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Gender Entrapment Exposed in “Mad Max: Fury Road”

Gender Entrapment Exposed in Mad Max: Fury Road

            Gender stereotypes are seen in literature as well as cinema. Males, in American culture, are typically depicted as tough and rugged while women are depicted either as mothers or temptresses. Storylines are also greatly influenced by gender typecasts; for instance, the damsel in distress is always saved by the strong, masculine male, or the man falls to destruction due to the scandalous temptress and her feminine wiles. These types of archetypes in cinema play a strong role in popular culture. The writers for Mad Mad: Fury Road, however, work to dismantle both character and plot stereotypes through the juxtaposition of both Max to Furiosa and Furiosa to the wives of Immortan Joe while also adhering to the typical post-apocalyptic portrayal of women as seen through the wives and the Vuvalini.

The title character, “Mad” Max Rockatansky, is typically portrayed in a very manly manner. In Mad Mad: Fury Road, however, he is held captive and at the mercy of the war boys. His inability to escape this fate encourages a weakness to his traditionally masculine reputation. The use of the muzzle-like contraption also helps create a similar weakening effect by representing his lack of voice and consequently the film’s lack of a masculine voice. His emasculation is enhanced by the juxtaposition of his character to Imperator Furiosa.

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Though Mad Max is the title character, this film is dominated by female characters. Some of these characters fit stereotypical female stereotypes while others, such as Imperator Furiosa, do not. Furiosa is depicted in a very masculine light throughout the film. She has a very short, manly hair cut and wears a black leather outfit. Her appearance helps the audience see her as strong and tough. Her rough exterior helps the viewers better associate Furiosa with the male dominated Citadel and its war boys.  Charlize Theron, the actress that plays Furiosa, made the decision to shave her head for the role stating that, “she had to almost disappear in this environment and everybody had to get to a place where they almost forgot that she was a woman. And I just didn’t know how to do that with a ponytail” (Coyle). Furiosa’s invisibility within the war boy culture is effective and causes audiences to generally associate her more with the war boys than with any of the other female cultures in the film, this includes the Vuvulini she was originally a part of. Her appearance, however is not the only thing that is not typical of a female character in modern American film.

Furiosa’s role in the Citadel is also one that goes against both the gender roles of both the setting’s culture as well as modern cinema. Not only is she the only female depicted as being a member of the war boys, but she is also the driver of the “war rig.” Typically, the driver of a vehicle, especially a war vehicle, is in a place of power and is not normally a woman. War, throughout history, has been dominated heavily by men. Therefore, the vehicle’s title including the word “war” gives it a very masculine connotation which further encourages the masculinity associated with Furiosa. Her dominant role as the driver is another way that the writers depict her dominance and show how a woman can have just as dominant a role as a man in modern film. One critic comments on her role as the driver by arguing that the movie is “essentially a two-hour car chase_ that’s literally and effectively driven by a strong woman” (Coyle).

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Furiosa is also portrayed as the knight in shining armor (or in this case leather armor) that saves the damsels in distress from the evil villain. One of the main plot points of the film is the escape of Immortan Joe’s wives from their captivity as breeders. These wives are snuck out of the Citadel and are hidden by Furiosa in the war rig. Once again, Furiosa is not depicted by the roles that most female characters are forced to play in the typical American film. The wives, however, are not the only ones saved by Furiosa. There is a gender role juxtaposition between Furiosa and Mad Max in which Max is the damsel and Furiosa, once again, plays the role of the valiant knight and helps rescue Mad Max from the war boys and a life as a human blood bag. The juxtaposition of Furiosa to Mad Max helps illuminate the masculinity of Furiosa while emasculating Max.

While Furiosa exudes masculinity and breaks through the barriers of cliché female roles, the wives of Immortan Joe seem to represent the femininity that Furiosa breaks free from. As previously mentioned, Furiosa is dressed in rough leather and has a short, male haircut. The wives, on the other hand, are depicted in a very different way. They all have long flowing hair and dresses that match. There is a distinct softness in their appearance that is only deepened when compared to the harshness of Furiosa. They are also all wearing white. The white garments help the viewer to associate them with innocence or the purity of a virgin, which is one of the most stereotypical role played by women in film. This idea of virginity is enforced by the use of chastity belts that Immortan Joe forces his wives to wear. The chastity belt represents the literal entrapment of these women as well as the allegorical entrapment of actresses in film by the roles they are forced to play, such as that of the innocent virgin.

The virgin, however, is not the only role played by the wives of Immortan Joe. One of the wives, Splendid Angharad, is pregnant with Joe’s heir. She is the most important of all the wives because she represents the future of Joe and the Citadel. For Joe, immortality is found within his offspring, and therefore, she represents hope for his future. Splendid Angharad’s forced motherhood also represents the roles of motherhood that women are forced to play in American culture.

The ideas of virginity and motherhood are taken away when the women use the water source to wash themselves. Viewers may argue that this scene represents yet another archetypal role of woman, that of sex idol, due to their soaked white garments. This scene may look like a post-apocalyptic wet tee-shirt contest, but one could argue that this scene represents something much more for these women. For instance, the water in this scene is not just water, it is a precious and rare commodity. As depicted in the beginning scenes of the film, water is controlled by Immortan Joe and in the dessert landscape is scarce and considered almost sacred. For those living in this post-apocalyptic terrain, water represents life. The woman taking control of the water helps represent to the viewers that they are taking control of their lives.

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As the women wash themselves with the water, they undergo a metaphorical baptism. Not only are they washing themselves off physically, but they are being emotionally cleansed as well. During this baptismal action the wives remove all signs of Immortan’s Joe’s entrapment by ridding themselves of the chastity belts they were forced to wear. This represents the change from the old life of confinement to a new life of freedom and possibility. This new life is one in which these characters are no longer trapped by stereotypical roles but are able to break free from them. After this baptismal scene, the wives are no longer depicted as weak or scared. Instead they are empowered, strong, and brave. As the wives continue to escape the Citadel with Furiosa, they begin to start working for their own freedom; they are no longer damsels in distress and Furiosa is no longer the knight in shining armor. The wives begin to work with Furiosa to help escape Immortan Joe, instead of playing an idle role in their freedom.

When Immortan Joe realizes that the women are gone and with them his immortality, he and his war boys travel after them to bring them back to their imprisoned state in which they will continue to be sex slaves and breeders. As Joe catches up to the war rig, containing not only Mad Max and Furiosa, but his wives as well, he makes the decision to shoot at the vehicle in hopes of capturing the wives and returning to the Citadel. His plan backfires as Splendid Angharad leans out of the war rig and flaunts her pregnant stomach forcing Joe to not to shoot which saves the war rig. Motherhood, the very role that she was entrapped by, is the role that empowers Splendid and ultimately saves the war rig. The salvation of the war rig is found through Joe’s incessant need for the immortality encased the forced motherhood of his captive. Similarly, the writers of Mad Max: Fury Road use this portrayal of motherhood to show that women can be the hero without losing their femininity.

With the subordinate role of Mad Max, the dominating role of Furiosa, and the empowering roles of the wives, one could argue that this movie does not follow the gender roles that are typically portrayed in modern American cinema. However, one could alos argue that it does portray a general characteristic of post-apocalyptic film. According to Jennifer Skinnon, modern post-apocalyptic film generally portrays women through the role of motherhood represented by the pregnant female body. In “Redemptive Motherhood and a Discourse of Fear in Contemporary Apocalyptic Film,” Skinnon argues that these films use, “the pregnant female body (and as extension the social construction of motherhood) as a source of redemption for individuals and society-at-large,” (Skinnon 58).  Her argument can also be applied to Splendid and the Vuvalini in Mad Max: Fury Road.

