Category Archives: Online Discussions

Week 16: Animal’s People

You may choose to answer one of the following prompts:

Once Ma’s eyes were bright blue, now they’re milky with coming cataracts, but when she speaks of Sanjo such a look comes into them, you’d expect their milky clouds to part and light come streaming through. Ma brings out a small black book, it’s the one written by Sanjo that tells about the end of the world, she holds it up close to her nose. “Jusques à quad, Maître saint et vrai, tarderas-tuà faire justice? à tirer vengeance de notre sang?”

Eyes, in case you don’t understand Ma’s language, this is Sanjo talking to him, he’s saying fuck’s sake how much longer will you make us wait for justice? And if you still don’t know who he is, well it’s god. Sanjo reckons that the world is full of wickedness and is going to be wiped out, this will happen in various appalling ways and is called the Apokalis.

Sanjo’s dream has a strange effect on Ma, it makes her afraid and joyful at the same time. Says she, “Don’t you see, my poor little Animal, the Apokalis has already begun? It started on that night in Khaufpur” (63).

Ma Franci interprets what happened “that night” as the beginning of the Apokalis. Indeed, she refuses to return to her home country return of France, despite being repeatedly persuaded to do so, because she firmly believes that the Apokalis started in Khaufpur and “it’s coming back again” (143). Explain Ma Franci’s view of “that night” as the Apokalis and what she believes will happen when it comes again.

***

Hail, Saint Zafar. What a fucking hero. Champon of the good and true, he’d even spare our enemy. No way do I buy it. Eyes, I’ve said I admire the Kampani but thinking of what those people have done, how they hideously took my parents’ lives and left me in this world alone, I’m filled with such hatred, I think my skin would burst. Wicked are they beyond all limits, didn’t I see the proof myself last night in the gardens of Jehannum? An animal isn’t subject to the laws of men, I will slit their eyeballs, I will rip out their tongues with red hot pliers, I will shit in their mouths. Blood’s shaking my heart, I’m giddy with rage. Then it’s just as quickly gone, leaving me limp, body’s like a goatskin filled with grief.

Nisha is speaking. “Zafar my love, when grief and pain turn into anger, when rage is as useless as our tears, when those in power become blind, deaf and dumb in our presence and the world’s forgotten us, what then should we do? You tell us to put away anger, choke back our bitterness, and be patient, in the hope that justice will one day win? We have already been waiting twenty years. And when the government that is supposed to protect us manipulates the law against us, of what use then is the law? Must we still obey it, while our opponents twist it to whatever they please? It’s no longer anger, Zafar, but despair that whispers, if the law is useless, does it matter if we go outside it? What else is left?”

After this there is a long silence. No one is saying anything. No one can speak. At last comes Zafar’s voice, sounding weary.

“Nothing is left.”

“And then?”

“What else? We fight. We carry on. We don’t give up” (283-4).

In the passage above, both Nisha and Animal express their doubts about Zafar’s fight for justice for the people of Khaufpur. What drives Zafar’s pursuit of justice? Why does he persist in his demand for justice despite its seeming futility?

 

 

 

Week 15: Animal’s People

You may choose to respond to one of the following prompts:

As was noted in the Online Discussion and in class last week, language is a dominant theme in Animal’s People. We noted, for example, Animal’s unique syntax or sentence structures and rendition of English words (see the Collaborative Notes for further discussion). One point that needs further elaboration is the vulgarity of Animal’s speech, specifically, his regular use of swear words and his constant cracking of sexual jokes. Of course, it is not just Animal, but his friends, especially Farouq, who speak in this way well. What are we to make of their vulgar speech? Is it meant to shock? To make us uncomfortable? In the novel, Zafar has a particular view about the use of vulgarity. Are we meant to sympathize with his view? What effect does this vulgar language create? Is there a significance to it?

***

Zafar, Ma Franci and Elli Barber are not of Khaufpur, but have chosen to make the city their home in response to what happened “that night” at the Kampani’s factory. Analyze one of these characters and discuss her or his relationship to the people of Khaufpur. Why have they come or stayed on in Khaufpur? How do they interact with its people? How do the people view them?

