Room

I am not quite finished with the book Room yet, but am undoubtedly in the heart of this story. To be honest, I started this novel written by Irish-born Emma Donoghue with a bit of skepticism; I was doubtful about the extremely unique narration style, and really wasn’t sure if I liked where it was going. However, I quickly changed my mind when the tension started picking up at an alarming rate. I am about half way done with this creatively brilliant novel, and am absolutely dying to know what will happen next. One thing in particular that I liked about our last section of reading was Jack’s reactions to the outside world—he is so surprised by everything, and even though the situation is so horrible, I find myself laughing at Jack’s remarks to things he experiences. For example, on page 167, when he is talking the police officer, Officer Oh, she is asking him about the tooth that he has. She asks him for the tooth he is carrying of Ma’s, and Jack says “It’s of Ma.” Then the officer says, “That’s your ma that you were talking about?” Jack carries on by telling the reader, “I think her brain’s not working like her ears aren’t, how could Ma be a tooth? I shake my head.” This was just one of many parts that stood out to me. The brilliant thing about this novel is precisely the narration from a five year old; and not only that, but one that has been locked in a 120 foot room his entire life. Every single thing he does has a completely different view that what most people get from things in life. He is basically starting from step one, and has to go against everything he knows once he gets into the real world. A lot of times, this view that Jack has is positive and honestly quite refreshing. However, it is dampened when we remember that he only has these views because he has been locked away from almost all aspects of the real world since the day he was born. In the same way, it is interesting to read about how people see Jack, and what their reactions are like. Most people know something is wrong, but can’t quite figure it out. Officer Oh was bright, and you could even say lucky enough to put the pieces together and figure out something was seriously wrong, and that his Ma needed help soon.

I am truly blown away by Donoghue’s ability in Room to create so much tension! I was honestly getting nervous myself and feeling a bit anxious because of the tension and stresses that take place during Jack’s escape and the search for Ma. There are so many factors that come into play and that can go wrong with this escape. Just the fact that Jack has no experience with anything he is going to deal with when he gets out is extremely troubling. For example, what will he possible think of trees, cars, houses, rivers, wind… the list goes on. All these things that are so normal and regular for us will be of the utmost astonishment for young Jack. Another big thing is Jack doesn’t even want to escape. He doesn’t understand it and has no clue why they would want to rebel against Old Nick or escape from Room. Finally, perhaps the most troubling thing to me while all this is going on, and maybe the most transparent or overlooked aspect, is what poor Ma is going through after Jack leaves. I imagine that her only option in a situation like this is to pray and just say it is up to Jack and God as to what happens while her son is in the outside world. Otherwise, she could drive herself mad by over thinking all these variables. Still, I feel so bad for Ma and I don’t think any of us know a half of what she is going on while Jack is in “TV”; she has to be a wreck, at least I know I would be. So far, Room has been a great read, and I cannot wait to find out what happens next!

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Tenderwire

One thing that I thought would be interesting to look at after finishing Tenderwire is how Eva’s actions are affected by and a result of things that the reader does not know about until late in the story. We find out only at the end of Claire Kilroy’s Tenderwire that Eva has had a miscarriage prior to the start of events that take place. I really did not see this coming; I thought Eva was just a crazy lady who was losing it because of too much stress and pressure. I want to take a look at how our perspective and judgment of Eva’s character change, or don’t change, after learning this rather crucial fact. This general point was brought up in class and it really sparked a thought for me; I figured I would expand on this idea and look at it with more depth.

