Feminist criticism of Cherry Valence in The Outsiders

In The Outsiders, Cherry Valence initially comes as off as an intense, no-nonsense girl. She responds to Dally’s inappropriate comments by dousing him in the face with soda, and readily engages in conversation with Ponyboy, regardless of the potential backlash that may result from her peers in responses to their interaction. However, Cherry Valence’s character, while dignified in her response of protecting the greasers, in the end succumbs to solely becoming submissive to both her gender expectations and her social class. While Cherry protects the greasers by defending Johnny at the trial, her “loyalty” to the greasers remains inferior to the protection of her status. Cherry, as a portrayal of women, although noble in her attempt to do justice for the greasers, ends up being weakened by proving herself to be a woman who easily submits to the pressures around her. Cherry also denies herself the right to chase or to love a “bad boy” like Dally, thus making her seem fearful of the consequences that loving him may have, as opposed to braving the chances in order to obtain what she desires.

As a former teenage girl who teaches many teenage girls, I found myself groaning in dismay at the lack of effort on Cherry’s part. When she initially meets Ponyboy, I was hoping for her to have a change of heart and to leave her comfort zone in effort to defy social/gender standards and to become friends with the greasers and to pursue her desire to be with Dally. Instead, she proves herself to be a woman who is aware that everyone “watches the same sunset”, yet does nothing in order to bridge the gap between the two rivaling parties. Instead, she remains a helpless bystander, only trying to make peace from a safe distance—this making her certainly no role model for a growing girl to look up to. In essence, Cherry’s actions (or lack there of) ensure young women that it’s ok to stand up for something you believe in, that is, from a safe distance of being seen. As a teacher, I often try to encourage my students (particularly the girls) to defy standards and stereotypes, to go for what they want, and to always voice their beliefs. Cherry Valence on the other hand, is not a woman of these values, but rather a watered down portrayal of a what a heroine should be. Is this what we want to teach our kids—to only speak their mind from behind the protection of closed doors?

-VM

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GAME ON!

Easter is fast approaching and different people love Easter for different reasons, no Matter what your religion. Some love it because it is the one time of the year they get to bite into a Cadbury cream egg. Some love Easter for the hunt, the challenge to find those hidden little gems that are scattered across your house or yard. No other holiday makes you hunt for you gifts. The turkey is carved and brought out to you on Thanksgiving, where is the fun in that? Christmas? Come on! You know when you wake up where all the gifts are going to be. Pffht, hardly a challenge.

It is the hunt that fuels every character in Ernest Clines READY PLAYER ONE, And it is the hunt that will get you to stay up late to turn the next page. Cline writes a fun novel that is set in the…wait for it…dystopian future where everyone is logging on to play a game called OASIS that was created by a Bill Gates/ Steve Jobs like character, James Halliday. This game is “a massively multiplayer online game that had gradually evolved into the globally networked virtual Reality most of humanity now used on a daily basis”.  Halliday’s world is giant homage to the eighties and nineties, specifically the nerdy pop-culture that was emerging at the time.

The book opens some years after Halliday’s death. He, in the most Willy Wonka way possible, has said that there are three hidden Keys to different gates in this virtual world. The first person to open the last portal will inherit all of Halliday’s Wealth And most importantly the keys to OASIS. TurN to Wade Watts, a gamer who lives in one of The many “stacks”, recreational vehicles that are Stacked on top of one another to form a place to live. He’s been plugging away trying to find the first of these hidden Easter eggs that Halliday left behind between classes at the virtual high school planet that is set up in OASIS. That’s right a high school planet, as a future teacher the idea of a world full of high schoolers, virtual or no, is frightening.

If high school is a challenge for Wade, so is beating Innovative Online Industries to the last gate. IOI is An evil corporation that employs egg-hunters, like Wade, and whose ultimate goal is to turn the OASIS into a pay-to-play platform. Only one player can ultimately enter the last gate and become the owner of OASIS, but  that doesn’t mean that Wade doesn’t form some uNusual relationships with some of the other players along the way. These friends forge their relationship in a virtual world, a world where your identity is malleable. The Avatar that you see in OASIS is not always a fair representation of the gamer that is in their virtual jumpsuit.

