Although Vera Louise’s silence of Golden Gray’s biracial identity can be interpreted as an action done out of her love towards him, her decision to remain quiet over his black heritage served as a window to the discrimination black people faced during the twentieth century. By staying silent Vera Louise did not only protect her son from slavery, but she also prevented the possibility of her son from being viewed inferior and being stripped from the rights of the superior race. Moreover, the fact that she remained silent for eighteen years (143) can be interpreted in two ways: it can be seen as her attempt to keep her son hanging on to the illusion that he’s a full-blood Caucasian or it can be viewed as her attempt to convince herself that her son is not biracial, but is rather the superior race. Regardless of the interpretations stated previously, her desire to make Golden Gray’s white half dominate his black half evoked a notion that the Caucasian race was more respected. However, her silence was not the only thing that prevented him from being demoted from his status as a free, Caucasian man; his physical attributes that strongly mimicked European characteristics masked the other half of his race that was considered inferior during his time. By having “a head swollen of fat champagne-colored curls” (148 – 149) and “creamy skin” (168) Golden Gray’s race as a white person overshadowed his black race, thus preventing Vera Louise from abandoning him at the Catholic Foundling Hospital (148). Subsequently, Vera Louise’s action of keeping Golden Gray only because he exhibited Caucasian features further implied the racial inequality during that time; if Golden Gray portrayed black characteristics, his mother would have abandoned him in the hospital for keeping him would put her (and her son) to shame in the eyes of the society she lived in. However, her decision to keep Golden Gray solely because he manifested white features, can be inferred as Morrison’s attempt to provide a window to the racial injustice evident during that time; it revealed the twentieth century belief within her society that Caucasian features were favored greater than the physical characteristics of other ethnicities. Not abandoning her son if he were to display attributes of the subordinate race would make known that she had a relationship with someone of black ethnicity; consequently, that would reduce the respect Vera Louise attained from her position in the society. If she were to keep her son had he been born appearing more black than white, then her action would collide with her society’s distaste of interracial relationships.
Evidence of this social norm was supported by the response Vera Louise’s parents had towards their daughter after their discovery of her affair with Hunter (141). Had her lover been of white descent, the parents would have married her off to him right away regardless of how furious they were of the situation; instead, they exiled her from their home as Hunter was of black descent and interracial marriage was not a commonly accepted idea during that period. By banishing her from their home, it can be inferred that Vera Louise’s action unsettled them for it disrupted the twentieth century social norms they abided by. This unsettledness the parents may have experienced can be interpreted as their unfamiliarity to this new idea of interracial relationships Vera Louise unwillingly introduced to them. Since the idea appeared extremely controversial to them, it challenged the values that had been fixed so firmly in their minds by their society; their daughter’s conduct conflicted with their own ideals for her—for her to remain chaste until a specific time and that she was expected to have a same race relationship—as her incompliance to the social norms blurred the racial inequality that was strongly prominent in her era.
When I was reading Sebald’s Austerlitz I was surprised to have noticed an absence of quotation marks. Because of this lack of quotation marks, I felt that the story of Austerlitz the narrator was giving to us lacked validity.
Through evocative language in the narrative structure, Austerlitz’s recollection of his past was brought to a rich imagery, subsequently immersing the reader into a search for a closer connection to him; however, the exemption of quotation marks and the reiteration of his past behind the voice of the narrator throughout the story halted the recovery of Austerlitz’s past being told in his own voice. Despite providing a vast amount of detailed information about himself to the narrator, the absence of quotation marks evident throughout the novel questioned the validity of Austerlitz’s memories being said through his own words; consequently, this uncertainty distanced the reader from fully knowing the protagonist. While the rich imagery of Austerlitz’s memories provided through his storytelling drew us closer to seeing him at a personal level, the lack of quotation marks prevented us from truly knowing him; without the presence of quotation marks surrounding the sentences supposedly spoken by him, the sentences seemed more as if they were the narrator’s interpretations of the protagonist’s depiction of his past. Hence, Austerlitz’s description of his past seemed rather incomplete for the way how Sebald structured the sentences invoked a sense of lacking assurance that the protagonist truly said those statements. As a result, this connotation evoked through Sebald’s style of writing prevented readers from fully understand Austerlitz; without knowledge of whether the words belonging to the protagonist were valid or not, Austerlitz’s past remained lingering beneath the shadows of uncertainty. Moreover, the recollection of his story through the voice of the narrator further crumbled the possibility of the reader coming to fully know the character. By having his past recounted through the narrator, Austerlitz’s voice lost its authenticity, and subsequently the uncertainty of whether the narrator’s portrayal of the protagonist’s past is valid or not becomes further emphasized.
