Author Archives: amymgauger

The Thousand and One Nights, Take 2

What do you believe the demon symbolizes in the The Story of the Fisherman and The Demon? What allegories do you read in this story?

1001 Nights

                    I think the demon in this story represents the journey that the king takes in the Thousand and One Nights. The demon is bitter at being trapped in his tiny jar far out at sea, and determines that through the actions of one man (Solomon), he will kill the next person to open the jar, just as the king is bitter at the actions of his wife and determines to kill every woman he marries .

Fisherman and his net

The fisherman actually symoblizes Shahrazad — both of them tell stories to immediately halt the demon and the king from carrying out their evil acts by peaking their interest. These stories are not only entertaining, but always have a moral attached. In the fisherman’s story, the moral was that “no good deed goes unpunished’., which makes the demon rethink his plan to kill the fisherman (well, that and the fact that the fisherman was going to throw him back in the ocean). Likewise, Shahrazad’s tales are making the king rethink about killing her immediately — he’s interested in her stories and wants to find out what happens! Eventually, the demon leads the fisherman to a magical lake with strange and mysterious fish and vanishes, symbolizing the exorcism of the king’s own demons — his need to heal from the bitterness his wife introduced into his heart.


The Ladies of Silko, Saadawi, and Marquez

1. In Silko’s “Yellow Woman’, what do the stolen beef and the Jello have in common? How do these elements break the prevailing mood?

To me, it seems like the beef and the Jello are the only two things that really tie the narrator to the real world — it’s food, it’s necessary for survival, and it’s real. The rest of the narrator’s story seems like she’s walking around in a dream. We find her waking up with Silva, not really quite sure how she found it so easy to walk away from her family. She spaces out while at Silva’s cabin; she even forgot to go home when she very specifically LEFT the cabin to go home! She treats her entire adventure as one of the “Yellow Woman’ stories that her grandpa used to tell her. Maybe it is one of those stories, Silva is certainly elusive enough to be the ka’tsina — “Little Yellow Woman, you never give up, do you? I have told you who I am. The Navajo people know me, too.’ The appearance of the food though, suddenly reminds the reader that Yellow Woman’s journey isn’t really a dream, but is actually happening to her.

2. After reading Saadawi’s “In Camera’, how do you feel about Leila Al-Fargani’s father? Upon what evidence do you base your judgement?

I was a little disappointed in him, to be honest. While at first I felt that he was a good dad, standing in the crowd to support his daughter even while ill, that changed when he began to think about the dishonor that had come to his family. His daughter was on trial for calling someone “stupid’ for crying out loud. She had been beaten, tortured, and raped, and could barely see, and all he could think about was how his family had been dishonored by her remarks? He seems like he’s much too easily swayed by society’s view of how things should go, versus standing up and being brave for his daughter. However, having been in the Middle East, his position is understandable, though extremely cowardly. The “justice’ system there is so skewed to favor men and those in authority that had he stood up for his daughter, he and his wife may have been abducted and tortured as well. It often seems like the women are much stronger than the men of that culture, emotionally speaking. Laila’s mother stood strong in the audience at her daughter’s trial while her heart breaks at the sight of her daughter, while Laila’s father is hunched over and beats himself up over dishonor.

3. What is the importance of the title of the story “Death Constant Beyond Love’? What does it tell us about the story’s central thematic concerns?

In the introduction, the explanation is that “Death Constant Beyond Love’ was a play on the poem by Spanish writer Quevedo “Love Constant Beyond Death’, and is meant to say that even though we may have love, eventually death will get us. In Senator Onesimo Sanchez’s case, he finds himself extremely lonely when given a terminal diagnosis. While out on the campaign trail (for he’s determined to live his life as normal and not tell anyone about his condition, even though he has less than a year to live), he finds a beautiful woman and suddenly becomes extremely attracted to her. He’s happily married, and so this seems to be an escape for him in order to forget about his diagnosis: “He scrutinized the sleeping guards, then he scrutinized Laura Farina, whose unusual beauty was even more demanding than his pain, and he resolved then that death had made his decision for him’. He doesn’t actually end up having sex (at least, not in this story) with Laura Farina, but does ask her to sleep next to him, for “It’s good to be with someone when you’re so alone’. This ruins his career, but the only thing that he “weeps with rage’ at is the fact that he doesn’t have her next to him at his death.

