Friday, July 23, 2010

What's a 21st-Century Feminist to Do?

I'm really enjoying A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly. Really, really enjoying it. I'm so glad I had that moment of weakness in the bookstore that led to buying it.

I'm about halfway through, and I find myself with a bit of a dilemma. I predict that the main character, Mattie, is going to have a choice to make at the end. She loves words and writing and wants to go to college, something that not many young women in the early 20th century managed to do. On the other hand, she is being courted by Royal Loomis, and she is liking it.  However, I'm afraid those two paths for her future are, unfortunately, mutually exclusive. As Mattie said,

Miss Wilcox had books but no family. Minnie had a family now, but those babies would keep her from reading for a good long time. Some people, like my aunt Josie and Alvah Dunning the hermit, had neither love nor books. Nobody I knew had both.

Maybe I'll be wrong, and Mattie will get to be the person who has both. But somehow I don't think the ending will be that easy.  And that brings me to my dilemma: which do I think Mattie should choose, love or books?

I find myself really hoping she will get together with Royal. He offers her something she doesn't have in her own family - stability. Since Mattie's mother died, her family has really struggled financially, and her father is distant and angry all the time. Royal seems like a steady, hard working guy who would always provide for Mattie.  Even as I write that, a little voice in the back of my head keeps saying, "But he doesn't respect her love of learning. They don't have enough in common to have a good relationship." Probably so. I keep falling into that same old trap girls have fallen into for centuries: "OK, so he's not perfect now, but he'll learn to respect the things that matter to her." Uh-huh.

So, she rejects Royal and finds a way to go to college. That would be the more 21st-century thing to do. Who says a woman needs a relationship to define who she is? Mattie can be true to her self and to her talents and not let anything stand between her and her dreams. Though giving up her chance with Royal might be hard in the short run, she will probably eventually find love with someone who is more in tune with her intellectually.  If she married Royal, she would be stuck in a life of drudgery on his farm, and he shows some signs of being a little rigid in his attitudes. Why should she sacrifice her own dreams to live his dreams? I can't let the old romantic fairy tale of love cloud the reality of her life. She's better off without Royal.

Yet, the enlightened and liberated professional woman I like to pretend I am seems to be losing out at this point to the romantic reared on lots of "happily ever after" stories.

I don't know how it's going to turn out - and I am absolutely resisting the strong urge I feel to flip ahead and see!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

A Sharp Tongue or a Soft Answer

There's a saying on the marquee of a church that I pass frequently that reads, "A sharp tongue may cut your own throat." As I read The Heretic's Daughter by Kathleen Kent, I couldn't help thinking of that saying, because apparently the main reason Martha Carrier was imprisoned and hanged as a witch was because she had a sharp tongue. 

Everyone, from family members to neighbors, was a target for that tongue. Most people probably just let it roll off their backs, labeling Martha as an unpleasant person you shouldn't cross. However, there were some who took her comments more personally, and, in an atmosphere charged with suspicion and fear, they saw their chance to make Martha pay for that sharp tongue.

Am I saying that Martha was wrong to speak her mind? Not necessarily. Her sister, Mary, who is portrayed as being as gentle as Martha is harsh, was also arrested and spent months in jail (though she wasn't hanged). And I'll admit - there are times when something negative really ought to be said. "I'm not going to let you lie and trick my son into marriage." "Your writing is not up to standard." "You're not getting enough done." "Yes, that dress makes you look fat." The trick is, how can we say those things without creating enemies, as Martha did?

When I used to teach interpersonal communication, one of the concepts I liked and emphasized in class was rhetorical sensitivity.  Put simply, rhetorical sensitivity is the ability to look at a situation and to shape a message to meet the needs of the speaker and the listener in a way that will meet those needs (as much as possible) and maintain a relationship. Martha's responses usually met her needs only. Maybe she didn't care about the relationship. I get that; there are a couple of people at work who really bug me, and I don't care if they like me or not. However, I understand that I'm going to have to live with these people. Even if I wish they would get another job, it's probably not going to happen. I have to work with them, and if I antagonize them, working with them is going to be all that much harder.

How much truer would that be in a frontier community? No one could be completely self-sufficient. Like it or not, Martha was part of a community, and when she refused to make herself a part, the community turned on her and her family.