As previously stated, Splendid saves the war rig from being fired upon by Immortan Joe by flaunting her pregnant stomach. Her act of rebellion directly correlates to the ideas of redemption that Skinnon argues. Splendid represents redemption in that her offspring represents the hope of the future of Joe and his empire. The simple action of leaning out the door and showing her stomach was also the salvation for the passengers on the war rig. This action is also a precursor to the ultimate demise of Immortan Joe, which also gave hope for a new future in the Citadel.

The Vuvalini, though not pregnant, also represent the ideas discussed by Skinnon. One can argue that the pregnancy of Splendid Angharad represents a life-giving force or the ability to create and nurture life. For a people living in a post-apocalyptic desert, those in possession of seeds can represent a similar idea. Just as Splendid held the hope of a new generation, so does the character who holds the seeds. This member of the Vuvalini has the ability to enrich future generations by creating an environment full of life and greenery. The people living in this environment can find redemption and a new life through the use of these seeds. At the end of the film, the water is no longer stockpiled by the Citadel and flows freely for the people. With this newly found source, the seeds held by the Vuvalini could give a new source of freedom to the entire culture.

The writers of Mad Max: Fury Road use the post-apocalyptic setting of the film along with its abnormal gender roles to help bring to light the gender stereotypes of not only modern cinema but American culture in general. The masculine role and appearance of Furiosa juxtaposed with the subdued role of Mad Max help the audience attribute the dominant role in the film to Furiosa instead of the title character and typical lead, Max. Similarly, the juxtaposition of Furiosa to the wives of Immortan Joe illuminates the the masculinity of Furiosa. These juxtapositions work to show the stereotypes in film and show how female roles can break free of them. Though this film does not follow gender role stereotypes in regards to their characters, the movie does follow the generalization of women representing the future and a salvation from the present.

Works Cited

Coyle, Jack. ‘Amid male landscape of ‘Mad Max: Fury Road,’ Charlize Theron’s Strong Heroine Dominates.” The Canadian Press, 14 May 2015.

Skinnon, Jennifer. “Redemptive Motherhood and a Discourse of Fear in Contemporary Apocalyptic Film.” Americanist: Warsaw Journal for the Study of the United States. 1 October 2011, http://eds.b.ebscohost.com/eds/pdfviewwer/pdfviewer?sid=120.

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The Topics of Gender and Identity within “The Yellow Wallpaper”

 

 

During the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the expectations of women were quite different from what they are in current society. According to Katherine Hughes of the British Library, “women were considered physically weaker yet morally superior to men, which meant that they were best suited to the domestic sphere” (Hughes). Women did not typically work outside the home, and those who did were looked down upon by society. A woman’s purpose and expectation in life was to bear children and run the household while their husband worked outside the home. Women were also limited within the realms of the marriage bed. Unlike men of the time, Hughes argues, “women were assumed to desire marriage because it allowed them to become mothers rather than to pursue sexual or emotional satisfaction.” (Hughes) Women of this time period also did not have the benefits of social equality that a woman may enjoy today. For instance, women did not have the right to vote. The nineteenth amendment would not be ratified until June of 1920. Not all women living within this time period equated themselves with the expectations of their gender. In “The Yellow Wallpaper,” Charlotte Perkins Gilman confronts the cultural expectations of being a woman and the idea of female identity by evoking the theme of writing, the juxtaposition of feminine stereotypes, the symbol of the yellow wallpaper, the symbol of the woman within the wallpaper, and the role reversal depicted in the final scene.

Writing is one of the central themes of “The Yellow Wallpaper.” The primary reason to evoke this theme to address the reliability of the narrator. Most critics argue that the narrator is, in some ways, unreliable due to the madness that the writer enters into throughout the course of the work. One could also argue that the speaker is a reliable narrator due to the organization method of the work itself. The entire story is told through twelve diary entries. These entries are written solely from the speaker’s personal perspective. There is also no indication that the speaker’s habit of writing was not something that she had been doing since before her illness. When describing her writing, the narrator explains that “[she] would not say it to a living soul, of course, but this is dead paper and a great relief to my mind” (Gilman 1392). This statement illuminates to the reader that the narrator uses her writing as means of working through her own thoughts. The narrator reiterates this notion when she states, “I must say what I feel and think in some way-it is such a relief.” (Gilman 1396). The narrator goes to great lengths to hide her writing from both her husband John and sister-in-law Jennie. Janet Witalec, who writes short story criticism, explains the hidden writing by stating that “Gilman’s story further expresses a concern for the ways in which society discourages women of creative self-expression.” (“The Yellow Wallpaper.”)

The women described within this story represent the female expectations of the nineteenth century. Rena Korb describes a similar theory by stating that the Yellow Wallpaper “touches on many relevant issues to women of the nineteenth century, most particularly that of the roles they are allowed to play.” (Korb) One such role is depicted by Mary. Mary is mentioned only once within the work and is described as being “good with the baby” (Gilman, 1394).She represents the expectation of motherhood. Naming the mothering figure, Mary, is significant in that it alludes to the virgin mother of Jesus in the Bible. The narrator, unlike the alluded to Biblical Mary, is unable to take on the role of mother with her own child due to her illness. Korb comments on this expectation within Gilman’s work by stating that “[the] narrator is so cruelly trapped by the conventions of the nineteenth-century American society which says that a woman’s function is to bare and raise children” (Korb). The juxtaposition of the narrator to Mary conveys to the reader one of the many ways in which the narrator does not live up to the expectations of her gender.

Jennie represents a second expected feminine role, that of the “perfect enthusiastic housekeeper” who hopes for no better profession” (Gilman 1395). She is later described as the one who “sees to everything now” (Gilman 1395). Both of these descriptions relay to the reader the idea that Jennie is in charge of running the house and is being a gracious hostess to those visiting the narrator. According to Korb, Jennie is “a woman who occupies her proper place in the domestic sphere” (Korb). Similarly, Karen Ford goes on to comment that even Jennie’s name indicates her position within the family. Ford states that Jennie is “a word which means female donkey or beast of burden” (Ford). Ford’s description is appropriate as Jennie is described as the one who “sees to everything”(Gilman 1395).

The descriptions of Mary and Jennie serve as a way to highlight the degree of opposition found when compared to the narrator. In the beginning of the story, the narrator represents the societal normality of women being the weaker, subordinate sex. The narrator originally writes in a manner that suggests she has accepted her state. She responds to her husband John laughing at her by saying that “one expects that” (Gilman 1392).  She also acknowledges her plight when she states that “If a physician of high standing, and one’s own husband assures friends and relatives that there is really nothing the matter with one but temporary nervous depression, a slight hysterical tendency, what is one to do?” (Gilman 1392). This statement conveys to the reader that the narrator does not agree with her husband, but is trapped by his opinions.

Women during the nineteenth century had few legal rights. Once a woman was married she and her belongings were considered to be her husband’s property and therefore she had similar legal rights to those of a child. The narrator is compared to a child by her husband as a means for the author to criticize the view of women during this time period. Comparing the narrator to a child, is seen when John refers to her as a “blessed little goose” and a “little girl”(Gilman 1397). The comparison is further enforced as the narrator describes that John “gathered [her] up in his arms, and just carried [her] upstairs and laid [her] on the bed, sat by [her] and read to [her] till it tired [her] head” (Gilman 1397). This description of a bed time routine, seems to be one of a father and child rather than that of a husband and wife. Just as a parent makes medical treatment decisions for a child, John also makes such decisions for the narrator as she describes by stating that “if I don’t pick up faster he shall send me to Weir Mitchell in the fall. But I don’t want to go there at all” (Gilman 1396).