Cockroaches and Prisons

1. What is the relationship between Gregor and his family? What clues in the story suggest that his relationship with his family, particularly his father, is unsatisfactory?

Gregor and his family seem to go through life without really seeing each other. Gregor gets up every morning, goes to work to pay his parents’ debts off, and comes home (when he’s not travelling for his job). He’s bored with his life, but doesn’t do anything to change it — his first thought when he wakes up as a cockroach was that he was late for work! And not only is he bored, he tends to blame his family for his unhappiness and the job he has; apparently, his parents are in terrible debt to the owner of the company where Gregor works. His family doesn’t seem to think much of him either; though they were at first happy and relieved to accept his paychecks every week, it becomes part of the routine and are soon accepted without emotion. Gregor’s father, in particular , doesn’t really seem to care much for him. After a little while as a cockroach, the father begins trying to beat him back with a cane, and later throws apples at him.

2. Discuss the central events in each of the three sections of the Metamorphoses. In what ways do these events suggest that the weakening of Gregor results in the strengthening of the family as a whole?

When Gregor first turns into a cockroach, the family is (obviously) shocked: since when do people just wake up as cockroaches!? However, since he was the only breadwinner in the family, someone clearly needs to get working to provide some kind of income. They call a family meeting to discuss finances and we learn that although they aren’t quite destitute, they also don’t have a huge amount of savings. Later, while learning to deal with Gregor’s “condition’, the family comes together to figure out what to do. We learn that Gregor’s entire family have all taken jobs and that one room of the house has been rented out to boarders to make up for his lack of income. Then, after Gregor’s death, we see the family come together once again when they decide to move to a smaller and cheaper apartment. I wonder what happened to Gregor’s body? No one ever seemed to want to even get close to him, let alone touch him.

3. How effective do you find Akhmatova’s Requiem as a political protest? Requiem was not published until well after the purges were over and Stalin was dead; is it, then, totally lacking in influence?

I loved this poem, even though it described the horrors of war, revolution, and dictatorship. Had she been allowed to publish it while Stalin was alive, Requiem would have been one heck of a political protest. It invokes images of a weeping mother standing at the gate of a prison, along with hundreds of other mothers, waiting to see her son, imprisoned for some made up charge. Even though the protest came too late for it to be effective against Stalin, I’m sure it also reminded the public of the terrors that dictatorship can bring, and I’m sure no one wanted that again!

4. How should we interpret the famous command at the end of Archaic Torso of Apollo?

From what it sounds like, Rilke had somewhat of a traveler’s heart, never happy in one place for too long and always searching for his meaning in life. By portraying the statue of Apollo’s torso as a living, breathing thing that glows with purpose and intent, Rilke is saying that “You should change your life’ — or find the meaning in it, and go out to find your happiness.

Felicite and Yeats

1. Is Felicite a saint or a simple-minded servent? Is she neither or both? Outline your perspective on her character as compared to Mme. Aubain’s. How do they differ?

I didn’t think Felicite was a saint, exactly. She certainly loved Mme Aubain’s children with her whole heart and soul, and seemed to be just as naïve as they were. She wasn’t raised very well, being shuffled around her whole life after the death of her parents, and didn’t seem to be educated at all. She seemed to have kind of a desperation to be loved, and I think the simple-minded label fits better than the saint label. Mme Aubain, however, seemed to be a woman who could take care of herself just fine, and did after the death of her debt-riddled husband.

2. How are women imagined and characterized in the poems you read? What attitude is implied? Is it dual or contradictory? Does Baudelaire give similar weight to the description of men? What definitions of womanliness are depicted, affirmed, or criticized in his work?
Baudelaire seems as if he’s controlled by lust a lot of the time in his work. He likes women’s bodies, but he doesn’t like their spirits and personalities. He describes the younger women in his work as full of “grace and measure, richness, quietness, and pleasure’, but the image of the old woman rotting on the road and the knowledge that “you, in your turn, will be rotten as this’ seems as if he’s maliciously laughing at the fact that women will turn old and ugly. I didn’t see men described quite as in depth as he described the women; it seems more that he sees men as simply stating facts (like he does in his poems).

