‘Sing Unburied Sing’ by Jesmyn Ward Review

‘Sing Unburied Sing’ is the third novel by the American author Jesmyn Ward. It focuses on a mixed-race family in the American South and their family road trip to collect the father, Michael, from prison.

There is a buldingsroman in the story, focusing on the coming-of-age of the protagonist Jojo, who turns thirteen at the beginning of the novel. He has a lovely relationship with his younger sister Michaela and takes care of her throughout the novel. However, it becomes clear that he does not have a close relationship with his biological parents, not addressing them as mother or father but rather calling them by their first names, Leonie and Michael.

Jojo, Leonie and Michaela are able to see ghosts and while Jojo and Michaela can see Richie, Leonie sees the ghost of her deceased brother Given, whose death haunts Leonie’s family. The characterisation of Leonie is of a troubled, struggling mother who has worries about the future and her relationships with other characters are mostly negative. Meanwhile her children, Jojo and Michaela do not appreciate her very much and Jojo is critical of her.

Aside from Leonie, the story focuses on Jojo and his experience meeting Richie, a friend of his pop’s (grandfather) and his coming-of-age experience. The description of the characters such as their skin colour, height and hair texture are repeatedly mentioned. For example, Michaela has her father Michael’s green eye colour and Jojo has Leonie’s brown eyes, which he believes are similar to mam’s (his grandmother.)The family travel with a friend, Misty, upstate to Mississippi State to collect Michael from prison and on the way back Jojo is accompanied by a ghost Richie who wants to find out how he can go ‘home’. Jojo, Leonie and Richie take turns narrating the novel.

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Misogyny and Intersectionality

This is a short commentary on misogyny, colourism and sexism.

I have recently finished my Journalism degree and have been thinking about the perspectives of black women in the media. The sexism is amplified by racial issues and its effects are wide-reaching. In my opinion, much of the discussion in the media relating to black people focuses on men and male perspectives rather than women. Moreover, the darker your complexion, the less visibility you can expect to receive. In addition to this, there is a lack of representation of dark skinned black women in the media outside of stereotypical roles such as loud or angry.

Meanwhile, the effect of intersectionality creates a sliding scale of how severe your experience is. Factors involving your class, age etc. all affect how much misogyny you experience and those with more cultural capital are typically less affected. However, within this framework even a woman with considerable privilege such as beauty or social status can receive criticism and commentary about her appearance, for example: the Everyday Sexism Project. These comments can create body image issues that can result in eating disorders and self-esteem issues that are well documented.

Focusing specifically on black women, there are additional restrictions on our behaviour as sexism and patriarchy intertwines itself with racism and classism. Even resulting in the use of chemical perms which, studies have shown, contain chemicals harmful to health. Once it became a trend to have curly, big hair the natural hair movements emphasised 3c grade hair and textures less kinky and more curly.

The conversation about the effects of this misogynoir has begun but the results of a patriarchal system hundreds of years long means that attitudes can be slow to change. It begins with changing actions and mindsets and stubbornness can prevent the necessary improvements.


New study shows the vast majority of hair products aimed at black women contain toxic chemicals linked to infertility, obesity and cancer

https://afrocenchix.com/blogs/news/new-study-shows-hair-products-for-black-women-contain-toxic-chemicals-infertility-obesity-cancer
Misogynation:The True Scale of Sexism by Laura Bates
https://www.standard.co.uk/lifestyle/books/misogynation-the-true-scale-of-sexism-by-laura-bates-review-a3767651.html

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood Review

The Handmaids Tale is a dystopian novel by Margaret Atwood.

Published in 1985, it portrays the fictional society of Gilead, a totalitarian regime in the United States. Under a fundamentalist regime, the protagonist Offred is a handmaid serving a Commander and his wife, in an effort to repopulate the country devastated by war.

The protagonist, Offred gives her account of the society and her experience as a Handmaid. There is very little description of her surroundings or clothing and a large focus on her interactions with other Handmaids, the Commander and his wife. Attwood’s use of quotation marks to show characters direct speech is sporadic. This means additional attention is required to follow informative conversations. The book shows the strong religious morality underneath the society the Handmaids are in, often saying “Blessed be” in conversation. The setting appears bleak, with little decorative clothing or make-up and very few examples of the Handmaids personal character traits.

Published in 1985, during a period of Second-wave Feminism, there is a regressive account of Women’s Rights in Gilead. Issues such as Reproductive rights, legal inequalities, social inequalities and family are discussed throughout. While there is a Feminist undertone it lacks intersectionality, even disregarding it. Moira, Offred’s friend, says in Chapter 28 that “The balance of power was equal between women” and that this makes relationships “even” interactions. This opposes the intersectionality in Feminism that acknowledges disparities in the equality women of different races, religions and ethnicities.

Offred’s personal life is not the focus of the book, it is mentioned that she has a young daughter whose whereabouts she does not know and was married to a man named Luke. In short flashbacks, she talks about her former life before the creation of Gilead and how she used to live. Despite this she does not provide context about how the previous society was overthrown and how the totalitarian state came to be. With no male main characters and few interactions with males apart from Nick, the experience of females is centred in the book. Definitely a Second-wave perspective of Feminism, without the deep analysis of male and female interaction and how this contributes to misogyny.

