Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Post-colonial Metamorphosis in Zadie Smith's White Teeth

--the growing divide between parent and hybrid species.
Even in the darkness, Irie could see Clara scowl. “Permishon for what? Koo go and share and ogle at poor black folk? Dr. Livingshone, I prejume? Iz dat what you leant from da Shalfenz? Because if thash what you want, you can do dat here. Jush sit and look at me for shix munfs! (313)
This speech by Clara is an eruption of confused resentment, spouted during a late night argument between her and her only child, Irie. Gaze, attitude, and voice cover the ground between the two women in a mist of bitter feelings as they face each other off: Clara, middle-aged, crouched beside the traditional roots of her Jamaican heritage, against Irie, 17 yrs old, standing headheldhigh with the propriety of a proper British teenager. The broken words Clara speaks smack of the uneducated speech of Afro-Caribbean dialect, working thus to identify her with her family's rich history, while Irie, who has been seemingly metamorphosing into a different person after studying beneath the pseudo-British Chalfens, reflects an altered perspective and attitude raging downward at her mother. This passage thus sets the stage for the fissured conflict between Clara and Irie and the broader clash of generations—the traditional and the hybrid.

In this speech Clara draws a subtle yet clear distinction between herself and her daughter. A significant phrase in this passage is “Dr. Linvinshone, I prejume?”—an expression which hearkens back to the earliest periods of colonization and Christianization of Africa, the great unpeeling of the vast dark continent. When American explorer and journalist Henry Stanley first met Dr. Livingstone in 1871 on the shores of Lake Tanganyika, he reported greeting him with these words in a measure of “cowardice and false pride" (see footnote). The words reflect marked deference and were probably similarly spoken by Clara, packed also with an underhanded use of the “absurd intonation” she remarks about being taught to “a generation of English kids” (303)--perhaps directing them as a mockery of Irie's British education. She cleverly uses them also to refer to the historical tragedies associated with Africa’s colonization. She locates herself among the “poor black folk” whom she imagines Dr. Livingstone and others, particularly the Chalfens, “ogling” under the pretense of aiming to help them.
Apart from this, her garbled words, “Jush sit and look at me for shix munfs!” seem to pack a hidden resentment toward Irie, as if Clara feels that her daughter has become a detached member of her family. She could easily feel betrayed by Irie’s pretentious attitude (seen in the previous dialogue) after complementing her prior to the argument on her “honest to God Bowden” body (222). In Clara’s view, Irie’s new criticizing perspective, then, has separated her from what she truly is, or at least from what Clara perceives her to truly be.
Indeed, Irie's speech does seem to reflect this. She speaks down at her mother, saying “Why can’t you just sit up properly and talk to me properly and drop the ridiculous little-girl voi—” (313). Is this merely insolence on the teenager’s part, or has the time she’s spent with the Chalfens convinced her that she’s of some other breed than her mother? Irie leaves this conversation reflecting that her “parents were damaged people, missing hands, missing teeth” (314). She is thus in fact, as Clara accuses, “ogling” her mother and father, even dismembering them. Her perspective has effectively morphed into something disconnected from its roots.
Along with her newly adopted gaze and attitude, Irie’s actions reveal a sly power rising against her parents. The narrator describes her as having developed a “well-worn tactic” to get what she wants from her mother: “She knew from experience that her mother was most vulnerable when in bed; late at night she spoke softly like a child, her fatigue gave her a pronounced lisp” (312). This is top-rate scientific manipulation, taking advantage of her mother at her weakest point. This behavior is reminiscent of colonizing practices McClintock describes in her piece, in which she discusses the invader studying the desired territory and culture before piercing it, as it were, directly between the armor (see footnote). Often the fatal blow to a nation before its completed colonization was the establishment of a dominant language. When a colonizing nation places its language at the top of the educational hierarchy, for example, the newly ‘othered’ language always takes on a stigma of simplicity, rudeness, even savagery. This is an ancient tactic, mastered by such conquistador masterminds as Alexander the Great and Hernán Cortés. Irie makes the method her own. When Clara is most linguistically incapacitated she is most vulnerable to manipulation. Irie is well-aware that this occurs at night whenever Clara removes her false teeth--teeth which have acted as her most loyal protection since her moped accident. With her teeth removed she opens up a gap in her armor just large enough for Irie’s scheming devices.
Thus, Irie demonstrates a bold and thorough severance of the bond between her and her parents, especially Clara. A stark divide has been crafted over time that distinguishes Irie as her own breed apart from that of her parents. As a second generation immigrant, Irie has developed her own version of a colonizer’s gaze that scientifically observes defects in her parents’ physical and symbolic bodies. Whereas she rests on a podium of education, possesses a backdoor connection with the colonizer, and owns full reign of the colonizer’s language, her mother, a first generation immigrant, remains among the lower rungs of immigrant society. Indeed, Clara self-identifies with the servile deference and ‘otherness’ of a second-class citizen. Her roots place her on the outer margins of English society, where interestingly she is willing to remain--even if it means forging a broad split with her only child.

-The Autobiography of Sir Henry Morton Stanley. Boston, 1909.
-Dangerous Liaisons: Gender, Nation, and Postcolonial Perspectives. McClintock, Anne, Aamir Mufti, and Ella Shohat. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 1997. Print.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Grand Choice

Rushdie's use of wording stands out in this passage, along with the fact that each is italicized. He uses the words "selected discontinuities", "willing re-invention", and "preferred revolt" to describe Chamcha and in contrast he uses "wishing to remain" to describe Gibreel. The use of these words presents a connotation when read or spoken that illustrates rebellion and accepting. For Chamcha there is choice involved with his description, "selected", "willing" and "preferred." There was a legitimate effort on behalf of Chamcha to create his "type of self." He felt that his Indian origins were not good enough for his perceived standards of the Londoners. These actions taken by Chamcha show one side of the double edged sword that comes from immigration. Chamcha feels as though to be accepted he must discontinue his natural self and re-invent what he thinks is the acceptable being. This move, as seen in the transformation of Chamcha, is not a particularly good one. By lying to himself and others about who he is his appearance becomes that of something he claims he is not, but at this point, based on the lies he has told himself, it is tough to decide whether this new appearance is truly him or not. Gibreel doesn't face this dilemma. Instead of the "re-invention" of himself, Gibreel "wish [es] to remain" himself, his true self. As a result he does not face the same physical disparity that Chamcha is plagued with.
Being true to who they truly are is what immigrants fail to do. Social pressures from the powers that be may be to blame for this acceptance of what others think is acceptable, but it is ultimately up to the individual to decide who and what they are. Rushdie’s use of Gibreel and Chamcha as two characters in which we are to compare show the positives and negatives of self-identity.

The apparition of these faces in the spoon.