Week 14: Animal’s People

In Animal’s People, we encounter a narrative form and structure of address similar to that in another novel we have read in class. Animal, the protagonist, directly addresses an implied listener, whom he calls “Eyes”:

You are reading my words, you are that person. I’ve no name for you so I will call you Eyes. My job is to talk, yours is to listen (14).

What is the significance of naming the reader “Eyes,” which places an emphasis on the act seeing? Is there something we do not see that Animal wants us to see? Does the act of seeing—perhaps of seeing the conditions in which Animal and his people live—stand in the way of understanding?

Act of Meaning-Making

One of the important processes that we have been led to delve into during our discussions is the act of meaning-making. Every language is, simplistically, a collection of signs which represent individually a certain meaning. A text consists of signs that lead a reader to interact with the inherent meaning on both an affective and cognitive level. It should be noted that the reader is not interacting with the signs per se but with the representations of the signs in their heads.

Now, it is apparent that all signs do not have the same meaning: one only has to look at the number of alive languages. In other words, a text (textual or visual) is designed to lead a reader to an intended meaning but it can in no way control how it is interpreted. One of the corollaries of the propositions we read in class is that the meaning of a text does not reside in its signs itself but in the reader’s response to the signs, or in the determination of the appropriate response. This is one of the reasons why there are an infinite number of ways that a textual or visual narrative can be interpreted and that the only way one can misread a text is by not reading it closely enough.

It is interesting the way in which texts have been interpreted in class. They have been interpreted historically, theoretically, ideologically, culturally. In the case of the Rabbits, students have jumped to the conclusion that the narrative has undertones of the colonial versus the anti-colonial. The written words of Rabbits give little reason to imagine that it is the story of Australian natives conquered by whites because the words are telling a story, while the images are showing it.

One of the ways in which a text can be put to use is by employing it to typify an emergent ideology or theory (for instance, the ways in which recent feminist theories are applied to interpret The Canterbury Tales, or even modern geopolitical military theories which have by and large been designed by men). We see this happening in vivid detail in the Rabbits. The historical knowledge in the readers in class allows them to point out that the work is a product of our times and that it is a retelling of the familiar strain of hegemons nullifying the voices of weaker societies. It can be a challenging experience to think of ways to interpret the visuals without the benefit of historical hindsight though. It is conceivable that a nonliterate person or someone who has never seen the ocean or a person who believes in the imperial line of reasoning will interpret the signs differently and draw unique meanings. The visual imagery provides a much wider range of signs with which to interact with. My personal interpretation is that the Rabbits is an effort to stabilize emergent postcolonial thought within a culture that has always been hegemonic, by drawing sympathy for the annexed and bringing attention to how instrumental physical violence has historically been in retaining the power of the dominant.

Week 13: On Reading and The Rabbits

You may respond to one of the following prompts:

Continue the discussion that we had in class last Thursday on the act of interpreting literary and visual texts, generated by the propositions and questions on reading listed in the collaborative notes document. Is there something else that you’d like to add to the discussion? What is a concrete example from our readings that illustrates the issues we discussed?

**

In class, we noted that the creatures from whose perspective the narrative is told are not given a name. The absence of a name is particularly jarring given that the invaders are identified as “The Rabbits,” which also serves as the narrative’s title. Tatiana offered that the lack of a name signaled the loss of identity as a result of colonialism. Walter said it suggested that the experience of colonialism is not tied to one specific place, but is a global experience—hence the namelessness of the narrator. What do you think the narrator’s lack of name means? After you explained its significance, provide further evidence from the text that supports your argument. Explain what you think the narrator’s namelessness means in relation to the overall significance of the work.

Week 12: The Reluctant Fundamentalist and The Rabbits

You may choose to respond to one of the following prompts:

Building on our class discussion last Thursday, compare the film adaptation of The Reluctant Fundamentalist with the novel. What differences did you notice? How do these differences affect your understanding of the text? Identify one or two differences between the novel and film, and discuss at length.