The Adventures of Mary Seacole in Many Lands Review

Mary Seacole

Mary Seacole was a Jamaican born nurse who assisted with the war effort during the Crimean War (1853-1856.) She travelled to the Crimea on her own expense to treat soldiers on both sides of the conflict, often going further on the frontlines, placing herself in danger. A well-respected women, soldiers spoke highly of her and her biography has several comments from soldiers she treated who praised her efforts. The biography begins with her early life, in a few pages she explains her background, her childhood and her short-lived marriage, after which she became widowed.

After a cholera outbreak in Jamaica, she begins to travel to Panama with her brother. She goes into much detail about her journey to the Crimea, first visiting North America. She discusses her experience based on her skin and the prejudice attitudes that she faced, even among those who admired her work. Describing herself as Creole, she had disdain for Americans that she felt was reasonable “I think, if I have a prejudice against our cousin across the Atlantic- and I do confess  little- it is not unreasonable.” Due to her later experience at a gathering when the orator introducing her stated “you’re all as vexed as I am that she’s not wholly white-, but I do reckon on your rejoicing with me that she’s so many shades removed from being entirely black and I guess, if wee could bleach her by any means we would” which offended her. In addition to this, she speaks of her meeting with Florence Nightingale after unsuccessfully applying to travel with her as a nurse, being rejected due to her racial background.

THIS EXCELLENT WOMAN HAS FREQUENTLY EXERTED HERSELF IN THE MOST PRAISEWORTHY MANNER

A large portion of her biography describes her experience treating patients at the Crimea, battling several Cholera outbreaks. She discusses her medical and herbal treatments and dosages and keeping patients in good spirits. It appears that people she knew died during the war and this upset her greatly, but it was clear that Seacole was proud of her medical work in the Crimea and was appreciated by those she helped. Her bedside manner was exalted “She gave her aid to all who prayed, to hungry and sick and cold” by Punch magazine (1841-1992), the British weekly and humour magazine that contained humour and satire. She also briefly spoke of her life in Jamaica and the remedies which grow in plants “So true is it that beside the nettle grows the cure for its sting.” In addition to the Crimea, she gives shorter accounts of her experiences in Panama, Italy and Jamaica, as she travelled to many places and met many French and Turkish people.

BESIDE THE NETTLE GROWS THE CURE FOR ITS STING

Seacole appeared to have made many friends who testified to her skill and professionalism during the war effort and she appreciated their comments so much that they are printed in her biography “I cannot leave the Crimea without testifying to the kindness and skill of Mrs. Seacole and may God reward her for it” (James Wallen, Army Corp) In 2004 she was voted the Greatest Black Briton and is best remembered for her bravery and skill “This excellent woman has frequently exerted herself in the most praiseworthy manner in attending wounded men, even in positions of great danger and in assisting sick soldiers by all means in her power” (William. P, 1866.)


Mary Seacole Biography

https://www.britannica.com/biography/Mary-Seacole

‘Who is Mary Seacole and why is Google paying tribute to her with a Doodle?’

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/10/14/who-is-mary-seacole-and-why-is-google-paying-tribute-to-her-with/

BBC- History- The Crimean War

http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/victorians/crimea_01.shtml

The Hound of the Baskervilles Review

This is the third crime novel by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and it was published in 1902.

It features the famous Detective Sherlock Holmes and his friend Dr Watson. They are contacted by Dr James Mortimer to investigate the mysterious death of a wealthy man from Devon in West England. A fairly small book, the story unravels quickly and there are many clues to what caused the incident. There is a mysterious ‘Hound’ that lives on the Moor near Baskerville hall and the Detectives are determined to find out what has happened.

Dr Watson narrates the entire book and he does quite a bit of investigative work for Sherlock Holmes, while he works in the background. Watson meets with the suspects and looks after Henry Baskerville, who they believe is in danger. At the end they collate their evidence and use it to solve the mystery. It was a surprise how involved Watson actually was, whereas the films represent him in a vague sidekick role.

“Watson you were born to be a man of action. Your instinct is always to do something energetic” – Sherlock Holmes

It was interesting that the characters first had a supernatural explanation but Sherlock Holmes figures out the logical explanation to the crime. Then at the end he works backwards to explain where the clues were in the story leading to who committed the crime. It would have been difficult to guess the answer before it was revealed because it was miraculously uncovered by Holmes. This really expresses how good his detective work is, because he didn’t meet most of the suspects in case the perpetrator felt threatened.

Characterisation was well done and there was enough detail to understand Holmes’ personality. He was less witty than his portrayal in the Sherlock Holmes films where it appears that humour was added. There were also references to communication devices such as the Telegraph, which Holmes used to communicate with another character, Cartwright. The Telegraph was created in 1837 which led to the invention of Morse code named after Samuel Morse. This would have been used in the nineteenth century to assist long-distance communication.


