Tag Archives: culture

Distortion and Stereotypes in Le Carré’s “The Spy Who Came in from the Cold”

[As always—spoilers]

It’s been quite some time since I’ve read past midnight, but I had to see how John Le Carré’s novel, “The Spy Who Came in from the Cold” ended. It was published in 1963, but I found it to be surprisingly relevant in 2017. One of things things that I admire about Le Carré’s writing is that he is not wishy-washy, trying to please everyone. There’s a bite to both the words and the plot.

Le Carre says of his own book in the intro called Fifty Years Later:

The novel’s merit, then—or its offense, depending on where you stood—was not that it was authentic, but that it was credible. The bad dream turned out to be one that a lot of people in the world were sharing, since it asked the same old questions that we are asking ourselves fifty years later: how far can we go in the rightful defense of our Western values without abandoning them along the way?(xiv)

He also points out that the negative parts of the spies’ culture were a reflection of the problems in the larger culture.  The plot of the book explores how easy it becomes to exploit the individual in the service of some “greater good.”  The sense of impending tragedy is palpable and grows throughout the plot. The pacing of the book is excellent. Leamas, the spy, has to give up much of his individuality and acts as a tool for his handlers to gain ground in East Germany. He willingly makes this sacrifice of himself.  Another character isn’t a willing participant in the scheme.

However, the thread that I found the most relevant to our current politics was the section where Liz Gold, a U.K. Citizen and a member of the communist party, is brought to East Germany before the wall came down. When she interacts with the people there, she realizes some of the distorted beliefs that they had about the British. For example, they informed Liz that the working class was treated horribly in the U.K. In one scene, after Liz has been involved in something disturbing and exhausting, she doesn’t feel like eating the food offered to her. The wardress and she exchange:

‘Why don’t you eat?’ the woman asked again. ‘It’s all over now.’ She said this without compassion, as if the girl were a fool not to eat when the food was there.

‘I’m not hungry.’

The wardress shrugged: ‘You may have a long journey,’ she observed, ‘and not much at the other end.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘The workers are starving in England,’ she declared complacently. “The capitalists let them starve.’

Liz thought of saying something but there seemed no point (204).

It didn’t occur to them to ask Liz what her experience was as a citizen of the place, albeit of member of the Communist party there, because they already “knew” the answer.  Certainly, there were hungry people in that era as there are now, but most of them were comfortably fed, as demonstrated in an early scene, in which Liz is generous with another character, buying him a variety of food. Yet, Liz was also mistaken in her beliefs about what Communism was like. Le Carré was likely speaking to governmental propaganda.

In many ways, when compared to when this book was written, we have more exposure now to what other people’s lives are like in other places.  On the other hand, there are still distorted and stereotypical views.  Even within a country, people of different categories and political beliefs may not have exposure to how other people actually live or what they believe.

And yet, Le Carré also shows how both governments shared similarities in the prices they were willing to pay for their ideologies, despite having different ideologies. Both were willing to sacrifice the individual to win the “game.”

I’d highly recommend reading The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. It’s an excellent spy novel that is also thought-provoking.

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Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology

For months, I’ve been anticipating Neil Gaiman’s book, Norse Mythology. I’ve always loved Gaiman’s fiction relating to mythology like American Gods and The Ocean at the End of the Lane. (For my thoughts on The Ocean at the End of the Lane and Buddhism, you can view this post.) I don’t know much at all about Norse mythology beyond what I’ve picked up in comic book movies—so very little. For years, I’ve tried to pinpoint why Neil Gaiman is one of my favorite authors. After reading Norse Mythology, I can better articulate why. He notes in his introduction to the book:

As I retold these myths, I tried to imagine myself a long time ago, in the lands where these stories were first told, during the long winter nights perhaps, under the glow of the northern lights, or sitting outside in the small hours, awake in the unending daylight of midsummer, with an audience of people who wanted to know what else Thor did, and what the rainbow was, and how to live their lives, and where bad poetry comes from (15).

