Short Story Rough Draft (In the style of Gabriel Marquez)

If you leave Miami and head north on I-95, the city of Boca Raton is just an hour away. Boca stands out from other cities in South Florida by being just a smidgen more “Floridian”- it is the quintessential ocean coast town. Our palm trees are taller (there is no escape from them- walking down the sidewalk is a threat to your life because you never know when a coconut might fall on your head, or when you’ll trip over a palm frond almost as big as you); and our buildings are brighter- we seem to have an affinity for pastels so bright they make neon look dark. With the exception of the Keys, and maybe Miami, you won’t find a more “Floridian” place in South Florida than Boca Raton.

The most frustrating thing to a Floridian is an ocean breeze; in the middle of August when it’s hot enough to fry an egg, even in the shade, and the humidity is so thick it’s like you’re walking underwater, the last thing you want to feel is an ocean breeze. These are the most fleeting things in the world, and after that brief moment of cool relief is gone, you’re left feeling more miserable than ever. Summer in Florida is nature’s revolt; it’s too hot to do anything, and the people of Boca get lethargic and sleepy, unwilling to do anything, as the slightest movement could cause you to break out into a sweat. The citizens retreat, and nature flourishes with an explosion that you don’t see any other time of the year. Summer is also hurricane season, which means that running to the store without an umbrella is about as risky as crossing the street without looking both ways.

It was on one of those rainy summer days in Boca that the Randall girls were all gathered in their kitchen looking skeptically at something on the counter. They were standing in what looked like the middle of an explosion; flour was all over the kitchen, and a stack of dirty baking utensils were stacked precariously in the kitchen sink. The distinct smell of smoke hung in the air, and there was something dripping from the ceiling that looked suspiciously like raw egg. The girls however, were too busy looking at a baking sheet on the counter that was covered in some unidentifiable mounds of dough.

“I think they turned out all right,” said the oldest in a bright voice. “They actually look pretty good.” The third youngest Randall girl rolled her eyes. “If by ‘good’ you mean ‘I wouldn’t feed this to my worst enemy’, then yes, they look positively delectable.” The oldest shot her younger sister a nasty look as the third oldest snorted from behind a cookbook. Sprawled out over two chairs, she raised the book from her face and said, “That’s such a dumb saying; I would totally feed that-“ She made a vague gesture at the smoking baking sheet, “to my worst enemy.”

“That’s true,” the youngest piped up. “I would put hot sauce in them, too.” The second youngest looked up and said, “Oh! What about mayonnaise?” The third youngest, jumping into the fray, shook her head sagely and said, “If you’re going to do something, do it right- put wet cat food in it.”  Her two younger sisters looked at her then as one looks at a god, and the third youngest stood there, basking in the glow of rare genius.

The third oldest and the oldest exchanged looks of disgust, while the second oldest, wringing her hands together, said in a worried voice, “L-let’s not talk about poisoning people, okay? Here, why don’t you guys help us frost the cookies? We have pink AND purple frosting, and we have sprinkles!”

That got the attention of the three younger girls, and they eagerly crowded around the counter, grabbing knives to frost with a recklessness that suddenly made the second oldest wince and regret her suggestion in the first place. The oldest looked pleased that everybody was coming together, and was congratulating herself on her fine leadership skills when the third oldest suddenly sat up, knocking the cookbook to the ground, and said something that made all the girls’ blood run cold.

“Those are supposed to be cookies?”

Feeling as if they were moving underwater, the Randall girls all turned as one to look at the baking sheet, which somehow, inexplicably, had turned into a muffin pan.

And then all hell broke loose.

“This is what I get for leaving you guys alone for longer than two seconds,” the oldest Randall girl fumed angrily. The second oldest scoffed and turned on her sister. “Excuse me? I’m just as capable of handling this as you are. Don’t condescend me!” The second youngest was in sobbing hysterics. “M-mother’s cookies are r-ruined!” She proclaimed before dramatically throwing her arms on the counter and burying her face in them. “Don’t you mean the muffins?” said the third youngest nastily, as she prodded the hardened lumps of dough. The third oldest remained unmoved by all of this; in fact, she had picked up one of the containers of frosting and was proceeding to eat it with a spoon.

Eventually, though, the third oldest got tired of listening to her sister’s fighting; placing her frosting down with a sigh, she interrupted her screaming sisters.

