reconstructs the normative. Rolling the R’s is referred to as a novel, but the structure of this novel is not the norm. Novels are usually written as a narrative, with pages and pages of paragraphs that follow each other in a logical order, that are divided into chapters. Even when a novel jumps around through time and perspectives, the chronology is still something the reader can map out. Linmark’s “novel” is composed of “chapters” that do all connect together to tell a story, however, these chapters could be read as individual works as well. The chapters vary in literary formats: some are poems, letters, a screenplay, a vocabulary quiz, and a book report. The very nature of his work disrupts the normative definition of a “novel,” and to try and call it anything else, a short story collection or a chapbook, doesn’t really work in a normative environment either. Therefore, Linmark has already made space for the queer subject outside of heteronormativity by structuring his novel the way he did. This is comparable to the plethora of categories one may enter in a drag ball, as opposed to the limited category of “Miss America” pageants; the format of the drag ball redefines who is worthy of receiving recognition, allowing queer subjects to receive fame that they couldn’t otherwise receive in a heteronormative environment.

Words and concepts are given new meaning in the world of Linmark’s novel. In particular, pop culture is absorbed by his queer subjects and recycled for their own purposes. In the chapter “Kalihi In Farrah,” an Orlando Domingo takes the identity— name, clothes, makeup, and hair— of Charlie’s Angels actress Farrah Fawcett, making it his own. By contrast, there is Ernesto Cabatbangan, who masturbates to Farrah’s image (Linmark 22). Although masturbation isn’t included in the heteronormative sphere, his response to Farrah’s image is considered heteronormative— an anatomical male finding a “beautiful” white woman sexually attractive is perfectly acceptable in heteronormative society. Orlando Domingo’s attraction to Farrah is considered queer because it is not a sexual attraction, it is one of admiration; he wants to be her. An anatomical female who wants to be like another female is not unusual, but an anatomical male who wants to be like a female is.

In response to Farrah of Kalihi, the heteronormative-minded school staff wanted him stopped at all costs as they only see him as a threat to the heteronormative structure of their school. But, he is more than a genderqueer anatomical male— he’s a highly successful and talented student (Linmark 25). This character disrupts stereotypes of genderqueer individuals being mentally ill or unstable, or even not being “normal” in any way. In the context of Linmark presenting this in his writing, he is not only demonstrating how queer individuals perform and use disidentification, he is giving the reader a place to explore the queer and enjoy queer thinking by disrupting stereotypes and assumptions. In regards to Muñoz’s idea of disidentification of giving minorities, those not a part of the racial mainstream, material to use for their own nonwhite culture. Orlando’s education appears to be highly heteronormative, where one must learn to write and speak “proper” English, as opposed to speaking Hawaiian pidgin or having a Filipino accent. This piece of culture is forced onto him, and it is something that he is made to mimic. On the other hand, Farrah is a slice of the mainstream that he decided to have and use on his own. In this way, the queer subject in Linmark’s novel used disidentification to create minority meaning and culture that did not conform to the heteronormative.

Paris Is Burning displays disidentification through the construction of drag culture. Butler notes that if drag “performances are not immediately or obviously subversive, it may be that it is rather in the reformulation of kinship, in particular, the redefining of the ‘house’ and its forms of collectivity, mothering, mopping, reading, becoming legendary, that the appropriation and redeployment of the categories of dominant culture enable the formation of kinship relations that function quite supportively as oppositional discourse within that culture” (“Critically Queer” 28). Creators and participants of drag culture take heteronormative definitions and implications out of words and replace them with new ones. Men now “mother” other men and a “house” is a place where drag balls take place; the heteronormative nuclear family has been disrupted and reinvented through disidentification.

The subjects and structure of Paris Is Burning’s drag balls and R. Zamora Linmark’s Rolling the R’s show how heteronormativity functions and how disidentification disrupts and reinvents the heteronormative to work for non-normative subjects. This method of negotiating with the current heteronormative heavy American society, is a fairly safe and useful method for creating a society that includes those individuals who are usually unnoticed and unaccounted for. Texts like the documentary and novel provide an avenue to escape from heteronormativity, and allow individuals to discover and create new meanings for themselves. And maybe, babies will one day be any kine.

Works Cited

Butler, Judith. “Critically Queer.” The Routledge Queer Studies Reader. Ed. Donald E. Hall and Annamarie Jagose. London, GBR: Routledge, 2013. 18-31. Print.

Butler, Judith. Gender Trouble: Tenth Anniversary Edition. London, GBR: Routledge, 1999. ProQuest ebrary. Web. 27 Apr. 2015.

Linmark, R. Zamora. Rolling the R’s. New York: Kaya Production, 1995. Print.

Livingston, Jennie, dir. Paris Is Burning. Perf. Dorian Corey, Pepper LaBeija, Venus Xtravaganza, Willi Ninja, Anji Xtravaganza, Kim Pendavis, and Junior Labeija. Miramax Films, 1991. Film.

Muñoz, José Esteban. Disidentifications: Queers of Color and the Performance of Politics. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999. Print.

Written for Dr. Carmen Nolte-Odhiambo’s ENG 441: Gender and Sexuality in Literature and Film

troyA time long ago when the great heroes of the Homeric epics lived, the world was full of danger and mystery with the ancient Greeks often living at the mercy of their gods. The idea of cosmology in the Homeric world was based solely on Greek religion, which included a pantheon of gods who took on the same corrupted traits and faults as the humans who worshipped them; everything that people knew about the world they lived in was based on theology. That is, until people like Thales of Miletus began to think and inquire for justification. It was around the time of Thales that Western philosophy was born (Curd 1). Philosophy, unlike theology, is an attempt to find naturalistic explanations based on observations, facts, and reason rather than seeing natural phenomena as result of the gods or other supernatural forces. Thales of Miletus, for example, claimed that everything is made from water (Curd 2). His attempt at finding the origin of the cosmos was philosophical—he made a sound argument based on reasoning from a proto-scientific observation. Knowing that all living things need water to survive or exert moisture, Thales’s claim was reasonable in the way he tried to identify the first principle of cosmology. Additionally, there was Anaximander, a follower of Thales, who believed that the cosmos was indefinite and boundless (Curd 16). He also believed in a proto-evolutionary theory, where humankind were born as adults from fish and able to evolve and survive the environment. Lastly, there is Anaximenes, a follower and student of Anaximander, who claimed that the basic element of everything comes from air—he rejected his mentor’s views on boundlessness as being the first principle, believing there had to be a level of finiteness in order for the cosmos to be. According to Anaximenes, air gives humans life; air is what makes everything in the universe animated (Curd, 20). Though these early philosophers were not completely correct, their philosophical arguments were much closer to the truth than the answers a theological worldview could ever provide. Unlike the Homeric period, these early philosophers sought to find a naturalistic explanation for the creation and maintenance of the cosmos.

The most celebrated Homeric epic, The Iliad, is the tale of the Trojan War recited and recorded mostly from the perspective of Hesiod’s Theogony. But after watching Hollywood’s version of the epic story in the film Troy (2004), we now see a more realistic story that can be interpreted through a philosophical lens. Although Wolfgang Petersen’s Troy is a modern interpretation of Homer’s epic The Iliad, it can be read as a metaphor of the transition from theological centered thinking to philosophical reasoning—the destruction of Apollo’s temple, the death of Hector, and the fall of Troy are key representations of the philosophical transition.