According to this particular passage on page 441, Saladin Chamcha is “a creature of selected discontinuities, a willing re-invention,” whose “preferred revolt against history being what makes him, in our chosen idiom, ‘false’,” and by extraction, “evil.” I want to delve into this extraction bit, exploring Chamcha’s transition from “willing re-invention” to profoundly “evil.”
A possible explanation of this can be seen packed in the warning Chamcha’s father gives him years before: “A man untrue to himself becomes a two-legged lie, and such beasts are Shaitan’s best work” (48). This stern warning comes after Saladin tweaks his name from Chamchawala to simply Chamcha, which Pops isn't too fond of. In his view, as mine, when Saladin Englifies his name it signifies a voluntary exchange of home-made perceptions of self (for names have always been the functional grounding of our self-concept) for those provided by a dominant Someone Else. From this point on Saladin can no longer see himself but from the eyes of greater England, or at least what he perceives greater England to be. He will alter his appearance according to the proper British mirror, that is, the "British" concept of himself.
Unfortunately for Chamcha, however, he was never given a proper British mirror. On one hand, his voluntarily colonized eyes allow his adopted British mates to have full control over his appearance. When a few men see him as a goatish demon (the savage nature of immigrants, in their eyes), he literally takes on this very form. Thus by extraction, what he views as his self-made re-invention is actually the work of a powerful downward--and inward--racist curve that directs his eyes as it sees fit. On the other hand, he has no British mirror because he simply isn’t British. His Indian culture, background, language, way of thinking, etc, is distinctly different from the historical Anglo-Saxon culture of Great Britain. So instead of looking at himself with British eyes, Chamcha looks at himself by nature through an Indian lens. But here’s the trick: in the language of his birth, a language from which he will never be able to separate himself (again, natural lens), he has altered his name to mean, literally, “spoon”. As any curious kid could tell you, spoons turn reflections upside-down. No matter what appearance he tries to create for himself, then, Saladin Chamcha views himself and the world with skewed eyes: he is an upside-down man in an upside-down world.
A man with a skewed mirror coupled with skewed eyes is easy prey for “Shaitan’s best work.” It is impossible for Chamcha to escape internalizing the body of a hairy, smoking demon. As he says in his own words: “I have become embroiled…the grotesque has me” (269). Thus, by an initial falsity of self he takes on the form of a colonizer’s brutish apparition both in outward and inward form. The skewed internalization of his demonization as seen from the adopted, though distinctly external, eyes of the British, Chamcha has self-made, selected, even willed.
This is precisely as Ashcroft might predict. He states in his passage on mimicry, "He [the alien] copies the habits of the landlord...[and] is encouraged to mimic a compassion for the one exploiting him." It is the nature of skewed identity politics for the alien to base his/her self-concept and ways of walking around in the world off those thoughts and habits of the occupying force. Saladin falls for this heart, body, and soul. Rushdie seems to hint in this (in my view) that the work of racist domination always curves the mirror of the self irreversibly, oppressively inward, thus corrupting the self-concept of any victim of racist domination.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Rushdie and the Idea of "Passing"

"...whereas Saladin Chamcha is a creature of selected discontinuities, a willing re-invention; his preferred revolt against history being what makes him, in our chosen idiom, 'false'?" (Rushdie 441).

The selected passage seems to reverberate the idea of "passing." "Passing," in simplest terms, refers to ones' attempts to fit in with the dominant group, even though they contain characteristics of the "others." Saladin Chamcha, in this passage, is referred to as a "willing re-invention," a "preferred revolt against history," and "false." In this context, Gibreel seems to be the individual that is able to "pass" because of his angelic nature. His physical characteristics, which can be arguably portrayed through the appearance of the halo around his head, seem to put him into the dominant group. Though he is a migrant as well, he is received much more positively (another possible explanation for the halo) than Saladin. Gibreel is previously referred to as "continuous," while Saladin is (simply) the opposite. By Saladin choosing to "revolt against history," which seems to imply that he knows of the cultural norm of the society but choose to go against it, he is "othering" himself. This is a conscious decision not to "pass."

By him choosing to stay in the group of the "other," he is therefore classified as "false" and "evil." Does this have to do with Gibreel's metaphorical decision to "pass?" By this assumption, Saladin and Gibreel can be classified as exotic but with different connotations. Ashcroft first defines the term as an "alien, introduced from abroad, not indigenous." It is then defined, in nineteenth century terms, as a "stimulating or exciting difference, something with which the domestic could be (safely) spiced" (Ashcroft 87). Saladin seems to fit the first definition, specifically because "alien" can be interpreted as good or bad; in this case, Saladin, based on his physical appearance, is viewed as bad. Because of this, he is placed in the group of the "other." Gibreel, with his heavenly appearance, fits the second definition, being viewed as more "stimulating and exciting" by the dominant group. All of this seems to suggest why Saladin is viewed as "discontinuous" and Gibreel as "continuous."

Essentialism in "The Satanic Verses"

Such distinctions, resting as they must on an idea of the self as being (ideally) homogenous, non-hybrid, 'pure,' - and utterly fantastic notion! - cannot, must not, suffice (442).

This passage indicates the distinction in the forms that Gibreel and Saladin have taken. Gibreel has taken on his angelic form because, in the eyes of the colonizer, he does not attempt to assimilate into the English culture and holds onto his own and his past. Saladin has a demonic form because he is vying to adopt the culture of the English and reject Indian culture. The colonizer is not threatened because their own culture is preserved. Though he is considered "good," he is still considered inferior. He may not be treated horribly like Saladin, but he is not treated as an equal either. The English culture is still "homogenous, non-hybrid," and "pure." Saladin, however, seeks to become "English." Such an act is offensive to the colonizer because the colonized considers himself good enough to emulate the colonizer. For example, when the immigration officers apprehend Saladin after the plane crash, he attempts to identify himself as an English citizen, even saying he has a white wife, and they simply abuse him more.

The English reject Saladin as an Englishmen, even though he has crafted every detail about himself emulate an English citizen almost perfectly. The greatest offense, however, is the color of Saladin's skin. Race is part of the Essentialism, or a set of defining characteristics unique to one group of people. In this case, whiteness is almost parallel to being English. The purity is in danger of being contaminated because Saladin is originally Indian. India was also a former colony, so the English are excluding them from their culture to assert their superiority since they lost their physical domination of the people and the country. Saladin's and Gibreel's forms represent the way the English people see them in relation to the danger they pose to the purity, non-hybridization, and homogeneity of English culture and identity.