“Okay, first- do not call your sister juvenile animals,” she admonished the second oldest firmly, who scoffed and looked away. “And you,” she said pointing to the oldest, who looked at her in disbelief, “just sit down, please. A college degree does not make you God.” “And lastly,” she said, turning to the third youngest, “that is not appropriate language- you should be ashamed of yourself.” The scolded girl flushed angrily and glared at the ground.

“She’s right,” the oldest said, desperately trying to regain some semblance of authority. “This isn’t about who messed the coo- the muff- the dessert up,” she said with a glare at  the second oldest, who gave her an evil eye right back. “These aren’t for us- we shouldn’t be fighting.”

“Do you think those will send Mom back to the hospital again?” The littlest one piped up, looking skeptically at the ruined dessert. The second youngest gasped ad swatted her sister on the arm. “Don’t say things like that!”

“I actually think that’s a valid question,” the third oldest said slowly, looking askance at the “cookies”. “I think they’re still smoking.” The oldest sighed, and rubbed her hands over her face. “Does anyone know when Dad’s coming home?” The second oldest replied, “He’s working late tonight- again.” The atmosphere in the room seemed to deflate a little, as the girls fell silent, unsure of what to do next.

“I’m hungry,” the youngest broke the silence. “Yeah, me too,” the second youngest echoed. “Fine, fine, I’ll make dinner,” the third oldest sighed heavily as she jumped down from the kitchen stool. “NO,” her five sisters said in loud unison. Their sister looked around, affronted. “Excuse me?” The oldest shook her head and said through gritted teeth, “You are not cooking. Ever. Again.” The third oldest scoffed and said, “Why not?” “Because potato chips do belong in hamburger meat, is why not,” the oldest replied. “I thought it would make it crunchy,” the third oldest protested.

“It doesn’t matter,” the oldest said firmly. “I’m cooking, you guys clean up. When Dad comes home, we’ll ask him to go to the store to get a dessert  for Mom. And a card- we’ll ask him to get a card. Then tomorrow, we can all go down and bring her home. Now go.” She clapped her hands and her sisters scattered, while the rain continued to patter on the rooftop outside.

 

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Research/Analysis Rough Draft

 

Narrative voice is perhaps one of the most important, yet underappreciated, literary devices in use today. For most people the word “literature” tends to evoke vague ideas about similes and imagery; figurative language is usually always at the forefront. In the grand scheme of things, narration seems to get overlooked as a less important means of interpreting a piece of literature. However, the power of narrative voice lies in its subtlety; it reveals a lot more about a work than one would originally think. As much as any image or metaphor, it sheds much insight on character, and even author, than most of the other literary devices used. Bias, secret wants, vendettas- narrative voice allows the reader to really delve into the minds of the characters, and gives the reader the opportunity to assess the work and its characters from a variety of angles. It enables the reader to get a better understanding on the workings of the given novel. This is true concerning Isabel Allende and Gabriel Marquez’s works; their focus on the fantastical isn’t the only thing these authors have in common. Allende and Marquez’s skillful use of narrator contributes a lot in terms of the impact that their narrative techniques have on both the novel and the reader.

Sporadically throughout Isabel Allende’s The House of the Spirits Esteban Trueba becomes a first-person narrator, instead of just another character in the novel. With Esteban, Allende employs a great example of the typical unreliable narrator; simply put, from Esteban’s point of view, he can do no wrong, distorting the truth as he does to portray himself in the most flattering light possible. It’s the reader’s job to discern fiction from reality- to see Esteban’s supposed power for the tyranny that it really is, to understand that his alleged concern for the welfare of others is nothing more than a thin mask that does nothing to disguise Esteban’s utter selfishness.

