The Glass Castle In the Sky

“The Glass Castle In the Sky”
The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

“I wanted to let the world know that no one had a perfect life, that even the people who seemed to have it all had their secrets” -Jennette Walls.

When Jeannette Walls was growing up, her father made a promise to build a Glass Castle: “It would have a glass ceiling and thick glass walls and even a glass staircase. The Glass Castle would have solar cells on the top that would catch the sun’s rays and convert them into electricity for heating and cooling and running all the appliances. It would even have its own water-purification system.”

Jeannette’s father is the type of dad who can’t be relied on to hold a job, pay the bills on time, or be sober for more than a few days. But he’s also the kind of dad who, because he couldn’t afford to give his kids Christmas presents, gave them the stars in the sky to choose from. But Jeannette and her siblings need more than that. They need a roof that doesn’t leak over their heads. They need a warm house with insulation, with floors that don’t sink down from termites. They need parents who can hold down jobs, or be able to save enough money so all of them can eat, and have clothes on their backs that aren’t missing buttons or aren’t frayed from too many washings.

With parents who could not change their ways for their kids, it’s amazing what Jeannette and her siblings have been able achieve on their own.

Jeannette admits that, despite all of his shortcomings as a parent, no one has ever loved her like her dad, and perhaps no one ever will. That day, when her dad had asked her to pick a star, she chose Venus, not knowing at first that it is a planet, not a star. And there would be moments when she would glance up at the sky and see her own planet blinking at her. I imagine that, just like Venus that hangs up in the sky and watches over her, when Jeannette looks up at the sky, maybe she can also see the Glass Castle that her dad dreamed of building could also be found somewhere among the stars, where he can watch over the rest of his family.

 

<Woks Cited>
Walls, Jeannette. The glass castle: a memoir. Scribner, 2006. E-Book Edition. https://www.axisnow.com/#q?epub=https%3A%2F%2Fnode.axisnow.com%2Fcontent%2Fstream%2F9781416550600&amp;

“The History of People Who Have Loved Beautiful Things”: The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

“The History of People Who Have Loved Beautiful Things”:
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

 

In The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, Theodore Decker says:
What if our badness and mistakes are the very thing that set our fate and bring us round to good? What if, for some of us, we can’t get there any other way? (745-746)

What if the good things that happened in life did not always continue on to good things, and what if the bad things in life did not always continue on to worse things? What if the Good could lead to the Bad, and vice versa? After all, as Theo says, “[W]e don’t get to choose our own hearts. We can’t make ourselves want what’s good for us or what’s good for other people. We don’t get to choose the people we are” (761). If all of this is true, then what can we hold on to? How can we endure?

The story of The Goldfinch starts when Theodore Decker is thirteen. He has a father who drinks all the time and is completely irresponsible, and a mother who loves him and is there to take care of him and all of his worries. But that all changes when a boy named Tom Cable at his school smokes, and Theo, standing by near him, gets wrongfully caught by a teacher. Theo and his mother are called to his school, and on the way to the school, his mother decides they should stop by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, one of her favorite places in the world, since there is some time left before the meeting. No one knew that there was going to be a bomb explosion at the museum, and that it would take away the life of Theo’s mother along with the lives of many others, including a man named Welty Blackwell. Dazed and confused from the shock of the explosion, Theo finds himself in the destroyed building of the museum, bloodied and bruised, when Welty calls out to him. During the last minutes of his life, Welty makes a surreal yet genuine connection with Theo, where Theo can see, hear, and breathe the things that Welty describes. Welty gives a ring and an artwork, The Goldfinch painted by Carel Fabritius, to Theo, and by accepting these items, Theo goes onto live his unstable and unpredictable life, where he learns much more about life than he may have expected.

Theo has quite a pessimistic view of life. Because of what he has seen and been through since he was young, this is perhaps natural. Theo’s mother once tells him, “People die, sure…But it’s so heartbreaking and unnecessary how we lose things. From pure carelessness. Fires, wars. The Parthenon, used as a munitions storehouse. I guess that anything we manage to save from history is a miracle” (28). This resonated with me in that, indeed, so many people and things are lost due to circumstances that are unfair and cannot be justified. However, I thought it was interesting that Theo’s mother referred to this as “carelessness”. Ironically, Theo’s mother becomes a victim of this carelessness, and her death teaches Theo that life is anything but predictable. His mother had meant the world to Theo. But he did not get to see her during the last moments of her life because no one knew that their time at the art museum would be their last time together. Regardless, Theo remembers all of the small moments. As he says:

I remember a few weeks before she died, eating a late supper with her in an Italian restaurant down in the Village, and how she grasped my sleeve at the sudden, almost painful loveliness of a birthday cake with lit candles being carried in procession from the kitchen, faint circle of light wavering in across the dark ceiling and then the cake set down to blaze amidst the family, beatifying an old lady’s face, smiles all round, waiters stepping away with their hands behind their backs— just an ordinary birthday dinner you might see anywhere in an inexpensive downtown restaurant, and I’m sure I wouldn’t even remember it had she not died so soon after, but I thought about it again and again after her death and indeed I’ll probably think about it all my life: that candlelit circle, a tableau vivant of the daily, commonplace happiness that was lost when I lost her. (7-8)