Neil Gaiman is a writer who understands that stories are a process across time and weaves them accordingly.  “That’s the joy of myths. The fun comes in telling them yourself—something I warmly encourage you to do, you person reading this. Read the stories in this book, then make them your own…” (16).  He absorbs stories from the past and, as a member of the current zeitgeist, he then transmutes them with his own distinctive style.

Specifically, in this volume, he weaves together various stories of the Norse Gods into a narrative. The idea of Ragnarok, or the apocalypse of the world, is a fascinating one. In the end, while there are epic levels of destruction of gods, men, and the world, some survive, humans are created again.  Gaiman ends the book with chess pieces, and the last line of the book is: “And the game begins anew.”

Someone dear to me died two weeks ago, and I’ve been contemplating life and death so the book’s arrival was a bit synchronous for me.  Life and death are a process. And stories help us think about these processes. Storytellers played (and continue to play) an important role in the socialization of a culture, passing on ethical values from one generation to the next while also playing an entertainment role.

I don’t want to say too much about the specific stories: you should read them for yourself.  However, I loved Gaiman’s style when it comes to characterizing the other gods’ reactions to Loki’s trickery.  Loki is frustrating if he’s working against you, but he can be a very compelling ally—until he’s not anymore. One of my favorite stories, as a writer, was “The Mead of Poets,” where poetry comes from. The ending of it made me laugh.  The stories include the gamut of human emotions and experiences. The book was delightful, and I can see myself returning to read it again in a few years.

 

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First Thoughts on Ferrante’s “My Brilliant Friend”

I just cracked Elena Ferrante’s novel, My Brilliant Friend, open a few days ago. (I read Ann Goldstein’s translation from Italian.) It’s the first of four novels in a series. I tore through it. The last paragraph ends in a cliffhanger of the best type, and I’ve already put a hold request in at the library to get the second one. The book is beautifully written and the narrative engrossed me. It’s narrated by one character looking back on her friendship with another character as they grow up. The setting is in Naples, Italy. Most of the book is set in just one neighborhood.

Although the themes and symbolism are still percolating, I can say at this point that I loved the parallels between the two friends, the symbolism that the two of them expressed to one another knowingly (as well as other symbolism in the narrative), the cast of characters, and the inequalities discussed. One of the most important topics in the book is the connection between social class, education, mentorship, and relationships. The book interrogates both the broader societal conditions and relationships with other people, as well as the personal characteristics and traits that it takes to get an education. Until I finish the series, I’m reluctant to draw too many conclusions. I highly recommend picking up the first book.

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A Quick Review of Jim Butcher’s “The Aeronaut’s Windlass”

[Ahoy spoilers]

It’s been a couple of years since I’ve read one of Jim Butcher’s books, as I tend to cool out on long urban fantasy series. I’ve read many books in his Harry Dresden series, as well as his Codex Alera series. I decided to pick up The Aeronaut’s Windlass, the first book in a new series, to read over the holidays. I was hoping for a fast-paced, swashbuckling adventure, and Butcher didn’t let me down.  The cast of characters was entertaining. He switches point of view often, which I found jarring at first, but eventually, I grew accustomed to the large cast. I also really enjoyed the world building and am looking forward to learning more about the how the magical crystals work, as well as the Etherialists’ magic. I liked the Horatio Hornblower-esque feel to some of the scenes with Captain Grimm. The book included flying ships, magic, monsters (of both human and nonhuman varieties), and fascinating technology.

My favorite part of the book was the characterization, as well as the characters’ interactions with one another. I’ve grown weary in the past few years with so many “troubled” anti-heroes in books, movies, and TV shows. I found it refreshing to read a book where the protagonists were actually well-meaning, “good” people (and cats). Also, I liked the fact that among the “good” characters, there were several women, all with different strengths, as well as weaknesses.  Although there were some gender roles in the society, like different styles of clothing, it seemed that women were either equal participants or nearly equal. However, it’s possible that the women protagonists may have all been exceptional. I particularly enjoyed the voice of the cat, Rowl.  I haven’t made my mind up yet about what I think of the the Etherialist villain from the book yet.

