Transactional Reader-response Theory Chapter 6, Reader Response Criticism Critical Theory Today – A User-friendly Guide By – Lois Tyson

In Critical Theories Today – A User Friendly Guide (2006), Chapter 6, Reader Response Criticism, Lois Tyson presents, among other theories, the Transactional reader-response theory as the text having a strong allegiance with the reader and the interpretations made by the reader and further that the textual meaning can be determinate or indeterminate. She discusses the different approaches that can be taken in order that the interpretation of the text is more complete. She refers to Louise Rosenblatt’s aesthetic approach, while delineating the different tools a text can be approached with. She brings into context the efferent approach as well. According to the discussion it is evident that the writer emphasizes on the aesthetic approach of reading a text, supporting Rosenblatt. While the efferent approach equips the reader to register only the facts presented in the text, the aesthetic approach, appealing to the reader’s aesthetic sense, creates scope for actual transaction to take place. Tyson avers, “In order for this transaction between the text and reader to occur, however, our approach to the text must be aesthetic rather than efferent” (173).

Tyson further says, “…when we read in the aesthetic mode, we experience a personal relationship to the text that focuses our attention on the emotional subtleties of its language and encourages us to make judgments” (173). Tyson’s other arguments on transactional reader-response theory also make sense when she advocates the consequences of reading and interpretation of the text – meaning derived from the text. She says that the meaning could be determinate or indeterminate and it is the reader who has the responsibility to decide between the two. She states, “The interplay between determinate and indeterminate meanings, as we read, results in a number of ongoing experiences for the reader: retrospection, or thinking back to what we’ve read earlier in the text; anticipation of what will come next; fulfillment or disappointment of our anticipation; revision of our understanding of characters and events, and so on” (174). Hence, though it is a very complicated and difficult a task to decide between the determinate and indeterminate meanings yet, the very possibility of a multi-level interpretation of the text makes it more transactional in nature.

The reader feels a compelling and convincing connection with the text he reads; “a range of meanings of which textual support is available” (174) makes the transaction even more engrossing. The process also becomes very interesting because there is the possibility of revisiting the text with several readings and justifying and modifying one’s responses. Hence, the Transactional reader-response theory provides scope for various conversations between the text and the reader making it a pleasurable experience.

Postcolonial Criticism Critical Theories Today- a User-friendly Guide By – Lois Tyson

In Critical Theories Today- a User-friendly Guide (2006), Chapter 12, Postcolonial criticism, Lois Tyson delineates the creation of a double-identity and cultural-alienation through the severe deliberate intrusion of the colonizers to subjugate a people and culture. Tyson brings forth the seriousness of the consequences the colonies in the postcolonial phase face – even in the contemporary times. She discusses about the loss of identity – partially or dominantly after these territories were decolonized. And the loss of identity introduces the formation of a new identity – the Postcolonial identity, which is a new cultural identity is very different from the original cultural identity that existed before colonization. And the formation of this new identity may imply the coexistence of multiple cultural entities.    

Tyson writes, “What has been left behind is a deeply embedded cultural colonization: the inculcation of a British system of government and education, British culture, and British values that denigrate the culture, morals, and even physical appearance of formerly subjugated peoples” (419). The subjugated people, during their period of subjugation, are made to feel demeaning about their own cultures. They accepted the colonizers’ culture as superior to theirs. Therefore, even after the colonizers left, the now free people developed a new identity of their own. This is, according to Tyson, is ‘a postcolonial identity’ which is based on either devaluing or negating the primary culture altogether. The native, indigenous, precolonial culture no more holds an individual and independent identity and hence “the postcolonial cultures include both a merger of and antagonism between the culture of the colonized and that of the colonizer” which is “difficult to identify and separate between discreet entities” (419).

The effect is the creation of a dual identity, according to Tyson. However, it can be said that it is not that just the two different identities are created, rather it is still a subjugation of the primary culture and the dominance of the colonizer culture, as well as, it is also a route to the creation of multiple identities. The appreciation of the new domination quotient of the identity paves the path for appreciation of other cultures regarded superior by the postcolonized people. For instance, Eurocentric language implies the existence of the first world and the second world which are considered to be superior to the third and the fourth worlds (420). Hence, it can be said that there are not two cultures merger, rather there are multiple cultures merger that is taking place even now.

