Questions on Jazz

This post is regarding my presentation questions from our last Jazz seminar! Yeah, I know I’m super late, I’m sorry.

  1. What is the significance of the lack parenting?
  2. What importance does the parrot that says “I love you” have? Why does Violet leave the knife in his cage?

Firstly, the theme of parents affects many characters in the novel. Here’s a recap:

  • Orphans: Violet, Joe, and Dorcas
  • Raises other people’s children: Alice, True Belle

The other main thing that all these characters share is that they are all African American. It is because of this, and because of American history, that it makes sense to say that the loss of motherhood could be connected to African people’s loss of “mother tongue” and of their language and culture during the slave era. The characters in Jazz are like continuations of this oppression, the repercussions of their assimilation into modern 20s “white people culture”. Like Dabydeen, they could be going through some sort of identity crisis, not knowing how they fit into society = not knowing their mother/parents. Golden Grey fits really well into this theory, being a person of mixed race. His motives for hunting down his father are discussed a little, and Hunter, his father, accuses Golden’s motivation of finding him was only to see if his father really was as black as they say. Like in jazz, the musical genre, the 20s were a part of the transition for the genre. It went from being an almost exclusively black type of musical, derived mostly from slave songs, later turning into blues. The first type/sub-genre of jazz was something called “Dixieland” that came out of New Orleans and was very much dominated by black people. I guess what I’m trying to say is that jazz was invented by black Americans, and only later on did it turn into swing, big band style jazz, which was heavily loved by the rest of America (white America). It’s in this subgenre of jazz that you find a lot white artists, like Frank Sinatra. This convergence of the music genre is parallel to the convergence of the actual people in many cities like Harlem, NY. It wasn’t until the later half of the 60s that African American jazz legends like Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, and Miles Davis were in the limelight of the jazz community and recognized for their talent. In my opinion, I do think that the effects of jazz’s history of being (sorta) whitewashed is still seen today. The most prominent voice for jazz in popular culture right now is very white Ryan Reynolds, because of his role in La La Land, which faced some backlash for being an incredibly white film. All of this shows how fitting the title of this novel is. Jazz can stand as a symbol of the many varying struggles of African Americans in a city like Harlem, NY.

Secondly, the birds are important because they symbolize Joe and Violet’s relationship. When the novel opens, their love had just fallen after hanging on by a thread for who know’s how long. The narrator explains how they have been barely tolerating each other for many years. The presence of the parrot that mindlessly repeats “I love you” could be a parallel of their relationship as they go along with being together “in love” without putting in any effort to actually be in love. They are both very caught up with their own problems to truly open up to each other, which is fixed by the end of the novel. After Violet finds out about Joe’s dishonesty and goes on her rampage to Dorcas’s funeral, she goes back to their apartment and lets her parrot free. This act could be her trying to lose all ties to Joe and their relationship. What’s interesting is how it is noted multiple times that she is not sure if the parrot dies from this or not. It seems very likely that the parrot would be dead, like how Joe’s affair would most likely ruin any relationship with Violet. But Violet wonders if the parrot could’ve lived, suggesting she still loves Joe. When they are working on fixing their relationship at the end of the novel, they adopt another bird that is sick, and they are nursing it back to health, much like their wounded relationship.

Colour in Vertigo

Filmmakers can use colour to trigger a subconscious emotional reaction from the audience based on the connotations that we attached to certain colours. If done right, this can have a huge symbolic impact in the film. Tough luck for anyone who’s colour blind, right? We’ve already talked in seminar about the colours tied to the characters in Vertigo,  and there’s also many YouTube videos that discuss this at length, so I’ll just recap: Madeline/Judy is green, John (Scotty) is red, and Midge is yellow.

I was curious about whether the choice of these colours meant anything, or if any colour could have represented the characters. I found there is actually a colour coded “wheel of emotions” designed by Robert Plutchik, (Ph.D in medicine, university professor, and psychologist) who has published research just on the theory of emotion.

Plutchik’s Wheel

From this, we can pair Scotty with emotions like anger and annoyance, maybe because he can’t be with Madeline. Notice how the colour green can be fear and also admiration – the two themes around Madeline/Judy as Scotty falls in love with her, but there is an air of the paranormal surrounding her when we think she might be possessed by Carlotta’s ghost. Then later he falls in love with Judy, but there is a ghostly, eerie hue to her in her uncanny resemblance to Madeline (before he finds out they are the same person). The scene when Judy emerges from the bathroom, transformed for the second time into Madeline, she is surrounded by green light. That leaves Midge, who begins the film in yellow, which represent joy and serenity. I’m not sure how much that fits with her character. But interestingly, the emotion of love fits in between the colours yellow and green, similar to how Midge loves Scotty but he’s just out of her grasp, as he loves Madeline.

