All posts by Jamie O.

The Compromising Culture of the Poor

“What is happening?”

“Today, Elvis, you are going to kill your first eagle.”

“But I’m too little.”

“Don’t worry,” Uncle Joseph said, laughing.

“But why must I kill the eagle?” 

“It is de first step into manhood for you, de next step is to kill a goat, and den from der we begin your manhood rites.” (page 18)

Elvis, as we learn basically from the outset, isn’t exactly fond of his father. He tries as best he can to make a living without having to rely on his step-mother and father. This passage comes from a flashback to before Elvis’ mother passed away, and Elvis is very young. Elvis’ father and uncles are describing a family ‘rite of passage’ that everyone seems to have to go through in order to become a man. But it hardly seems to be a very official process. The ‘ceremony’ has been degraded to a drunken family afternoon get together, and the eagle has somehow over the years become a chicken. The ritual gets even more pathetic however, when one of Elvis’ uncles hands him an arrow with the chicken already spiked upon the tip – Elvis didn’t even have to be man enough to kill the chick himself. If it wasn’t for the blowing of chalk, and anointing of oil, the process could just as well been recognized as tomfoolery as a rite of passage ritual.

Being from South Africa, I am well aware rite of passage rituals are a huge part of African culture, and they are often not too dissimilar from the ceremony originally described. However, I am also mindful that these ceremonies can become distorted in the poorer communities. Hardship can take its toll, as family’s such as Elvis’ take to alcoholism to soothe their problems, and lose track of their culture. It is blatantly obvious how far the culture has descended in the family, as they chose to rather buy alcohol than invest in Elvis’ rite of passage ceremony, which I have no doubt was very important to previous generations. They rush through the ceremony so they can get back to their Sunday afternoon drinking, and the tradition probably would die out soon.

Family is, in most African countries such as Nigeria, very important to their culture. However, this is another aspect of culture ignored in Elvis’ life. Instead of a loving environment, his step-mother “would not wait for (Elvis) until I give dog your food,” to which Elvis replied “God, I hate her” (page 15). This, in addition to the distant relationship he has with his father goes against the culture of family over all that underlies most African cultures.

Elvis’ situation is not dissimilar from millions across the African continent. It is often the case that families disregard the traditions and culture of their nation, because they are too impoverished to carry out its rituals, or they choose rather to numb their hardships with alcohol than maintain their culture. Elvis’ family, at least in the opening chapters, is a great example of how poverty can affect a family’s culture and traditions.

David and his ‘immaculate manhood’; An analysis of David and the men in his life

“Love him and let him love you. Do you think anything else really matters?” (page 57)

Throughout the first part of Giovanni’s Room, David is in crisis with the men in his life, even if they are all in very different ways. Despite the difference of the love he has (or tried to have) for his father and Joey, David responds in a somewhat similar way – he chooses to distance himself rather than embrace the love they were offering him. At the end of part I, we are left waiting to see if he will treat Giovanni with the same distance or if he will display growth later in the book.

David’s relationship with his dad appears to be a rather tragic one. David searched for the “merciful distance of a son, which would have permitted me to love him.” (page 22) Meanwhile, David’s father would rather them be “buddies”(page 21). David never wanted this “buddie” relationship, and despised his father for wanting them to have a friendship rather than the father-son relationship. When reflecting on the time he left home, David describes how he chose to deal with the troublesome relationship when he said “once (he) got out of the house it became much easier to deal with him (his father)” (page 24) because David could feed his father exactly the information he wanted to hear rather than actually deal with him. This distance that David desires is his way of dealing with a troublesome relationship, and it is to become a pattern of the first part of the book.

Joey is the first man David meets who he seems to love. Joey was a close friend who Joey had spent “nearly every day” (page 15) that summer with. After spending the day together, David and Joey shared a bed for the night and “kissed, as it were, by accident” (page 16) at first, followed by love making that made David later say it was “odd to remember… how good (he) felt that night, how fond he was Joey” (page 24). However, David felt instant regret when he contemplates – “but Joey is a boy.” (page 14) He saw it as an event “in which (he) would lose his manhood.” (page 14) Yet again, David chose to deal with a relationship’s problems by distancing himself from Joey. He avoided Joey after their interaction, knowing full well how he loved the experience, and even when he did run into Joey after the Summer, he made up a transparent excuse saying he was spending his time with a girl in order to push Joey away for good.

After the first two relationships, Giovanni seems to be something completely different – “everyone in the bar (where they met) were talking about how you and (Giovanni) have hit it off.” (page 48). They had an instant connection, and flirted frivolously from the moment they met. When David was referring to the present tense, it seems as though Giovanni and himself were to be a perfect couple, and they travel around Paris sharing their stories, while “the ferocious excitement which had burst in (David) had burst in him like a storm.” (page 44) Towards the end of Part I, David displays some confusion as to how he will deal with his new found love. He is caught between how he should act with his fiancée, and his wishes to “find a girl. Any girl.” (page 44) – which were his wishes to fit into a heterosexual girl. But the question is – how is he going to deal with Giovanni? Will he deal with him as he has done with the other two major problematic male relationships in his life and distance Giovanni? Or will he embrace the relationship despite its problems and show growth in Part II?

Mrs Linde vs Nora – the difference money makes

From the outset, Doll’s House has a negative view of women. The first women that is introduced is Nora, a spendthrift” and selfish housewife who seems not to think of anyone but herself. In the opening chapters, Nora is repeatedly scorned by her husband Helmer for “wasting money.” Nora spends money at such a rate that Helmer had “overworked himself dreadfully” in order to keep up with her spending.

The second women we meet, is Christine Linde. Mrs Linde is a women that has been so stressed that Nora could not recognize her since seeing her a decade before. However, Mrs Linde has experienced somewhat similar events to Nora, but their circumstances turned out completely differently because of the legacy money Nora had been left from her “papa”. Both Christine and Nora’s husbands had fallen ill, but Nora was given money from her father in order to pay for the doctors and rest time that Helmer needed, but Christine’s husband but away, leaving Christine without “even a sorrow or grief to live upon”. So while Nora “spent a whole year in Italy,” and went on holiday so Helmer could rest, Christine was forced to “turn my(her) hand to anything I (she) could find” in order to try and support her brothers and mother. Nora is riddled with good fortune, while Christine is left to fend for herself in a world that seems far more harsh.

The vast difference in their circumstances is exaggerated when Christine says her troubles are at end because her mother has passed away and her brothers have moved on so she doesn’t have to look after them, while Nora believes her ‘problems’ are over because Helmer was named manager of the bank and now has “heaps and heaps of money.” The only real difference in their respective stories is that Christine had “no father to give me money for my (her) journey.” This just highlights the influence of money and status on the fortunes of individuals, especially in the era Ibsen is writing in.