The Innocence of Revision…

“Clara had done a good job of picking the innocent ones, but I always saw my body’s memories in the character of Martha, whether she was touching an apple or riding the winged cow through the sky. I wondered if the real Martha felt it, too, or if she just saw something cheap and silly for children” (Stinson, 126).

What does it mean to be innocent? I think of innocence as harmless, neither bearing nor receiving ill-intent.

In an English class, almost everything has a deeper meaning, but there is never a right or wrong interpretation. I think this quote represents so much of what we do in an academic setting. The writing takes on a life of its own and as if the author has a specific thought in their mind that isn’t always known to the reader, and that is okay. Clara chooses the innocent pieces that are appropriate for children to read. Even though to most people everything looks innocent, to Amanda those small touches mean something. We don’t know how Martha is taking it but for Amanda, those feelings are so palpable, although undetected by Clara and other readers. There is something beautiful about a piece of literature or art that can start and mean one thing but to the audience, it can be completely different like Amanda’s love stories turned into adventure stories for children.

Minority groups have been written out of history or they usually aren’t in the forefront in many cases. It’s interesting because we talked about Stinson writing a book that focuses on diverse women. She is giving them the ability to be independent and multilayered characters that are the center of attention. Stinson is using revision to open our eyes to different groups through a different lens.

While still being true to the time period of the story, it seems as if Clara and the editor are trying to ignore Amanda’s love for Martha because that isn’t deemed appropriate. Women shouldn’t be writing or reading about anything sexual or intimate. Amanda’s love doesn’t seem innocent in their time period hence the way John reacted but Clara and the editor decided to brush over that fact. It’s true to our history as a country, that characters who represent a minority are written out or changed. This still rings true today. People are still fighting for characters to not be white, heterosexual, etc. when transformed from book to screen for example. Editors have been known to make something more “digestible” to the public; they will cut parts of the character out that should be seen and are important. This is exactly what Amanda’s editor/publisher and Clara are doing, and it isn’t innocent.

The art of meaning can be changed intentionally or unintentionally. The layers of revision are interesting when it comes to Martha Moody because Stinson is revisioning a time period and giving us a new lens while still making it believable by staying true to the time period and having Amanda’s work edited to be socially acceptable. We, as the readers are also creating a new understanding of the story told, trying to make sense of Stinson’s message.

Slow Steps to Safety

Hunger By Roxane Gay Chapter 53

Warning: mentions sexual assault

Hunger by Roxane Gay and Cereus Blooms at Night by Shani Mootoo both deal with sexual assault and the coping tactics employed to deal with that trauma. Hunger is a memoir about Roxane Gay’s body, the body that was sexually assaulted as a child, the body that grew fat as armor, and the body that is undisciplined within society. Cereus Blooms at Night is a novel and the character, Mala also experienced sexual trauma starting at a young age.

One way Roxane coped was marking her body with tattoos. “It was about me doing something I wanted, that I chose, to my body” (Gay, 183). The marks on her body are her choice this time and she gets to choose some part of how she is seen. Mala chooses to communicate through actions, not words. When Mala uses the English vocabulary, it is her choice to speak. Understanding part of the reason why Roxane gets her tattoos helps us gain a better understanding of why Mala stopped using verbal language to communicate. Both are looking for small ways to regain control.

Roxane paradoxically gets tattoos to lose control as well. She plays with submission in a controlled and safe environment, because she is handing power over to the tattoo artist. “There is a certain amount of submission in receiving a tattoo, so of course I’m very much into that controlled surrender” (Gay, 185). Roxane can experience what it feels like to choose submission. I think Mala plays with the idea of giving up control through her actions on page 127 where she follows her body’s wants and needs. I don’t think Mala was comfortable giving up control to anyone else. However, I don’t think Mala decides to give up control. She is forced into it, repeatedly by her father but also by the court. Mala is sent to the facility where she is strapped down to a gurney and where she is forced to live and be watched over. I think during those circumstances she is able to gain comfort in her loss of control because of Tyler but she was not seeking to give control over to someone else.

Roxane gets her tattoos for multiple reasons to help her cope with the trauma she has experienced over the years. Part of getting the tattoos is to feel pain, just like Mala decides to eat the hot peppers. This pain seems to be a technique to ground them in reality, remind them of how strong they are. “But every tingling blister and eruption in her mouth and lips was a welcome sign that she had survived. She was alive” (Mootoo, 134). The physical pain is easier to deal with and focus on rather than their mental anguish. Sometimes creating a different pain is easier to deal with. Both have to work through their experiences with sexual abuse and continued trauma. They want to forget the pain, they seek control, choice, safety, and acceptance. Roxane is a real person and Mala is fictional, but her coping mechanisms are realistic when seen through the eyes of Hunger.




Red = X

“…I will never know how you see red and you will never know how I see it. But this separation of consciousness is recognized only after a failure of communication, and our first movement is to believe in an undivided being between us….” (105)

The quote above from Anne Carson’s Autobiography of Red connects to the queer identity. We grow up in a world that assumes similarities until the differences are made explicit. The idea of coming out is built around heterosexuality and cisgender people who are considered “normal”. We assume that people come with default settings and it isn’t until someone tells you I’m not blank I’m actually blank instead of everyone saying I am blank. We grow up learning people are different and somehow the lessons of childhood are the ones we forget to apply. Geryon begins to grow up and notice how he is different from others. He understands the world through pictures better than words, he likes males. The quote is a reminder that there is no normal, we all see, and experience things differently.