At the end of the story, the narrator represents a woman who breaks free of societal norms and works against them. The reader’s first indication of the narrator’s rebellion is seen as she writes, “I must write and say what I feel and think in some way” (Gilman 1396). This statement indicates a turning point for change in the personality of the narrator. The narrator present towards the end of the story goes so far as to talk to John about her current state contradictory to the woman she was at the beginning of the story.

She states that she “tried to have a real earnest reasonable talk with him the other day” and that she “did not make a very good case for [herself] for [she] was crying before [she] had finished” (Gilman 1397). The narrator’s tone in these lines gives the reader a sense of her disappointment, possibly from falling into yet another feminine stereotype of being over emotional.

The narrator’s transformation slowly grows as the story progresses. She stands up to John when discussing her appetite and tells him that she “was really not gaining here” and that she “wished he would take me away” (Gilman 1397). The narrator also begins to describe John and his motives very differently. She goes from stating that John “loves me dearly” to stating that John was “pretending to be very loving and kind” (Gilman 1397 and 1401). She goes on to state that she could “see through him” (Gilman 1401). These changes in descriptions help convey to the reader that there is a change in the narrator from a state submissiveness to one of empowerment.

The women described in “The Yellow Wallpaper” are not the only symbols within the work. The narrator’s surroundings at the mansion help reinforce the ideas of confinement and gender. The mansion itself, is described as being “ancestral” (Gilman 1392). The adjective ancestral helps to indicate to the reader that the roles of women have been passed down through generations. The idea of ancestral is further enforced as the speaker continues to describe the hall as being “a hereditary estate, I would say a haunted house” (Gilman 1392).  The speaker goes on to describe the mansion as “standing well back from the road, quite three miles from the village” (Gilman 1392). Here, the speaker is describing not only the manor’s proximity to society, but the speaker’s as well. During the nineteenth century, a woman’s place was at home tending to the house and the children and only the men had lives outside of the home. Women were isolated by the expectation to stay within the home, just as the speaker is isolated by her confinement to the manor.

The nursery that the speaker lives in is yet another representation of her confinement to gender. MacPike echoes this confinement sentiment by stating that since: “the fact that the narrator’s prison-room is a nursery [it] indicates her status in society. The woman is legally a child; socially, economically, and philosophically she must be led by an adult- her husband; and therefore the nursery is an appropriate place to house her” (MacPike).

The yellow wallpaper itself is a major symbol throughout the work. The narrator describes the wall paper as:

dull enough to confuse the eyes, pronounced enough to constantly irritate and provoke study, and when you follow the lame uncertain curves for a little distance they suddenly commit suicide- plunge off at outrageous angles, destroy themselves in un-heard contradictions (Gilman 1393).

The wallpaper symbolizes the expectations and confinements of society on the female gender. This description, therefore indicates to the reader the way the speaker views the expectations of her gender. Just as the narrator does not understand the wallpaper, she is also unable to understand society’s expectations of her. Asha Nadkarni argues that the narrator’s quest to understand the wallpaper’s pattern “becomes both maddening and ultimately liberating” (Nadkarni). The narrator goes on to state that she “should hate it [herself] if [she] had to live in it long” (Gilman 1393). This statement reveals to the reader that the speaker cannot live within the wallpaper, just as she cannot live within the confines of society’s expectations.

The speaker’s opinions of the wallpaper mirror her growing dislike for the gender expectations within nineteenth century culture. The narrator describes that “there is a recurrent spot where the pattern lolls like a broken neck and two bulbous eyes stare at you upside down” (Gilman 1395). The speaker makes this statement to impress upon the reader how she sees the gender expectations for her culture. The wallpaper pattern is broken and does not make sense to the speaker which symbolizes how the multiple parts of female stereotyping does not make sense to Gilman herself. The narrator’s description also depicts how women are broken and tortured by the expectations of the male dominated society. The speaker also becomes “positively angry” with the pattern on the wallpaper and its “everlastingness” (Gilman 1395). This description indicates to the reader that the speaker acknowledges that expectations upon her gender have been ongoing for centuries and that she does not see an end to them because they possess an “everlastingness”(Gilman 1395).

The narrator describes the color of the wallpaper as being “repellent, almost revolting: a smoldering unclean yellow, strangely faded by the slow turning sunlight” (Gilman 1393). The smoldering nature of the color indicates to the read a slow sense of burning. The idea of burning is repeated in the following sentence when the color is described as having a “sulphur tint” (Gilman 1393).  In this case, the allusions to burning indicate how the roles of women can burn them out slowly over time.

The speaker describes that there is a “sub-pattern” to the wallpaper. She states that “you can only see it in certain lights, and not clearly then” (Gilman 1395). The speaker uses this passage to represent how from certain perspectives, the expected role of women was a positive way of living, but when seen from other perspectives, like that of one who lives the role, the expectations are not as positive as they originally seemed. The sub-pattern soon transforms into a woman. The narrator states that “the woman behind [the wallpaper] is as plain as can be” (Gilman 1399). This passage is particularly important because it shows the reader that the speaker has realized the imprisonment placed upon her and her gender is at the discretion of the male dominating society.  According to Korb, the narrator “sees mirrored in the wallpaper her own existence” (Korb). Beverly A. Hume however, argues that the figure in the wallpaper “becomes not her liberator but her nemesis (Hume). The idea that the speaker is or becomes the woman in the wallpaper appears more obvious when she questions whether or not “they all come out of that wallpaper as I did” (Gilman 1402). She goes on to address her husband by saying “’I’ve got out at last’” and describes that she “pulled off most of the paper, so you can put me back” (Gilman 1403).

The final scene of the story depicts a role reversal between the speaker and her husband. The speaker states “Why there’s John at the door! It is no use young man, you can’t open it!” (Gilman 1402). The speaker referring to John as young man shows that she is no longer confined by her gender, and that she has overcome it and is now overpowering her husband in the same ways that he did when he referred to her as little goose. The speaker enforces the idea of overcoming her husband and the imprisonment forced upon her by asking, “Now why should that man have fainted?” (Gilman 1402) .The word fainted has a feminine connotation. Attaching such a feminine verb to John, conveys to the reader that the narrator’s transformation is complete and that she is no longer confined by her husband’s or society’s standards of who they think she should be.

In conclusion, Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” evokes, through the diary entries of an unnamed woman, ideas of feminism. Gilman uses her narrator to represent how woman are confined to the standards of a male dominated society. The speaker’s transformation into an independent woman represents the independence the author wants for women during the nineteenth century society. Furthermore, the woman in the wallpaper represents the personal identity trapped inside women of this time period by the male dominated society that Gilman represents through the wallpaper.

 

Works Cited

Ford, Karen. “’The Yellow Wallpaper’ and Women’s Discourse.” Tulsa Studies in Woman’s Literature 4.2 (1985): 309-314. Rpt. In Short Story Criticism. Ed. Lawrence J. Trudeau. Vol. 182. Detroit: Gale, 2013. Literature Resource Center. Web. 25 Mar. 2016.

Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. “The Yellow Wallpaper”. The Norton Anthology of Literature by Women: The Traditions in English. 3rd. Sandra M. Gilbert, Susan Gubar. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc, 2007. 1392-1403. Print.

Hughes, Kathryn. “Gender Roles in the Nineteenth Century.” BritishLibrary.Uk. Web. 25 Mar. 2016.

Hume, Beverly A. “Managing Madness in Gilman’s ‘The Yellow Wall-Paper.’.” Studies in American Fiction 30.1 (Spring 2002): 3-20. Rpt. in Nineteenth-Century Literature Criticism. Ed. Kathy D. Darrow. Vol. 228. Detroit: Gale, 2010. Literature Resource Center. Web. 18 Apr. 2016.

