I've just completed my American Literature course and finished reading American Pastoral by Philip Roth as the last in the cycle of books we read. Since American Pastoral is one of the books in the American Trilogy, I decided to read the other two also, I Married a Communist and The Human Stain.
So what did I think? Well this is sort of an overview of what I found within.
For me, Philip Roth's style of writing was uniquely his own and very different from my own style. At first I didn't like it but as I delved further into the first book I could see the appeal for readers. The narrator, Nathan Zuckerberg is very chatty and inquisitive. The effect on the reader is to begin to feel chummy with him as he leads the reader into an investigation of the issues of the day by focusing on an individual whose story captures him.
The first two, American Pastoral and I Married a Communist focus on the heroes of young Nathan Zuckerman, the baseball and other sports hero and his mentors in politics. The last involves a man Nathan befriends after he is accused of being racist who requests that Nathan tell his story. In a sense none of these novels has a hero in the traditional sense--I think they all act as protagonists of their own life, worth and attainment and success being subjective to both the reader and the protagonist's values. Nathan deals with the protagonists as mentors who lead him to examine his own needs I.E. teaching him about stories, politics, diatribe, life's value, family, the work ethic and more. Nathan often tells the story as if told to him by one of the character, sometimes delving further into an imagined experience via a character's point of view but always letting the story creep back into how he feels about life, art, and how the story grips him.
American Pastoral was selected for the almost modern retelling of the same story as The Great Gatsby, the tale of how America views the American Dream. The American Trilogy, I would say tells the past decades I lived through including the post World
War II years, the McCarthy anti - communist years, the Vietnam era and afterwards (although I was pretty young during many of the years and heard about some through the filter of my parents and then through my uncles drafted and who served in Vietnam and since then through friends. Vietnam is one of the American wars I know the least about because I think it is hard to get a coherent view of events while they are happening (witness the information released from the Russian states following the collapse and how it added to our overall understanding).
How is the American Dream evaluated? An initial reaction is via the betrayals individuals make via their culture, race, beliefs, relationships as a factor of their pursuit of life, liberty, wealth. I will write more on this in more blogs.
I'm currently taking the American Novel at Oxford Continuing Education. The class introduces me to five novels I haven't read before including The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.
The narrator of the story is Nick Carraway. His last name is fun because Carraway is a seed often used in rye bread and if you play with the name it can be made into care way, or care away, or carry away. Thus the name is suitable for a narrator who is ironic and who eventually comes to realize that what he values lies underneath the outer mask a person wears. It's the way people behave in the novel that wins his endorsement rather than money, education, status, clout, style, fame, or luck with the ladies. He notices the kind actions of the average person--the elevator boy that brings dog biscuits along with water and a basket, the butler that helped him with funeral arrangements, the man who showed up for the funeral.
He's a bit unsteady in matching his actions to his beliefs--he claims he is an honest man, but then hides two different love affairs, has a less than honorable love affair or two, sleeps at work, and ends up hiding a murderer.
One of the woman he is set up with is the sister Catherine, of Myrtle, his cousin Daisy's husband Tom's mistress. She's prettier than the woman he is dating but he verifies that she doesn't stay at the apartment where her sister meets Tom. Later, when it becomes important, Catherine lies, just like Nick, about the connection with Tom and the probable cause of the accident. This lie Nick think is a good one and he notices with approval. Her "red sticky bob of hair" is amusing in its implied distaste of hairspray by Nick.
Another character that win stand out nomination is the drunk that sits in the library hoping the books will sober him. That he is amazed that Gatsby has created this place with authentic books with uncut pages (I mean, who actually needs to read them?) is rather ironic. His owlish eyes stand out in his description. He's looking for clarity and is one of Gatsby's guests who is kind enought to attend the funeral.
More about symbols in my next post.
I started my American Literature Course via Oxford Continuing Education. I ordered most of the required texts via Amazon Kindle except Toni Morrison's Beloved which I have on my shelf and can hopefully find. Why American Literature?
Some MFA programs require one course in British Literature and one course in American Literature, so by completing this course I will have examined some of the historical literary movements in American literature in support of my background knowledge.
I started off the course early by reading As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner and The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. I like to preread because when I read the second time in response to the questions I can test the two views change.
I perused the information about the various American Literary movements. I think they missed the most contemporary i.e. since the 1960's there's been a strong movement similar to the artwork of Andy Warhol i.e. Commercial as some have titled it.
How does my writing fit with realist, modernist, romantic, post-modern etc? I'm not sure that writer's always know. I know that some of my scenery and characterizations come out of the realist movement. I have traces of romanticism scene via POV character. I often play with style and pick the outline of my novels in not necessarily told from beginning to end style. I often work with varying POV. I haven't tried a narrated piece yet in my novels but have in some of my short stories.
