Posts tagged literature

Despite being a classic read by high schoolers everywhere, I never did read John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath. Given Donald Trump's ascendency to the White House, the plight of rural, white Americans has received much attention. I decided to read The Grapes of Wrath because it speaks to a struggling, rural America of a different era.

The novel left me pondering how terribly we can treat our fellow man, and yet, feel just in doing so. The economic hardships that the Okies faced were made more difficult by their being branded with otherness. It also got me thinking about the strong sense of pride that these people have, which informs their reactions to the trials that they face. The virtue of hard work is not lost on them, and they demand a sense of agency.

For the most part, it didn't seem that anyone was truly evil. Everyone was just doing their job or looking out for their families. The police officers are paid to protect tha land. The man running a tractor over homes of his neighbors just wants to feed his families.

Some of the owner men were kind because they hated what they had to do, and some of them were angry because they hated to be cruel, and some of them were cold because they had long ago found that one could not be an owner unless one were cold. And all of them were caught in something larger than themselves. Some of them hated the mathematics that drove them, and some were afraid, and some worshiped the mathematics because it provided a refuge from thought and from feeling.

But the sum of all these mundane jobs and following orders leads to true horrors like children starving. It reminded me Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms about the stupidity of a war. Everyone can agree that what the war and killing is wrong, yet everyone feels powerless to stop fighting. In the same way,

It happens that every man in a bank hates what the bank does, and yet the bank does it. The bank is something more than men, I tell you. It’s the monster. Men made it, but they can’t control it.

Indeed, it seems as if man is more than happy to make his own idols and become enslaved to them. This attitude is alive and well today. The financial crisis in 2008 could attributed to the worship of such mathematics. We can justify the ruthlessness of companies like Uber because, well, it's just business.

Despite being poor and mistreated, the Okies remain a proud and dignified people. In my younger years, I can admit to falling for the Asian model minority myth and using it as a justification for racism against other minorities. But now, seeing the Joad's invoke their ancestors has started to make me understand the destruction that slavery wrought on African Americans. Mama Joad recalls her ancestors often, which often leads the family to persevere and do right.

I never heerd tell of no Joads or no Hazletts, neither, ever refusin’ food an’ shelter or a lift on the road to anybody that asked. They’s been mean Joads, but never that mean.

And also,

Jus' like I said, they ain't a gonna keep no Joad in jail.

Slavery stripped African Americans of that sense of pride and narritive, however. Because the Joad's have so much pride, they won't accept how the police treat them.

“They comes a time when a man gets mad.’’

...

Did you ever see a deputy that didn’ have a fat ass? An’ they waggle their ass an’ flop their gun aroun’. Ma,’’ he said, “if it was the law they was workin’ with, why, we could take it. But it ain’t the law. They’re a-workin’ away at our spirits. They’re a-tryin’ to make us cringe an’ crawl like a whipped bitch. They tryin’ to break us. Why, Jesus Christ, Ma, they comes a time when the on’y way a fella can keep his decency is by takin’ a sock at a cop. They’re workin’ on our decency.

Eventually, Tom sees violence against the police as the only solution, and yet, we are made to feel sympathetic for the Joad's plight. I suppose that this is how many in the Black Lives Matter movement feel, but many condemn their extreme tactics.

Many attribute Trump's rise to the aloofness and condescension of elites. They are not depicted nicely in THe Grapes of Wrath, either. In addition to the quote about owners and the worship of mathematics, there are many instances of how the so-called Okies are looked down on for being backwards. These attitudes are transmitted to the children, for Winfield says:

“That kid says we was Okies,’’ he said in an outraged voice. “He says he wasn’t no Okie ’cause he come from Oregon. Says we was goddamn Okies. I socked him.’’

This is not too dissimilar to today's depictions of the Christian right or Southern rednecks. While the owner class is depicted as cold and detached, we see a human side of the poor. Mama Joad tells us:

“Learnin’ it all a time, ever’ day. If you’re in trouble or hurt or need— go to poor people. They’re the only ones that’ll help— the only ones.’’