Korb, Rena. “An Overview of ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’.” Gale Online Encyclopedia. Detroit: Gale, 2016. Literature Resource Center. Web. 25 Mar. 2016.

MacPike, Loralee. “Environment as Psychopathological Symbolism in ‘The Yellow Wallpaper.’.” American Literary Realism 1870-1910 8.3 (Summer 1975): 286-288. Rpt. In Twentieth-Century Literary Critisism. Vol. 201. Detroit: Gale, 2008. Literature Resource Center. Web. 25 Mar. 2016.

Nadkarni, Asha. “Reproducing Feminism in Jasmine and ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’.” Feminist Studies 38.1 (2012): 218+. Literature Resource Center. Web. 18 Apr. 2016.

“The Yellow Wallpaper.” Short Story Criticism. Ed. Janet Witalec. Vol. 62. Detroit: Gale, 2003. Literature Resource Center. Web. 25. Mar. 2016

 

 

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Ideas of Sanity and Imprisonment in “The Yellow WallPaper”

In Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s, “The Yellow Wallpaper”, the theme of gender expectations, especially for women, is explored through the themes of sanity and imprisonment and culminates through the author’s use of diction in the final lines of the work.

During the late 19th and early 20th century the expectations of and limitations on women were quite daunting. Women were seen as the weaker, more emotional sex and therefore were not even given the right to vote. Gilman portrays this supposed weak and emotional state of women in her opening lines of, “The Yellow Wallpaper”. She states, “he does not believe I am sick!” (Gilman 1392). As portrayed later in the work, the sickness mentioned is one of what would come to be known as post-partum depression. In order to cure her of her condition, she is prescribed the treatment of isolation and relaxation. The speaker describes that she is “absolutely forbidden to “work”.” (Gilman 1392) Her journal entries go on to describe how she slowly succombs to insanity and begins seeing a figure in the “smoldering unclean yellow” wallpaper. (Gilman 1393)

Gilman explores the ideas of imprisonment and gender roles through the symbol of the woman in the wallpaper. The woman behind the wallpaper is trapped much like our speaker is confined to the expectations and limitations of her sex. The speaker explain her concern for this trapped individual when she states “that poor thing began to crawl and shake the pattern , I got up and ran to help her.” (Gilman 1401) This statement portrays to the reader that the speaker sees this woman as trapped and wants to help her escape.  The idea of overcoming gender is seen in the final lines of the work. The speaker asks, “Now why should that man have fainted? But he did, and right across my path by the wall, so that I had creep over him every time!” (Gilman 1403)  The use of the word “faint” when describing John shows a juxtaposition of gender stereotypes. John takes on the feminine role by “fainting”, while the speaker displays a dominant, masculine action of walking over John. The juxtapostion incorporated here depicts to the reader the totality of transformation in the protagonist of Gilman’s work.

In conclusion, Gilman explores the cultural ideas of sex in several ways in her work, “The Yellow Wallpaper”. She portrays the themes of both sanity and imprisonment as a mode for communicating the confinement found within gender stereotyping.

 

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Ideas of Knighthood, Courtly Love, and Aggression in “Bisclavret”

Ideas of Knighthood, Courtly Love, and Aggression in “Bisclavret”

The werewolf has been used in literature for centuries. It can be used by an author to explore various themes of duplicity such as the animalistic nature of humanity. In “Bisclavret”, Marie De Frances uses the werewolf to explore gender stereotypes. When exploring the use of gender stereotypes within literature, women are either pictured as angelic or seductive creatures that use their femininity for evil against men. Men, on the other hand, are depicted as either the valiant and romantic knight or the dominating aggressor. Most works do not depict both sides of the human psyche. Marie De France’s “Bisclavret,” however, does just that. In “Bisclavret,” France explores the motives behind both male stereotypes and shows how they can exist within one creature by exploring the dualistic nature of the werewolf motif.

Marie De France begins her poem by introducing her readers to the myth of the werewolf, in particularly of Bisclavret. Paul Creamer describes this introduction to the werewolf as “a zoological portrait whose elements can be ticked off like a checklist” (Creamer). This checklist focuses on the fierce animalistic nature of Bisclavret. In lines 9-11, France states that werewolves are a “savage beast” that “in his blood rage, he makes a feast of men” (France 19). After this savage depiction, France asks her readers to “leave all that,” because she wants “to speak of Bisclavret” (France 18). The plea to leave the discussion of savagery and instead discuss Bisclavret encourages the reader to see Bisclavret as different from the savage beast previously described in lines 3-12.

The author continues on into the heart of the story by attempting to further persuade the reader that Bisclavret is not a savage beast. She does this by describing the lord as “a good knight, handsome, known to be/all that makes for nobility “ (France 19). The description of the lord in these lines is a juxtaposition of the previous description of Bisclavret. The juxtaposition is used to convey to her readers just how good and noble a man the protagonist is. The author stating that he is a good knight implies all chivalric codes including loyalty and courtly love.

France continues her description of Bisclavret in lines 39-41 by depicting him through the stereotype of the doting courtier. When his wife questions him in fear of where he disappears to for days at a time, he does not lash out in an angry, animalistic way. Instead, he “embraced her, /drew her near to him, clasped and kissed her” (France 20). The doting husband side of Bisclavret is motivated by the love and adoration he feels for his wife. The humanity within Bisclavret is the side France wants her readers to focus on and remember as her lai begins to unfold. Instead, as theorized by SunHee Kim Gertz, France “Rather than heightening the strangeness or even the horror so obviously a potential focus of a werewolf story, Marie ironically insists on creating a very normal, human beast” (Gertz). She creates this “human beast” by juxtaposing the male stereotypes of doting courtier and dominating aggressor.

The betrayal of Bisclavret’s wife, introduces the reader to a different side of the lord. The betrayal is described by Carl Grey Martin as an event in which the wife “adulterously conspires with a hapless admirer to prevent the creature from ever regaining its human form” (Martin). The wife’s attempt to destroy the lord’s humanity ends all loving feelings towards her by Bisclavret. He is no longer depicted as the doting husband, there are no longer kind words or actions towards his wife and thus a new male stereotype is introduced to the reader. He is now aggressive and violent natured. The devastation of being betrayed by the wife he loved, leads to the reader’s first glimpse of the animalistic nature within Bisclavret. John Friedman speculates the reason for this by stating that, “The naturalistic explanation of temporary werewolves assumes that their condition results from some tremendous mental shock such as loss of loved ones or economic disaster that changes the genetic makeup, we might say, of the subject” (Friedman). Friedman’s theory directly corresponds with the story of Bisclavret. The shock of his wife’s deception turns him permanently into the beast. This is represented within the lai in lines 25-26 where France states “Thus was Bisclavret trapped for life;/ ruined, betrayed, by his own wife” (France 20).

The wife’s betrayal is centered around the theft of Bisclavret’s clothing. SunHee Kim Gertz describes Bisclavret’s transformation as “one whose very aspect of change is enhanced by other figurative details, such as his metamorphoses being dependent upon changes in clothing” (Gertz). Examples of the metamorphoses dependent on clothing Gertz described are Bisclavret’s physical change from man to beast, but also his cognitive change when he loses the ability to communicate through verbal language. According to Paul Creamer, “Medieval folkloric tradition is rich with human characters whose possession of specific clothing or jewelry regulates their conversion between human and lupine form” (Creamer). Clothing and jewelry are items representative of humanity which explains the medieval theme and its depiction by Marie De France. The loss of clothing however does not constitute a total loss of self or humanity for Bisclavret. The remaining humanity is depicted later in the lai in lines 145-146. Here, the speaker describes that “His eye, distinguishing, could see/ the king; to beg his clemency”(France 21 ). Emma Campbell of the University of Warwick describes this portrayal by stating that, “Bisclavret’s wolf-like appearance conceals a courtly nature” (Campbell 95). Lucas Wood describes the man within the beast by stating that Bisclavret “essentially is and always has been nothing but a man–and a superlatively handsome, courtly, noble man at that” (Wood). Campell and Wood both help to clarify the significance of the protagonist’s character being one of duplicity. Bisclavret’s double nature directly mirrors the dueling parts of the male psyche.

