Sunday, April 10, 2011

"The Things they Carried"

The first archetype that jumped out at me as soon as I started reading the story was the novel design of letter writing. There are many stories of soldiers writing letter to their sweathearts at home. Now there are even modern parallels to that archetype; writing e-mails in long distance relationships, texting. Now, even more than then, letters across a long distance are romantic and personal. In Vietnam, or in previous wars, there were no cell phones and no way to skype or video chat.

The soldier and the sweatheart waiting at home are two archetypes in themselves. There are many different variations of that relationship that can play out in a story. The soldier dying and the girl finding out is another. The man returning home changed is another.

The soldier in the jungle is another archetype. It's uncharted territory, almost like the forest in "Young Goodman Brown." At night, the jungle is even more complicated by the fact that it is even more dangerous in the dark.

I was really interested by the passage about superstition. The soldiers are very superstitious, it can't really hurt to try to attract good luck. This is a section, I believe may challenge cultural norms about superstitions. The soldiers carry good luck charms but they seem to be charms determined by their setting. A normal good luck charm may be a religious symbol, and a rabbit's foot that one soldier does have, but another carries a pebble and another, a thumb. The thumb definitely challenges the normal good luck charm. Although it is mentioned in the story that there is a moral associated with the thumb, "Have gun, will travel," The other soldiers don't really seem to understand why that is associated with the thumb. I, a reader, didn't really get it either. When considering that it is the thumb of an enemy and a young boy not too much younger than they are, the thumb does make sense, but I would not expect a person away from the war to be carrying a thumb around for good luck. The thumb would be a great topic of discussion for the classroom.

Archetypes and the Influence of Context

In "The Things They Carried" the reader is immediately exposed to two archetypes that I believe have been present in American literature since World War I - the soldier and his awaiting sweetheart. As I read that "First Lieutenant Jimmy Cross carried letters from a girl named Martha," my mind immediately jumped to these two archetypes, even though I read one line later that "They were not love letters, but Lieutenant Cross was hoping" (280). It's funny because I was immediately hoping as well. I feel like that's the power of archetypes - even though Martha is not necessarily a romantic interest, the less messy role that she fits in is as the girlfriend awaiting her soldier boyfriend. Even if later she were to write him a Dear John letter, then the break-up would fit more cleanly into a mold of 'the way things happen.'

But context, even though it can create a bit of a mess, seems to play an important role in the realization of archetypes. Yes, Jimmy Cross is a soldier, and he is brave and heroic and masculine in that he is physically fighting to further the cause of his nation. But he is also scared, naive, and numbed... words not necessarily associated with the soldier/warrior archetype. We learn that the men both "share the weight of memory" and perform with specific "stage presence" (287, 290). It is here that the context of this specific war, and O'Brien's feelings about it, enter into the understanding of the story. The soldiers were "afraid of dying, but they were even more afraid to show it," and for these men, death "seemed scripted... irony mixed with tragedy" in the way that war deaths were 'supposed to' seem (287). The men, in essence, were afraid to break their stereotyped roles, and they worked to ensure each death was profound in its national sacrifice, and not in its senselessness or randomness.

The specific context of the Vietnam War further complicates the expression of archetypes in this story. In this particular war, where the men were in jungle lands completely foreign to American military, fighting a war (drafted mostly) that was seriously opposed by large youth and media movements, the senselessness felt by many soldiers (at least in O'Brien's account) of this particular national aggression challenges the roles of a 'good American.' As O'Brien dictates that "Men killed and died because they were embarrassed not to," there are two versions of bravery at stake that do not necessarily align with archetypes ( 291).

For one, the soldiers are compelled by their ingrained sense of duty to their country, and they would be "embarrassed" to diverge from this behavior. On the other hand, the fact that the men are compelled solely by their fear of society's judgment suggests no legitimate passion to fight the spread of Communism in Vietnam. Here, bravery could be either to serve the country (in the traditional sense of a 'brave soldier') or to rebel against the dictates of society, and resist service to the country. Here another archetype - the rebel - begins to emerge, but it is not fully realized, as the men of the Alpha Unit are, in fact, fighting as soldiers in the war.

To me, then, (and I know this is a jumble of thoughts) context helps to influence and determine the complexity of an archetype; and the developed complexities may in fact take down the traditional dictates of a given role (e.g. the dutiful soldier as part rebel).