The Telegraph and Samuel Morse

https://www.thoughtco.com/the-history-of-the-electric-telegraph-and-telegraphy-1992542

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Biography

http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/historic_figures/conan_sir_arthur_doyle.shtml

Sherlock Holmes Character

https://www.britannica.com/topic/Sherlock-Holmes

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde Review

The Picture of Dorian Gray is by the author Oscar Wilde and was published in 1890.

The novel is philosophical fiction and discusses issues such as the purpose of art. A short novel, its page chapters are in roman numerals and are very short. The Picture of Dorian Gray was Oscar Wilde’s only novel and was critical of Victorian society at the time. In the preface, Oscar Wilde remarks “all art is quite useless” because he didn’t believe that art needed to be educational or used for a moral purpose. There are also discussions of vanity and the importance of being youthful as the main character, Dorian Gray, makes a wish that he would not age.

Although Dorian Gray does not age, the portrait ages rapidly into an unattractive, horrifying reflection of Dorian Gray on the inside, although on the outside he is handsome and youthful. It is written in a third person narrative and the main character is Dorian Gray. The first character introduced is Basil Hallward and Lord Henry, who befriends Dorian and influences him negatively. Basil paints a picture of Dorian Gray and gives it to him, but Dorian Gray falls in love with the picture, similar to the story of Narcissus in Greek mythology and stops aging. His vanity has a negative affect on those around him and he loses many friends, he friends he makes are based on their attractiveness and he becomes very unhappy. The story culminates with him stabbing the portrait.

 “Time is jealous of you, and wars against your lilies and your roses” -Lord Henry

 Another theme of the novel is the importance of beauty and the regular references to Narcissus at the beginning. Durian Gray is described as being incredibly attractive and beautiful so he gets a lot of attention. He also mentions that he feels jealous of his own portrait Basil paints of him, because he will age whereas the portrait will not.

After being written, The Picture of Dorian Gray had about 500 pages removed by an editor, who believed it was too immoral. Oscar Wilde seemingly responds to this censorship in his preface “there is no such thing as a moral or immoral book. Books are well written or badly written. That is all.”

“The nineteenth century dislike of Realism is the rage of the caliban seeing his own face in a glass.” – Oscar Wilde

Links

Plot overview of ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’

http://m.sparknotes.com/lit/doriangray/summary.html

Narcissus

https://www.britannica.com/topic/Narcissus-Greek-mythology

Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë Review

Wuthering Heights is the only novel by Emily Brontë, one of the Brontë sisters and the others, Charlotte and Anne, were also famous authors.

Wuthering Heights was published in December 1847 and Emily Brontë dies a year later of tuberculosis. The novel is based in Yorkshire in Northern England, where the author was from. It is a romance story that is as tragic as Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, with two star-crossed lovers. Wuthering Heights has a Romeo and Juliet feel to it, for example the rivalry between the Capulet’s and the Montague’s that Shakespeare wrote of.

The novel is told by the housekeeper, Nelly, who grew up with Heathcliff and Cathy and retells the story to a visitor, Mr Lockwood. Mr Lockwood travels to Wuthering Heights and to The Grange, where he finds out about Heathcliff. Heathcliff is found in Liverpool by Mr Earnshaw, who raises him at Wuthering Heights with his two children Hindley and Catherine. Heathcliff is disliked by all of the other characters except Catherine and even admits to Nelly that he opened her grave eighteen years later to see her. He is hostile to the others and is described negatively as being “avaricious”, “you’re a cruel man” and you were very wicked, Mr Heathcliff.” He is described as either ‘Heathcliff’ or ‘Mr Heathcliff’ as he was named Heathcliff when the family brought him in after their own deceased child, but not given a surname.

Heathcliff and Catherine fall in love, however he hears Catherine telling Nelly that he is beneath her, because of class “It would degrade me to marry Heathcliff now, so he shall never know how I love him.” Heathcliff disappears and Catherine marries Linton, so Heathcliff moves into Wuthering Heights, a few miles from the Grange to seek revenge.

“I AM HEATHCLIFF” -CATHERINE

It is apparent that Catherine loves Heathcliff, but does not feel that they can be together as she explains to Nelly “My love for Linton is like the foliage in the woods. Time will change it I’m well aware, as the winter changes the trees. My love for Heathcliff resembles the eternal rocks beneath: a source of little visible delight, but necessary. Nelly, I am Heathcliff! he’s always, always in my mind- not as a pleasure, any more than I am always a pleasure to myself, but as my own being.” Heathcliff does not hear here say this so he becomes angry and leaves. Later on, Heathcliff and Catherine see each other again, to profess their love, but Catherine dies in childbirth shortly after. Eventually, Heathcliff marries Linton’s sister Isabella and treats her badly, which causes a rift between the two houses.


Family Tree:Doc1

Background information on Wuthering Heights

https://www.britannica.com/biography/Emily-Bronte#ref153056

Biography of Emily Brontë

https://www.biography.com/people/emily-bronte-9227381?_escaped_fragment_=

Wuthering Heights Review in The Guardian

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/dec/16/emily-bronte-wuthering-heights-100-best

Character list

http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/wuthering/characters.html

BBC Radio 4 Wuthering Heights discussion panel

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b095ptt5

Kate Bush – Wuthering Heights – Official Music Video