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RAGE AGAINST THE FORM: RESISTING OPPRESSIVE GENDER IDENTITY IN THE WORK OF CARSON MCCULLERS, TONI MORRISON AND JEFFREY EUGENIDES BY CHELSEE COLE PAYNE A Thesis Submitted to the Division of Humanities New College of Florida in partial fulfillm ent of the requirements for the degree Bachelor of Arts Under the sponsorship of Dr. Miriam Wallace Sarasota, Florida May, 2011
i i This thesis is dedicated to my mother, the strongest woman I know.
i ii Acknowledgements Thank you Professor Wallace. Over the past four years, Professor Wallace has fulfilled the role of teacher, adviser, therapist, confidante and fr iend. I am forever indebted to her for the wisdom she has provided both inside and outside of the classroom. Thank you. For everything. I owe thanks to Professor Dimino, Professor Myhill and Professor cram into my brain. Their classes helped shape me as a student, but also as a thoughtful and insightful individual. I need to thank New College. These past four years have been the most challenging and unique of my life thus far. I have met some of the m
iv RAGE AGAINST THE FORM: RESISTING OPPRESSIVE GENDER IDENTITY IN THE WORK OF CARSON MCCULLERS, TONI MORRISON AND JEFFREY EUGENIDES Chelsee Cole Payne New College of Florida 2011 ABSTRACT The thesis investigates specific ideas of gendered identity in three separate periods and three separate regions in the United States. It focuses on the way gendered identity is imagined and resisted in Carson The Ballad of Sad Caf The Bluest Eye and Middlesex I an alyze how these concepts are created and enforced in society and through literary forms. Chapter o ne female ideal, circa mid form. McCullers complicates
v racter of Miss Amelia. Chapter t wo looks at the white ideal of feminine beauty from the perspective of young, black girls and the way in which society projects a racially specific idea of proper femal e identity. Chapter three examines the inability of the male/female, masculine/feminine binary of social thinking to fully account for Callie/Cal in Middlesex The contemporary text depict s the life of a self identified enabling a reconsideration of the bifurcated sex/gender assumptions within Western culture through the epic In each chapter, a parallel is drawn between the story and the text: the form, too, is a place where the author can find innovation. Dr. Miriam Wallace Humanities Division
vi T a b l e o f C o n t e n t s Acknowledgements....iii Abstract...iv Introduction..1 1 : Co me one, Come all! : Carson McCullerss The Ballad of Sad Caf ... 2 : (L)Imitation of Life : Toni Morrisons Th e Bluest Eye ....43 3 : Bridging the Gap : Jeffrey Eugenidess Middlesex .....84 Conclusions..120 Bibliography
1 I n t r o d u c t i o n Rage against the Form investigates oppressive versions of femininity and resistance to those molds through carefully chosen works that engage popular narrative genres. The thesis examines three key works, exploring constraints on fema le au tonomy: Carson McCullerss The Ballad of Sad Caf, Toni Morrisons The Bluest Eye and Jeffrey Eugenidess Middlesex A central question resonates within each chapter, guiding discussion and implicating conclusions: What is normal and how is the normal b oth made and resisted? Engagement with popular form reveals an important connection between word and power. Play with form provides a space in which authors can engage and fight individual constraints on a conceptual level, allowing for the text to possess a power often denied to the characters. In The Ballad of Sad Caf, Carson McCullers re imagines the ballad in the context of the American South, queering the popular form with tenets of the Southern grotesque. McCullers engages the predominantly Europea n folk form with the interracial song of the chain gang. The Bluest Eye engages with different forms of popular media both Hollywood films and the ubiquitous Dick and Jane reader in an effort to critique conventions of femininity that erase and oppress bl ack girls in specific ways. Morrison tackles an oppressive form in the novel, re working its construction to create a new,
2 more inclusive story. In Middlesex engagement with form provides a way for the protagonist to find his voice. The epic tradition ser ves as a way for Cal/Callie to understand his own life. The first chapter discusses the historical and social constraints on femininity in Carson McCullers s novella, The Ballad of Sad Cafe The chapter examines the specific historical and cultural factor s that promote the concept of an acceptable female form and the way in which McCullers negotiates these restrictions using the grotesque genre. The grotesque serves as a conduit through which McCullers can individually etch he r own subversive niche in the annals of Southern literature and, thus, Southern history. Through a genre known for its blood, its gore and its freakishness, McCullers is able to test the limits of Southern femininity by using the characteristics of the grotesque genre to jar and contor t the idealized Southern feminine The main character, Miss Amelia, deviates from the ideal female. The chapter discusses the inherent possibilities within McCullers s text, noting the ways in which queering the female form prompt s a different way to ima gine femininity. The second chapter focuses on the relationship between race, femininity and identity in Toni Morrisons The Bluest Eye The images and ideas of white, Southern femininity already attacked in Chapter One are contrasted with Morrisons repr esentations of African American femininity. The chapter examines implicit and explicit limitations on
3 African American female identity within the 1940s and today. The Dick and Jane readers were an educational tool used to teach children to read, but effect ually created a specific, racial image of America. Hollywood films exemplified this racial attitude on the silver screen for consumption. Exploration of the se constraints clarifies how these restrictions limit personal autonomy. Characters exemplify the de bilitating effects of a Caucasian ideal on black girls in Pecola, but also a challenge to those restrictions in Claudia. Morrisons painful tale calls for a more promising future. The third chapter shifts the focus, examining the sex/gender binary within W estern society. The chapter enables valuable commentary on the current debate regarding gender identity. Jeffrey Eugenides s novel Middlesex promotes a dialogue about the importance of the individual in the decision about personal identification. Eugenides s novel implies an important connection between the individual and the power of storytelling. The main character, a self identified hermaphrodite, serves as metaphorical bridge upon which the reader can negotiate the influence of the sex/gender binary o n individual existence. Eugenides physically contorts the idealized form and the expectations subsumed with gender binaries to prompt the reader to re evaluate the extent to which these expectations are ingrained in society Moreover, the ways in which the se expectations are physically and implicitly policed. The fight against injustice is only possible through self definition.
4 Examining the restraints that limit gendered identity (historical, biological, social, educational, etc) invites the reader to a d eeper understanding of the fundamental organizing principles of oppression. Awareness of the power structure enables the possibility of change. These authors provide us with snapshots of individuals under constraints, and their attempts at deviating from t he norm, forcing us to examine how the normal is constructed and disseminated. ! ! !
5 1 : C o m e o n e c o m e a l l Carson McCullerss novella The Ballad of Sad Caf explores the confines of feminine identity. Effectually, McCullers contorts cultural signifiers of femininity to reveal the levels of oppression that exist within society; t his is achieved through experimentation with culturally and historically prescribed gender characteristics. McCullers uses tenets of the grotesque genre and the physica l bodies of her characters to engage the organizing principles of Southern society and gendered identity. The Ballad of Sad Caf details the trials and tribulations its protagonist, Miss Amelia, who lives in a small rural Southern town. The narrator begin s the story reflecting on the dull scene about town. According to the narrator, the town wasnt always so boring, it once had a caf. The narrator lists three key members of the cafs creation, introducing the reader to main characters of the ensuing stor y: Miss Amelia, the hunchback Cousin Lymon, and Miss Amelias former husband, Marvin Macy. The narrator turns back the clock, and details the creation and destruction of the caf, thereby telling the tale of Miss Amelia herself. Miss Amelia is described as the richest woman in town. She runs the town store, operates a liquor production business (the town still), and owns mortgages on crops around town. Since her fathers death,
6 Miss Amelia has lived alone, except for a brief ten day stint when she was marri ed to Marvin Macy, which ended in his leaving town. Ever since, however, she has been on her own. One night, she meets a hunchback outside of her store who claims to be her long lost kin. Although Miss Amelia doesnt particularly care for other people, sh e invites the hunchback in. Miss Amelia takes care of the hunchback and soon falls in love with him. The hunchback completely alters Miss Amelias life; his presence allows for the town store to evolve into the notorious caf nostalgically recalled by the narrator. Everyones life is abruptly altered when Marvin Macy comes back to town. The hunchback falls in love with Marvin, thwarting Miss Amelias love. Despite several attempts to retain the love of the hunchback, Miss Amelias unrequited love results in her demise: she fights Marvin Macy, but loses when Cousin Lymon treacherously leaps on her back hampering her ability to fight. Macy and the hunchback steal her money and then ransack and destroy her properties. Miss Amelia never recovers from the inciden t and, according to the narrator, her grey face can still be spotted staring from the one un boarded window of the ramshackle shell of the old caf. Storytelling There is a definitive connection between storytelling and the title of McCullerss text, met a literarily self defined as a ballad. The Oxford
7 English Dictionary defines the ballad as, A light, simple song of any kind; (now) spec a sentimental or romantic composition. Another possible definition provides a contextual intent specific to the ba llad form, A popular, usually narrative, song spec. one celebrating or scurrilously attacking persons or institutions. In The Ballad of Sad Caf, McCullers deviates from the original ballad form, modifying conventional tenets for a twentieth century adap tation. True to ballad form, McCullers creates a story of love, but it isnt merely idyllic or pastoral romance; instead, McCullers uses the ballad form to reveal the pains and inequality of love. While the text isnt presented as a musical riff, a regiona lly specific melody resounds clearly in the beginning and end of the story: the song of the chain gang. Here, the music isnt just melodic accompaniment, but, rather, an integral element of the story. The blending of the grotesque genre with the ballad for m creates a folktale in which the different forms complement each other: grotesque exaggerations enhance the implicit attack on gender norms in the South. Thus, t he process of storytelling is an integral component to McCullerss play with oppres sive femini ne ideals. Within the text, storytelling becomes metonymically bound to the creation of master narratives in society. McCullers reveals the power of imposing societal narratives through the narrators reflections. The text juxtaposes the overarching concep ts of normalcy implied by the narrator with explicitly aberrant characters in an effort to reveal these societal tropes. The plot line
8 of Miss Amelia attacks the institution of gender bias as historically and culturally imposed in Southern culture. The eff ect is not merely the pinpointing of unnatural differences, but a reflection on what mak es them different questioning the master narrative of normal that defines an individuals life, and prompting new possibilities of existence beyond the confines of sa id narrative. From the onset, McCullers establishes the text as a story, through an almost oral narratorial style. Within the text, this is confirmed by the third person omniscient narration. The narrator is presented to the reader as existing within the present, retelling the story with the knowledge of hindsight. This idea is expressed through the storys veneer of r ealistic portrayal; the narrator seems to be retelling the story of an actual event rather than creating a fanciful tale. In the beginning, the reader is figuratively dropped in the middle of a deserted road, fac ing a dilapidated building in small town U.S.A. The narrator makes a point to enhance the oddity of the setting, Otherwise the town is lonesome, sad, and like a place that is far off and estranged from all other places in the world (McCullers 397). However, the rural community in which this story takes place is not beyond the capacity of the cultural imagination about the South. The reader is not forced to imagine a mythical castle, o r a land of clouds and rainbows. The imaginary milieu of the story can find actual corollary in the real world ; the world of the story is not beyond imagination as existing in the readers present day world present day of
9 both the time in which the story w as written, as well as today for modern readers. In addition to the naturalistic setting, the language of the text furthers the idea of non fiction practicality. This notion is implied through something as simple as verb tense. The story begins, The town itself is dreary (McCullers 397). From the beginning, the narrator is situated in a town as it presently exists. The narrator reflects, The caf has long since been closed, but it is still remembered (398). A shift in time occurs after this statement t he reader is transported from present to past, from observation to remembrance. This idea is symbolized in the verb tense: the present situation becomes a reflection on the past. The shift is marked through the opening line of the next paragraph, The plac e was not always a caf (398). The text continues in past tense, but there are certain moments that remind the reader that the narrator is situated in what one can assume to be present day. An example of this can be found in the beginning of the text when the hunchback first arrives. The narrator explains, Then quietly [Henry Macy] left the bottom step and disappeared. He is a good soul, and the hunchbacks situation had touched his heart (401). The difference between past and present tense in the two se ntences tempts the reader to understand that Henry Macy is an actual person who exists beyond the limits of this story: he did this at one point in time, he is a good person. The seemingly authentic setting and verb
10 tense promote a reading that resonates i n the world in which the reader resides. Tales that exist merely within the realm of imagination allow for a suspension of belief, an understanding that the rules by which one lives his/her life in society do not have to hold true in the story. The reality of the story dictates the lens by which one reads and judges the story; one comprehends the world of the story in accordance to the world of the reader a world shaped by societal norms. The real space of the story is war ped, however, by the characters t hat populate the text: these are a multitude of figures that evoke the cultural imagination about carnivals and sideshows. McCullers fills her story with individuals one would associate with traveling freak shows : hun chbacks, hermaphrodite figures, multi ples. The freak is associated historically with the sideshow, where, throughout the nineteent h and early twentieth century, women, people of colo r and those with developmental and physical disabilities here exhibited as human curiosities for entertainm ent and profit (Adams 556). Throughout time, the images associated with these freak shows have become culturally iconic figures of aberration. Even in the twenty first century, freak shows are sometimes facets of fairs and carnivals. Modern examples of th e cultural obsession with difference associated with the idea of the freak show are Ripleys Believe It or Not and Guinness Book of World Records In both, difference is markedly physical and established as spectacle. In the modern age, television allows t he spectacle to be mass
11 marketed and available for visual consumption beyond a specific region. The spectacle of the freak show thus persists into the modern day, making McCullerss tale applicable and fresh, despite the tone of nostalgia and a Southern pa st. T he juxtaposition of a real space with individuals who defy our expectations of normal facilitates a sideshow esque experience for the reader; the exaggerated physical abnormalities of the characters create an oppositional divi de between reader and character. The effect of storytelling is essentially that of the gaze of the sideshow onlooker T he reader becomes a mental voyeur similar to being witness to a sideshow. The implication of reality within the text makes t he position of gazer to subject mor e dynamic because it brings the differences between the two to the forefront Through the observation of another entity, the reader is encouraged to turn that gaze upon himself/herself, upon the normal soci ety in which he/she participates. Through story telling, the narrator establishes the appropriate lens through which we should view these characters; the filtering of this understanding is contingent upon the way in which the story is told. An essential element of this perspective is the diction used. F or example, the text is replete with adjectives such as queer, strange, grotesque, peculiar and unholy. These adjectives become explicitly associated with Miss Amelia and the hunchback, like red flags signaling particular distinction.