I know I read Eva’s actions in Tenderwire, especially the dangerous (often life-threatening) ones at the beginning with great skepticism. I could not make sense of why Eva was suddenly so sick and ailing to the extent where the reader had to question whether she would survive! Something that is even more intriguing is the question of why Kilroy would write her novel this way. There is always a reason to why an author puts or doesn’t put something in a text. With this in mind, I think a lot can be learned about Tenderwire, and I think we really see what Claire Kilroy wanted us to get out of this text. One could venture to say that all the events that take place in this story are meant to be second guessed and re-analyzed when the reader learns of this tragic miscarriage. It is simply astonishing to me how Eva is performing in a world class symphony in New York, is in the prime of her life, and has Krystof, a loving and caring boyfriend, but manages throws all of this away with such ease. So why in the world would Eva mix drugs and alcohol, go behind her boyfriends back with another man and not check in for any apparent reason, blow all her life’s work on a more than questionable violin deal with a dangerous and suspicious man, etc.? My view is that it all goes back to her loosing this child; she had such a great life, and I think it was absolutely shattered after this dreadful catastrophe. We know that Eva once had a stable relationship, and put in hard work and care to get her spot on the New Amsterdam Chamber Orchestra. So it is just that much more puzzling as to why she would be acting the way she is. Don’t get me wrong, I think it is unquestionable that Eva made more than a few bad decisions after this, and handled it in one of the worst ways possible. She hurt friends and family that truly loved and cared about her, risked her own life many times, and recklessly spent money that she did not truly work for. However, despite these things, I think it is important for the reader to go back and look at this entire story. I think that before any of us judge and look at Eva with uncertainty, we need to try and put ourselves in her shoes. This awful loss may not change your view on the story, but it sure made me give it another look.

Tenderwire

One of the most striking aspects of Tenderwire so far is that Kilroy seems to be perpetuating ethnic and gender stereotypes throughout. It has been difficult for me to discern whether or not this novel is doing anything on a cultural, political, or social level besides keeping with the stereotypes present in mainstream society.
I found it unsettling that the novel focuses so much on the normalcy of alcoholism and its Irishness. This stereotype is reinforced every time that the narrator meets someone new, and Kilroy writes the novel as if the other characters understand or “write off” the narrator’a alcoholism because she is Irish. It is as if the other characters (who are not Irish) assume it is the inevitable. This is also true with Alexander, the Russian, who has vodka (even stashes it under his chair at the bar).

Other stereotypes are reinforced. Daniel, the investor, is stereotypically ignorant or art, specifically orchestra dynamics. Society usually deems those who are in a “profession of numbers” as incapable of respecting or understanding art/music, especially of the classical nature.

Additionally, gender stereotypes are maintained and reinforced. The female narrator is unreliable, and her character is weak and unstable–characteristics long and often attributed to women. Kilroy does nothing to attempt to subvert these patriarchal dynamics except for perhaps giving the narrator control of her relationships with male characters. Even then, however, the narrator must still seek help from the male character: she asks Daniel for money, asks David for more money, uses her father’s money, seeks Zach’s opinion of the violin. The narrator isn’t in any way independent or self-reliant. Dependency, however, might not have been such a patriarchal quality had the narrator relied on Valentina, her mother, or other female characters and established a sense of female community. But this does not happen. Rather, the narrator is sustained through the male characters and the female characters are pushed away.

White Teeth

Zadie Smith demonstrates that the characters share a fate that is to repeat the past and will, in turn, induce consequences. However, not all characters rely on their fate as Archie’s coin flipping emphasizes his reliance on chance. Though many characters consider the consequences that could ensue before they go about their actions, their fate has cemented their decisions and is shown through Smith’s use of historical chapters identified by “Root Canals.” The “root canal” chapters act as a way to enlighten the reader on each character’s past decisions and actions.

In previous sections, the root canals have set the background for Archie, Samad, Mangal Pande, and Hortense. Thus, this section allows the reader to recognize how history is being repeated through Archie, as he is shot in the leg saving Dr. Perret a second time (after the revelation of what really happened to his leg in the war) and Millat, as he reaches for the gun just as his ancestor, Mandal Pande, but is unable to assassinate the intended person.

Archie, who has made no decisions without the tossing of his coin to this point in the book, is forced to make a decision when he sees Millat reaching for the gun to shoot Dr. Perret, “So as the gun sees the light, he is there, he is there with no coin to help him… he is there between Millat Iqbal’s decision and his target, like the moment between thought and speech, like the split-second intervention of memory or regret” (442). Millat’s assassination attempt was a choice but was fated to be unsuccessful by his family’s history. Archie’s normal dependence on chance is destroyed as he is forced to make a choice without the justification of his coin. The inclusion of fate and free will serve as a major theme in the novel and is sealed by the repetition that happens in a family’s generations, as well as in the character’s own lives.