Also, I'm an American novelist and it helps to know what I am writing fits in with the overall American style of literary art. I walked through the opening material explaining some of the background about America on BBC. Some of it felt like a walk through my life--mainly the discussions about :
* Jazz going mainstream (via my husband's family i.e the Flappers,
* Great Depression (very different experience of it in the Midwest via some of the accounts by my father and mother and grandmother),
* Large Buildings (we've recently seen many from the 50's in Cinncinnati, Pittsburg, Rochester to name a few),
* Vietnam era (I was a kid but had Uncles and friends who were in the War and we saw the protest era via fashion and sit downs and television and of course news accounts),
*age of Information ( well, Microsoft was up the road and I owned many of those early PCs and witnessed some of the big computers and the clash between mainframe and personal computer as part of my course work in computing).
The music provided was often very familiar.
More about this course works and the novels and reading as I go.
When a reader opens a literary work about China such as East Wind West Wind by Pearl S. Buck, or Soul Mountain by Gao Xianjian or A Thousand Years of Good Prayers by Yiyun Li, he/she encounters words like Cadre, Son of Heaven, laogong, and Communist Party. Readers know they are in China during a given historical period due to the back cover explanations but what is more important in understanding voice in these books is the underlying culture that permeates the characters. How accurately the experiences in the book mirror China and its people is of real concern any time an author writes a book. Often the politicized view of China as life under a dictatorship that abuses the people overshadows common daily experiences.
One reason the writers of these works were published is because agents and editors “crave the original and fresh voice” [2, 193]. The success of Chinese writers is partially due to voice and partly due to the original experience offered by the author. Because the typical Western reader has little experience of the East, many readers accept experiences conveyed in this literature as truths about Chinese culture.
Truth is always a delight but how do we know to trust the author? Readers want to know how much to believe while also going along with an enrapturing fantasy. Readers look to literature to provide the illusion of truth for a number of reasons. One reason is the reader’s wish to escape from everyday reality. Another reason is writers often present their experience much like memoirists, richly but imperfect recall. Meanwhile history marches on. Does the writer’s experience still hold true?
The émigré experience like the tourist experience also begs the question of slant. For instance, do émigrés seek to justify their reasons for leaving the old country and therefore bring truth into doubt?
The personal truth that arises from a tourist experience by an author is one where the reader needs to wonder, does this work convey the culture accurately? Ultimately, no single person can experience the life of a nation as a whole, especially when discussing two large countries like China and the United States.
A final cause of doubt arises out of the translation of the works. Most translators hope to provide an honorable and accurate equivalent to the original. Sometimes error is introduced when a translator has to choose between two manners of address, verb choice, etc.
So what is voice? How does Chinese culture affect the voice of Chinese writers? Do we trust Chinese authors are telling us the truth? Is there something to be learned that goes beyond Communist Party released news? What helps a reader understand voice in Chinese literature?
What is Voice?
Writer and Editor Elizabeth Lyon explains voice as “style, diction and … content when expressed through the writer’s perceptions … to convey a unique relationship … with a reader.” [1, 179].
Writers establish voice during the portrayal of their characters. One way unique characters are established is by their vocalizations including the quality of the voice by birth (i.e. thick-tongued, nasal, breathy), the quality of the voice by training (i.e. enunciated, di petto or from the chest, plummy, trenchant), and by situational aspects of the voice implying emotion (i.e. with a quaver, whimpering, bubbly, ejaculatory) [5, 395]. According to Marion Roach Smith, writers “need to tell us the truth and do it in a consistent voice.” [13, 109].
Characters convey direct, indirect, or internal thoughts through dialogue. The diction of what characters say via their choice of hard words or soft words, the use of commands, the use of slang, foreign words, and the ease they have of using language, their use of passive or active verbs, their phrasing and their logic also help convey a sense of class, education, interests and other elements of personality.
But even more than how words are said, as Elizabeth George says, “The point of view character’s speech needs to have attitude [7, 97]”. Andrew Cecil Bradley provided one example, saying “the actor felt it often enough, and we [the audience] can hardly err in hearing his own voice in dramatic expressions of wonder and contempt at the stupid pride of mere authority and at men’s slavish respect for it” [14, 346]. Such attitude conveys actions, facial expression, word stress etc. to the reader that goes beyond the words written on the paper. It’s not just what is said, but how it is said.
Many writers place heavy emphasis on the point of view of the story as a key element of voice because it controls how closely readers identify with a character. An omniscient point of view allows a story to be told through the eyes of many characters, but always in the background the reader should be asking who the narrator of this tale is and identifying the point of view. The reader should imagine a character via aspects of voice. A first person present tense point of view provides a reader with the closest relation since there is little distance between the narrator and the reader. Both the character and the reader are thinking I did this, I felt this. A third person point of view is more distant.
Culture often is a hidden element of voice. Culture is portrayed via voice including all that is said above, but also via actions such as the automatic space adjustment to people they meet, how and when they make eye contact and other elements that many readers might not realize if they’ve never encountered it.
Elements of Chinese Culture
One of the underlying facets of non-Western literature is how the story portrays a culture unfamiliar to the reader. Often subtle cues in the voice of the story will showcase culture.
What is culture?
