Author: caitlin24538

Explosion, Haze, Hospital in The Sympathizer and The Invisible Man

I was struck by the similarity of the Sympathizer’s experience of almost dying from an explosion with the experience of the Invisible Man at the paint factory. Both suffer damage to their heads and are overtaken by blindness. Both wake-up in a strange hospital, and both loose some part of their minds/memories. In the interview with Nguyen at the back of The Sympathizer, Nguyen says that he was heavily influenced by Ellison’s Invisible Man, but that there were certain points in which he disagreed with him. So, I’m primarily interested in the differences between the Sympathizer’s experience and that of the Invisible Man in the explosion/hospital scenarios. The Sympathizer has a feeling that some procedure has been done on him, yet he has no memory of it. In comparison, we see the operation on the Invisible Man, but we see it through his limited (and therefore confused) point of view. Both receive compensation, but the Sympathizer feels himself to be in such a position to haggle for more, while the Invisible Man does not.

What is the difference in power and position between the Sympathizer and the Invisible Man in these equivalent experiences? What constitutes the Sympathizer’s power as Vietnamese man working on an American movie set in a Filipino hospital? How does he both have and not have power as a “semi-westerner” to the Filipinos yet also a foreigner to the Americans? How does this compare to the Invisible Man’s lack of power as a southern African-American man at a factory hospital staffed by all-White doctors in New York?

The Curse of the Stereotype

In the beginning of Blade Runner, Deckard’s boss shows him pictures of the four Replicants and gives short descriptions of each. Of the two women, he says, “This is Zora. She’s trained for an off-world kick-murder squad. Talk about beauty and the beast, she’s both. The fourth skin job is Pris. A basic pleasure model. The standard item for military clubs in the outer colonies.”

These two descriptions struck me in the very different way they presented the two female Replicants. Zora is described as a woman, as a human. The pronoun “she” is used twice. Zora was “trained” (a word that suggests an acquiring of skill through practice, something that occurs within one’s lifetime) rather than “programmed” or another word that would imply she was not human. Pris, on the other hand, is described as an object, as something that was created by man to serve a purpose, and is therefore disposable. Pris is called a “skin job,” a “basic pleasure model,” a “standard item”. Pris is never given the pronoun “she.” In fact, all these nouns used to describe her imply that she is an “it”.

The difference in the level of humanity implied by this use of nouns and pronouns is further exacerbated by the functions or expected roles of the two female Replicants. Zora worked for a kick-murder squad. She is therefore dangerous and capable. The description of Pris, on the other hand, makes her sound like a glorified sex toy.

I’m interested in how this early description  given to us by a different fictional character within the narrative affects our understanding of those two female Replicants for the rest of the film. Deckard’s boss essentially gives us a stereotype for each of the two women. When we see Zora, we expect someone capable, with excellent fighting skills. When we see Pris, we expect someone pretty, sexy, and incapable of doing anything. This is what we expect. So what do we get? Zora, the supposed fighter, is portrayed in an overly-sexualized outfit, first wearing only glue-on scales, and then leather lingerie. While she shows some impressive fighting technique, she ends up running away at the first sign of people despite the fact that she is winning the fight. Not exactly the ruthless murderess we were expecting. Pris, the supposed sex toy, is de-sexualized in her costuming, covered in grime with her hair unattractively disheveled. She covers her eyes in black paint, in effect marring the beauty of her face, and her clothing never shows skin. When it comes to capabilities, she has many more than Zora. Her acting  was superb,  first in manipulating Sebastian, and then in hiding from Deckard. Her acrobatics were distinctly impressive, and she fared at least as well, if not better than Zora in her fight with Deckard.

So, my question is, if we were never told at the beginning of the movie that Zora was the trained murderess and Pris was the sex toy, would we have been able to determine which woman was supposed to fit which stereotype?

Pecola: A Minor Character in Her Own Story

In The Bluest Eye, the plot is not centered around just one character, but two, both Claudia and Pecola. It is almost difficult to determine who is the minor character in the other person’s story. So when beginning to think about writing a post, I was surprised that I didn’t quite know which character was the main character. If you read the summary added by the publisher on the back of the book, it makes it quite clear that Pecola is the main character, the primary person of interest. No other character is mentioned. But when we read the actual novel, we find that we get none of Pecola’s interiority or internal thoughts, only her outward behaviors and actions. At the same time, we get all of Claudia’s internal thoughts. We can track Claudia’s development on a personal level, but we are always somewhat removed from Pecola. We never hear her internal voice. She is a minor character in her own story.

In the Forward, Morrison writes that, “Begun as a bleak narrative of psychological murder, the main character could not stand alone since her passivity made her a narrative void. So I invented friends, classmates …” (x). How is our understanding of Pecola affected by this status as a ‘minor’ main character? Does it limit the reader’s ability to connect with her? Does it inform the reader’s understanding of her relegated position in society?

It is also interesting to think about the strange things the narration must do in order to have Pecola’s story told by Claudia. There are some instances where Claudia is very clearly the narrator, and where she is talking about thoughts and experiences in first person, many of which have nothing to do with Pecola, like when she is narrating her interactions with her mother or her thoughts about Maureen Peal. However, there are other sections of the story where Claudia is absent, and the story is centered just on Pecola, like the scene with Junior and the cat or the time Pecola goes to buy Mary Janes. These are all narrated in third person. Are we supposed to understand Claudia, perhaps an older Claudia, narrating these stories, or are we supposed to understand them as coming from an outside, third person narrative voice?