However, the postcolonial identity may be understood more clearly as one that can be placed in context of some or more degrees of the loss of the original precolonized culture of a people. It is a developed attitude of a people towards the self-subjugation of their own primary cultural identity. And it may be understood that the new cultural identity is ambiguous in nature and a promotion of the accepted and supposedly bigger cultures.

Conceptualizing Simultaneity: A Transnational Social Field Perspective on Society By- Peggy Levitt & Glick Schiller The Transnational Studies Reader – Intersections & Innovations By – Sanjeev Khagram & Peggy Levitt

In Conceptualizing Simultaneity: A Transnational Social Field Perspective on Society, a chapterfrom The Transnational Studies Reader – Intersections & Innovations (2008), Peggy Levitt and Nina Glick Schiller identify the dynamics of how individuals act as entities to design the transnational structure with enduring migrant experiences in a social field. They elucidate the concept of social fields as a tool that conceptualizes the social relations between the individuals that move and the individuals that stay behind in a nation-state. The individuals are rather themselves the medium of creating a complex system of being and belonging thereby giving new dimensions to transnationalism through migration and non-migration.

The individuals create a web of connection that is unaffected by migration between borders. It is quite interesting to see how an individual’s ways of being is placed in contrast with his ways of belonging and the intricacies of circumstantial developments when these two parameters come together within him. The ways of being, according to Levitt and Schiller, is the “actual social relations and practices that individuals engage in” (287), whereas the ways of belonging is, “the practices that signal or enact an identity which demonstrates a conscious connection to a particular group”, like “wearing a Christian cross or a Jewish star” (287). According to the essay, there are different ways an individual behaves and connects with other individuals “across the borders of a nation-state, or globally without ever having migrated” (287). They further say, “Individuals within transnational social fields combine ways of being and ways of belonging differently in specific contexts.”(287). The different ways of connecting, as mentioned in the essay can be summarized in the following ways. First, a person may have many social contacts in the place of his origin but may not necessarily have belonging to the place. Second, a person with no actual social relations may still identify himself with a group and hence connect by the means of memory, nostalgia or imagination- that is the way of belonging for him.

They further explain that when people stay connected through social relations across border on a regular basis, they exhibit a particular way of being and when people recognize this behaviour and identify a compulsive belonging to the transnational element, they exhibit a particular way of belonging. However, the act of moving to a new place and the transnational attachment an individual possesses may not be binary opposites. Rather, it blends in to form a new transnational incorporation in the form of an individual entity in a new place. Finally, the writers emphasize on the individuals’ role in the creation of a new transnational system by bringing into account the nature of the movements across borders. “Movement and attachment is not linear or sequential but capable of rotating back and forth and changing direction over time….Persons change and swing one way or the other depending on the context, thus moving our expectation away from either full assimilation or transnational connection but some combination of both.” (288). Therefore, individuals can be seen as instruments for creating a larger intertwined system that is characterized by an unavoidable flux of social, political and cultural amalgamation melting away borders and boundaries.

The theme of Considered-Freedom in Toni Morrison’s Beloved By – Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison, in Beloved (1987), questions the very concept of freedom for the Negro community and demonstrates the various points where the meaning intersects and negates itself with ambiguous consequences. Nearly all the major characters face these consequences of a life that seems free yet, doesn’t really mean freedom. Her preoccupation with the Negro community and its predicament is visible all through the novel. Morrison has completely indulged herself in the issues, especially relating to freedom, of the Negro slaves. Her writings make a political impression on the reader. Even after the assumed freedom, the slaves do have a life of some kind of slavery, only that they do not have a white master. She discusses the immense torture, pain and struggle that the characters go through in their lives. The problem of the Negro race and the effects of slavery with its drastic inhumanity at the hands of the white masters, a denial of life to the Negroes who are reduced to nothing more than mere animals is what the novel depicts all through. This gruesome and immoral picture of the slaves being used and tormented and tortured is delineated by almost all the African-American writers.

