Tag: Agency

Charged descriptive language in The Bluest Eye

On page 31, describing the Breedloves, Morrison writes”Although their poverty was traditional and stultifying, it was not unique. But their ugliness was unique”. Toni Morrison does two things in this section- she claims that the ugliness of the Breedloves is external to them and only exists from their conviction to it, and yet she writes that it is very much real, and lists physical, (seemingly) nonnegotiable characteristics with visible negative implications that construct something non-beautiful. She writes that they have “the eyes, the small eyes set closely together under narrow foreheads. The low, irregular hairlines… high cheekbones, and their ears turned forward.” Deconstruction of description lets us see that each of these says little about the Breedloves, and much about the function of comparative language in influencing perception. The “small eyes” and  “narrow foreheads” only exist in contrast to a set regular size; “low, irregular hairlines” again sets a trait against a standard (and Morrison even throws in the word “regular” here); “high cheekbones, and their ears turned forward” are the most ridiculous – the function of the cheekbones are to be raised above the face and ears are meant to be turned forward.

The implications of charged descriptive language creating reality has not only racial implications, but ties into construction of character. If we accept language as a way to view the invisible, and we also believe language exists comparatively, can we ever construct character without reflecting on a normal, and if we do, can we ever correctly construct a minority character when the normal is defined by one in the majority? She writes, “Mrs. Breedlove, Sammy Breedlove, and Pecola Breedlove – wore their ugliness, put it on, so to speak, although it did not belong to them” – the perception is created external to the character itself.


Agency in Fun Home

Throughout my reading of Fun Home, I was interested in the ways in which the format of a memoir would impact the development of fictional character. Despite the fact that Alison Bechdel is afforded the freedom to develop her character and the character of her father in a way that feels natural to her, I was also struck by the  lack of agency/sense of lack of agency within the graphic memoir. When Alison discovers that her father had been having affairs with other men, for example, she describes the revelation as being “demoted from protagonist…to comic relief” (58). Not only does this news upend the way in which Alison views herself as a character, but it’s also viewed as an “abrupt and wholesale revision” (79) of Bechdel’s history, as if the rug had been pulled out from underneath the character. With that being said, I think the concept of agency is a complicated one, especially because Fun Home is a memoir that is told through flashbacks and memories. Is it fair to say that Bechdel’s character lacks agency even though her counterpart in the real world is responsible for telling her story? And how exactly does a memoir, or the idea that the author is recreating themselves in the fictional form, change the way we look at the characters?

Inevitability of Fate vs. Narrative Agency

In the Epilogue of Invisible Man, an intriguing tension arises; was the invisible man fated to end up invisible and underground, and does his acceptance of his own invisibility signify that he stakes certain narrative agency? In the very beginning of the section, the invisible man makes somewhat of a concession concerning his current situation, “I’m an invisible man and it placed me in a hole — or showed me the hole I was in, if you will — and I reluctantly accepted the fact. What else could I have done?” (572). The invisible man seems to accept the course of events that led him through the manhole and to physically live a life of invisibility that he had already been experiencing within, ruminating on how there most likely was no alternative course.  He asks what he could have done to prevent this irresistible version of fate. However, on the very next page, he fully embraces his invisibility, but a different version of it. He proclaims, “So after years of trying to adopt the opinions of others I finally rebelled” (573). The invisible man identifies with a rebellious invisibility through which he will carve out the space to be his complex self in a world that denies complexity, anything other than the stark distinction of black and white. At the end of the Epilogue, he pledges to finally leave his hole, still maintaining that invisibility, but to fulfill his responsibility of playing a role role in society, invisible or not, to have stakes in the racial tangle raging above. Does this mean that the invisible man has reversed a fate that has burrowed him below, raging a war against it by claiming an active role in his own awakening, transformation, and rise?