And maybe, there's some truth to that. The most striking hypocrisy among elite liberals is their tendency to self-segregate and resist all attempts at integration. Californians tend to live in enclaves and fight against affordable housing. It was true in Steinbeck's time, and it is true today. Embracing other cultures for many of the globally elite rarely goes beyond dining at ethnic restaurants found on Yelp or taking exotic vacations. While many liberals support refugee resettlement, nearly all of that work is done by Evangelical Christians, who are often derided as denying science like evolution and climate change.

Of course, Christians are not without their hypocrisy, either. Casy is an ex-preacher who admits to having slept around. The reason he is an ex-preacher is that he is well aware of how the Church has failed his congregation. Just as then, today, there are those that would use the Church to enrish themselves.

All in all, though, the book seems to echo some many fundamental biblical teachings. The owner men that oppress the poor are not actually evil. They are simply "caught in something larger than themselves," and so as in Matthew 19:24: "Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God." In Casy's last moments, he says, “You don’ know what you’re a-doin’.’’ as in Luke 23:24,

Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they don't know what they are doing." And the soldiers gambled for his clothes by throwing dice.

Finally, Tom almost repeats Ecclessiates 4:9-12 verbatim:

‘Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their labor. For if they fall, the one will lif’ up his fellow, but woe to him that is alone when he falleth, for he hath not another to help him up.’ 1 That’s part of her.’’ “Go on,’’ Ma said. “Go on, Tom.’’ “Jus’ a little bit more. ‘Again, if two lie together, then they have heat: but how can one be warm alone? And if one prevail against him, two shall withstand him, and a three-fold cord is not quickly broken.’

I wasn't entirely sure of what to make of the very end, which I won't mention the details here, lest I ruin the book for any readers. It seemed either to be an ultimate act of desperation or a higher call to look after our fellow man. Maybe it was a bit of both.


I just finished reading Jane Austen's Emma. Despite it being full of romance, I didn't particularly like this book. Several of the characters practiced various forms of duplicity and were rewarded with happy endings. There seems to be some attempt at lesson warning against youthful arrogance and the obsession with social class, but such admonishments come across as weak since everyone ends up happily ever after anyway.

For some reason the quote that stuck out most to me was made by Frank Churchill:

It is always the lady's right to decide on the degree of acquaintance.

I suppose that this is true. All the gentleman can do is ask, but the lady has the final say. I just found it strange since it seemed to imply that women have the upper hand in dating even in the 1800s.

I recall the quote from William Thackeray's Vanity Fair:

And oh, what a mercy it is that these women do not exercise their powers oftener! We can’t resist them, if they do. Let them show ever so little inclination, and men go down on their knees at once: old or ugly, it is all the same. And this I set down as a positive truth. A woman with fair opportunities, and without an absolute hump, may marry WHOM SHE LIKES. Only let us be thankful that the darlings are like the beasts of the field, and don’t know their own power. They would overcome us entirely if they did.

Another author asserts that women have power over men.

In light of Donald Trump's election, I've been thinking a lot about misogny and feminism. It's clear that women put up with a lot of misogny and objectification from Donald Trump's comments, the Harvard Mens Soccer Team's "Scouting Report", and the harsh judgement lopped on Hilary Clinton for everything from her looks to the way she speaks. I could offer even more evidence like personal anecdotes and the gender pay gap, but this post would go on forever.

Despite all the overwhelming evidence of the challenges that women face, many men and even some women don't find much to like in feminism, for Jill Filipovic writes in The Men Feminists Left Behind that

...young women are soaring, in large part because we are coming of age in a kind of feminist sweet spot: still exhibiting many traditional feminine behaviors — being polite, cultivating meaningful connections, listening and communicating effectively — and finding that those same qualities work to our benefit in the classroom and workplace, opening up more opportunities for us to excel.

The fact of the matter is that while men like Donald Trump and the Harvard Mens Soccer team exhibit despicable behavior, most men are not billionaires or star athletes and are not in the position of power to get away with such actions. Even if we do harbor such hateful attitudes, we're not in a position to act on them, which we may feel absolves us of our guilt. Thus, it can feel that feminist are falsely accusing us of wrongdoing.

