A Literary Journey into Consciousness

November 27th, 2016

Research Proposal

Posted by Krystal Dillon in Uncategorized

Upon reading Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, I could not help but notice the lack of women in the novel. In a novel which satirically highlights the way in which race can render a person invisible, it is important to note that it also contributes to the invisibility of another marginalized group, that of women. The women who are included in the novel, ostensibly play marginalized and stereotypical roles. However, the portrayal of women as one-dimensional figures seems deliberate to me on the part of the author. For instance, upon research I saw that Ellison published an excised chapter of the novel in which Mary Rambo’s character becomes significantly more complex. Why is it then that Ellison opted for a reduced characterization in a significant figure in the protagonist’s life? In my paper I intend to interrogate the role women play in Ellison’s work. I believe that there is more to Ellison’s conceptualization of women in Invisible Man than simple misogyny. Therefore, I pose the following questions: Is there more to the characterization of women in the novel as stereotypical figures? What purpose does it serve for the aims of the author, and perhaps the journey of the protagonist to have women occupy marginal roles? Given that the protagonist’s aim in the novel is one of the creation of a subjectivity, is it possible that a marginalization of female characters solidifies a fundamentalist approach to identity? Or more generally, what can a reading of Invisible Man through the framework of contemporary theory of gender and race provide us with as readers?

I intend to use the following articles as secondary sources: Claudia Tate’s Notes on the Invisible Women in Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, Isiah Lavender’s Invisible Women in Invisible Man, Carolyn Sylvander’s Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man and Female Stereotypes, Ann Folwell Stanford’s He Speaks for Whom? Inscription and Reipscription of Women in Invisible Man and the Salt Eaters, Shanna Greene Benjamin’s There’s Something about Mary: Female Wisdom and the Folk Presence in Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, and Douglas Steward’s The Illusions of Phallic Agency: Invisible Man, Totem and Taboo, and the Santa Claus Surprise. 

There has been extensive criticism written about Invisible Man, and many of these critics have acknowledged the ways in which Ellison’s novel renders women invisible. For instance, Sylvander’s article lists every way Ellison remains blind to the way in which he commits the same narrative erasure that he condemns. However, Ellison is a brilliant author, therefore I believe that his approach to the female characters in his novel is deliberate. The stereotyping of the female characters seems to serve a narrative purpose. I believe that by showcasing what the marginalization of women does for the book’s aims I can contribute to the larger conversation of the inability for writer’s specifically writers of color to acknowledge the intersections of race, gender, sexuality, and class in their writing. By acknowledging the flaws in Ellison’s depiction of women, we can outline new avenues for authors writing about race which do not marginalize those who have also been rendered invisible.

November 14th, 2016

Women are not only here to absolve you of your guilt, Sir Gawain!

Posted by Krystal Dillon in Uncategorized

This is the first time I have read Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and I can already see the problematic ways this text deals with women. Maybe it is the fact that I am currently reading some of James Joyce’s works for another class but I am soooooo over male authors only incorporating women in their texts to serve as vessels to absolve men of their guilt. In a piece of criticism on Joyce’s short story Araby in his larger work Dubliners, it was stated that Joyce sees women as ‘Eve’s’ in that they serve as temptresses of men leading to their destruction. I saw the same pattern emerge in Sir Gawain, which is why I was attracted to Geraldine Heng’s reading of this text entitled Feminine Knots and the Other. 

