Showing 391 - 400 of 584 annotations tagged with the keyword "Individuality"

The Blind Assassin

Atwood, Margaret

Last Updated: Jul-26-2004
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Three stories are intertwined in this complex novel; in the end, they become one. In a series of flashbacks, the elderly Iris Chase Griffen writes of her long life. At the outset, newspaper clippings present three tragic deaths from 1945 to 1975: sister, husband, and daughter.

Iris's pretty, younger sister, Laura, died at age 25 when she drove her car off a bridge. Two years later, Iris published Laura's novel, Blind Assassin, to critical acclaim, projecting the author to posthumous fame. Only weeks later, Iris was widowed when her husband drowned. Then many years later, Iris's daughter, Aimée, breaks her neck and dies from the ravages of drug and alcohol abuse. Iris also loses care of her only grandchild, four-year old Sabrina. Iris looks back on the circumstances before and after these deaths.

Growing up in small-town Ontario without a mother, Iris was expected to look after Laura. But the younger girl's guileless intensity inspired exasperation and jealousy, as well as affection. In the 1930s, the sisters managed to hide a young radical, Alex Thomas, in the family attic before he escaped to Spain; they both fell in love. But at age nineteen, Iris is forced to enter a joyless marriage to wealthy Richard Griffen out of obedience to her father who hoped that the union would save his factory. It did not.

Laura is bossed by the politically ambitious Richard and his domineering sister, Winifred. Defiance and maternity allow Iris to carve out her own space within the confines of the social situation. But she is increasingly estranged from the romantic, inscrutable Laura who is eventually sent to an "asylum" where she has an abortion. Upon her release, the sisters reconnect, only to hurt each other with painful revelations (unrevealed here to avoid spoiling the effect for readers; some will have guessed them in advance).

The other two of the three stories stem from Laura's acclaimed novel "Blind Assassin," parts of which are interspersed. On one level, it relates the passionate affair of a refined woman (very like the author) and a political fugitive (very like Alex) who meet in his sordid hiding places. On another level, it is an Ali Baba-esque fairy tale, invented by the lovers, about a cruel society in which child-labor, ritualistic rape, and human sacrifice are routine. The killers are children who have been blinded by their enforced work knotting beautiful rugs.

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Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Leo comes back to sell off the run-down family farm on the Italian coast of Tuscany, hoping for enough to finance his return to Chicago. He is plagued by memories. A tour bus is lured into Santo Fico--by ruse or by accident--and once the British visitors are safely ensconced in the hotel restaurant, Leo and his old friend Topo launch into the lucrative scam that they invented as boys: storytelling to "sell" a viewing of treasures inside the local church.

The "miracle" is the stump of an ancient fig tree that once sheltered St Francis; and the "mystery" a luminous fresco by an anonymous artist, possibly Giotto. Leo is encouraged by his dramatic success. But in the night, an earthquake severely damages the church. Yielding to temptation, Leo "saves" the fresco by stealing it in large chunks and hiding it under his bed. Surely now he will have enough money to escape.

The old priest is grievously saddened and goes on a hunger strike to expiate his own sins, on which he blames the desecration. The priest is cared for by his niece, Marta. Embittered by her late husband's infidelity and early death, she frets over her two daughters: one dutiful but blind; the other healthy but headstrong. Marta already resents Leo for some transgression in their past; rightly guessing his crime, she demands that he "make a miracle" for the priest.

Topo and Leo invent several, ambitious but preposterous scenarios, each of which flops spectacularly. The priest good-naturedly overlooks (or fails to see) their transparent ploys; yet he manages to perceive miracles everywhere else in the everyday atmosphere of his beloved village. Of course, Leo returns the fresco, of course he stays, and of course he finds love with Marta after all.

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Conundrum

Morris, Jan

Last Updated: Jul-22-2004
Annotated by:
Ratzan, Richard M.

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Autobiography

Summary:

As James Morris, the author was the dashing journalist who covered the first successful ascent of Everest in 1953 for The Times of London; a member of the elite and quintessentially male 9th Queen's Royal Lancers ("famous for their glitter and clublike exclusivity"--p. 27); the husband who married Elizabeth, fathering several sons. But, as the writer says in the first sentence of the book, "I was three or perhaps four years old when I realized that I had been born into the wrong body, and should really be a girl. I remember the moment well [James was sitting beneath his mother's piano], and it is the earliest memory of my life."