It is made clear that red is significant to Geryon and his story. So what is red? What are we seeing differently? I think red symbolizes the parts of ourselves that we haven’t fully dealt with or embraced. The readers know red is so ingrained within Geryon but that doesn’t mean it is seen. The following quote has lead me to what I think red is “To deny the existence of red is to deny the existence of mystery. The soul which does so will one day go mad” (105). I argue the specific symbolism of red to Geryon isn’t what is important but the general idea of what red represents. Red equals the variable x because red is just a symbol for our denied self and that is different for everyone.

Besides the word “red,” I thought it was important to define the word “mystery”. A mystery is something unknown and or obscure. The readers follow Geryon from a young age growing up and when growing up people slowly uncover mysteries about the world as well as themselves. Some have argued that deep down people know who they are and what they want but they deny the existence and bury it so far down that even they can’t consciously reach the answer. Placing the idea of denying something about yourself and the second part of the quote sends a pretty clear message. To deny a part of yourself will drive anyone crazy. You are never truly yourself until you come to terms with who you are and let yourself fly.

Geryon is a red-winged monster. He knows he is different and he tries to bury and hide his differences like his wings. All Ancash wants is to see Geryon spread his wings and fly. To be free and to fully accept himself. “There is one thing I want from you. Tell me. Want to see you use those wings” (144). I believe Geryon’s wings represent the strength and power that comes from the parts he has denied. It is when he fully accepts all of himself he has strength.

Circling back around to the first quote if red is something that someone is denying and there’s strength once we embrace it then I think the message isn’t just about we assume a “normal” exists among people but also communication is what opens the avenues to acknowledging our differences once we own them. Geryon buries red and hides it away because he has been conditioned to believe that he is different and that it’s weird “[F]ailure of communication” leaves us blind. Blind to our differences and blind to potential acceptance. If people communicate with each other openly and honestly, we can have some understanding of how we see red.

The Truth About Change

“THINGS HAD CHANGED, what an arsehole comment, I had changed things. Things don’t change, they’re not like the seasons moving on a diurnal round. People change things. There are victims of change but not victims of things. Why do I collude in this mis-use of language? I can’t make it easier for Jacqueline however I put it. I can make it a bit easier for me and I suppose that’s what I’m doing.” -Page 56-57

A few pages before this passage the narrator is contemplating if they should cheat on their girlfriend, Jacqueline. Like the passage above it is written following the narrator’s stream of consciousness. I believe Winterson’s intention is to help the reader connect to the narrator, humanizing them by showing their thoughts and feelings. Without an assigned gender the humanity that is brought to life, allows the narrator to be anyone. The internal monologues expressing the narrator’s thought process helps facilitate empathy between the narrator and the reader. That is especially the case when readers may not like the narrator or agree with their actions all the time.

After re-reading the passage I wanted to know how does this analysis of their comment makes them feel better? At first, I believed this passage was indicating that the narrator is owning their actions and ultimately taking the blame. “Things hadn’t changed,” (56) but the narrator had changed (page 39) and admitted to taking the leap (having an affair), knowing it would ultimately hurt Jacqueline. It seems like the narrator is taking ownership when they indirectly call themselves an ‘arsehole’. The narrator feels guilty and taking responsibility possibly makes them feel better. “A weight has been lifted off their chest” some might say.

The phrase “It’s the cliches that cause the trouble.” (10) continues to reappear throughout the novel, the act of airing everything out and taking responsibility is supposed to make people feel better, perhaps the narrator is doing the exact opposite of what I just said. Maybe they aren’t owning up to their actions like I previously thought. What if the narrator is alluding to the idea that even though they have changed, it isn’t their fault? The line “There are victims of change but not victims of things.” (56-57) introduces the new idea that the narrator considers themself to be a victim of change. People go through phases and are always changing, just like the seasons. “Things don’t change, they’re not like the seasons moving on a diurnal round.” (56) It is humanity’s inability to stay the same that’s to blame.

The narrator questions why they would “collude” (57) with such wording. Although they answer the question, to make themself feel better, the narrator is lying to themself. Maybe no one has changed. Like the aforementioned seasons, the narrator naturally moves through relationships and fooled themself into “believing” they would be happily married. Although their friends questioned if the narrator would be happy, they have to convince themself this experience is what marriage is and it isn’t always happy. Deep down the narrator always knew there was something wrong and playing the victim of change is easier than saying ‘I made a mistake and I dragged you (Jacqueline) through the mud’.

If the narrator wants to feel better and make it easier on one of them it makes sense to shy away from the blame and more importantly the guilt. Later on in the book, the narrator hits Jacqueline and the readers can tell the guilt is eating them up inside. It is the guilt that is difficult to deal with. It isn’t something the narrator can control, it just happens to them and so they are just as much a victim as Jacqueline.