"The Things They Carried"- archetypes in context

After reading “The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien, I started thinking about archetypal symbols and characters in the context of war. In class, we have been discussing how archetypes are reflective of the culture that created them. It is interesting to think about these symbols as little carriers of that certain culture as they travel abroad. “The Things They Carried” is all about the things that the American soldiers brought with them around Vietnam. Each symbol represents a small aspect of American culture in the midst of the Vietnam War. For example, earlier in the story, Lieutenant Jimmy Cross describes Martha, the girl he left at home. He pretty much creates the image of the archetypal “virgin” character that we, as American readers, are familiar with. However, this archetypal character does not stand isolated in American culture. Instead, the archetype is introduced within the context of the Vietnam War. In my opinion, the context quickly gives an alternate view on the archetype. At home, Martha might have been an innocent tease, a pure virgin. However, in Vietnam with Jimmy Cross, Martha causes a lot more than innocent trouble… The thought of her that haunts Jimmy Cross may have cost on of the men’s lives.

There were many archetypal symbols that I pulled out from “The Things They Carried.” I felt most of these archetypes symbolized strong emotions that are essential in a time of war: fear, luck/hopefulness, numbness, rage, etc. I think the symbols have very strong connections to emotions in this particular context, because people’s emotions are so intense during a time of war.

One archetypal character in this story is the idea of the “macho man.” This one line in particular really stuck out to me when reading: “They died so not to die of embarrassment.” The men in the story struggled to keep their true emotions calm and hidden and to appear macho- stone cold. I guess it is some of the archetypes (the letters, photos, good luck charms, etc.) that actually give their real feelings away.

Archetypes, Culture & "The Swimmer"

When considering our unit inquiry question, "How does the use of archetypes in literature reflect or challenge cultural views?", it is important to consider the ways in which an archetype is deeply rooted in a culture. Since cultures are always changing, it can be difficult to assign meaning to an archetype unless we understand the context in which it is found. Through a close literary analysis of short stories, we can identify archetypes that surface in a culture's literature. Only then can we begin to apply the archetype in a way that helps us find meaning.

While reading "The Swimmer", by John Cheever with the inquiry question in mind, several distinct archetypes become clear and help us to develop connections between symbols, culture, and meaning.

1. Water is a crystal clear example of an archetype and this story is full of it! Jung believed that water is the most common symbol for the unconscious. This idea becomes especially important when we consider Neddy's crisis. The narrator asks, "Was his memory failing or had he so disciplined it in the repression of unpleasant facts that he had damaged his sense of the truth?" (220). It is implied that Neddy has lost his home and family and is swimming as a means to forget or repress. What's really interesting about this particular crisis is that it is highly representative of our culture. The family structure has collapsed in modern America and the result is often a fractured individual psyche. If the water symbolizes the unconscious, then it could mean that Neddy is not aware of his fractured self. He uses defense mechanisms like repression and denial to bury the truth. The water imagery - the pools, Lucinda River, streams, rain, the well, a fountain - are all important to recognize in the story because of their archetypal significance.

2. The Journey or Initiation is a good example of a narrative archetype found in "The Swimmer". Neddy is a sort of modern hero, undergoing a series of challenges (swimming across the country and tolerating the abuses of his pretentious neighbors). The Journey / Initiation Archetype usually consists of three phases 1) separation, 2) transformation, and 3) return. We can identify Neddy as an archetypal character because he identifies himself as one. The narrator indicates that Neddy had, "the feeling that he was a pilgrim, an explorer, a man with a destiny" (218). Here we get the sense of direction or purpose. But it is difficult to say how he has changed over the course of the story. However, he does begin to cry for "probably the first time in his adult life" (224). He then returns home, finding that it is empty. Perhaps Neddy has come to the realization that he is broken, just like the gutter that hangs "over the front door like an umbrella rib" (225). He is the result, or maybe the cause of, a broken family. This issue resonates throughout our culture as the divorce rate continues to rise.

3. There are also seasonal archetypes functioning in the story. We know that the story takes place in "midsummer". But it also contains signs of Fall - which represents death or decay. Neddy felt, "a peculiar sadness at this sign of autumn" (220). This change could mirror his own internal decay - the result of a destroyed family.

All of these archetypes help us find meaning in the story because we place them in a cultural context. If divorce or family structure was an unknown issue or irrelevant to the times, it might be difficult to make sense of Neddy's struggle. We identify this issue as culturally relevant and the archetypes we find serve as evidence to reinforce the meaning.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Sorry this is late!

The "Swimmer" and "Where are you Going..." go really well with our essential question that asks how the use of the archetypal lens helps us understand, or challenges cultural views. Connie is an important archetype as well as Arnold Friend.