12 These adjectives are ambiguous qualifiers that lack definitive meaning and hold the possibility of multiple meanings, multiple significances. The use of the adjective queer is particularly provocative in the text. The Oxford English Dictionarys definitions of queer are h eterogeneous and seemingly incongruent. For example, one definition: Strange, odd, peculiar, eccentric. Also: of questionable character; suspicious, dubious. The definition itself is strange and peculiar, implying that these qualities essentially, not n ormal are contemptible. Another definition relates queer to being out of sorts; unwell; faint, giddy, or simply, drunk. Yet another set of definitions link queer with homosexuality and same sex attraction. In her article, A Mixture of Delicious a nd Freak, Rachel Adams explores the role of the queer within McCullerss works. Freaks are beings who make those queer tendencies visible on the bodys surface (Adams 552). By using the word queer, a word with a myriad of diverse and different meani ngs, McCullers subverts a definitive categorization. The word queer taps into cultural sentiments toward difference curiosity, suspicion, illness or otherwise out of sorts. In the process of reading, the reader is prompted to evaluate the relevance of q ueer in the text: What does this word mean? How is it being used in the text? Adams writes, Queer, as McCullers employs it, poses a persistently messy obstacle to any systematic codification of behavior or desire (556). The
13 intrinsic peculiarity of the definition of queer mirrors the reaction of difference in the text. The lack of tidy definition poses as an intellectual dilemma for the reader; he/she is not provided with simple answers the reader must seek beyond the text, taking a hard look at the ro le of queer and normal, reflecting back upon his/her own culture. Patricia Yaegers discussion in Dirt and Desire is particularly helpful in making the big picture connection in regards to the way in which the word works as a mental register and how tha t understanding is affected by influential power principles in society: [O]ur cognitive structures, the ways we divide up the world, are not innocent schemes but internalized, embodied social structures that are chaotic and culpable; they help enforce the most savory oppositions between dominant and dominated. (Yaeger 134) The specificity of the tale is interesting in that it provides us a peek into a larger power dynamic. The Ballad of Sad Caf isnt culturally or historically isolated; rather, the st ory provides a particular case study by which to understand the multiple levels of dominance at work, particularly within Southern society. The grotesque bodies that Welty, McCullers, Walker, and OConnor invent may reflect the miniature blandishments of the private arena these bodies also connect us with the mess, indelicacy,
14 and legislated insensitivity of the public domains in which the multitudes operate (Yaeger 154). The narrators use of these adjectives shrouds both Miss Amelia and the hunchback in a fog of difference; the reader is forced to imagine these characters are distanced from the world around them. By dissecting the effect of the very words used in the text, it becomes apparent that the mode of storytelling can be understood as the creat ion of a dominant narrative for society. In the text, these characters lack their own voice and, instead, are cast in accordance to one particular point of view, the dominant view. Perception in the text, descriptions is multifaceted and idiosyncratic. Ess entially, the reader only receives the perception of the narrator, who serves as the mouthpiece for the community. By defining characters as queer, the narrator is sending a cognitive message to the reader: these characters do not fit. Therefore, the sto ry of Miss Amelia reflects the power of storytelling to reinforce societal rules and regulations: it is a master narrative. McCullerss grotesque manipulation of the characters is an attempt to make a statement beyond the realm of the story; Miss Amelia is a site of renegotiation of attributes in a society with strict guidelines for individual identity. Miss Amelia and the hunchbacks abnormal characterizations are further amplified by the narrators discussion of normal and natural things. An example of this is the juxtaposition between Miss Amelia and
15 her surroundings. The narrator describes, Inside [the store] it was bright and natural looking (McCullers 408). The cheerfully lighted office is open for mental comparison to the description of Miss Amelia detailed merely paragraphs before (408). This bright space is meant to be seen as a stark contrast to her dark and not natural appearance (407). Miss Amelia is meant to be read as aberrant. This characterization is also particular to the hunchba ck. The narrator describes the hunchback as a creature that was like nothing any man among them had ever beheld until that time (410). The hunchback is sharply compared to an ordinary man (410). The things he wears are queerly shaped and odd he wea rs a red and black checkered shirt, breeches and wraps his head in a green shawl. Early on in the text, the narrator provides the reader with the impression that there is something different about Miss Amelia. This difference is due largely in part becau se of her physical appearance Miss Amelia is not an average woman. Her physical appearance is depicted as not in accordance with the conventional gender binary of masculine and feminine characteristics. This concept is promulgated within the beginning of t he text, She was a dark, tall woman with bones and muscles like a man (McCullers 398). Miss Amelias physique is a constant preoccupation throughout the text. In addition to her muscular physique setting her apart, the narrator also discusses her above a verage height: [I]n youth, she had grown to be six feet two inches tall which in itself is
16 not natural for a woman (407). The readers perception of Miss Amelia is effectively controlled by the narrators influence. In accordance to societal standards of feminine physicality, Miss Amelia is not normal. She might have been a handsome woman if, even then, she was not slightly cross eyed (398). Miss Amelias eyes become signifiers for her difference as the text progresses. On several occasion throughout th e text, the narrator explicitly references her crossed eyes as queer (419, 430, 439). The repetition of the same phrase embeds the idea into the reader s mind, effectively molding the readers awareness of Miss Amelia as a marked character the narrator met aphorically hits the reader over the head with Miss Amelias difference. Mikhail Bakhtins theory of the grotesque offers one framework for understanding the way in which the grotesque genre is effective in responding to the historically informed female i deal. According to Bakhtin carnivals were integral aspects of individuals lives in the Middle Ages Carnivals allowed for the blending of high and low culture, or official and unofficial realms (Vice 150). The intent of the carnival was to conflate t he authoritative with the ordinary. Carnival profanation consists of a whole system of carnivalistic debasing and brings down to earth, to the level of the body (152). The carnival is a direct refutation of normative restrictions on bodily procedures, confronting the fear and disgust commonly associated with such displays of human life. The private functions of the body became public presentations of humanity: the
17 body is a source of life and bodily functions are manifestations of the life cycle. Sue Vi ce explains the connection between the carnivalesque and the grotesque genre: The long history of carnival led to the development of a rich idiom of related symbols, which were characterized by the pathos of change and renewal and the gay relativity o f prevailing truths and authorities (Vice 154) The grotesque genre effectively incorporates aspects of the carnivalesque atmosphere into literature. Vice explains that the presence of the grotesque in literature is, opposed to all forms of high art and literature (155). The retaliation against high art results in an abundance of bodily representation, in Bakhtins words, degradation. 1 The grotesque body in literature serves as a perfect site to inscribe these carnivalesque characteristics in an effor t to express the ideas against which it is rebelling. The body is a site upon which the physical manifestation of gender identification is made apparent to society. T he classical body becomes representative of the ideal; the grotesque represents a defiance of limits. The classical body, thus, serves as a template for comparison in understanding the way in which McCullers uses the grotesque to contest specific ideals of Southern femininity. !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! V i c e p r o v i d e s a u s e f u l s u m m a r y o f B a k h t i n s c o n c e p t o f d e g r a d a t i o n : T o d e g r a d e a l s o m e a n s t o c o n c e r n o n e s e l f w i t h t h e l o w e r s t r a t u m o f t h e b o d y t h e l i f e o f t h e b e l l y a n d t h e r e p r o d u c t i v e o r g a n s ; i t t h e r e f o r e r e l a t e s t o a c t s o f d e f e c a t i o n a n d c o p u l a t i o n c o n c e p t i o n p r e g n a n c y a n d b i r t h D e g r a d a t i o n d i g s a b o d i l y g r a v e f o r a n e w b i r t h ( V i c e 1 5 5 )
18 In her article, Revisiting the Southern Grotesque, Sarah Gleeson W hite leans on Bakhtin s theory of the grotesque to shape a positive outlook on the Southern grotesque genre. Gleeson White notes common theoretical perspectives about the genre, which often see the grotesque as purely negative: The grotesque worlds of sou thern literature, it is argued, allegorize the human condition itself as existential alienation and angst (Gleeson White 108). In her argument, Gleeson White specifically focuses on the role of the body within Bakhtin s theory, recognizing his emphasis on corporeal contortion (110). Gleeson White claims, The grotesque, then, by its very nature unnerves the world of classic identity and knowledge, for it tests the very limits of the body and thus of being (110). The aberrant body is, thus, the transgres sive body. The carnivalesque grotesque, then, is a strategy of resistance (110). For McCullerss text, the grotesque body is in direct opposition to the idealized female of Southern culture. The narrators depiction of Miss Amelia relies upon specific h istorical and cultural implications of expected feminine attributes. Within the cultural imagination the Anglo Saxon ideal of femininity was imbedded within the image of a statue. The body of the privileged white woman was revered as a marble statue, a G recian urn (Gleeson White, "A Peculiarly Southern Form 47). 2 Here the female form is static and !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! # S a r a h G l e e s o n W h i t e i s q u o t i n g A n n e G o o d w y n J o n e s s a s s e s s m e n t o f t h e h i s t o r y o f S o u t h e r n f e m a l e i d e n t i t y J o n e s r e l a t e s t h e f e m a l e f o r m t o A n g l o S a x o n i d e a l s o f
19 enclosed. The high body is affilia ted with the classic, statue representation, like a marble effigy Greek and Roman statures are representative of classi cal aesthetics (Vice 156). The classic body is closed; notions of human functions denied. [A]s Bakhtin points out, inner processes of absorbing and ejecting were not revealed in the classical body (157) that is, functions such as excretory, sweat, vo mit, drinking or eating, menstruating, or other boundary crossing ingestion or passing are excluded from the ideal body and thrust onto the grotesque body. The grotesque body, or the low body, is a body of excess, and so it queries borders and neat cate gories it is a body in flux (Gleeson White Revisiting, 110). The grotesque body, thus, inherently challenges the ideological view of the classical body. Bakhtin contends, Classic aesthetics are as sociated with the ready made [. ] the finished, completed man, cleansed, as it were, of all the scoriae of birth and development (Vice 156) Statues are impermeable nothing goes in and nothing goes out. On a very basic level, men and women have different bodily fluids. To generalize the fluxes of the human body is deny the specificity of fear related to gendered excess. The comparison of women to statues has multiple implications for sexuality and human nature. On the one hand, the implicit awareness of closed orifices denies the possibility of female sexuality. !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!! p a t r i a r c h y a n d c o n t r o l T h e c o n c e p t i o n o f t h e f e m a l e f o r m i n r e l a t i o n t o f r a g i l e c e r a m i c s c a l l s t o m i n d n o t i o n s o f f r a g i l i t y a n d t h u s t h e n e e d f o r m a l e p r o t e c t i o n
20 Woman as statue means woman as object to be visually enjoyed, not touched or penetrated; l ike a statue, the woman, too, is revered as an object a pristine and delicate entity. The statue is contained and pure. The idea of woman as object disall ows the possibility of seeing the female as a living being. Throughout history, women have been feared for their status as leaky vessels 3 literally uncontainable and, therefore, unable to be controlled. Women are constantly excreting a reminder of their animal ity blood, excrement, urine, breast milk. Reification of the female form is a solution to this concern. Evidences of this idea are inherent with Southern literature in the twentieth century. For example, the notion of female filth is represented in the character Caddy in William Faulkners in The Sound and the Fury (1929). Caddy is rebellious and independent as a child, but just as she dirties her underpants as a child while playing in the branch, she soils her and her familys reputation through he r sexual activity. The crux of the issue within the novel stems from Caddys sexual awakening. Caddys dirty underpants become emblematic within her brothers minds of her impurity. When Caddy is seen kissing Charlie she loses her innocent attribute, smell ing like trees, for her brother Benjy. In The Redneck Way of Knowledge (1995) Blanche McCrary Boyd explores what it means to be a Southern woman in the post agrarian, !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! $ F o r a m o r e d e t a i l e d h i s t o r y o f t h e t e r m l e a k y v e s s e l s : P a s t e r G a i l K e r n T h e B o d y E m b a r r a s s e d N e w Y o r k : C o r n e l l U n i v e r s i t y P r e s s 1 9 9 3 P r i n t
21 capitalistic Southern society Boyd recognizes the evolution of this fear and its conne ction with Southern femininity. For example, Boyd titles a subsection of one story after the age old Southern maxim, Horses Sweat, Men Perspire, Women Glisten. Here Boyd nods at specifically at Southern cultures preoccupation with female excretion and t he denial of the reality that women too sweat The Ballad of Sad Caf falls between these two texts, originally printed in 1951. The issues raised by the use of the grotesque are not isolated historically, but, rather, represent a tenuous preoccupation w ithin Southern culture. The scope of this concern with unfeminine oozing exceeds regional or cultural borders. Fear related to female excretion is a preoccupation even today. Contemporary tampon commercials discuss menstruation in terms of innuendo. In on e ad, a girl comments on the different marketing ploys used in feminine hygiene product commercials, images that deny any signs of a period at all. The actor talks about the symbolic use of blue liquid to indicate absorbency, The ads on TV are really help ful because they use that blue liquid and Im like, oh, thats whats supposed to happen! The color red is noticeably absent from most commercials. While the U ads seem to be taking a progressive step to speaking honestly about the actual experience of me nstruation, fear of the vagina and direct discussion of female body function is pertinent in what the commercial isnt saying. A commercial in defense of an honest discussion about female menstruation without the distraction of flashy
22 colors and coded lang uage is, essentially, reduced to another coded conversation. The fear even in the twenty first century is all too present, all too real. While there is a specific history regarding female excretion in the Southern cultural conscience, these examples illumi nate the fact that the fear still persists and resonates with a twenty first century audience. McCullers never explicitly states that Miss Amelia menstruates in the story, but deviations of the ideal female image are within this vein of this historical and cultural fear surrounding the female body. The fluxes of Miss Amelias body are coded as male: exceedingly tall, bulging muscles, calloused hands. Concern over her body represents a gendered concern over bodily fluxes. The issues raised by McCullerss tex t are still pertinent for todays reader. Patricia Yaeger expands upon Gleeson Whites use of Bakhtinian theory, contending, [T]he gnarling of the southern grotesque offers another index altogether: a space for reading the way that bios is determined by history (Yaeger 221). Yaeger draws a direct line between history and the way in which one views the body; noting the evolution of abjection 4 Yaegers definition of the grotesque makes the connection between micro and macro levels, specifying the way soci eties work, not !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 4 J u l i a K r i s t e v a s t h e o r y o f t h e g r o t e s q u e i s c o n t i n g e n t u p o n a s e n s e o f a b j e c t i o n o r a f e a r o f h u m a n e x c e s s E v i d e n c e s o f b o d i l y f l u x e s l i k e b o d i l y f l u i d s r e p r e s e n t a d a n g e r o u s t r a n s g r e s s i o n o f b o u n d a r i e s ( V i c e 1 6 4 )
23 merely reflecting on [S]ociety (with a capital letter) as a vague construct of organizing principles. The effect of McCullerss work, therefore, isnt a mere reflection backwards, but a realization of certain constraints that endure on and affect a modern readers own day to day. Ideals of Southern femininity reflect bigger picture fears about race and gender power dynamics. Unlike [the British Victorian women], the southern lady is at the core of a regions self definition; the identity of the South is contingent in part upon the persistence of its tradition of the lady (Yeager 120). 5 The Southern female became emblematic of both racial purity and masculine dominance for a region that understood itself as conquered but nobly resistant. As southern myth, the fragile white body helps motivate (1) southern modes of population control, reproducing black and white populations as separate, (2) the regulated segregation of these racial bodies in space, and (3) the need for deeply interiorized c ategories of racism that will do the work of segregation. (Yaeger 120) The role of the body in the inscription of racial implications can also be extended to include gender politics. The body is the literal manifestation of Southern principles. Yaeger expl ains the importance of corporeal manipulation, contending that it reveals, [T]he complex !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 5 P a t r i c i a Y a e g e r t o o i s c i t i n g A n n e G o o d w y n J o n e s s f i g u r a t i o n o f t h e h i s t o r i c a l S o u t h e r n w o m a n
24 connections between the bodys intimacies and its civic demands (Yaeger 153). Thus, female identity becomes intricately bound to the South. To use Yaegers term, the reification of femininity enables a physical space upon which a specific Southern identity is inscribed, an identity that is specifically dominated by white, male individuals. Miss Amelia physically defies historical imperative her body stretches beyon d the idealized feminine mold. The idea of the Southern woman has become a cultural icon Miss Amelia is no Scarlett OHara. The narrator works in accordance to the societal standards for femininity; Miss Amelias body is not natural for a woman. The typica l Southern belle is expected to be a slender, clean little beauty The narrator provides the reader with a typical female figure in the discussion about the other girls of Miss Amelias age that Marvin Macy could have chosen to be his wife. The narrator describes these girls as clean haired and soft eyed with tender sweet little buttocks and charming ways. gentle young girls (McCullers 419). The description of these women serve as a sharp contrast to the queer and powerful blunderbuss of a person tha t is Miss Amelia (417). Miss Amelias very body rejects the tenderness and fragility of these young women, of according to the narrator their naturalness. Miss Amelias physical description in the text jars the readers own perceptions about the female fo rm. In the text, Miss Amelias difference is peculiar and strange, as implied by the narrator. This difference, however,
25 can be viewed in relation to a position of individual power. Miss Amelia is an independent woman: Miss Amelia was rich. In addition to the store she operated a still three miles back in the swamp, and ran out the best liquor in the county (McCullers 398). The narrator reiterates her material wealth merely a paragraph later, Mortgages on crops and property, a sawmill, money in the bank she was the richest woman for miles around (399). The discussion of her wealth parallels the discussion of her gender queerness. The extent of her wealth is also emphasized at the end of the text after the fight, wherein the narration slips into list form detailing Cousin Lymon and Marvins destruction of her property. They unlocked the private cabinet of curios and took everything in it. They broke the mechanical piano. They carved terrible words in the caf tables (McCullers 455) The list continues on, detailing their destruction of items Miss Amelia owns. The list form enhances the implication of Miss Amelias wealth and documents her complete destruction as woman and proprietor. In the world of the text, Miss Amelias line of work facilitates mus cle development. She participates in a world not limited to the four walls of a domestic sphere. Instead, her strength enables her to actively
26 participate in a male dominated society she can engage in the physical work typically designated for men. While her height is presumably genetically determined, her body is a constructed tool, a physical manifestation of an internal determination and strength. Her corporeality distances her from female counterparts. Additionally, Miss Amelias actions are informed b y her job; actions that are not categorically lady like. For example, Miss Amelia ate slowly and with the relish of a farm hand. She sat with both elbows on the table, bent over her plate, her knees spread wide apart (McCullers 404). Her posture like a farm hand informs her identity and, because the role is archetypically masculine, Miss Amelias actions must be cast in accordance to a gendered perspective. Another example of this occurs when Miss Amelia attempts to warm herself by the fire. She did no t warm her backside modestly, lifting her skirt only an inch or so, as do most women in public.her red dress was pulled up quite high in the back so that a piece of her strong, hairy thigh could be seen (447). This example relegates her actions as decide dly unfeminine, like her body itself. Another curious facet of Miss Amelia is her overt shame associated with the female body. One of Miss Amelias many great talents is working as the town doctor, prescribing grassroots medicines and performing minor su rgeries. In the scope of the story, Miss Amelias medicinal treatments know no bounds, except for one. In the face of the most dangerous and extraordinary treatment she did not hesitate In this
27 there was one exception. If a patient came with a female com plaint she could do nothing (McCullers 409). Here, female issues are cast as the one thing Miss Amelia cannot face. The narrator depicts Miss Amelia as like a great, shamed, dumb tongued child when faced with a problem of that nature (409). It is sugges ted that Miss Amelias response may be due to the fact that she was raised solely by her father without maternal guidance. But the narrator does not provide a simple, final explanation for her fear, but the issue raises certain implications about gendered socialization. Miss Amelia is both female and yet resistant to the conventions of femininity. In her article, The Intolerable Burden of Femininity, Constante Gonzalez Groba argues that Miss Amelias reaction to female problems, seems to indicate, not so much an unconscious aversion to anything which reminds her of her repressed female sexuality, but rather a tragic inability to identify with a femaleness from which she has been physically and psychically excluded (Groba 144). Grobas theory is contingen t upon the way in which Miss Amelia was raised: a motherless daughter who is raised solely by her father. Without a female role model to identify with, Amelia could only imitate her fathers frenetic activity and commercial abilities. In spite of her unco nventional physique and her identification with male power, Amelia is expected to act like a woman (144). Grobas statement touches upon a theoretical hotspot: nature versus nurture. Relating back to the previous discussion of female excretion, there is a n implication that a proper male reaction to female excretion is disgust.
28 Raised by a man (and seemingly as a man in the context of the story), Miss Amelia reacts in a manner specifically masculine, suggesting the cultural fears discussed earlier. Essentia lly, individual behavior is coded along specific gender lines the idea that women and men are supposed to act a certain way isnt a novel idea. In the text, Miss Amelia doesnt conform to ideas of proper feminine behavior. In addition to behavior, a woman s physical body and the items that adorn it are loaded with cultural significance, allowing for a definable gender binary. [C]lothing holds the powerful allure of normalization the ability to cover over the bodys irregularity but at the same time it thr eatens to unveil the characters queer tendencies through their inability to wear it appropriately (Adams 558). Miss Amelias physical stature denies her the ability to be easily categorized as a female. Through explicit reference to the masculine nature of Miss Amelias body, the reader is prompted to re evaluate assumed gender characteristics. Beyond gender designations, Miss Amelias body and the clothing she wears can be understood as specific to her job. Often she spent whole nights back in her shed in the swamp, dressed in overalls and gum boots (McCullers 398). High heels and lipstick are not necessary accoutrement for hauling feed supplies and traversing muddy ditches. The clothing she wears on a daily basis is determined by her work, which is cat egorically male in nature.