However, when we see the third person narrator talking about Esteban, it’s completely different. There is one scene in the beginning of the novel where a train drops Esteban off in the middle of nowhere. The narrator describes the scene with a dreary isolation: “The distant mountains disappeared behind the clouds of a shrouded sky; only the snowy peak of the volcano could be seen in all of its clarity, outlined against the landscape and lit by a timid winter sun……..he combed the landscape for the town of San Lucas, but was only able to make out a far-off hamlet that was faded in the dampness of the morning. He walked around the station. There was a padlock on the door to the only office. There was a penciled note tacked on it, but it was so smudged that he could not read it. He heard the train pull out behind him, leaving a column of white smoke. He was alone in the silent landscape…” (pg. 53). While the use of imagery is powerful here, it makes an even bigger impact given that it is told to us by somebody who isn’t Esteban. From the point of view of an outsider, Esteban is stripped of all the pomp and circumstance he tries to bestow on himself.  Removed of the false sense of power Esteban likes to think he has tricked the reader into believing he has, this outside narrator shows Esteban’s true colors. This desolate scene, the narrator tells us, is reflective of Esteban’s true state. Paired with the use of narrative voice, the narrator also makes use of some powerful imagery. The only light in the scene is given from a “timid winter sun” (pg. 53); whatever of its rays that can leak through the “shrouded sky” (pg. 53) are the only light that reaches Esteban. Then there is the locked station door: a place where he would seek guidance, direction, is locked to him, leaving him alone in this deserted landscape. This sense of abandonment is heightened by the train that pulls out of the station; Esteban’s last chance to be reunited with other human beings leaves him behind. Essentially, this narration reveals Esteban’s true isolated self: symbols of hope, passageways to humanity- these are all out of Esteban’s reach.  As much as Esteban would like to deceive the reader, and even himself, it just isn’t possible. Ruth Y. Jenkins wrote that, “Allende, like Kingston, explores the tension between silence and voice…” (pg. 62); here, Jenkins points out the power of Allende’s narration, and how, even in instances when Esteban was the narrator, and the female voice was silenced, Esteban’s character was still revealed. This “tension” (pg. 62) that Jenkins writes of also points to the struggle women faced, subjugated as they were by men.

This all becomes even more fitting by the novel’s end, when we learn that the omniscient narrator has all along been Alba, Esteban’s daughter. It’s especially fitting considering that Allende’s novel is essentially about female empowerment; as we see, it is the women who are the reliable narrators, not men like Esteban. The House of the Spirits, at its very heart, speaks of women’s innate strength, a fortitude that not only do men overlook, but which they seem to lack themselves. For instance, at the end of the novel, when Alba has been kidnapped, for all his bluster throughout the novel, Esteban’s sheer brutishness can do nothing to save his daughter. He has no chance but to turn to Transito Soto, a female prostitute, for help in rescuing his daughter. Esteban begs in a way that he has never done before, beseeching the help of a women he used to throw money at in exchange for sex. And in the end, it is Transito’s connections that save Alba, not any of Esteban’s crude, clumsy attempts at asserting dominance. James Mandrell sums it up best when he wrote that, “History will thus continue to repeat itself. But history as his-story can be changed, and will be by those who wait, filling pages with a true story, neither invented or imagined, that is guaranteed to wake others from the stupor of their individual lives…” (pg. 243)

The use of narrator in Gabriel Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude is a bit more complex than it is in Allende’s work. Trying to remember which Auerliano is talking at any given point is difficult enough, but throw in several generations of the Beundia family, and it becomes almost impossible to pinpoint a narrator- or narrators, for that matter. However, while intricate, one can safely assume that Marquez’s novel is told from the perspective of a third person narrator. This is probably one of the only certainties we have in this world that Marquez has created. The ambiguity surrounding the narrator in One Hundred Years of Solitude causes Ronan McFadden to make the statement that, “This plunges the reader into uncertainty as to their own, and the narrator’s, perspective: how to have faith in the facts of this world when the magical and the empirical are so thoroughly intertwined and thereby resist close scrutiny? This ultimately impacts on the reader’s ability to view the narrator as reliable…” (pg. 5). McFadden’s argument here is that the narrator lacks reliability simply because “the magical and the empirical are so thoroughly intertwined” (pg. 5); fact and fiction are too entwined and as such, this causes difficulty of distinction. McFadden makes the claim that the narrator becomes lost in the fantastical world that Marquez has created and so loses any reliability and as an omniscient narrator. However, I think that the source here has strayed from Marquez’s purpose as an author: to have the reader suspend their disbelief, to fully immerse themselves in the world the author has created. Just like the tone of the work, or Marquez’s use of language, the narrator is yet another literary technique the author is using to create the world of his work. It isn’t something to be detached from Marquez’s other literary devices, something people seem to forget when they analyze works of literature. Narrative voice isn’t not a magnifying glass you can hold the book up to to understand it more clearly; narrative voice is a technique that is as powerful, and oftentimes, as complex as a really good metaphor. In fact, Birute Ciplijauskaite writes that, “A major portion of the book obeys the rule of ambiguity which Todorov stresses as an important element of ‘fantastic literature’..” (pg. 1). This is completely true; as immersed as Marquez’s novel is in the fantastic, I find that a distinct, clear-cut narrator would not only detract from the mood of the book, but it would be unreliable as well. The mood and the unreliability go hand in hand here; it just isn’t believable in this world where girls can float off into the sky for the narrator to be something entirely separate from the work. Marquez does this successfully in One Hundred Years of Solitude; where voice is well integrated into the meaning of the work. One of the most prevalent of these themes is the idea of being free: a freedom that can only be found in solitude. This then begs the question- what, exactly, is solitude? These questions are probably best answered in Marquez’s novel by the quote: “The world was reduced to the surface of her skin and her inner self was safe from bitterness…” (pg. 279). As the title suggests, the idea of solitude plays a large role in Marquez’s work, and this quote in particular demonstrates a person’s retreat into their mind, away from reality and into a world that is safe from outer corruption. The word “reducing” (pg. 279) holds the idea of something being stripped down to its bare minimum being; of this woman, Amaranta, being reduced to her inner essence. On the outside, she is nothing more but a “surface of skin” (pg. 279), and to the rest of the world, she is hidden far away, deep within herself. Whatever is important, or essential about her, is now safe from any “outer corruption” (pg.279). We see that Amaranta’s retreat to solitude here is a mental, not a physical, one. In withdrawing from the real world into her mind becomes not only safe, but free as well in a sense. She is free from the supposed corrupting influence of the outside world; the bitterness that can arise when one is shackled to a life that they don’t want to live.