I have never experienced the death of someone close to me, but I imagine that if someone we loved in our life was taken away so suddenly, these small moments would come to haunt us. My mother lost her father when she was a teenager, and even though she has never shared any details, I know that he showed up a few times in her dreams, because she always mentioned it during breakfast the next day. I cannot imagine how painful Theo’s mother’s death must be for him: the searing pain of having lost someone he loved, and yet not being able to do anything about it. Yet, as a young boy, Theo has to face the fact that he has lost his mother with no way to find out why.

There is a curious connection between Theo and Carel Fabritius’ The Goldfinch. There is something about how the Goldfinch is chained in one ankle that reminds me of Theo. Personally, the painting is nothing that I would have considered to be interesting. I mean, the painting shows a bird with a small chain on its ankle. I probably would have noticed the bird, and not the chain, and I would have probably glanced at it for about five seconds, noting some of the vibrant colors that I liked, and moved onto the next painting. However, Theo sees something different in it. For him, it is “support and vindication,” “sustenance and sum” (559). This is because, from this very painting, Theo learns that “[W]e can’t choose what we want and don’t want,” and that “[s]ometimes we want what we want even if we know it’s going to kill us” (770). And so, just like the painting, Theo reaches out to the readers to add “[his] own story of love to the history people who have loved beautiful things” (771), adding his story of love and life to the multitudinous stories of love and life that we are all living in, and will continue to live in.

 

<Works Cited>
Tartt, Donna. The Goldfinch: A Novel (Pulitzer Prize for Fiction). Little, Brown and Company, 2015. Kindle Edition.

 

The Woman and Her Swan: The Connection Between Mothers and Daughters As Seen in The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan

The Woman and Her Swan:
The Connection Between Mothers and Daughters
As Seen in The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan

 

“I wanted everything for you to be better. I wanted you to have the best circumstances, the best character. I didn’t want you to regret anything. And that’s why I named you Waverly. It was the name of the street we lived on. And I wanted you to think, This is where I belong. But I also knew if I named you after this street, soon you would grow up, leave this place, and take a piece of me with you.” (433)

This is what Mrs Lindo Jong, Waverly’s mother, says in The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan, in a chaptered titled “Double Face.” All of the mothers in The Joy Luck Club – Suyuan Woo, An-mei Hsu, Lindo Jong, and Ying-Ying St. Clair – want the same thing: they want their daughters to have much better lives that their own. Unfortunately, the daughters – Jing-mei Woo, Waverly Jong, Rose Hsu Jordan, and Lena St. Clair – do not understand these motives of their mothers, just as they do not fully understand who their mothers had been before they became mothers. There had been lives, dreams, and family members left behind, and yet, the women do not find the time or the opportunity to tell their daughters about themselves. In the end, the daughters find out some things they knew about their mothers, but they do not completely come to understand the individual people that their mothers had been. But it is an impossible question to be fully answered: What is the right way to be a mother? What is the right way to be a daughter?

While we may never know the “right” answer to these questions, it seems that mothers and daughters have built-in instincts to try to look after each other and to save each other. For example, An-Mei Hsu remembers her mother who, after her first husband’s death, had married a rich merchant, only to be shunned by her family and to live an unhappy life. However, when she learns that her mother is ill, she comes back home to find that her mother is near death. This is when An-Mei sees a side of her mother that she will remember forever. She recounts:
I saw my mother on the other side of the room. Quiet and sad. She was cooking a soup, pouring herbs and medicines into the steaming pot. And then I saw her pull up her sleeve and pull out a sharp knife. She put this knife on the softest part of her arm. I tried to close my eyes, but could not. And then my mother cut a piece of meat from her arm. Tears poured from her face and blood spilled to the floor. My mother took her flesh and put it in the soup. She cooked magic in the ancient tradition to try to cure her mother this one last time… (78)
Even though her family had shunned her for her actions, An-Mei’s mother still comes back and does the best she can to help restore her mother. It is not just mothers who are willing to sacrifice themselves to save their children. Their children are also willing to sacrifice themselves to save their parents. An-Mei continues:
Even though I was young, I could see the pain of the flesh and the worth of the pain. This is how a daughter honors her mother. It is shou so deep it is in your bones. The pain of the flesh is nothing. The pain you must forget. Because sometimes that is the only way to remember what is in your bones. You must peel off your skin, and that of your mother, and her mother before her. Until there is nothing. No scar, no skin, no flesh. (79)
To remember what is in our bones, we must peel off our skin, and that of our mother, and her mother before her. Until there is nothing, no scar, no skin, no flesh. This is the inevitable bond between mothers and daughters.