29 An important example of this idea is represented in Miss Amelias red dress. While Miss Amelia adorns her body with a feminine signifier, her body forces the wearing of the dress to be awkward. The narrator describes, [H]er pec uliar red dress hanging awkwardly around her bony knees (McCullers 445). The dress symbolizes the performative aspect of gender a constructed, rather than natural imperative forced upon individuals in society. From new baby decorations, to ladies restroom signs, to advertisements on television, each individual is inculcated with this overarching idea of what it means to exist (naturally) in the world. The awkwardness of the dress hanging on her form is further amplified by the color. Red evokes ideas of se x and seduction in the cultural imagination: red is never a color associated with purity, cleanliness, or wholesomeness. The color of the dress makes her seem like a literal manifestation of a red flag of difference or a failed effort at presenting herself as a sexually available woman. Miss Amelias wedding dress is another example of a moment when she cannot (literally) fit into explicitly feminine attire. For her wedding, Miss Amelia wore her mothers wedding gown. The narrator explains, [It] was of y ellow satin and at least twelve inches too short for her (McCullers 421). Again, Miss Amelias body is markedly different from that of other women, even that of her own mother. Additionally, her physical behavior while wearing the dress also implies a sen se of unnaturalness or, in accordance to the narrators perspective, queer.
30 Miss Amelia obviously feels unnatural in the dress. As the marriage lines were read Miss Amelia kept making an odd gesture.She was reaching for the pocket of her overalls (421 ). Here, a natural action for her is highlighted by unnatural accoutrement. Miss Amelia wearing a dress represents a dramatic shift in character, a wholesale upheaval of her identity. It is important to note that both the red dress and the wedding dress a re worn for men. After the initial three day uproar over Cousin Lymons introduction to town and the subsequent opening of the caf, the narrator remarks on the physical changes that take place. The narrator explains, Now time must pass. Miss Amelia was the same in appearance. During the week she still work swamp boots and overalls, but on Sunday she put on a dark red dress that hung on her in a most peculiar fashion (McCullers 415). The red dress becomes associated with Cousin Lymon. This idea is furthe r elucidated when Macy comes back to town and Miss Amelia begins wearing the red dress every day. [A]fter the day of Marvin Macys arrival, she put aside her overalls and wore always the red dress (441). Miss Amelia changes herself for Cousin Lymon. The red dress becomes a physical harbinger of an ultimate transformation of character that takes place in Miss Amelia because of Cousin Lymon. For example, following the discussion of wearing the red dress every day, the narrator remarks But Miss Amelia seeme d to have lost her will; for the first time in her life she hesitated as to just what course to pursue (442). While not overtly stated, it is implied
31 that Miss Amelia is trying to fit a specific mold of femininity in an effort to acquire the hunchbacks l ove. Throughout the text, the hunchback is depicted through his bodily deformity as weakly and deformed (McCullers 415). Despite having an abnormal body, the narrator remarks, The hunchback was still a novelty and his presence amused everyone (McCulle rs 414). Later in the text, [I]t was the hunchback who was most responsible for the great popularity of the caf (429). The hunchbacks body makes him different, but the town is mesmerized by the difference. While Miss Amelia and the hunchback are charac terized similarly as marked by difference, there is a unique difference between their reception amongst the town and, more importantly, the narrator. A perfect example of this idea can be understood in the scene wherein the hunchback mirrors Miss Amelia. He crossed his eyes and aped her gestures in a way that made her appear to be a freak (449). The hunchback, as odd in town as Miss Amelia, is pointing out her freak status. In this scene, the reader is prompted to read gender aberration as more freakish than physical deformity. The hunchback is categorized as an aberrant character, but it is Miss Amelias difference that is the real preoccupation throughout the text. The hunchback serves as a visual spectacle, while Miss Amelia serves as a hindrance to s ocietal structure. As Adams explains, The Hermaphrodite has the potential to unravel the entire system of sexual categorization based on the distinction between male and female (Adams 559). More specifically, Miss
32 Amelias anomalous gender is threatening to the power sustained by an identifiable gender binary. The hunchback may not fit into societal expectations of normalcy, but his identity does not threaten to overthrow the whole system of male/masculine and female/feminine. The signifiers of sexual ide ntification allow for a gender binary that enables m asculine dominance and control. In terms of physical stature, the fragile and tiny bodies typically attributed to femininity are prone to manipulation and restraint by larger, stronger male counterparts. Miss Amelia never let Marvin Macy treat her as he treated those other little girls, These gentle young girls he degraded and shamed, suggesting that Miss Amelia and her strength hold some kind of odd attraction for Marvin Macy (McCullers 419). On the con trary, Miss Amelias strength enables her literally to fight Marvin Macy in the novellas climactic scene after Macys return from prison. The narrator remarks, Few people in this world could stand up to Miss Amelia (437). It is interesting to note that before the fight takes place, Miss Amelia makes a costume change, exchanging the red dress for her overalls. The function of the red dress is inconsistent with the actions Miss Amelia intends to perform. From the onset of the fight, the two participants a re cast as on par in terms of physical strength, There was no signal, but they both struck out simultaneously. Both blows landed on the chin they were left a little groggy (McCullers 453). The equal sparring on both sides, however, is
33 soon disrupted and a dramatic shift occurs. Marvin gets Miss Amelia in a headlock: For a while the fighters grappled muscle to muscle, their hipbones braced against each other. Backward and forward, from side to side, they swayed in this way (454). Here, the two individua ls (one male, one female) in this awkward dance of power are equals. Slowly, Miss Amelia overpowers Marvin, [I]t was Miss Amelia who was the stronger (454). The narrator makes explicit to the reader that Miss Amelia would have won if in that split second the hunchback had not attacked her and, by leaping on her back, caused her to lose her focus and the fight itself. Marriage The wedding between Macy and Miss Amelia is a central concern within the text. The marriage seems to be just as much a character i n the text as Miss Amelia or the hunchback. The narrators remarks about the marriage relegate it to the same aberrant realm that Miss Amelia and the hunchback inhabit. For example, in the beginning the narrator explains, [I]t was a strange and dangerous marriage this queer marriage (McCullers 398). Throughout the text, the narrator reflects on this marriage in a similar manner as the relationship between Miss Amelia and the hunchback. The queer characterization prompts the reader to re evaluate the r ole of marriage in society. Within the cultural imagination, marriage is a special union uniting two people in their love at least thats what
34 movies, shows, magazines, and wedding planners would want us to believe. In The Ballad of Sad Cafe the narrator s unique description of the relation between the lover and the beloved as one of inequality and hopeless longing signifies the curious state of Miss Amelias marriage to Marvin Macy. This idea of queerness is present in the narrators description of Mar vin Macys attitudes towards Miss Amelia prior to their wedding. The narrator explains, Marvin Macy chose Miss Amelia. That solitary, gangling queer eyed girl was the one he longed for. Nor did he want her because of her money, but solely out of love (Mc Cullers 419). The narrator works hard to deny the multiple other reasons as to why Marvin Macy would want to marry Miss Amelia, all reasons beyond the typical understanding of the purpose of marriage. This queer marriage supposedly based on love alone ( at least from Marvins standpoint) offers indirect commentary on the function of marriage in regards to the gender binary in society. This idea is present in the towns outlook on the marriage, [T]hey counted on the marriage to tone down Miss Amelias tem per, to put a bit of bride fat on her, and to change her at last into a calculable woman (McCullers 421). Here, the narrator is noting marriage as having a definable function in society, a sort of organizing principle. Marriage not only provides structure but also assures correct binary gender roles. Except that in this case it fails.
35 Love The narrator discusses at great length the idea of love. The narrator breaks down love for the reader, explaining, [L]ove is a joint experience between two persons b ut the fact that it is a joint experience does not mean that it is a similar experience to the two people involved. There are the lover and the beloved (McCullers 417). On the one hand, love is the one facet of human life that knows no boundaries and is u niversally possible: [T]his lover can be man, woman, child, or indeed any human creature on this earth (417). According to the narrator, the lover and beloved are by nature incompatible; the beloved cannot reciprocate the love felt towards him/her by the lover, and the lover is always demanding something of the beloved that he or she cannot give and resents. This notion of unrequited love is rampant throughout the story. There is an identifiable love triangle: Marvin Macy loves Miss Amelia, who loves the hunchback, who loves Marvin Macy. The narrator notes, The lover craves any possible relation with the beloved, even if this experience can cause him only pain (418). In the world of the story, one could simply say that love is pain; however, a deeper sub text persists. Love can bring pain and sorrow, but also enables happiness. Before Cousin Lymon, Miss Amelia cared nothing for the love of men and was a solitary person (McCullers 398). Love not only changed Miss Amelias life, it changed the whole town. Miss Amelias role as lover
36 facilitates the creation of the caf. This sentiment is implied in beginning of the narration, The caf has long since been closed, but it is still remembered (398). For Miss Amelia specifically, her love for Cousin Lymon res ults in an extreme alteration of character and brings a benefit to the town itself. This idea can be understood through analysis of the shift that occurs in her outlook on people. Before the hunchback comes into her life, Miss Amelia appreciates people onl y in relation to profit. People, unless they are nilly willy or very sick, cannot be taken into the hands and changed overnight to something worth while and profitable. So that the only use that Miss Amelia had for other people was to make money out of th em (398 9). The introduction of the hunchback into the text results in a sudden change of character. In the narration, the hunchback approaches the porch and wails at the steps. His appearance in the text seems to literally crack her stern and solitary na ture: Miss Amelia crossed the porch with two slow, gangling stridesGingerly, with one long brown forefinger, she touched the hump on his back (402). The extension of tenderness is mirrored by an extension of her individual wealth, an action uncommon for Miss Amelia: she offers the hunchback a sip of whiskey from a bottle stowed in her pocket. Miss Amelia could seldom be persuaded to sell her liquor on credit, and for her to give so much as a drop away free was almost unknown (402). Miss Amelia, the hun chback, and the men gathered on the steps drink whiskey into the night and then Miss Amelia performs another rare action, she invites Cousin Lymon into
37 her home to eat. Only a few times in her life had Miss Amelia invited anyone to eat with her, unless he was planning to trick them in some way, or make money out of them (404). Cousin Lymon feasted with Miss Amelia for free and without any sort of trickery. From that day on, the hunchback resided with Miss Amelia. After dinner, the two ascend the staircas e of Miss Amelias home to retire for the night. Few people had even seen these rooms (McCullers 405). The last image of this scene elucidates the bond formed between the two. As they climbed the stairs, [t]he hunchback hovered so close behind her that the swinging light made on the staircase wall one great, twisted shadow of the two of them (405). The image cast on the wall unites the two figures into one. The distorted image seems to foreshadow their imminent twisted fate, but the unity of the two c haracters cannot be denied. For most individuals in town, their reception of the hunchback was initially that of fear and disgust. Miss Amelias acceptance of the hunchback into her home caused a myriad of rumors to spread. It was a fierce and sickly tale the town built up that day. In it were all the things that caused the heart to shiver (McCullers 406). The next day, Cousin Lymon made his mark on the townspeople, squirming his way into their hearts. The interaction between Cousin Lymon and the men from town indicates another moment of change within Miss Amelia, a change that
38 serves as a catalyst for the opening of the caf. After purchasing alcohol from the store, Miss Amelia had always allowed the men from town to imbibe their purchased on the front st eps, never inside the store. Now for the first time she broke this rule (414). The breaking of this rule the dramatic shift in personal outlook and behavior on Miss Amelias behalf represents the opening of the caf. The caf brought great joy to the tow nspeople. The universal joy of the caf is implied in the tenets the narrator outlines: For the atmosphere of a proper caf implies these qualities: fellowship, the satisfaction of the belly, and a certain gaiety and grace of behavior (McCullers 414). In addition to serving as a fun and joyful meeting place, the caf provides a place of equality that seems incapable to achieve in the society in which these individuals live. In the caf, even the poorest of the townspeople were welcomed. Every night, Miss Amelia had a dinner prepared the one could buy, bottled drinks for a nickel, or Cherry Juice for a penny. The narrator reflects, There, for a few hours at least, the deep bitter knowing that you are not worth much in this world could be laid low (443). T he camaraderie made possible in the caf exceeded societal implications of individual worth. In addition to opening her home and her pocketbook, Cousin Lymons presence opened her heart. One example of this in the text is mentioned previously, the red dr ess. At other points in the text, the
39 narrator specifically remarks on her light and cheerful manner. There was a softness about her gray, queer eyes and she was smiling gently to herself (McCullers 430). In discussion of the autumn months, the narrator notes, During these weeks there was a quality about Miss Amelia that many people noticed. She laughed often and when she spoke [Cousin Lymons] name there lingered in her voice the undertone of love (434). Another expression of her love for Cousin Lymon is represented in her discussion of her father. Miss Amelia never mentioned her father to anyone else except Cousin Lymon. That was one of the ways in which she showed her love for him. He had her confidence in the most delicate and vital matters (427). According to the narration, her love for Cousin Lymon brings about the most positive time of her life and enables her to make connection with people outside of herself. In the text, love not only breaks the hard demeanor of Miss Amelia, but is also respo nsible for altering the character of Marvin Macy. The notorious bad boy in town is changed beyond recognition because of his undeniable love for Miss Amelia. And love changed Marvin Macy. Before the time when he loved Miss Amelia it could be questioned if such a person had within him a heart and soul (McCullers 419). Marvin Macy did anything and everything to win Miss Amelias heart, to seek her requited love. After the wedding day, when the marriage bed and Miss Amelias heart remained cold, Macy legal ly gave all his worldly possessions to Miss Amelia. In return, he receives a blow to the eye and is
40 kicked out of Miss Amelias house. Marvin Macy soon left town, his heart reeling from his unanswered love, and became a criminal, robbing banks until he was arrested. In the text, McCullers provides a way to understand the role of love in life through her inclusion of the chain gang. The chain gang begins and ends the story. The narrator explains, These August afternoons when your shift is finished there is absolutely nothing to do; you might as well walk down to the Forks Falls Road and listen to the chain gang (McCullers 397). After reflection on Miss Amelia and the cafs current sad state of affairs, the narrator again repeats the same phrase. The repet ition of a phrase within the novella signifies to the reader that this is important. The story concludes not with Miss Amelia, but with a separate section titled, THE TWELVE MORTAL MEN. The role of the chain gang can be understood in relation to McCulle rss manipulation of the ballad form. The typical format of the ballad as a love song is transferred here to the song of the chain gang: All day there is the sound of the picks striking into the clay earth, hard sunlight, the smell of sweat. And every day there is music. One dark voice will start a phrase, half sung, and like a question. And after a moment another voice will join in, soon the whole gang will be singing. The voices are dark in the golden glare, the music intricately
41 blended, both somber and joyfulJust twelve mortal men, seven of them black and five of them white boys from this country. Just twelve mortal men who are together. (McCullers 457 8) The men can be understood to represent the importance of community, just as the caf showed, or th e twisted shadow of Miss Amelia and Cousin Lymon going up the stairs. Despite being chained together, the men persist in their task, heaving their giant axes to chisel into the ground. As individuals, we are forced to work together, live together, commune together. Through our labors, we find moments that are somber and joyful. Even the chain gang can find moments of joy in their toil. Conclusions The Ballad of Sad Caf is a rich and deeply profound novella that enables a reading not only pertinent for a reader in the mid twentieth century, but also todays modern reader. Miss Amelia is a powerful female character who represents an alternative kind of womanhood despite her suffering and tragic end. Through her character, the reader is able to perceive th e different levels of oppression that persist in both the unconscious and conscious cultural imagination that demands certain manifestations of body, behavior, dress, and that offers in return an ideal of romantic love. The text not only begs the question, Who is this woman and what makes her so queer to the narrator? but also prompts an
42 element of self evaluation: In what way am I, too, affected by cultural sanctions of normalcy? What is normal? Aside from the gender implications, The Ballad of Sad Ca f details the fractured state of life; its not all happy endings, its a combination of happiness and sadness. Miss Amelia is negatively affected by her love for Cousin Lymon in the end, but her impact on the town will never be forgotten.