According to Nanda and Warms, “Culture is the major way in which human beings adapt to their environments and give meaning to their lives. It includes human behavior and ideas that are learned rather than genetically transmitted, as well as the material objects produced by a group of people.”[16, 5]
The increasing modernization and acceptance of Western culture has affected the overall way Chinese culture is portrayed in literature about China. The three main novels used in the following discussion of Chinese voice as it relates to their culture offer glimpses from three separate periods in Chinese history. East Wind West Wind by Pearl S. Buck provides a tale from before the Japanese War and the embrace of communism. Soul Mountain is written post Cultural Revolution years by Gao Xingjian. One Thousand Years of Good Prayers by Yiyun Li is very recent and offers some views based on post-Cultural Revolution years, even perhaps post-Tiananmen Square events and offers also the émigré to the United State experience. There’s definite consistency in the anthropological view of culture in many areas, while a few differences pop up. These differences include a decreasing modesty and decreasing separation between the sexes as shown in the latter two novels.
In Geography of Thought, Richard Nesbitt explains a number of studies he undertook with the conclusion that in certain areas, Chinese people respond in a different manner than people in Western societies. These can include the way they resolve conflict, the way they communicate, how they seek rewards, the depth of relationships that they seek and many more dimensions.
Here are eight examples using text from the three books based on Richard Nesbitt’s criteria for differences seen between Western and Eastern thought.
Example 1: Chinese seek the middle road or try to restore harmony in a relationship, avoiding confrontation and debate [15, 10].
In this passage from East Wind West Wind, the main character Kwan Lei’s brother has married a woman from the United States. Kwan Lei’s mother is very distraught; her husband is appalled at the brother’s defiance of his parent’s wishes, even though he himself has embraced Western attitudes. He tells his wife:
“Stupid boy—foolish—foolish!” he muttered, crumpling the letter in his hand. “How could he do this thing? Yes, go at once to your honorable mother. You must comfort her [17, 962-964].”
He is referring to Kwei-lan’s instinctive desire to comfort her mother and try to find a solution for her brother. He is also implying that he would have avoided the confrontation by obeying his parents, especially since his own marriage was arranged.
In Soul Mountain, the author, Gao Xingjian writes about the ending of a relationship:
“Eventually, she turns and walks off. You deliberately don’t look; you know she is waiting for you to turn your head. If you turn to look, she won’t leave, she will look at you, holding back her tears until they begin streaming down her cheeks. You will give in, beg her to stay [18, 303].”
With these words, he tells how he avoids a continuation of the relationship.
In Yiyun Li’s story from the same collection titled A Thousand Years of Good Prayer, even though the characters have moved to the United States and father, Mr. Shi, and his daughter acknowledge they enjoy the freedom in which they speak, a key turning point occurs when they both discuss their marriages and their silence with their partners. The conclusion is less than happy as they both retreat as culturally expected as shown in the following passage:
“You didn’t hurt me. Like you said, you were only talking about truth,” he says, and stands up. Before he retreats to the guest bedroom, she says quietly behind him, “Baba, I’ll book the tours for you tomorrow.”[6, 200]
Thus the daughter ends any debate about her life style and shuts off his participation, while he avoids further discussion of his own life. Even though the women in the stories have more freedom in their actions, the cultural behavior of avoidance still is evident even in the most recent story.
Example 2: Chinese people enjoy a sense of collective agency (people accomplish goals as a group) [15, 6].
An example of this occurs in the story “Persimmons” by Yiyun Li. At one point, the men of town go into town demanding justice for the loss of a young boy but what really happens is as follows:
“A dreamer is what you are, asking for the impossible.”
“We all asked for that at the riot, but it didn’t get us anywhere.”
“That was because we gave up.”
“Bullshit. What’s the point fighting for a dead boy?”[6, 81]
The story is told from the point of view of the community rather than anyone individual and helps strengthen the sense of collective agency not just about standing up for their friend, retreating from the authorities but also facing down the drought conditions. They speak of their actions as a whole unit rather than any one thing an individual did.
In Soul Mountain, a less dramatic sense of collective agency occurs when a baby Panda returns and the entire group of researchers respond as the narrator describes:
“They are very excited and go into minute details – who was first to hear, who was first to open the door, how he saw it through the crack in the door, how it followed him… Normally they scarcely speak to one another but here they are talking about Beibei as if it’s everyone’s sweetheart. [18, 39]”
The Panda acts like the mother of the family, drawing them all to concerted action in its support.
Despite the political changes that occurred between each of the three stories, the cultural commitment to group activity is coming out of the cooperative society that came from the roots of their agricultural society. Author Fei Xiaotong in From the Soil: The Foundations of Chinese Society agrees with the idea of collective agency saying, “The unit of isolation is not the individual but the group [20, 40].”
Example 3: Chinese people find a connection between nature and human affairs [15, 15]
The metaphorical connection between the Chinese and the natural world is often the one item most pointed out in Chinese Literature. An example of this is provided in East Wind West Wind, when the narrator explains her desire to converse with her husband, thinking the following thoughts:
“What if the pale wan waters should never feel how the moon draws them? … guard thyself, and return to me safely, lest I be that pale wan thing without you.”[17, 36-37]
The analogy made by Kwei-lan between the moons pull and the emotional pull of her husband is beautifully full of natural imagery.