Fun Home: Who’s the Real Protagonist?

“I’d been upstaged, demoted from protagonist in my own drama to comic relief in my parent’s tragedy” (58).

Last class, we discussed the possibility of minor character’s stories overshadowing that of the protagonist in relation to Woloch’s idea of the reader’s “double-vision,” or awareness of both the story being told and all the other stories that are implied, but not told. Thinking about this in relation to Fun Home, it brings forth the question of who is the real protagonist. In the other two books we’ve read so far, Invisible Man and The Crying of Lot 49, the protagonist was distinctly clear. None of the minor characters came close to overshadowing the invisible man or Oedipa, and all of them existed in the novels to solely to help the character development and self-realizations of the respective protagonists. However, the situation is different with Fun Home. The story of Alison’s parents, particularly that of her father, overshadows, and as she writes “upstages” her own story. She is finding herself again and again relegated to the role of minor character. Her discovery of her sexual identity, clearly a huge moment in the story of her own life, takes a backseat to the events surrounding her parents. We first learn of her sexual realization as part of the story about her father’s death. She jumps over it so briefly as her father’s story overpowers her own, that she has to go back and retell it again a few pages later, this time remembering to add details about herself.

So, again, there is the question, who is the protagonist? Alison or her father? Because while his story often overpowers hers, him and his story are instrumental to Alison’s development and self-realization. In that function, he is a minor character, adding to the protagonist’s growth over the course of the story.


Oedipa’s Sexuality

I believe that we should add sexuality to our list of what makes a character. By sexuality, I mean more than just sexual orientation, although that is an important part of it. Rather, we should look at how characters’ sexual interactions and their responses to those interactions add to our understanding of their character.

Thinking about Oedipa, I realized that we know almost nothing about her physical appearance. We don’t know about her skin tone, the color of her eyes, whether her hair is straight or curly, or if she’s tall, petite, skinny or curvy. All we know is that many of the men she comes into contact with are sexually attracted to her or think she wants to have sex with them. It happens again and again, with her lawyer who plays footsie with her under the table, with Metzger who we learn wants to sleep with her just because he was told she “wouldn’t be easy,” with Miles when he brings her bags to her room, and with Nefastis who assumes that’s why she came to his apartment. One thing that we learn from this situation is how sexual attraction and attention, most of it in this case unwanted, is separate from a specific physical appearance. In Oedipa’s case, sexual attractiveness appears to be a trait all on its own.

We also learn about Oedpia’s character from her reactions to these constant sexual advances. She appears almost to be numb to them. She allows her lawyer to continue to play footsie with her because her boots are thick enough that she doesn’t really feel it. The idea that he’s doing it does not bother her as long as she can ignore it. She also didn’t seem bothered by Miles’s advances, and acted more like it was a simple misunderstanding than something she was offended by. Overall, we get the impression that these unwanted sexual advances are something that happens all of the time, and that her ambivalence is an acquired form of self-protection.

Fictional Character’s Limited Point of View: The Mystery of Tod Clifton

Character Aspect: Limited Point of View

One aspect of all fictional characters is their point of view, a view that is necessarily limited by their very participation in the fictional narrative. This limited point of view means that there are things inside the narrative that they can see and know, and there are also things that they can never know. If the fictional character is not the narrator, or at least not the sole narrator, the reader is exposed to knowledge that the fictional character does not have. This creates a sympathy in the readers as they watch a character who is necessarily removed from themselves by this difference of knowledge. However, in some fictional works, such as Invisible Man, the main fictional character is the sole narrator. In this case, the reader knows only as much as the fictional character, and is left curious and confounded about the same things that the fictional character is not allowed to know. Thus, the reader emphasizes rather than sympathizes with the fictional character, as they are confused together, with the same level of knowledge.

For example, throughout Invisible Man, there is the constant feeling for both fictional character and reader that there are things going on, forces at work, that involve the fictional character, but about which neither he nor the reader is given the full story. This is the situation of the factory hospital where the invisible man is given electrotherapy. He is confused and we are confused because things are happening to him about which he was never given full disclosure. Thus, he only has part of the story, and due to his being our only source of information, so do we. The situation is similar with the disappearance of Tod Clifton. How he went from being a leader in the Harlem community to selling dolls on a street corner will never be known to us. The narrator wants to know how it happened, and we want to know how it happened, but he will never be in a position to find out, so neither will we.

The Personal History of the Invisible Man

Invisible Man (Intro – Ch 4)

One important aspect of a fictional character is that of the character’s past or personal history. As readers, we need to have an understanding of the character’s past experiences in order to make assumptions and interpret their motivations and actions. Some novels begin in the childhood of their main character, explaining their past chronologically; others achieve this effect through memories and flashbacks. In Invisible Man, Ellison employs a third tactic, that of having the main character narrate the story of his younger self. It is a story within a story, and the younger self remains a separate character until he eventually converges with the narrator.

The importance of a fictional character’s past can be seen in our reactions as readers to the invisible man’s violent outburst in the very beginning of the prologue (p 4-5). Knowing the main character for less than a page, the reader is suddenly confronted with this character violently attacking a stranger who insults him. At the time it is somewhat inexplicable and shocking. However, after the reader learns of the invisible man’s experiences as a young man, particularly in the way he was physically and mentally tortured at the banquet in Chapter 1, his violent outburst in the prologue is more explicable.