 

Works Cited:

Ronan, McFadden. “The Reliability of The Narrator in Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children and Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude.” Opticon1826 5 (2008): Directory of Open Access Journals. Web. 30 Oct. 2016.

Ciplijauskaite, Birute. “Foreshadowing as Technique and Theme in One Hundred Years of Solitude.” Books Abroad 47. (1973): 479-484. Humanities & Social Sciences Index Retrospective: 1907-1984 (H.W. Wilson). Web. 30 Oct. 2016.

Allende, Isabel. The House of the Spirits. Atria, 2015

Marquez, Gabriel Garcia. One Hundred Years of Solitude. HarperCollins, 2006.

Abstract

They said what?!: Narrative voice in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s “One Hundred Years of Solitude” and Isabel Allende’s “The House of the Spirits”.

Voice is a narrative technique pertinent to any good work of literature. Marquez and Allende demonstrate this in their own works, where one can see how these authors’ use of narrator is an integral part of their novels, especially when it comes to developing the themes of these respective works. This paper will explore what sort of effects the authors’ use of voice have, such as impact on the reader, and on the development of the novels and their themes. How the authors use this narrative technique will also be a point of discussion- specifically, the underlying similarities and differences in how Marquez and Allende use narration, and what sort of impact this has on thematic development in the novel and on the reader.

 

 

Works Cited:

Ronan, McFadden. “The Reliability of The Narrator in Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children and Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude.” Opticon1826 5 (2008): Directory of Open Access Journals. Web. 30 Oct. 2016.

Ciplijauskaite, Birute. “Foreshadowing as Technique and Theme in One Hundred Years of Solitude.” Books Abroad 47. (1973): 479-484. Humanities & Social Sciences Index Retrospective: 1907-1984 (H.W. Wilson). Web. 30 Oct. 2016.

Jenkins, Ruth Y. “Authorizing Female Voice and Experience: Ghosts and Spirits in Kingston’s The Woman Warrior and Allende’s The House of The Spirits.” Melus 19. (1994): 61-73. Humanities Full Text (H.W. Wilson). Web. 30 Oct. 2016.

Mandrell, James. “The Prophetic Voice in Garro, Morante, And Allende.” Comparative Literature 42. (1990): 227-246. Humanities Full Text (H.W. Wilson). Web. 30 Oct. 2016.

Figurative Language in Marquez and Neruda’s Works

“Even the most sublime idea seems foolish if heard too often.” So says the character Pablo Neruda in Michael Radford’s film Il Postino. The movie develops this concept more fully with the “metafori” that Neruda and Mario seem to love so much. In the movie, metaphors are portrayed as something unaffected; unlike the complexity and ornateness that most people seem to associate with poetry, Il Postino revolves around the idea that metaphors, and by extension poetry, should flow as naturally as the sea that Neruda is so enchanted with. Like Peter Stack wrote, “’The Postman’ comes as close as any film to uncovering the working heart of poetry, how it need not be arcane…”. Like Neruda’s character discusses in the poem, poetry isn’t static; it’s always changing, able to be interpreted in so many different ways. James Berardinelli also points out that the main character of Il Postino, Mario, makes “startlingly insightful observations” about the nature of poetry, like “the whole world is a metaphor for something.” This is true- metaphors can be found everywhere in the world around us. Poetry, like life, is an evocative experience and can’t be clearly defined in terms of black and white. Multiple creators develop metaphors in this way, integrating and interweaving them flawlessly into their works, until you cannot have the one without the other.