I did begin to get fatigued on the chases and fighting in the book.  However, around the time I began to feel fatigued, there was big pay off for each of the major characters.  It felt a bit like a crescendo. And I particularly loved the scene for Bridget, who was reluctant to leave her home at the beginning of the novel.  She winds up saving the day by staying calm, and using her both her wits and brawn. She rescues her love interest, which means something because he is also very competent.

All in all, I’m looking forward to reading the next book in the series and would recommend it to others. I feel like this book would make a fantastic movie if you like swashbuckling and magic. It was a fun way to end my reading in 2015 and to begin my reading in 2016.

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Creation of a Hero: Dramaturgy, Identity, and Costume in “Ms. Marvel: No Normal”

[Super-hero sized spoilers ahead.]

In high school, I avidly read the Legion of Super-Heroes reboot that began in 1994. Eventually, I cooled out on the series, although my love of graphic novels began when I wrote a paper on Maus by Art Spiegel in college for an English course. Recently, I found an unexpected treasure when I sat down to read my spouse’s copy of Ms. Marvel: No Normal, the first compilation of the new Marvel comic series. The series is an exploration of identity: Kamala Khan is a Pakistani-American teenager who struggles with being a second generation immigrant, especially in terms of identity. The volume also focuses on the challenges she faces with differing gender roles between the broader U.S. culture she and her friends are embedded in with those of her parents’ country of origin.  In a Los Angeles Review of Books article, The Subversive and Liberating World of G. Willow Wilson, Hannon points out that Wilson:

wants us to resist the presumptions that Muslim women need saving simply because they are Muslim and female. Wilson’s work and her characters, in pulpy form, embody this refusal since they are not waiting to be saved, but are doing the saving. They may strike at oppression—but they never strike at their Muslim culture.” In a society that views women, especially Muslim women, as powerless or victims, how does one show empowerment?

Ms. Marvel: No Normal shows empowerment through the transformation of Kamala into the role of a hero while navigating all the other aspects of her identity. I’ve written many times about Goffman’s dramaturgical analysis on this blog because I’m fascinated by how people construct, play, and modify their roles in different social settings. This link will take you to a brief overview of dramaturgical analysis, as well as a clip of Kanye West going “off script” to discuss his feelings about race and class during Hurricane Katrina. Dramaturgy views how we play roles, use scripts, and wear costumes in the different settings we navigate throughout our days.

In terms of “Ms. Marvel: No Normal,” Kamala is dealing with her identity in terms of being a young woman, a teenager, a Pakistani-American, a Muslim, and finally, she is trying to figure out how her desire to be a hero fits in with all these other roles. The volume explores how many gender roles, particularly those associated with Muslim women, make it challenging to take on the mantle of hero. Kamala is also a teen. One of the major aspects a teenager must figure out about her (or his) identity, is what costume to wear. Obviously, this is important for a superhero in terms of identity, too. All of these roles are impacting Kamala simultaneously.

The story does an excellent job of exploring intersectionality. Intersection theory is an analysis that allows connection between the different systems of oppression to one another as they impact individual’s lives. For a better understanding of the origins of intersection theory, this article explores the emergence of intersection theory to help African American women in court cases where they were being ignored due to the intersection of race and gender. Intersection theory can be applied to social class and other categories, as well. Returning to Ms. Marvel, Kamala must deal with being a minority in a culture that privileges being white and expects young women to take on certain roles. This volume explores the intersection of gender, ethnicity, and age.

While there is a villain in the series, the conflict in this volume mainly arises from Kamala becoming an independent young women in a world that expects women (especially younger women) to make themselves small, to be beautiful (in a extremely narrow sense), and to be protected. To be a “beautiful” woman in the U.S., unfortunately, women must deal with a beauty standard that assumes that women are sex objects. Kamala gets overtaken by a strange fog and she “sees” Captain Marvel, Iron Man, and Captain America, who are real people in her world. Captain Marvel asks Kamala:  “’Who do you want to be?’” Kamala replies, “Right now, I want to be beautiful and awesome and butt-kicking and less complicated. I want to be you. Except I would wear the classic, politically incorrect costume and kick butt in giant wedge heels.” Captain Marvel replies with a raised eyebrow, “You must have some kind of weird boot fetish.”