The Willing Reinvention of Saladin Chamcha

This passage from The Satanic Verses explains the dichotomy that is at the heart of this novel: Saladin as a representation of evil and Gibreel of good. The core of this discussion concerns the nature of the cultural self and the ways in which individuals accept or deny certain aspects of these selves. In the passage, the narrator describes the individuals as being either good or evil in so far as they wither accept or reject their cultural foundations. The examination of Chamcha in this regard is particularly interesting considering the extent to which he denies his cultural identity. He is called "a creature of selected discontinuities, a willing reinvention" (441). An curious aspect of this description is the amount of agency Chamcha shows while establishing his own identity. He "selects" and "wills" his actions and nature to differ from what he believes is undesirable "Indianness." Assimilation is not something that happens autonomously; there is little chance for a sort of cultural osmosis. Chamcha must choose to assume a new cultural identity, and in doing that, he must consciously check the influence of his own cultural heritage.

Furthermore, Chamcha's willing reformation of the self is categorized as a "preferred revolt against history." The word "revolt" suggests a violent upheaval in which the rebelling entity actively fights against the enemy. Chamcha must engage his own volition to maintain the facade of Englishness, because it ultimately constitutes a violation of his personal history and cultural background. However, in this example, Chamcha is not only rebelling against his own history, that of an Indian man trying to assimilate into British culture, but also the larger historical relationship between Britain and India. He hopes to take on a British identity and shed his past. What he fails to understand is that Britain is locked in a perpetual mindset of superiority that has, no doubt, been fueled by their past successes as an imperial nation. Chamcha will always be viewed as a less other due to the fact that his skin color represents the "native" in the British colonial mindset. The urge of the British to categorize individuals on the basis of skin color and other external signifiers shows the profound influence essentialism has in the colonial realm. Chamcha, in so far as he stands for the colonial other, carries with him all the negative affiliations and significations the British place upon Indians. The British reject Chamcha's assimilation on the grounds of arbitrarily assigned racial signifiers. His revolt against his Indianness ultimately amounts to a futile rebellion against a historically established elitism.

“No Room for Outsiders: Fierce Nationalism in The Satanic Verses”

…homogenous, non-hybrid, ‘pure’ (442).
Each of these words suggests similar and unified composition of the self. “Homogenous” means being of uniform composition throughout, like a homogenous mixture where the multiple parts cannot be distinguished from the whole. “Non-hybrid”, in a way, reiterates that point but with some differences though. This term suggests that something is not made up of two or more things, at least not noticeably. Like homogenous, there is no noticeable difference in composition while with heterogeneous and hybrid, there would be a noticeable difference in composition of at least two or more things. And finally, “pure” also suggests a unified composition that is free of foreign contamination. All of these terms could be applied to the staunch views of nationalism and national identity in any given country, but for the purposes of The Satanic Verses, it pertains to English nationalism and “Englishness.” Nationalists like to think of their nation and everyone in it as having the same characteristics as the country itself: the same language, the same traditions, the same pastimes, the same race, and the same color. The same nationalists adhering to these terms of homogeneity, purity, and non-hybridist would be opposed to anything or anyone who could not be described by these terms as they relate to the nation in question.
These terms lead to the post-colonial term “essentialism”, which is the assumption that groups, categories, or classes of objects have one or several defining features exclusive to all members of that category (Ashcroft 73). English nationalists will assert that there are essential qualities to being English: the English language, the English accent, western dress, and white skin just to name a few. At the same time, English nationalist have assumptions about other cultures. Indians, for example, can be described as having brown skin, oriental dress, and speaking the Indian language and accent.
These essential characteristics of Englishness and Indian-ness are the reasons for the acceptance of Gibreel Farishta and the rejection of Saladin Chamcha by the English in The Satanic Verses. Even though both of them are Indian immigrants, they are treated very differently based on their adherence, or lack thereof, to these assumptions. Gibreel is accepting of these Indian assumptions. He dresses in oriental garb, speaks English with an Indian accent, and plays Hindu gods as an actor. Because he is adhering to the ideal homogeneity of his own Indian culture, he is accepted. Saladin on the other hand is a different story. He, too, is an Indian immigrant, but he is trying to pass as an Englishman. He tries to replace his Indian accent with an English one and he wears western clothes. He does not fit the assumptions of the essential Indian culture because he is making a hybrid of cultures. He is Indian and has brown skin like an Indian would, but the fact that he is combining his Indian appearance with English dress and language is seen as a threat to English nationalist identity, which is why he is treated so poorly throughout the book.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The art of self-sloughing in Satanic Verses.

“…there floated the debris of the soul, broken memories, sloughed-off selves, severed mother-tongues, violated privacies, untranslatable jokes, extinguished futures, lost loves, the forgotten meaning of hollow, booming words, land, belonging, home.” (Rushdie, 5)

Sloughed-off selves. In The Satanic Verses, the sloughing off of selves is almost an art. Gibreel and Saladin are both masters, in fact professionals, in the business of self-off-sloughing. Gibreel has made a career filming up to “eleven movies ‘sy-multaneous’” (11), slipping from identity to identity, day after day. Saladin, the “Man of a Thousand Voices and a Voice” (60), has formed his career on a transmutable voice that can take on any identity the radio (or film) industry demands. On the business level, these skills can be attributed to years of practice and fine-tuning. On a personal level, however, the skills can be more attributed to the characters’ urgent desire to flee the selves of their homeland.
At home in Mumbai, Gibreel first perfected not the art of self-sloughing, but the “art of dissimulation” (25). He leads multiple lives—and keeps them strictly separated—in order to maintain his high social status. The stress of this performance nearly costs him his life, so he knows something has got to change. When he ultimately flees the country aboard flight AI-420 he is on one hand fleeing this social demand, but on the other, shedding this conglomeration of past identities all together. When he is reincarnated during his fall, he lands a new role of a new man…sort of. We’ll flesh that out more later in the text.
Saladin Chamcha has struggled his entire life to perform a similar feat. He successfully changes his last name (or shortens it), leaves India for an English education, and abandons the “father-ship” (41), as he calls the overseeing control of his father, for a life lived on his own terms. He carefully crafts a new accent and handwriting technique to disguise his background, but when he returns to India one last time he realizes that he has never successfully sloughed off his old Indian self. His voice slips, his handwriting and mannerisms betray him. The walnut tree of his birth, he realizes, still stands lodged in his father’s backyard: “Cut it down, sell it, send me the cash” (70). With the cash from the tree in hand, he tears the bark off his birth-tree in an act of finally peeling off his old self.