43 2 : L ( I ) m i t i a t i o n o f L i f e C a u s e y o u r e b l a c k F o l k s t h i n k y o u l a c k T h e y l a u g h a t y o u A n d s c o r n y o u t o o W h a t d i d I d o t o b e s o B l a c k A n d B l u e ? W h e n y o u a r e n e a r t h e y l a u g h a n d s n e e r S e t y o u a s i d e a n d y o u r e d e n i e d W h a t d i d I d o t o b e s o B l a c k A n d B l u e ? H o w s a d I a m e a c h d a y I f e e l w o r s e M y m a r k o f H a m s e e m s t o b e a c u r s e H o w w i l l i t e n d ? A i n t g o t a f r i e n d M y o n l y s i n I s m y s k i n W h a t d i d I d o t o b e s o B l a c k A n d B l u e ? E t h e l W a t e r s B l a c k a n d B l u e ( 1 9 3 0 ) Toni Morrisons The Bluest Eye investig ates female identity through a race specific lens. Morrison uses childhood to reveal the process of identity as a negotiation of cultural stimuli. She effectively exposes the Eurocentric quality of mainstream media within the cultural milieu of the novel a nd its effect on individuals outside of this essentialized racial caste. The novel depicts several examples of female experience, providing a kaleidoscope of personal possibility. The Bluest Eye lacks the pedantic finger wagging at Society as a whole, bu t, instead, bares fundamental issues of race and power at work in our everyday life, issues that were not only prevalent in the 1940s, but also in the 1970s in which Morrison wrote it, and today. The novel is a dual narrative comprised of two different vi ews of Lorain Ohio inhabitants during the 1940 s. The story details the trials and
44 tribulations of many individuals, but the primary focus is the life of young Pecola Breedlove. One perspective provided is that of Claudia MacTeer, a young girl of Pecolas age, whose testimonial not only presents an outsiders account of Pecolas life, but also another outlook on African American female childhood experience. The other narrator in the novel is a third person omniscient figure, vested with the ability to excee d limitations of the present and detail for the reader the entire background for supporting characters in Pecolas life, as well as accurately describe emotions and thoughts of said characters. The dual narratives work harmoniously to provide a more comple te portrayal of the life and times of these characters. The Creation of Self: Pecola One of the most important issues raised within the novel is the question of beauty and, effectively, self worth. The character Pecola simply accepts that she is ugly. The issues of ugliness raised with the character Pecola prompt important questions for the reader. What makes one ugly? Is ugliness purely contingent upon physical features? Or, is there an intricate web of arbitrary social factors? The third person omniscient narration ascertains Pecola' s "ugliness" for the reader in terms of familial understanding of self: "The Breedloves lived [in a storefront] because they were poor and black, and they stayed there because they believed they were ugly. Although their povert y was tradition and
45 stultifying, it was not unique. But their ugliness was unique" ( Morrison 38). Thus, according to the narrator, this sense of ugliness is not socioeconomic; instead, a sensation beyond mere social class. The social position of the Breedl ove family isn' t uncommon. For example, Claudia describes own family' s similar social situation: "Being a minority in both caste and class, we moved about anyway on the hem of life, struggling to consolidate our weaknesses and hang on, or to creep slightly up into the major folds of the garment" (17). Claudia' s estimation of her family' s economic status is defined in terms of social schema, not ugliness The notion of socialized influence is conveyed through the narrator' s discussion of the specifics of th e Breedlove' s ugliness wherein the narrator breaks down physical characteristics crooked noses, cl osely set eyes, heavy eyebrows but these attri butes aren' t the true arbiters of ugliness. "You looked at them and wondered why they were so ugly; you looked closely and could not find the source. Then you realized that it came from conviction, their conviction" ( Morrison 39). The narrator further presses the notion of the influence of socialization: "They had looked about themselves and saw nothing to contradi ct the statement; saw, in fact, supporting for it leaning at them from every billboard, every movie, every glance. Yes,' they had said, You are right.' And they took their ugliness in their hands, threw it as a mantle over them, and went about the world with it" (39). The narrator directly relates the Breedlove' s sense of ugliness to individual acceptance of social consensus While there
46 seems to be no outstanding physical reason for the familys overwhelming sense of ugliness, their mental perception of themselves tainted their understanding of self. In terms of the Breedlove family, ugliness isnt merely the perfect appropriation of bodily flesh; it includes a sense of personal identity. Eac h family member deals with his or her "ugliness" in a different manner. For Pecola, her ugliness be comes a sort of mask, behind which she conceals her true self. The narrator details Pecola' s individual re action to her familial ugliness, "Long hours she sat looking in the mirror, trying to discover the secret of the u gliness, the ugliness that made her ignored or despised at school, by teachers and classmates alike" ( Morrison 45). Pecola, the only child in class to sit alone in a double desk, is an outcast at school, the brunt of the chi ldren' s jokes. She attributes he r ugliness specifically to her eyes: "It had occur r ed to Pecola s ome time ago that if her eyes were different, that is to say, beautiful, she herself would be different" (46). According to the narrator, Pecola does not see anything else wrong with the com position of her face: her teeth and nose were just fine. Pecola sees her ugliness in terms of her life in general; her familys unhappiness is a direct consequence of her ugliness. Seeing no actual proof in the aesthetic value of her face for the children s dislike of her, or her familys inner turmoil, Pecola picks a facial scapegoat: her eyes. "If
47 she looked different, beautiful, maybe Cholly would be different, and Mrs. Breedlove too. Maybe they' d say, Why, look at pretty eyed Pecola. We mustn' t do ba d things in front of those pretty eyes' ( Morrison 46). The narrator insinuates the influence of age on Pecola' s logic throu gh the inclusion of an excerpt from a childrens storybook "Alice and Jerry blue storybook eyes" (46). The in c lusion of "storybook" in Pecola' s creation of self is particularly important in understanding the intricacies of socialization. For children, specifically, sto rybooks captivate the essential maxims of life Children' s books teach individuals how to act properly in s ociety thro ugh (often) anthropo mo r phism and colorful photographs. While Pecola' s obsession with eye color is not based upon sleepy kittens or three wily pigs, her comprehension of individual merit is deeply rooted in storybook affirmations. "Pretty eyes. Pretty blue eyes. Big blue pretty eyes" (46). The literary construction of the novel as a whole reaffirms this implied impact of children' s stories. Morrison' s novel begins with a rendering of idyllic family life. The first chapter of the novel details a quaint littl e house and the picture perfect family it houses: "Mother, Father, Dick, and Jane live in the green and white house. They are very happy" ( Morrison 3). The chapter, a mere two pages, includes three versions of the story of Jane. The first paragraph is comp rised of simple sentences: this is this, that is that. The second paragraph perverts the first paragraph, omitting the punctuation present in the first. The simple
48 sentences become a long, rambling flow of words and ideas. The lack of punctuation complicat es and confuses the original ideas present in the first paragraph. The third, and final, version of the story completely obfuscates the original storyline, lacking any punctuation or spacing. The third paragraph is a confusing wash of letters: "Hereistheho useitisgree nandwhiteithasareddoor." (4). The third paragraph is broken up into sections throughout the novel; these sections begin each chapter from the perspective of the third person narrator. The importance of the inclusion may escape the modern reade r. The passage is derived from the iconic Dick and Jane stories, which first appeared in Elson Gray elementary school primers in the 1930s. The passage was used as a teaching tool for students to develop reading skills. The reader was used from the 1930s u p until the 1970s. Simple narratives about the Dick and Jane escapades were complimented by drawn portrayals; thus, the reader was provided with an image of the character. The reader was aware that Dick and Jane were two little, white children who looked a specific way and dressed in a specific manner; their images werent cross cultural. Looking past the seemingly innocuous literacy training for students, a deeper subtext persists within the books. In [these books], authors characterize safe American chi ldhoods that thrive in families that defy depression era hardships with economic and social stability
49 (Werrlein 56). The books not only teach children how to read, but also define and characterize their understanding of identity and place in society. Impl icitly, children were provided a one sided portrait of American societys racial make up. [P]rimers before 1965 deport color, gender, and poverty to other lands, implicitly defining such variations as culturally un American or politically irrelevant (5 8). The reality and existence of African American children was not that of Dick and Jane; their very identity was challenged and denied by it. The impact of the literary construction of Morrisons novel is two ply. Morrison contests the very premise of th e Dick and Jane reader by complicating its intent. Play with the form ultimately renders an illogical confusion of letters. The upheaval of grammatical rules reduces complete ideas to mere graphemes. As the reader moves from one version to the next, he/she must work harder to make out the storyline; the ideas dont come so simply. Effectively, the story loses its meaning, its pedantic power: Dick and Jane arent just Every(wo)man placeholders. Morrison effectively breaks the Dick and Jane story, breakin g the generic assumption of the form, which allows for a new story to prosper, a story that was seldom told. 6 In The Bluest Eye Morrison is able to provide the reader with a story of African American young female life. !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! % I n a n i n t e r v i e w M o r r i s o n d i s c u s s e s w h y s h e w r o t e T h e B l u e s t E y e I w a s i n t e r e s t e d i n r e a d i n g a k i n d o f b o o k t h a t I h a d n e v e r r e a d b e f o r e I d i d n t k n o w i f s u c h a b o o k e x i s t e d b u t I h a d j u s t n e v e r r e a d i t i n 1 9 6 4 w h e n I s t a r t e d w r i t i n g T h e B l u e s t E y e ( R o s e n b e r g 4 3 6 )
50 In terms of the novel, Pecola is th e opposite of the storybook Jane. Morrisons muddling of the idyllic story renders a more complete picture of Pecola' s reality. Each chapter of the third person narration is a fragment of one aspect of Pecolas life, detailing the life of an individual who plays a role in her story. For example, HEREISTHEFAMILYMOTHERFATHER DICKANDJANETHEYLIVEINTHEGREE NANDWHITEHOUSETHEYAREEVERYH. (Morrison 38) The narrator uses this excerpt of the story to introduce the Breedlove family to the reader. Essentially, the narr ator is making the same literary gestures as the story: Here is mother, father, sister and brother. The fragmentation of the sentence structure, complimented by the on going run on sentence literarily elucidates the fragmented nature of Pecolas life. Peco la has all the pieces of the Dick and Jane story formula, but not exactly in the same form. It is important to note that the excerpts from the Dick and Jane stories are not included in Claudias sections. Claudia is able to tell her story independent of th e fragmented clauses. However, Pecola is obsessed with the white ideal, with a story that can never be her own; thus, her story can only be understood in relation to the formulaic Dick and Jane story. Pecolas obsession ultimately leads to her
51 demise; she can never create a story for herself because she can never go beyond the Dick and Jane ideal. Pecola can only understand herself in terms of her eyes, as per the emphasis placed upon eye color in the storybook. "Thrown, in this way, into the b l inding co nviction that only a miracle could r elieve her, she would never know her beauty. She would see only what there was to see: the eyes of other people" ( Morrison 47). Pecola' s childish logic reduces the worth of her entire being to the color of her eyes; thu s, a change in eye color would make result in a complete upheaval of her family' s disparaging life condition. In an effort to make a benevolent life change, Pecola visits the local supernatural visionary, Soaphead Church, to request blue eyes. Soaphead' s i mpression of Pecola mirrors that of the rest of the town, "[She] seemed to him pitifully unattractive" (173). Soaphead' s reaction to Pecola' s request is interesting in terms of racial identity. The third person narrator explains, "A surge of love and under standing swept through [Soaphead], but was quickly replaced by anger. Anger that he was powerless to help her this seemed to him the most poignant and the one most deser ving of fulfillment. A little b lack girl who wanted to rise up out of the pit of her b lackness and see the world with blue eyes" (174). Soaphead offers his resolution to "the pit of her blackness" (what he sees as Pecolas problem) only in terms of corporeal manipulation only blue eyes could alter this child' s life. Ironically, Soaphead has his own issues with racial identity, an inherited Anglophilia from his parents (168). The
52 transition from brown to blue eyes is made after Pecola poisons Soapheads landlords dog Pecola was not (or ever) made aware that the meat was poisoned. Soaphead explains, Take this food and give it to the creature sleeping on the porch If nothing happens you will know that God has refused you (175). The dog convulses and dies. In a letter written to God, Soaphead asserts that the transition is successful: "I, I have caused a mi racle. I gave her blue eyes. I gave her the blue, blue, two blue eye s. No one else will see her blue eyes. But she will. And she will live happily ever after" (182). And, just as Soaphead predicted, Pecola sees a dramatic difference in e ye color. However, there is an issue with the "happily ever after" aspect of his statement. The final chapter provides a conversation between Pecola and her imaginary friend after the ocular transition. Pecola' s blue eyes can' t erase from her m emory, or h er womb, the rapes her father committed upon her, or the subsequent disintegration of her entire family structure. Pecola brushes off the conversation about her father, focusing instead on her eyes. She asks her imaginary friend the exact ext ent of her bea utiful eyes, "Pre tt i er than Alice and Jerry Storybook eyes? (Morrison 201) The friend adamantly agrees. As the conversation continues, Pecola' s delusion begins to unravel. Pecola begins to fear th at maybe another will have eyes more blue than her own She questions, "But suppose my eyes aren' t blue enough? The friend retorts, "Blue enough for what? (203) Even though Pecola has blue eyes, she feels as though they can' t be blue enough;
53 even her imaginary friend leaves because of the delusion. Claudia, much older and reflecting back on those days of youth, depicts for the reader the demise of Pecola: "So it was. A little black girl yearns for the eyes of a little white girl and the horror at the heart of the yearning is exceeded only by the fulfillment" ( Morrison 204). Just as Pecola' s baby passes away after its birth, Pecola' s spirit, too, dies. Claudia recalls, "The damage done was total" (204). Pecola spent her days wandering around town absentmindedly flapping her arms, trying to fly off. As the years passed, she resorted to scavenging the local yards of waste. Cholly Breedlove' s rape influenced the town' s reaction to Pecola; however, great emphasis is placed upon Pecola' s own sense of self. Claudia laments, "All of our waste which we dumped on her and which she absorbed. And all of our beauty, which was hers first and which she gave to us We were so beautiful when we stood astride to her ugliness" (205). Madness became Pecola' s s olace; perhaps she is in a perpetual search for the bluest eyes. Claudi a and the other residents of the town used Pecola as a scapegoat for their own insecurity, their own self hatred. If Pecola was vested with their fears of inadequacy or self loathing, then others could feel better about themselves. As an adult, Claudia res ponds to her childlike logic of the time. During the debacle of 1941 Claudia and Frieda plant seeds in an effort to save Pecola and the baby, hoping that the health of the
54 plant would imply the safety and health of Pecola and her newborn. The seeds die. C laudia reflects, And now when I see her searching the garbage -for what? The thing we assassinated? I talk about how I did not plant the seeds too deeply, how it was the fault of the earth, the land, of our town. I even think now that the land of the enti re country was hostile to marigolds that year. The soil is bad for certain kinds of flowers. Certain seeds it will not nurture, certain fruit it will not bear, and when the land kills of its own volition, we acquiesce and say the victim had no right to liv e. (Morrison 205) Adulthood allows Claudia to reflect upon the situation from a more informed, mature standpoint. While the seeds seemed to be invested with magical powers when she was younger, as an adult she takes the planting of the seeds as a metaphor for the growth of youthful individuals in the country. The character Pecola poses as an extreme example of the effects of social indoctrination of whiteness upon African American individuals. While Pecolas situation is not the norm for all African Ameri can girls, her story is an example of the dangerous possibilities of societys ignorance of racial intolerance.
55 Resilience in the Face of Adversity: Claudia Claudias narration is the only individualized, personal narration within the novel. Her sections are told in her voice; Pecolas story is filtered through other voices. Claudias sections within the novel elucidate a broader system of cultural influences at work. Through Claudias experiences, the reader develops a more comprehensive understanding of the factors that influence female African American experience and, therefore, the differing effects of these influences. In these chapters, Morrison incorporates a host of cultural references and comparisons to convey these female characters reality. What is it like to be bombarded with images that dont resemble you at all? In The Bluest Eye w hile comparisons are often subtle, the implications are hauntingly disparaging to the psyche. One such example occurs in the beginning of the novel wherein Claudia s family takes in a boarder, Mr. Henry. During introductions, Mr. Henry announces to Claudia and her sister, Frieda, Hello there. You must be Greta Garbo, and you must be Ginger Rogers (Morrison 16). The same exchange is repeated later in the novel, He llo there, Greta Garbo; hello, Ginger Rogers (75). This seemingly simple comparison has grave implications when the allusion is further analyzed. Mr. Henrys compliment to the adolescent African American girls by comparing them to beautiful, white Hollywo od actresses is effectively creating a relation that belies their very
56 beings. Mr. Henry didn t say, Hello Nina Mae McKinney. Coined The Black Garbo, McKinney could never attain the same level of fame as Garbo and was forced to move to Europe to pursue her cinematic dreams of stardom. Even this comparison, however, would imply that the origin of beauty lies within Garbo; McKinney is the black variation of the Hollywood legend. Moreover, the comparison between black girls and white movie stars emphas izes the fact that beautiful women of color to whom Mr. Henry could compare the girls to are sparse in Hollywood Mr. Henry lacks a name association that would include an element of the girls life beyond their gender white women encapsulated cultural consen sus of beauty, serving as the basis upon which deviations in this case, racial deviations are judged. A simple exchange within the novel is metonymically bound to African American existence. These brief moments are a collective force against African Ameri can self worth; the girls are inculcated with images that do not reflect their own. This idea is emphasized by other white, female cultural icons that surround Pecola, Claudia and Frieda on a day to day basis. The examples of quotidian enforcement of diffe rence abound within the novel. Specifically white, female images of worth and beauty have a Big Brother esque quality. In addition to verbal allusion to attractive visions the girls also face physical representations of these female icons in their own loc ality, beyond the act of visiting a theater. In one of Claudias sections, she describes a moment such as this that occurs
57 while walking home from school, We passed the Dreamland Theater, and Betty Grable smiled down at us ( Morrison 69 ) Pecola, Maureen and Claudia debate as to whos the better actress, Betty Grable or Hedy Lamarr. The visibility of the theater poster within the girls everyday lives is essential to fully realizing the impact of the image. To a nine year old girl, in the prime development al stage of self creation, such things as proximity and c hance of viewing are important. The impact of the cultural milieu is insinuated implicitly through references to famous, white actresses. In the novel, a key manifestation of cultural iconography is the silver screen. African Americans have had a long, complicated history with the film industry; their representation within cinema often reinforces debilitating racial stereotypes. These stereotypes date to films very beginnings wherein antebellum stere otypes informed African American representation on screen. Stereotyped images of African Americans appear in some of the earliest films ever made, including Thomas Edisons The Watermelon Contest (1896) and Sambo and Aunt Jemima (1897) (Benshoff and Grif fin 78). The African American presence on screen has been categorized by Donald Bogle into five images, all of which have strong ties to antebellum sentiments, most notably, the minstrel show: (1)Coon, (2)Uncle Tom, (3)Mammy, (4)Tragic Mulatto, (5)Black Bu ck (79). Each of these stereotypes must be cast through a white lens: how do African American characters factor in the lives of white individuals? These images are not only stereotypical, but
58 also deny individual autonomy; African American representation i s only valid in terms of the ways in which it intersects with the universal (white) society. Resilient African American filmmakers fought to counter these racist stereotypes. For example, race movies 7 of the early twentieth century strove to re imagine and re create African American representation on the silver screen. Interestingly enough, despite their ardent efforts, these films often inadvertently inscribed racist typecasts. For example, the popular black Western of the 1930s, filmmakers supported the b lack/white, evil/good stereotype: the good guy often wears a white hat and rides a white horse while the villain wears black (Benshoff and Griffin 82). This implicit indication could also be found in terms of actor skin tone to role. [F]requently, light er skinned blacks played heroes and heroines while darker skinned actors were chosen for the villains (82). African American attempts to thwart big Hollywoods one sided focus lacked the capital to attain wide spread success. Hollywood in the 1930s and 1940s, as a conservative business with its eye on making money and not offending the status quo, did little to challenge the racist ideologies of the era (82). The aforementioned stereotypes reflected an imagined society wherein white individuals could fi nd a safe, dominant position stereotypes resulted in capital gain. !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! & R a c e m o v i e s w e r e a p o p u l a r g e n r e o f f i l m f r o m 1 9 1 5 1 9 5 0 o n l y f e a t u r i n g c a s t s s o l e l y c o m p r i s e d o f A f r i c a n A m e r i c a n a c t o r s / a c t r e s s e s
59 African American characters were relegated to supporting roles for white actors. The only way for an African American to make it in Hollywood was to play one of these stereotypes, effect ually perpetuating a history of discrimination. One of the reasons Hollywood kept African American actors in smaller supporting roles was so that prejudiced audiences would not have to watch an entire movie about a Negro, or worse yet, see a black charact er who was smart, strong and independent (83). This concern found legal representation in the Production Code of 1934, reducing the status of African American characters to that of children, lacking the power or autonomy of adult individuals (83). The fil ms of this era were dictated in accordance to the mass movie going audience: give the people what they want. Or, more accurately, create what will produce the most revenue. The film industry started to create more socially aware, or racially diverse, film s in the 1940s, post WWII. The Anglo Saxon imperative of Hitlers regime seemed to strike too close for comfort for racist imaginings on the silver screen. The films during this era began to re examine discrimination against African Americans. Hollywoods attempt to be more understanding of the African American plight continued to have strong ties to its prejudiced cinematic progenitors. The narrative formula [was] to deal with racial issues not from a black point of view, but from a white one (Benshoff and Griffin 85). Hollywood attempted to tackle issues of race the only way it knew how: from the dominant