Realizing he was a member of a tangled (a favorite word of the author) group of transsexuals, James felt himself trapped in a conundrum of gender (he felt and considered himself female) versus sex (he was genotypically and phenotypically male). "To me gender is not physical at all, but is altogether insubstantial; it is soul, perhaps, it is talent it is the essentialness of oneself" (25). (Morris goes on to quote C. S. Lewis's Perelandra.)

After some fruitless interactions with the medical profession, Morris travels to Casablanca in the summer of 1972 to undergo sex-changing surgery and becomes Jan Morris. Unlike many if not most transsexuals, post-operatively Morris fared quite well emotionally and has, to date, been quite happy with the change (see below). Jan Morris's writing is as humorous and eloquent as James Morris's was. She describes (magazines like Rolling Stone and publishers like Random House and thousands of readers have never cared what gender or sex was holding the pen) how life changed in clubs, restaurants, and in taxi-cabs, where Jan met the first man to kiss her, post-surgery, "in a carnal way" (151). (Morris records that "all I did was blush.")

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Deaf Child Crossing

Matlin, Marlee

Last Updated: Jun-30-2004
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel for Young Adults

Summary:

Megan is deaf, but has managed to make a comfortable niche for herself in her neighborhood as well as being a force to be reckoned with in a family where she wants no pity and insists on as much independence as possible. The summer Cindy moves in down the street is full of changes for her. Their friendship teaches both girls new skills in giving and receiving help, understanding, and loyalty.

Cindy needs to learn when and how to offer help. She also learns sign language. Megan needs to learn how to receive the concessions and help others offer without defensiveness. When the girls go to camp together they are taken under the wing of a counselor with a deaf sister who knows how to sign and who integrates them into camp life gracefully and protectively. Their friendship is challenged when Megan meets Lizzy who is also deaf, and who therefore shares common ground with Megan in ways Cindy can't.

The three girls form a bond, but not without rivalry and misunderstanding. After a period of estrangement during which both Megan and Cindy have to reevaluate their strategies of giving and receiving help and leadership, they reaffirm a friendship that involves a new maturity in understanding the demands of real inclusiveness.

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Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

Rafael Belvedere (Ricardo Darin) is a 42 year-old, divorced, father who runs the restaurant that his parents established nearly fifty years ago. His father, Nino (Héctor Alterio), is mostly retired and makes daily visits to the hospital where his wife, Norma (Norma Aleandro), has been placed for her Alzheimer's disease. Avoiding the horror, Rafael has not seen her in a year.

Guilt for having dropped out of law school drives him to prove himself by making the business a success; he defiantly resists offers to sell. But his finances are a mess, his temper thin, and his relationships strained; he works too hard, sleeps too little, and drinks and smokes too much. Inevitably, Rafael has a massive heart attack and spends 15 days in ICU (Intensive Care Unit).

This intimation of mortality convinces him to change his life, sell his restaurant, and open his heart to the needs and worth of the people around him. He agrees to help his atheist father fulfill a romantic wish to finally marry the still beautiful but grievously departed Norma in a church, something she had long desired and he had always refused for his "principles." The priest declines the request because of Norma's disease, but an engaging solution is found.

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Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

The now famed American poetess, Sylvia Plath (Gwyneth Paltrow) is a Fulbright scholar at Cambridge, England in 1956. Angered over a stinging review of her work by the literary roué Ted Hughes (Dennis Craig), she is then charmed by his poetry and blatantly sets out to seduce him. They marry soon after.

Sylvia had tried to commit suicide several times in her youth. Recalling one terrifying near miss, her cold-seeming mother resents Hughes, sensing the power in passionate love to harm her fragile, brilliant daughter. The initially torrid life that Ted and Sylvia share in both America and in rural Britain, grows tired through the strain of two children, her lack of joy in teaching, and his greater poetic success, all of which seem to stifle her creativity.

It ends because of his chronic infidelities, reduced in this version to a committed affair with a mutual friend, the thrice-married, Assia Wevill (Amira Casar), who becomes pregnant. Rage, jealousy, and depression become Sylvia’s muse. The more she suffers with Hughes, the more productive and poignant is her work. Unable to lure him back, she leaves buttered bread and milk for her children, seals the kitchen, and gasses herself to death.

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The Seven Sisters

Drabble, Margaret

Last Updated: May-27-2004
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Deserted by her husband, who teaches in a bucolic, private school for the visually impaired, Candida is a 50-ish, unemployed woman, estranged from her three daughters, at least two of whom blame her for the failure of her marriage. To the astonishment of everyone in her sphere, she embarks on a completely new, though modest life in a tiny, walkup flat in one of London's immigrant communities. Her consciously passive efforts to find new friends and discard old ones leads her to keep a diary, to take a night course on Virgil, and improbably--when the night school closes--to join the Health club that replaces it.