I adored this scene.  For years, the comic book industry had been critiqued for its depictions of women in art.  In this volume, the characters address this concern. When Kamala loses control and “transforms” into Captain Marvel, she is wearing one of the revealing outfits that many critics have complained about in the comic industry, in video games, on book covers, etc. The comic actually confronts head on the impracticality of these images of women. Kamala herself has absorbed the rules of American culture: beautiful women are Caucasian, wear high heels, and short skirts. In fact, Kamala soon realizes that she needs a very practical costume so she turns next to her Muslim identity. She takes the burkini, which is a swimsuit that covers the whole body for modesty, for her costume. She notes that she would have never actually worn it for swimming. For her shoe wear, she appears to be wearing high top sneakers. She doesn’t succeed on this mission. When she returns home, her father tells her, “You don’t have to be someone else to impress anybody. You are perfect just the way you are.”  She realizes that it takes too much energy to change sizes in the previous costumes. Finally, she gets Bruno, her friend, to help make her a stretchy costume that looks more like a superhero costume. She adds the symbol to her costume herself. This relates a great deal to the intersectional struggles that arise for young minority women, particularly a second generation immigrant, to belong.  As she tries on her identities, she realizes that she doesn’t fit into the typical American view of who she is, but she also finds aspects of the Muslim-American view to be restricting. Instead, she uses ingenuity to forge a new path. (This reminds me of the discussion of code-switching in my previous post on M.L. Brennan’s Millennial character, Fortitude.) Her friend and classmate, who happens to be an inventor, helps develop a material that is flexible enough to flow with her. This portrayal for a second generation immigrant really resonated with me.

In terms of dramaturgical analysis, having a proper costume helped Kamala to have the confidence to play her new role her own way—letting go of aspects of both cultures while taking on others. Returning to a different dramaturgical concept, other people in the settings that Kamala is participating seem to want her to fit into certain gender roles. They want her to play certain parts. For example, other characters want to protect her due to her the intersection of her age, gender, and religion, often working at cross purposes with Kamala’s own desire to be brave and heroic. Many scenes with her parents fit the bill, but the one I wish to discuss is one with her friend Bruno.

It’s revealed early on that Bruno has romantic feelings for Kamala and has been protecting her since they were children. Obviously, this plays into traditional gender roles in the U.S.  When Kamala calls him out about it, he admits that he is unnerved by this role reversal as she develops superpowers. And why Bruno is a good ally is that he accepts Kamala the way she is and contributes to her wellbeing in other ways (like using the polymer he invented to help her with a stretchy costume that means she can spend more of her energy focused on the fight.) He accepts her strength, and after a brief adjustment period, seems to accept the new role she is playing.

At the end of the volume, an effigy of Kamala is left at one of the settings she frequents with her friends, the Circle Q convenience store. She says to the gathered crowd: “This guy thinks he can threaten us where we live? Ms. Marvel has a message for him…This is Jersey City. We talk loud, we walk fast, and we don’t take any disrespect. Word.” In the end, Kamala saved the day, at least temporarily. She comes into her own. Kamala Khan has fully embodied her role as a superhero, and I look forward to seeing how her identity continues to unfold. For more information about the writer, G. Willow Wilson, you can look at her website or this interview with her. I can’t wait for the second volume of Ms. Marvel coming out next week!

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Millennials and Code-switching in “Tainted Blood” by M. L. Brennan

[Lots of spoilers. Beware.]

Although I’ve started many urban fantasy series, I eventually cooled out on the genre and stopped reading in the middle of several series.  At a friend’s suggestion, I started reading M. L. Brennan’s Generation V series last year. This week, I had some spare time to read between snow days and illness so I tore through the third book, Tainted Blood. While the series covers some of the usual urban fantasy alliances and tensions between supernatural species, it also addresses conflict that arises between different generations of a family. Furthermore, this series is fun to read because the protagonist, Fortitude Scott, is a Millennial who must code switch.