60 perspective. Furthermore, this perspective was the only way the dominant audience could digest the material. Thus, these new films were products by w hite individuals to be consumed by white individuals. Even to this day, many Hollywood social problem films about race feature a white star as the lead character; Hollywood has rarely made a film about racism from an African American perspective (86). Af rican American women were at an even greater disadvantage within the film industry. As discussed previously, female characters were often typecast as either the Mammy figure, or the Tragic Mulatto. After the installation of the Production Code of 1934, [t ]he Tragic Mulatto was used less and less because her very presence invoked the idea of miscegenation, a topic the Code had expressively forbidden (Benshoff and Griffin 82). Thus, women were typically cast as homely servants or maids, supporting roles for the white, female star. In the 1950s, Dorothy Dandridge gained notoriety as the first African American leading lady, [b]ut like many black actresses before her, Dandridge was trapped within the old Hollywood formulas and stereotypes (87). Throughout fil m, these female African American stars have been subject to racist and misogynistic typecasting. Furthermore, women are also susceptible to capitalistic enterprise. As in Hollywood narrative form, men in Western culture are taught that it is their birthr ight to do things (run, jump, desire, look) while women
61 remain relatively immobile in order to be the object of the male gaze (Benshoff and Griffin 240). Essentially, women become objects to be visually consumed by male viewers. The ideal is literally a m anufactured construct. The silver screen is an arena in which the dominant social issues of the time can be negotiated. In terms of women, these issues often deal explicitly with personal autonomy in terms of masculine power. The images of women in early American cinema were mostly drawn from the gender roles and representational codes of the Victorian era (218). Female roles throughout the history of film are constantly evolving, questioning the role of the woman in terms of societal power. A womans sex uality can easily be transmitted to the viewer through physical representation, significant cultural artifacts. Thus, the female actress isnt merely an individual acting on the screen, but a manifestation of a cultural consensus. The woman on the screen h as often served as the paradigm of femininity for the general population. Most of the classic 1930s actresses [w]ere considered glamorous beauty queens, which meant that both onscreen and in real life they dressed in designer gowns, wore impeccable hair and makeup, and could be seen frequenting the best and most beautiful homes and nightclubs in America (Benshoff and Griffin 227). The idyllic lifestyle represented on the silver screen wasnt merely a dream, it was a reality. Viewers were pressed to compr ehend the Hollywood pictorial of life as the model by which they should base (and judge) their own. [T]he Hollywood star
62 system strongly supports the packaging and selling of womens images (241). These famous Hollywood actresses were walking, talking bi llboards, advertising a specific breed of femininity that could be carefully crafted. For Claudia, the exaltation of pristine white female figures often results in anger. Claudias anger is directed at the white version of beauty that she can relate the m ost to in terms of age: Shirley Temple, the penultimate kewpie image of child beauty. Claudias rant was inspired by a child like action of her sister: Frieda prepared milk and graham crackers for Pecola to enjoy. The cup Frieda chose had Shirley Temples face posted on the side. Claudia notes, I could not join them in their adoration because I hated Shirley. Not because she was cute, but because she danced with Bojangles, who was my friend, my uncle, my daddy, and ought to have been soft shoeing it and chu ckling with me. Instead he was enjoying, sharing, giving a lovely dance with one of those little white girls whose socks never slid down under their heels. (Morrison 19) Claudias logic for hating Shirley Temple has a direct relation to racial identity. F or Claudia at least in this reflection her anger is due to a feeling of usurpation By dancing with Bojangles, Shirley Temple effectively fills the role Claudia sees for herself; Shirley crosses racial
63 borders that deny Claudias value as a young, black gi rl the white girl can do it all However, Bill Robinson, famously known as Bojangles, was susceptible to the Hollywood that kept African American from leading roles in the 30s and 40s. [Bojangles] could not be shown dancing with a white woman, and studi os were loath to cast him in a leading role with an African American love interest It was assumed that this adult child dance couple [with Shirley Temple] was safe and inoffensive in that it did not suggest a romantic relationship between the two (Bens hoff and Griffin 84). The dance that so offended Claudia was an attempt by an African American man to break into a hostile industry but for Claudia it has a different meaning. Claudias reaction to Shirley Temple can be understood in terms of racial binary : a white world and a black world exist relatively independently. This figurative concept is physically represented in the actual landscape of Lorain Ohio: whites live on one side of town, blacks on the other. This concept is made apparent to the reader a s Claudia and Frieda travel to the lake where Mrs. Breedlove works as a housekeeper, to talk with Pecola one day Claudia explains, We walked down tree lined streets of soft gray houses leaning like tired ladies. The streets changed; houses loo ked mor e sturdy, their paint was newer, porch posts straighter, yards deeper The lakefront houses were the loveliestThe sky was always blue ( Morrison 105). For the girls, t he differences in landscape serve as literal signposts of racial difference; as if a cle ar cut
64 line was drawn down the middle of town effectively distinguishing terrain and people To extend, the sweeping expanses of green grass and shining blue skies insinuate an earthly approval of white lifestyle, especially for a young girl. The physical representation of a racial binary informs Claudias youthful understanding of society. The aggression that Claudia feels towards Shirley Temple is taken out against the plastic manifestation of this socialized image of beauty: a baby doll. Claudias refle ctions reveal a system of socialization deeper than mere notions of beauty, a system that reinforces ideals of femininity across cultural borders, effectively denying any racialized acceptance beyond Anglo Saxon standards. On the one hand, baby dolls are p lasti c examples of the real, human form. Claudia laments her inability to grasp why she isn t assumed in this societal view She explains her feelings towards the gifting of baby dolls, I had only one desire: to dismember it. To see what it was made of, to discover the dearness, to find t he beauty, the desir ability that had escaped me, but apparently only me. Adults, older girls, shops, magazines, newspapers, window signs all the world had agreed that a blue eyed, yellow haired, pink skinned doll was wha t every girl child treasured ( Morrison 20). Claudias reflection recognizes the process of socialization that determines social acceptability and worth; a process which, as discussed earlier, affects her day to day. This can be understood in the simple fa ct of growing up What do child play with? but also in the education of children in how to be good adults in the world. Simply
65 stated, there is a clear disjunct between the image of Claudia and the image of the baby doll. For a young female, the difference in representation is not simply a matter of right/wrong, but also of individual beauty. The conversation takes on a purely aesthetic tone as Claudia continues to discuss her animosity towards the baby doll. She exp lains the reaction of adults, Here, the y said, this is beautiful, and if you are this day worthy you may have it (21). Beauty and worth are vested with in this white bounty of plastic. N ot only is Claudia faced with the issue of feeling inadequate in image, but the notion of being worthy to take care of the little white baby doll also compels the sense of personal defect. Claudias tirade about the significance of baby dolls in her adolescence has a great subtext beyond the parameters of the plot in The Bluest Eye The racial identificat ion of toy baby dolls is a site of much cultural debate, spanning decades of time as well as areas of study. First, African American dolls lack the widespread commercialization of white baby dolls. In his essay, Color Matters: The Creation of the Sara Lee Doll, Gordon Patterson provides a comprehensive history of the African American doll, detailing one womans immense struggle for a suitable (and not racist) African American doll. The fight for the manufacture and distribution of African American dolls h as been an uphill battle for equity. The racist stereotyping discussed earlier reducing African Americans to silly or subservient one dimensional caricatures has persisted even in the doll market.
66 Patterson documents that in 1948, Sara Lee Creech began an extensive campaign for the African American doll after spotting two black girls outside the post office playing with a white doll. Patterson writes, It was wrong, she thought, that black children did not have equality colored dolls to play with (Patters on 147 8). Creechs mission took nearly four years and the help of some famous figureheads like Zora Neale Hurston and Eleanor Roosevelt to become a reality. Creech scored a deal with Ideal, the leading doll manufacturer in the early 1950s. Patterson notes that the intent behind the manufacture of the doll is a murky area: a convoluted fog of social activism and capitalistic greed. David Rosenstein, Ideals president, was interested in social equality, while his partners were solely interested in capital ga in. Patterson argues, Excepting for Rosenstein, Ideals directors considered the doll a marketing gimmickIdeal stopped producing the doll in 1953 (164). A central question to the commercial failure of the Sara Lee Doll is, Why? One argument Patterson p resents is the issue of color. Much deliberation about the coloring of the dolls went into its creation. Creech agonized over the specific color of the baby doll, insisting that multiple dolls (or a family of dolls) were necessary to represent the range of African American identity. Creech proposed, There could be a baby doll, brother doll, sister doll, and a little Miss doll. Each would represent a different skin color and hair type (Patterson 154). Creech strove to avoid the possibility of essentializin g African American representation. Two
67 major factors negatively affected Creechs plight and the commercial success of the doll. First and foremost, the material the dolls were made of became defective with time: [O]ver time the plasticizers seeped out of the vinyl. This caused the doll to harden, the skin to change color, and the dolls clothes to absorb the vinyls dye (162). In addition to defective polymers, Ideal refused to produce the multiple dolls with varied skin tones; the attempt to represent t he variability of African Americans effectively became a reductive, essentializing project. While Creechs project, ultimately, was a commercial failure, her attempt should be noted as a positive mark on history. In defense of her project, Creech research ed the history of African American dolls extensively. Sara Creechs research into these early dolls led her to the conclusion that parents who wished to purchased a colored baby doll for their children had two choices: They could buy either a grotesquely stereotyped doll or a white doll that had been shaded brown (Patterson 152). Patterson provides the history of African American dolls for the reader, concluding that most dolls were based upon racist caricatures, like the Mammy or Aunt Jemima figure. Even without the obvious stereotypical bent, the process of merely dipping white dolls in black paint and assuming they represent an entire group of people is implicitly racist in nature. Variations to rectify these negative doll images did occur, but
68 lacked w idespread commercial appeal. 8 Patterson provides a concrete portrayal of the dominant cultural iconography of the African American doll during the time in which The Bluest Eye takes place. Creechs struggle for the creation of an African American doll tap s into more complicated web of cultural consciousness beyond mere skin color. The historical complexity is absent in Claudias outlook on the doll. Claudias desire to dismember the doll is particularly interesting because it insinuate s a more literal, na ve comprehension of the way in which society works Claudia wants proof for the dolls value. She discusses her in depth examination of the dolls physical makeup: poking, prodding, twisting, turning, breaking, ripping the seams. While Claudias autopsy lik e inspection renders little evidence for its public adoration, the adult response to her inquiry suggest the power of social indoctrination. Grown people frowned and fussed: You dont know how to take care of nothing. I never had a baby doll in my whole l ife and used to cry my eyes out for them. Now you got one a beautiful one and you tear it up whats the mater with you? How strong their outrage was. Tears threatened to erase the aloofness of their authority. The emotion of years of unfulfilled longing p reened in their voices. (Morrison 21) !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! F o r m o r e i n f o r m a t i o n o n t h e h i s t o r y o f A f r i c a n A m e r i c a n d o l l s s e e p a g e s 1 5 0 1 5 2
69 Claudias contemplation on her own experience with baby dolls reveals a pervasive cultural current of consumerism. Baby dolls were toys created for children without acknowledgement of racial difference; instead, a grea ter emphasis was placed upon the b inary of haves versus have nots The adults reaction reveals a deeper subtext of economic equality which overshadows the imposing wash of cultural uniformity. For the adults, possession of the doll is symbolic of assimila tion into not only consumer culture, but society. The effect of the baby doll (and, in a sense, the notion of socialization) on the young individual is a contentious subject of debate. The novel almost explicitly gestures towards the debate over Kenneth an d Mamie Clarks Doll Study, first conducted in 1939 (similar subsequent testing occurred throughout the next two decades). The intent of the Doll Test was to examine and study young childrens outlook on self esteem, as perceived through a lens of raci al identification. [T]he Clarks presented African American children from several northern integrated and southern segregated schools, ages three to seven, with four sex neutral dolls. The dolls were identical in all aspects except skin and hair (Bergner 307). Black and white children were presented with the dolls and asked a series of eight questions:
70 give me the doll that: (1) you like to play with or the doll you like best, (2) is the nice doll, (3) looks bad, (4) is a nice color, (5) looks like a Whi te child, (6) looks like a colored child, (7) looks like a Negro child, (8) looks like you. In the experiment, the baby dolls were emblematic of living, breathing individuals, used to gauge childrens self esteem in terms of his/her attitudes of racial awa reness and acceptance. The overall results of the studies conducted by the Clarks illustrated that young Black children raised in the 1930s preferred the White dolls and judged White dolls as superior to duplicate dolls of Black skin color (Jordan, Herna ndez Reif 389). Several similar social experiments were conducted to test the results of the Clark experiment, with variations in testing methods in areas wherein researchers feared erroneous methodology, but a similar outlook on the effect of socializatio n on youth self esteem. For example, in 1988 Darlene Powell Hopson and Derek S. Hopson conducted a revised doll test to study the implications of positive reinforcement for African American racial perspective. The researchers contended, Years after the B lack is beautiful movement there remains a preference for white among Black and White preschool children. Black children have learned to reject their ethnic group as a consequence of pervasive negative stereotypes
71 promoted by the media, teachers, parents and the broader society. (Powell Hopson and Hopson 57) The experiment was modeled after the Clark study, with a specific focus on treatment intervention (Powell Hopson and Hopson 59). The intervention component involved investing the black doll with pos itive attributes and qualities. Researchers used positive reinforcement practices: positive adjectives, enforced favoritism for those who chose the black dolls over white dolls, a moralistic story about benevolent exploits of a black child. The researchers claimed, The study did not indicate that the children wished they were White, but it did indicate their awareness of societys preferencesMany of the children wanted to change their choice of doll after observing the researchers choose black dolls and a fter hearing the story depicting Black children in positive terms (61). The ultimate conclusion the researchers reached was a necessity for positive racial reinforcement in society. A more recent study hosted by Phillip Jordan and Maria Hernandez Reif, p ublished in 2009, attempted to modernize the Clark and Powell Hopson experiments to yield a more complete study of childrens self esteem in terms of racial identity. Hernandez Reif and Jordan attempted to modernize the seemingly antiquated methodology of the Clark experiment. Improvements included using computer generated cartoons, multiple skin tone variations, and a moralistic story with a black,
72 child hero. 9 Additionally, the experimenters went to great lengths to legitimize the testing, attempting to r ule out control flaws, like gender, class, experimenter bias and the effect of the classic forced choice technique. The most revealing finding of the current study was that children showed no skin tone preference when shown a variety of skin tone cartoo ns and asked who they would pick as their best friend (Jordan, Hernandez Reif 400). Essentially, the study did not assert a definitive answer on childrens overall outlook on skin tone; however, it championed the argument from the Hopson Powell & Powell study, asserting the need for education programs for multicultural education programs about racial diversity In her article, Black Children, White Preference: Brown v. Board the Doll Tests, and the Politics of Self Esteem, Gwen Bergner reveals the cu ltural construction behind the mythos of the Clark Doll Study. Bergner deconstructs what she argues is a romanticized connection between the Clark study and the groundbreaking Brown v. Board of Education (1954), which ultimately ended the separate but equ al clause established in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896). Bergner reminds us that the study was minimally included in the actual judicial decision in footnote 11: [T]he footnote listed first of all an unpublished work by an unknown assistant professor of psych ology at City University of New York the Doll Study !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 9 F o r m o r e i n f o r m a t i o n s e e t h e a r t i c l e R e e x a m i n a t i o n o f Y o u n g C h i l d r e n s R a c i a l A t t i t u d e s a n d S k i n T o n e P r e f e r e n c e s b y P h i l l i p J o r d a n a n d M a r i a H e r n a n d e z R e i f
73 (Bergner 306). The Clark study thus played a small role in the courts attempt to validate that separate was, in fact, not equal and debilitating in terms of African American success. Moreover, the Clark study suffered many major methodological flaws that were overlooked in the Supreme Court ruling, and later discredited (300). Bergner asserts that the doll test is a cultural icon of sorts (Bergner 321). Bergner argues that there exists a social contex t for the outlook on the Doll Study throughout the decades; the social reception was contingent upon the cultural milieu. The results of the study have been affirmed and denied through the decades to fulfill socio political desires. The study is part of a powerful nexus of forces within social sciences racial project (301). While the proposed findings of the study dont have strong, factual foundation, it occupies a cultural consensus that shapes (and has shaped throughout the decades) individual thoug ht about race and the politics of identity. Claudias feelings of aggression felt towards the baby dolls are transferred to the living, breathing baby doll figures that occupy Claudias life. The younger counterparts of these idyllic Hollywood figures can be found filling the seats of the girls' classroom. The tremendous beauty and captivating power of these women is effectively captured by nine year old girls. Thus, the notion of mere glitz and glam of Hollywood is an actual reality; more specifically, a reality never to be actualized for Claudia,
74 Pecola, or Fri eda. For Claudia, the exalted child beauty is Maureen Peal : "A high yellow dream child with long brown hair braided in two lynch ropes that hung down her back" ( Morrison 63). Maureen is particularly interesting because she isnt white, but shes treated like the white child stars of the movies. Most importantly, shes treated differently than Claudia and Frieda. She enchanted the entire school (63). Claudia details for the reader Maureens effect o n the teachers and students alike: Maureen was respected and adored. In defiance, the sisters refuse to follow the Maureen love affair. Instead, the girls turn towards animosity and anger to deal with their feelings of inadequacy. "We looked hard for flaw s to restore our equilibrium They were small triumphs, but we took what we could get snickering behind her back and calling her Six finger dog tooth meringue pie. But we had to do it alone, for none of the other girls would cooperate with our hostility. They adored her" ( Morrison 63). Claudia provides an important anecdote for understanding the mentality of the other children in regards to Maureen. One day before leaving school, Maureen decides to walk home (the opposite direction of her house) with Clau dia and Frieda. Upon leaving the school, the girls witness a group of boys bullying Pecola. The young boys chant, "Black e mo. Black e mo. Yaddadsleepsnek ked. Black e mo black e mo ya dadd sleeps nekked. Black e mo ." (65). Claudia provides insightful commentary on the boys' insults noting, "It was their contempt for their own blackness that
75 gave the first insult its teeth. They seemed to have taken all of their smoothly cultivated ignorance, their exquisitely learned self hatred their elaborately desi gned hopelessness and suck it all up into a fiery cone of scorn" (65). According to Claudia, the boys' contempt found an appropriate scapegoat in Pecola. Frieda comes to Pecola' s aid and screams at the boys, "You cut that out, you hear? Claudia reacts, "I had never heard Frieda' s voice so loud and clear" (66). Frieda and the boys exchange insults and angry words. The arguing seems to have continued forever if not for the presence of Maureen in the situation: "Maureen appeared at my elbow, and the boys seem ed reluctant to continue under her springtime eyes so wide with interest. They buckled in confusion, not willing to beat up three girls under he r watchful gaze" (66 7). While Maureen is evidently richer than her fellow classmates, as made evident through h er attire, it' s not merely her social status that enchants the other school kids. Claudia places specific attention to the impact of her eyes. It s not her adorable stockings or luscious braids that made the boys capitulate i t was her eyes. After the boys retire to another activity, the girls, now accompanied by Pecola, continu e walking home. In an attempt to strike up conversation with Pecola, Maureen makes a direct comparison between Pecola and the character Peola in the movie Imitation of Life The com ment is brief, but the impact is loaded with significance. She proclaims, The picture show, you know. Where this mulatto girl hates her
76 mother cause she is black and ugly but then cries at funerals ( Morrison 67) Maureen continues, Anyway, her name was Pecola too. She was so pretty (68). For a reader who hasnt seen the movie, the comments alone lend a tinted sense of racial dynamics in the film: the light skinned child hates her ugly, black mother. Interestingly enough, Maureen more closely resembles P eola of the film; Pecola, who may have been named after the film beauty, resembles the ugly mother. The film provides a cinematic rendering of some of the issues and concerns raised within the novel. Imitation of Life is the silver screen representation of a young, African American girls reality. Desperate for work, Delilah (Louise Beavers) accidently goes to the wrong house to inquire about a job posted in the paper. Seeing that the recently widowed, Bea Pullman (Claudette Colbert), is struggling to ke ep house and maintain her husbands business, Delilah assumes the job herself. Bea Pullman takes in Delilah and her young, mulatto daughter, Peola (Seble Hendricks). Through a series of events, Delilah and Bea end up opening a pancake restaurant together. After the help of a cigar chomping stranger (Ned Smith) the restaurant expands into a lucrative corporation, Aunt Delilahs Pancake Flour the image of Delilah on the box not so subtly similar to Aunt Jemima. Peolas grappling with self identity and the bur geoning business thread of the movie are supplemented by an additional romance thread between Bea, Jessie and Steven Archer, an ichthyologist (Warren William).