In this passage from Soul Mountain, the narrator is camping out and has heard a noise and goes to investigate it.
“…to grope in this thick dark night; you hear it in motion, it is not the wind in motion but this darkness which is devoid of top bottom left right distance and sequence; you are wholly fused with this chaos, conscious only that you once possessed the outline of a body, but that this outline in your consciousness is rapidly vanishing; a light emanates from your body, dim like a candle in the darkness, a flame with light but no warmth… [18,113]".
Here the author has so lost his ability to see he no longer believes he has a body, instead merging with the night. He is in awe of what he imagines about the world and the moment, almost hopeful that he can provide his own direction.
Example 4: Important relationship pairs have clear obligations to each other [15, 15]
In East Wind West Wind, the duty of the son to marry his betrothed and the duty of the parents in arranging the marriage is explained simply:
“He, their son, sent his filial respects to his parents and begged them to break off the early betrothal with the daughter of Li, which had always made him unhappy, even in contemplation [17, 1009-1010].”
The statement is confrontational in rejecting that obligation, saying in two different ways that the son no longer is following Eastern style of thought and behavior.
An example of the extent of the obligations people feel, Gao Xingjian explains the search his younger brother made for his grandmother who was placed in a home for the aged and then passed away as follows:
“In those chaotic years, no-one knew whether she was alive or dead. By pretending to have revolutionary contacts my younger brother was able to travel free on the trains and he made a special trip to search for her [18,322]”.
Later the author goes in search and finds her nursing home but no common grave for her ashes. He concludes, “Nevertheless, I have finally visited my deceased maternal grandmother who once bought me a spinning top [18,324]”.
In Yiyun Li’s tale “After a Life” two different relationships are contrasted against each other. The protagonists, Mr. and Mrs. Su, have spent their life caring for a daughter with cerebral palsy and severe mental retardation. Played against their life, is that of the life of Mr. Fong, his wife and his mistress he wishes to play marriage with while his wife is in jail, but ultimately:
“Nothing’s right with the wife after she’s released,” Mr. Fong says.
“Are you going to divorce her?”
Mr. Fong downs a cup of wine. “I wish I could,” he says and starts to sob. “I wish I didn’t love her at all so I could just pack up and leave [6, 40].”
Despite the differing relationships, the cultural norm is for people to commit to others and accept the obligations that are involved.
Example 5: Chinese describe themselves in terms of a situation [15, 53]
In East Wind West Wind, Kwei-lan’s dying mother describes her heart thus:
“It is empty,” she said. “It awaits my grandson, the son of my son. When he shall have been taken before the tablets of his ancestors, I may die in peace [17, 1225-6].”
Here, the mother’s entire purpose has been dependent first on producing a son, then by having her son marry and have a legal son. So saying her heart is empty has many levels of meaning all dependent on the culture and on the situation.
The following passage from Soul Mountain also demonstrates the principle. The narrator has stepped outside himself to remember his upbringing and there are two of him, not just one:
“The me of the present is standing at a back door overgrown with weeds looking at the me of my childhood years. I am wearing a pair of cloth shoes and am in a predicament – my shoes have cloth knot-buttons and those primary school classmates who use dirty language say I’ve got girls’ shoes and make me feel embarrassed.”[18, 198]
He is the person in that situation as well as the person looking back to his school time years, but he sees himself at specific moments as a unique being.
In the story by Yiyun Li, “The Princess of Nebraska”, the main character Sasha is looking at herself in two situations, one being in China, one being in the United States:
“It was such a wonderful phrase that Sasha could almost see herself stapling her Chinese life, one staple after another around the pages until they became one solid block that nobody would be able to open and read. She would have a fresh page then, for her American life [6, 69]”.
The imagery is specific to the situation and she mentally sets herself so that she can move from one life to the next.
Example 6: Chinese tend to submerge themselves in two-person relationships [15, 72]
One way this is exhibited In Soul Mountain occurs when the narrator tells of visiting a man to ask him questions and the man:
“…invites me home to drink and we become friends. I ask whether the Yi people have to drink blood in liquor when they form a friendship… He has a daughter who’s just gone to Beijing to attend university and he asks me to help look after her [18, 122]”.
So two men who were complete strangers share a drink and commit themselves to a long term friendship, a situation that would be less common in Western society.
Another example occurs in Yiyun Li’s story “Love in the Market Place” when character Sansan agrees to marry her childhood friend, Tu who married a woman that they both helped to escape China. The way Sansan sees it:
“Not a surprise, as she promised Tu at their engagement ceremony. “I’ll be thinking of you until the day when all the seas in the world dry up,” she said [6, 97].”
Sansan has immersed herself in this two-person relationship and nothing will budge her to give up, not with her friend or with Tu. She is stuck at that point in life, permanently awaiting her marriage.