I saw this idea of women as seductive for the aim of the man’s destruction arise in the text in Sir Gawain’s encounter with Morgan. While I was initially affronted by her aggressiveness towards Sir Gawain, I was also surprised at how reserved he remained. He, under the guise of chivalry rejected all of her advances. However, when she asks for him to receive a token of her affection, he accepts (the girdle) because it would benefit him and his will to live. Instead of recognizing his acceptance of this gift as what it is, a moment of selfishness, he instead “when the feminine subscript is read to him, Gawain in self defensive fury attributes all responsibility and power to women, in what is commonly cited as his ‘antifeminist diatribe’ a tirade witnessing the belief that women dominate and shape the destinies of men” (197). Interesting how these men are only willing to ascribe agency to women when it allows them to justify their own faults. Instead of Gawain recognizing his fault in what happens to him with the Green Knight, he instead decides to blame Morgan. He then invokes multiple biblical references to bolster his idea that women are at the centre of man’s destruction. He states “For so was Adam by one, when the world began, and Solomon by many more, and Samson the mighty Delilah was his doom, and David thereafter was beguiled by Bathsheba….could one but learn to love, and believe them not” (61).

I have heard, relentlessly, of the trope that a woman caused the destruction of man kind. People constantly allude to Eve when they want to make this justification, however why is it that we suddenly ascribe so much power to women in instances like this when they are otherwise viewed as powerless and dominated by men. All of a sudden, Adam has no free will, did Eve force him to make his choice? Also, Samson isn’t the best reference given he is the reason for his own demise. Delilah wouldn’t have been able to ‘destroy’ him had he listened to God and not told her where his strength came from. Similarly, Gawain wouldn’t have been reprimanded by the Knight had he been truthful and honest about the girdle he received. All of these men made choices, yet Gawain decides to blame women to justify his actions. As he says “If I be led astray, methinks I may be excused” (61). Overall reading Heng’s piece allowed me to streamline my thoughts on gender roles in this text. It also showed me how to properly invoke a feminist reading of Sir Gawain. She goes against critics that see women in this text as “marginal” and whose purpose is served only as they exist in relation to the protagonist and his process of identity formation. She turns this otherwise androcentric piece into one that centers women arguing that this piece exemplifies Gawain navigating spaces of a ‘feminine narrative’. She tracks the story as a result of Gawain as “captive” and who exists “no longer between the sexes but within the psychomania of a feminine narrative” (199).

November 6th, 2016

Does Autism Say More About The Neuro-Typical?

Posted by Krystal Dillon in Uncategorized

Murray’s reading of Bartleby the Scrivener centers around autism represented as difference. I think that we can read Melville’s story just as we read the categorization of those with autism in the world outside the text. The portrayal of autism has been overwhelmingly seen as the presence of difference. By diagnosis, autism seems to mark one’s deviation from the norm –odd behaviours, lack of social cues/interaction, etc. Melville’s story follows this framework. The narrator begins the story documenting moments of difference in his employees. As a result, he seems to situate himself in the position of ‘normal’ or neuro-typical. In order to do so, he needs to mark the ways in which the other character’s behavior differs from his own. Through this process of Othering, As Murray states “the lawyers various reactions to Bartleby form exactly such an idea of self in opposition to his scrivener’s seeming deviancy” (54). Seeing Bartleby’s categorization as a process of Othering I asked one question: Does the creation of the term ‘autism’ say more about those on the spectrum or about the neuro typical? In many ways, Melville’s story shows the narrator’s process of formulating an identity however, he does so through the process of placing himself in binary opposition to his scriveners. He defines himself based off of his difference to those around him –Turkey, Bartleby and Nippers. It is only when Bartleby threatens to disrupt his sense of self that he quickly diminishes his behavior to the realm of the abnormal.

Given that autism in its myriad experiences and definitions exists on a spectrum as diverse as the spectrum of the neuro-typical, I have been plagued with the question of why we seek to define it at all? By reading Murray’s analysis of Bartleby the Scrivener I think that I have found the answer. Just as “Bartleby’s autism threatens to unravel the secure individualized sense of destiny” in Melville’s tale, those on the spectrum deconstruct the fixed identity of those who lie under the guise of neuro-typicality. The very language that we use of ‘neuro-typical’ and ‘neuro-diverse’ tread dangerous ground, as they create a binary. In a binary one concept will always maintain a privileged position, therefore by reinforcing the idea that there is such a thing as ‘neuro-typical’ we promote the idea that neuro-diversity is a disability. I believe that just as Bartleby is a “deeply radical figure” in Melville’s text those who exist on the spectrum are radical in that it is able to complicate our understanding of our own subjectivity (54). By recognizing that we are all in a sense neuro-diverse and that to some extent ‘neuro-typicality’ is a myth, we eradicate the ability to approach the world with a “prejudiced gaze” (56). I think that we all, to some extent move through the world in similar ways to Melville’s narrator, by defining ourselves through our interactions with others. However, this ability to define based on difference contributes to this problematic way of thinking about mental illness. By seeking to understand those on the autism spectrum through documenting the ways in which their behavior ‘differs’ from ours and approaching this disorder based on absence we overlook their ‘presence’.