One of these works is One Hundred Years of Solitude; Marquez’s book plays with a variety of themes, as it takes the reader through multiple generations of the Buendia family. One of the most notable of these themes, as told in the title, is the concept of solitude, or loneliness. In everyday parlance solitude and loneliness seem to go hand in hand; however, as the book demonstrates, this couldn’t be farther from the truth. Most of the characters in One Hundred Years demonstrate signs of regression at some point in their lives. They deteriorate, usually mental, and retreat further and further into themselves, shunning the rest of society in favor of their own company. Two examples of this are Jose Arcadio Buendia (JAB) and Fernanda. For most of his life, Jose Arcadio is at odds with the people of Macondo, and even his own wife. This isolation, or loneliness, of his stems from the fact that his obsessive fascination with all of these new inventions and changes clash with the sleepy, old-fashioned town of Macondo. For Fernanda, she is absurdly stubborn, persisting in holding on to her notions of elegance and class. She doesn’t convince anyone with her claims of a superior background, and only succeeds in alienating her husband’s family with her refusal to let go of her delusions of grandeur. These two characters are very, very different- however, towards the ends of their lives, they demonstrate eerily similar traits. At some point in their lives, Jose Arcadio Buendia and Fernanda both experience a rapid mental deterioration. This is most evident in Jose Arcadio, who spends the end of his life tied like a dog to a tree outside, speaking in a supposedly nonsensical language that we only later find out is Latin. Fernanda is locked up in a house that is literally falling to pieces around her, walking around in decaying outfits of aspiring splendor. What strikes us as similar here is the fact that both of these characters were experiencing extreme levels of solitude; both mentally and physically, they are detached from the outside world that had once been so alienated from. Yet, locked up as they are, both characters eventually seem to experience some sort of release. The farther Jose Arcadio retreats mentally, away from reality, the closer he comes to finding the truth that he so desperately sought in earlier days; and Marquez perfectly encapsulates Fernanda’s transformation as the narrator writes that, “She became human in her solitude.” (363). In these real and imagined prisons these two characters’ solitude gives them a sense freedom and peace that they were sorely lacking earlier in their lives. Solitude, then, in Marquez’s novel has a deeper meaning than just being by oneself; here, solitude also holds conn0tations of freedom.In their solitude, the fact that they are in a sense, bound to where they are does not prevent them from experiencing a sense of freedom that they did not have back when they were living life surrounded by other people.

Pablo Neruda never seems to run out of images and metaphors for his poetry, but this is most clearly seen in this one poem Barcarole. In this poem, metaphor and meaning go hand in hand. Pablo Neruda writes about a man suffering from the loneliness of what seems to be an unrequited love. Neruda talks about waiting for a sign from the woman he loves, a sign that will release him from his loneliness and finally unite the two. Neruda writes about his wish for the woman he loves to blow upon his “dusty” (5) heart; the word “dusty” has the connotation of an object (here, the heart) discarded, shoved away and left to gather dust on the shelf. Were Neruda’s lover to breathe on his heart, breathe new life into him, Neruda claims that his heart would make the a “drowsy sound” (7). With the use of the word “drowsy”, Neruda implies the awakening of his heart, as if, before his lover came along to awaken him, it had been lying dormant for a very long time. Neruda’s love is like the sound of “foghorns in some dismal port…” (13), a lonesome, eerie echo that speaks of his isolation. The idea of Neruda’s lover blowing upon his heart to produce this sorrowful, almost wistful sound is metaphorically represented in this poem by the sea and a conch shell. If pressed to your ear, conch shells are supposed to make a sound similar to that of the ocean’s waves. However, this sound is nothing more than a poor imitation, and Neruda relates this to the sound of his heart, of his latent love, as he waits for the day for his lover to awaken him. “And the heart sounds like a sour conch/ calls oh sea, oh lament….” (26-27). Without reciprocation from the woman he loves, Neruda’s own love is small and weak in comparison of what the two of them could share. The metaphors in this poem are fluid, one flowing into the other, calling to mind how the “metafori” is defined in Il Postino. In one stanza, Neruda’s heart is echoed in the sea itself: “Like a long absence”; in another stanza, Neruda is like a boat lost at sea, waiting in solitude for the sound of his foghorn to be returned by the one he loves.