It's sad. I don't think Martha was a bad person, and the characters she sparred with were pretty despicable.  But the circumstances gave them power, and one thing despicable people in power will do is dispose of their enemies.

There's a lot of wisdom in Proverbs 15:1 - "A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger." (KJV)

Saturday, July 17, 2010

A Little Poetic License, I Suppose

The other night the kids and I watched Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland. I have to admit, I'm not much of a movie watcher, and I got bored and wandered off to clean the dishes or something. Part of the problem may have been that it wasn't much like the Alice in Wonderland I remember from my youth. There were the basic characters, but the plot seemed entirely different. My son (who has read both Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass) said the movie is Burton's take on what could have happened - in other words, a sequel that was never written.

This is not anything new. I remember hating Melissa Gilbert when I was a kid because of what that TV show did to the Little House book series, LOL. And as a student of literature and communication, I understand that a movie director is producing a different work than the original book, and that the director has a certain degree of poetic license to produce his/her work.  A faithful adaptation of a novel doesn't always satisfy; the first Harry Potter movie seemed a little too self-conscious about sticking close to the book, in my opinion. With a long book, a director simply has to leave some things out - who wants to sit for more than three hours watching a movie? (Well, I take that back - my husband has been known to sit and watch all three of the Lord of the Rings movies in one sitting - the extended versions).

Sometimes, the director does a great job capturing the "soul" of the book, even if there are significant changes from the book. The Lord of the Rings series is the best example. Although Shelob was in the second book, it made narrative sense to put her in the third movie. My husband and son were upset because there was no funeral for Dumbledore at the end of the Half-Blood Prince movie. I'm suspending judgment on that, thinking that may be the place where the first half of the last Harry Potter movie will start. If so, I think that's a reasonable use of poetic license.

What I do have a problem with are movies that give only lip service to the original work. One clear example is Stuart Little. Ugh, I hate that movie! There's very little in that movie that comes from the book. In fact, it almost seems like the people who produced this movie weren't all that interested in the story in the book; all they wanted was the character, the mouse who lived with a human family. And even with that, they significantly changed Stuart's character from a dapper mouse in a tiny suit (see Garth Williams' rendition above) to a more casual "skater" mouse.

So what? So, my daughter sees no need to read Stuart Little; she's "seen the movie, Mom!" 

We're going to nip that attitude in the bud...she saw an ad for the Beezus and Ramona movie and asked to go see it. I said, "You have to read the book first." Next thing I know, there she is, curled up on the couch reading it. Yes.....

Thursday, July 1, 2010

My Kids Are So Delightful

Last night, I noticed my daughter was once again reading The Two Princesses of Bamarre, for the third time (this year), and I made some typical motherly comment to the effect of she needs to expand her reading horizons instead of reading the same thing over and over.  Her brother, ever eager to pile on when someone points out a flaw in his sister, immediately agreed. Before I knew what had happened, they had made a pact to create a reading list for each other - 10 books to be completed this summer.

The lists themselves are pretty telling as to the kids' personalities.  Lily's list for Roger has The Two Princesses of Bamarre, of course, as well as Fairest, Princess Academy, Dealing with get the drift.  Lots of princesses.  Roger's list for Lily reads like a syllabus for a course in the epic adventure -- The Lightning Thief, The Hobbit, Eragon, Redwall, etc. 

Lily started The Lightning Thief immediately, and it was such fun to hear her laughing out loud at some parts. She loves it. In fact, she's almost finished it tonight, and she asked Roger if she can suspend the reading list so she can read the rest of the series.  So the project was a success.

Roger read Fairest last night and had started on The Two Princesses of Bamarre (that kid can devour books, let me tell you). This morning, he reported that neither book had a main character worthy of the title "protagonist," (not his words) because they are "weak" (his word). Of course I couldn't let that pass without comment. Come to find out, he considers them weak because they aren't like Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings, or even Eoweyn (forgive the spelling - it's late, and I'm too lazy to go look it up). That provided the perfect opportunity for a little gender role discussion and to point out that men's ways of being strong aren't the only valid strengths. He at least pretended to listen, ha ha.