The nightmare scene that Scotty has is also full of colour. The screen switches back and forth from flashing many different colours until it is only flashing red.

I can’t say how much Hitchcock intended the colour in the film to have underlying meanings, or if they line up with any points I’ve made here, but there are probably some (if not all) scenes where colour is purposeful.


Plutchik wheel picture: public domain,

Dabydeen & Identity

No matter how much we talk in seminar about the poems in Slave Song, we can’t seem to come to an agreement on what the book’s purpose actually is. Is it a political statement on colonization? An attempt to recreate an authentic account Guyanese life? Or is it purely a product of Dabydeen’s fantasy, or “work of art”?

I (obviously) can’t say I know what the answer is, but I feel it’s a mix of the three. Almost like the intent of the book changes with each different “voice” Dabydeen takes on in the poems themselves vs. in the translations and notes. He jumps around from role to role, a one-man book with first-person poems told by Guyanese women paired with Western scholarly analysis, and also Dabydeen’s own introduction and postscript commenting his work. That’s why there are so many ways to read this book; Dabydeen speaks as so many characters each giving different angles to view the book’s content from.

But why did he write it like this? To confuse us? Maybe. Like I said in seminar, I think Dabydeen was struggling with his own identity and played with the different sides of his personality in making this book. He can identify with being an educated English scholar as well as with Guyanese culture. The history of his family mixed with his own life experiences has probably left him in some state of confusion about where he fits. Perhaps the main purpose of this book was actually to act as a therapeutic exercise for Dabydeen to explore and discover how all the pieces of him fit together or even contradict each other at times. Sometimes I feel like the poems and the translations are passive aggressively fighting each other or making some comment about each other. When the translations/apparatus feel so distanced and unaffected by the cruelty of the poems, it comes across as insulting, but at the same time purposeful. Dabydeen is simultaneously trying to speak about what happened in the past through the means of his present. This is seen in the last poem, Two Cultures, as the voice of a Guyanese man tells off a young boy for “ruining” the English people’s culture, and also for not acting true to his Guyanese origin. I believe the boy in question is representative of Dabydeen as he struggles to belong in both Guyana and England. Maybe he wants to honour his heritage in the way he knows how – writing poetry(?)

Remember, this is just another possible interpretation of many. I don’t know how much of this is actually makes sense. I’d love to hear any feedback of what you guys think. Open invitation to roast me in the comments!

Gilman and Mental Illness

“The Yellow Wallpaper” is praised for accurately describing one woman’s terrifying and slow descent into madness from her own perspective, no less. She unknowingly describes her unusual symptoms, too distracted by the ugly wallpaper around her to reflect what’s actually happening to her. But what actually is happening to her?

Gilman writes with such conviction that it is not too hard to believe the short story was inspired by her own personal experiences with curing mental health illnesses. As Christina said in lecture, she was treated with the same tedious “rest cure” described in the story and was also prescribed with cocaine and morphine – pretty weird stuff. It’s obvious during her time no one had any close guess as to what causes mental illness or what it actually is. One hypothesis suggests it is the effect of low energy in the nervous system, giving patients weak spines among other symptoms.

The complete misunderstanding of her case was most likely a driving force behind “The Yellow Wallpaper”.

I don’t have the knowledge to diagnose the protagonist of the story but my best guess is that she experienced uncontrollable episodes of daydreaming – also known as Maladaptive daydreaming. (Disclaimer: I don’t know a lot about this but I read a couple articles and they seemed interesting.) A study in 2002 claims the condition causes people to have “extensive fantasy activity that replaces human interaction and/or interferes with academic, interpersonal or vocational functioning”. People who suffer from this experience “hyper real, minutely detailed scripts that played on the walls of their minds for most of their waking hours.” Which could be compared to the main character’s hallucinations of the woman behind the wallpaper, and her reappearing outside all the windows. Even more relevant to the story, the study describes one common symptom: “As they fantasised, they engaged in repetitive movements –from pacing, rocking and spinning to throwing a ball up in the air.” Similar to the protagonist of the story’s obsessive crawling/creeping around the room in circles.

Gilman’s short brings up many questions about mental illness and how it should be treated properly. It’s almost implied in the story that the main reason for the main character’s mental state was because of her entrapment and improper care. I hope you found this interesting! Here’s the link to the full article on Maladaptive Daydreaming:

Questioning Freud

The two questions from my presentation both involved analyzing Freud’s work:

  1. How valid are Freud’s theories of the castration complex and child primary narcissism today?
  2. Do you agree with Freud’s view that suppressed desires cause hysteria given Nathaneal’s case from The Sandman?