In Wolfgang Petersen’s Troy, the destruction of Apollo’s temple at Troy is an iconic moment in the movie that represents the shift from theological centered thinking to philosophical rationale. After the warrior Achilles attacks the beaches of Troy, he heads to Apollo, the sun god’s temple. When Achilles right-hand soldier expresses his fear and warns his master not to offend the god, Achilles quickly chops off the golden head of Apollo’s statue (Troy, 2004). The golden statue of Apollo, Troy’s patron god, is a strong representation of the Trojan’s theological beliefs and worldviews. The sun god is not only worshipped as their savior and protector, but his temple is also considered sacred. Achilles, the prime example of strength and individualism in Greek culture, beheading the statue is a symbolic testament to the end of theogony and the start of reason and critical thinking; the beheading of the sun god’s head was a demonstration of the power of truth. The statue, glittering in its golden glory and seemingly unbreakable, is as flimsy and false as the rationale behind its theological foundation. With a single swing of Achilles’ sword the statue’s head was easily chopped off, showing that the only truth in the story is that which is happening through actions. In the film, Achilles’ skills as a warrior and military tactics are superior to the rationale behind the religious belief of the sun god’s divine protection over the Trojans. As a warrior, Achilles is depicted as being a man of action—he has no fear of the gods that never seem to appear or punish him for any of his offenses. In the film, the character Achilles represents the more modern man who is grounded in the reality of what happens in his life, and solves challenges with the wisdom and knowledge he has gained from his past experiences in fighting.

Another prime example of theological references in the movie Troy (2004) that leads to the fall of city is when the Trojan King decides to launch a surprise night attack on the Greeks—instead of listening to Prince Hector’s tactical advice to wait, he chooses to heed the directions of the head priest. In the film, the head priest of Apollo convinces the Trojan King that the eagle flying over the city was an omen from the sun god that victory would be theirs if they attacked the Greeks that night and forced them to leave. Prince Hector, completely unconvinced at the priest’s rationale for wanting to launch the siege, fails to get his father to see the logical truth; an attack on the disheartened Greeks would only unite them and give them reason to fight again instead of leave (Troy 2004). As a result, Hector is slain by Achilles for accidentally killing his cousin during the siege—the King’s choice to follow the superstitions of theology rather than logic shows that such mistakes can often result in dire consequences. The death of Hector was not the only consequence of an illogical choice, but it started the sequence of events that ultimately led to Troy’s downfall. The King’s failure to shift from a theological perspective of the world to a logical one led to the demise of his son and also himself.

The very last element that led to the fall of Troy was, of course, the acceptance of the Trojan horse. In the film the Trojan King, accompanied by his son, Paris, the general, and priest, goes to the beach to find no sign of the Greek army; only the giant wooden horse. Thinking that the horse on the beach was left as an offering to the god Poseidon, the King, against Paris’ more reasonable decision to burn it, decides to bring the sculpture to the city before the Trojan temple (Troy, 2004). This fatal mistake is what destroyed the city of Troy. The King had once again let his religious beliefs cloud any better judgment, making him naïve and susceptible to life-threatening situations. The King is the prime example of the people who relied too much on theology before the turn to philosophical inquiry. The Trojan horse, an object of warfare, was forged from cleverness and wisdom from King Odysseus’s battle tactics. This scene in the film is another metaphor for the onset of philosophical and critical thinking rather than the limits of theological perspectives. The Trojan horse was the tool, or weapon, that was used to outsmart all the people of Troy much in the same way that philosophy overpowers the rationale of theology.

Wolfgang Petersen’s Troy is a modern-day interpretation of the beloved Homeric epic The Iliad that can be interpreted as a metaphor of the transition from theological centered rationale to philosophical reasoning. The destruction of Apollo’s temple by the hands of Achilles signified the empowerment of human intelligence and agency to question religious beliefs. The golden statue of Apollo, a symbol of people’s acceptance of theogony was easily destroyed once Achilles’ blade sliced through the monument. The unjust death of Prince Hector was also a consequence of irrational choices based on naïve beliefs rather than facts. From a theological standpoint, just about any kind of event or natural or coincidental occurrence could be read as a kind of omen by a religious figure who has no regard for the reality of what is actually happening. The lack of reason on the part of the priest’s vision and the King’s loyalties in relation to the war dilemma cost not only the life of Troy’s greatest leader, but led to Troy’s overall downfall. By accepting the Trojan horse into the city, the King and citizens of Troy suffered the ultimate consequences for their lack of reasonable judgment—instead of burning the horse structure, they brought it into the city with the assumption that it was a religious offering to the sea god from the Greeks. Much like Apollo’s golden statue, the Trojan horse was another symbol of logic, and also cleverness, that the Trojans could not overcome with religious piety. The knowledge and wisdom that comes from the philosophical systems of inquiry is not only useful in times of war as we see in stories like Troy, but a philosophical worldview is what allows us to understand the world and people we have to live with. There is no better power to have than that of knowledge and wisdom.

Works Cited

Troy. Dir. Wolfgang Petersen. Perf. Brad Pitt, Eric Bana and Orlando Bloom. Warner Home Video, 2004. DVD.

Curd, Patricia, ed. A Presocratics Reader: Selected Fragments and Testimonia. Trans. Richard D. McKirahan. Indianapolis: Hackett Pub., 2011. Print.
Written for Dr. Lisa Rosenlee’s PHIL 211: Ancient Greek and Roman Philosophy

danteWhat is an allegory without its characters? Not many allegories are without their prominent characters. Even the most famous allegories, such as Plato’s The Allegory of the Cave, have characters. Characters help the allegory become more understandable to a reader. Dante Alighieri wrote a spiritual and political allegory full of allegorical characters in The Divine Comedy, through three main sections: Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso. In Inferno and Purgatorio, the main character, Dante, is guided by ancient Roman poet Virgil. Virgil is present throughout the hero’s journey through Hell and Purgatory, up until Beatrice meets Dante physically to take him into Heaven. For almost two-thirds of the allegory, Virgil plays an essential role in the transformation of Dante’s spirit as he gets ready to enter Heaven. Throughout the story, Virgil is a walking personification of human reason. Virgil’s being a pagan, however, becomes problematic for the reader as he is unable to enter Heaven with Dante, despite guiding Dante along the righteous path. The entire allegory focuses on the path to get to Heaven, and the two characters represent the faithful and the unfaithful on the journey. Ironically, the pagan Virgil is still necessary for the overall success of the allegory because he leads Dante onto a path of Catholic faith with his human rationality.

Dante’s poet Virgil is based on the actual poet, Virgil (70-19 BC), who wrote the Aeneid. The poem is primarily pagan, where Roman gods are present throughout the Aeneid’s journey. Virgil is also pagan, and a citizen of Rome before the life of Jesus, and so Rome was not yet a Catholic civilization. Dante had many reasons for choosing Virgil as Dante the character’s guide. Virgil’s Aeneid glorifies Rome even before the institution of the Catholic Church, showing that Rome is the perfect place for the Pope to organize the Church. Aeneid is also a character that goes into the underworld, so Dante could have picked Virgil because Virgil understood it. Even A.K. Clark states that Virgil is “almost among the sacred writers” in The Scope of Virgil’s Influence, showing that Virgil is a man known and adored by many, so Dante would surely want to include him within his own “sacred” text (Clark 12). Dante uses Virgil in his piece to personify human reason. Allegorically, Virgil is a manifestation of the concept of a lack of understanding in God. Throughout The Divine Comedy, Virgil is very wise, but he never comprehends anything spiritual. He is necessary for the entire allegory because they both represent different types of souls that are able to receive salvation. The whole allegory tells who may enter Heaven: those who have faith and can use their reasoning to comprehend divine love.