As a sociologist, I have some reluctance towards using the concept of generations. The idea of commonality between a certain category of people that have experienced certain events (e.g., WWII, 9/11, etc.) can led to stereotyping and discrimination. Additionally, as the less powerful tend to get blamed by the more powerful, we wind up in situations where the younger generation get blamed for societal ills that they did not play a part in creating. (Blaming the younger generations always reminds of this somewhat problematic song, “Kids,” from the musical Bye Bye Birdie. Why is it that every generation of people is the laziest generation of trouble makers ever?)

For full disclosure, I’m only about two or four years older than the oldest Millennials depending on whether the cutoff is set at 1980 or 1982. I typically agree more with Millennials than Gen X. Too often, Millennials have been stereotyped and blamed  for having to adjust to the world that’s changed around them. This article by a Millennial discusses some of the problems inherent in this type of analysis. For a good overview of the Millennial cohort from the White House website, I’d suggest reading this document, 15 Economic Facts about Millenials, by The Council of Economic Advisors.  According to the report, the Millennial generation is: the largest generation, the most diverse (including many immigrants), the most educated cohort, etc. (If you don’t have a much time, I recommend just reading through the table of contents for the fifteen facts.) Like it or not, the concept of generations is a part of our cultural dialogue, and I’m pleased to see a heroic Millennial character in Brennan’s series.

Most of the urban fantasy series that I have read deal with the lives of Generation X, and they often remain strangely apolitical—failing to reference current events or tensions in human society. Generation V, on the other hand, is inherently about how the massive changes in the past few decades in the human world are impacting both the human and the supernatural world. Fortitude is still (mostly) human at the start of the series, but his vampiric family controls an enormous territory in the Northeastern part of the United States and part of Canada. The Scott family rules many other types of supernatural species and has many servants. Madeline Scott, his mother, raised Fortitude differently than her other, older children, allowing him to be raised by humans. However, when he finds out the truth about his vampiric family of origin, she has his adopted family killed and forces him to live with them at their mansion. Therefore, Fortitude identifies more with humans and is an American.

In some ways, I feel that Fortitude has to code-switch, meaning he moves back and forth between at least two cultures, although he prefers human culture. (For an entertaining discussion of code-switching, this NPR piece includes code-switching videos of President Obama, as well as Beyonce.)  Madeline Scott immigrated from the “Old World,” specifically England, in 1662. Therefore, while his adoptive parents were likely Baby boomer Americans, his biological mother comes from not only a different country but a different century.  When Fortitude interacts with his siblings, they also come from different eras. These generational differences are explored in the books.

M. L. Brennan does a great job discussing the plight of the Millennial generation. Although Fortitude is college educated he is chronically underemployed, working in the food service industry, as well as a dog walker. Although he could live the lavish lifestyle of the Scotts, he avoids it when he can. Generally, Fortitude rejects the U.S. cultural value of materialism, although earlier in the book, he accepts some expensive clothes from his brother. His family has been trying to get him to update his appearance and wear expensive clothes for some time. I was surprised, and a bit dismayed, that he accepted the clothes, although I understood the motivator in the book of reaching out to his grieving brother. The major tension in this book is that Fortitude will either have to entirely accept his family’s culture, including how to feed from (and eventually murder humans) and give up what made him belong to human society in the U.S., or he’d have to die. In the end, with the support of his friend (and love interest) Suzume, he realizes he can forge his own path. He can decide what works for him from both cultures.

Later in Tainted Blood, his beloved car is destroyed—apparently, a common metaphor in more than one of the urban fantasy series that I’ve read. This forces him to decide which path to take in terms of materialism. He decides to pay for a cheap Volkswagen Scirocco that is older than he is. In an unusual move, he invites his family to come with him to purchase the new car. They show up to purchase it in his mother’s Rolls-Royce. I love the commentary that Brennan drops into her books about current and past events, as well as generational differences:

Chivalry just looked at me mournfully. “Really, Fort. A German car?” Two world wars had left my brother with strong feelings about certain European countries.