*

In the final moments of the film, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, one of the CIA operatives admits to  Bobby that “We misread him [Changez].” The theme of reading—or, more precisely, of literature—recurs throughout the novel. Erica is an aspiring writer, who produces a short novel that Changez reads. An encounter with Juan Bautista, a literary publisher whose work is deemed to have little financial value, marks a pivotal moment in Changez’s life. The novel’s narrative structure of the dramatic monologue addresses the reader directly, as “you,” thereby foregrounding the act of reading. In the movie, Changez asks Bobby, the equivalent figure of the novel’s implied listener, to “please listen to the whole story, not just bits and pieces.” What is the significance of reading/listening and of literature in The Reluctant Fundamentalist?

*

Record your impressions and your experience reading Shaun Tan’s The Rabbits. What is the story being told?

Week 9: “The Wet Nurse” and “Breast Giver”

You may choose to respond to one of the following prompts below:

On Thursday, we mentioned that the tragic demise of Jashoda, the protagonist in “The Wet-Nurse,” offers a feminist critique of the gender roles in the story’s social context. However, in addition to gendered expectations, the relationships between the various characters are shaped by socioeconomic status as well.   Referring closely to the text, explain what commentary or critique that you think the story is offering.

 ***

Compare the two English translations of Mahasweta Devi’s short story, “The Wet-Nurse,” and “The Breast Giver.” In addition to the titles, there are a number of differences in the text as well? Identify a few of these differences and discuss their significance. What meaning does one translation produce compared to the other?

Week 7: Lucy

You may choose to respond to one of the following prompts:

As we noted in class, Lucy can be read as a bildungsroman, “a novel that recounts the development…of an individual from childhood or adolescence to maturity, to the point at which the protagonist recognizes his or her place in the world.” (Citation). The novel’s protagonist, Lucy, often attempts to make sense of her life in the United States by comparing her new experiences with those in her childhood/adolescence in Jamaica. Or, to put another way, her encounters in the present often trigger memories of the past. Identify a passage in the novel–there are many–in which such a moment occurs. Read the passage closely and explain how you understand its significance in relation to Lucy’s development and understanding of her place in the world.

 ***

“The times that I loved Mariah it was because she reminded me of my mother. The times that I did not love Mariah it was because she reminded me of my mother” (Kincaid 58).

Mariah, the mistress and the mother figure in the household, reminds Lucy of her own mother. Choose a passage in the novel, preferably one we have not yet discussed in class, that focuses on the relationship between Lucy and Mariah, whether it is a conversation that they are having or the former’s observation of the latter. In what ways to Lucy’s encounters with Mariah illuminate the former’s relationship with her own mother?

***

We noted the use of the prison as metaphor to describe Lucy’s state of mind soon after she arrives in the United States from the West Indies. Note the recurring mentions of this metaphor throughout the novel and write a response on its significance. Alternatively, you may identify and discuss another recurring trope in the novel.

Week 6: Wide Sargasso Sea and Lucy

**The deadline for posting responses has been extended to Tuesday at noon this week due to a delay in my posting the prompts. Comments are due on Thursday before class**

You may choose to respond to one of the following prompts:

In Week 5, our class and online discussions have focused on the various themes and tropes in Wide Sargasso Sea. In particular, we’ve considered these aspects of Rhys’s novel in the interest of examining the hypothesis that Wide Sargasso Sea is a rewriting of Jane Eyre. That is, by fleshing out the story of Antoinette, Wide Sargasso Sea casts the story and meaning behind Jane Eyre in a new light. Elaborate on one aspect of the novel that we have discussed, whether in class or online, by contributing your ideas. In what ways do you see Rhys’s novel as rewriting–or, perhaps not–Jane Eyre?

For example, you may address the following question raised in class. Why is Antoinette’s husband, also the narrator of parts of the novel, not given a name? Seeing as names and the act of naming is weighted with significance throughout the novel, what is the significance of his unnamed status? Does it invite us to read the corresponding character of Rochester in Jane Eyre differently?

***

The eponymous protagonist and first-person narrator in Jamaica Kincaid’s Lucy has traveled from her home in the West Indies to work in the United States. In her efforts to make sense of her new, unfamiliar surroundings and the people in it, Lucy often relates it to her memories and experiences whence she came. Identify and analyze a passage from the novel in which Lucy draws a relation between the place from which she came to the place in which she has just arrived.