Achilles Fights the River

It is interesting that the story of the Iliad is mostly told from the side of the Achaeans, but most of the Trojans are the more sympathetic characters.  So you literally watch good people die from the point of view of some pretty serious assholes.  I am referring to the upcoming death of Hector, who has a wife and child and who appears to be a pretty decent man.  But he is the one who struck Patroclus down, and so, of course, he is the one who must die.  I also refer to poor Lycaon, who was sold into slavery by Achilles himself, was freed by his purchaser, struggles to come back home to Troy, has only been there for twelve days, and then dies at the hands of an unmerciful Achilles because Achilles will not see a Trojan live if he has anything to do with it.

He does this because Patroclus has died at the hands of a Trojan prince, but refuses to acknowledge that it was his own stubborn behavior that led Patroclus fight in his stead, and eventually to his death.  I wonder if this detail will come up ever, or if Achilles is just going to keep flailing about how it was the Trojans’ faults until they’re all dead.  There is also the further lamentation to his mother that him nearly dying in the river was somehow his mother’s fault:

“…how she lied, she beguiled me, she promised me
I’d die beneath the walls of the armored Trojans,
cut down by Apollo’s whipping arrows…”

All I could think was, “well, sweetie this one’s kind of on you.  Did you really need to attack the river?  No you did not.”  Everything is everyone else’s fault, and perhaps that’s obvious throughout the Iliad itself, but this comes out quite a lot in this particular book, Book 21.

Apart from Achilles, though, this book is filled with some extremely entertaining god fights, all of which are over as quickly as they start.  The wounds are mostly superficial, but a wound making contact with a god is possibly a “lethal” strike to the god’s ego and so they must concede defeat, only to try again later.  Ares is taken out be a rock.  Aphrodite is boob-punched into the ground (both of these things are done by Athena).  Artemis has her ears boxed, which I looked up, and apparently to box someone’s ears is to strike both ears with the flat of your palms.  This essentially destroys the person’s balance, and can also cause damage to the eardrums (you know, if you’re not a god).  This part was especially hurtful to me personally because I always kind of liked Artemis (names my cat for her), and the next thing she does is to literally go cry in her father’s lap about the injustice of it all.

Hermes (named of my dog) makes up for it, though:

“But Hermes, the guide of souls and giant-killer
reassured [Artemis’s] mother, Leto, ‘Nothing to fear,
I’d never fight with you, Leto. An uphill battle it is,
trading blows with the wives of Zeus who rules the clouds.
No, go boast to your heart’s content and tell the gods
you triumphed over me with your superhuman power!’”

The Ones Who Walk from Omelas

What if you could go to a place where everyone was happy, but at a horrific, horrific cost?

So, I think it is an accidental secret that I really like Ursula Le Guin, and when my Ethics professor gave us the “optional reading” of Le Guin’s short story “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas,” I, of course, thought to myself that he may have been kidding when he said optional.  Now, I’ve never heard of the story before this assignment, but I knew that if it was being assigned for an Ethics class, it was going to contain some kind of ethical dilemma, and I was not left wanting.  But before I get to that, I would like to talk about one of the things I liked the most about the set-up of the story: the way Le Guin puts the reader in their happy place without actually saying, “think of your happy place.”

As she describes Omelas, she gives pretty, but vague parameters.  You know there is a festival happening, but as far as the details of the city go, it’s up to you.  It could be modern, it could be some kind of fantasy, it would be any kind of thing.  (Even the location of the child is entirely up to the reader to determine.)

“…they could perfectly well have central heating, subway trains, washing machines, and all kinds of marvelous devices not yet invented here, floating light-sources, fuelless power, a cure for the common cold.  Or they could have none of that: it doesn’t matter.  As you like it.”

The reader is forced to kind of piece together a society out of what she’s described, as the narrator doesn’t necessarily seem to have all the details herself.  At the same time, she asks you to make sure this lovely place you’ve envisioned is not overly “goody-goody.”  Add an orgy, if that helps, she says.  Everyone in Omelas should be happy, but not ignorantly so, and not in an innocent, story-book way either.  Just a normal, functional place that is without misery.

I like that style.  That sort of make-yourself-at-home kind of writing.  Get comfortable.  Enjoy yourself!  Watch the procession!

“Do you believe?  Do you accept the festival, the city, the joy?  No?  Then let me describe one more thing.”