77 In the film, Peola (not Pecola, as Maureen claims) is indicated as a mulatto only through her m others assertion. For the audience, color is only apparent through the contrast in hair color between Peola and Jessie Pullman, the daughter of her mothers boss, Bea Pullman: Peola, long brown braids; Jessie, short, curly blonde hair in the style of Shir ley Temple. Aside from hair color, the girls comp lexion is nearly identical The contrast is further emphasized in scenes featuring Peola and her mother, Delilah, side by side. The juxtaposition of Delilahs skin next to Peolas enhances the dramatic diff erence in their appearance; Peola would more easily be read as Beas daughter than Delilahs. Furthermore, the general consensus is that Peola is white. For example, one day when Delilahs visits Peolas classroom to drop off a raincoat and rain boots, the teacher expresses her utmost confusion at the sight of Delilah, I have no litt le colored children in my class. Peola hides behind a book, hoping her mother doe snt recognize her. As Peola, scowling and glaring, begrudging walks to the front of the class room to join her mother, whispers rise from the other school children, Gee, I didnt know she was colored. Another replies, Neither did I. A haze of obscure whispering fills the classroom as Peola runs out, screaming to her mother, I hate you! I hate you! When two finally return home, separately, Delilahs neatly surmises the issue to Bea, Oh, she was passin Ms. Bea. And I give her away. She know I wouldn ta done it on purpose. For Peola, happiness is only attainable if shes passing as a white gir l.
78 In one scene, Jessie and Peola leave the restaurant and start out for school. Minutes later, Peola runs back into the establishment, crying. Her mother attends to the crying child, inquiring as to what is the matter. Peola sobs, Im not black. Im not black. I wont be black! Bea joins in Delilahs attempts to soothe the child. The two soon uncover the source of this issue: Jessie called Peola black. Beas response is curious, Jessie Pullman, for shame on you. The implicit idea within the scene is th at being black is a deprecating circumstance, insinuating that white is the best. To extend, the tone of the conflict disparages Delilahs very self. While crying in her mothers arms, Peola exclaims, You, its cuz youre black. You make me black. I wont, I wont, I wont be black. The conversation continues Bea tries to have Jessie apologize, inquiring, Jessie, how could you say such a mean, cruel thing to Peola? Delilah refuses to allow an apology; instead, she begins to ponder who the blame sh ould be placed upon. The scene leaves unanswered questions as to what the actual reason for blame is The term black being derogatory? Or, rather, a state of reduced existence due to the actuality of being black? Before the scene fades to black, Delilah sta res into the camera and states, I dont know rightly where the blame lies. It cant be our Lords. Its got me puzzled. Visually, the issue of white/black identity is captured in the scene wherein Bea, made up and bedecked with a long, flowing gown, walk s up
79 the stairs to her bedroom in the house while Delilah, wearing a baggy, printed flower gown (obviously of a lesser quality than Beas dress) descends an adjacent staircase down to her region of the house. For a split second, the women are directly para llel vertical from one another: Bea ascending to climb into bed, Delilah descending to talk to her unhappy daughter about possibly going away to a colored college, as per Bea, [W]here she wouldnt be faced with the problem of white all the time. The brie f image on the screen encapsulates the entire issue of the movie; the most iconic imitation of life. The movie is important because it serves as such a stark contrast to the quaint and bubbly Shirley Temple films. The reality of African American life is presented as a grave and tormented barrage of envy and unhappiness. The adamancy with which she disavows her mother and her race emphasize a certain cultural consensus on African American female adolescence. Moreover, the 1934 film resonates with the curr ent milieu of the novel. At this time in cinematic history, the screen was populated with mostly white faces. So, this story (set in the girlss time) would appear to be a true testament of the reality of their lives. The issues of passing and the seemin gly perfect reality of Maureens life bring up the important
80 issue of complexion based inferiority within the African American community. 1 0 Maureen' s curio sity taints the conversation as she inquires as to whether or not Pecola' s father s leeps naked. Sensi ng Pecola' s discomfort about the top ic "Pecola tucked her head in a funny, sad, helpless movement" Claudia becomes Pecola' s champion, screaming at Maureen to stop talking about Pecola' s father. A screaming match over cuteness ensues; Maureen finally runnin g to the other side of the street away from the other girls. Maureen' s final statement, "I am cute! And you ugly! Black and ugly black e mos. I am cute!" ( Morrison 73) Just as Claudia poignantly depicts the young, black boys' feelings of self hatred, she t urns the looking glass upon the female perspective. "We were sinking under the wisdom, accuracy, and relevance of Maureen' s last words. If she was cute and if anything could be believed, she was -then we were not. And what did that mean? We were lesser" ( 74). Feelings of inadequacy are related to Claudia' s earlier feelings towards dolls. The sentiments of paren ts and others about the dolls are duplicated in the reaction towards these little white girls. "Dolls we could destroy, but we could not destroy the honey voices of parents and aunts, the obedience in the eyes of our peers, the slippery light in the eyes of our teachers when they encountered the Maureen Peals of the world. What was the secret? What did we lack? Why !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 1 0 F o r a m o r e i n d e p t h l i t e r a r y p o r t r a y a l o f p a s s i n g s e e N e l l a L a r s o n s n o v e l P a s s i n g ( 1 9 2 9 )
81 was it important? And so what? (74) The genuine acceptance and idolization of these little white girls (and, importantly, not Claudia and the other girls) is an unsolvable quandary Claudia reflects, "Maureen Peal was not the enemy and not worthy of such intense hatred. The Thing to fear wa s the Thing that made her beautiful, and not us" (74). The search for the Thing that made her beautiful is the same thing she seeks by destroying the baby dolls. Maureen and the other Shirley Temple like girls in the world embody the same qualities as bab y dolls. If the dolls are modeled after humans, maybe the real secret lies within the living form. Claudia remarks on her violent behavior, But the dismembering of dolls was not the true horror. The truly horrifying thing was the transference of the same impulses to little white girlsTo discover what eluded me: the secret of the magic they weaved on others. What made people look at them and say, Awwwww, but not for me? ( Morrison 22 3). The viewpoint of a child amplifies the heart of the question: Why? Why do we do the things we do? Say the things we do? Appreciate the things we do? This line is perhaps one of the most influential of the whole novel. Lacking the firm grip of social custom, children often do not grasp the unanswerable questions of adult e xistence; questions that often can be answer e d with, Just because thats the way it is. The position of a child reminds adult readers of a nave wonder beyond the mere explaining away of things we cant answer. Socialization provides individual s with an answer. Claudia cant find physic al evidence
82 from baby dolls for their general acceptance, and it would be impractical to dismant le a little human being. Just as Claudia is left pondering the question, the reader, too, is pressed to re examine the notion f rom a perspective not steeped in provided answers. The effect of this social register is evident in Claudias final statements on her aggression towards baby dolls and their lifelike materialization : When I learned how repulsive this disinterested violen ce was, that it was repulsive because it was disinterested, my shame floundered about for refuge. The best hiding place was love. Thus the conversion from pristine sadism to fabricated hatred, to fraudulent love. It was a small step to Shirley Temple. I le arned to worship her, just as I learned to delight in cleanliness, knowing, even as I learned, that the change was adjustment without improvement. (Morrison 23) Her emphasis on the notion of learning is essential to the process of socialized behavior and acceptance; learned is repeated four times in a mere three sentences. In addition to emphasizing the aspect of socialized behavior, Claudias final note about adjustment without improvement is important to revealing the sense of change in behavior wit hout change in attitude; her feeling s werent quelled with social change, merely glazed
83 over. She opted for a shared belief, social acceptance with age a fraudulent acceptance. Conclusions In The Bluest Eye Morrison provides the reader with a complex portrait of female African American life. She uncovers forms of socialized racism that effect not only childrens blossoming understanding of self, but adult concept of personal identity. Individuals deal with these questions and issues of self esteem in t heir own way. Effectively, Morrison cleaves her way through the canon of English literature to create a space for an undervalued story: the story of African American females. She not only literally manipulates a classic, white washed story of American life by destroying the classic Dick and Jane reader, but in the production of The Bluest Eye she tells a story all its own that speaks directly about aspects of culture often overlooked, or underestimated.
84 3 : B r i d g i n g t h e G a p [ W ] e h e r m a p h r o d i t e s a r e p e o p l e l i k e e v e r y b o d y e l s e ( M i d d l e s e x 1 0 6 ) Jeffrey Eugenides s novel Middlesex is an exploration of per sonal identity and its processes The novel taps into several different arg uments and contestations within controversial debates about sex, gender, and identity. Eugenides whittles away at the gender binary, pointing out the flaws inherent in the binary system of sex/ gender identification in Western society. Instead, he attempts to re imagine not only masculinity and femininity (gender) but the male/fema le (sex) binary, bridging the gap with a literary metaphor embodying that middle ground. The fictional account of an intersex person (or as Calliope/Cal names himself, a hermaphrodite) who makes the choice to live life as a male, provides the reader wi th a wide swath of different outlooks on gender. The novel forces the reader to take a closer look at an aspect of society and individual life often taken for granted that proves here to have debilitating effects on personal autonomy and self identificatio n. Eugenides uses the fictional story to dismantle the gender binary of male/masculine and female/feminine and argue for a new way to approach individuality through respect an d appreciation for individuals who dont easily fit essentialist cultural prescri ptions of binary sex.
85 Biological Imperative Cals discussion of biological imperative is an important plot device within the novel; the answer is linked directly to familial decision and its effect on biological configuring. The novel opens with Cal, stand ing on a bridge in Germany, living his life as a 41 year old man and cultural attach for the United States. Cal sees himself as a product of familial descent; thus, to explain his life, he must explain the lives of his progenitors. Cal sets out to describ e himself in terms of who made him, to explain, [T]he rollercoaster ride of a single gene through time ( Eugenides 4). The novel begins at its end, with Cal in Germany, but Cal flexes his authorial muscles and rewinds the course of his familys history, f inding his grandparents atop their mountain home in Smyrna, circa1922. Desdemona and Lefty Stephanides were born as siblings in the quiet Smyrna town, but, after a careful assessment of their desires, realize a shared sexual and emotion desire for each oth er This desire prompts Lefty and Desdemona to transition from siblings, to spouses. Cal brings us into the early lives of his grandparents right before the brutal Turkish invasion of Smyrna The catastrophic burning of Smyrna brings about the new identiti es of his grandparents, who flee the burning representing themselves now as a married couple, and not siblings. This phoenix like re imagining of identity for both Lefty and Desdemona not only serves as a stepping stone in the entity that becomes Cal, but also serves as a trope throughout the novel, bringing together concepts of Greek culture, with the notion of fate,
86 and foreshadowing the symbolic identity shift the protagonist/narrator will eventually undergo years later: the transition of Callie to Cal. Cals initial discussion of genes and biology is investigated throughout the novel as Cal ponders the import of the genetic anomaly physically within his being as a direct result of his grandparents life choices. Cal makes constant references to the pres ence of the mutation and the effect on his life, with particular emphasis on the importance of genetic arrangement as a result of genetic inheritance. Arrayed in their regiments, my genes carry out their orders. All except two, a pair of miscreants or rev olutionaries, depending on your view hiding out on chromosome number 5. Together, they siphon off an enzyme, which stops the production of a certain hormone, which complicates my life ( Eugenides 16). These two paired genes (inherited f rom his grandparents incest) are the reason for his adolescent confusion and the configuration of his resulting body. A fundamental pri nciple in Western society is that sex is binary an individual is either a boy or a girl. The codification of boy or girl is asserted from the moment a child exits the womb and enters the world and sometimes earlier with the assistance of an ultrasound Aside from verifying and ascertaining the health of newborn child, the examining doctor pronounces the child as either boy or girl there is no in between categorization. The codification of boy or girl becomes an important
87 arbiter of said individuals future identity and, therefore, future life. The sexual binary is thus conflated with concepts of social gender indicating and demanding a myri ad of important expected social customs and behaviors that constitute normalcy. Socialization of a child for proper future adulthoods (and, thus citizens hip ) follows this gendered binary both overtly and covertly, from the blue or pink balloons that often greet a child post birth, to a sign on the bathroom, to who can wear a skirt. Gendered modus operandi is codified within almost every aspect of everyday life. Societal prescriptions of identity are based upon a tangled web of biology and sociology. Partici pation in society requires a personal navigation of the interstices of the two. Deviations from cultural norms have negative, often debilitating effects on individual self esteem, societal acceptance, and, often, personal safety. An important question exp lored in Middlesex is the question of biological imperative: To what degree do biologic al sex traits imply gender? In the binary of male and female, sex and gender are often conflated, such that the biological implicates gender designation. Eugenides provi des the reader with a character, Cal, who serves as a prime example of the incapacity of the binary adequately to represent the human population. The seemingly simple and cl ear cut separation of the sexes based upon presence or lack of a penis, isnt as ne at or simple a category as one is led to believe. Cal is representative of a sizeable perce ntage of the population to whom this category is incong ruent with their own
88 identities: One out of every two thousand babies is born with ambiguous genitalia. In th e United States, with a population of two hundred and seventy five million, that comes to one hundred and thirty seven thousand intersexuals alive today ( Eugenides 106). 1 1 This is not to claim that Cal is a figurehead for every intersex individual; instead he poses as a narrative figure that enables notions of biological, sexual consistency in terms of the gender binary of male/female to be reconsidered and re evaluated. The facts of life for the charac ter Cal are that he has a recessive genetic mutation 5 alpha reductase deficiency syndrome. Individuals with this genetic mutation are genetic males, but these males do not necessarily have to have an identifiable penis, or identifiable male characteristics such as facial hair, a broad shouldered narrow hi pped build, etc. When Cal was born, the doctor examined the genital region and proclaimed that he was a healthy baby girl, named by her parents Calliope (Callie for short). Almost in jest, Cal partially blames Dr. Philobosians poor vision for the genital oversight, missing the elongated clitoris present between the labial folds. This blind eye approach seems rampant within her early life. For example, Cal explains the evidence of different genital arrangement was present at his baptism. After Father Mike dunks Callie in the Holy Water for a third time, she emerges from the water with water of her own, peeing on Father Mike as male babies frequently do: The stream rose in an arc. !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 1 1 F o r m o r e i n f o r m a t i o n s e e t h e I S N A s w e b s i t e h t t p : / / w w w i s n a o r g / f a q / f r e q u e n c y o r r e a d P r o g r e s s a n d P o l i t i c s i n t h e I n t e r s e x M o v e m e n t : F e m i n i s t T h e o r y i n A c t i o n b y A l i c e D D r e g e r a n d A p r i l M H e r n d o n
89 Propelled by a full bladder it struck Father Mike right in the middle of th e face ( Eugenides 222). Aside from the humorous display of urinary acrobatics, Cal mentions an important aspect of event: In all the commotion, no one wondered about the engineering involved (222). Callie had been proclaimed by a medical official as a g irl, and a girl she was understood to be despite an act of urinary projection much more commonly associated with male anatomy Cal explains his early years, I was brought up as a girl and had no doubts about this (226). Callie/Cals body at birth and pos t puberty defies the penis/no penis dichotomy of gendered sexual identity forced upon individuals at birth. Callies genitals as a child and pre pubescent child are incapable of fitting into this categorization. Cal intricately relates the social to the bi ological for the reader, I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974 ( Eugenides 3). Within this dual e ssentialist taxonom ic understanding of human being Cal could only be understood as a boy or girl and with th e present evidence at his birth he was cast as a she. Thus, Callie/Cals double sex gender demands a second birth story. Prior to puberty, Callie l ived life as a normal girl: alpha reductase deficiency syndrome is a skilled counterfeiter. Until I reached puberty and androgens flooded my bloodstream, the ways in which I