Virgil in The Divine Comedy is literally important in that Dante needs a guide. Dante the character cannot travel through Hell alone because he would not know where he needed to go. In Canto I of The Inferno, Virgil is first introduced when Dante is being pushed back by the beasts in the Dark Wood of Error. Virgil first appears as a shade to Dante: “And as I fell to my soul’s ruin, a presence gathered before me on the discolored air” (Inf. 1. 61-62).  Since Virgil is the symbol of human reason for Dante the character, Virgil first appearing as a shade to Dante illustrates how Dante has strayed from human reason or the “True Way” (Inf. 1. 17).  Then, at the end of Canto I, Virgil tells Dante to follow him and Dante “followed where he led” (Inf. 1. 128). In this scene, Virgil is needed because without him, Dante would have been driven away from the “True Way” and the poem would be over very quickly (Inf. 1. 12). Dante needed to take the first step towards this “True Way,” requiring human reason, as Virgil, to do so.

Virgil early in The Divine Comedy illustrates Dante the poet’s intention of creating a Catholic journey which requires one to take the first step towards human reason. Virgil appears to be like Jesus in that he is the guide that leads people to salvation.  Because the overall allegory is about Dante’s growth, the success of it relies on its early foundations. Virgil is represented as a sort of “shepherd” for Dante who is just a “sheep” that needs herding when at the end of Canto I, Virgil tells Dante to follow and Dante obeys. This recalls an event in the Bible where Jesus calls Matthew: “As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he got up and followed him.” (NRSV, Matthew 9:9). Virgil in Canto I is key to the beginning of Dante’s spiritual growth.

The readers gain a better understanding of the scenery and population of Hell through Virgil’s information. Virgil is an essential informant for Dante during their journey together. His knowledge allows readers (and Dante) to understand the different Circles of Hell and the sinners that reside within them. Dante is full of questions and Virgil answers many of them. During Canto II of Inferno, Dante asks Virgil whether he is worthy to take on such a quest as traveling from Hell to Heaven. When Virgil answers, he explains how Beatrice sent Virgil to lead Dante back to the True Way (Inf. 2. 57-70). In Canto IV, Dante asks about those in Circle One and Virgil informs that they are pagans that have left a “signature of honor” on Earth, allowing them to have “ease in Hell” (Inf. 4. 76). Not only does the information guide Dante in the right direction, the information also assists in creating the context for the setting of the story.

Virgil’s insightfulness and human rationality, however, are not sufficient enough without faith in God. Virgil is able to answer any question that is logical, such as why certain circles have certain punishments. Once faith in God gets involved in the question, Virgil is unable to answer it completely. For example, at the end of Canto VIII, Virgil cannot get through the gates separating Upper Hell from Lower Hell. When they are denied entry to the City of Dis, Virgil is confused and cannot tell Dante why they are delayed, just that they will eventually enter somehow, but the two wait a long time while being terrorized by the Furies (Inf. 9. 49-51). In Canto IX, Virgil grows impatient as he complains, “‘Yet surely we were meant to pass these tombs…if not…so much was promised…Oh how time hangs and drags till our aid comes!’” (Inf. 9. 7-9).

His complaint is literally and metaphorically significant in showing that Virgil lacks the basis for obtaining faith. Virgil literally needs God’s messenger to open the gates for him so the two may continue. As the embodiment of human reason, Virgil’s complaint signifies that human reason cannot progress spiritually without the Catholic faith, and God’s messenger, who later in Canto IX opens the gate, represents the entirety of this faith. Figuratively, Virgil does not understand why it takes a long while for their “help” to arrive and grant them passage. Like The Parable of the Sower, Virgil lacks a proper foundation in God, as his “seed” was not “sown in soil” but “fell on the path” (Matthew 13:4) so he will never be able to understand it: “When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path” (Matthew 13:19). Therefore, Virgil is unable to understand dilemmas regarding faith, because he cannot understand it and never will, as his “seed” was “scorched” (Matthew 13:6). When the angel comes, he comes for Dante to assist him in completing his journey. Since Dante is already a Catholic, he has the basic foundations for his faith, allowing him to get closer to God. Virgil does not have these foundations, so he cannot ever have faith.

Virgil illustrates perfect human rationality without perfect faith. This is important for the allegory because Dante must have perfect human rationality with perfect faith in order to get into Heaven. With Virgil, Dante is on both of these paths. Dante is able to obtain perfect rationality with Virgil simply by experience with him. Virgil is insightful and explains in detail about punishments in Hell. Dante, having been born after Jesus, has had his faith “sown in soil,” and therefore is able to obtain perfect faith. Dante obtains this perfect faith because he can understand the works of God in Hell and Purgatory, unlike Virgil who simply understands the logic behind the structures.

The closer the two get to Heaven, the less Christ-like Virgil seems, again illustrating the limits of human reason without faith. Another reason Virgil is significant is that his lack of faith juxtaposes to Dante’s growing faith, emphasizing to Dante the poet’s readers how important the Catholic faith is. After passing Hell, Virgil and Dante step into Purgatory, which Catholic tradition states is a place where sinful, but remorseful souls go to be purified before entering Heaven. In Canto I of Purgatorio, Virgil must cleanse Dante before moving deeper into Purgatory: “[I] lifted my tear-stained cheeks to him, and there he made me clean, revealing my true color under the residues of Hell’s black air” (Pur. 1. 124-126). This scene recounts another episode in Jesus’ life. Though not explicitly mentioned in the Bible, many devout Catholics know the story of Veronica wiping the face of Jesus as he carries his cross to his death. Like Veronica wiping Jesus’ face, Virgil wipes Dante’s face, illustrating that Dante is now becoming more Christ-like than Virgil. The Christ metaphor in this scene begins to transition from Virgil to Dante.

During much of Purgatorio, Virgil is seen relying more on Heavenly instruction than on his own reasoning. For instance in Canto I, Cato tells Virgil how to proceed with Dante: “Go then, and lead this man, but first see to it you bind a smooth green reed about his waist and clean his face of all trace of the pit” (Pur. 1. 94-96). The closer the two get to Heaven, the less Dante relies on Virgil, as other guides await him, like Statius. Statius joins the two in Canto XXI. He adores Virgil and even states that Virgil’s Aeneid had converted him: “in pondering those line in which you cry, as if you raged against humanity…I understood then that our hands could spread their wings too wide in spending, and repented of that, and all my sins, in grief and dread” (Pur. 22. 38-45).  Vigil lets Statius explain to Dante how the gluttons in Canto XXV appear starved despite not needing food, rather than explaining it himself. As the three get closer to Heaven, Virgil’s human reason seems to be reaching its limit.

Dante’s journey with Virgil is nearly complete in Canto XXVII, and the journey has made Dante sinless and able to go to Heaven, where the teacher Virgil paradoxically cannot enter. At the end of Purgatorio in Canto XXVII, Virgil watches as Dante steps through the flame and into Heaven. Again, Virgil is not able to go on to Heaven with Dante because he lacks Catholic faith. Everything that Virgil had done to help Dante was ordered by a higher power, rather than Virgil volunteering from the beginning, showing that he embraced his own sin regardless of all that he has seen from Hell and Purgatory.