The ethical dilemma is obvious.  Could you sacrifice the autonomy and the happiness of a child for the sake of an entire city that appears to be a happier place than Disneyworld?  Le Guin paints the picture of a child, gender unknown, malnourished, covered in sores, belly protruding, imbecile, locked in a tool room with dirt floors and no windows.  Whatever magic or what-have-you is at work here, this city’s prosperity relies solely on this child being miserable: “…there may not even be a kind word spoken to the child.”  Many of the inhabitants of Omelas, young and old, and at varying times, can’t handle the idea and get up and walk out of the city to some place unknown.

I suppose I take the story at face-value.  Some are willing to make that sacrifice, some are not.  It is an individual decision, and to leave Omelas is technically the “correct” and moral decision.  It falls into the shaky guidelines we have created that decides what is right and what is wrong.  But isn’t eternal peace good?  Perhaps one must suffer, but is that not better than many people suffering?  What must it take for every citizen to witness the child, and be upset by the child’s misery and sacrifice, but to still live happily?  To observe suffering while not knowing what it is like to suffer, and then to decide that it is still acceptable?  Further from that, what must it be like to never know suffering, observe it, and then decide that it is wrong?  With no context, how do you make such a decision?

Anyway, this is just kind of a discussion thing.  There is that story writer in my that wonders how things would progress if a person took the child from its closet (in spite of the effects on the child discussed in the work) and brought down the city anyway before they left.  Unable to recognize and appreciate the kindness and comfort, would it actually change the state of the city?

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

I have to admit, I was drawn in by the book’s cover, and then the summary pulled me right in.  It sounded like a really cool insight into the type of person that I was in college, though I didn’t really write or read fanfiction.  I did, however, spend a lot of time watching anime and reading manga.  I was an absolute shut-in and this book seemed like an interesting nostalgia trip about a lifestyle that you didn’t really get to read about very much.

In truth, the book was just okay.  It was a really fast read and I felt a little nostalgic about the whole fan-fic premise, but at the same time, I think the book’s feeling was lost on me because I’ve already finished college, and I have a solid relationship with all my family, and I no longer feel the angst over the things the main character Cath feels throughout the book.  There was a lot of good humor in it and there was definitely a sweetness to the way Rowell writes the characters.  I think this would be a great book to read for a young person just starting out in college.

I will say, I was somewhat bothered by the end to Nick’s little story.  Like, he disappears for a while and suddenly his whole life is ruined by Cath.  Like… why did he lost his TA job and why was that Cath’s fault?  I was also bothered by his sudden turn.  It came kind of out of nowhere and he doesn’t seem at all bothered by the loss of that friendship and it weirds me out.  I suppose it is the idea that for a long time he’s a good guy and all of the sudden he’s an asshole because he can’t write his own story.  I guess it just didn’t feel like a very real transition to me.  Or something, I don’t really know.

Anyway.  I will probably read her Elearnor and Park novel because I have it on my nook and I still found Rowell’s writing style to be pretty sweet and easy, in spite of my being kind of a sourpuss about this particular book.

The Martian by Andy Weir

Go read it.  For real.  It’s funny as hell.

The guy uses pirate-ninjas as a measurement because “Kilowatt-hours per sol” was a “pain in the ass to say.”

For real, though.  The book is about an astronaut who is stranded on Mars after a mission gone wrong and about his attempts to stay alive until the next mission can arrive or until he can be rescued.  It’s not the long, drawling, “is it even worth it” story that it might sound like.  Never losing his desire to live, Mark Watney (the astronaut in question) literally keeps himself alive using whatever is laying around.  I’ve seen a few complaints that she science in the book isn’t very accurate, but it’s my understanding that Weir is devoted hobbyist of subjects like relativistic physics, orbital mechanics, and the history of manned spaceflight.  Hobbyist doesn’t sound very encouraging, but it seems like he went very much out of his way to make sure his stuff was sound.

Either way, it’s easy to let the science go because he makes it accessible to an audience who may not have the same hobbies as himself.  I found myself wanting more when the book ended, and I guess that’s a pretty good sign.

So, what did I think of Wuthering Heights?  Well, to me, it was like reading a really long episode of Desperate Housewives without the heartwarming friendship hovering in the background to help any of the characters through this turmoil.  All of the characters are so intentionally horrible to each other, except for Nelly of course, who is the grounded character everyone follows through the years.  (By the way, can I just take a moment to talk about what a phenomenal narrator this maid is?  For someone of her station, and who doesn’t necessarily speak one hundred percent properly during conversation, she is just beautifully literate when telling a story.)  I didn’t feel quite as strongly about it as either my brother-in-law or my grandfather (see my precious entry).  I didn’t have this viscerally hateful reaction, nor does the book make me smile in any way, I just didn’t really care for it.