Fragmentation in a Broken Plane

“Also- for there had been more than a few migrants aboard, yes, quite a quantity of wives who had been grilled by reasonable, doing-their-job officials about length of and distinguishing moles upon their husbands’ genitalia, a sufficiency of children upon whose legitimacy the British Government had cast it ever reasonable doubt- mingling with the remnants of the plane, equally fragmented, equally absurd, there floated the debris of the soul, broken memories, sloughed-off selves, severed mother-tongues, violated privacies, untranslatable jokes, extinguished futures, lost loves, the forgotten hollow, booming words, land, belonging, home.” (Rushdie 4-5)
Looking at this quote Rushdie shows the effects of immigration with the use of “fragmented”, “broken”, and “severed”, among other words that show a partiality or incompleteness. Rushdie shows that immigration has a dire effect upon those people who are looking to make a move from their homeland to a land unknown.
The key word that stands out to me is “fragmentation”. By making the choice to immigrate a person takes a chance of themselves. They leave family, friends, comfort and safety. These loses are major tools that make up who an individual is. As we have discussed in class on numerous occasions, individuals are able to identify themselves through their interaction and relations with others. When some is an immigrant they no longer have those relationships or interactions, they are merely just a person in a space. They lose who they are and become the other to themselves. In addition to dealing with these loses they face mounting tension from those who view them as the other. Rushdie states that “quantity of wives who had been grilled by reasonable, doing-their-job officials about length and distinguishing moles on their husbands’ genitalia” which is a clear discrimination and ostracizing to those women. In Rushdie’s comedic nature he states that the officials doing this were “reasonable” individuals that were “just doing their job”, which is clearly sarcastic on Rushdie’s behalf. The act of immigration is a great feat on behalf of the individual making the decision to move and the pressure that individual has to deal with is also a huge concern in itself. Rushdie is aware of that and shows it through this quote.

Inferiority and Insignificance in "The Satanic Verses"

Within the first few pages of
The Satanic Verses,
the two main characters, Gibreel and Saladin, two Indian actors on their way to England, are falling through the air after a bomb was detonated on their plane. The narrator comments that Gibreel and Saladin "fell like tidbits of tobacco from a broken old cigar [4]." This simile is perfect in it's description of the status of the two in England and an immigrant in general. Likening them to rogue bits of tobacco, they become a mere annoyance, something to be simply brushed away into obscurity. Saladin even became one afflicted by such a view of his fellow Indians and Indian culture, choosing to tailor himself as an Englishmen, forcing his face, appearance, voice, and mannerism to become English. But for all the work he has done to achieve his goal, he is still treated like an animal by the constables and officers that arrest him from Rosa Diamond's house once the two land [162-167].
Immigrants as a whole are described as being inferior and unwanted by their trip through customs, having to describe their husband's genitalia and distinguishing marks and travelling with children whose legitimacy is suspect [4]. Customs is requiring them to go through a humiliating process by describing their husband's privates and presenting them with an arbitrary test. The British government is not ensuring these people are coming into the country legitimately, but actively trying to keep them out. And if they are suspected not to be, they are treated horribly, as Saladin and all of the other patients in the "hospital" that he is sent to are. Or when Saladin is initially arrested, he is undressed, physically abused, verbally berated, and made to eat his own excrement. These exemplify their status in the eyes of the English as inferior and insignificant, or as just bits of tobacco falling out of a cigar.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Destruction of Both a Plane and a Language

“…there floated the debris of the soul, broken memories, sloughed-off selves, severed mother-tongues, violated privacies, untranslatable jokes, extinguished futures, lost loves, the forgotten meaning of hollow, booming words, land, belonging, home.” (Rushdie, 5)

By studying colonialism and its impact on the colonized this semester we have identified a number of things that are most important when considering the negative impact of the colonizer on the colonized. There are certain elements of a people’s culture, that when destroyed, are particularly devastating. Of these, we have considered language to be one of the most important. Rushdie criticizes colonialism vehemently in his novel by showing us the modern, negative impact it has on a group of people by contributing to the destruction of its language.

Looking at the quote and in particular the items between the several commas that deal intimately with language we can identify how Rushdie feels about colonialism. Language is one of the very most important facets of a people’s sense of common identity. This is also one of the first things to be damaged by colonialism; a people’s language can be either completely destroyed or bastardized into some form of a hybrid. It is also one of the first indications of an “other,” either by accent or the use of native words. Rushdie’s novel is full of examples of native Indian words, either full sentences or words thrown in here and there, but the critique comes usually after the phrases. This is also applicable to the idea of untranslatable jokes and I feel they are intimately related. Several times throughout the novel the narrator uses a joke in its original Indian and then immediately afterwards translates it for us into English. Rushdie uses this technique to show us how unimportant the Indian language is to English-speaking audiences; we haven’t learned it and most of us probably never will, we expect the colonized to conform to our use of language.

Falling (Certainly NOT Failing) Metaphors in The Satanic Verses

Towards the beginning of Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses (specifically in the first book, "The Angel Gibreel"), Rushdie presents multiple metaphors to represent the plane crash. Here, everyone on board, including migrants and the main characters Gibreel and Saladin, is plummeting towards the English Channel. The migrants are ironically described as being treated reasonably by officials, who have searched even their genitalia as thoroughly as possible, but are described moments later as "equals." They are as equally broken and fragmented as the plane that is plummeting towards the water below. This seems to place the migrants on the same level as everyone else on the plane, including Saladin Chamca, who is described as "going down head first, in the recommended position for babies entering the birth canal" (Rushdie 5). This particular metaphor of a baby entering the birth canal made me wonder: in the context of postcolonial studies, are these people who are referred to as "migrants" placed in this context voluntarily? Could these subtle mentions of characters such as the migrants be a reason as to why The Satanic Verses can be viewed through a postcolonial scope?

The term migrant generally refers to those people who are introduced to a new population or habitat. Using the term to describe these people seems to be problematic, however, because of the metaphor presented by the narrator of a baby entering the birth canal. Though conception may or may not be choice made by the parents of a baby, the baby has no choice on whether or not they choose to be born. It's involuntary. Though the officials seem to believe they have reason to suspect the migrants, the other metaphors offered by the narrator, such as "severed mother-tongues, violated privacies, untranslatable jokes" (5), seems to confirm that an outside presence (the colonizer) is responsible for the migrant status of the people plummeting from the plane. "Severed mother-tongues" seems to refer to the snatching of a characteristic (specifically language) from an oppressed group, while "violated privacies" seems to also imply a forceful act upon an unwilling recipient. So are these people placed in the body of a migrant by choice or involuntarily? These examples, given by the narrator, seems to suggests that they are, indeed, placed in an unfamiliar situation by a forceful colonizer.

Place and Belonging in The Satanic Verses

The beginning of The Satanic Verses situates the story within the context of ethical displacement. The two Indian actors fall toward England like babies through mothers' birth canals. Without agency, willing or not, the grown men are birthed into a world which views them as outsiders. As Gibreel and Saladin symbolically plunge toward the unwelcoming waters of the English Channel, they find themselves surrounded by debris from the wrecked plane: the source of their untimely birth. This physical refuse accompanies an incorporeal debris, which the narrator describes as "debris of the soul" (Rushdie, 4). The listed debris of the soul contains many elements which pertain to that which is lost for the individual who emigrates from his or her birthplace. In fact, adjectives such as "sloughed-off" and "severed" connote loss, either intentional or forced. This abstract waste includes "the forgotten meaning of hollow, booming words, land, belonging, home (5). This particular passage concerns the loss of meaning, particularly of those words which represent the concept of a place of belonging or acceptance.

