Should We Relish Relatability?

By Hannah. Originally published at Wonders of the World of Writing.

I challenge you to think about your favorite book or movie. What are some characteristics that make it your favorite? How would you describe it to your friends? Is it funny, intense, intriguing? What would you say about the character development? Are the characters easy to connect with? Relatable?

In reading “The Scourge of ‘Relatability’” by Rebecca Mead, many interesting points are brought up about reliability in films and novels. According to the article, many would agree that one defining characteristic of a “good” verses a “bad” movie or book is how relatable it is. For example, critics will rave about movies that are easy to connect with, that tug on our heartstrings, such as those with romance. The article uses the example of movies based off of John Green books. Which the overall theme of young love is always present. An example from class is the movie, The Breakfast Club. Many of us have been through high school, and have seen the different groups with their specific interests. Maybe we haven’t met people from other groups while sitting in detention, but we can relate to the students and their personal stories. Many of the themes within the movie we can connect with, such as the pressure of social acceptance, the high expectations of authority figures, or the task of trying to define yourself. This movie has stood the test of time, and personally I think it is due to the relatability of the characters and their situations. Personally, I agree that many of the books and movies I enjoy are those that are in someway relatable to my life. In being able to, not only be sympathetic with the characters, but also empathetic you as the reader or viewer are able to establish a deep relationship with the characters.

This being said, Mead does present an interesting point. The characteristic of “relatability” is relatively new. The word “relate” has changed meanings over the years. Specifically, Mead brings up how during “Shakespearean time” relate meant “something that could be told” or “connected to another thing”. Recently, the meaning has been transformed into more of a personal definition. We say things are relatable when the reader or viewer can see themselves and empathize with the character or situation.

As much as we enjoy the feeling of connectedness through movies and books, aren’t there some times when we enjoy ones we don’t connect with, just as much? Mead argues that fabricating “relatability” as a criteria for some work to be “good” is very limiting. To an extent I disagree, however I do also agree with this. As an audience, we can’t always connect to the situation, but rather the circumstances may provoke us to see something in a different light, or to learn about a new experience. An illustration of this is Incidence in the Life of a Slave Girl. Jacobs writes this book with the correct notion that her audience would not be able to directly connect with her experiences. Sure, to an extent we can sympathize with her, but we will never truly know the horrendous predicaments she describes. We cannot say we have been treated maliciously as a slave, whipped, beaten, sexually abused. Despite not being able to directly relate with Jacobs, many (including myself) found this book to be “good”. Although it wasn’t “relatable” it was very thought provoking and eye opening.

Mead’s article looks at “relatability” in a completely negative way. I agree with her point, that sometimes relatability isn’t everything and that we cannot always judge the quality of a work by how much we connect with it. However, relatability is not a negative thing either. In saying this, we should be wary of how quick we are to judge a work and shouldn’t base our opinions on merely the “relatability” of it.

Choices, Choices, Choices

By Hannah. Originally published at Wonders of the World of Writing.

Life is full of times with forks in the road at which we must decide which path to take. Sometimes though, we are not in control of what we do, where we go, or what happens. One of those times where we are incapable of making choices is in reading literature. Normally, the work is written by the author with a specific purpose to accomplish. Whatever the author had in mind, you read. You, as the reader, have no say in what the work is, and little to no say about the interpretation of the work. However, there are mediums of writing which allow you to interact with the text, become a part of the story, and even influence the ending. Twine is a software tool that allows people to create interactive fiction by utilizing the visual structure of hyperlinks.

The Twine game that I played is called Coyotaje. Written by Joseph Domenici, a Stanford graduate in Psychology and Creative writing, Coyotaje tells the story of illegal immigration. Based on the premises of the Mexican cultural practice of hiring an intermediary, known as a coyote, to assist in illegally crossing the border into America, this story is “played” from the perspective of a hired coyote. You, the reader, must make choices of how to act or where to go, with the goal of successfully helping your employers across the boarder without getting caught, thrown in jail, or killed. Playing this game was pretty neat because unlike other mediums of literature, it was very interactive and you, as the reader, feel in control of the story’s outcome. I played this game many times for multiple reasons. First, because I thought the concept of a coyote was interesting. But also because the first time I played it my character was shot and the people I was assisting were caught and thrown in jail. Each time I played I clicked on the different options, sometimes purposely aiming for a certain outcome and other times clicking what I thought would make an interesting story. That is what is so intriguing about Twine games; they are not restricting and you as the player decide the fate of the characters. Twine games allow you to manipulate the story, unlike other forms of writing such as novels or essays, which are written solely by the author. The other forms of writing seem rigid and stiff in comparison to the malleable nature of Twine games.