 

Works Cited

Stack, Peter “‘Postman’ Delivers Poetic Love Letters/ Heartbreaking Melodrama from Italy.” SFGate, 23 June 1995, http://www.sfgate.com/movies/article/Postman-Delivers-Poetic-Love-Letters-3029991.php. Accessed 13 October 2016.

James Berardinelli. “The Postman (Il Postino).” Reel Views, 1995, http://www.reelviews.net/reelviews/postman-the-il-postino. Accessed 13 October 13, 2016.

Il Postino. Directed by Michael Radford, Miramax Films, 1994.

 

Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown and The House of the Spirits

I would, if allowed only one a word, describe Almodovar’s works as “lush”; there seems to be no limit to his use of sensory images. Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown and Volver’s sole purpose seems to be to drag you into the world of the film; both works are saturated with vivid imagery. The exotic air that these films have are rooted in Almodovar’s skillful use of atmosphere. His trademark is said to be his adoration of woman; as Michael Jacobson wrote, “He loves the women in his films…at the very least, he’s fascinated by them, as are we, the audience….”. While all this is true, an interesting choice of words here is “fascinating”. It brings to mind the pull Almodovar’s works has on us; that feeling of surrealism that pervades the entire world of the work. The word “fascinating”, though, can not only apply to the women that Almodovar loves so much, but also to the mood of his films in general. The events in his works come across as so bizarre because of the way he portrays everything. From the bright visuals to the staccato sounds everything in his films seems to be for the sole purpose to make the viewer blink twice and wonder where exactly they are. For me, the women in Almodovar’s films stand out far less than the worlds that he creates: Almodovar’s storytelling is far more impressive than any of his characters.

This idea of the power of storytelling is also paralleled in Almodovar’s own film Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. In the movie, the lead Pepa is suffering from the indignity of being “the other woman”. In the beginning we see her stand by and watch her bed go up in flames; make gazpacho laced with a serious amount of barbiturates; and walk around her apartment smoking a cigarette and bemoaning the lover who abandoned her. She manages to garner the sympathy of a loud secretary, and even some condescending pity from the man who jilted her for yet another woman. She is, at a cursory glance, a poster child for the argument that all women are irrational creatures. However, over the course of the movie, we find out that there is far more to Pepa than originally meets the eye; frankly, Pepa is strong. There is no denying that she suffers, and she struggles; but she is resilient, quick witted and clever- just like Almodovar’s other female lead, Raimunda. This raises the question of why it’s so easy to see Pepa as unstable, and just a little crazy. Gary Nunn writes for The Guardian that, “In both fiction and the real world, creative, talented, fascinatingly intelligent women have been led down a path of torment, self-doubt, self-harm and even self-destruction – cast off as unhinged when they had so much unique brilliance to offer a world that refused them the space to express it adequately; a world that equates female genius too closely with insanity.” This is true, as we especially see in Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown– Pepa is creative, not crazy, as she demonstrates when she and her friends trick some cops into drinking her laced gazpacho; and she is strong, not weak, as we see when she ends up walking away from her ex-lover at the end of the movie. It’s about perception- the strength of story is a real thing. What would we have thought of Pepa we had seen the story through Ivan’s eyes instead of Pepa’s?

Themes of storytelling are not just limited to Almodovar; Allende’s novel also holds great examples of the power of story. One of the most powerful parts in The House of the Spirits is Esteban’s speech at the end of the novel, where he literally begs Transito Soto to save his granddaughter. Allende’s use of stream of consciousness here is incredible: in those few pages, as Esteban “opens the floodgates of his soul” (Allende, 465), we are hit with a torrent of emotions we didn’t think he would ever be able to inspire in us. In the beginning, his request has a hint of his old pride, as he implies that Alba, “an idealist” (Allende, 465), brought this situation upon herself. The longer Esteban talks though, we see a change in him and in his words, until we get to the end of his speech, when, with his words tripping and spilling over each other, he practically prostrates himself at the feet of a prostitute and sobbing, begs her to help out this “poor destroyed old man” (Allende, 468). The tale of woe that Esteban spins for Transito, depicting the utter state of ruin is life has fallen into, has us (or at the very least, me) feeling sympathy for a murderer and a rapist. In this moment Allende demonstrates just how powerful our stories, our words, can be, and as we are drawn into Esteban’s story, we can’t help but remember that one word “fascinating”.

WORKS CITED

Allende, Isabel. The House of the Spirits. Atria, 2015

Jacobson, Michael. “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.” DVD Movie Central.