Each of the three words listed in this passage concerns a displaced individual's desire to assimilate into a culture and to feel comfortable with his or her own identity. The words themselves echo with hope and the prospect of acceptance. When placed in conjunction with the words "home" and "belonging," the word "land" represents more than the physical foundation upon which we stand. Instead, the land represents the abstract idea of a physical place in which an individual is free and welcome to exercise his or her unique identity. For Saladin and Gibreel, now careening toward an England still conscious of its past relations with India, such a place would be quite welcomed.

While the idea of a place of belonging seems to be the ideal for the Eastern immigrant, it is important to note how these words are situated in this section. The embodied concepts of land, belonging, and home fall along with the two actors toward the cruel ground. These concepts, because they are "hollow, booming words," stand little chance of surviving such a fall. Hollowness suggests a lack of substance beyond the external. While these terms are pleasant to hear for the alienated immigrant, their ultimate lack of obduracy in the face of the harsh English soil will prove that they are, in fact, fragile. Furthermore, the adjective "booming" suggests power, yet one that is auditory and thus able to be dampened. While these words may ring in the minds of the immigrants, the reality of their situation may prove to check these comforting concepts. The ideas which rain down among the debris of the plane ultimately amount to little when faced with such a fall. The fragility of these terms in the context of the novel suggests the difficultly for the displaced immigrant to truly find a place of belonging in a strange land.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Birth of Indian Presence in England According to The Satanic Verses

This phrase describes the plane crash and the manner in which Saladin Chamcha and Gibreel Farishta, two Indians, enter England. These two men enter England by way of falling from the sky and miraculously surviving their landing in the English Channel. It is a very unorthodox way of travelling, but this is a very unorthodox novel.
Like other sentences in this part of the book describing their fall from the wrecked plane, this sentence likens their fall and entrance into England to the birth of a baby. “The aircraft cracked in half…an egg yielding its mystery” is describing the birth though not necessarily of a human baby as we are not born by hatching out of an egg. Anyway, the plane cracking in half is likened to an egg hatching and something being born. Saladin and Gibreel are being born into England. The “egg yielding its mystery” is similar to these men being born into England and a baby being born into the world. When a baby is born, the baby knows nothing about the world he/she is entering, just like their parents know nothing about them. Similarly, with these two Indian men going to England, they are arriving in a foreign land that they know nothing about, and the English most likely know nothing about them. Hence, we have our “mystery”.
The passage also suggests that their entrance into England is like fertilization as well as birth. The “seed-pod giving up its spores” is the plane-wreck introducing new genes into the English gene-pool. Here we have two Indian men arriving in London and they are described as “spores”. They are capable of spreading their foreign and “mysterious” genes throughout London like the spores of plant would spread it genes and reproduce.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Language in "In the Heart of the Country"

While the narrator's father is in his room with Klein-Anna, she approaches his door and attempts to open it, but finds that it is locked. She then tries to speak to him. After he tells her, "It's late child. Let us rather talk tomorrow. Go and get some sleep [54]," the narrator states, "He has spoken. Having found it necessary to lock the door against me, he has now found it necessary to speak to me [54]." Here, language is used as a confession of a reprehensible act. It becomes a confession because, as the narrator states, her father actually spoke to her. Most of the time he treats her indifferently and neglects almost any type of interaction with her. And now that he is having sex with his servants wife, he speaks to her. He does whatever he can to avoid her, finally speaking to her. This passage only enforces the mistreatment of the narrator by her father that one can see during the course of the novel. The few sentences that are spoken to her are not even out of interest, but simply for deceit, so that she will not know of his actions.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

The Agency of Hendrik (In the Heart of the Country)

54. No word about the marriage has passed between Hendrik and my father since the day when Hendrik came to ask leave to bring a wife on to the farm and my father replied, "Do as you wish." The wedding-feast was held at Armoede, the wedding-night on the road here, I do not know, and the next day after that Hendrik was back at work. My father increased his rations but offered no wedding-gift.

In this passage, Hendrik, a worker on the farm of the family at the center of J.M. Coetzee's novel "In the Heart of the Country," takes a wife. However, being the colonized, he must first ask permission to do so. Hendrik, the colonized,makes no request other than to being the woman there, and subsequently spends the period of time after the wedding, during which most people would go on a honeymoon, coming back to the farm and continuing work. Hendrik has no time to celebrate the union or get the know the girl whose hand he takes, and the entire event takes a mechanical nature.
The fact that Hendrik does not even attempt to ask for more time illustrates that he either knows it will be denied or that he has subconsciously submitted to the colonizer. As an extension of this, the marriage becomes more pragmatic than romantic, since he is most certainly taking a wife to perform the chores required in his own dwelling and bearing him to children to assist with work and inherit what he owns. The unemotional state of their union is further evidenced by the actions of the main character's father, who, instead of celebrating a normally happy and joyous occasion, simply gives Hendrik more food with which to sustain himself and his wife. His actions, or lack thereof, show the reader the view of the colonizer toward the colonized: disdainful and condescending. One can see these examples by the indifference with which he deals with Hendrik's request and his disinterest when he only gives them more rations.
Hendrik shows little agency in this case. Without even requesting more time, it shows one that he is either aware of his lack of agency or has subconsciously accepted that he has little. One can also see the view of the colonizer towards the colonized's agency, and in such a sacred example it becomes quite demonstrative.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Domination, Even Before Colonization Occurs

In J.M. Coetzee's In the Heart of the Country, colonization is thought to be the power struggle that occurs. This, however, does not seem to be the first case of a dominant force ruling over a submissive body within the novel. Early in the book, the narrator describes the relationship between her mother and father, where her father clearly is the only one to represent power: "My father's first wife, my mother, was a frail gentle loving woman who lived and died under her husband's thumb. Her husband never forgave her for failing to bear him a son" (Coetzee 2). Two major instances (specifically dynamics) of power are presented here, the first being the power that the father has over the narrator's mother. Due to the extreme stresses the narrator's mother faced as being a wife, including excess amounts of sexual demands, she becomes too frail and fragile to live any longer. There is also the instance of "failing to bear him a son," speaking to the dynamic of (more broadly than the first dynamic) men and women in this context. This speaks to the concept of "double colonization," where women not only face oppression as the colonized but also face general discrimination as women. The narrator's father does not want daughters because only a son would make a worthy "boy-heir," showing the type of gender hegemony that is present within this society. In this hegemony, of course, the women are subaltern, meaning they are the inferior group that cannot enter into the group of power.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Math and the "And Next?" Dilemma