In “The Uncanny” Freud picks apart Hoffman’s short story “The Sandman” along with many other texts, as well as his own personal experiences in order to define what exactly the “uncanny” is. He comes to the conclusion that it is not “intellectual uncertainty”, but actually “the class of frightening things that leads us back to what is known and familiar”, or the return of the repressed.

In analyzing Hoffman’s short, he claims it brings the feeling of uncanny because of its ties to repressed infantile desires. He says the act of losing our eyes is subconsciously related to our castration complex as children. The problem here is he doesn’t give much information how exactly these two things, fear of losing your eyes and genitalia, can be interchangeable. He also says the recurring theme of doubles in the story are uncanny because they indirectly remind us of our primary narcissism we had as children. Contrary to Freud, I have a hard time believing children participate in primary narcissism because they are afraid on some level of their mortality. I don’t believe small children have a strong enough grasp of the concept of death itself to begin fretting their own deaths, even subconsciously. Also, the example given in lecture of a child referring to themselves in the third person as evidence of primary narcissism is problematic. Children don’t call themselves by their first name because they wish to project multiple versions of themselves and become immortal, but simply because children don’t learn how to use pronouns before learning how names work.

It’s these little problems and ambiguity in Freud’s writings that caused me to question his credibility, especially given the case of Nathanael in “The Sandman”. While there are many instances of traumatic events in Nathaneal’s past coming back to haunt him in adult life (his spying on Coppelius and his father’s death), it is difficult to find any evidence of repressed desires that Freud believes is central to many cases of hysteria, not unlike the Nathaneal’s case. Towards the end of the story, he begins repeating phrases and acting without self-control. While this may be his repressed memories from his childhood (repressed because we never see what happens- just afterwards when Nathanael wakes up), I don’t believe he has repressed desires.

Hildegard of Bingen: the Opening Shot

Many film critics believe there is a strong importance in the opening shot of a film; that unbeknownst to the audience, it tells them everything they need to know about what they are about to see. Good film openings are rich in symbolism and set the mood and tone of the plot of the film. For example, the first seconds of the Disney classic The Lion King are iconic for the perfect portrayal of the circle of life- the sun rising over the savanna, representing the new age, just as Simba overcomes his uncle and begins the new era of balance and prosperity. This theory of the opening shot is also applicable to the beginning of the film Vision: From the Life of Hildegard von Bingen. If you can’t remember exactly how the film starts, I’ll play it out for you.

A large, bright, full moon is takes up most of the screen and is surrounded by nothing but black sky. Below, a skyline of trees and houses are outlined by the moon’s light, which extends to illuminate all that is below it. Subtle and eerie night-time sounds can be softly heard in the distance.

This all takes place in about the first 5 seconds, but nevertheless, is very important to the film. My interpretation of this sequence is that Hildegard is represented here as the moon. It isn’t radiant and in-your-face like the sun is; it has much more humble. I find that suits Hildegard very well. Also, the moon in this shot isn’t shown to be surrounded by any stars, which is the representation of Hildegard’s unique visions. She is the only person she knows who has experienced anything like them, and her relationship with God is special and separate from others. Also, she is female, which is isolating enough in her time as it is. The presence of the skyline is because of the light from the moon shining on it – which I believe is an obvious metaphor for Hildegard’s publishing of her visions, her preaching travels, and everything else she has done to share and spread her visions. Her teachings have illuminated many, in a literal sense. Lastly, I would say the lack of music and eeriness was to make the audience feel mystified, and to set up the tone for the first scene. I do believe Hildegard was sort of enigmatic and secretive herself as well.

When we first watched the film I was sure to write down my take on the opening shot, and I have written in my notes: “Loneliness. Isolation. Kind of mysterious.” It’s interesting how I had these fairly accurate descriptions of Hildegard before the film had really even started. I hope this will give you a new perspective on the beginnings of any films and movies you watch – don’t take even the first couple seconds for granted!


Well hello there, and thanks for being curious.

My name is Jenna and I’m from Winnipeg, Manitoba.  I love watching films and reading, particularity science fiction, but I’m in a huge Game of Thrones phase currently. I collect coins too.

I really enjoy music. I play the trumpet, piano, french horn, and ukulele. If anyone is looking for a fellow band nerd, I’m your person. I’m also in the Choral Union here at UBC, and we have our first concert on October 15th, if you’re interested.

Also, Pottermore just updated and published a Patronus Charm quiz, so today I found out my patronus is a leopardess. That’s pretty exciting. If you like Harry Potter.

I’m super open to making new friends, so talk to me before or after class sometime!

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