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Theatre of Pain

Spires, Elizabeth

Last Updated: Apr-03-1997
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

The narrator of this 37-line poem describes childbirth and its immediate aftermath, when she is recuperating in the hospital with her baby. The first 14 lines focus on the "theatre of pain"--the actual and conceptual space in which the pain of childbirth is experienced. Childbirth is painful, all-absorbing, surreal: " a dream of world . . . wave after wave knocking me down" until, after the anesthetic, "I was on an island where no wind blew . . . ."

Then, suddenly, the poem shifts, when, "with a final push you were born," and we realize that it is the child whom the poet is addressing. As the baby is born, the new mother is no longer alone; she and the baby are part of the same process, "leaving the two of us half drowned and clinging to the shore . . . ." "We would meet," she says, "meet for the first time." While the baby’s birth is "engraved upon the world forever . . . " paradoxically, the outside world is "completely, most completely, unaware of you."

As the narrator/new mother recovers in her hospital room, the day’s routine impinges on this intense experience and she becomes aware once again of her surroundings. Life and death go on around them; the world is oblivious, even as her own life has been altered forever. And yet the nurses too seem to recognize the tremendous implications: "amazed, . . . lifting you high into the air," they cry, "Welcome to the World!"

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Annotated by:
Willms, Janice

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

Miranda's narrative opens with a fretful dream foreshadowing death as the first hint that she is becoming ill during the course of the deadly influenza epidemic of 1917-18. The tightly woven story takes the reader through a month of Miranda's life as a newspaper theatre columnist, a young single woman struggling with a relationship with a soldier about to be "shipped over," and an observer of the World War I frenzy that engulfed America.

The final pages are made up of Miranda's intermittent delirious dreams and perceptions from the depth of her illness. She slowly recovers, only to learn that her Adam has succumbed to the same illness and that the war has ended.

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The Moviegoer

Percy, Walker

Last Updated: Mar-25-1997
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

John Binkerson ("Binx") Bolling is a young man from a "good" New Orleans family who for some years has devoted himself to money, sex, and watching movies. During Mardi Gras, when the novel begins, he wakes up to the vague feeling that something more is needed in his life.

We meet his Aunt Emily, a Southern noblewoman, and his cousin Kate, who is said to be somewhat unstable since her fiance's death some years earlier; she is currently engaged to the virtually invisible Walter. The action also takes us to the bayous, where Binx visits his remarried (Catholic) mother and her family, including his sickly adolescent stepbrother, Lonnie. (Binx's father died in World War II; Binx, himself, has survived service in the Korean Conflict.)

Subsequently, Binx takes a trip to Chicago with Kate; on the train she offers to have sex with him, but he refuses. Binx and Kate must then respond to Lonnie's unexpected death. In the end Binx decides to give up his business as a bond dealer and go to medical school, and he and Kate decide to marry.

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In the Penal Colony

Kafka, Franz

Last Updated: Mar-24-1997
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

An explorer visits the penal colony, where an officer demonstrates to him the Harrow, an instrument used to inflict capital punishment. The Harrow is an extraordinarily elegant instrument: the condemned man lies face-down on a Bed, while a complex system of needles inscribes the commandment he has broken (e.g. HONOR THY SUPERIORS) on his back. The needles pierce deeper and deeper until the prisoner dies. In the process of dying, however, the condemned man finally understands the nature of justice and his punishment. His face is transfigured, a sight edifying to all those who watch. The officer begins to demonstrate the Harrow on a prisoner condemned to die because he was sleeping on duty.

The machine was conceived and developed by the former Commandant. It soon becomes clear that the explorer does not approve of the death-machine and that he feels morally bound to express this disapproval to the new Commandant, who is already known to have serious questions about using the Harrow as a method of punishment. Suddenly, the officer removes the condemned man from the Bed and takes his place. Before doing so, he adjusts the machine to inscribe "BE JUST." The Harrow begins its grisly work on the officer's back, but malfunctions and goes to pieces--but not before the self-condemned officer has died.

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This Red Oozing

Bryner, Jeanne

Last Updated: Mar-24-1997
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

The hostess at Benny's Lounge comes to the Emergency Room after being raped at gunpoint by "a friend of a friend." The doctor makes her tell the story of the rape again: "How tight he holds the muzzle to your neck, / jerks your dark hair like a mane and rips / you until you bleed . . . . " But the poet knows that "this red oozing" will not fill the rapist. It never does. She knows "how he rapes you / endlessly . . . How his boots climb the back stairs / of your mind year after year / as he comes and comes and comes."

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Summary:

The title refers to the lineage of women who form the unusual community surrounding the central character’s life in the decades following World War II. When we first meet Antonia (Willeke Van Ammelrooy), she is an elderly Dutch woman announcing to herself that today is the day she will die, and when the film concludes, indeed, she does. However, what transpires in-between presents a rich story of birth, death, disability, love, hatred, and, above all, a tenacious sense of nurturing regeneration in spite of harsh and difficult obstacles.

Audiences are swept into a pastoral epic filled with the pathos and joy of human life. In the unfolding flashback, Antonia and her teen-aged daughter, Danielle (El Dottermans), return to her rural birth setting on the day her own mother dies, and where she will become the life force for her daughter and, eventually, for the entire village.