          In the following lines Morrison expresses her deepest concern for the slaves who in spite of the acquired freedom do not really possess it. Sethe runs away from the plantation but though free, Morrison questions, yet, is that freedom in the real sense? –  “Bit by bit, at 124 and in the Clearing, along with the others, she had claimed herself. Freeing yourself was one thing; claiming ownership of that freed self was another.” (111-112). She is doomed with immense pain throughout her life though she settles with whatever she is left with. And all she is left with is a disturbed family, a ghost living with the inmates, and perpetual reminder of the past struggles and losses. Not only the protagonist, this issue of considered-freedom is bargained upon all the other characters as well. Through this Morrison draws our attention to the life situations of the slaves, their agonized past, discriminated and restless present, their acceptance of the insanity as a means of survival. For instance, Sethe decides to forget the past (though she cannot), Paul D’s determination of not loving anything too much, some of them running away even further like the boys, etc.

          Morrison brings forth to her readers the life conditions of a subjugated lot that is affected by the inhuman and political reasons of a supposedly superior race which, with all its atavistic instincts, is adamant at ruining an entire race because of its skin colour. Freedom in the context of discussion is neither freedom, nor sanity. It is a life that a slave procures by running away, escaping. However, the newfound life does not permit these people to leverage normal living requirements like paid work, food and shelter easily. The historical memory of the coloured people, their hopes, desires, and expectations of a normal life is discussed by the novel. It presents a moral, physical, psychological and also spiritual havoc that forced itself on the slaves. Also even after all of this, the slaves further carry a great deal of guilt on their conscience. They find themselves responsible for certain devastation caused to them and to their families. Sethe, in the novel is guilty of the murder of her own daughter, though she is compelled to do that to secure freedom for the rest of her children. This devastation caused by the institution of slavery doesn’t let the slaves be free even after escaping from slavery. It constantly reminds them of the torture, pain, sin and sacrifice, and even more, their present distressing, harrowing and pitiful condition. They still face the discrimination in the society. Morrison reminds the readers of the post-slavery situation where the coloured people had to wait for their grocery outside the stores for the whites to take theirs first. Even the black community at large is under a perpetual fear of losing its own identity and so doesn’t really come out to help the individuals in problem. Morrison, explicitly described the inherent and camouflaged predicament of the slaves and their lives while in the oppressive system and in the post-slavery phase of their life. She has diligently questioned the concept of freedom and urges the readers to think of freedom as only considered-freedom.

“Home”as a Gateway to Life and not a Place of Turmoil in Beloved- By – Toni Morrison

In Beloved (1987), Toni Morrison brings forth a gruesome picture of predicament of the slaves in the Kentucky plantation through torture and subjugation of them by the whites then. However ‘home’ in the novel projects a picture of respite as well, in spite of all the chaos in the form of supernatural activity and unrest. The home represents ‘captivity’ (Sweet Home), ‘insanity’, ‘guilt and repentance’, ‘restlessness and separation’ but it also represents “Satisfaction” and “refuge”. It represents unease but also freedom. Through 124 Bluestone Road, Morrison presents to her readers a life that is secured amidst insecurity, peace and freedom amidst chaos and refuge in uncertainty and insanity. Home for Morrison is not Sweet Home at the Kentucky plantation, which is anything but ‘sweet’, but 124 Bluestone that is haunted by a child ghost that is far better and desirable than the undependable outside world for the free slaves. Sweet Home, the plantation was not a home. It was captivity for these slaves. Morrison provides the readers with a profound insight into the intricacies of the dynamics of existence that prevailed in the lives of these slaves even after slavery. And survival was the most important aspiration for the slaves. Dehumanization and brutality reduced these Africans to mere serving instruments. All through the African-American literature loud echoes of slavery and the compelled dehumanized identity can be traced. Morrison shows her readers how a slave’s home, after freedom, in spite of all its disturbance and insanity still provides shelter- as is the duty of a home, and lets the inmates live with acquired and accepted peace amidst the lunacy.

Sethe escapes Sweet Home when she is pregnant and achieves freedom from the oppressive plantation life and settles in 124 Bluestone with Baby Suggs, her mother-in-law and children. Though her two sons run away from the house, yet Denver, her daughter, stays with her till she finds a job in the community. The home – 124 serves as a place of transformation, a gateway to change for better and freedom. Sethe gets her freedom here with Dr. Paul D, gets her job and is happy; Baby Suggs is at home in 124 and finds the place desirable that is evident when she says, “Not a house in the country ain’t packed to its rafters with some dead Negro’s grief. We lucky this ghost is a baby….You lucky” (6), to Sethe when the latter suggests to move from the house. The boys run away and are anyway free from slavery. Denver lives for quite some time, is taken care of by her mother and then moves into the community from there to work. The house is a medium of upliftment for the inmates. They all rise from whatever they have been through as a family, as well as, as individuals.