The themes of identity, greed, and community are the core of READY PLAYER ONE.  I enjoyed this book immensely. Wade is a cute kid who is trying to figure out what is right and what is wrong in a world made of pixels. I can’t say if this book is for you, but if you’ve ever put a quarter on an arcade-game to call next game, or you love eighties pop culture then maybe you should pick this book up. I’ve included a fan-made  trailer for the book, because it is awesome and because apparently  fan-made book trailers are a thing that people make nowadays. Before I log off, I have to ask, did you find the three easter eggs in this post? MAS 2015 Alternate book report

Fifteen and a Feminist Perspective

As I read Beverly Cleary’s Fifteen using a feminist lens, I was what now seems overly critical of Jane’s near-obsession with her image and her quickness to call herself “dumb” (though she sometimes warranted the pejorative). It was after I read Chelsea Condren’s columnFifteen and reflected on my own teenage years that I began to better understand Jane’s behavior. Although Jane does not always act on her emotions (e.g., she passively awaits Stan’s call despite a burning desire to speak with him, perhaps indicating ’50s male/female power dynamics), she develops confidence as the novel unfolds. Toward the end of the novel, she even embraces the nickname “Birnam wood,” which originated in ridicule.

But from a more traditional feminist perspective (i.e., one that takes issue with attitudes that reinforce male dominance) there is at least one problem with Jane’s newfound self-esteem: it relies heavily on her relationship with Stan and the social status provided by that relationship. Of course, we cannot know whether Jane would have developed confidence to the extent that she did if Stan hadn’t come along to foster and maintain it. Yet there is no doubt that the relationship props Jane up as if she were a rag doll.

After reading Fifteen, the feminist reader might still wonder: how would Jane deal with a breakup? Would she mope and abandon her new feelings of self-worth as she does when she learns that Stan is taking someone else to the dance? If so, Jane’s feelings of self-worth would be too dependent on her perceived worth to men. Nevertheless, the feminist attuned to the realities of female adolescence might concede that whether Y.A. protagonists like Jane suit feminism or not, modern teenage girls will obsess about their appearances, and many more would feel heartbroken if their beaus took another girl to a school dance. That particular set of circumstances is about more than gender; it’s about loyalty. And Jane’s story serves a young female audience in that it shows that moments like these—full of sorrow—are fleeting.

There is no question that young girls have been acting much like Jane for generations, and it seems inevitable that many will continue to do so. Therefore, as Condren seems to suggest in her column, it may be time we stop deeming such behavior as “boy-crazy” or wrong. To me, it would be more completely feminist—more supportive of young girls and their free will—to accept dreamer-like behavior rather than criticize it. To this end, perhaps we should resist the urge to hastily reject books like Fifteen on account of their old-fashioned, mono-cultural standpoints. (Although the cultural homogeneity of Fifteen truly deserves criticism.) Instead, we could let young readers decide whether they want to pick up Fifteen, just as we would let them decide whether to comport themselves like Jane or not.

-SD

Writing Diversely: Character + Culture

More thoughts on diversity in YA lit, for readers AND for authors.

OK POTATO

Greetings, readers. Let’s get right down to it: Where are all the culturally diverse, quality characters across media? One of the biggest problems with diversity in media is representation of various races in meaningful ways. The “standard” hero story still focuses on the White (Straight) Male Protagonist and the “standard” romance on the White Heterosexual Couple. Mainstream audiences are used to People of Color in movies about overcoming racial hardships and little else (e.g. 12 Years A Slave, Selma, and 42), or exotified cultural mysticism (e.g. 47 Ronin, Last Samurai, etc.)  which is not to say that these are not good movies or good representation, only that PoC are still not acceptable in broader stories and roles. Those visionaries trying to bring racial representation to the forefront definitely exist, but there is still a problem getting the viewers and producers to support what the Powers That Be still…

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Reading from a different angle

Courtesy SparklingAdventures.com

Courtesy SparklingAdventures.com

Our class recently discussed S E Hinton’s The Outsiders (1967), considering it in the light of Erik Erikson’s views (1963) on American identity, which he believes developed under the pressures of various “polarities”: individualism vs. loyalty to the community, hard vs. soft (“better a sinner than a sucker”), etc. If you’ve read Hinton’s breakout novel, published when she was just 17 years old, you know Ponyboy’s struggles as he negotiates the embattled line between the Greasers and the Socs.

It’s a popular book, riffing off of West Side Story, The Wild Ones, Rebel Without a Cause and other outsider/insider texts. Hinton’s novel highlights the lower-class and middle-class divide: what kind of cars the members of the two gangs own, where they live, where they hang out, what they wear. To modern readers, the divide is visible, felt, continually contested. There is no DMZ, only “our turf” and “their turf”.

Which brings me to my point. While Erikson allows us to see Ponyboy’s struggle as a metaphor for every American’s struggle, it’s a monochromatic and monogendered struggle. That is, Hinton’s characters (and Erikson’s examples) are all white and mostly male.

Do modern teens, living in a more integrated country (albeit still haunted by racism and its consequences), notice the missing people? Is it enough to argue that Hinton’s purpose was NOT to address issues of race or gender? Is there any benefit in asking students to consider the novel from the stance of a woman or a person of color?