Eventually, she assembles six new friends--the seven sisters--for an Aeneas-like journey from Carthage to Rome, with plans to consult the Cumean Sybil en route. Illness draws her closer to her middle daughter, Ellen, whose own perspectives on her parents' marriage contrast with those of her mother. Illness also forces an abrupt end to the travels. Candida wrestles with the issues of survival, suicide, and the meaning of life for an aging woman in an aging body whose entire purpose had once been helpmeet and mother. Can any other purpose be found?

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Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Essay

Summary:

The narrator has four loves--one for each chamber of her heart: right atrium, right ventricle, left atrium, left ventricle: music (from her mother), painting (from her husband), language (shared with her son), and light. Each section, introduced by an anatomical engraving of the heart, describes how the love entered and developed in her life. Their relative importance is related to the size and thickness of the cardiac chambers. Carefully placed engravings of domestic scenes and landscapes, mostly nineteenth century, complete the essay.

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Emergency

Johnson, Denis

Last Updated: May-11-2004
Annotated by:
Miksanek, Tony

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

For three weeks the narrator has been working as a clerk in the emergency department. His good friend, Georgie, is a hospital orderly. Both men abuse drugs, and Georgie steals them from the hospital. The ER staff includes Nurse (an overweight woman who shakes) and the Family Service doctor (a physician with limited competence who is not well-liked).

At 3:30 A.M., a man named Terrence Weber arrives at the ER. He has a hunting knife stuck deep in his eye. Ironically, his other eye is artificial. Weber's wife apparently tried to blind him because he ogled the woman next door. The doctor immediately decides the situation is beyond his expertise and calls for an ophthalmologist, neurosurgeon, and anesthesiologist.

Meanwhile Georgie is prepping Weber for surgery. The drugged-up orderly, who cannot even tie his shoe at this point, somehow removes the knife by himself. Weber's vision is fine. Later on, the narrator and Georgie get lost while driving around in a pick-up truck without headlights. The truck runs over a jackrabbit on the road. Intent on making rabbit stew, Georgie cuts the animal open with the hunting knife he had earlier removed from Weber's eye. The rabbit is pregnant with eight miniature bunnies inside her.

Georgie decides to save the babies. Unfortunately the narrator forgets about the rabbits and accidentally squashes them to death. At the end of the story the two men encounter a hitchhiker who has gone AWOL from military service. Georgie promises to take him to Canada.

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The Dream of Scipio

Pears, Iain

Last Updated: May-10-2004
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Manlius is a 5th C Roman patrician living in Provence who has studied with the wise, reclusive Sophia. He writes his understanding of her teaching in his essay, 'Dream of Scipio,' which trades on an essay by the great Roman orator, Cicero. Sensing that the Empire is gravely threatened, he makes a pact with barbarians, sells out his neighbors, slays his adopted son, and becomes a bishop of the Christian religion, which he has long despised. Late in this ruthless and doomed attempt to salvage what he values most in his world, Sophia makes it clear that he has misunderstood her teaching.

Olivier is an astonishingly gifted 14th century Provencal poet whose intolerant father tries to stifle his love of letters, among which is Manlius's 'Dream'; his father destroys the manuscript, but Olivier recopies it from memory. As plague advances on their region, Olivier finds a mentor in the high churchman, Ceccani, who is bent on keeping the papacy in Avignon. He plans to destroy Jews as symbolic expiation for plague, widely construed to be a form of divine punishment. Olivier befriends a Jewish scholar and falls in love with his beautiful heretic servant.

The 'Dream' and the imprisonment of his friends lead Olivier to question and then betray his mentor. Either because of his efforts to save them, or for his role in a murder, he is mutilated--his tongue and hands cut off to rob him of speech and writing. The brutal mutilation appears early in the book--it is not fully explained until the end.

Julien is a French historian who has studied the poet, Olivier, and the rendition of Manlius' manuscript. He finds solace in his erudition as his county falls to the Nazi occupation. An old school friend who is a collaborator, gives him work as a censor and tolerates Julien's Jewish lover, the artist Julia. In the end, Julien is forced to choose between saving either another school friend in the Resistance or Julia. He chooses Julia, looses her anyway, and commits suicide in a vain attempt to warn his friend.

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