TEETH_White Teeth Ch. 17-18 Mini-Thesis

Zadie Smith strategically titled this novel, “White Teeth,” in an effort to draw attention to her continuous and myriad references to teeth throughout the text. The big question throughout this novel has been, what is the significance of teeth? We have been reminded of teeth in the various chapter titles; “Teething Trouble, “The Root Canals…,” “Molars;” the various descriptions of teeth throughout, Clara’s absence of natural teeth and presence of false teeth, etc. The references are abundant.

In this section of the text, I developed an idea of the possible significance of teeth in this novel. On page 385, at the very end of chapter seventeen, “Crisis Talks and Eleventh-Hour Tactics,” White makes the following comment about immigrants, “…they cannot escape their history any more than you yourself can lose your shadow.” This is when it hit me. Teeth are a metaphor for this very sentence, which seems to be a profound message in the book.  A person’s teeth are an inescapable history. Dead bodies are identified by teeth. Even the lack of teeth can identify a person. Dental records are a relied-upon method of identifying people. And this form of identification is virtually inescapable.

Smith uses the symbol of teeth to make the message that although we may try, we can never truly escape our history. Smith provides example after example of this phenomenon. Take Clara. Clara tried to escape Hortense and the Jehovah’s Witness faith, and by an on-the-surface account, and until these past few chapters, it seemed she had succeeded, but it is revealed late in the novel, that Clara was never really all that far from Hortense or this faith. Her husband, and own flesh and blood, Irie, had visited Hortense behind her back for many years. Then, as a teenager, Irie ventures to Hortense’s house for refuge and Clara is forced to acknowledge her history. She can’t escape it.

Irie tries a similar tactic. She tries to escape her history by running away from Clara, who employs much more traditional thoughts than Irie does about education and travel. But she can’t do it. She escapes to Hortense’s house, but that is no escape from Clara. Hortense talks about Clara, and eventually Irie returns home.

Samad sends Magid off in an effort to encourage Magid to escape his history as a resident of England. We all know that didn’t work out as planned. Magid can’t escape his history as an Englishmen. In fact, he embraces his Englishness, and as is pointed out, returns, “More English than the English.” And although Samad attempts to escape his history as a Muslim by cheating on Alsana, he cannot do it. His very sin encourages his faith.

I think we will learn in the final chapters that Josh cannot escape his history as a Chalfen the way he wants to, or has tried to, either. He has already been forced to acknowledge among his FATE friends that he is of Chalfen descent. I have to predict that when the day comes, he will not be able to turn his back on his family or his father’s efforts with FutureMouse.

The big idea Smith seems to be getting at is that these characters try to handle their histories in all the wrong ways. They try to escape their histories; turn their backs on them; hide from them; try not to acknowledge them. I think Smith is trying to tell us that even when we would rather not have the history we have, we have to acknowledge that it is a part of who we are. We can move forward from that, but we cannot turn our back on it.

White Teeth (Chapters 7-9)

Although Zadie Smith constructs Samad as a complex character in relation to Archie, his position in multicultural London society showcases anti-feminism and presents him as the “supermale” of the novel.  Despite two previous feminist movements in the Western world, Samad is an example of the backlash that surmounted in the 80’s responding to the increasing empowerment of women.

Leading up to Chapter Ten, Samad is portrayed as super masculine in his ideas and actions, especially in the way he treats women.  In Chapter Seven, Samad demeans Poppy during one of their meetings by suggesting that the two of them are incapable of discussing or acting any thing other than the “physical.”  In this section of the text, Samad makes Poppy feel as if she does not have the authority to speak about “metaphysical” issues, suggesting that those topics are left for men to talk about (151).   Samad quickly reiterates this point again, when they have a small spat, Poppy’s feelings are obviously hurt, and Samad attempts to make it better by focusing the discussion back to fulfilling his sexual desires, admitting to Poppy that he wants to “spend the night” with her (151).  Poppy is a sex object that Samad uses to his advantage, even though he portrays the affair innocently when asked about having sex.  Samad dehumanizes Poppy again when he ends their affair suddenly (because of his sons), without seeming to care about Poppy’s feelings at all.