Virgil cannot go on to see God because he will not understand what he sees. Throughout Purgatorio, the need for Virgil slowly diminished. If he were to enter Heaven, Virgil’s presence may cease to exist because he could never fathom anything divine, like the angel opening the way to the City of Dis. This is why Virgil is among the virtuous pagans in Hell–he has done good, but will never be able to comprehend God because he never knew faith during his life. Therefore, Dante’s allegory may be proposing that Hell is needed for those who cannot comprehend God or God’s love, otherwise they may cease to exist. Allegorically, Hell may be a place built out of God’s divine love.

Dante the poet’s allegory would not have been as successful in telling a Catholic transformation journey without the character Virgil. Virgil’s lack of faith makes him an important character in the allegory for the audience to juxtapose to Dante and allows Dante to witness the borders of human reasoning without faith. Virgil’s human reasoning does aid in Dante’s spiritual development and in their overall journey by being his guide and providing sufficient knowledge, but Virgil’s reasoning is not enough as the two get closer to Heaven. The whole allegory shows how those of Catholic faith may be able to enter Heaven, as they have the proper foundations, where one who never knew faith will never be able to enter Heaven. Virgil being an allegory for lack of faith while Dante being an allegory for growing faith illustrates the two common paths people go through within their lives. Since Virgil had no Christian foundations during his life, he can never know true faith in the afterlife. Perhaps if Virgil were alive while guiding Dante, rather than already in Hell, Virgil may have had a chance at receiving salvation.

Works Cited

Alighieri, Dante. The Divine Comedy. Trans. John Ciardi. New York: New American Library, 2003. Print.

Clarke, A.K. “The Scope of Virgil’s Influence.” Greece & Rome. Cambridge University Press, 16 (1947): 12. JSTOR. Web. 26 Nov. 2014.

The Holy Bible. Web. Rev. New Revised Standard Version. <;

Written for Dr. Brenda Machosky’s ENG 331: Topics in British Literature

In Jude the Obscure, Thomas Hardy brings to light issues of gender and social class and their effect on obtaining formal education and financial success. Since the writing of Jude the Obscure in 1895, social mobility has been made somewhat easier, but it is still very limited and inequality still persists. Many would argue that today there are far greater opportunities to achieve “success” than in the past, but I’d like to argue that though more opportunities are available, upward social mobility is still incredibly difficult since the gender and social class you’re born into greatly affect your socioeconomic status throughout life.  Jude the Obscure highlights how much who you are at birth truly affects who you’ll become.

judeHardy’s controversial work was one of the first modern novels as it had recognized that “life [had] become inherently problematic” (Howe). What makes Hardy’s Jude the Obscure differ from so many other works at the time is the social commentary within the text and how it’s written into the story. The modern novel was one that departed from tradition and was self aware. In its narrative structure, the plot wasn’t nearly as important as specific situations and moments. Characters were no longer just characters, but representations of certain ideologies. Through his well-developed characters, Hardy criticizes society’s long-held beliefs about women, education, and social class.

Both Jude Fawley and Sue Bridehead are characters who venture outside of the norm of society of the time. Sue is described by Irving Howe in “A Distinctly Modern Novel” as the modern woman and a feminist of the time. Jude is a lowly farm boy who is passionately interested in attaining a formal education, which is unheard of for people of his class. Their surrounding society views them as outsiders, and there’s a disconnect between the mindset of society and the values and ideas that Jude and Sue hold. Much of their lives involve their alienation from society. In looking specifically at Jude, he is unable to get a formal education even though he has the potential to do very well in university. Not only is he denied schooling because he cannot afford it, but also because he lacks the prestige necessary to attend. In the same sense, education was regarded as an institution only for the privileged and those lower on the rungs of society were considered not to have the capacity to retain knowledge. Because of these ideologies, formal education is purposely crafted to be exclusive. Ultimately, Jude in no way achieves his dream of becoming a scholar at Christminster. Through Jude’s character and the challenges he encounters, Hardy intentionally aims to make an argument about the limits placed on Jude’s circumstances that don’t allow him upward social mobility.

Many people at the time that Jude the Obscure was written argued that Jude should have been more practical and should’ve realized that his status and class would never allow him to move up or become anything greater than the stone mason that he already was; his aspirations were out of reach, and he should’ve been realistic. Even today, similar comments are made concerning Jude, yet at the same time, many believe that there are far greater opportunities for upward social mobility today. Although times have indeed changed since the writing of Jude the Obscure, this inequality and extremely limited social mobility is evident.

According to the United States Department of Labor, in October 2014, 68.4% of high school graduates were enrolled in colleges or universities, so it is obvious that education is more attainable for students of any background. But viewing that statistic alone doesn’t at all prove that social mobility is any more possible or that there are greater strides toward equal opportunity. By taking into consideration debt, quality of education, privilege, and popular ideologies, among many other factors, we can see that society has not progressed as much as we’d like to believe since Jude the Obscure’s publication. In the twenty-first century, poverty still remains the strongest factor in determining whether or not a high-school graduate will attend and/or stay in college after the first year. Wealthier high schools had higher rates of their graduates attending and graduating from college. This phenomenon parallels the context of Jude the Obscure. Overall, the possibility for American students to attend college is greater, but the opportunity to attend college isn’t equal.

Taking a step back further into the funding of America’s schools explains how poorer neighborhoods are set up for failure. The United States is the only developed country that funds public schools based on local wealth. Because of this, those who live in poorer neighborhoods have a poorly funded education, while those who reside in wealthier areas receive a better education. Though it’s easy to assume that people from the ghettos are stupid, we can see that those from poorer areas may have the potential and capacity to excel academically but never get the opportunity to discover whether or not that’s true. Similarly, Jude was self-taught in classical Greek and Latin and displayed immense potential academically but could not achieve his goal of becoming a scholar because of social conventions. Jude could have been the most intelligent, successful scholar to have ever come out of university at Christminster, but no one would ever be able to know because society restricted him from pursuing a formal education. The difference between this past and the present day is that formal education is required by law up until a certain age, but if Jude were transplanted to today’s modern world, his circumstances would end up in a similar way. Jude would have lived in a relatively poor neighborhood with his working-class family and received a formal education in a poorly-funded public school. The quality of his education due to lack of proper funding would not have aided Jude’s being able to reach his full academic potential, and the chances of his going to university would still remain slim.

Though it would be possible for twenty-first century Jude to earn scholarships and take out loans to attend college, these improvements still come at a cost and in actuality don’t make a significant difference for the majority. In 2007-2008, 0.3 percent of full-time students at four-year colleges received scholarships that covered the entire cost of attendance, and only about 10 percent of undergraduate students won private scholarships, averaging only $2,800 a year. Scholarships may contribute to covering costs for tuition but do not make a significant difference for the vast majority; only a fraction of students actually receive this type of financial aid. Student loans offer another type of problem; though it’s possible to attend school solely off borrowed money, students graduate in debt. While a college degree will lead to better paying jobs, many graduates worry about paying off loans well into their adult lives. In the end, students are taking out loans to go to college so that they can earn a higher salary to pay off their student loans. College students are graduating with more and more debt each year, and this poses another limit on their goals towards social mobility. These limits keep people in the same positions and social classes as they’ve always been. Because of these reasons, social mobility has remained the same over the past decades while inequality continues to increase. It seems as though many people are unaware of the systemic problems that keep the impoverished poor, generation after generation. Many literary texts draw on these ideas in an effort to bring attention to this issue, just as Hardy did with Jude the Obscure.