Marie De France shows the humanity within Bisclavret’s animal form by depicting his actions when meeting the King and his guards in the wood. In line 140, the author uses the word “beast” to describe Bisclavret (France 21). The word beast has an aggressive, inhuman connotation. The reader expects to see an aggressive creature react to the King and his men. Instead, they are met with something quite different. The king, in lines 154-155, responds to Bisclavret by stating, “That’s a man’s mind; it begs the king/for mercy. Now, drive back the hounds!” (France 21). The king’s response shows that, though a beast, humanity and kindness can still seen within him. The reader continues to see depictions of the love and kindness of Bisclavret in the next stanza. In line 164, the reader sees that Bisclavret is so loyal to the king that “he would not lose the king, /abandon him, for anything” (France 21). In line 179, Bisclavret is described having a “noble bearing” and “charm” (France 122). These depictions of Bisclavret show the reader that he is still “a good knight” as originally described in line 17 (France 18).

The knightly, almost human, depiction of Bisclavret is juxtaposed in the following stanza as he is faced with the chevalier at court. This stanza depicts a very different side of the protagonist. Marie De France, in lines 198-199, shows an aggressive and beastly side of Bisclavret when she describes how he “ran up furiously, /sank in his teeth, and dragged him close” (France 122). The aggression is depicted a second time as the speaker describes that

The beast rushed, twice, that day,

To bite the man; all felt dismay,

For none had seen the beast display

Toward anyone, in any way,

Such viciousness. There must be reason,

The housel hold said, for him to seize on

The knight, who must have done him wrong;

The wish for vengeance seemed so strong. (lines 203-210)

His behavior at court is such that the household does not view his beastly state as the catalyst for his aggressive behavior toward the chevalier. Instead, they trust that there is a just motive.

The reaction is used to portray to the reader how both the characteristics of a knight and of an aggressor can be seen within the same dynamic character. Here, again, the werewolf motif is used to enhance that portrayal by playing the dualistic properties of the creature.

Marie De France’s final depiction of the aggressive nature within Bisclavret is against his wife. The gentle ways in which the lord handled his wife are transformed into aggression and violence when he sees her in the forest. The speaker describes that “Bisclavret saw her come. No man/ had strength to hold him as he ran / up to his wife in rage and fury” (France 23). The author evokes yet another male stereotype in this passage by describing Bisclavret’s dominance in strength over his wife.

The physical aggression of Bisclavret towards his wife culminates in her torture. First, he ripped “her nose off, then and there” (France 23). For Bisclavret, his beastly exterior does not match the humanity within. As revenge against his wife, the lord in beast form destroys the human form of his wife and her female offspring as a means of matching her monstrous inner self with her now monstrous exterior.  Secondly, the king orders the lord’s wife to be tortured into revealing her sins against Bisclavret. The speaker of the lai describes this torture by explaining that the King

Detained the chevalier.

The lady, too, he held; and she

He put to pain and agony.

Part out of pain, and part out of fear,

She made her former lord’s case clear:

How she managed to betray

Her lord, and take his clothes away;

The story he had told her,

What he became, and how, and where;

And how, when once his clothes were gone –

Stolen – he was not seen again. (lines 262-272)

In conclusion, Marie De Frances depicts several male stereotypes within her lai, “Biclavret”. She does this primarily through juxtaposition. She compares the many facets of Bisclavret the man with Bisclavret the beast. She also compares how the company kept by Bisclavret directly correlates to the side of psyche portrayed in those moments. The author also uses the dualistic nature of the werewolf as a means of translating to the reader how many stereotypical male traits can exist in one male character. Finally, the author explores the theme of humanity through the loss of innately human characteristics of clothing and communication through a verbal language.

 

 

 

 

Works Cited

Campbell, Emma. “A Journal of Theory in Medieval and Renaissance Studies.” Exemplaria 25 (2013): 95-109. Web. 10 Mar. 2016.

Creamer, Paul. “Woman-hating in Marie de France’s Bisclavret (1).” The Romanic Review 93.3 (2002): 259+. Literature Resource Center. Web. 10 Mar. 2016.

France, Marie De. “Bisclavret”. The Norton Anthology of Literature by Women: The Traditions in English. 3rd. Sandra M. Gilbert, Susan Gubar. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc, 2007. 18-24. Print. 

Friedman, John Block. “Werewolf transformation in the manuscript era.” The Journal of the Early Book Society for the Study of Manuscripts and Printing History 17 (2014): 35+. Literature Resource Center. Web. 10 Mar. 2016.

Gertz, SunHee Kim. “Transferral, Transformation, and the Act of Reading in Marie de France’s ‘Bisclavret’.” Romance Quarterly 39.4 (Nov. 1992): 399-410. Rpt. in Poetry Criticism. Ed. Carol T. Gaffke and Anna J. Sheets. Vol. 22. Detroit: Gale, 1999. Literature Resource Center. Web. 10 Mar. 2016.

Martin, Carl Grey. “Bisclavret and the subject of torture.” The Romanic Review 104.1-2 (2013): 23+. Literature Resource Center. Web. 10 Mar. 2016.

Wood, Lucas. “The werewolf as mobius strip, or becoming bisclavret.” The Romanic Review 102.1-2 (2011): 3+. Literature Resource Center. Web. 10 Mar. 2016.

 

 

 

 

 

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The Symbol of Motherhood in “The Author to Her Book”

Traditionally a woman’s place was in the home. They were normally not formally educated. This lack of education led to the literary world being one of male domination. As women began to write, men considered them to be inferior and only capable of writing only about topics related to motherhood or homemaking. Anne Bradstreet was one of the privileged women who were educated and chose to use that education to share their ideas through writing. In The Author to Her Book, Bradstreet uses the symbol of a mother to her child to relay to her readers her thoughts about her writing.

The opening line of The Author to Her Book introduces the reader to the idea that Bradstreet sees her writing as her child. The idea is seen when she refers to her writing as her “ill-formed offspring” (line 1). Later in the same line, Bradstreet states that this “offspring” is formed in her “feeble brain” (line 1). This idea indicates to reader the idea of her brain as a womb that creates her writing. These motherly symbols are used to express herself  in ways that are relatable to other women as well as showing her male counterparts that she is capable of not only feminine thought but deep reflection on her writing as well.

In lines 10 through 12, Bradstreet alludes to the notion that her writing is a direct reflection her psyche, similar to a child being in the likeness to its parents. She goes on in lines 13-18 to describe how she worked to prepare her “offspring” for the world at large. For example, she describes how she “stretched thy joints to make thee even feet” (line 15). The “even feet” in line 15 allude both to how a mother works to help her child walk and how a poet works to create meter in their works.This, again, is another example of how Bradstreet uses feminine themes as a way to express herself in relatable ways to both her male and female readers.

Bradstreet’s feminine symbol of motherhood is seen throughout her poem, The Author to her book. This symbol is used to relate to her female readers as she compares her writing to a child and she its mother. Bradstreet also uses this feminine symbol to create a relatable comparison of an author to their work that her male counterparts would understand. Ultimately, Bradstreet is able to write using stereotypical female symbols, while showing her ability to think critically about her writing as well.