Nunn, Gary. “The Feminisation of Madness is Crazy.” The Guardian, 8 March 2012.

The House of the Spirits and Volver

Marjorie Baumgarten calls “Volver” Almodovar’s “….ode of love to women’s congress and fortitude…”. The same could also be said of Allende and her work; both of these pieces are celebrations of women’s innate strength. Take, for instance, the protagonists of each work. While both women, personality wise, are very different, one main similarity that they share is their fortitude. Although expressed in different ways, neither women allows any outside obstacles- in this case, men- to deter them from living their lives. Clara refuses to be affected by her husband’s oppression: in her own detached manner, she simply ignores Esteban’s demands and continues as she pleases. When her husband knocks some of her teeth out, Clara doesn’t end up submitting to his rage, and instead carries on with her life as if her were not there. Then there is Raimunda, who embraces her problems head on, refusing to let them side track her from living her life. Raimunda literally stuffs her husband’s dead body in a meat freezer, then turns around and cooks a  meal for thirty people without batting an eye over the fact that there is a corpse in the kitchen with her. These women demonstrate incredible resilience; no matter how bad it gets for them, they keep on pushing through. Their strength is remarkable, and not just in the vastly different ways that they show it, but especially when one considers what exactly they are up against.

The main male characters in both the novel and the film exhibit the same entitled attitude- demanding, and self serving, their main goal in life is to satisfy themselves. From the parts in The House of the Spirits where Esteban takes over as the narrator, we can see his immaturity and his selfishness, as he refuses to accept that he has destroyed the lives of countless of people around him. In “Volver”, when Paco tries to rape Paula, he tells her not to worry, that it’s all okay, that he’s not really her father. Almost as shocking as what he tries to do to her is the fact that he actually says that it’s okay; of course, though, it is all okay to Paco, because this is exactly what he wants.

What is perhaps the most interesting about these male characters is their presence in each work- in The House of the Spirits, the men, particularly Esteban, are so forcefully present that it’s almost oppressive. He demands the attention of not just the other characters, but of the reader as well. In “Volver”, Paco is killed barely five minutes after we are introduced to him. His screen time is severely limited- however, this does not diminish the effect he has on the characters, and even the plot line in general. From the obvious problems he presents Raimunda, such has how to discretely dispose of his body, Paco’s presence, or lack of, brings other issues to light. In fact, Paco’s death is set in stark contrast with all that eventually becomes revealed over the course of the film, like for instance, the truth surrounding Paula’s birth, something eerily parallel to what almost happens between Paco and Paula. With Paco’s death, long buried mysteries are brought to life.

All things considered, when we think about the fact that both of these works focus on the hardships women had to face in these cultural time periods, it doesn’t seem like much of a stretch to view these men as plot devices used by the creators’ to further develop their female characters. Like Peter Travers wrote  “Plot is merely Almodovar’s way into the souls of his women…..”. In this way we can see the male characters in both works as tools to help readers further understand the women in these pieces: their strength, their weaknesses, and how they grow in the face of such obstacles.

Magical realism is something that is deeply integrated into the world of both works. Take Pan’s Labyrinth for instance- there was a certain air of awe and disbelief surrounding the whole magical events of the movie. It was portrayed as something very separate and distinct from the harsh reality of the outside world. This is in direct contrast to Allende’s and Almodovar’s pieces- everything comes together seamlessly, as if the magical events in these worlds are just a natural way of life. In Allende’s novel, all this is normal: children predicting earthquakes, salt shakers that move on their own and such. Magic is a part of everyday life in this novel, and even Esteban has come to see it as something natural.

Then there is “Volver”, where some might argue that there is a distinct lack of magical realism owing to the fact that in the end we realize that there is no ghost- just the townspeople running away with their imaginations. However, the whole world of the movie itself is steeped in an otherworldly quality. The scene where Raimunda is cleaning up her husband’s dead body especially illuminates this concept. In this scene there is a distinct detachment from the real world: the gruesome task is set in stark contrast with the bright, happy colors in the scene, and the efficiency with which Raimunda cleans up his body has the heavy implication of monotony- almost has if this was another meal to clean up after, something she has done countless times before.