On the contrary, a typical young man's interaction with women often puts him in a losing position:

  • if the woman is a classmate, she probably has a higher grade as women do much better in school on average.
  • in dating, it's rejection after rejection for men. You might go on a few dates, pay for a couple of dinners, and never receive an answer to a text, and
  • while female body image problems receive the most attention, male attractiveness is actually judged more harshly according to Dataclysm, where Christian Rudder writes,

    When you consider the supermodels, the porn, the cover girls, the Lara Croft–style fembots, the Bud Light ads, and, most devious of all, the Photoshop jobs that surely these men see every day, the fact that male opinion of female attractiveness is still where it’s supposed to be is, by my lights, a small miracle. It’s practically common sense that men should have unrealistic expectations of women’s looks, and yet here we see it’s just not true.

Now, I know many women will tell me that a lot of those men are jerks and deserved to be rejected. All they really wanted was sex. They'll certainly have personal anecdotes of being used for sex or being ghosted themselves. There seems to be some type of selection bias, however, where women focus on men in positions of power. According to Robin W. Simon in Teaching Men to Be Emotionally Honest, boys are "more invested in ongoing romantic relationships," so the typical male actually takes heart break more severely but is left with no outlet for his emotions because men don't feel safe to be emotionally vulnerable.

So, maybe Jane Austen and William Thackeray have a point. Many men can feel rather oppressed and might even see misogyny as somewhat justified on that account. Objectification of women becomes a sort of defense mechanism to make rejection more bearable, for it's easier to take rejection from someone you don't respect. I know that at times, I've had these thoughts.

Now, to be perfectly clear, I no longer feel this way. The issues that women face are very real, and while I will probably never fully understand them, I know there are very real forces of oppression that women fight against, and that feminism is necessary. I wrote this so that women might understand where some men are coming from. I just thought that there could be better understanding between the two sides because it's important for us men to fight for gender equality, too.

Men actually have a lot to gain from gender equality. While women might feel forced to be spend a lot of time on childcare, many men feel forced into careers they might not have chosen otherwise, but for the pressure to provide for a family. In the United States, men commit suicide much more often, and use of mental health resources may be a contributor, for men don't feel comfortable seeking help.

I guess it just occured to me that a lot of the animosity between the two sexes can be attributed to outmoded dating rituals, so maybe we can start there?


Photo URL is broken

After a long break from reading, I started with something easy and fun: Alice in Wonderland and Alice Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll. I can't say the book has much purpose or forces one to ponder the human condition, but it is beautifully written. Through the reading, one really does feel the sense of wonder that a child feels as he or she is exploring the world around them. I highly recommend this book for anyone who feels like life is losing its luster. Despite my apathy about a lot of life, adventuring with Alice always made me smile.

Alice's willingness to accept the impossible leads her to the most interesting situations. Talking animals and flowers or constantly growing and shrinking confuses her, but she sees life as a puzzle and figures out how to control the growing and shrinking. The other playful part about the novel are all the puns. Here are some of my favorite are

  • When talking about school lessons:

    'And how many hours a day did you do lessons?' said Alice, in a hurry to change the subject.

    'Ten hours the first day,' said the Mock Turtle: 'nine the next, and so on.'

    'What a curious plan!' exclaimed Alice.

    'That's the reason they're called lessons,' the Gryphon remarked: 'because they lessen from day to day.'

    This was quite a new idea to Alice, and she thought it over a little before she made her next remark. 'Then the eleventh day must have been a holiday?'

    'Of course it was,' said the Mock Turtle.

    'And how did you manage on the twelfth?' Alice went on eagerly.

    'That's enough about lessons,' the Gryphon interrupted in a very decided tone: 'tell her something about the games now.'

    I especially like how the reader is left to figure out the twelfth day.

  • On time in music:

    'Of course you don't!' the Hatter said, tossing his head contemptuously. 'I dare say you never even spoke to Time!'

    'Perhaps not,' Alice cautiously replied: 'but I know I have to beat time when I learn music.'