It is also compelling to think about how this medium also allows the creators to be less restricted than in other genres. In other types of writings, such as an essay or short story, there is only one ending. However, the interactive style of these games allows the creators to write alternative endings with many different paths for their characters. As the player, you may feel like you have the freedom to choose what happens, however ultimately the creator is the one that already pre-planned out the possible endings. Twine games, unlike other forms of writing, allows both the creator to explore the many different scenarios of their story and the player to have the sense of control.

These games are interesting to play, however they are not always the best method of presentation of stories. The interactive aspect of this particular story has its drawbacks. One negative of using this medium is that the endings are very predictable. In this game, the choices given were very drastic in comparison. It was easy to tell which was the “right” choice and which was the “wrong” choice. In that sense you knew by which one you picked how the story would eventually end up. Another downside is the lack of character development. Since you act as the coyote, the character takes on whatever personality you have, but it is only shown through your choices. There are no personality descriptions about your character, or of any of the others for that matter. The interactive style gives the feeling of the writing as more of a game rather than a piece of writing you are reading. Rather than a story, it seems more like an objective you are trying to accomplish. This causes the story to lose its “story-like, narrative” feel.

Despite these shortcomings of using Twine, the interactive manner of these games give the player a sense of control and is very different in comparison to the static structure of other modes of literature.

Oppression and Inferiority of Women

By Hannah. Originally published at Wonders of the World of Writing.

“‘I’ve got out at last,’ said I, ‘in spite of you and Jane? And I’ve pulled off most of the paper, so you can’t put me back!’” This quote clearly demonstrates how the narrator of “The Yellow Wallpaper” feels about women. In this story, the narrator effectively uses wallpaper, that is a “hideous, unreliable, infuriating, and torturing” yellow, as a symbol of how women are oppressed and trapped as second-class members of society.
One main theme the narrator focuses on is the importance of women’s self-expression. She repeatedly references her “illness” and how her physician husband requires her to do absolutely nothing that will exercise her mind. This resting cure prevents her from thinking or questioning society. Despite “doctor’s orders”, the narrator writes as a way of expressing how she really feels. It is obvious that she is forced to hide her anxieties and fears from her husband in order to preserve the façade of a happy marriage. She must bear the burden of staying quiet in the dreadful room for a few more days. The narrator obviously feels downtrodden and helpless, but is unable to do much about it because of her predicament.
Another theme the narrator focuses on is the subordination of women in marriage. During this time period, families were more “traditional” and it was more of a patriarchal society. This is clearly illustrated as John, the narrator’s husband says, “‘My darling…I beg of you, for my sake and for our child’s sake, as well as for your own, that you will never for one instant let that idea enter your mind! There is nothing so dangerous, so fascinating to a temperament like yours. It is a false and foolish fancy.’” In this quote, John is putting his wife in her place. He is immediately shutting down any of her “wild” thoughts and feelings. During this time period women were not the dominate gender and it was looked down up if they started to think for themselves. They were truly seen and treated as second-class citizens. This fact, is emphasized and plays into the role of how the narrator feels women to be trapped and inferior to men. Another example of this is how the narrator cannot “creep” during the day, as she writes “I always lock the door when I creep by daylight. I can’t do it at night, for I know John would suspect something at once.” The narrator herself has little to no say about her life and is very dependent on her husband.
These themes of oppression and inferiority are the most clearly established by the use of the wallpaper as a symbol of the domestic life that traps so many women. At first, the narrator complains of the “unclean” yellow color and its hideousness that intrigues her to follow the pattern. The closer she looks, she beings to see it transform into a woman trapped behind the “bars” of the pattern. The narrator sees this “cage” as festooned with the heads of many women, “…they get through, and then the pattern strangles them off and turns them upside down and makes their eyes white!” Apparently, the heads of the women are all from those whom tried to escape the horrible shackles of the wallpaper.
The narrator of “The Yellow Wallpaper” dramatically uses the wallpaper as a symbol of how she, along with all women in society, are inferior to men and must obey the norms of society that prohibit them from speaking out. By using the yellow wallpaper, the narrator expresses the importance of self-expression and how difficult it is in a patriarchal society, in which the wife is submissive to the husband. At the end of the story, the narrator identifies herself with the woman, trapped behind the wallpaper. She struggles, but eventually gets out of the constraining paper and is able to “creep smoothly on the floor…in this great room” as she pleases.