A lot of my issues with the book stem from character motivations and truthfully most of the events that take place.  It’s a such an extremely negative book and the romance between Catherine and Heathcliff, while kind of believable… is absolutely horrendous.  What two people who love each other would treat each other in such horrible ways?  I took to google for my question, asking why Wuthering Heights was considered such a great love story.  I found the internet replying with a lot of “love conquers all” and “what makes it great is that these two rather horrible people can love and be loved.”  While I don’t doubt that this is a love story, and don’t find myself backing the claim that it is a great love story.  To me, the message came down to hanging on and holding out that happiness is just on the horizon or something corny like that.  As miserable as they began, Hareton and Cathy found happiness in the end.

“Love Conquers All”

Well, not really.  Love got no character through any bit of misery in this book and I would probably say that the more accurate statement is that “death conquers all.”  No problem is solved for anyone until someone dies, and boy, do some people die.

“To Love and Be Loved”

The relationship between Catherine and Heathcliff is nothing if not destructive as hell, and I’m not just using that as a figure of speech.  Their love is surrounded by misery, illness, and death, and those are only the physical symptoms.  There is greed, revenge, and obsession all manifesting themselves within the two lovers (mostly Heathcliff).  Their relationship is much more about the passion than the love.  The meeting in secret, seeing each other only once in a blue moon.  While I can honestly say that I do think Heathcliff loves Catherine to the point of obsession, I got the impression that Catherine’s side of the relationship has more to do with the excitement of doing something she’s been told not to.

Maybe I’m off.  Maybe I just didn’t like the characters and can’t imagine loving them myself.  Maybe I’m missing the part where they take long walks together, talking about things and getting to know each other, even under the supervision of Linton’s sister, and perhaps even the part where they have all kinds of childhood history together of playing and laughing and being each others’ companions and that if that’s not the foundation of love, then what is?

I suppose I have troubles with the characters morally.  I enjoyed the writing itself, especially Heathcliff’s dialogue due to how delightfully evil he can be, but I just didn’t really enjoy what was written.  It was probably too long and too much summary of events for the story it was trying to tell.  I suppose I can applaud Bronte for not manipulating the reader into loving the two characters.  She told them as they were and didn’t pull any punches and that’s certainly respectable.  There are so many writers nowadays who have this evil character who only needs to be loved and who try to make them sympathetic even though there is nothing sympathetic about them (I have no examples, but maybe one of you has one you could contribute).  Bronte doesn’t ever even attempt that.  I suppose that is why the ending has me so baffled.

For all the tragedy that takes place throughout the book, we end on a decidedly very happy note.  Cathy and Hareton have become their own little thing, Nelly has been reunited with her mistress, Heathcliff is dead and buried with a coffin joined with Catherine’s as per his dying request… wait.  Wait.  It’s been well established that Heathcliff is this hated character who brings nothing but hate and discontent wherever he may travel and that he has abused the other characters physically and emotionally and brewed such animosity toward himself that the characters all rejoice when he is dead.  All fear and negativity is just miraculously lifted from the Wuthering Heights and the tone of the story takes a very sudden shift for the better.  It just baffles me that such a character would be granted any more than what is required by obligation in his burial.  Sure, bury the man, maybe even attend a funeral, but allowing him to spend eternity with his one love seems rather gracious.  And perhaps that speaks to the character of Nelly, the one Heathcliff told of this request.  I don’t really know what that says about her, but I guess that makes her a better person than I.

Important?

Every morning before work, I wake up, shower, dress myself for the day, open the living room curtains, drink my coffee, and sit down and read for the last thirty minutes before my shift begins.  As some of you may have gathered from a previous post of mine, I have been reading Wuthering Heights.  You may or may not remember my intro post about how my grandfather thinks it’s an incredibly important novel and how my brother-in-law believes that it is this horrible novel about how horrible people can be to each other.

Well, thus far, my brother-in-law is spot on.  I have taken to viewing this novel less as something that I want to immerse myself into and more as something that I am observing from under the table with the notepad and a pen.  I will admit that the dialogue is really very well written and even thought it is probably very dramatized (I don’t know how people actually spoke at the time), it is all very interesting to observe anyway.  It reads to me like a very nicely written shoujo manga.  I said shoujo manga because I have read a lot of them in the past while trying to kill time as I read Wuthering Heights, I can see the horrible things that these people are about to do to each other a million miles away.