Of the many threads running through In the Heart of the Country, I want to analyze what I have found as the “And Next?” dilemma. The narrator says on page 21 (that is, in section 42), “Would that all my life were like that, question and answer, word and echo, instead of the torment of And next? And next?” She wants a word and an echo, a cause and effect, a beginning and an end. Indeed, she wants anything to pull her out of her pointless present.
I am no mathematician, but I see this as a Cartesian dilemma: the narrator’s life lacks the necessary balance of two cooperating planes, time and choice. As I see it, ideally a person’s life can be structured neatly as follows: infinite time running along the x-axis, infinite individual choice along the y-axis; life beginning at point (0,0), following a course staked across sundry points on quadrants I and IV, and finally reaching a definite endpoint somewhere six feet below ground. An echo heard is a small point on the graph left by a word spoken. Cause and effect exists because these two planes cooperate.
For our narrator, however, these two planes never do meet; that is to say, time passes with no regard to her decisions, and she sees no need to make decisions with regard to time. On one hand, she has no hope for the future: she will never redeem her lost youth, she will never have children, her father will never love her, and no one will ever care. But on the other hand, this gives her enormous personal freedom, basically allowing her to do whatever she wants, whether that be murdering her parents with an axe (hypothetically, thank goodness) or changing her physical appearance. She fashions these together in a meaningless philosophy: because "life will continue to be a line trickling from nowhere to nowhere, without beginning or end" (96) a person ought never to be "more than whim" (115). Essentially, nothing will change, so nothing matters; therefore, let's all do crazy stuff and see what happens.
Of course, this doesn't work out so well for her. She finds herself trapped within the indefinite bounds of a "black hole" (85), or "a yawning middle without end” (89), thus denied any form of definition. She knows instead only an asymptotic existence in which she “can expand to infinity…[or] shrivel to the size of an ant” (Section 96).
This novel is many things, but it is at least an exploration of this kind of unbounded, pointless existence. The narrator neither knows her past nor wishes to accept the pointless “And next?” future that lies ahead of her. She yearns for definition and meaning, for anything that might take her off a pointlessly winding path and give her direction. This seems clear, both textually and mathematically. The next task, then, is to determine the causes of why she was lead down that path in the first place. (See close-reading assignment.)

Women Just Can't Win

I must admit, during the first twenty or so odd pages of J.M. Coetzee’s “In the Heat of the Country” I had no idea what was going on in the story. Reading the abstract of the book I expected the story to have the traditional themes of a post-colonial text; which was composed of white dominant characters ruling over the black characters. I was completely wrong! The main character of the story Magda Johannes deals with physical and psychological oppression that leads to her rants, which are unbelievable and indescribable. As Austin stated, these types of actions can be attributed to the effects of double oppression. The effects of oppression expressed on page 71 when Magda is running through thoughts in her head and she states, “I want a second chance! Let me annihilate myself in you and come forth a second time clean and new… I was all a mistake!” The oppressive life that she has lived has placed her in this subaltern start. When see the effects that this state has on her when the roles of power shift between herself and Hendrick. However, this seemingly shift of power could be the male dominated society “righting the wrong” that was caused by her father’s death, and putting everything back to the way it should be where her life was dictated by a man.

Women Just Can't Win

I must admit, during the first twenty or so odd pages of J.M. Coetzee’s “In the Heat of the Country” I had no idea what was going on in the story. Reading the abstract of the book I expected the story to have the traditional themes of a post-colonial text; which was composed of white dominant characters ruling over the black characters. I was completely wrong! The main character of the story Magda Johannes deals with physical and psychological oppression that leads to her rants, which are unbelievable and indescribable. As Austin stated, these types of actions can be attributed to the effects of double oppression. The effects of oppression expressed on page 71 when Magda is running through thoughts in her head and she states, “I want a second chance! Let me annihilate myself in you and come forth a second time clean and new… I was all a mistake!” The oppressive life that she has lived has placed her in this subaltern start. When see the effects that this state has on her when the roles of power shift between herself and Hendrick. However, this seemingly shift of power could be the male dominated society “righting the wrong” that was caused by her father’s death, and putting everything back to the way it should be where her life was dictated by a man.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Not Every White Man Prospers in South Africa

Reading J. M. Coetzee’s In the Heart of the Country, I was continuously reminded of the protagonist’s poverty. And by poverty I not only mean economically but also emotionally. Here we have a young girl abandoned and alone with the death of her father, which not only leaves her in want of money and sustenance but also a need to be loved and appreciated. She loses control of her servants and cannot sustain the farm to provide food and money. But her loneliness and longing to be loved is more important in driving this story in which she references countless times. One such reference includes her longing for a husband and that if she would find one it would make her emotional poverty disappear: “If only I had a good man to sleep at my side, and give me babies, all would be well, I would perk up and learn to smile, my limbs would fill out, my skin glow, and the voice inside my head stutter and stumble into silence” (40). Unfortunately, no such husband presents himself, and she is forced to accept shallow, unloving sexual intercourse from the servant Hendrick, who does not so much as even look at her during the act not to mention love her. When the servants finally leave her alone on the farm she resorts to trying to gain companionship from the twelve-year-old messenger boy, who promptly runs off at her mention of sex.
As an English colonist to South Africa, she has endured great hardship not only financially but also emotionally. Her situation helps attest to the weakening of the British Imperialism of the mid to late 20th Century. With other colonist like her enduring hard times and unable to not only cope with harsh financial situations but also the emotional hardships of being alone in a strange land, the influence of Britain on their colonies would indeed wane and give rise to growing independence movements in South Africa and elsewhere.

Vacant Inner Space: Internalized Oppression and the Female Form

What struck me about this book is the extent to which the main character recognizes the extent of her oppression yet perpetuates that oppression through self-deprecation. I believe negative self-awareness is the product of internalized oppression. In the binary of colonizer and colonized, the former works to instill a subversive mindset in the latter in order to establish hegemonic rule. By asserting their own political and cultural superiority, the colonizer systematically places the colonized in a subaltern state. The colonized then judge themselves in relation to their perceived "superiors," thereby internalizing the notion that they are lesser. This internalized oppression seems to be evident in the behavior and thoughts of Magda. Her own perception of her body indicates a degree of self-deprecation through oppression: "I move through the a hole, a hole with a body draped around it...I am a hole crying to be whole" (41). Magda uses the image of a hole as the central focus of her bodily construction. She asserts that the female reproductive organ stands as a signifier of lack. The vacancy inherent in the female anatomy translates to a feeling of insufficiency. She craves a male partner in so far as he will make her whole by filling this physical void. By comparing herself to the figure of her father, whom she describes as "a knifeblade cutting the wind, or a tower with eyes," she defines herself as inherently lesser. The phallic descriptions of her father's form implies a measure of internalized oppression. Because she requires a male organ to be physically whole, Magda cannot recognize her female form as being anything other than a "protectrix of vacant inner space."