Sue Bridehead, Jude Fawley’s cousin and wife, is another nonconformist in the novel. She stands out against her female counterparts and is an early example of the modern woman and feminist. Like Jude, Sue holds values that challenge the ideals of everyone else in society. She questions the institutions of religion and marriage and challenges patriarchy. In Jude the Obscure, it’s obvious that women like Sue who value intellect are ostracized, and in 1895 a woman’s place in society was in the home with the role of mother and wife. Nearly 120 years later, women are still challenging these same social roles. Gains for women were made through women’s suffrage and at the time of the Civil Rights era, but inequality between men and women still remains. Women have been able to create names and success for themselves in politics, business, and other areas in the professional world, but there is still progress to be made. Women still get paid lower wages than men. Female politicians in the public eye are criticized for qualities that have no relevance to their intellect or competence. Women work what is called a “double shift”—going to work but then also coming home and performing the primary role at home.

If Sue was living in the twenty-first century, she wouldn’t stand out from the women of today as much as she does with those of her own time. It is more common for women, along with men, to not be religious. In her time, Sue shows traits and characteristics that aren’t traditionally or stereotypically feminine, and Sue is proven to be more than just an ordinary, submissive wife and mother as many others were. She questioned her surrounding society and strongly voiced her opinions with little concern regarding others’ judgements—she represents the women and feminists of today. In no way was Sue a perfect character modeling everything the modern woman should stand for or be, but she provided an example of a woman who was aware and constantly challenging the norm. More and more twenty-first-century women are questioning their places and roles in society and are boldly arguing their cases. For Sue, she believed that a woman has a right “to undo what one has done ignorantly” when it comes to marriage. Her notion of being able to leave a marriage for any reason was absurd at the time but is generally accepted today. Nowadays, a twenty-first-century woman may be a single-mother raising her children alone or a full-time employee with no intentions of ever having children at all, and there are no clear cut definitions that women are conforming to anymore. Men and women alike may not understand and still place stigmas on women who don’t conform to the traditional housewife role, but these different types of modern women are becoming more common. Sue was a woman who was way ahead of her time, and without knowing it, Hardy created a character who would be representative of what a woman is like today.

Though strides have been made for women’s rights and though “woman” takes on a much broader definition, sexism is still an issue that is being dealt with. For many, the word “woman” alone seems to hold a negative connotation and is often associated with weakness and incompetence. This is seen every time any male athlete is offended when a coach says he’s “playing like a girl.” This association of women with incompetence and weakness isn’t as obvious as it was in the past, but can be examined through looking at how much fewer opportunities are afforded to women. 298 of the total 12,107 people (0.246%) who have ever served in Congress were women; women earn 77 cents for every dollar earned by a man; and one in five women are sexually assaulted on college campuses. Women are less likely to be offered opportunities for advancement and less likely to receive high salaries and benefits. Demographics show that women tend to make up the lower rungs on the ladder in the professional world (i.e. being teachers in a school), while males are those who occupy the higher up jobs (i.e. being superintendents and principals of schools). So while Sue may fit into the twenty-first century, she’d still be a modern feminist with many more questions and opinions on the constructs of society.

In comparing the situations of Jude and Sue when placed in both the 1895 England portrayed in Jude the Obscure and America and other industrialized countries in the twenty-first century, the situations and outcomes of these characters’ lives might be very similar. As long as there is classism, sexism, or anything else along the lines, Jude the Obscure will be a novel that will compare to society no matter how many centuries have passed. Hardy’s characterization of Jude Fawley and Sue Bridehead and his social commentary shape the novel into a text that is almost universal. Its relevance to society 120 years later isn’t a simple coincidence. Hardy originally intended to bring to light the problem of society at his time, but perhaps Jude the Obscure shows us today how little we have actually progressed since that time.

With Jude the Obscure, Thomas Hardy joined a long-lasting trend of books that challenge societal constructs. Books such as Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest, George Orwell’s 1984, or even Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games all provide the author’s social commentary. Interestingly, because they challenge ideals just as Hardy’s novel does, efforts have been made to ban these books from many school and public libraries. All of these modern novels are created with a purpose. Even years before the modern novel, William Wordsworth’s “keen interest in contemporary society and politics” was present in his work in the late 18th century. Nelson Mandela noted that “as long as poverty, injustice, and gross inequality exist in our world, none of us can truly rest.” Books and other texts such as Jude the Obscure will continue to be published by authors who write to prove a point about the wrongs of society and the people who continue to be enslaved by systematic injustice.

Works Cited

Barnett, Rosalind Chait. “Ageism and Sexism in the Workplace.”  Ageism in the New Millennium Fall 2005: 25-30. Online.

“Class in America: Mobility Measured.” The Economist. N.p., 1 Feb. 2014. Web. 3 May 2015. <;.

“Get Real on Scholarships.” Washington Post. The Washington Post, n.d. Web. 03 May 2015. <;.

Halmi, Nicholas. Wordsworths Poetry and Prose. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2014.

Hardy, Thomas, and Cedric Watts. Jude the Obscure. Peterborough, Ont: Broadview Press, 1999.

Howe, Irving. “A Distinctly Modern Novel.”  in Hardy, Thomas. Jude the Obscure. W. W. New York: Norton & Co. 1999

“Poverty the Strongest Factor in Whether High School Graduates Go to College.” Huffington Post. Huffington Post, 14 Oct. 2014. Web. 3 May 2015. <;.

Written for Dr. David N. Odhiambo’s ENG 261: British Literature II

In 1984, New Line Cinema released the film A Nightmare on Elm Street, which was written and directed by Wes Craven. It is a Gothic feminist fairy tale structured as a coming-of-age narrative. The plot follows a young woman, Nancy, and her friends who all simultaneously begin having the same nightmares for the very first time. They are all high school students who socialize frequently, drink alcoholic beverages, and smoke like many teenagers their age. One by one, they are brutally murdered in their dreams by Freddy Krueger, a dark specter with knives for fingers who lives in the deepest darkest shadows of one’s subconscious. By the end of the film, Nancy displays the courage to face her fear, and by conquering it, takes away its influence over her.

nightmare-on-elmAccording to Andrew Smith, in Gothic Literature, the term Gothic has taken on a variety of meanings throughout history. Contemporary Gothic narratives typically deal with terror and an interpretation of evil (3). Not all human experiences can be explained, solved, or defined by the natural laws of science in the physical world. Smith claims, “The complexity of human experience could not be explained by an inhuman rationalism” (2). In the film, the character Tina entered the labyrinth of her subconscious, her dream. In this dream she faced horrific imagery, starting with a terrifying shadow of a man with a hat in a dark alley. Then a man laughs at her, with his arms stretched out twenty feet long on both sides in silhouette against a dark background before chasing her. During the chase, the two wrestle, and Tina tears the predator’s face off to reveal a bloody laughing skeleton face. Later in the film, when Nancy dreams while falling asleep in her high school English class, she sees her friend Tina in a body bag being dragged down the hall by an invisible force. During the climax of the film, a tongue comes out of the receiver of a land line telephone. All this terrifying imagery exemplifies aspects of contemporary Gothic storytelling.