90 differed from other little girls were hard to detect ( Eugenides 226). Cals diction choice is interesting, denominating the genetic mutation a counterfeiter. A possible reading of his word choice could be read as a reinforcing of the male/female binary: the genetic mutation presented as female pre puberty it faked female body identity, but only until puberty set in. Callies body does not produce the signs of womanhood that her fellow classmates begin exhibiting. Callie faithfully awaits the budding of her breasts and the arrival of her period, but she begins to express anxiet y over her unchanging body. In an interview, Eugenides explained the choice for this particular genetic mutation, claiming that it causes, the most dramatic changes in terms of what happens to someones body (Goldstein). The reader witnesses these drama tic changes in Callie, changes that dont involve the growth of breasts or the appearance of a period. Cal remarks on the physical changes of the girls and his own fears as a young girl not experiencing the same physical phe nomenon of adolescence, with the main worry of being left behind, left out ( Eugenides 285). As the other girls bodies began developing womanly characteristics, Callies pubescence signified a more masculine transition in the works. Cal discusses his time as Callie in middle school, A t this early stage, before my male secondary characteristics had manifested themselves in seventh grade invisibly but unmistakably, I began to exude some kind of masculinity (304). Cal relates this masculine exuberance to a brief
91 period when his fellow schoolmates, all girls, exhibited signs of sexual interest in her Cal remarks that this time of sexual potency and physical beauty was short lived and, with the onset of puberty, came a dramatic change in appearance. Callies girlish good looks became ta inted by, what Cal describes, still within a female frame, as the plight of the Hair Belt, the culturally imposed manifest destiny of unwanted hair on the body of individuals from Middle Eastern countries and territories in Europe and Asia, Greece includ ed conquering upper lips and olive arms The dark hair that conquered the territory of her body becomes a hiding mechanism: Callie hid behind the thick mass of hair on her head. Callies body is a site upon which larger societys fears of deviation from t he male/female binary are inscribed. Her body is a physical representa tion of her inability to fit easily into one category or another. She recognizes that she doesnt look like the other girls and, therefore, feels out of place. This fear is apparent in C allies locker room behavior. Callie takes great strides to hide her body from the sight of the other girls in the locker room, going through an extensive process of hiding any sign of her physicality.I waited until [the other girls] left before I undress edI wasnt naked for a second ( Eugenides 299). In addition to Callies lack of female traits, she also recognizes the presence and growth of the enlarged clitoris, which continued to grow
92 since birth. Callie names her clitoris her crocus : m y genital s have been the most significant thing that ever happened to me I got a recessive gene on my fifth chromosome and some very rare family jewels ( Eugenides 401). Th e presence of this gene affects Cals understanding of her self throughout early adolescence and up to his current problematic existence as a middle aged man. The effect of the re cessive gene effectively blurs an easily identifiable sex categorization within the binary taxonomy established by the medical community that defines gender within societ y. Furthermore, Cal points out the lack of sexual education information during his youth: My mother bathed me and taught me how to clean myself. From everything that happened later, I would guess that these instructions in the feminine hygiene were rudime ntary at best. I dont remember any direct allusions to my sexual apparatus. All was shrouded in a zone of privacy and fragility, where my mother never scrubbed me too hard. ([My brothers] apparatus was called a pitzi. But for what I had there was no wo rd at all). (Eugenides 226) Without useful instruction in young adulthood, Callie created her own word for her elongated clitoris: crocus. Callies terminology escapes the binary completely, neither aligning with the male penis, nor the female
93 clitor is. Callie creates a unique space of understanding about her genitals; a space that refuses to be categorized as one or the other. Cal writes, How did Calliope feel about her crocus? This is at once the easiest and the hardest thing to explain. On the on e hand she liked it The crocus was part of her body, after all. There was no reason to ask questions. But there were times when I felt that something was different about the way I was made. (Eugenides 330) In youth, Callies body produced both pleasure an d fear: a site possible of sexual excit ement, but loaded with fear of social opprobrium. I worried at times that my crocus was too elaborate a bloom, not a common perennial but a hothouse flower, a hybrid named by its originator like a roseIt was in a st ate of becoming and might turn out fine if I waited patiently ( Eugenides 330). Callies sentiments toward her budding crocus the growth of which is directly related to the increased flux of testosterone pumped through her body as a result of puberty are a reaction to cultural consensus. Because she believes she is a girl, she wants to be a normal girl. While Callie had high hopes about the future of her genitalia and their eventual normalcy, her fears of its presentation persisted. For example, when her mo ther scheduled her a gynecologist appointment, Callie began to panic. I was filled with dread. Dread o f the
94 perverted gynecologist and his inquisitorial instruments. Dread of the metal things that would spread my legs and of the doohickey that would sprea d something else. And dread of what all this spreading might reveal (350). Even at a young age, Callie was attune d to the ramifications of not abiding by the male/female dichotomy. Callies fear is representational of the conflation of sex and gender and the stringent human binary it enables in society. Desire In addition to questions of physical normalcy, Callie also undergoes a complicated discovery about personal desire Callie is sexually attracted to girls. Callies foray in sexual experience was ini tiated by her neighbor, Clementine, who taught her how to kiss. Callies understanding of her desire is cast in accordance with the social prohibition on same sex desire. Cal writes, From the beginning I was aware that there was something improper about t he way I felt about Clementine Stark, something I shouldnt tell my mother, but wouldnt have been able to articulate it. I didnt connect this feeling to sex. I didnt know sex existed ( Eugenides 265). Even as a child, Cal felt that there was someth ing w rong with same sex desire. Callie didnt understand the complicated ideas of sex, but knew that the actions would be frowned upon. It seems as though Clementine shares this understanding as well. The first time the girls kissed, Clementine scolds Callie fo r doing the same
95 actions the way actresses did in the movies as during the kissing. Clementine adamantly asserts to Callie, Youre the man (265). Clementines assertion posits a strong belief in a purely hetero normative understanding of coupling and desire. Moreover, by proclaiming Callie as the man, Clementine is avoiding possible deviance from the heterosexual paradigm even though they are two girls kissing, they are only acting out the movies. A rendezvous in the pool renders a more dramatic decis ion for Callie about same sex coupling. Callie and Clementine play a game in Callies pool one day that involves rubbing different parts of their bodies together. The fun is abruptly interrupted as soon as Callie spots her grandfather in the corner of ba thhouse. The girls individual reactions affirm an implicit knowledge that what theyre doing together is illicit and wrong. As soon as Clementine spots Lefty she quickly contests, We were just doing water ballet ( Eugenides 266). Lefty does not respond. The girls soon discover that Lefty isnt merely being coy or quiet; he has suffered a stroke. Callies feelings toward the stroke are the most revealing: [I]t was clear to me that I was responsible. It was what I did what Lefty saw (267). Callie prays f or forgiveness from God. Thus, there is an important connection between social outlook and religion that influence Callies notion of right and wrong in terms of sexual desire. Callies sexual indiscretions have rendered physical retribution at the hands o f God.
96 While Callie fears the wrath of God and social opprobrium, her desire for females does not fade away after her interaction with Clementine. Callies desire manifests in the Obscure Object. Cal describes the feelings Callie had as a crush, but speci fically rules out the simple assumptions connected to being in an all girls school. Instead, Cal explains, It felt physical, my crush. It wasnt a judgment but a tumult in my veins. For that reason I kept quiet about it ( Eugenides 328). Again, Cal recogn izes Callies compulsion for silence, seeing no suitable place for her desires in society. However, as time progresses, the girls friendship develops, as do Callies feelings. While Callies feels desire for the Object, it seems as though the Object doe s not share the same emotions; instead, she expresses desire for a local guy, Rex. As the Object sees Rex, Callie begins seeing the Objects brother, Jerome a lesser, not to mention male, version of the Object. High and drunk one summer night the girls bo th separately begin making out with their respective male partners. For Callie, fooling around results not only in the loss of her virginity, but also in her moment of personal recognition. The experience is traumatic: Now he was inside my underpants and now he was inside me! And then: pain. Pain like a knife, pain like fire I opened my eyes; I looked up and saw Jerome looking down at me. We gaped at each other and I knew he knew.
97 Jerome knew what I was, and suddenly I did too, for the first time clearly understood that I was not a girl but something in between. (Eugenides 375) Furthermore, during her sexual encounter with Jerome, Callie imagined herself functioning in the body of Rex as he engaged sexually with the Obscure Object. Cal explained the sensa tion in terms of entering Rexs body, simultaneously performing the actions he performed to the Obscure Object (Eugenides 375). Callie seems to float in and out of her own body, recognizing the actions being done to her own body, but being more enthusias tic about the sensation of acting upon The Obscure Objects body. Callies displacement into Rexs body finds physical actuality one summer night when the Obscure Object reciprocates these feelings of attraction. The way in which the Obscure Object acts, however, is curious. Cal explains, So that was our love affair. Wordless, blinkered, a nighttime thing, a dream thing ( Eugenides 385). Callie and the Obscure Object can only perform these actions in a dream like, surreal state; suspension from reality re nders a suspension from the rules of reality. Additionally, the dynamic of the sexual encounters is important: the Obscure Object is completely passive; Callie, active. The Obscure Object was physically acted upon, most of the time acting as if she was asl eep, eyes closed, quiet, unmoving. She was like somebody having a dirty
98 dream, confusing her pillow for a lover (387). The only sign of engagement with Callie was a slight lifting of her butt to allow Callie to pull down her underpants. This action impli es that the coupling was consensual, not forced upon her by Callie. However, her actions insinuate a need to be not accountable for her actions. Passivity and secrecy with Callie is dramatically opposed to daytime and socially recognized gallivanting with Rex. Through her actions, the Obscure Object is making a clear judgment call on the appropriate coupling, obviously favoring heterosexual desire, but enjoying the pleasures Callie provides. The Obscure Object echoes a similar belief to that of Clementine. During conversation one hot summer day, the Obscure Object says to Callie, You understand everything I say. Why cant you be a guy? ( Eugenides 389). The Obscure Object only recognizes the acceptability of heterosexual unions Callies gender identity de nies the possibility of their relationship. The Obscure Objects sentiments are physically manifested in the following scene. The physical expression of desire between the girls wherein both are conscious during daylight results in dramatic social opprobr ium and physical harm. As the girls swing, Callie plays with the Objects genitals. The reaction of the Object marks a dramatic change in attitude from the midnight trysts. After the first roll of her eyes the Object resettled her gaze on mine, and then w hat she was feeling showed only there, in the green depths her eyes revealed (390). While the Object is not physically active, her returned gaze represents an
99 active participation and awareness not demonstrated before. Similar to the pool rendezvous with Clementine, Callie and the Objects sexual encounter is privy to a witness: the Objects brother, Jerome. His reaction expresses a clear social attitude about the encounter: Carpet munchers (391). At first, the Object tried to hit her brother but her phy sical retaliation is soon dissolved into heaving sobs. Jerome explains, Youre lucky Im such a liberal and freethinking type of guy. Most guys wouldnt be so happy to find out that theyd been two timed by a lesbian with their own sister. Its sort of em barrassing, dont you think? But Im such a freethinker that Im willing to overlook your proclivities (392). Jeromes statement elucidates a very important historical connection between desire, anatomy, and lesbianism. The aura of fear Callie feels about her crocus culminates in the physical threat of the binary within society, the actual policing of the border practiced by the medical community. The growing specter of homosexuality behavioral sexual ambiguity drove many late nineteenth century physician s to insist that physical ambiguity hermaphroditism must be illusory and solvable through careful diagnosis of true sex (Dreger and Herndon 202). Fears of homosexual behavior became integrally tied to fears over physical anomaly. Hermaphrodites posed an obstacle to tidy gender assessment boy or girl? and, thus, to hetero normative behavior. Effectually, hermaphrodites were a danger to society. Fear over behavior resulted in a physical reality for
100 hermaphroditic individuals. By the mid nineteenth century some surgeons began offering corrective operations for large clitorises, short vaginas, and hypospadias (202). 1 2 The surgery offered the opportunity for personal identification with a specific gender category; more importantly, a societal sigh of relie f for the lack of ambiguity. A patients right to choose whether or not to have corrective surgery became relatively obsolete in the mid twentieth century. The choice of the mature individual was replaced by forced surgical reconfiguration of children. I n the 1950s, colleagues at Johns Hopkins University were the first to develop the optimum gender of rearing model (OGR).The new model held that all sexually ambiguous children should indeed must be made into unambiguous looking boys or girls to ensure u nambiguous gender identities (Dreger and Herndon 202). Therefore, after birth, surgeons and doctors were responsible for deciding a babys sex based upon physical evidence. Scalpel in hand, doctors chose the gender identity of newborns with seemingly ambi guous genitalia. The OGR model was based upon the notion that gender is learned, not inherent within an individual. Moreover, it was necessary that the acquired (nurtured) gender match genitalia. Most children were assigned female because of the belief that it was easier to make a convincing looking girl than a convincing looking boy. (At least one surgeon has summed it up, !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! # H y p o s p a d i a s a s d e f i n e d b y t h e a u t h o r s : [ W ] h e r e i n t h e u r i n a r y m e a t u s t h e p e e h o l e a p p e a r s s o m e w h e r e o t h e r t h a n t h e t i p o f t h e p e n i s ( D r e g e r a n d H e r n d o n 2 0 2 )
101 You can make a hole but you cant build a pole.) (202). Physical assignment was followed up by hormone treatment to ensure the de velopment of the chosen gender and, depending on the center where the surgery was performed, gender coaching. An important aspect of the OGR model was the proclivity of the medical community to withhold information from intersex individuals and parents. [ I]n practice and in print many clinicians favor deception and withholding of medical records, lest patients become confused and depressed by their intersex states (203). What Eugenides names hermaphroditic bodies exemplified the site of social and cultu ral turmoil over gender. Questions about gender identification were manifested on the intersex body as a socially acceptable solution. Heritage Aside from the evidence of genetic mutation on Cals sexual organs before and after puberty he also implicitly insists on a genetic connection between family and individual beyond physicality. For example, after first mentioning the inherited recessive mutation on [his] fifth chromosome, Cal also makes reference to Greek culture and individual writing style. Cal positions the novel in terms of a Homeric epic: Sing now, O Muse, of the two and a half centuries ago on the slopes of Mount Olympus, while the goats bleated and the olives dropped. Sing how it passed down through nine
102 generations, gathering invisibility within the polluted pool of the Stephanides family.(Eugenides 4) Cal positions his sense of identity as a blend of inherited Greek cu lture and biological imperative: he is a hybrid of those before him and the person he decided to be today. He apologizes, Sorry if I get a little Homeric at times. Thats genetic, too (4). Cals playful idea of biology (inheritance of both genetic and cultural traits) then plays an important role in Cals understanding of personal identity. Another example includes the b iological description of his mothers impregnation, which ultimately led to the creation of his being: Inside my mother, a billion sperm swim upstream, males in the lead. They carry not only instructions about eye color, height, nose shape, enzyme product ion, microphage resistance, but a story, too ( Eugenides 210). Again, Cal makes a direct connection between sociology and biology, between family and the individual inheritor of its traits. Cal isnt merely the inheritor of genes, hes an inheritor of the whole of his familys existence; he is the next chapter of the Stephanides story. Moreover, he is both creator and inheritor of the story he intricately weaves for the reader. He has authorial control over its construction, but the plot effectually ha s con trol of his construction. However, Cal has control over the storytelling aspect of his familial and personal history. Cal may know the history, but he couldnt possibly know the feelings and thoughts of his progenitors.