Example 7: Asians attribute behavior to external factors [15, 116]
In Soul Mountain, a woman talking to the narrator speaks about a night when she and a girlfriend sat out doors watching the moon:
“She says they even heard the sound of the moon flowing over the tops of the trees which looked like rippling waterweeds in a flowing stream, and they both wept.”[18,154]
Here, the action of the environment struck both woman emotionally rather than the relationship between the two of them.
In Yiyun Li’s tale “Love in the Marketplace”, Sansan describes how her mother believes her father died:
“Later he was discovered by some kids in a pond outside the town, his body planted upside down. The pond was shallow, waist deep at most; he had plunged himself into the mud, with the force of a leap maybe, but nobody could tell for sure how he did it, or why. Sansan’s mother believed that it was Sansan’s failure at marriage that killed him [6, 94].”
Again, it is some external event that caused the death, not Sansan’s father committing suicide.
Example 8: Asian mothers teach relationships and politeness norms [15, 150]
An example of how Asian mothers educate their daughters occurs in East Wind West Wind, when the narrator’s mother says she has taught her how to deal with her future mother-in-law in such things as:
“…how to prepare and to present tea to an elder; how to stand in an elder’s presence…. [17, 64-66]”
Although the ceremony of those early days in Chinese society has passed away, Gao Xinjian explains that mother’s still teach behavior in Chinese society:
“When she grew up her mother warned her not to laugh stupidly in front of men. But she just couldn’t help laughing aloud. When she laughed like this people always stared at her and it was only afterwards that she learnt when she laughed like this it was inviting [18,172].”
Even modern mothers play the role of censoring daughter’s behavior in Yiyun Li’s tale “Death is Not a Bad Joke if Told Right” when the daughter hasn’t eaten any of the chicken stew her nanny made for her. The scolding is public:
“I have to admit twice to my mistake, once to my mother and then in a louder voice so that all the passengers can hear me, before my mother drops the topic and the passengers turn their eyes away from my burning face [6,167]”.
Author Lin Yutang, writing in 1935 in his book My Country and My People, explains polite behavior and patience as “the result of racial adjustment to a condition where over-population and economic pressure leave very little elbow-room for people to move about, and is, in particular, a result of the family system, which is a miniature of Chinese society. [19, 846-848].”
All these examples point to cultural behavior shown in common with how Chinese people see themselves. So while voice in literature shows elements of culture, it can contain sound quality, pronunciation, vocal qualities, behavior and another element, that of tone.
The general tone changes between the three novels. Tone is an element of style that conveys a general sense of emotionality.
There is much hope in East Wind West Wind, because both Kwei-lan and her husband, and her brother and his new wife continue on in successful lives. Loss is acknowledged with grief, for the practices such as foot binding that were terrible mistakes, but also the loss of wealth and family that arose when Kwei-lan’s father took on a new heir leaving her brother to fend for his family.
Soul Mountain contains a good deal of loss and grief at the loss of Chinese culture including buildings, historical artifacts, Buddhist religion as the author visits his own past and the past of his country. He is saying goodbye, not just to his imaginary lover, but to the world in which he grew up and can no longer participate due to the politics of the country that wants to arrest him.
In One Thousand Years of Good Prayer the tone takes on a more biting, critical view of culture: lost promises, annoyance at marital affairs, failures of government businesses, more notice of restrictions on liberties, and a desire to dump the culture but it, too, is backed by the grief over losses of such elements of culture as the Peking Opera, the inability to be honest, and the dissolution of normal family life.
Is this a true view for everyone in China? The answer may be more or less true depending on the exact circumstances the individual character or person faces, yet all are surely Chinese.
By examining cultural behavior in these three novels, reader’s realize that there is more consistency in the cultural traits of the characters than there are inconsistencies related to issues of time or political cause. What readers learn about China goes beyond what and how things are said. Hidden behind the screen of clothing, situation, character name are cultural cues that make the story uniquely Chinese and all three writers have fulfilled this requirement.
 Elizabeth Lyon, “A Writer’s Guide to Nonfiction”, Perigee Book, 2003
 Donald Maas, “Writing the Breakout Novel”, Writer’s Digest Books, 2001
 Janet Burroway, “Writing Fiction A Guide to Narrative Craft”, Longman, 2003
 Tony Hoagland, “Real Sofistikashun”, Graywolf Press, 2006
 James E. Miller, Jr. and Bernice Slote, “The Dimensions of the Short Story”, Dodd, Mead & Co, Inc, 1964
 Barbara Ann Kipfer, “Roget’s Descriptive Word Finder”, Writer’s Digest Books, 2003
 Yiyun Li, “A Thousand Years of Good Prayers”, Random House, 2009
 Elizabeth George, “Write Away”, HarperCollins, 2004
 Renni Browne, Dave King, “Self-Edit Yourself into Print”, Quill, 1993
 Frank A. Dickson, Sandra Smythe, “The Handbook of Short Story Writing, Writer’s Digest Books, 1970
 Roach Smith, Marion “The Memoir Project: A Thoroughly Non-Standardized Text for Writing & Life”, Hachette Book Group, 2011, Kindle Edition.