Bradstreet, Anne. “The Author to Her Book”. The Norton Anthology of Literature by Women: The Traditions in English. 3rd. Sandra M. Gilbert, Susan Gubar. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc, 2007. 152. Print. 

 

 

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Ideas of Courtly Love and Aggression in “Bisclavret”

Throughout literary history, the idea of gender has been explored. Women are either pictured as angelic or as seductive creatures that use their femininity for evil against men. Men, on the other hand, are depicted as either the doting courtier or the dominating aggressor. Most works do not depict both sides of the human psyche. Marie De France’s, “Bisclavret”, however, does just that. In Bisclavret, France explores the motives behind both sides of the male psyche and shows how they can exist within one creature.

The idea of courtly love within literature usually depicts a courtier vying for the affections of a woman in hopes of it one-day ending in marriage. Some of the behaviors of this archetype are depicted by the man placing the woman on a pedestal, being loving in their words, and being protective of their lady. Bisclavret, though married, depicts these characteristics in the opening stanzas of the work. An example of this is seen in lines 37- 41, “(France p.18-19) When he had heard this he drew her close to him, clasped and kissed her. “Lady,” he said, “Come, ask away! Nothing you wish, dear, certainly I will not tell you, that I know”.” He is terrified of his wife seeing him in a negative light and pleads with her to allow him to keep this side hidden. This side of Bisclavret is motivated by the love and the adoration he feels for his wife. However, this is not the only side depicted.

The betrayal of Bisclavret’s wife, introduces the reader to a different side of him. He is no longer depicted as the doting husband, there are no longer kinds words or actions towards her. Instead, one sees a new side a Bisclavret. He is now aggressive and violent natured in regards to his wife. In regards to the King and his men, however, he is subserviant and humble. One does not see him using violence towards these men, instead in lines 145-148, “His eye distinguishing, could see the king; to beg his clemency he seized the royal stirrup, put a kiss upon the leg and foot.”(France p.21). France uses this depiction of Bisclavret as a means of juxtopostition when compared to his response to seeing his wife. Without this, the reader might infer that the change in behavior was not in response to his wife’s betrayal but to his change to an animalistic state.

In conclusion, France explores the ideas of gender and the literary stereotypes thereof in “Bisclavret”. She uses depictions of motive to explain how more than one idea of gender can be seen within the same character. These motives are then displayed through the use of juxtaposition between Bisclavret’s behavior around his wife vs. his behavior around the King and his men.

 

France, Marie De. “Bisclavret”. The Norton Anthology of Literature by Women: The Traditions in English. 3rd. Sandra M. Gilbert, Susan Gubar. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc, 2007. 18-24. Print. 

 

 

 

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What are the Jewish thoughts of the afterlife and where did they come from?

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Reading through the old testament we see several deaths. Some of these deaths, like Abraham for instance, are very detailed. Others, like those who have died in war, are not. According to Hebrew tradition, what happens to there souls after death? Is there an afterlife? In the reading so far, there is no clear belief system set up about life after death. Why is that? These are some of the questions that have prompted this blog.

My first question is, “do the Hebrew people believe in a life after death?”.  In Gensis 25:8 we see a description of Abraham’s death. We see that after he “breathed his last breath”, or died, that he was “gathered to his people”. These are clearly two different events. He dies AND THEN he is gathered to his people. This shows that death and being gathered to your people are not one in the same. From my study of the Old Testament, this is the only hint in of a life after death. So where do people go after they die according to jewish tradition? According to judaism.about.com, the Jews believed in, ” “Olam Ha Ba” literally means “the world to come” in Hebrew”(judaism.about.com). According to http://www.jw.org, this “world to come included a place referred to as Sheol, or Hades in Greek. The author states that, “it is the common grave of dead mankind, the figurative location where most of mankind sleep in death.”(www.jw.org). Are these places for the obedient or the disobedient to the protagonist’s laws or both?

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The author at Judaism.about.com goes to explain this Olam Ha ba by stating that, “Early rabbinic texts describe Olam Ha Ba has an idyllic version of this world. It is a physical realm that will exist at the end-of-days, after the Messiah has come and God has judged both the living and the dead. The righteous dead will be resurrected in order to enjoy a second life in Olam Ha Ba.”  (judaism.about.com) Is Olam Ha Ba heaven? According to myjewishlearning.com, “ rabbis use the term Olam Ha-Ba to refer to a heaven-like afterlife as well as to the messianic era or the age of resurrection, and it is often difficult to know which one is being referred to. When the Talmud does speak of Olam Ha-Ba in connection to the afterlife, it often uses it interchangeably with the term Gan Eden (“the Garden of Eden”), referring to a heavenly realm where souls reside after physical death.”  (myjewishlearning.com) We see through these two authors, that the obedient Jews have something to look forward to after death. Their lives didn’t merely end after their heart stopped beating, but what about the disobedient?

The authors at jewfaq.org state that, “Certain sins are punished by the sinner being “cut off from his people.” See, for example, Gen. 17:14 and Ex. 31:14. This punishment is referred to as kareit (kah-REHYT) (literally, “cutting off,” but usually translated as “spiritual excision”), and it means that the soul loses its portion in the World to Come(jewfaq.org).  The author later states another option for those without immediate entrance into Gan Eden, “ The average person descends to a place of punishment and/or purification, generally referred to as Gehinnom (guh-hee-NOHM) (in Yiddish, Gehenna)”(jewfaq.org). What exactly is Gehenna? Is the same as the christian idea of Hell? No. Most christian thoughts of Hell are associated with eternity and torture. According to myjewishlearning.com it is not eternal. At it’s maximum it is only twelve months unless you are completely wicked, in which case there is no clarity on what happens after twelve months.(myjewishlearning.com).

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My final question is, “where do these ideas come from?”. Abraham and Moses didn’t teach on the afterlife. Solomon in all his wisdom did not teach his people of an afterlife yet they have a belief system anyway, but how? In order to understand this question, I believe the first course of action is to understand the almost silence on the subject. According to jewishvirtuallibrary.org, “I suspect that there is a correlation between its nondiscussion of afterlife and the fact that the Torah was revealed just after the long Jewish sojourn in Egypt. The Egyptian society from which the Hebrew slaves emerged was obsessed with death and afterlife. The holiest Egyptian literary work was called The Book of the Dead, while the major achievement of many Pharaohs was the erection of the giant tombs called pyramids. In contrast, the Torah is obsessed with this world, so much so that it even forbids its priests from coming into contact with dead bodies”(jewishvirtuallibrary.org). This theory coincides with everything we know about the ancient Hebrew culture, as well as its protagonist. There was such a emphasis on being separate in every way possible from the other religions around them. The Torah’s silence on the afterlife is just one more way to separate themselves from pagan religions. Through my research I have not been able to find a theory on where their belief system of the afterlife comes from. Not all Jews agree on any one idea and some even choose to dismiss them all and focus on the present world and nothing more. The Old Testament does teach that the obedient will be rewarded and the disobedient will be punished, these are the only definitive beliefs of all Jews as well as the only ones clearly seen in the text.

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In conclusion, though the Jewish beliefs don’t have any all inclusive, clear belief on the afterlife, they do believe that the obedient in this life will be rewarded for their efforts and the disobedient will be punished for lack there of. They also choose to continue to separate themselves, to be holy, and to concentrate on the current world while trusting the protagonist to take care of them in death.

In keeping with tradition…here’s the cat picture 🙂images (27)

 

 

 

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Does research support that classroom redesign will improve the learning environment?