103 Thus, the story becomes a ll his own its his construction, his way of telling his history. Storytelling provides Cal with the ability to control and take power over his own story Moreover, the chosen style, the epic, insinuates a certain degree of esteem and inherent power. The OED defines an epic as, Pertaining to the species of poetic composition, represented typically by the Illiad and Odyssey which celebrates in the form of a continuous narrative the achievements of one or more heroic personages of history or tradition. Epics are wri tten abo ut heroic figures thus, Cal elevates his status to that of a hero. More importantly, Cal is elevating the history of a hermaphrodite to that of a heroic figure. He instills a power into his own struggles, imagining a new way in which to view and un derstand a hermaphrodite aside from pure physicality or social stigma. This familial inheritance can also be understood in terms of Cals former identity as Calliope. In Greek history, Calliope was the ninth and chief muse, presiding over eloquence and e pic poetry ( http://www.etymonline.com ). The Greek Kalliope literally translates to beautiful voiced, with importance placed upon voice. Her emblem was the writing tablet. Within the very name given to Cal at birth is the implication that she/he was destined, or more appropriately, fated to tell his story. Cals transition from Calliope to Cal marks an important gender crossover the muses of Greek lore are female, but Cal brings a more
104 complex identity to the ideas of the muse. He represents a hybrid storyteller. Within the text, Cal remarks on the archetypical masculine and female writing styles. Cals notion of masculine/female writing styles can be attributed to Dr. Luce the doctor her parents consult when Calliopes body betrays her in late adol escence In the text, Cal clarifies his understanding of the distinction, Luce even analyzed my prose style to see if I wrote in a linear, masculine way, or in a circular feminine one ( Eugenides 20). Based upon this basic assumption, Cal comes to a concl usion about his personal writing style. Cal remarks, All I know is this: despite my a n drogenized brain, theres an innate female circularity in the story I have to tell. In any genetic history. Im the final clause in a periodic sentence., and that senten ce begins a long time ago, in another language, and you have to read it from the beginning to get to the end, which is my arrival (20). While Cals writing exhibits typically female qualities, he ensures the reader, To the extent that fetal hormones af fect brain chemistry and histology, Ive got a male brain (19). Cals epic is a hybrid creation, connecting family heritage and personal experience, a bridge bet ween Greek and American culture and, m ore specifically, a bridge between male and female ident ities. While Cals Greek heritage provides a sense of empowerment he sees as not available solely within Western culture, Cal also engages in a dialogue with these aspects of his culture to make it his own. Essentially, Cal makes the epic new and more
105 comp rehensive of his life the muse associated with Homer has usurped the position as writer. To delve further, the choice of identifying as a hermaphrodite is uniquely tied to Cals heritage. The power of self definition is the ultimate expression of individ ual autonomy; telling the wor l d who you are. Self definition isnt merely an exercise of personal power, but, instead, a reaction to social influence. These definitions are contingent upon words, words that are contingent upon the public reception of langu age. An important aspect of Middlesex is the way in which Cal, and individuals who have had a simi lar life experience as he, come to understand and, thus, honor oneself through words. The term hermaphrodite is encapsulated in a tense debate over implic ation and self respect. The Intersex Society of North America (ISNA), developed in 1993, opts for the usage of the word intersex. The ISNA s exact definition for intersex: [A] general term used for a variety of conditions in which a person is born with reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesnt fit the typical definitions of female or male ( http://www.isna.org ). Intersex translates to literally being between the two sexual categories of male/female, without specific emphasis on being either one. The ISNA explains, Intersex is a socially constructed category that refle cts real biological variation. So nature doesnt decide where the category of male ends and the category of intersex begins, or where
106 the category of intersex ends and the categor y of female begins. Humans decide ( http://www.isna.org ). The ISNA overtly chastises the use of the wo rd hermaphrodite, explaining The words hermaphrodite and pseudo hermaphrodite are st igmatizing and misleading words ( http://www.isna.org). Accordi ng to the ISNA, hermaphroditism is not a rea l, possible state of personhood: The mythological term hermaphrodite implies that a person is both fully male and fully female. This i s a physiological impossibility ( http://www.isna.org ). In a purely biolog ical sense of the word, it is not physically possible to have fully functioning male and female sexual organs, as the myth and as circus sideshows used to imply. However, a blend of we usually think of as male and female attributes is completely legitimate and possible, as insinuated with the term intersex. In their essay, Progress and Politics in the Intersex Rights Movement, Alice D. Dreger and April M. Herndon, former paid directors for ISNA provide an extensive history for the term intersex: Histo rically, the word intersex as we know it dates to the early twentieth century when it was coined by the biologist Richard Goldschmidt as a term for biological sex types that fell between male and female ( Dreger and Herndon 208). Dreger and Herndon recogni ze that intersex isnt a stagnant term of specific denotation. Instead, [T]he definition of intersex depends on the state of scientific knowledge as well as general cultural beliefs about sex (200). This assertion is made even more specific, noting
107 [T ]he category intersex depends on time and place (200). Intersex individuals are not categorized according to one specific trait; instead, there exists a multitude of factors that contribute to the possible designation as an intersex person. The term inte rsex provides explanation for a wide swath of individual existences. Dreger and Herndon explain, [T]he medical names for various intersex conditions may refer specifically to genotype (genetic basis), or the phenotype (body type), or the etiology (casual pathway of the condition), or some combination of these. So saying someone is intersex does not tell you anything specific about a persons genes, anatomy, physiology, developmental history, or psychology (201). The creation of the term intersex and its proliferation as a definition of self not only throws a wrench in the simple category of male/female, but also serves as a positive expression of human capability. Humans are not genetic or anatomic clones of our predecessors; rather, each body is uniq ue and different its not our bodies that are lacking, its our method o f codification for these bodies and the socially constructed significances of those codes. While intersex can connote a positive self definition, Dreger and Herndon recogn ize that objections exist to this term as well: Objections that we have heard include that the term sexualizes them (or their children if the objector is a parent) by making the issue one of eroticism instead of biology; that it implies they have no clear sex or g ender identity; and that it forces on them an identity, especially a queer identity to which they do
108 not relate ( Dreger and Herndon 208). While not everyone is in agreement about the use of intersex, it seems to be the most widely preferred by advocates and activists. 1 3 It is important to note that while the term intersex is used as a blanket term for a myriad of different individual possibilities, the intersex community is very particular about who can fall under the category. Dreger and Herndon explai n the litigious debate between intersex and transsexual individuals: Who counts? [W]e think its important to acknowledge the concern that intersex experiences and advocacy may become muddied, co opted, or misguided in the conflation of transgender an d intersex (213). While Dreger and Herndon (and, thus, the ISNA) attempt to draw lines in the sand, they do recognize the need for a united front between the two. As Leslie Feinberg notes, the divisive behavior of territory marking over identities often weakens the movement for human rights (213). Transgendered individuals can be muscle for the fight, but not included in the club. The exclusionary politics of the intersex community, effectively, commit the same border wars as the designation of male/fema le. Interestingly enough, Dreger and Herndon provide a specific context for the transgender wish to be included within the intersex plight: [B]eing labled with an intersex condition means avoiding the diagnosis of a mental disorder and possibly easier a ccess to legal and medical sex reassignment (213). Essentially, a transgendered identity is mental, intersex is a biological reality. !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! $ T h e s t a t e m e n t i s a n a r g u m e n t a b o u t t h e i n t e r s e x c o m m u n i t y h e l d b y b o t h t h e I S N A a n d t h e a u t h o r s D r e g e r a n d H e r n d o n
109 In her book Gender Outlaw Kate Bornstein, a self identified male to female post operative transsexual lesbian, offers a nother possible, more inclusive term: differently gendered (Bornstein 60). Bornstein, advocates a different way of imagining sex and gender, directly challenging the conflation of the two ideas. Please dont call it biological sex, or social gender. Dont call it sex at all sex is fucking, gender is everything else Gender becomes typed in an attempt to hold together the boundaries of a given group (116). Bornstein sees this need to police gender borders as responsible for the medicalization of tr anssexualism her gender difference results in the medical diagnosis of mental derangement. She discusses her own experien ce with this medical diagnosis: Im called gender dysphoric. That means I have a sickness: a limited understanding of gender. I don t think its that. I w as gender dysphoric for my whole life before, and for some time after my gender change blindly buying into the gender system. As soon as I came to some understanding about the constructed nature of gender, and my relationship to the s ystem, I ceased being gender dysphoric. (Bornstein 119) Bornstein re imagines the gender binary not as the standard, but the deviation, seeing it as a social cons truction, not the natural order. Medical
110 d ysphoria, then, is failing to see the impossibility of the system. Gender identity should be perceived as fluid, not stagnant and forever fixed. Bornstein explains, I know Im not a man about that Im very clear, and Ive come to the conclusion that Im probably not a woman either. At least not according to a lot of peoples rules on this sort of thing. The trouble is; were living in a world that insists we be one or the other a world that doesnt bother to tell us exactly what one or the other is (Bornstein 8). Bornstein pushes ideas of gender to their furthest logical conclusions, yielding illogical renderings. She continually questions what it means or feels like to be a woman/man. Aside from a phallocentric, biological understanding of gender what is gender? Bornsteins approach to gender directly c hallenges the ISNAs take on the way in which intersex individuals should approach gender in their own lives. The ISNAs approach to gender is social constructivist seeing gender as socially created, not biological determined. While the term intersex re sists negative connotation s and lip service to the male/female dichotomy, the ISNAs approach to sexual designation is very interesting. Intersex refuses the binary, but the ISNA encourages individuals to live their lives according to the designation of male/female. [I]n human culture, sex categories get simplified into male, female, and sometimes intersex, in order to simplify social interactions, express what we know and feel, and maintain order (emphasis mine) ( http://www.isna.org) The policing of g ender, or the maintaining of order, is the root of the stigmatization,
111 shame, pain, and, in certain occasions, the physical manipulation and trauma experienced by individuals who dont neatly fit into category of male or female. Bornstein wants to over throw the whole system, the ISNA just wa nts people to lead normal lives and choose male, female, or intersex Well, whats that exactly? To make the debate even more complicated, the overthrow of gender ostensibly leads to the question of a third sex. In her book Female Masculinities Judith Halberstam discusses the negative implications produced by the idea of a third sex. Halberstam presents a unique historical connection between the ideas of the hermaphrodite and a third sex: Many historians of sexu ality use the category of the hermaphrodite as a synonym for a third sex because in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the notion of a third sex emerged not only as a biological explanation for so called same sex behavior but also as the believed co nsequence of self pollution (Halberstam 59). Essentially, the women were under developed men, vaginas were penises tucked inside. The late eighteenth century saw the onset of a new mode of thinking: the two sex model, which prompted the connection between hermaphrodite and third sex. [T]he hermaphrodite was set apart, as if another sex (60). According to Halberstam, the female tribade 1 4 was manifested with fears of homosexual behavior and hermaphroditic traits, particularly female !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! ( H a l b e r s t a m s d e f i n i t i o n f o r t r i b a d e : [ A ] w o r d o f G r e e k o r i g i n m e a n i n g a w o m a n w h o r u b s a n d i t r e f e r s t o t h e p l e a s u r a b l e f r i c t i o n o f r u b b i n g a c l i t o r i s o n a n o t h e r p e r s o n s t h i g h p u b i c b o n e h i p b u t t o c k s o r a n y o t h e r f l e s h l y s u r f a c e ( H a l b e r s t a m 5 9 )
112 biology that transgress ed masculine power; specifically, a fear of the clitoris and its ability to perform the job of penis. The use of the category of hermaphrodite, in general, signals an attempt to locate monstrous nonfemale desire on the body (60). The hermaphrodite figure represented fears of same sex desire and the usurpation of supposedly exclusive masculine ability. In the novel, Cals self definition as a herm aphrodite is an individual choice that directly relates to who Cal is and where hes come from. Cals choice of the word hermaphrodite resists stigmatization as well as the effect of using an umbrella term: Cal isnt merely falling into a designation; instead hes providing a specific, individual context for the use of the word. Cals inheritance of Greek cul ture has not only affected his physical and genetic makeup, holiday rituals, or the presence of spoken Greek in the household. Cals choice to write a Homer esque epic of his family isnt merely the desire to write a long, megalomaniac book. Greek culture gives Cal a positive understanding of self: the hermaphrodite in Greek culture isnt a figure of derision and shame. The long, complex family history proffers and inheritance of not only familial traits, but personal possibility. Cal bridges the gap betwee n the beaches of Smyrna and the industrial echoes on the murky Detroit streets he is a hybrid of the Greek and American culture. In the face of American adversity, Greek culture provides him with a language of positive identification. Cal
113 bridges the gap b etween the physical and the imaginary, the real and the mythical. While storytelling prompts a sense of power, identity is a negotiation. Cals identity is a constant battle of asserting worth. In the end of the novel, Cal leaves his current situation on a positive note, but not a completely decisive assertion. This notion is implied within the text. Early on in the novel, Cal claims, When this story goes out into the world, I may be the most famous hermaphrodite in history ( Eugenides 19). Later in the no vel, Cal reflects on his earlier assertions. The most famous hermaphrodite in history? Me? It felt good to write that, but Ive got a long way to go (107). The latter fear is directly related to Cals current feelings about his hermaphroditic identity. Cal expresses a sense of personal shame: A word on my shame. I dont condone it. Im trying my best to get over it (106 7). Cal fears the reaction that other individuals may have to his physical predicament (107). Despite his struggles with anxiety ove r social acceptance, writing enables a sense of personal achievement. He asserts in the novel, I dont care if I write a great book anymore, but just one which, whatever its flaws, will leave a record of my impossible life (302). There seems implicit in his assertion that there is a hope that propagation of his story may provoke a new societal knowledge and view of hermaphrodite individuals.
114 Social Influence Cals initial recognition of himself as a hermaphrodite is uniquely tied to social influence. L uces assessment of Callie is lacking in its ability to adequately encapsulate who she is, or who she feels she is. After a series of tests ranging from biological and genetic testing, to emotional and psychological analysis Luce ascertains, In speech, ma nnerisms, and dress, the subject manifests a feminine gender identity and role, despite a contrary chromosomal status ( Eugenides 437). Luces recommendation was genital surgery to conform Callies genitals to match, what he assumed, to be her gender. Call ies investigation into the medical terms Luce used to describe her rendered her first experience with the idea of hermaphrodism. The Webster dictionary provided Callies first foray into the intricate web of language, power and social consensus. First, Ca llie looks up a word shes heard in discussion of her body, but lacked the knowledge of what it meant. Looking up the term hypospadias prompted Callies initial understanding of herself as a man An abnormality of the penis in which the urethra opens on its under surface. See synonyms at EUNUCH (430). The definition for eunuch prompted Callie to look up its synonym, hermaphrodite. Callies future was thus sealed as her eyes fell upon the synonym for hermaphr odite, MONSTER. Cal explains, The synonym wa s official, authoritative; it was the verdict that the culture gave on a person like her. Monster (431). For Callie, the dictionary provided the information of the world and, thus, the way she
115 should understand herself in terms of it. Here was a book tha t contained the collected knowledge of the past while giving evidence of present social conditions (431). The dictionary is metonymically bound to society and its outlook on her. This is evidenced in the statement, The definition [monster] inserted it sel f into billboards and the ad s on passing buses (432). Callie s thought process breaks down the macrocosm to a debilitating microcosmic real ity: They knew. Her parents knew she was a monster (432). Faced with the biological reality of her body (hyposp adias, as defined by the dictionary) and Luces acknowledgment of Callies genetics as XY, Callie becomes Cal. Cals experience with gender prompts the reader to read gender as a performance; the best performer is one who recognizes and plays to the soci al cues of gender. For example, after r enouncing her female sex/gender Callie transitions from female to male socially through arbiters of cultural significance. Callies first st ep to personal transformation i s bedecking her newly recognized male body i n a suit, signifying to the rest of the world that she was to be understood as a he. After finding the socially appropriate outfit, Cal gets a haircut, chopping his long locks off. He reflects, With the screen of hair removed, the recent changes in my fac e were far more evident It was unquestionably a male face, but the feelings inside that boy were still a girl ( Eugenides 445). The exterior and interior dont yet fully match.
116 Callies transition to Cal proffers important commentary on the reality of gen der and sex. This is evidenced in Cals first experience feeling like a male, which takes place as Cal hitchhikes from New York to California. And it right then that it happens. At some moment on Route 80 something clicks in my head and suddenly I feel I am getting the hang of it. Myron and Sylvia are treating me like a son. Under this collective delusion I become that, for a little while at least. I become male identi fied (Eugenides 450). Cals description al ludes to a reading more closely aligned with t he idea of performance rather than natural reclamation of a pre existing identity. For example, the diction is critical of the event; the connotation of delusion and the idea of getting the hang of it produce a reading that makes one aware of the socia l influence in the creation of gender. Masculinity is something that Cal performs. This notion is reaffirmed during another hitchhiking interaction involving Bob Presto. Pulling aside the highway to pick up Cal, Presto remarks, I thought you were a chick at first, when I saw you standing by the road. I didnt register the suit ( Eugenides 461). Here, the gender binary is encapsulated in a word: register. Within society, there exists an elaborate schema for gender identification that individuals recogniz e and make assertions about the world around them. Aside from pulling ones pants down, there are social cues for gender assessment. Kate Bornstein explains the process as gender attribution, which includes a
117 myriad of different cues whereby we assess an i ndividuals gender. 1 5 Additionally, this idea of play or performance of gender is evidenced in passing. In her book, Bornstein discusses the relevance to transgendered individuals in learning these cues in an effort to exemplify the new gender choice. Whi le passing is socially relevant, Judith Halberstam discusses the negative reality of passing in Female Masculinities : Passing as a narrative assumes that there is a self that masquerades as another kind of self and so successfully; at various moments, the successful pass may cohere into something akin to identity. At such moment, that passer has become (Halberstam 21). The problem with this becoming is that it is contingent upon a binary of this or that, masculine or feminine, thereby disallowing multip le interstices between the two genders. To pass, one needs to play along with binary gender. Halberstam continues, [W]e [sic] need to do more than map psychic and physical journeys between male and female and within queer and straight space; we [sic] need in fact, to think in fractal terms and about gender geometries (21). Passing, in fact, reinforces a restrictive binary, which presupposes that an individual can only be one or another. To move beyond binary thinking is to etch a space for personal possi bility that is non existent within the present structure of gender thinking. !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! ) F o r m o r e i n f o r m a t i o n o n g e n d e r a t t r i b u t i o n s e e p g s 2 6 3 1 o f K a t e B o r n s t e i n s G e n d e r O u t l a w s
118 Hybridity Cal recognizes the incapability of the binary in his own outlook on himself, expressed throughout the novel. An example of this is demonstrated in Cals musing on his transition, My change from girl to boy was far less dramatic than the distance anybody travels from infancy to adulthood. In most ways I remained the person Id always been ( Eugenides 520). Cals remark p laces more emphasis on the experience of transitio n than on the particularity of gender transfer. In the novel, Cal represents a hybrid of both biological imperative and social influence. Cal recognizes the importance of aspects of each in his creation and self identity, but resists the impulse to choose on or the other. This idea is metaphorically insinuated in the metaphor of faces towards the ending of the readers experience with Cal as a fifteen year old boy. After being arrested in San Francisco, Cal returns to his family on Middlesex. Before Cal re turns, his father dies in a tragic car accident in an attempt to find him. Cal returns on the day of his fathers funeral. The funeral serves as an emblematic moment of Cals transition. In accordance with Greek tradition, Cal stands at the doorway of the Stephanides home to guard against Miltons return. Cals imagery during this section encapsulates his identity: The wind swept over the crusted snow into my Byzantine face, which was the face of my grandfather and of the American girl I had once been (E ugenides 529). Cal is officially a man
119 only male members of the family can stand guard but aspects of his female identity will never be lost.
120 C o n c l u s i o n s Through each text examined in this thesis, the reader is presented with a unique gendered identity and the way in which that identity is negotiated in its own social milieu. The Ballad of Sad Caf enables an understanding of cultural influence over bodies, or reception of bodies. Carson McCullers gender queers Miss Amelia, just as s he manipulates the popular ballad form. The body of Miss Amelia is symbolically linked to the body of the text. Toni Morrisons The Bluest Eye reveals the implicit and explicit ways in which Western society influences a particular, racialized image of Amer ica. Morrisons text, and the character Claudia, literally fight against exclusionary cultural artifacts: Morrison breaks the Dick and Jane reader form; Claudia, the plastic, white baby dolls. Middlesex explores these questions of sex and gender through a character that represents the failures of binary thinking. Instead, the epic tradition provides Cal with a language and methodology to adequately describe his life. The negotiation of the epic form represents the negotiation of Cals queries of sex and g ender. The engagement with popular form in each of these texts reveals limitations on personal autonomy. The characters in these texts are representative of the different in ways in which individuals can engage and fight against their present realities, e ven from within them. While the
121 characters of these novels arent completely satisfied, or even successful in their different identities, their struggle resonates with the reader. Characters may not be able to escape their reality, but these texts call for the reader to take a more active approach her or himself. Each text holds a diverse and varied interpretative power for the reader.
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