 Bradley, Andrew Cecil, “Oxford Lectures on Poetry”, Oxford Press, 2011, Kindle Edition
 Nisbett, Richard E, “The Geography of Thought”, Free Press, 2003
 Serena Nanda, Richard L. Warms, “Cultural Anthropology”, Wadsworth, 2011
 Pearl S. Buck, “East Wind West Wind”, Open Road Integrated Media, 1930
 Xingjian, Gao, “Soul Mountain”, HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.
 Yutang, Lin, “My Country And My People”, Read Books Ltd., Kindle Edition. 1935
 Fei Xiaotong, “From the Soil: The Foundations of Chinese Society”, University of California Press, 1992 (written shortly after WWII)
Class Stereotypes in Atonement by Ian McEwan include Robbie’s wishy-washy attitude i.e. successful people go do what they are meant to do, Robbie’s assumption he is leading is buddies, when they are obviously rescuing him again and again and the sex for money relationship that cousin has in her marriage.
Briony, the protagonist in Atonement, presumes to speak for the intent of the actions of another and allows people to back her up. I think initially her desire to write was a desire for attention that comes from being spoiled. Only later, after she has her hands in the lifeblood of those she is caring for does she test her desire against what the industry will say. And only later does she come into her true maturity and pursuit of her desire to write when she has the time. I think Atonement is a quest into how truth is reached which paints class as a filter through which people look. I don’t think it is a critique of class differences so much as an acknowledgement that they exist.
In Beyond Black by Hilary Mantel, the poor boy that couldn’t eat a sandwich without criticizing the bacon, is an example of a class stereotype, he's so poor he needs to beg for food but then doesn't appreciate it when he gets it. The neighbors that want to pry are also class stereotypes, because they make assumptions that don’t quite fit reality and never back away from them. The protagonist and her roommate also are class stereotypes since they are from the middle class with not enough education to wonder what the business of being a psychic involves.
With Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguoro, the clones versus non-clones is a class distinction based upon whether or not a person originated naturally or came from the cells of another. That Hailsham differed from the other schools was based primarily upon the additional privileges the students received including education about themselves and their self-worth.
Contemporary fiction as well as politics has divided the world into three classes, the First World, Third World, and those transitioning from one to the other. The assumption is that people of third world countries have no voice, at least in the sense that the First World has, since the printing presses publish much more prolifically in English.
There’s long been the sense that if a person must assimilate to the culture of the conqueror or those that hold power, that you have lost some of who you really are.
Cultural anthropologists have lead the way of questioning what culture is, what is of value, what makes identity, what defines sexuality, etc. and much of this has been captured by contemporary fiction. In some sense, they deny the lack of voice issue, instead they say if you assimilate another culture it adds on to who you are, just by means of the process in which they use, although even there, anthropologist are tending to look for someone inside a society to document the society rather than someone learning from outside.
I think value comes either way.
Sometimes the lens used differs based on knowledge, experience, values, etc. Outsiders can teach insiders about where they make assumptions and also about things their culture has not learned because of their own knowledge base doesn’t contain the same experiences., i.e. its hard for a non-metal working society to know about forming gold objects especially if they have no gold.
Is it inevitable that we divide into classes—yes, I think so—it used to be two opponents winner vs. loser or slaves versus slave owners or blue collar versus white collar. I think the sense of class has begun to transform to more of a gradation in terms of privileges, knowledge, experience and a revived looked at alternative views of what society values including explorations of religion, race, political systems, even language. The internet has increased the number of classes one can belong to based more on interest than on the lottery prize of birth and I think we’re beginning to see a better representation of the population in the news, writing, etc. No one likes change, but one thing that has proven throughout history is the society that refuses to embrace other societies and learn from them, as well as the individual that fails to learn new knowledge and skills, become the ones that eventually fail.
I think Kathy, the protagonist in Never Let Me Go is shaped by society as well as her own inclinations. She wants a baby—she knows this won’t happen. She ends up caring for others and being very satisfied in that role. Society shapes her though because she learns there is no use fighting for what she wants. She often steps down from things that others would pursue i.e. she accepts that she will be a donor and no way tries to run away or hide yet there is an entire society that believes that others should give up their organs to prolong their own life. She doesn’t intend to prolong her own life. I think the novel makes the statement that humanity is a social construct, anthropology, too in that the students make up their own mythology about the three year break from donation if you are a true lover.
References to technology are sparse within the two contemporary novels Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro and White Teeth, by Zadie Smith although the latter mentions technology like tanks and repair of communication systems and the explanation of chimera[1,12]. Both novels set themselves in an evolutionary framework consistent with biological themes i.e. the creation of human clones in Never Let Me Go and the use of FutureMouse© in White Teeth. Both novels think human survival i.e. Alsana says, “Survival is all” [1, 2] both for individuals and for human society and offer up different views of how the population varies. Both novels offer up biological solutions to human death, while also looking at the question what it means to be human. They use an evolutionary framework that looks at the role of environment, how species reproduce, how they use energy, how variation among individuals matters, and the need for species to defend, move, compete and produce products. The reader wonders through both whether it is more important to survive as an individual or as a species and what makes the human species different from other organisms.