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Jacksonville State University is currently involved in a Quality Enhancement Program (QEP). This program’s goal is, “to improve some aspect of student learning and development at JSU“(JSU.edu). The question becomes, “How do we improve?”. What changes can our university make to better the students’ education and enhance critical thinking? Currently there are eight available grants of up to ten thousand dollars to redesign classrooms in an effort to make a more welcoming environment for learning. The concept of classroom redesign has become very popular in the past few years among researchers. Their findings are quite interesting.

A study done by the University of Salford School of the Built Environment focused on “a 1 to 5 scale for 10 different design parameters: light, sound, temperature, air quality, choice, flexibility, connection, complexity, color, and texture” (fastcodedesign.com). After changing these perameters they discovered that, “Six of the design parameters–color, choice, complexity, flexibility, connection, and light–had a significant effect on learning. Light, as mentioned above, concerns the amount of natural light in the classroom and the quality of the electrical lights it contains. Choice has to do with the quality of the furniture in the classroom, as well as providing “interesting” and ergonomic tables and chairs for pupils. Complexity and color both have to do with providing an ample amount of visual stimulation for students in the classroom“(fastcodedesign.com). These are the same parameters that could possibly be positively altered through a grant at JSU. Princeton University has also done a study on this matter. They have found that,”By specifying common standards for the design and maintenance of learning spaces across Princeton’s historic campus, the university can equip teachers and students to engage in innovative and dynamic constructivist education.”(princeton.edu). These common standards that were researched are very similar to the ones studied by the University of Salford School of the Built Environment. Both studies had similar findings. They discovered that by changing things like lighting, you can greatly change the learning environment for the better. As stated by www.salford.ac.uk, “Current findings suggest that placing an average pupil in the least effective, rather than the most effective classroom environment could affect their learning progress by as much as the average improvement across one year”(salford.ac.uk). These two studies show that doing a classroom redesign could help JSU achieve the parameters of its QEP.

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These findings are echoed through the studies done by digitalcommons.calpoly.edu. They claim that, “Results from faculty and students indicated that the room’s flexibility 1) increased student engagement, 2) facilitated collaborative learning, 3) allowed for a variety of uses, and 4) enhanced the teaching / learning styles of participants. ” (digitalcommons.calpoly.edu).  This study did not focus on things such as lighting or the color of the wall, but on the flexibility of the furniture within the room. The manipulation of the furniture is especially important for classrooms that accommodate rooms used by different teachers in different ways depending on the specific lesson being taught. I believe that this correlates with the usage of classrooms at JSU. On any given day, a classroom could be used by several teachers who are teaching a variety of classes. Each teacher will also have its own creative way of conveying the course material and being able to manipulate the furniture to meet their needs will help invoke critical thinking by the students.

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In conclusion, changing certain parameters, such as lighting or furniture, can significantly change the student’s ability to learn. This change has been seen through several past studies. These studies all agree that the environment in which a student learns will greatly affect the enthusiasm of the students as well as the educators. These findings support that if JSU changed the classroom environment would directly correspond to the goals laid out in the QEP which would help the university keep its accreditation.

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Do the Old Testament authors’ portrayal of the protagonist insinuate the existence of other Heavenly deities?

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It is impossible not to notice a pattern of the protagonist’s jealousy in the Old Testament. This jealousy is something that has intrigued me for the past few weeks. Why is an all powerful God jealous of the gods of the surrounding cultures? If he is the only supreme being than what is there to be jealous of? If you speak directly to your people then why not explicitly say that there are no other God? There are several passages that show the ancient Hebrew people as practicing monaltry, but is the protagonist portrayed as having knowledge of other Gods existing?

Exodus 20:1-2 states, “And God spoke all these words:“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.“You shall have no other gods before me.” (biblegateway.com). The wording here is interesting, and in my opinion leaves room for question. Verse 2 states, “I am the Lord YOUR God”. Why not, “I am the Lord God”? Adding “your” makes me wonder if other people had a different God. This idea is supported by  of patheos.com who states, “Have you ever thought much about the wording of this commandment? Why doesn’t it say that Jehovah is the only god? It’s because this section of the Bible was written in the early days of the Israelite religion (roughly 10th century BCE) when it was still polytheistic. The next commandment notes, “I, Jehovah, your God, am a jealous God”—jealous because there were indeed other viable options, and Jehovah insisted on a commitment”. It is interesting that a God who is self-proclaimed as jealous,  does not take this opportunity to establish that he is the only God. Verse 3 states “no other gods BEFORE me”. This idea of “before” insinuates that the protagonist could have allowed other  gods after him doesn’t it? Which brings up the question of whether or not these people did, in fact, have other gods after Yahweh. According to Israel Draze, “Ancient Jews[1] believed that many gods exist but felt that they should only worship y-h-v-h[2] and maintained this notion for hundreds of years, and this fact is found in hundreds of verses in the Hebrew Bible. This is not monotheism, but monolatry. Monotheism is the belief that only a single god exists. Monolatry, from the Greekmono = one and latreia = service, is the belief that many gods exist but only one should be served.” We see this throughout the Old Testament as the Hebrew people are to the polytheistic cultures around them such as the Canaanites and Egyptians. Scott Rutherford suggests that monotheism may have come about as a result of the exposure to Babylonian culture during captivity.

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Another passage that invokes question is Exodus 7-11 which narrates the plagues brought on Egypt by the protagonist. Here we see do not see a portrayal of jealousy, but a portrayal of acknowledgement.  Several of the plagues are directly associated with Egyptian gods. According to hubpages.com, the plague that turned water to blood was corresponding to Hapi who was the Egyptian god of the Nile.  Why does Yahweh go to such links to acknowledge them? Hubpages.com goes on to answer this question by stating that it was to, “demonstrate that the Lord was superior to all the other Gods of Egypt“.  This answer makes sense and is backed up in the text. Here, we have another perfect opportunity to proclaim that he is a sole deity and not just “superior”. This scene, as well as Exodus 20:1-3 are only two of the passages that subtly portray the protagonist as accepting that he is not the only heavenly deity.

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I would not be doing this question justice if I did not look at it from the other side. There are also plenty of occasions in the Old Testament that back up the idea that Yahweh does not acknowledge a God other than himself. In 2 Kings 19:18-19 it states, “They have thrown their gods into the fire and destroyed them, for they were not godsbut only wood and stone, fashioned by human hands. 19 Now, Lord our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you alone, Lord, are God.“(biblegateway.com). This passage conveys a very different story. It makes it perfectly clear that the people and their God did not accept the existence of any other deity. The use of the term “gods” is explained by gotquestions.org by stating that  “Describing something as a “god” does not mean you believe it to be a divine being. The vast majority of Old Testament Scriptures which speak of gods are speaking of false gods, those who claim to be gods but are not.” (gotquestions.org) We see this same idea again in 1 Kings 18:24 which states, “Then you call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the LORD, and the God who answers by fire, He is God.” And all the people said, “That is a good idea.“(biblehub.com).This “battle of the gods” was something that was supported by the protagonist to show once and for all that other gods were simply not real. Elijah as a prophet of Yahweh even tries to provoke the followers of Baal to emphasize the fact that Baal does not exist and that Yahweh does. 

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There are several more passages that could be used on both sides of this argument. I don’t believe it is possible to concretely say for certain either way. Whether you believe this book to be sacred or not, you can’t argue that it is a work of literature. As a work of literature, it is open to interpretation by its readers. All the verses in support of either side can be interpreted for other. I personally believe that he was not portrayed as accepting the existence of other gods. His jealousy can be scene as stemming from frustration and not necessarily literal jealousy of another being.

 

 

 

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The Explication of Psalm 22:1-15

29 All the rich of the earth will feast and worship;
    all who go down to the dust will kneel before him—
    those who cannot keep themselves alive.
30 Posterity will serve him;
    future generations will be told about the Lord.
31 They will proclaim his righteousness,
    declaring to a people yet unborn:
    He has done it!