Hence, ‘home’ in Beloved is not really hopelessness and turmoil or threat of any kind. It is rather a space that provides respite to the inmates in spite of not being the perfect romantic home. It performs a bigger job- it provides a gateway to a better life. Morrison demonstrated hope in hopelessness and courage and expectation in the post-slavery life of the slaves through the imagery of the home in Beloved. 

Personification of “Tigers” in Adrienne Rich’s Poem

Hello everyone. Please read my fourth article in the series of my literary reviews/criticisms. I published this in 2018 in a journal. Please read on.

In Adriene Rich’s poem, Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers from her first collection of poetry, A Change of World, she portrays the tremendous turmoil, as well as, courage in the hearts and minds of women represented by one Aunt Jennifer. She brings forth the crushing powers of the patriarchal society that uses its male chauvinistic faculties to trample and subdue the woman in the name of marriage. But she also presents the indomitable and unconquerable spirit of the woman who persists even on the face of the worst adversity, which according to Rich, is “the weight of the marriage ring” on the woman’s finger. This mightier internal power of the woman is manifested through several other ways. The woman is controlled physically by the man she marries but her spirit is free and fierce. Rich makes a point about the invincible spirit of the woman in the opening stanza itself beautifully sketching the scenario of Aunt Jennifer’s embroidery of the tiger.

Talking about Aunt Jennifer she states,

 “Aunt Jennifer’s tigers prance across a screen,

Bright topaz denizens of a world of green

They do not fear the men beneath the tree;

They pace in sleek chivalric certainty.” (4)

The tigers seem to be prancing out at something with all their passionate and fierce might without caring for the men who stand “beneath” the tree waiting to trap them into confinement of marriage. It seems that it is probably Aunt Jennifer herself attacking the patriarchal supremacy with all her bottled up powers that have been accumulated in her heart since a very long time. She personifies herself into an embodiment of a tiger through her embroidery which doesn’t care about the “The massive weight of Uncle’s wedding band”, that “Sits heavily upon Aunt Jennifer’s hand” (4). Aunt Jennifer is a representative of those millions of women who are subjugated in the name of marriage and are compelled to live a live dictated by their partner.

            The Tigers Aunt Jennifer creates are given eternal life, a life no man can ever take away into possession in the name of marriage. Even with weak fingers that “flutter” while they struggle with the “wool” and the “ivory needle”, she is able to create the most vivacious triggers ever that seem to be livelier than real tigers. Rich writes in the last stanza,

                        “When Aunt is dead, her terrified hands will lie

                          Still ringed with ordeals she was mastered by.

                          The tigers in the panel that she made

                          Will go on prancing, proud and unafraid.” (4)

It seems as if Rich speaks this for every woman who lives subjugated by the man she is married to or the society she is born in. The tremendous inner turmoil of these women surfaces through their work or through their silence. And that expression of indignation and rejection of a world like that seems to possess enough power to destroy such arrangements that do not serve them anymore.

The Color of Water and The Sound of ‘Silence’

Hi all again. This is the third paper in the series of my literary reviews/criticisms that I published a few years back in a book of abstracts. So here we go.

In The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother James McBride presents the compelling concept of “Silence” that seems to be the anchor for the life of his mother, Ruth, a Jewish woman married to a Black man, Andrew Dennis McBride, James’ father. McBride emphasizes on the fact that “Silence” can play an important role in regulating the lives of people who come from very different walks of life and chose to share their lives together. He presents the capturing autobiography and memoir of a mother that reminiscence about being a white woman’s son in a Black people’s world. It is about his mother who is a Jewish white and who chooses to marry into the Black community. McBride emphasizes how difference in the color of the skin could be considered a big issue and what his mother, Ruth does after marrying James’ father to deal with the consequences of doing something different than the set ways of the society. She is disowned by her family for marrying a Black man instead of a Jewish man and for adopting Christianity. Ruth and Dennis also face some prejudice for having an inter-racial marriage. She later adopts “Silence” as a coping-mechanism after Dennis’s death and thereby handles things accordingly to raise their eight children. She remarries and has four more children later. But however, ‘silence’ seems to be her weapon in a society that still differentiates her from the rest on the basis of her skin color – she being a white woman with black husband and kids.