Fortitude is from younger generation that wasn’t shaped by living during World War II. In fact, this scene amused me as I had a similar conversation between myself and an older family member about World War II when I was buying my Honda Civic, a Japanese car. When Fortitude buys the car and says good-bye to his family, his mother says, “‘My littlest baby. What a strange delight you are to us.’” Fortitude delights me as a reader because I’d argue that he is a feminist, accepts many types of diversity (like having a gay roommate, who happens to be a ghoul), and believes in collaborating and mediating instead of always using dominance and violence. He differs from his elder family members in this way. If you’re looking for an entertaining read, I’d highly recommend this series. I can’t wait to see how the series continues. It feels good to look forward to an urban fantasy series again.

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Fairy Tales and Feminist Themes in Neil Gaiman’s “The Sleeper and the Spindle”

[Kingdom shattering spoilers ahead. Beware.]

The queen felt something stirring in her heart. She remembered her stepmother, then. Her stepmother liked to be adored. Learning how to be strong, to feel her own emotions and not another’s, had been hard; but once you learned the trick of it, you did not forget. And she did not wish to rule continents (Gaiman 59).

The Sleeper and the Spindle, Neil Gaiman’s refreshing, modern take on fairy tales illustrates at least two massively important feminist messages: (1) women must first discover that their own emotions belong to them, and (2) women must learn to make choices based on their own feelings, not to please their families, lovers, or society. Before I discuss my thoughts on the importance of the book, I have to state how much I loved the process of experiencing the book. The translucent dust jacket is a work of art, in and of itself, etched with black roses and golden vines, which are relevant to the plot. The sleeping woman on the cover looks slightly out of focus, perhaps as if she is behind glass.  However, if you remove the jacket, she comes into focus. In fact, this mirrors what happens in the book since the sleeping “princess” is revealed to be the power hungry witch. The illustrator, Chris Riddell’s, attention to detail is amazing, and I reread the book to specifically appreciate the art. For example, I noticed the detail that the queen, the hero of the story, has a comforter on her bed with golden skulls. However, the reason I picked the book up in the first place was that I adore Neil Gaiman’s fairy tales from Stardust to Coraline to The Ocean at the End of the Lane. Fairy tales are important and relevant for society.

Due to the fact that I write fiction, I have read many of Gaiman’s thoughts on storytelling, including his thoughts on fairy tales. This piece he wrote for the Guardian on Stardust discusses a bit of the history of fairy tales: why they are loved, why they fell out of favor with adults, and their return.  I feel that Neil Gaiman’s works have, in concert with the works of others, led to a revival and renaissance of fairy tales, as discussed in this recent interview of Gaiman by Gaby Woods. I personally loved fairy tales well before reading Stardust. As a girl, I discovered a book at my grandmother’s house that included many fairy stories. I adored The Light Princess. Every time I visited my grandmother, all through my teens and twenties, I read the story. Now, the old, tattered green book is a part of my own collection.

I love fairy tales because they help us make sense of our world, our society, and the dangers (and magnificence) inherent in being alive. Potentially, they play a role in socializing and entertaining both children and adults. This means it’s imperative to have fairy tales written for and reflecting the age that we live in. We live in an uncertain age of anomie, or a breaking down of norms and stability. We’re dealing with globalization, changes in technology, greed, thirst for power, war, changing gender roles, and unobtainable beauty standards, just to name a few. Gaiman included this G.K. Chesterton quote in Coraline, “Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.”  We need to understand the dangers we face, the potential solutions to those dangers, and that we have the agency to make choices to help. In this time period and in the future, how should individuals act?  How should communities act? What are our responsibilities to ourselves and to one another? Fairy tales allow us to consider these questions.