Connie's character is archetypal because she is a really releatable character. She is not quite popular, and single and her main desires are really to attract the attention of a boy and become a little more dangerous, and a little more popular. Her experience of attracting Arnold and ending up leaving the way she had to are the elements of the story that may challenge the accepted cultural views of that time and this time depending on who the reader is. For a younger reader, closer to Connie's age, this would challenge her views of what happens when a girl tries to meet a boy in hgigh school or what happens when a girl matures enough to be attractive to men. The Story goes one step further and warns girls that what happens isn't what they think will happen. Instead of just an innocent high school romance, or even more physical acts, She gets taken away completely. But for parents, I feel like this story would be seen differently. Instead of challenging their norms, a parent with a daughter would say something like, "This kind of thing will happen to you." We would not be teaching adults, so I guess that is moot. Still, I think "Where are you going..." Challenges most student's norms.

Connie's situation both a ligns with cultural norms and challenges them. Arnold, I'm not as sure about. He is older, so there is an archetype for the older, wiser, attractive (?) man. An older man with a younger girl is dangerous by assumption, so in than case, the story helps us understand why this character in the story and in real life is so dangerous. Underneath everything that Connie wants, he is danger. In real life, this may be implicit danger. Dangerous people don't usually identify themselves the way that Arnold does in the story, but there he has license to threaten her family. He exists in the story as an archeytpe and a warning. His behavior, although strange, is not so surprising.

I think I'm contradicting myself, but I think Connie's situation challenges cultural norms, but Arnold's character does not.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Essential Question and "Where are you going, Where have you been?"

Hey gang,

As I was reading Oates' "Where Are You Going? Where Have You Been?" I was especially mindful of our Essential Question (=How does the use of archetypes in literature reflect or challenge cultural views?). I feel like the character Arnold Friend offers unique insight into this inquiry question.

Arnold is himself a caricature of an archetype - he dresses up to look like a greaser kid, but in fact he "wasn't a kid, he was much older - thirty, maybe more" (233). This description of the questionable character highlights the appeal of the youthful rebel, the Danny Zuko character from Grease. But it does not quite challenge the archetype because Arnold does not successfully embody it. He is older, trying to seem young and cool. Having made it through high school myself, I feel pretty safe in saying that - no matter the era - playing cool is no substitute for being cool. In Arnold's case, it comes off as creepy. (Not to mention he's got his less-than-successful wingman, Ellie, but that's a whole other tangent.) To me, Arnold (styled "A. Friend") is a character that actually reflects cultural archetypes in his own striving to embody one. He needs to step into a known sort of character to act as a lure when he preys on Connie. He reinforces the very importance of the archetype by attempting to be it.

Connie's character serves as another sort of archetype for me. Though it is clunky to put into words, she is the she-knows-she's-pretty pretty girl. Though this may not be in the canon of archetypes, for anyone who's ever read or seen teen-centered fiction (and even non-fiction), it may as well be. With this preoccupation with attractiveness comes a certain corruptible naivete - Connie "knew she was pretty and that was everything,"... until it wasn't (226). When Connie is approached by Arnold, her inclination is to welcome his advances, as though he is yet another of her admirers, and so when Connie comprehends the situation, "she [is] so sick with fear that she [can] do nothing" (237). Connie's character may, in fact, challenge archetypes, as Oates' story may emphasize the importance of alertness... but I'm not so sure.

"The Swimmer" essential question and reflection

I kept our essential question in mind particularly when reading “The Swimmer” by John Cheever. (I don’t remember our exact wording, but) Our question was about how the archetypes in literature reflect and challenge cultural values. It is very interesting to think about the archetypes and culture of “The Swimmer.” “The Swimmer” was published in 1964 and is obviously a story placed in America, east coast specifically. Some of the archetypes are archetypes that signify high social status and class. Just to list a few, there is the golf links, tennis court, roses, gin and tonic, Connecticut reference, caterers, parties, gatecrashers, etc. These are all archetypes created by culture (as all archetypes really are) and those that we picture when we think of upper class.

It is interesting to think about how these archetypes used in the swimmer may “challenge” cultural values as the main character Ned begins to lose his stability and accountability as the narrator or main character. With Ned’s confusion and delusion, Cheever may be challenging the values of the upper class.

I also thought this story was a great example of the archetypal narrative. This would be a great story to teach because it constantly refers to the journey, “the pilgrim, the explorer, the man with a destiny.” This man is on a journey to get back to home, but eventually the reader realizes that his journey is actually not what he thinks it is. It turns out that his journey has actually transformed into a downward spiraling, out of his control. It would be a great discussion to look at Ned’s journey through the archetypal lens and decide which type of journey or archetypal narrative it actually falls under.