McBride states, “As a boy I always thought my mother was strange. She never cared to socialize with our neighbours. Her past was a mystery she refused to discuss. [….] She had an absolute distrust of authority and an insistence on complete privacy which seemed to make her and my family, even odder.” (6). His mother seems to have resorted to silence in order to take care of her twelve children and deal with the outside world that sees her as ‘different’, as ‘white’. He further writes, “She was the commander in chief of my house, because my stepfather did not live with us. [….] The nuts and bolts of raising us was left to Mommy, who acted as chief surgeon for bruises, war secretary, religious consultant, chief psychologist and financial advisor. Matters involving race and identity she ignored.” (6). Ruth seems to be the all-in-all for this family and that she does as a priority overlooking the issues related to her race and identity. Her silence about her past, however strange it might seem to her son, James, is because of the immense pain she keeps caged in her heart, a past that serves as a reminder of the oppression and sexual exploitation she is subjected to at the hands of her father. She decides not to talk about it and to rather direct all her energy and focus in raising her children properly.

There seems to be a thunderous sound of the silence she holds within her. And this seems to be audible to the entire world- a sound that distinctively calls for the ministers of indomitable spirit and determination to survive and excel – something that enables her not only to nourish her twelve children but also to provide them with the best of education and molding them into the finest human beings. With silence as her strongest asset, Ruth is the one who controls everything and keeps things running in her house. That indeed seems to be the most profound “sound of silence.”

‘Othering’ as an ‘extension of the self’ in Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club

Hello there everyone. This is my second post. Also this one’s the second in my series of short papers that I published elsewhere. When I look back at these papers, it reminds me of those days and nights that I spent writing so many of these, of course, like many of you do. So these write-ups are kind of very close to my heart and I am sure many of you too have similar endearing thoughts for the things you create. Well, so here’s the second one that I would like to share them with you all.

In The Joy Luck Club, Amy Tan presents an engaging description of the mother-daughter relationship through the employment of the concept of “othering” that is treated as an extension of the self. In spite of knowing the difference and in spite of othering her mother, the daughter Jing-mei Woo is put into situations that serve as a bridge or rather as a foundation for an extension of the self to be built in the future. At the opening of the section, Feathers from a Thousand Li Away, Jing-mei or June Woo says, “My father has asked me to be the fourth corner at the Joy Luck Club. I am to replace my mother, whose seat at the mah jong table has been empty since she died two months ago.” (5). Even though she has always considered herself different from her mother who is a Chinese woman, and even though she is a very “Americanized daughter”, yet she is to take her mother’s place after the former’s demise, in the business her mother created.

Amy Tan beautifully sketches the intricacies of a Chinese mother-American daughter relationship, which of course is founded on the strong emotions of love and companionship but however, both are able to understand their difference, which is huge indeed. In the preface to the section, the mother, Suyuan Woo is found recalling something from the past as she fled from China in expectance of a better life in America, where she, even before reaching America imagines about having a daughter. She thinks, “In America I will have a daughter just like me. But over there nobody will say her worth is measured by the loudness of her husband’s belch. Over there nobody will look down on her, because I will make her speak only perfect American English. And over there she will always too full to swallow any sorrow! She will know my meaning, because I will give her this swan – a creature that became more than what was hoped for.” (4). The entire story seems to be revolving around these lines. Suyuan wanted a daughter in American to be “like her” and at the same time to be different, as in, she should be more American and speak “perfect American English”. It is evident that Suyuan wanted a daughter to be much better than her and to see a much better life than hers, to be independent and to not be looked down upon by others, or be rendered importance according to her husband’s status. However, her daughter, June Woo grew up to be very different from herself, probably something that Suyuan secretly wanted.