I believe David wrote Psalm 22 after the messianic prophecy given by Nathan in 2 Samuel 7:12-16 which states, “The Lord declares to you that the Lord himself will establish a house for you: 12 When your days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 I will be his father, and he will be my son. When he does wrong, I will punish him with a rod wielded by men, with floggings inflicted by human hands. 15 But my love will never be taken away from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you. 16 Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me[b]; your throne will be established forever.” It would make sense that this was the occasion that would prompt the writing of a messianic psalm. Nathan’s prophecy not only foretells that the messiah will come from the lineage of David but also the physical agony he would endure. It is this agony that is depicted throughout Psalm 22. It is also these depictions that categorize this psalm as both messianic and prophetic.

Verses 1 and 2 are written in prophetic voice, imploring the same words that Christ will say from the cross in Matthew 27:46. Verse 2 also predicts the prayer in the garden prior to Jesus’ arrest.  These two verses show that the speaker of this Psalm is the coming messiah and not David. This same voice will be employed throughout the rest of the Psalm.

Verses 3-5 I believe switch back to the voice of David. In these verses, he praises God for past redemption. David calls on his audience, who are most likely other Hebrew people, to remember all the times that Yahweh has saved them. David reminds them of the many times that his ancestors had called upon God for deliverance and were heard. This reminder, I believe, is an imploring call by David for his people to have that same kind of trust in the protagonist.


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Verse 6 introduces the first metaphor. This verse begins a new section with the messianic voice. He refers to himself as, “a worm and not a man”.  According to Richard Beck of experimentaltheology.blogspot.com comments on this verse by explaining that , “Apparently, the Hebrew word for worm in Psalm 22.6 is towla’ which two meanings, “worm” and “scarlet/crimson.” The connection between the worm and the color red has to do with the fact that this particular worm was the “scarlet worm” (Kermes ilicis or Coccus ilicis). The Kermes worm is where we get the word crimson because this was the worm that was used to create red dye around the ancient Mediterranean. The worm isn’t really a worm but a scale insect that attaches itself to trees, generally oaks, to feed off the sap (see picture above). Jesus would have seen the Kermes worm on Palestine Oaks (Quercus calliprino). While affixed to the tree the female worm would give birth to a brood and then die. Toward the end of this cycle the mother’s body would bloat and fill with a red fluid that would stain the tree. The ancients would collect these dead bodies and the eggs to make a crimson dye.
So the worm in Psalm 22.6 is an insect that leaves a crimson stain on a tree.“(experimentaltheology.blogspot.com) Beck’s findings are quite interesting. Not only do we get the image of a lowly person that considers themselves less than human, but also of the crimson stain.  The color crimson brings to mind the color of blood. Blood is symbolic life and was of great importance to the Hebrew culture. It is blood that is shed as sacrifice to Yahweh. The idea of blood and sacrifice being associated with the Messiah is almost prophetic. Though the Israelite people did not understand the future christian ideals of Christ being the ultimate sacrifice, it is subtlety alluded to through this metaphor.

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The second part of verse 6 verse 8 through  is also prophetic of the community’s reaction to Jesus. This idea is backed up in the New Testaments accounts. The people hated Jesus so much that when given the opportunity free a prisoner, as was customary during the Passover, they free Barabbas. The same words used in mockery in this passage are seen again in Matthew 27:43.

Verses 9 and 10 show the humanity of the messiah. We see an equality in his birth. He was born like every other human was before him and like every one after him. The author also shows again emphasizes his theme of trusting in God by establishing the idea that even the Messiah had to.

Verse 11 is the starting verse in a series of verses that plea to God for help from the dangers around him.

In verse 12 we are given the images of bulls, “strong of Bashan”.  According to Clarke’s commentary, the significance of this image was that, “the bull is the emblem of brutal strength, that gores and tramples down all before it. Such was Absalom, Ahithophel, and others, who rose up in rebellion against David; and such were the Jewish rulers who conspired against Christ.
Strong bulls of Bashan – Bashan was a district beyond Jordan, very fertile, where they were accustomed to fatten cattle, which became, in consequence of the excellent pasture, the largest, as well as the fattest, in the country. See Calmet. All in whose hands were the chief power and influence became David’s enemies; for Absalom had stolen away the hearts of all Israel. Against Christ, the chiefs both of Jews and Gentiles were united”.(Clarke’s Commentary) Researching this symbol gave way to several theories. Everything from giants, to demons, to even Satan himself. Clarke’s ideology, however, I believe is the best because it shows a double meaning. It shows the symbol’s effect on both King David and his hardships, as well as Christ and the suffering he endured through the crucifixion process.

Verse 13 gives way to another symbol of destruction, the lion. The lion is considered “king of the jungle” or “king of the beasts”. Furthermore, the idea of royalty brings with it the image of power. The lion symbol depicted in verse 13 is not one of passivity. This lion is no longer waiting to pounce on its prey, but is upon its prey, roaring and ready to rip it to shreds. According to Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible, the roaring can be seen as, “either by way of derision and contempt, Job 16:10; or belching out blasphemy against him, or rather, with the greatest vehemency, crying out “Crucify him, crucify him”, Luke 23:21; and this they did”. (Gills Exposition of the Entire Bible) Gill’s thoughts on the roaring being a literal noise made by the blood thirsty “animals” that want so desperately to crucify Christ goes beyond the simple lion figure in this verse and I believe adds a new depth to understanding the text.

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 Verses 14 and 15 give a very vivid prophecy of the physical agony that the future Messiah was to endure. According to Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary the idea of being “poured out like water” refers to, “Utter exhaustion and hopeless weakness, in these circumstances of pressing danger, are set forth by the most expressive figures; the solidity of the body is destroyed, and it becomes like water”. (Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary) The ideas of water and exhaustion give way to the idea of a once solid, strong body and mind being beaten down to the point of total annihilation. The end of verse 14 incorporates the use of symbolism by stating, “My heart has turned to wax; it has melted within me”. This, again, paints the picture of diminishing strength and internal agony.

This psalm may not be the most widely quoted or even the most widely read for that matter. For the Jewish culture however it has a certain significance. According to Wikipedia Psalm 22 is, “Is recited on the Fast of Esther. Verse 4 is part of the opening paragraph of Uva Letzion. Verse 26 is found in the repetition of the Amidah during Rosh Hashanah. Verse 29 is a part of Az Yashir. It is recited following the passage from Exodus. On Rosh Hashanah, it is found in the repetition of the Amidah.” (Wikipedia.com)

In addition to Jewish significance, it also has a few pop cultures allusions as well. It is recited at the end of “Hang on to Your Life” by the Who:
 Hang on to Your Life

Thinkin’ ‘bout it’s here and it’s real
Wonderin’ how I really should feel
You can sell your soul
But don’t you sell it too cheap…

Hang on to your life
Hang on to your life

Thinkin’ ‘bout betraying a friend
Thinkin’ ‘bout delaying the end
You can ride the wind
But don’t you ride it too high…

Hang on to your life….

These lyrics depict similar circumstances that are seen throughout the text of Psalm 22. We see images of people screaming at the person who is soon to die, which correlates to the mocking of Christ.  We also see the betrayal of a friend which references Judas helping to deliver Jesus to the Sanhedrin.

Psalm 22 is a very complex and deep text. There are several prophecies of events to happen 1000 years in the future. In fact, according to www.bible.ca the first recorded crucifixion was in 519BC. This means that David was writing of things that had not even been invented yet! Exploring beneath the surface of this Psalm was very interesting and taught me just how deep a seemingly shallow and obvious symbol can go.

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