A Nightmare on Elm Street features the Gothic’s defining gory and explicit violence. The violence in this film can be read as a “phallic presence, which suggests a horror about the threatened violence of male sexuality” (Smith 131). The antagonist, Freddy Krueger, is a dark spirit who lives in the subconscious of his victims. He is burnt and covered with open bloody sores. On his right hand is a self-made dirty old glove with sharp knives for fingers. Tina’s demise is the scene that exemplifies the violent nature of male sexuality. Freddy’s sharp finger knives are phallic symbols that penetrate the flesh of a female victim, after she makes love with her life partner. This scene begins with vicious slashes suddenly appearing on her chest, followed by her flesh being ripped wide open. These penetrations lead to a long and extremely gory scene. She is dragged across the wall and ceiling, leaving a trail of blood all over the room. Eventually, her corpse falls on the bed in a pool of her own blood.

From visual imagery to the horrific violence he commits, Freddy Krueger truly is the embodiment of pure evil incarnate. He is a loathsome child murderer who was murdered by the parents of the children he victimized. He then returns as a spirit haunting the dreams of the living. Freddy wears a striped sweater, a dirty brown hat, a glove with knives for fingers, and has a grotesque, burnt face covered in open, bleeding wounds. In her children’s literature dissertation, Penelope Young stated that “Those accused of witchcraft were almost always…physically ugly…[and] accused of consorting with the devil” (1). This concept holds true with not just characters who are involved with witchcraft, but most evil literary characters in general. In Dracula, Bram Stoker describes the title character as having a “thin nose…[with] hair growing scantily around the temples…[and a] mouth…[with] sharp white teeth” (Stoker 25). Wes Craven follows this literary tradition of interpreting evil as hideous and monstrous. That is why Fred Krueger wears ugly and dirty clothing with the physical appearance of burnt flesh with open bleeding wounds.

Now that the definition of Gothic has been applied to this film rendering it an example of the genre, the feminist element of the plot can be examined. According to Law, Maureen, Olshewsky, and Semifero, feminist narratives portray female characters as being “courageous women…brave, confident females actively shaping their own destinies and breaking barriers to defy stereotypes and societal limitations” (Law 1). The character Nancy embodies those exact characteristics of feminism. She is a young woman who is a completely independent thinker. At one point in the film, she decides to read a book on how to set hunting traps in order to survive. She also insists against her mother’s wishes that going to school is the best thing for her after suffering the tragedy of the loss of friends. When her mother tries to nullify Nancy’s claim that there is something trying to harm her in her dream, Nancy confronts her mother, inquiring as to who Freddy Krueger is. When Nancy knows something, there is no one who is going to persuade her otherwise or fool her.

Nancy exemplified female strength by rebelling against various authority figures throughout the narrative. Nancy’s father, a police officer, refers to her friend, Rod, as a lunatic. Rod is accused of the murder of Tina. Of course, no one will believe him if he attempts to tell anyone what really happened. Nancy speaks up against her father, telling him that her friend was not what he is accused of being. The second time Nancy rebels against an authority figure is while she is dreaming. She follows Tina being dragged in a body bag down the high school hallway, when she suddenly runs into a hall monitor. The hall monitor inquires as to where her hall pass is. In response, Nancy delivers her famous line, “Screw your pass!” Then, it is her own mother whom Nancy has to stand up against. Nancy’s mother attempts to convince her that all she needs to release negative tension is a little bit of sleep. At that very moment, Nancy grabs the bottle out of her alcoholic mother’s hand and yells right in her mother’s face, “Screw sleep!” After that, she slams the bottle to the floor, making the glass shatter all over the kitchen, and walks out.

Instead of playing the classic damsel in distress, Nancy displays courage by facing her foe head on. She willingly enters the dream to challenge the monster, Freddy. She walks deep into the abyss of the nightmare, calling Freddy’s name, and challenging him. Planning to pull Freddy out of the dream by holding him, the same way she did with the hat, Nancy has the house trapped with devices designed to neutralize the monster. As Freddy chases Nancy around the house, she continues to battle him with trap after trap. She sets a sledge hammer, which comes down right on his chest as he exits the bedroom door; sets a lamp to blow up when he hits the trip wire; and sets him on fire in the basement. Nancy has the courage to bring this monster out of her nightmare and into her home, so that she can battle him on her turf, and eventually defeat him.

As a result of being challenged by a monster that she could not run and hide from, Nancy is forced to mature instantaneously due to not being able to rely on adults. During the puberty stage, adolescents go through many physical and emotional changes. These changes include experiencing things for the very first time. Nancy and Tina begin having dreams of Freddy Krueger for the very first time as high school adolescents. In their dreams, Freddy is an ugly demonic man who wants to be impishly flirtatious and attempted to penetrate their flesh with his phallic claws. This is an extreme Gothic representation of a woman going through the menstruation cycle for the very first time. The dreams of wicked flirtation and extreme male-on-female penetration exemplify covert sexuality, which ultimately leads to overt sexuality. Another example of bodily transformation is the scene when Nancy wakes up from the dream in a hospital, and a streak of her hair turns completely grey. This scene is symbolic of Nancy having to grow up at a younger age than she is naturally expected to in order to deal with a problem that her police officer father will not believe in and her drunk mother could not if she wanted to.

Ann Charters articulates that the coming-of-age story, also known as the initiation tale, is a narrative in which an adolescent protagonist faces challenges that prepare them for adulthood (1791). Nancy’s father is an authoritative police officer. He has a very strong personality, and generally what he says goes. One would argue that a good police officer must be strong in the head and very rational. The problem Nancy faces is that this narrative defies the laws of realism and enters the realm of the Gothic narrative. Nancy’s mother is drunk, or at least holding a bottle in her hand throughout most of the narrative. Especially toward the end, she is little to no help to Nancy. She deteriorates into alcoholism as the story progresses. Nancy suffers the tragedy of her parents being separated. Then she suffers the loss of friends, and being caught right in the middle of a murder investigation in which her father is the officer in charge. All this takes place at the exact same time that Freddy begins invading her dreams.

At the end of the film, Nancy finally decides to strip Freddy of all of his power over her. She simply stops believing in him, taking away his energy, and his image disintegrated right before her very eyes. At this point in the narrative, the protagonist completes her transformation from adolescence to adulthood. In the very next scene, Nancy walks out of a door. She goes through the door for the last time as a child, and comes out the other side an adult.

Freddy Krueger has become a well-known name over the years. Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street has spawned five film sequels, a television series, one spin off film, a crossover film featuring Jason Voorhees from the Friday the 13th film franchise, and a film remake of the original. Also novels, comic books, posters, t-shirts, collectible statues, Halloween costumes and décor, and action figures have been produced over the years replicating Freddy Krueger. Why is this vile creature such a universally popular character? What is it about him that people can relate to or at least empathize with? The answer is that he embodies real life moments in the lives of people who are at particular stages in their life. Freddy symbolized the curse of female adolescence, and Nancy defeated him. A Nightmare on Elm Street is a Gothic feminist fairy tale within the structure of a coming-of-age narrative.

Works Cited

A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984). Dir. Wes Craven. Perf. Heather Langenkamp and John Saxon. New Line Cinema, 2010. Blu-ray.