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Patriarchal Absurdity

"...the whole edifice of female governance is based on that foundation stone; chastity is their jewel, their centre piece, which they run mad to protect, and die when ravished of." (Woolf, 113)

This quote begins to get at the heart of Woolf's critique of sexism during not only her period of life, but also a period that stretches much further back. Her novel Orlando, a fictional biography of the main character by the same name, strives to illuminate the absurdity of patriarchal beliefs such as the one expressed in this passage.

Orlando is a satirical look at gender, its “norms” and expectations, that stretches 400 years. It begins with Orlando as a man in the 1600’s and ends at the beginning of the 20th century, Orlando having since been transformed into a woman. At this point in the novel, Orlando had been a woman for sometime, but she is just now realizing the extent that this will alter her life. She begins to notice new restrictions on her dress and behavior. She is required to spend large amounts of time in the morning preparing herself to be seen in public—to do otherwise would be inappropriate or even obscene.

By the time of the quote I have chosen Orlando sits on the deck of a ship heading for England. She is amazed to realize how easy life has become for her. The captain of the ship dotes on her and she understands the frenzy she can cause among the crew by exposing even her ankle. The biographer interjects my chosen passage in his/her attempt to quantify some of these feelings Orlando is experiencing. Orlando cannot flirt to her heart’s content, instead she must be careful, for to lose her chastity would be socially damning.

Looking at the quote itself, Woolf is obviously being very satirical. The meaning behind the statement is innocent enough, but the language Woolf uses to convey the biographer’s thoughts are another matter entirely. The first words “…whole edifice of female governance…” are very revealing. “Edifice” means “any large, complex system or organization,” (Webster’s) and plays on the common male belief that women are far too complex to understand. The “edifice” of “governance” begins to toy around with the complex ways in which women are expected to behave, or govern themselves. The convoluted and overtly “intellectual” language of just the beginning of this statement further compounds this notion of complexity and the redundancy begins to hint at the sarcasm of this statement.

Woolf really hammers this home, though, immediately after when this complex complexity rests on one simple thing—a stone. All that was previously difficult to understand becomes immediately understandable in a stereotypical way. “…chastity is their jewel, their centre piece…” Woolf has the biographer describe this immensely feminine thing, the notion of female chastity, in a way that all men could understand; chastity is a piece of jewelry that women yearn to protect, it is an expensive centre piece on a dinner table. Woolf uses the most absurdly feminine stereotypes to describe a feminine stereotype, obviously this isn’t meant to be taken seriously.

If it was taken seriously, though, Woolf uses the end of the sentence to make certain that no lingering doubts of her sarcasm exist. “…which they run mad to protect, and die when ravished of.” The notion that this biographer could make such a broad and all inclusive statement regarding women and their beliefs of the importance of chastity has left the realm of satire and has begun to knock on the door of absurdity. Women are being treated as, at best, as victims—as poor souls to be pitied when their chastity is stolen from them.

It can certainly be assumed that the biographer was intended to be male and that this sentence was Woolf’s stark criticism of men’s beliefs about women. It is a relentless attack on stereotypes and misconceptions, on a patriarchal belief of passivity and victimization.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Orlando's Nature Sanctuary: No Longer a Future Heaven.

"She quickened her pace; she ran; she tripped; the tough heather roots flung her to the ground. Her ankle was broken. She could not rise. But there she lay content…” (182)."

With these words Orlando the woman escapes once again to her Never-Never Land beyond time and space. She lies in an English moor outside London and traverses decades and oceans alone, lying comfortably on her back. Anne McClintock might disagree, however, with the nature of Orlando’s so-called escape. Her chapter on gender and nationalism (Ch. 4 “No Longer in a Future Heaven”) describes an escape of a rather different sort, claiming that often through history, in literature as in nations, women
Haunt analysis as an elided shadow—deferred, displaced, and dis- remembered…and are thus effectively deferred to a no-where land, beyond time and place. (95)
When Orlando falls contented in her secret moor, then, it’s a bit shortsighted to consider the action a comfortable escape. Rather, she has been thrust there, like a dust mop set roughly in its place in the closet under the stairway. This is supported in the description of Orlando’s almost helter-skelter jaunt through the woods. The heather roots don’t coax her gently down, they fling her, even breaking her ankle so that she can’t rise back up. If Orlando is forced to find contentment in a place where there can be no real contentment, McClintock is justified. Her sanctuary, isolated from society as it is, is still a no-where land that can bring her nothing.
Further connection between Orlando and McClintock's text is provided, of course, by Orlando's remarkable ability to flit through time and place. I like McClintock's use of the word elide in her analysis. The term packs an underhanded implication: behind its dictionary definition, "to omit", stands the result of the omission, a slurring of something- often speech- or in Orlando's case, identity. McClintock is implying that women have not only been exiled into social no-where land, they have been denied a corporeal self they might call their own. Both an omission from society and a slurring of identity across time and place is readily visible in Orlando. As she lies fugitive in her wooded sanctuary, Orlando progresses, we might imagine by textual hints ("Tick-tock, tick-tock, so it hammered, so it beat" (183)) several years, perhaps even decades, through time; and as she does so, she significantly alters her life philosophy, insert: identity, ("I am nature's bride") unto passionate love with Shel (184). Though these events in a fictional novel are by definition quite unreal, a visible elision of Orlando the character is, according to McClintock, an everyday reality for women everywhere, and therefore something always worth a further look.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Problems with the relation of sex and gender in "Orlando"

As Orlando sails to England after transforming from a man into a woman and leaving the Gypsies, she evaluates her new status as a woman. After reveling in the delights of the flirtatious games men and women play, such as the slight resistance she puts up against the captain's offer of serving her some fat with her corned beef, she playfully fantasizes that she may throw herself overboard just to be rescued [115]. She then, however, reflects upon what she, when she was still male, would think of a woman that did such a thing. She continues to examine her general expectations for women in general:
She remembered how, as a young man, she had insisted that women must be obedient, chaste, scented, and exquisitely appareled. "Now I shall have to pay in my own person for those desires," she reflected; "for women are not (judging by my own short experience of the sex) obedient, chaste, scented, and exquisitely appareled by nature" [115].

Orlando then continues by listing what she must do in order to be seen as publically acceptable by men, or to be "feminine." In the quote above, she realizes that those characteristics are applied to women because of their sex and because of a man's view toward them, not because those can be called naturally feminine. At this realization she declares that she will not be a slave to such views of femininity. However, she eventually succumbs to societal pressures and she conforms to them through most of her life, besides when she begins dressing as she did when she was a man and prowling the streets of London.
However, the simple biological transformation does not change Orlando internally. She still takes comfort in nature and in her poem, "The Oak Tree," and striving to find what to do with herself. Those aspects of women seen as femininity cannot strictly be applied, and in the time at which Orlando considers them, are almost requisite for a woman. Though at one point Orlando does resist, only to fall back into the norms forced upon women. But what is argued is that these gender norms labeled as feminine or masculine are not naturally male or female, but are taught and forced on those sexes.