Later in the preface, Tan writes, “Now the woman was old. And she had a daughter who grew up speaking only English and swallowing more Coca-Cola than sorrow” (4). She is different. But the whole thing comes around to Suyuan after her demise, when her daughter is asked to take her place. The entire life’s experience of the mother-daughter duo that was based on difference and otherness, is invalidated at this point. June states, “…she died just like a rabbit: quickly and with unfinished business left behind” (5). And it seems that the “unfinished business” resonates with Suyuan’s original wish to see herself in her future-daughter and reminds of her initial thoughts, “In America I will have a daughter just like me” (5) – “an extension of herself.”

Disillusionment, reality, hope and control in The Middleman

When I read Bharati Mukherji’s The Middleman and Other stories, I could relate with the varied experiences her characters are faced with. She is a second generation Indian-American writer. And by that I mean, her family is from India and that she is not a native American. Its a very common misunderstanding of the term, “Indian-American”, it seems. Why I got interested in writing about those experiences of the fictional, yet supposedly real life characters of Mukherjee, is because of the very fact that the book is brimmed up with extreme realistic encounters of these characters with the world they lived in. I published this article in a journal but I still wanted to keep all of my writings in one dedicated place, and at the same time, share them with everyone out there. My blog seemed to be the best option. So, here we go…

In The Middleman Bharati Mukherjee presents an intriguing discourse of the ideas of disillusionment, displacement and merciless realism, on one hand, and acceptability, hope and control, on the other, in a world that is engaged in an amalgamation of various cultures and ethnicity. The people of her stories thrive between complete disillusionment and hope and thereafter create meaning that they are still able to procure from the confusion and instability around. Through personal encounters of the characters, Mukherjee depicts numerous stories that present ambiguity, as well as, purpose for the people who come to America in search of possibilities. However, in this kind of a world where there is paucity of clear meaning, the ones that survive have to be moulded into multiple worlds at the same time. In The Middleman, the protagonist, Alfie Judah, is suggestively, a “Middleman” who survives the alarums and excursions of an unstable world such as depicted, with the audacity to be a part of the vices and virtues equally well, without carrying the guilt of it.

The Middleman is the representative of a compulsive survivor who is equipped with the only instrument of survival in a world that is constantly engaged in destruction of expectations and aspirations. And that instrument is his diligence in maintaining a “balance” between experiences of displacements accompanied by a strong desire of holding on to traditions, and, at the same time, moulding into new cultures – of drastic paralyzing realism, as well as, an act of buying hope and control of one’s own life. Alfie describes his experiences of this chaos as, “There are only two seasons in this country, the dusty and the wet. I already know the dusty and I’ll get to know the wet” (3), as if there is no hope, and yet he further states, “I’ll learn the ropes” (3), in an almost Darwinian overtone, indicating to the almost certain possibilities lurking underneath. He demonstrates, not only the desire to survive, but also carries the insight of keeping the American dream alive, even though through the vices of criminality and deceit. In spite of the fact that things go swirling into the dark, yet there is no complete disillusionment for him and for other people like him. There seems to persist a compulsive sense of control and hope. It is as if even though one is subjected to the most pressing demands of the chaotic world one lives in, yet one is still able to find meaning and purpose. The American dream here is shadowed, but yet it still functions under these shadows.  

Mukherjee presents hope in the direst situations and also suggests a methodology that could work in a world like this. And that is to stay in the “middle” as Alfie does, and constantly strike a balance between the different worlds. Between the worlds in discussion, the acquired and the cultural, she negates nothing. And finally, it seems that hope, acceptance of the newness and awareness of the mechanisms of control is all that matters at the end. Alfie, Mukherjee’s victorious hero, seems to be carrying the characteristic features of a person who champions the ways of thriving perfectly well in the face of discord and chaos. He is seen thinking at the end of the story, “In the next few days when I run out of food, I will walk down the muddy road to San Vincette, to German bar with the pay phone: I’ll wear Clovis’s brave cap and I’ll salute the Indians. “Turtle eggs,” I’ll say. “Number One,” they’ll answer back.” (21). He is seen finally giving a piece of the writer’s philosophical mind, when he thinks, “There must be something worth trading in the troubles I have seen” (21). This thought particularly aims at suggesting that hope remains even in the most disarming situations, even at someone’s death – an existential mechanism bearing an almost optimistic view of life – a perfectly demonstrated balance between disillusionment and hope, displacement and acceptance, and, futility and meaning.