Charters, Ann. “Appendix Six: Glossary of Literary Terms.” The Story and Its Writer: An Introduction to Short Fiction. 8th ed. New York: St. Martin’s, 2011: 1791. Print.

Law, Jennie S., Mccoy Maureen, Beth Olshewsky, and Angola Semifero. “All About Amelia: The Amelia Bloomer Project (The View from ALA).” Young Adult Library Services 10.3 2012: 1. Academic Search Premier. Web. 14 Dec. 2014.

Smith, Andrew. “Introduction.” Gothic Literature. 2nd ed. Edinburgh: Edinburgh UP. 2013: 2-3 + 131. ProQuest Ebrary. Web. 12 Dec. 2014.

Stoker, Bram. “Chapter II: Jonathan Harker’s Journal (continued).” Dracula (1897). New York: Barnes & Noble Classics, 2003: 25. Print.

Young, Penelope. “Witch Images in Australian Children’s Literature.” Diss. U of Southern Queensland, 2001. Abstract. Unpublished: 1. UHWO Library Research Bar. Web. 13 Dec. 2014

file711280241883“I ka ʻōlelo ke ola, i ka ʻōlelo nō ka make.” (In language there is life, in language there is death.) This Hawaiian noʻeau or proverb can be used figuratively to embody the importance of language within a culture. Throughout the written Hawaiian history, arguments can be concluded that non-native Hawaiian people have “English versions of Hawaiian writings [which] have created and perpetuated gross misrepresentations of the lives and culture of the Hawaiian people” (Kuwada 2009). As a result, the means and origins of Hawaiian translations have garnered controversy, thus challenging the focus on the Hawaiian language, culture, and uncertain process of educating native Hawaiians and non-natives.

Within the education system and surrounding community, whether made up of native Hawaiians or non-Hawaiians, individuals suffer from a lack of complete education of the Hawaiian language and culture. Decreasing usage and appreciation of the Hawaiian language, culture and history took center stage following the 1893 overthrow of the Hawaiian government.  S. Warner states in Anthropology & Education Quarterly,

“The illegal government, formed by a small group of U.S. businessmen and called the Republic of Hawaii, banned the Hawaiian language as a medium of instruction in the public schools in 1896. This ban was effectively enforced after the subsequent annexation of Hawai’i by the United States in 1898.” (1999)

With increasing influence from European and American ideas, the Hawaiian language was not only banned from schools and speakers, but violators were also punished. Private schools with English-only instruction were created and controlled the enrollment by allowing only Native Hawaiian nobility and European children of part or pure descent as students. This resulted in a stratified social class where the Hawaiian-speaking community became associated with low socioeconomic status; the Hawaiian people, once the most literate ethnic group,  were then displayed as the least literate.

Recognition of the importance of revitalizing the near-endangered Hawaiian language and culture resulted in changes made during the 1978 Hawaii State convention. Amongst the changes was the addition of Article XV that addresses the state boundaries, capital, flag, language and motto. In giving “full recognition and honor to the rich cultural inheritance that Hawaiians have given to all ethnic groups of this State” (Lee 2011), the Standing Committee on Hawaiian Affairs proposed to have the official Hawaii state languages to include the Hawaiian language with an intention to “overcome certain insults of the past where the speaking of Hawaiian was forbidden in the public school system” (Lee 2011). The Hawaii State Constitution Article X, Section 4 specifically addressed a Hawaiian Education program. This section states that,

“The State shall promote the study of Hawaiian culture, history and language. The State shall provide for a Hawaiian education program consisting of language, culture and history in the public schools. The use of community expertise shall be encouraged as a suitable and essential means in furtherance of the Hawaiian education program” (Lee 2011).

This addition to the Hawaii State Constitution yields an opportunity for the governing body to provide the public a Hawaiian education program. However, establishing a Hawaiian-language education program has proven to be a daunting task since many individuals in the community accept that “the broader structure of the educational community sets the language and identity of a school” (Kawaiʻaeʻa & Wilson 2007). Still many are on a mission to protect, develop, expand and revitalize the community of Hawaiian-language speakers. These respected Hawaiian-language education professionals optimistically see the revitalization of the Hawaiian language as a way to assist in cultural restoration, pride in one’s ethnicity, and the possibility of receiving a respectable view from the non-native community.

Research argues the importance of providing the children and adults of Hawaii with Hawaiian-language knowledge in the classroom. To avoid extinction of the Hawaiian culture and language, the education system should recognize and promote its value and importance. A comprehensive education and instruction given in the Hawaiian language and culture should be an option for students in PreK-12 and higher education.

“ʻO ke kahua ma mua, ma hope ke kūkulu.”

(The foundation first, and then the building — learn all you can, then practice.)

Teachers lack a depth of knowledge of the Hawaiian culture and language, stemming from the education system that is provided for public access and where instruction is received in the dominant English language. Teachers’ lack of knowledge in Hawaiian culture and language is recognized by authors Kawaiʻaeʻa and Wilson, who point out that “teaching Hawaiian as a second/foreign language in English medium educational structures has shown that Hawaiian cannot be revitalized in that way” and that “the life of a language exists in the system of structures, not in the instruction of content” (2007). They provide a remedy for the Hawaiian revitalization movement by “seek[ing] to develop [total] Hawaiian medium educational structures that can serve both first language speakers of Hawaiian and those transitioning into dominance in Hawaiian” (Kawaiʻaeʻa & Wilson 2007). Ka Haka ʻUla O Keʻelikōlani is the University of Hawaii at Hilo’s (UHH) Hawaiian language college. Born out of UHH’s Hawaiian Studies Department, the Hawaiian language college provides “structure for Hawaiian medium education from preschool through graduate school along with support offices” (Kawaiʻaeʻa & Wilson 2007). However, it was not until after 1997’s legislative mandate provided the establishment of a Hawaiian language education program that it received assistance for ʻAha Pūnana Leo and federal funds from the federal Native Hawaiian Education Act. The resulting Hawaiian language education program has furthered the revitalization planning to create the accredited Kahuawaiola Indigenous Teacher Education Program.

The UHH Hawaiian language teacher education program has produced multiple contributions in the ongoing process to revitalize the Hawaiian language, culture and identity (Kawaiʻaeʻa 2002). To understand the benefits of Hawaiian culture and language education, the NHMO guidelines support “the state’s mandate for Hawaiian language and culture education with constructive solutions for implementation” (Kawaiʻaeʻa 2002). As such, the guidelines focus on supporting educational reform by “shifting the focus from teaching/learning about Hawaiian cultural heritage to teaching/learning through the Hawaiian language and culture benefits of all the citizens of Hawaiʻi because it directs curricular attention to the physical and cultural environment of the indigenous people of Hawaiʻi” (Kawaiʻaeʻa 2002). Continued access to the Hawaiian culture and language, which includes the ongoing translations of Hawaiian texts into English, allows individuals and families to learn more about their identity and the world.

Along with the creation of UHH’s Hawaiian Studies programs, similar efforts like the Papahana Kaiapuni, a K-12 grade public school Hawaiian Language Immersion program, “is a more culturally compatible form of education for Hawaiians because of its emphasis on Hawaiian language and culture,” yet “the program is open to all students, although the majority of students and their families are part-Hawaiian” (Yamauchi et al. 2008). In reality, to prevent extinction, the Hawaiian revitalization starts with an education that shows the most success when taught, translated, and acquired through an immersion of the local Hawaiian culture and not just the ability to understand the Hawaiian language.