Two women running a large farm seems at first daunting, but we discover that Antonia is a farmer in what might be called a feminist sense: she cares for everything that grows. Not only do her crops thrive under prudent management, but so do the vulnerable, infirm and damaged figures who are brought into her garden and house for recovery.

For example, Loony Lips, an awkward Ichabod Crane of a boy, tortured as the village idiot, is rescued by Antonia to become a productive member of the farm; later, he and DeeDee, Farmer Daan’s sexually abused and mentally limited daughter, who has similarly been rescued by Antonia and Danielle, fall in love and are married. For all of their shortcomings, the couple’s shy approach to one another, and joys for the simple provenance offered by Antonia as their protector, provide an emblem of the nurturing powers in the female household. Audiences squirm with delight as they watch these discarded members of society flourish with embarrassing innocence.

We watch Danielle’s transformation from adolescence to womanhood and find nothing alarming or disconcerting about her lesbianism and her decision to become pregnant without benefit of marriage. Antonia, always acceptant of life’s realities, continues to care for Danielle’s needs by providing emotional and intellectual support in the search for an appropriate man to father the child.

Much later, Danielle’s child is raped by DeeDee’s brother, who had also been raping DeeDee, prior to her rescue from her father’s malevolent and abusive household. Justice is swift. Antonia, magnificent in her outrage, sweeps across the farm and into the village pub where the males are gathered. With rifle pointed at the rapist’s head, she orders him out of town. [Her form of justice is less brutal than that of Danielle, who, having witnessed the rape of DeeDee by the same man, thrusts a pitchfork into his groin.]

Antonia’s farm grows and expands with new life. Seasons come and go, bringing death and rebirth. Happiness and tragedy exist side by side, as exemplified by the opposing viewpoints of Antonia’s positive spirit, and the pessimistic outlook held by Antonia’s life-long friend, Crooked Finger (Mil Seghers), the melancholic, Nietzche-quoting philosopher, who finds life impossible and unbearable. Whether we are watching Antonia’s mother die, or the Catholic Mad Madonna howling at the moon when she should be loving the Protestant man separated from her by the floor in the building they share, or feeling the appreciation of Farmer Daan’s wife’s for Antonia’s strengths--strengths that she herself does not possess--we are woven in the magic of a remarkably simple and yet complex fabric.

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The Sea and Poison

Endo, Shusako

Last Updated: Mar-21-1997
Annotated by:
Fefferman, Stanley

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction — Secondary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

This story, set in a hospital in a Japan demoralized by Allied air-raids, concerns an intern, Dr. Suguro, who is coopted by an ambitious senior surgeon to participate in medical experiments involving vivisection of captured American airmen. The experiments are to determine how much lung tissue can be removed before the patient dies, how much saline solution, and how much air can be injected into the blood before death occurs. Ostensibly this knowledge will improve treatment of tuberculosis which is ravaging the country. The real motivation arises from the brutality of the military, from competition among hospital department heads, and from an atmosphere of nihilism in the face of almost certain defeat by the Allies.

Dr. Suguro's acquiescence humiliates him. Paralyzed by moral conflict into non-action in the operating room, he succumbs to deeper shame and humiliation. The novel begins many years after the event, when a narrator comes as a patient to Dr. Suguro's dilapidated clinic.

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The Sea and Poison

Endo, Shusako

Last Updated: Mar-21-1997
Annotated by:
Willms, Janice

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction — Secondary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

In this short novel, published in the 1950’s by a popular Japanese fiction writer, the themes of cruelty, moral weakness, and contempt for human life in a medical school are portrayed. In a somewhat awkward series of narrations with flashbacks within flashbacks, the reader is introduced to the characters whose participation in wartime atrocities will be studied. Japan is suffering from the ravages near the end of the war. There is little food, daily bombing, and a general sense of futility.

The two surgical interns, Suguro and Toda, are the low men on a totem pole of power. Their aging chief is one of two contenders for the Dean’s position. He and his assistants devise methods of gaining attention for the promotion which include risky surgical procedures and, ultimately, vivisection experiments on American prisoners. The story line is carried by the acceleration of evil actions as the pressure for power increases. The motivations and internal deliberations of the two interns and one nurse whose characters are explored in some depth provide the human tensions.

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Why I Hate Family Values

Pollitt, Katha

Last Updated: Mar-21-1997
Annotated by:
Wear, Delese

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Criticism

Summary:

This essay is found in her collection, Reasonable Creatures: Essays on Women and Feminism. In this particular chapter she rips apart the contemporary fetish of family values and the cult of the nuclear family, exposing these arbitrary socio-political constructions for what they are: "just another way to bash women, especially poor women."

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josie takes the stand

Herschberger, Ruth

Last Updated: Mar-21-1997
Annotated by:
Moore, Pamela

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Essay

Summary:

Herschberger pretends to interview Josie, a female chimpanzee tested by Robert M. Yerkes. Yerkes used his observation of Josie's behavior to write his famous paper arguing that males are naturally dominant over females and that females naturally engage in prostitution. In the interview, Josie tells her side of the story, refuting Yerkes conclusions. She points out flaws in the experiment and offers a more woman-centered interpretation of her actions.

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