November 1st, 2016

Christopher is not Asperger’s, even if he has Asperger’s

Posted by Krystal Dillon in Uncategorized

Sooooooooo, this will be a bit of a rant, my first one so far! I had my own issues with  Haddon’s Curious Incident of the Dog in The Night Time, before reading the reviews, but I am glad that I was not alone in my reservations about this novel. So many praised Haddon’s novel holding it to an esteem that it did not deserve, arguing that it finally offered us a glimpse into the lives of those suffering from autism spectrum disorder. Apparently, Christopher’s character is supposed to be dealing with aspergers syndrome. I admit that I do not have extensive knowledge on asperger’s syndrome, and what I do know is limited to an abnormal psychology course I took last year, but I do know enough to say that Christopher’s experience is not representational. Obviously the term ‘autism spectrum’ disorder exemplifies the complexities of this disorder, and showcases the varied forms, that this illness can manifest itself. Truly there are so many variations of asperger’s that Christopher’s experience may actually resemble some one else’s, this is evident in the review by William Schofield, who found many resemblances between Christopher’s behaviors and his own. However, I think that the issue lies in this idea that Haddon some how cracked the code on Asperger’s syndrome!

The problem lies in reviews like Michiko Kakutani who argued that Haddon “never condescends to his narrator, nor does he romanticize the boy’s condition”. He clearly condescends to Christopher by portraying him in ways that show he is illogical and unable to function in society. He makes Christopher violent, and almost cold and heartless. Aspies, as another reviewer calls it often characterizes itself as an inability to understand and follow social cues. However Haddon goes a step further in making a character who literally has no emotional connection to anyone –I mean come on, the way he reacts to his mother’s death is ridiculous. Tito, who is dealing with autism, known for its higher severity, has more of an attachment to his mother than Christopher is shown to! Haddon also romanticizes his condition by making him a mathematical savant, like Rain Main, who we know did not even suffer from autism!

Greg Olear critiques Haddon for capitulating to stereotypical views of Asperger’s syndrome –which I agree that he to some extent does –however I think the true problem lies in his last point. While Olear enlightens us to the important fact that Haddon did absolutely no research before writing his book, he also tells us that Haddon believes that “imagination” should take precedence. I agree that an author has creative license to some extent in order to tell a story but to have literally no basis in reality for your novel is absurdddddd! Haddon angers me with his indifference to see the negative consequences to his portrayal. Olear hits the nail on the head when he states “In any case the damage is done. Christopher John Francis Boone is to Asperger’s as Raymond Babbitt is to autism”. This is the problem, and this burden is on us the public, just as much as it is on Haddon. The issue is not so much Haddon’s portrayal as it is the public who places the burden on this novel to be our source of basis into understanding Asperger’s. We have allowed Rain Man to be our basis for autism and we should not have Christopher be our representation. We should strive to see autism spectrum disorder as varied and not believe that this one novel has cracked the code. There is a danger in a single story as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie states, and it is dangerous to valorize Haddon’s novel as an Asperger’s novel. Whether it was intentional or not, Haddon contributed to this discourse through appropriating this disorder to sell copies, and we have also participated by believing Christopher is an example (or the only example) of Aspergers. Olear is right, we have praised this one dimensional image and now we all have to live with it.


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