Never Let Me Go considers the differences in individuals and their worth to society through the lens of class and education i.e. the environment in which they were born and raised. Hailsham students have added prestige even though their fate is similar to other clones [2,13]. It also raises the question of the value of humans who are unsuccessful in reproduction because clones are only useful as caretakers of other clones and for needed body parts [2, 17-18] or as Samad says, “What is life without children?”[1,1].
White Teeth examines two generations of individuals and the effect of race, education and class on their behavior and success in life in a post-war world economy. Some individuals try to hold onto their cultural differences others assimilate as seen with Magid and Millat [1, 17], while character Irie makes the best of her mentor’s attitudes about her abilities [1,35].
When the question of a species reproducing itself by cloning for ensuring the success of individuals by creating a supply of body parts, Never Let Me Go points out the expense of the proposition, the lack of humanity, and the establishment of a slave society i.e. one that caters to the superior
For White Teeth and for Never Let Me Go, the idea of having cures for diseases and using animals or clones to test implies that humanity will be better even if it doesn’t affect reproduction success except by implication i.e. the late marriages of both Archie and Samad [1,1]. By showing the population in terms of an evolutionary mode, White Teeth’s connection with any character is distant—the reader seldom feels the character’s emotions. The children get older as do the adults and their survival achieved. So the reader is left to wonder if individual lives matter. And the reader must also wonder should they care who “is on the table trying to cling to life” as Ruth says [2, 19] or about the pain of the FutureMouse© [1,12]. Samad laments, “didn’t they have everything … aren’t they safe?” [1,9] so the reader wonders whether all resources should be directed toward the next generation.
To offset this, never revised[1, 8] (family) history is considered important as suggested by Samad’s tale of Grandfather Pande, and the huge variability in population via Bengal[1,9] and the east’s multitudes [1,5], etc. with Archie saying, “we are wells of experience our children can use” [1,9].
Never Let Me Go takes the position that art and production of work adds value [2, 19] and makes individuals more than just another organism eating to reproduce and have a soul. Both novels imply such value is easily lost and outmoded i.e. Never Let Me Go’s search for the lost record[2,15] and the gallery’s fate [2,19] and in White Teeth Irie’s inability to create a family tree[1,12].
Both novels suggest that society ultimately decides the fate of individuals especially the clones called for donation seemed right [2,19] and for FutureMouse©[1, 12]. No individual is safe from environmental factors such as war [1,5] or flooding or storms[1, 9], societal class/race via Mr. Hamilton [1,7] or education.
So what is the purpose of using a scientific process as the framework for a novel? In my opinion, it helps to separate discrete variables into sets where a reader or writer can think about what is going on subject to the theory. Utopian and dystopian fiction in literature has historically looked at the ways in which changes to the societal framework affects human individuals. By moving the framework to a biological evolutionary model instead of the typical Platonian political model of leadership, education, community status, subjective idealistic notions are replaced by more measurable elements such as reproduction success and survival. Both novels demonstrate that what makes the human species different lies not so much in biological factors but in the ability of humans to cooperate, communicate and form alliances thus forming society with Hailsham students exceling at art and with organizations like KEVIN[1,18] and mentorship[1, 12]. Both ultimately reflect the Platonian society by questioning the values humans hold, showcasing the emotional and political bonds between people and highlighting limits on human freedom via the discussion of terrorism and the discussion of Kathy’s bonuses (bedsit, lamp, car, choice of donors)[2, 18].
 Zadie Smith , “White Teeth”, Vintage, 2000
 Kazuo Ishiguro, “Never Let Me Go”, Vintage, 2005
Title : East Wind West Wind
Author: Pearl S. Buck
Publisher: Open Road Integrated Media
East Wind West Wind is an appealing tale written by Pearl S. Buck in 1930 and despite the many years since publication and the vast changes that occurred in China since then, it still offers insight to readers about the differences between Chinese and American perspective. This tale is a love story and a tragedy.
The narrator, Kwei-lan, is a young girl who tells her story to her unnamed “sister” a foreigner who has spent time in China because she could understand the challenges she faced marrying a man who embraced Western ways. This technique of writing to a specific known audience allows the author to start a tale of events that occurred earlier and begin her tale in a confessional tone. The confessional tone entices the reader into the tale because she offers secrets known to no other.
The author also starts the tale where the action begins by placing the young narrator at the time of her marriage. She immediately confesses to not wanting involvement in having babies and the ill-ease she has of marrying a stranger to who she was betrothed at the age of six years old, especially one who has foreign ways. This theme of western culture coming to change eastern culture is evident in the title and the first paragraphs of the story. Also immediately present is the calamity that foreign behavior has caused her. Her husband pays no attention to her at all, even though she is quite beautiful and to make matters worse, it is clear by several of her statements that she loves her husband.
The tale progresses in linear fashion until eventually, the mysterious sister arrives. One fascinating aspect of this tale is how the impact of western culture on eastern culture is told from two different perspectives with two different results. Hidden behind the tale is the idea that people inside a culture will have difficulty in finding fault with their own lifestyle until the second culture arrives and then the comparison brings out good and bad features of both. The two marriages, sister to her child betrothal, brother breaking his betrothal to marry a foreigner shows the degrees of what Chinese society found acceptable.