    'Ah! that accounts for it,' said the Hatter. 'He won't stand beating. Now, if you only kept on good terms with him, he'd do almost anything you liked with the clock. For instance, suppose it were nine o'clock in the morning, just time to begin lessons: you'd only have to whisper a hint to Time, and round goes the clock in a twinkling! Half-past one, time for dinner!'

  • On flower beds in Alice Through the Looking Glass:

    'That's right!' said the Tiger-lily. 'The daisies are worst of all. When one speaks, they all begin together, and it's enough to make one wither to hear the way they go on!'

    'How is it you can all talk so nicely?' Alice said, hoping to get it into a better temper by a compliment. 'I've been in many gardens before, but none of the flowers could talk.'

    'Put your hand down, and feel the ground,' said the Tiger-lily. 'Then you'll know why.' Alice did so. 'It's very hard,' she said, 'but I don't see what that has to do with it.'

    'In most gardens,' the Tiger-lily said, 'they make the beds too soft—so that the flowers are always asleep.'

    This sounded a very good reason, and Alice was quite pleased to know it. 'I never thought of that before!' she said.

    I love this type of silly reasoning.

All in all, I had a lot of fun reading Alice if for nothing else to rekindle that sense of child-like wonder and faith in me.


I just finished Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov. I'm not too sure what to make of it. Given the subject matter, I was expecting something much more pornographic. In the novel, Humbert Humbert (H.H.) marries a widow and seduces her 12 year old daughter Lo, short for Lolita (well, he claims that she seduced him in that hotel). However, while the novel starts with some graphic details, the relations between Lo and H.H. aren't made too explicit.

The novel is rather artfully constructed with many literary allusions that went over my head. I say constructed because while it's not a fantasy novel, there are way too many coincidences with numbers and names and other impossible happenings for plot to resemble reality. For instance, throughout the novel, the spectre of Clare Quilty haunts the two at every turn and creates a sort of game between Quilty and H.H. Although it may be that the narrator H.H. is just crazy as he loses touch with reality several times and checks himself into a sanitarium. Perhaps, the biggest break from reality is when a character briefly rises from the dead at the end.

The novel can be read in many different ways and struggles for any clear interpretation or moral. One can see it a satirizing American culture as H.H. and Lolita commit debaucheries across the country on their road trip. What spoke most to me was how H.H. objectifies Lolita, yet he really does come to truly love her despite the large age gap. At first, it's clear that she is his sex toy, for recently after her mother dies, he ignores her crying every night as she falls asleep. While in some sense she did seduce him, he realizes that he's taking advantage of how young girls are bombarded with images of romance, and Lo is acting out a some "simulacron" of romance. During the time in Beardsley, the relationship becomes more prostitute-like as he often pays her in some way for her services.

But he does genuinely love her in the end, as seen in their last meeting between the two. In this love comes the understand of why she despises him more than Quilty in way, for Quilty "broke [her] heart," where as H.H. "merely broke [her] life." I'm not too sure yet why this quote struck me so much. There's some sense that my own ideas of love are somewhat warped, and I may have broken someone elses life given the chance. And so, true love is taking a step back and knowing your "love" isn't the best thing for other person.


After finishing Far From the Madding Crowd, I started reading Middlemarch by George Eliot. This is one of the first books that I've read by a female author. Despite its length at over 800 pages, I found taking nearly 6 months to finish worthwhile.

Middlemarch details the happenings of a small provincial town, primarily focusing on the lives of Dorthea, a serious young woman committed to devoting her life to a higher cause, and Dr. Lydgate, a French-educated doctor with grand ambitions of making a profound medical discovery.

Clearly, both Dorthea and Dr. Lydgate have noble intentions. Throughout the novel, they are proven to be of good character, too. One of the novel's themes is how the "imperfect social state" can make carrying out such noble intentions impossible. For Dorthea, the imperfect social state is the second-class role of women in society along with her naive marriage to the older Mr. Casubon. Dr. Lydgate confronts a town in upheaval, mistrusting of change and his new medical ideas. His somewhat hidebound view of marriage traps him in a marriage with the spendthrift Rosamond.