Turning specifically to Gaiman’s work, The Sleeper and the Spindle, he states in an interview, “‘You don’t need princes to save you…I don’t have a lot of patience for stories in which women are rescued by men.”  The main character, the queen, lived in one kingdom and was running her affairs of state, including getting married in a week. In the past, she had defeated her abusive stepmother. Her friends, the dwarves, traveled to the neighboring kingdom to get her a proper gift. While in the neighboring kingdom, they discover that a sleep spell is taking over and spreading. They return to their queen and inform her of the danger.  She decided to go investigate the situation herself due to her experience with sleep spells, temporarily putting off her marriage and placing her responsibilities in capable hands of her first minister. Eventually, she and the dwarves make it to the castle where the spell is emanating from, and they eventually get inside. They find a beautiful woman they believe is the bespelled princess.  However, this woman is actually a witch who had been stealing the life and dreams of the actual princess, who had become quite elderly.

Reading The Sleeper and the Spindle led me to reflect on gender roles. Often, girls are taught that their own emotions, especially of anger, are invalid. They are expected to be exactly what their caregivers need them to be. For children dealing with a narcissistic caregiver, it is an incredibly powerful moment to realize that your emotions are your own.  If you do not learn the lesson, then your entire life, your entire thread, will be co-opted and corrupted by someone else. The true danger that this fairy tale warns us of is giving away our power to make choices for our own lives.

The heroic queen woke up from a spell that her stepmother had placed on her at a young age prior to the beginning of this story.  Although she escaped her stepmother, she was still living life the way society expected her to—running a kingdom and getting married. This despite the fact that she didn’t seem to have major inclinations to do either thing. So many people get caught up in these traps: fulfilling cultural or parental expectations instead of venturing onto the new paths for themselves. In the end, the dwarf says to the queen:

“And your wedding will be late, but it will happen soon after your return, and the people will celebrate, and there will be joy unbounded through the kingdom…”

…There are choices, she thought, when she had sat long enough. There are always choices.

She made one…

…They walked to the east, all four of them, away from the sunset and the lands they knew, and into the night (66).

It is a difficult balance to strike between the needs we have as individual people and the needs of the community.  However, for young (and not so young) women, we need to learn the lesson that our lives belong to us: not to our parents, not to our teachers, and not to our lovers. This lesson is hard when you’ve been taught your whole life that being a woman requires giving to others all the time. The concept in sociology of supermom is relevant here. A “good” woman in the United States is supposed to be a perfect giver in all the arenas she participates including work, family, volunteer organizations, etc. These norms are slowly changing as women are starting, through hard work (and possibly therapy) to see that they deserve to be be a whole person, not just one who only fulfills others needs.

The queen had to learn how to feel her own emotions first.  Once she learned that lesson, she could then go on to realize that she could make her own choices based on how she felt. In Arlie Hochschild’s book, The Managed Heart: Commercialization of Human Feeling, she posits that when we ignore our emotional systems for our workplaces that we can be harmed.  Our emotions are valuable: they allow us to know when we are being mistreated or when something is (or isn’t) right for us. If you are divorced from your emotional system for long enough, you can start to feel numb, alienated, and at distance from yourself, as if in a deep sleep, like the fairy tales often allude to.

The queen attempts to wake up the princess like men do with a kiss, but it turns out that the witch was actually the one sleeping.  She had cast a spell and stolen the youth of the princess via her dreams and sleep.  In the end, the princess, stabs the witch with the spindle that had been stealing the princess’ life force. I think this is a powerful metaphor. An older woman was stealing the life of a young person by stealing her dreams. And we need to be cautious to avoid becoming like the witch in this tale.  We shouldn’t seek power, beauty, and youth as the main goals of our lives. Again, Gaiman warns against craving, as I discuss in this previous post on Buddhism in The Ocean at the End of the Lane. One of the major dangers of our time is the craving for unobtainable things: youth, beauty, and power.

We need to be teaching young women that they own their emotions and that they are in control of their own lives. This doesn’t mean that women have no responsibility to community, quite the contrary. I get the sense that the queen was going adventuring to help other people. But she was going to help people on her own terms, not the one’s her society had forced on her.  She also gave up the chance to become the witch, to dominate the will of her society, just because of her title. We need to trail blaze new paths.

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