“Ma mua ka hana, ma hope ke walaʻau.”

(Direct experience comes first, discussion comes second.)

As a Kaiapuni program/school uses the Hawaiian language as its instruction medium, benefits to the education of attending students reach out into the families and communities. Important life skills, such as the development of values, family and community bonding, learning the English language, and learning of the Hawaiian culture and issues, shift in both directions between the Kaiapuni and the students’ family. In the article “Family Involvement in a Hawaiian Language Immersion Program,” a school board member was interviewed in support of the Kaiapuni program becoming a Hawaii public school and was referenced for saying “that within the public school system, he thought the Kaiapuni program had the most intensive family involvement in the public schools, second only to athletics” (Yamauchi et al. 2008). The support for children to learn in the Kaiapuni program continues through parental, family and community support. As a goal of the Kaiapuni program is to learn about the Hawaiian culture and issues, political roles in supporting the program have developed in some parents’ minds. Parents of Kaiapuni program students report being actively involved with advocating for Hawaiian immersion programs by attending “rallies at the state capital, provide testimony, and lobby the state legislature and school board” (Yamauchi et al. 2008). This type of active involvement is unique to the Kaiapuni program and has even positively impacted parents and families whose children attend English-speaking schools.

Hawaiian culture and language should be integrated as early as possible into a child’s school life. Hawaiian immersion schools enrich current learning standards through a comprehensive and traditional education of the Hawaiian culture and language. Within these schools is a comfortable and safe learning environment committed to connecting and integrating traditional Hawaiian values into the curriculum to allow student success in the real world. Experiencing bilingual education and learning the Hawaiian culture from an outsider’s perspective has found success in other cultures and their corresponding languages, such as the Native American and French-Canadian cultures. Who is to say that success is impossible with Hawaiian language education? Contrary to successful bilingual education programs, researcher’s evidence from countries such as Wales, Spain, and New Zealand have revealed that the endangered language is unable to thrive against the main instructional language that also dominates within the community. These country’s efforts to revitalize their endangered language with daily instruction has been ineffective. Also ineffective has been the ongoing attempt of the Hawaii education system to teach the Hawaiian language as a second or foreign language. In cultures scattered around the globe and across the United States, measures have been taken to assist in cultivating and nurturing the indigenous culture and language as seen in native American Indian, Alaska native, New Zealand’s Maori, and native Hawaiian people. For example, the Education Committee of the National Caucus of Native American State Legislators, or NCNASL, alongside the assistance of education policymakers and stakeholders, met to create a series of policy recommendations that “provide options for all state legislators to consider as they contemplate policies to help close the achievement gap between American Indian, Alaska native and native Hawaiian students and their non-native peers” (NCNASL 2008). The significance of recognizing an educational achievement gap amongst the children in schools today is that approximately “90 percent of American Indian, Alaska native and native Hawaiian students attend public schools, [where] state legislators ultimately are responsible for appropriations and policy that govern a state’s public schools” (NCNASL 2008). This same report makes a clear statement about the type of education that is being delivered in schools:

“[While} it is too early to draw conclusions about the relationship between achievement and culturally based education, it is clear that the kind of education…families want for their children is not being delivered in the schools. This mismatch between the desire of families and the practice of schools may contribute to the achievement difficulties experienced by American Indian, Alaska native and native Hawaiian students.” (NCNASL 2008)

In Hawaii, receiving cultural and educational assistance from the U.S. government differs from American Indians and Alaska natives. As a result, the Hawaii state government has promoted the implementation of educational programs designed to improve the widening achievement gap of Native Hawaiians from their non-native peers.

“Ma ka hana ka ʻike.”

(Knowledge comes from direct experience.)

The argument about teaching the Hawaiian language and culture in schools stands in the shadow of the numerous other issues surfacing in schools. In the community, an issue that has cultural and educational impact is the defining criteria that makes a qualified Hawaiian educator. Many classroom teachers likely lack confidence in Hawaiian Studies instruction, based on findings from interviews conducted by Julie Kaomea. Kaomea addresses concerns about the instruction towards Hawaiian Studies by recognizing that classroom teachers feel unprepared to teach the subject area, lack formal teacher education instruction in Hawaiian Studies, and many teachers are provided with an outdated textbook created by non-Hawaiians. She further emphasizes the need for “non-Hawaiian classroom teachers to take a more proactive role in Hawaiian studies education with a certain amount of ambivalence and apprehension” (Kaomea 2005). Laiana Wong states,

“Any person involved in advancing the goals of Hawaiian language revitalization can be considered an educator. That is, educators range from those who engage in direct teacher-student interaction on one end; to those involved in curriculum and materials development; to those pushing Hawaiian language into new domains such as theater, mass media, and academia; to those individuals who are supporting family members in their acquisition of Hawaiian on the other end.” (1999)

Yet there are some in the community, many of whom are native Hawaiian, who take a stance by maintaining “the position that if people want access to Hawaiian source texts, they must learn to speak Hawaiian” (Kuwada 2009). For instance, the writings of Samuel Kamakau in an 1865 article for the Hawaiian-language newspaper Ke Au Okoa “were viewed through an unapologetically Western lens and translated to fit what Western scholars saw as Hawaiian history and culture” (Kuwada 2009). The bias seen in the nineteenth century continues to be common.

Findings from researchers may not determine a definitive answer, but results do show that a culture-based education shows promise. In 2003, “Yamauchi concluded that Native Hawaiian students are more engaged in traditional public schools that integrate hands-on learning grounded in significant places within the local community” (Kamehameha Schools 2014). This outcome essentially confirms that both the native Hawaiian and non-native communities should agree to provide a Hawaiian culture and language education system which “enables us to understand the knowledge of the past as a foundation for the present to continue our legacy and further develop it for future generations” (Kawaiʻaeʻa 2002). A culturally appropriate, relevant, and immersed instructional program “enhanced by integration of learners’ home culture and community within the educational process” (Kamehameha Schools 2014) has generated evidence that positively impacts the learners.


Arguing for a bigger presence of the Hawaiian language in schools may seem far-fetched; however, revitalizing the Hawaiian language can unite the native Hawaiian and non-Hawaiian communities through an increase in adult and child education and by incorporating the unique Hawaiian culture into the educational environment and curriculum. This research explains the cultural and historical aspects of Hawaiian immersion education’s benefits and disadvantages to argue for the inclusion within the local education system an increase in awareness and knowledge of the Hawaiian culture and language. Providing an education rich in culture and language will do well to both the native Hawaiian people and the non-native Hawaiian outsiders looking to a culture with an unwavering, but misunderstood identity.


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Kawaiʻaeʻa, K .,  & Wilson, W. H. (2007). I kumu, i lālā: “Let there be sources; Let there be branches”: Teacher education in the college of Hawaiian language. Journal of American Indian Education, 46(3), 37-53.

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Wong, L. (1999, March). Authenticity and the revitalization of Hawaiian. Anthropology & Education Quarterly, 30(1), 94-115. doi:10.1525/aeq.1999.30.1.94

Yamauchi, L. A., Lau-Smith, J., & Luning, R. (2008). Family involvement in a Hawaiian language immersion program [Electronic version]. The School Community Journal, 18(1), 39-60.

Written for Andy Godefroy’s ENG 200: Composition II