3. How are Chidam and Chandara distinct from Rama and Sita?
Chidam and Chandara couldn’t be any more different than Rama and Sita. Whereas Rama and Sita were always trying to be better people, and loved each other dearly, Chidam begins the story with a lie. Neither Chidam nor Chandara trust each other, and fight all the time. After his brother kills his sister in law, Chidam asks Chandara to claim the killing, reasoning that he can get another wife but he can’t get another brother. Once Chidam realizes that he actually wants his wife to live, he gives her a script to follow so the police won’t charge her with murder. The problem is, after yet another fight, Chandara doesn’t care about what Chidam wants anymore. He wants her to claim the killing? Fine. She doesn’t stick to the script, meaning that after a long trial, she’s led to the gallows. She even refuses to see her husband at the end. Both of these characters are more concerned with themselves than anyone else.

4. Pick a Yeats poem and discuss what it communicates to you.
I chose “Lapis Lazuli’. The poem begins with a description of the hysteria that overtakes the citizenry during World War II, and compares it to the description of Shakespeare’s play “Hamlet’. Yeats, through his poem, is telling the citizens to calm down and remember that although the world is at war, there is no need to be hysterical and depressed. The poem actually reminded me of the poster “Keep Calm and Carry On’. Yeats is saying to carry on and do your job without the tears, and to remember the good things in life. After all, he’s got the “Lapis Lazuli’ — given as a gift from his friend, the little statue depicts two Chinese men climbing up a mountain, happy as could be, even though the cracks in the stone make it seem as if they’re climbing through an avalanche.

Tartuffe and Hugo

1. Is Tartuffe in fact anti-religious or does it only attack corruptions of religion?

I really think Moliere was bringing the corruption in religion to the forefront with “Tartuffe”. Tartuffe is the complete opposite of what formalized religion says you should be – and yet he had the respect of two of the biggest (and richest) names in town. He hoodwinked them but good. Of course, at the end, both Orgon and Madame Parnelle end up realizing what Tartuffe is (with a little bit of help from those around them), and Tartuffe is carted off to prison – an example of Moliere pointing out that people can see the corruption among the religious leaders of the time and are watching.

2. In what respects is Hugo’s Satan a heroic figure? How does Hugo’s account differ from Dante’s?

Hugo’s Satan is more like the heroes we’ve read about previously – most of “The Hero’s Journey” stages are fairly recognizable here. That being said, I really don’t like calling Satan a hero, even in the literary sense! Dante’s Satan was a really miserable, almost unrecognizable figure, made up of three horrible people suffering for their sins, while Hugo’s Satan is more along the conventional religious version. Satan is one person (a fallen angel) and is ruler of an abyss from which he’ll never escape.

3. Discuss and compare the images in any of the two poems assigned for this week.
I chose Heine’s “A Pine is Standing Lonely” and Leopardi’s “The Infinite”. Both of these poems invoke nature at it’s finest. Trees (or lack of them), deserts, horizons, and hedgerows are all present in these two poems. But while Heine describes nature as a somewhat lonely place (“A pine is standing lonely In the North on a bare plateau”), Leopardi describes it more as a place to find peace (“Always to me beloved was this linely hillside”).

Machiavelli, Hair, and the Aztecs

1. Granted that Machiavelli’s own historical context is remote, how far does his pattern of political ideals and concrete realities apply today?

When Machiavelli wrote of how princes could keep their power, he may as well been writing about the politicians of today! In one certain passage, he mentions “that a deceitful man will always find plenty who are ready to be deceived”. Very often, a politician’s political promises are broken, then explained away, or their opponent is magically transformed into the worst person in the world and unworthy of a single vote (whereas, of course, the campaigner is made to look like they’re saving the world). While Machiavelli’s political views weren’t exactly what everyone wanted to hear, they also seem to be extremely realistic. After all, no one is perfect, therefore no one can have and act on all the good qualities people want to see in a leader!

2. Sister Juana de la Cruz cuts off her hair to force herself to learn more quickly, although she knows that among young women, “the natural adornment of one’s hair is held in such high esteem”. Finally, she enters the convent (where women had their heads shorn). What other works have you read that emphasize the importance of a woman’s hair? Why does it seem to have so much symbolic value in such a range of cultures and times?

Throughout history, women’s hair has been seen as symbolic to either how womanly and desirable they are, or how much freedom they have. For example, in 1920s America, women not only were granted the right to vote, but also began cutting their hair very short (the bob). In the ’60s and ’70s – the hippie generation – hair was long and loose, much like the attitude of the times was extremely laid back. In the Iliad, the goddesses are described a lot by their hair – Thetis’ was “bright” (maybe very blond or red), and Athena is described as “golden”.