Kwei-lan becomes a real character for the reader as she faces the task of winning her husband’s love and when facing the consequences of her brother’s marriage to a foreign woman. Her family life challenges her to find solutions to the crisis of culture conflict although not all resolve successfully. She is an appealing character because she can find ways to improve her life and her happiness while accepting limitations. Strong supporting roles are conveyed well by the brother and Kwei-lan’s foreign sister, but the voice of the tale is via Kwei-lan’s point of view. Pearl S. Buck makes Kwei-lan’s tale believable via the rich details she provides about Chinese society including training, foot binding, betrothal, life of concubines, prayers for babies. She also uses good culture specific attitudes such as her inability to speak until given permission, her willingness to act as go-between and the mother’s acceptance of total loss at her death.
This story is a pleasing romance and a historical moment in Chinese history as a family is torn apart while making the next generation.
Well, I messed up on this item, preparing for my first residency in Ireland with Carlow University's Low Residency MFA program. What happened? What did I do?
I found out who my fiction mentor was about three-four weeks before I left. Most writing mentors are published writers. Evelyn Conlon was selected as mine and later I learned that Ellie Wymard, Carlow University’s Program Director chose her because she was a political writer and thought that we had that in common. I immediately bought three of her fiction books to get a sense of her style and interests.
About two weeks before I left to Dublin, Ireland, I received the schedule of events which featured a huge list of authors published in poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction. So, again, I immediate went to Amazon.com and ordered books by these writers so that I could match their advice to their accomplishments.
That was a no-no. I guess I show my introverted side—always forgetting people’s names and having to ask for them and not having enough guts to go get the autographs. It’s true that the autographs add to the value of the books, but I guess hearing their voice, seeing their words in print has always been my focus. I eventually managed to meet most of the students and instructors although a few said, I’m fourth semester, you don’t need to meet me since I won’t be back. And I thought I was introverted.
Well, live and learn and better style next time—but I have to admit, I’m not in a stage of life where the books are overflowing the shelves and I prefer e-books because I can read them either on my phone or my PC.
What are some of the other oddball preparations I needed?
Registering my trip at the state department to eliminate delays at: Travel.state.gov
Obtaining a new copy of my passport by mailing the old in with a new set of photographs to: US Passport Service Guide
Finding the power converter for our last trip to the European world—we got a five socket power strip with a built in surge protector and a small travel adapter.
Getting my husband set up on Facebook for video chats! What a life saver!
Finding my flash drive.
Getting out the last remnant of Euros from our last trip.
Buying a calendar, address book (oops, not used enough!)
Making sure I had enough warm clothes despite summer time weather. Did I need them? Coat, jacket, umbrella, slacks, all used at least once, sometimes more. Did I use the summer sandals and skirts? You bet. Sometimes the rooms were overly warm to the point they put you to sleep. Kudos to the management since they always managed to get us out of them to somewhere fresher.
Well, I'm on my last day here at Trinity College in Ireland, with my first residency with my Carlow University MFA program. I've started on a fiction track and I just signed off on my first semester writing contract with my writing mentor for the term, Evelyn Conlon. I'm in the Botany Bay residence hall packing my bags and thinking about all that's been accomplished. I've met dozens of published writers working in the areas of creative nonfiction, fiction and poetry and received lots of advice. We've had half a dozen workshops where we looked at fiction manuscripts. We've all been introduced to Ireland, Irish history, Irish places and restaurants and shops. What a fun experience, but also hard work.
So what will I do now?
Tonight is dinner, packing. Tomorrow an early shuttle to the airport and all day flight.
Then, I begin work on an Integrative Essay of 8-10 pages explaining how this first residency contributed to my writing goals.
We've selected four books that I will use to improve my writing during the next semester. I'll begin work on the essays related to these books.
We've scheduled dates on which I will deliver 10-20 manuscript pages. I hope to write the first draft of the novel during my first year with Carlow University and use the second novel to polish and refine it.
In the next few days, I'll write more about my reading, writing, and exploration experience here in Dublin. Yes, it was work, work, work with little play, but also a mind-filling, challenging experience. Do I want more? Sure, will accept everything must come in steps.
About Sheri Fresonke Harper
by Lee Upton
Interesting essays about unusual topics in the life of a writer--these focus on motivation, boredom, failure. One looks for the gems from the numerous writers the author mentions.
tagged: writing-books and essays
Naked at the Podium: The Writer's Guide to Successful Readings. How to Use Drama as a Tool to Give Dynamic Readings Anywhere
Great book for those having to do presentations or public readings of prose or poetry. It provides a good set of tips and explanations about how to prepare beforehand, how to practice and what to bring along with you when you do a poetry...
tagged: writing-books, writingpoetry, and business
Great advice about the psychological problems writers face from the moment they start writing. It tells great tales of facing difficulties and then finding the writer's magic after the end of all the writing.