In Stillman’s first conversation with the protagonist the story invokes an idea that language in its prelapsarian state involves words correlating to an object’s function and physical exterior. When Quinn asks Stillman his purpose for collecting broken objects, Stillman replies that he’s “invent[ing] new words that would correspond to the things”. This can be interpreted as Stillman giving the objects new names that would agree to their functions and outward appearances. Through the thought of the objects being renamed in accordance to their very nature, the scene suddenly evokes a sense of wholeness hence supporting an underlying theme of unity. But how does this connotation we receive from the mere thought of renaming an object tie to the theme of unity? Recall that in Stillman’s umbrella analogy he indicates that when we hear the word ‘umbrella’ we think of an object that protects us from the rain. By thinking of the umbrella in terms of Stillman’s description of it, we are drawing an immediate connection between the objects name and its nature. This relationship that we are picturing between the object and its name blurs the boundaries that separate the word ‘umbrella’ and the object it names, subsequently making them seem as one. From this interchangeability we feel from sensing this connection, evokes the connotation of wholeness. Though this connotation we receive lies the underlying theme of unity as this tone that we sense involves the unification of the word and the object it names. However, if the umbrella were to break, it would no longer serve its function as something that would protect one from rain. Hence, would it be appropriate to call the broken object an umbrella? Stillman believes not! Alas, the sight of the broken object does not correlate to our initial impression of the word umbrella. Because we were initially taught to recognize an umbrella, as Stillman describes it to be, as “a kind of stick, with collapsible metal spokes on top that form an armature for a waterproof material which, when opened, will protect you from the rain” calling an umbrella that is broken as an umbrella removes the connotation of wholeness unlike when we draw the connection between the name of the object and the object itself. Without this feeling of wholeness, the name ‘umbrella’ loses the sense that it is a language in its prelapsarian state.
Hi everyone! Wow! :O I can’t believe we’ve already reached the end of the year! It’s a miracle we survived! And sorry that this is late! I felt that it would be better that I do it now rather than regretting that I never did later.
In my perspective, I found the story to be delivering a master-slave relationship between the human will and language in its prelapsarian state. I thought that language in that state was in a slave-like position: was submissive to human perception of what the person sees. Through Stillman’s Humpty Dumpty analogy and his insight of before the fall of mankind in the Garden of Eden, the story examines how the interchangeability evoked by a word fully embodying an object’s nature and appearance within the compliance language has upon the human will can restore language back to its prelapsarian state. When Stillman noted Humpty Dumpty’s statement “[w]hen I use a word, Humpty Dumpty said… it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less” the statement evokes a sense that words can be submissive to human will. By indicating himself to be responsible for the meaning of words, it suggests an idea that if we were to “become masters of the words we speak” we then have the power to create and alter words into our liking; in other words, we have the capability of forming words that would correspond to our perception of an object’s appearance or function. By suggesting that we are able to form words in accordance to our preference(s), the scene evokes a notion that this power we hold over language can restore language back to its prelapsarian state. In order to further support this notion of our mastery over language, let’s investigate Stillman’s insight of before the fall of mankind in the Garden of Eden. In his analysis, Stillman examines Adam’s task of inventing language in the Garden. In his state of innocence, the words Adam used to describe what he saw wholly embodies the nature of the things before his eyes: his words “had revealed their essences, had literally brought them to life”. By being able to draw out the nature of the things he saw, the language that Adam uses seems convey a sense of subservience to his own perspective. Through this statement, we can infer that the words he uses before the fall directly associates with the way how he views the functions and appearances of the things he names. By initially inventing words in correlation to his own perceptions, we can conclude that Adam’s words before the fall represents language in its prelapsarian state. Subsequently, this association suggests to us that we have absolute power over words we speak: that we are capable of inventing words and changing them to suit our perceptions of what we see. By being able to invent a name that correlates to our perspective of an object’s appearance or function, we are able to force an object and its name to appear compatible, hence invoking a sense of unity. Through this connotation re-stimulated by the interchangeability between an object and its name, the story then suggests that we are able to, in our own power, restore language back to its original state before the fall of mankind.