The Yellow Wallpaper Remixed

By Hannah. Originally published at Wonders of the World of Writing.

John is away all day, and even nights when his cases are serious. John does not know how much I really suffer.

I cry at nothing, and cry most of the time. I lie down ever so much now. I wonder – I begin to think – I wish John would take me away from here! I thought it was a good time to talk so I told him that I really was not gaining here, and that I wished he would take me away. I had no intention of telling him it was because of the wallpaper – he would make fun of me.
John laughs at me, of course, but one expects that in marriage.
I don’t care – there is something strange about the house – I can feel it. I have spent hours in trying to analyze it, to find what it smelled like. I thought seriously of burning the house – to reach the smell. I am getting desperate. I get unreasonably angry enough to do something desperate. I get unreasonably angry with John sometimes. I think it is due to this nervous condition.
John says if I don’t pick up faster he shall send me to Weir Mitchell in the fall. John is a physician, and perhaps – (I would not say it to a living soul, of course, but this is dead paper and a great relief to my mind –) perhaps that is one reason I do not get well faster. John says I mustn’t lose my strength and has me take cod liver oil and lots of tonics and things, to say nothing of ale and wine and rare meat.
I have a schedule prescription for each hour in the day. I wish I could get well faster. I meant to be such a help to John, such a real rest and comfort, and here I am a comparative burden already!
And John is so queer now, that I don’t want to irritate him. I don’t like the look in his eyes. John knows I don’t sleep very well at night, for all I’m so quiet!
I don’t sleep much at night, for it is so interesting to watch developments; but I sleep a good deal in the daytime. I lie here on this great immovable bed – it is nailed down, I believe – and follow that pattern about by the hour. I know a little of the principle of design, and I know this thing was not arranged on any laws of radiation, or alternation, or repetition, or symmetry, or anything else that I ever heard of. I didn’t realize for a long time what the thing was that showed behind, that dim sub-pattern, but now I am quite sure it is a woman. I even said to John one moonlight evening, but he said what I felt was a draught, and shut the window. Still I will proudly declare that there is something queer about it. I always fancy I see people walking in these numerous paths and arbors, but John has cautioned me not to gibe way to fancy in the least. I think that woman gets out in the daytime! I find it hovering in the dining room, skulking in the parlor, hiding in the hall, lying in wait for me on the stairs. I see her in those dark grape arbors, creeping around the garden. I see her in that long shaded lane, creeping up and down. I can see her in out of every one of my windows! I often wonder if I could see her out of all the windows at once. I don’t like to look out of the windows even – there are so many of these creeping women, and they creep so fast. I cannot keep count of them, though I have tried conscientiously. I wonder if they all come out of that wallpaper as I did?
I always lock the door when I creep by daylight. I supposed I shall have to get back behind the pattern when it comes night, and that is hard! I can’t do it at night, for I know John would suspect something at once. Personally, I disagree with their ideas. I did write for a while in spite of them. I have discovered something at last. I’m feeling ever so much better.

Gilman, Charlotte P. “The Yellow Wallpaper.” (1892): n. pag. U.S. National Library of Medicine. Web. 18 Feb. 2015.

Yellow Wallpaper

The Definition of Outcast in a New Light

By Hannah. Originally published at English 181.