Oppression, Categorization and the Feminine Emergence

“Woman are but children of a larger growth… A man of sense only trifles with them, plays with them, humours and flatters them…” (214) Society plays a huge role in the defining of who we are as people and how we look at ourselves as a part of society. In this quote taken from Lord Chesterfield, who, as this quote shows, may be a bit of womanizer, (note my subtlety in the accusation) has a higher social role than most. His interpretation, which may be along the lines of many men of this period, is that women are inferior. The social norms of the time revolve around the idea that men are the dominant figures of society and women are the keepers of the home and bearers of children. Becky Francis states in her article, “Engendering debate: how to formulate a political account of the divide between genetic bodies and discursive gender?”, inequalities, such as these, between assigned male and female behaviors and expressions have constituted the basis for feminist analysis.
Even though there is a huge gap between the date of publication for Orlando, 1928 and the date of publication for the Francis article, 2007, the prospect of categorization of gender and the feminist emergence lingers during the time frames of each piece’s production. During the period in which Orlando was written, women were categorized, as Lord Chesterfield stated, “children of a larger growth”. Looking through the lens from the opposite side, men would be categorized as the parents of those children, who merely “play” with the children. The actions that followed this quote by Chesterfield state that Orlando “plopped” sugar into Chesterfield’s tea before exiting outside to the garden to be alone. The simplicity of plopping sugar and walking outside was a major action for that time period. Woman of the time were subject to such treatment and usually dealt with it but Orlando, who is far from usual, did not allow the normative, oppressive words and beliefs of Chesterfield bring her down.
Throughout the novel there is an array of actions that deal with feminism and its emergence. Woolf illustrates her main character changing sexes and then manipulating the idea of sex altogether by constantly changing from male to female by a change of clothes. There is no doubt that there was comedy in Orlando, but the feminine stand against the categorization and social norm oozes through the words of Woolf and the actions of Orlando.

Reconstructing the Meaning of Gender: Becky Francis and Virginia Woolf's "Orlando"

After reading Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, many contemporary social norms can be called into question, especially those that are assumed to be uncomplicated. Becky Francis recalls a distinct observation made by many researchers, such as Kessler and Butler: “Not everyone falls easily into the categories ‘male’ and ‘female’, for a variety of reasons. Yet despite this, sex is usually assumed to be unproblematic, ‘common-sense’ categorization” (Francis 211). Reading this quote easily puts Orlando’s gender transformation in my mind. Though it is effortless to state that Orlando transformed from man to woman, it may be proven more difficult because of Orlando’s sexuality. This can be seen when Orlando finds true love with Marmaduke Bonthrop Shelmerdine. When each discovers that the other is not the gender that is outwardly portrayed, a conflict ensues that is not described in the text: “Never was there such a scene of protestation and demonstration as then took place since the world began. When it was over and they were seated again she asked him, what was this talk of a South-west gale? Where was he bound for?” (Woolf 184-185). Though there is obviously a conflict that occurs, the speaker decides not to portray it within the novel. This may be because it occurred so briefly and thus deemed irrelevant. It also may be because the characters are obviously so unfazed by the conflict because of their immediate love, even though Orlando is revealed to be a man and “Shel” is revealed to be a woman. Orlando, admitting that though he is now a woman is still attracted to women, proves to defy the concrete meaning of the word “gender.” Though he is now outwardly perceived as female, his love for a woman, who is outwardly perceived as male, entangles the social norms that define gender.

Society's Performative Expectations: Woolf, Butler, and Gender Identity

Having lived life in the body of both a man and a woman, Orlando possesses a broad understanding of the disparate roles of the sexes. Upon undergoing the transformation into a female form, she often experiments with the fluidity of gender by garbing herself in clothes which confuse her biological sex. In the guise of a man, she ruminates the what it was like to be held by society's behavioral expectations for a male. As a boy of noble birth, she was expected to act in accordance with the masculine virtues of pomp and competitiveness. After Orlando becomes a woman, the nature of gender performance continually vexes her. She ruminates the behavioral shift she will have to make in order to fulfill her role as a woman: "I shall never be able to crack a man over the head, or tell him he lies in his teeth...all I can do, once I set foot on English soil, is to pour out tea, and ask my lords how they like it" (Woolf, 116). Orlando is commenting on what Judith Butler call the performative nature of gender. Butler posits that "if gender is the cultural meanings that the sexed body assumes, then a gender cannot be said to follow from a sex in any one way" (Butler, 9). This argument complicates the strict binary between the biological notions of male and female. Butler suggests that it is society that dictates what it means to be a man or a woman, not biology. Men and women are expected to perform in certain manners based on these social preconceptions. Orlando's is ambivalent because she is forced to assume a new identity to match her morphed body when all she has known is the life of a man. The fact that these two genders are, in the eyes of society, so fundamentally disparate complicates Orlando's transformation. She must perform in such a way that her behavior matches her bodily signifiers.

Vita Sackville-West’s Split Background in Orlando”

“…the words echoed in Orlando’s sad heart, and she felt that however much landing there meant comfort, meant opulence, meant consequence and state, still, if it meant conventionality, meant slavery, meant deceit, meant denying her love, fettering her limbs, pursing her lips, and restraining her tongue, then she would turn about with the ship and set sail once more for the gypsies” (Woolf 121).
Reading this quote from Orlando through the eyes of Kristie Blair and her article “Gypsies and Lesbian Desire: Vita Sackville-West, Violet Trefusis, and Virginia Woolf”, helps me see that Orlando is indeed Vita Sackville-West and the greater significance of the book to the life of Virginia Woolf. According to Blair, Vita’s grandmother was half gypsy and half aristocrat, and Vita had always been proud of her gypsy heritage. Here we have Orlando who in a former life was a young aristocrat, is now a gypsy woman returning to her former life as an aristocrat in England but with some reservations. She is afraid of the social implications of being a woman, even and aristocratic woman, in England and how they will limit her in her freedoms of expression, speech, and love. Reminding herself of these things, some faint desire for the gypsy lifestyle she was so quick to leave behind is rekindled.
The significance of this book to Woolf’s life is better explained after reading Blair’s article, and the importance of the gypsy Orlando is explained when she says “that the gypsy—and, as we shall see, the Spanish gypsy in particular—haunts texts about desire between women in the period” (Blair 142). Vita was a Spanish gypsy and casting her as Orlando who is also a gypsy is Woolf’s way of writing about their real-life love affair. Though it sounds like a stretch, it was a discrete way to write about this lesbian love affair and make it public without the immediate public backlash.