One very interesting aspect of this novel is that both Dorthea and Rosamond are married without children. Having acquired husbands, being a memeber of the gentry, and not having children to raise, both characters struggle with ennui and what exactly can a women do. Many of the male characters are dismissive of women's capacity for serious intellectual endeavors and see them only as entertainment. In the end, I find the novel to be ambivalent on a woman's role.

On one hand, Dorthea's impulsive, self-sacrificing nature leads to her disastrous first marriage with Mr. Casubon, but Dorthea's second self-sacrifice ends in happiness. Dorthea gives up her grand ideas of improving the lot of the poor with her fortune, yet the narrator notes that the "growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts" such as simply being a wife and mother. As for Rosamond, we should despise her for secretly disobeying her husband's wishes and using her beauty to manipulate, but yet we are made to pity her because we realize these are the only mechanisms of agency that she has. Perhaps, the message here is simply that women should have more freedom to choose their life, whether it be as a wife or fighting for social reform.

Given my perpetual loneliness, I found the romance and marriages of the novel most interesting. Mr. Farebrother's advice to Fred Vincy, "Men outlive their love, but they don't outlive the consequences of their recklessness," I found all too humorous as I'm still living with the consequences of my recklessness. While I often yearn for the seemingly simple, intentional nature of Victorian courtship, both Dorthea's first marriage and Dr. Lydgate's marriage to Rosamond lead to unhappiness. Caleb Garth perhaps says it best:

Young folks may get fond of each other before they know what life is, and they may think it all holiday if they can only get together; but it soon turns into working day,

which alludes to same idea that occurred in Far from the Madding Crowd. Dates are often rather artificial environments where we only see one side of the person. We associate in pleasure away from the true hardships of life. I have often thought that this is why couples from The Bachelor and The Bachelorette never last.

I suppose that there is something to be said for these so-called "organic" relationships that spring up by chance because you and the other person just naturally have similar interests or friends. When I was watching Master of None, I think about how Rachel and Dev get into a relationship. It's a near year long process of chance encounters: one night stand, run into each other somewhere, go on a date, hook up, run into each other again, etc. Because I never could stand the ambiguity of intentions in this type of relationship, I often envied how simple the process was in Victorian novels, where a guy would simply visit her house a few times, maybe talk to her father, and then propose. I have to admit, though, that perhaps these "organic" type of relationships may lead to more "similarity of pursuits" that binds a couple more strongly since if you're spending more time together by chance it's very likely that you're similar people. Perhaps this is why online dating fails for so many.

Anyway, I'm just rambling now. The best is probably a compromise between the two. Relationships can't be forced, so there needs to be certain amount of chemistry. But in my limited experience, I do think people are putting a little too much faith in chance, for they don't want to be seen as trying too hard. Both men and women being more honest and intentional would probably save a lot of lonely souls out there.


Photo URL is broken

On a suggestion, I decided to procrastinate and make fried macaroni and cheese balls. There'e pretty easy to make. Make some macaroni and cheese. Refrigerate it. Pack them into balls, triple bread them, and then, fry them in a wok. Serve with marinara sauce.

Some suggestions from my brother:

  • Make the cheese more liquid so it oozes cheese
  • Use more seasoning in the breading

As for life, I'm currently a little sick and getting lots of nose bleeds. I probably don't sleep enough and don't wear enough clothing for this cold October weather. Other than these physical ailments, I'm learning to enjoy life despite the anxiety of not having the faintest idea of where I will be next year. I find my classes pretty interesting for one. I'm either becoming more apathetic or learning to let things happen.

One of my favorite characters in literature is Sydney Carton from Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities because his self-sacrificing, unselfish love for Lucie indulges my romantic and idealistic nature. There's always the danger of become too like him, though. This quote best describes his predicament:

Sadly, sadly, the sun rose; it rose upon no sadder sight than the man of good abilities and good emotions, incapable of their directed exercise, incapable of his own help and his own happiness, sensible of the blight on him, and resigning himself to let it eat him away.