The definition of outcast, given by Merriam Webster is, “someone who is not accepted by other people”. It originates from the caste system, or form of social stratification based solely on the person’s birth family. People outside the caste are thought to be inferior. Society now defines outcast as a person with a certain social stigma that leads to them being excluded, looked down upon, or ignored in some way. In class, we have talked about many different pieces of literature and the concept of being or feeling like an outcast can be seen throughout many. In “The Shadow Scholar” the author writes under a pseudonym and changes the names of people mentioned in the article as protection. He does so because it is looked down on by society to pay for a custom essay. The writers and customers do not participate in a societal norm, thus making them outcasts. As we discussed the concept of madness, Poe’s narrator in “The Tell-Tale Heart” can definitely be categorized as an outcast, for he is mad and unreliable. Moving forward in the class, we are reading “Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl” by Harriet Jacobs, which recounts her experience as a slave, as an outcast.

I think it interesting that the definition by gives a less human definition of, “rejected matter; discarded” and rather opens up the idea that something can also be outcast. Both of these definitions have a negative view on the word. They both take outcast as something or someone that does not fit in or is unwanted. However, I’d like to challenge this unfavorable view by looking closer at Webster’s definition of “someone who is not accepted by other people”. Is being an outcast always a bad thing? Of course it is hard to be in the minority and have opposing views and opinions, but is it always an inferior status? I pose this question with Albert Einstein’s quote, “What is right is not always popular and what is popular is not always right” in mind. To understand contemporary cultures, it is important to think of both “sides” when using the word. Although it holds more of a negative connotation, we must consider how “not being accepted by society” and “standing out” could be a positive thing.


Albert Einstein Quote

“Madness”, In the Words of Poe and Reiss

By Hannah. Originally published at My blog.

What is “madness”? According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, madness is “a state of severe mental illness”. Two authors write about and define “madness” in their own way; both use the traditional meaning of “madness” as an underlying theme, but then expand upon it in a unique way. Edgar Allan Poe’s, The Tell-Tale Heart, uses “madness” as a defining characteristic of the narrator. The narrator begins stating he has been and is “dreadfully nervous” and describes how, for no apparent motivation other than his obsession, decides to take the old man’s life. He attempts to justify how he isn’t mad, and by doing so makes the reader question his reliability. Eventually readers agree the narrator is “mad”, and at this point of acceptance the man is seen as psychotic and demented. Because of the way the narrator presents himself, he can be classified as an unreliable narrator, or one whose credibility is compromised. Everything the narrator says can be justifiably questioned for truth. The odd habits of the narrator give the story an insane, nervous, and guilty tone. At the end of his tale, the narrator is so paranoid he hears his own heart beat echoing and mistakes it for the old man’s, which leads him to confess to the murder. Poe uses “mad” as a key trait of his narrator to make the readers question his reliability and portray his paranoia.

In the other article, Madness After Virginia Tech: From Psychiatric Risk to Institutional Vulnerability, Benjamin Reiss criticizes the response schools had to the Virginia Tech massacre. On April 16, 2007 Seung-Hui Cho, a student at Virginia Tech, killed 33 people (including himself). Cho was a distraught English major that had a previous record of setting off red flags with his writings and behaviors. After the incident, schools attempted to use students’ writing as a tool for early detection of potential violent tendencies before they occur. Benjamin Reiss uses “madness” in place of a more clinical word, such as “mental illness”, to emphasize his argument. “Madness” does not have as negative of connotations as do words like “insanity” or “psychotic”. Reiss strays from using any terms that would instill negative reactions because the use of those words would nullify or undermine his argument. Also, Reiss is not necessarily referring to Cho as “mad”, but rather, like the title of the article (Madness After Virginia Tech) suggests, he believes that using students’ writing as screening is “mad”. In this argument, he is not using “mad” to describe a person’s state of being, but rather in the sense of extremely foolish or unwise; in reference to the strategies the education system of surveilling students’ writings. By using the term “mad” instead of a more clinical term, Reiss avoids using negatively connotative words. He also leaves the interpretation of what rather than who is “mad” open to the reader.