Samad’s disinterest in his wife’s feelings also illuminates him as a patriarch in the novel.  Rather than feeling guilty or thinking about his wife during his meetings with Poppy, Samad again and again focuses on the negative impacts he is having on his two sons.  Samad is worried only about the other two males in his life, and this seems to be majorly for religion’s sake.

Samad as Muslim in the novel dramatically reinforces patriarchal tendencies to need to hold on to tradition and return to the past.  Although a section of the novel attempts to differentiate between religion and tradition, it is intertwined for Samad.  Samad strongly earns for his roots and wishes for his sons to experience and know the tradition of his culture, so much that he sends Migad back to Bengal despite disaster and bloodshed.   For Samad, the power of tradition and knowing one’s culture is more important the potential harm it might cause to his son.  This is an important point in the construction of Samad as a symbol of patriarchy because it displays the attitudes Samad has toward progression and the dichotomies he creates because of it.  Samad views progression as immorality, and the rigid rituals of his religion reinforce the patriarchal fear of women’s empowerment.  Samad ridicules and even beats Alsana because she is not as traditional as he; he accuses her of swallowing England whole (166).  As the physical fight ensues, it becomes more obvious that Samad is resentful to anyone who does not wish to hold onto the roots of their past, even if those roots are tainted by false memories and nostalgia.

White Teeth

Zadie Smith, White Teeth (New York: Vintage International, 2000)

            In chapters five and six of White Teeth, Smith directs the reader’s attention to character development.  She cleverly weaves the repetitive themes of religion, ethnicity, race and generational cycle with Samad Iqbal’s yesteryears and how his experiences has fostered his identity struggle.

The crux of Samad’s personal conflict revolves around his social position within western society in that Samad’s awareness of self tends to compliment his lofty ideal rather than reality.  Here again, Smith recapitulates the waiter versus refined scholar identity that envelops Samad by revealing the conflict’s origin. It originated in World War II where the younger Samad grappled with his status of lowly private, believing he was deserving of a higher rank based on merit and ancestry. Moreover, Samad’s frustrations regarding his status causes him to blame English discrimination for the class burden he bears.  Ironically, this seemingly has established the pattern that Samad will inevitably blame his hardships on someone or something other than himself.  To this point, Samad, has never considered that he alone has the power to change his circumstances.

Smith also continues the importance of religion in these chapters. The reader begins to recognize that the theme of religion is two-fold.  As both a catalyst for Samad’s conduct and perception as well as the primary facet for inequity, Smith is able to highlight the hidden influences of Christianity within western culture that seeks to marginalize such counterparts as Islam or Jehovah’s Witnesses.  This is emphasized in an interesting but subtle parallel between Samad and Clara.   Both endeavor to break free from the moral restraints and ideological inconsistencies that religion has woven into their cultural fabric.  Although Clara has successfully escaped its trappings, Samad attempts to cling to Islam while he gradually assimilates western civilization since he continually blames the west for corrupting his value system.  Particularly refreshing is Smith’s approach to critiquing religion in that she deals with its complexities and consequences in a light-hearted manner often employing wit to convey the central ideas.  Samad’s continual negotiations for vices and liberties with Allah inject hilarity into the story as it is something that most readers can relate to and inherently do in some shape or form.  Additionally, the erotic self-gratification he frequently engages in supplies plenty of comic relief while simultaneously symbolizing Samad’s acquiescence to the West.

Finally, Smith encapsulates the chapters with her continuing emphasis on the destinies of each generation.  Through Samad, she expresses the idea that an individual’s life path is part of a cycle rather than being linear. This is unquestionably a detrimental factor in Samad’s battle to discover his true self as his great-grandfather’s heroic (or rebellious) deeds both haunt and dictate his actions and worldview.  Furthermore, Samad routinely expresses the idea that his choices and his behavior will most certainly influence his offspring’s fate. Hence, the title, “White Teeth,” means that something lost is always replaced regardless if it is for better or for worse.

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