3. Bear in mind that the Aztec warrior’s highest duty was to bring home live captives for sacrifice. Give the Song for Admonishing a careful reading and decide – without researching the entire Cantares Mexicanos – what possible meaning might be assigned to the figurative terms “flower” and “song”.
It seems that the “flower’ in this context is really a badge of honor to be worn by the brave and honorable out on the battlefield. The Song for Admonishing speaks of princes that crave the dawn flowers, and these seem to be either the strongest warriors or the honors that the princes themselves want from the battlefield. The songs seem to be the call of war and the honor that goes along with following that call willingly.

The Decameron

1. The Tenth Story of the Tenth Day: Why is Griselda being tested?

Gualtieri was perfectly content to live a bachelor’s lifestyle – until his followers began pestering him to get a wife and produce an heir. (In their defense, Gualtieri was a marquis with a large land holding, and they all lived on that land.) In order to appease his followers, Gualitieri found a wife named Griselda that he thought would fit his bachelor lifestyle – obedient, patient, and above all, didn’t question his decisions. Apparently, Gualtieri didn’t believe that Griselda would stay true to those qualities, and so began a series of tests to, well, test them. First he took away her (their) children, making her believe that he’d had them murdered. Then, after twelve years had passed, he let her believe he was divorcing her to marry another woman. As a final test, he had Griselda make the house perfect for his new bride. Of course, these were all tests, as he really did love Griselda, and the “new bride” and her brother were actually their children. I know I wouldn’t have held on to my patience like Griselda did; one implication that my husband was going to murder my child and I would have left an Amy-sized hole in the door! (With the baby, of course.)

2. Compare the frame tales in the Decameron and the Thousand and One Nights. In each case, what is the reason for telling stories? Do the stories accomplish the purpose for which they are intended? How important is the relationship between the tale and the teller?

In the Decameron, the stories (at least the ones selected for the Norton Anthology) are moral tales, as are the tales in the Thousand and One Nights. In the Thousand and One Nights, Shahrazad is obviously trying to prolong her life by keeping her stories interesting (and moralistic so the king will stew on  the  morals presented for another night)  and cutting  them off when she gets to the good part. In the Decameron, the stories are meant to entertain a group of people; but the stories that we’re presented with mostly involve teaching the women that are present how to be a good wife (obedient and good-tempered like Griselda, who got everything she wanted in the end). In both tales, the frame stories certainly fulfill the purpose which they intended – Shahrazad’s life is spared, and the “pleasure” party is entertained, so their purpose was fulfilled, and the relationship between all the tales and their tellers simply reflects what they find to be most important (like preserving your own life while passing on some good morals).

3. In Laustic, what does the nightengale symbolize? Explain your answer.

When a knight and his neighbor’s wife fall in love, the wife needs to be able to hide the real reason she has been standing at the window for hours every night (really to gaze lovingly to her lover). She explains to her husband that she enjoys the nightengale’s song, and so longs for it that she can’t sleep. In response, her nasty husband tracks down the nightengale and kills it, spilling its blood across his wife’s chest. Poor nightengale, seriously. But here, it symbolizes all the unfulfilled love between the knight and the wife. When her husband rips off the bird’s head, it symbolizes the love that can never happen, and when the knight gently places the bird’s body in a tiny golden casket, he’s symbolizing that while he knows the relationship is now over, he will always cherish it.

Dante’s Inferno Journey

1. What do you think Dante learned on his journey through Hell? How does it differ from what you learned while reading about the journey?

When we first meet Dante, he’s going through something like a mid-life crisis. He’s lost his way, in a manner of speaking, and needs to find a way back to being a faithful follower of God. By following Virgil into the depths of Hell, Dante learns that your actions in this world dictate what happens to you in the next. Each level of Hell is reserved for individual sins – for example, Circle 1 is reserved for the virtuous people who haven’t sinned, but also haven’t accepted Christ, while Circle 9 is reserved for the Treacherous. Each of these Circles is accompanied by a very specific punishment; in Circle 1, the virtuous pagans are overwhelmed by a longing for God and will never be able to see Him, and in Circle 9, the trecherous are subjected to an ice treatment of varying degrees. All of these punishments lead Dante to realize that he had better get back on the straight and narrow path and find peace with God. I, personally, never really thought too much of Hell. I’ve always been taught that Hell is the place where sinners go to pay for their sins, that it’s basically a miserable place where you’re surrounded by liars, thieves, and murderers. The punishments that the sinful recieve never actually came up – it was just understood that Hell is an awful place that you don’t ever want to go. It’s interesting that Dante thought all of this out and meted out punishments that he saw fitting for the various sins.