 

Reviews Cited

Travis, Peter. “Volver.” Rolling Stone

Baumgarten, Marjorie. “Volver.” The Austin Chronicle

 

I really am sorry for how long (and possibly boring) this post is

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Isabel Allende’s novel features a variety of themes ranging from political to economical. One of the strongest recurring themes, though, in “The House of the Spirits”, is a social one. Allende’s novel is set in a time where female oppression was a normal way of life. Throughout the novel we see the varying levels of subjection the female characters have to deal with, something that is best exemplified by Esteban’s various speeches on the subject of equality: “It would be lovely if we were all created equal, but the fact is that we are not.” (72-73) This line here in particular conveys the mindset people in the novel have when it comes to equal rights for men and women. There wasn’t some dark ulterior motive when it came to refusing women their rights; it was just the way things used to be. As Esteban had put it, it was simply a “fact”. Wrong as it was, women were considered inferior just because they weren’t men, even though in the novel, we can see how capable they are, as demonstrated through such female characters as Nana. Women were supposed to sit back and keep silent, like Nivea had to do with Severo, for instance. Even though she was as equally ambitious as her husband, Nivea had to put his political agenda before hers, just because she was a woman.

 

There is a brief passage in the novel where the narrator talks about the new house Esteban is building for himself and Clara. The narrator talks about how, “He [Esteban] could hardly guess that that solemn, cubic, dense, pompous house,…..,would end up full of protuberances and incrustations,……,of turrets, of small windows that could not be opened,…….,all of which were Clara’s inspiration….” (104-105).  When Esteban sees the outside of his future house, he already has a preconceived notion as to what it will look like on the inside; however, as the narrator tells us, Esteban could hardly even begin to imagine what the interior will be. He’s in for a surprise, though, because Clara has transformed the house into something completely different from what it appears to be from the outside. There is far more to the house than Esteban, or anybody else looking at it, could begin to think.

 

This passage here is a really powerful metaphor, especially in context with the message Allende is trying to send her readers. In relation to the idea that people used to have a lot of misconceptions about women, we can see the house as a metaphor for women in general, while Esteban here represents the rest of the world’s narrow sighted view of women. Two key words here are “pompous” and “cubic”; on the outside, we are told that the house looks exactly the way Esteban wants it to look. “Pompous” gives us the idea of arrogance and exaggerated airs; it connotes the idea of superiority, something that Esteban is bursting with, particularly when it comes to how he treats women. Then there is the word “cubic”, which gives us the impression of exactness, of a mathematical measurement. The word leaves no room for growth, for exploration- it even almost has the impression of confinement. Esteban has a very particular way that he wants the house to look, and this is a reflection of how society once treated women. It didn’t matter that women were just as capable as men; what mattered was the fact that they weren’t born men, and therefore, were considered inferior. The rights and opportunities that women wanted- for instance, like Ferula’s desire to be as free from filial duty as her brother- were inconsequential, because it freed women from conforming to the role that was already set out for them.

 

 

The inside of the house, however, is something very different from what Esteban sees on the outside. On the inside, we’re able to see that Clara has expanded the house beyond anything that Esteban, with his limited perspective, could possibly imagine. Clara has turned the house into something of her own creation: from the imposing, flamboyant monument that Esteban sees from the outside, Clara has made it something completely different. It is full of unexpected turns and imperfections: “of small windows that could not be opened…” (105). The interior demonstrates the idea that there was far more to women then people used to think and it also illustrates the capabilities that women weren’t given credit for- their abilities and ambitions that were just as powerful as that of a man’s.

 

This quote demonstrates an underlying theme in this novel: Allende’s desire for the world to see that there is more to people, and not just women, then the way we choose to see them. Allende talks about seeing people for who they really are, not for what we want them to be.

 

Pan’s Labyrinth Review

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Pan’s Labyrinth  stands out mostly for its strong elements of fantasy. From a centuries old faun guarding a portal that leads to an entirely different world to The Pale Man, a gruesome creature that feeds on unsuspecting children, del Toro’s film interweaves the fantastical with the harsh reality of people struggling under the rule of a fascist regime. It’s hard to tell between what is real and what isn’t, especially as we see a lot of the movie through young Ofelia’s eyes- a world of fantasy that the rest of the adult characters seem to be oblivious to. It raises the question as to whether or not this world Ofelia experiences is truly real- or if she has been so affected by the traumatizing circumstances of her life that her mental state has been affected, forcing her to seek refuge in an imaginary world in her head, much like the books she spends so much of her time reading. Like Lisa Schwarzbaum wrote for Entertainment Weekly, “This is a tale within a tale within a tale, a chameleon creation in which the actual and the symbolic intermingle so intuitively that we’re happy to divest ourselves of logic…..”.