9780060243647_xlgDown-These-Mean-Streets-9780679781424Because my job requires me to think about diversity – among the teachers in my courses and their current and future students – I read with such questions in mind. It may be that the way to make the omissions visible is to pair Hinton’s book with something like Walter Dean Myers’ Scorpions, featuring African American and Puerto Rican characters. Set in Harlem the 1980s, Myers’ novel is closer to the experiences of students in NYC classrooms. Piri Thomas’ Down These Mean Streets is another, perhaps even more interesting option, since it was published the same year as The Outsiders.

Whichever book I select, it will at least address one part of diversity, helping readers to see and wonder about what’s missing.

-BR

The Outsiders: “For Teenagers, About Teenagers, Written by a Teenager”

The OutsidersAccording to a New York Times essay written by Dale Peck in 2007, The Outsiders was an instant hit when published in 1967 and has remained an all-time best seller for more than forty years. I believe that these facts say a great deal.

Although The Outsiders has been criticized for its “sometimes workmanlike prose” and intermittent clichés, such as, perhaps, the novel turning out to be Ponyboy’s crucial English theme, these elements might also be considered those which make the novel authentically Y.A. (Peck, 2007). That is, because The Outsiders was written for teenagers, about teenagers and by a teenager, it is distinctly reflective of the adolescent experience. In fact, the authenticity resulting from these circumstances is said to have profoundly influenced subsequent Y.A. works because after the publication of The Outsiders, young readers began to insist that Y.A. fiction mirror their realities. This meant that from 1967 on, Y.A. fiction would not only need to recount the teenage experience, but recount it in a voice that rang true to young readers.

As for the so-called clichés, these may be considered amateurish, or they may be considered reimaginings of various aspects of quintessential American stories (think “Rebel Without a Cause” and “West Side Story”). And given that the novel’s author, S. E. Hinton, was only fifteen when she began writing the novel, the term “amateurish” hardly packs a punch. No matter what its toughest critics say, the popularity of The Outsiders speaks for itself. Hinton has clearly given the people what they wanted.

-SD

Mockingbirds: Symbols of innocence

Mockpic

To Kill a Mockingbird, 1960

In the sleepy town of Maycomb (Alabama), set in the middle of The Great Depression, Harper Lee brings about timeless themes and skepticism of race, morality and ethics, feminism, and social class. The story is narrated by Scout Finch; a rambunctious, intelligent, and curious child. The majority of the plot revolves around the trial that is about to take place in which her father, Atticus, is defending an African-American man named Tom Robinson, much to the dismay of the small country-town community. Through Scout’s perspective, we are invited to see the world through a child’s eyes that bring to light many devastating truths about society that still resonate with us today.

Taking place in the Jim Crow south, Atticus’s decision to defend Tom Robinson warrants the immediate disproval of those around him. However, as a man who is determined to “walk in others’ shoes”, Atticus empathizes with Tom and does his best to protect him, even going as far as sitting in front of the jailhouse faced by a mob of angry men. As the trial progresses, the hatred and racism of the town is exposed as ultimately Tom is rendered guilty, though there is no sufficient evidence that he ever committed a crime. The jury unjustly sides with Mayella Ewell because she is a white woman, and in the end, Tom Robinson is sent to jail and later gunned down (several times) for trying to escape.

Throughout the novel, Atticus preaches morality to Scout and her brother Jem, and is determined to get them to understand how they should treat people. In addition to the court case, Lee introduces us to Arthur “Boo” Radley, the local recluse who has been locked away in his house for years and only comes out to place small gifts for the children in the tree. Jem, Scout, and their friend Dill are convinced that the Radley house is haunted, and spend much of their time trying to get him to come out of the house so they can see him. At the end of the novel, Boo saves Jem’s life by killing Bob Ewell, and Scout finally sees him as a human being, as opposed to a monster. Although Scout quickly warms up to him, Boo returns to his house never to be seen again.

In the novel, Atticus states that “It’s a sin to kill a mockingbird”, which serves as a metaphor to the world around them. Mockingbirds, as a representation of harmless, innocent creatures, can be seen as the many instances that occur in the novel: the way that African Americans are treated, the way that Boo Radley is treated by the gossiping neighbors and even by the children (at one point) taunting him, and Jem and Scout’s vulnerability to a racist world. In the novel, Atticus teaches us powerful lessons on how we should all be more empathetic towards one another; this being an imperative value that still rings true in present society.

I could not find the full movie online, but I have attached the trailer for the documentary “Hey, Boo” on Harper Lee.

-VM