One Thousand and One Nights and the Inferno

1. When he catches his wife sleeping with “the help”, Shahrayar loses his mind and kills her. I’m sure anyone who’s been cheated on in a relationship has felt like this – maybe not to the point of pulling out a sword, but certainly hoping the other party maybe “accidently” trips and falls in front of a bus. And the anger with all women, at least for Shahrayar, came when he witnessed his sister-in-law cheating on his brother with yet another servant, and again when the brothers stumble upon an unfaithful demon’s wife. In the Middle East, where this story originates from, males are regarded as the strongest and smartest. To have a woman do what she wants when her husband isn’t around is like saying that he doesn’t have his wife under control, and if he can’t even control his own wife, what else can’t he control? The ego and reputation take a huge beating. I don’t think it’s the male ego that’s necessarily frail in the culture, but the fear of loss of control.

2. As the Vizir uses The Tale of the Ox and the Donkey (and its sequel The Merchant and His Wife), to try to dissuade his daughter from marrying the King, the animals in his tales have human-like thinking characteristics and are pretty demeaning towards women. None of the analogies in his stories fit Shahrazad’s situation though, so she ignores her father and marries the King anyway. The animals in her first tale to the King, the Tale of the Merchant and the Demon, were once unworthy people and are merely animals with no special attributes. The demon looks like a metaphor for the King though; like the King – who’s murdered every virgin bride he married the morning after their wedding – the demon seems to have no compassion for the merchant. The merchant (read: women) has wronged him, and so must be punished, regardless of the lack of guilt.

3. I don’t know if the punishments in Dante’s Inferno were appropriate or not, but he certainly must have struck fear into the hearts of the people reading his words back then. I have to admit, some of the punishments left me a little confused (I really don’t understand how turning into a tree for eternity is a punishment for sucide), but others did make a little more sense. The Sowers of Scandal and Schism had to walk in circles with woulds that opened and closed repeatedly; psychologicaly, starting rumors and passing along gossip could be like that for the victim.

The Ramayana and the Bhagavad-Gita

Rama and Sita

1. The fact that Rama is very nearly perfect doesn’t make him less interesting than the other heros we’ve read about. In fact, I think it makes him a little more interesting. While the other heros were succumbing to pride or anger, Rama is a great guy just trying to get to Heaven. He lives and breathes dharma by not getting upset and calmly accepting what’s happening around him. You’re almost waiting for him to screw up and get carried away by anger, and it actually almost happens when his wife Sita is kidnapped. Having the human factor of justifiable anger was a good touch, and his brother stepped in to calm him down before he could carry out his anger. This mirrors the scene when Rama’s mother, Kausalya, gets upset that Rama is leaving for his 14 year exile. She gets upset and tries to talk him out of it while he calmly lists off the reasons he must go. She pulls herself together, just as Rama did when Laksmana talked him out of his anger, and accepts the exile. These examples illustrate the Hindu belief in dharma (following the path to heaven) and kharma (the consequences of actions that keep a soul on earth). Rama was following dharma when Kaikeyi sharply ordered him to exile – after all, his father owed this wife two boons, and Rama was essentially following his father’s orders.


2. I have to admit, I didn’t really like Achilles. Arjun’s struggle wasn’t really anything like that of Achilles’; Arjun is struggling against the conventional teachings of his life. Killing kinsmen was not something to be done, lest you invite kharma and you suffer in the next life. Arjun is worried about doing the right thing for his soul, whereas Achilles was only wounded by pride and refused to do the right thing for his army by coming back to fight. In Greek times, violence was all around and it was commonplace for a man to be  suddenly called up to fight a war. Krishna, on the other hand, preached about overcoming anger and jealousy to become a better person, as well as respecting and loving all things. Somewhat different than the Greeks with their fight, fight, fight mentality. Sura 5 of the Koran reiterates the  Hindu values of dharma  by stating that “be true to your obligations” and “do not violate the rites of God” – basically, “you will get into Heaven by following the rules”.