Mothers leave a mark on their daughters, and their daughters carry it until the end of their lives, when they pass it off to their own daughters. Jing-Mei Woo’s mother had to flee China because the Japanese were invading. She had to leave behind her house, her friends, and her two babies. However, for Jing-Mei, the story feels distant. Her mother would tell her the story during her spare time, when she would unravel a story so she could knit. Remembering these times, Jing-Mei says of her mother, “…as she began to roll with one sweeping rhythm, she would start her story. Over the years, she told me the same story, except for the ending, which grew darker, casting long shadows into her life, and eventually into mine” (31). No matter how much mothers want their daughters to have happier and better lives, they have to realize that their daughters lives cannot be completely different from the ones they experienced. Mothers and daughters have strong connections, and this can show on their facial features, personal characteristics, eccentric habits, etc. Therefore, when the mothers’ stories end, their daughters pick up the thread. Even though Suyuan Woo and her daughter may not realize, their stories share more similarities than differences.

In closing thought, in “Queen Mother of the Western Skies,” a woman says to the Queen, “O! O! You say you are laughing because you have already lived forever; over and over again?…Then you must teach my daughter this same lesson. How to lose your innocence but not your hope. How to laugh forever” (347). It seems to be a never-ending question for mothers: How to guide their daughters so they can live a life of happiness. Do daughters have more choices than their mothers in happiness?

 

<Works Cited>

Tan, Amy. The Joy Luck Club. Electronic Reproduction, Penguin Books, 2006, minuteman.overdrive.com/minuteman-acton/content/media/6AB2B71E-8E5E-459A-AF4C-1F188BB39ED3.

 

“A Nightingale’s Song”

“A Nightingale’s Song”
The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

(*Minor Spoiler Alert*)

“I hope you never know how fragile you are, Isabelle.”
“I’m not fragile,” she said.
The smile he gave her was barely one at all. “We are all fragile, Isabelle.” (199)

The conversation above is between Isabelle Rossignol and her father, Julien Rossignol, who, after his return from the Great War, and after his wife’s death, has never been the same.

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah is about many things – it’s about WWII and how it broke families and individuals, as they witnessed the deaths of many of their loved ones. It’s about how the war changed relationships between friends, neighbors, parents, and children. Mostly, this book is about the bond between two sisters, Vianne and Isabelle Rossignol and how they risk their lives to keep what is rightfully theirs. Vianne and Isabelle assume that they would have a lifetime to fight with each other, misunderstand each other, to feel regret afterwards, and to still love each other through it all as sisters. However, all of this turn out to be luxuries they cannot afford once WWII begins. The Second World War brings Isabelle, Vianne, and their father back together as family, but it does not allow them time to tell each other what they weren’t able to say before – that they loved each other despite everything, and that they forgive each other.

Isabelle thinks:
“Why hadn’t she told them she loved them every day when she had the chance? And now she would die without ever saying a word to Vianne. Vianne, she thought. Only that. The name. Part prayer, part regret, part good-bye” (363).

Vianne thinks:
“The regret she felt was immense, as was the guilt. What had her last words to her sister been? Don’t come back” (366).

Sisters say things all the time. Sometimes what one sister says to the other can leave a scar, but the same sister comes back to heal the wound. That’s what sisters do. Isabelle and Vianne reminded me of myself and my sister, and it scared me to imagine what they must have felt when they realized there wasn’t any time.

Despite of everything that the war brings, those who manage to survive manage to live through the rest of their lives, while holding on to their memories of the people they have lost. As one of her characters state in the novel, Kristin Hannah’s novel shows that, “Wounds heal. Love lasts. We remain” (438).

 

<Works Cited>
Hannah, Kristin. The Nightingale. St. Martins Press, 2015.

“Beloved, You Are Mine”: The Unbreakable Bond Between Mothers and Daughters As Seen in Beloved by Toni Morrison

“Beloved, You Are Mine”:
The Unbreakable Bond Between Mothers and Daughters As Seen in Beloved by Toni Morrison

 

Beloved by Toni Morrison tell the story of three women – Sethe, Denver, and Beloved. Sethe is a wounded woman. In order to prevent her daughter from experiencing slavery, she decides to end her daughter’s life. It is a decision that only mothers may be able to understand. This decision haunts Sethe, and prevents her from understanding that, whereas Beloved is dead, Denver is still alive. Showing the interesting relationships between mother and her dead daughter, and mother and her daughter who is still alive, Beloved shows the powerful connection that exists between mother and her daughters, as well as between sisters.

Living with her mother and the baby’s ghost in 124, Denver is lonely. Her mother is occupied with the thought of her dead daughter that she does not have enough energy left to pay attention to her daughter who is still alive. At one point, Denver tells Sethe, “I can’t no more. I can’t no more” (14). When Sethe asks, “Can’t what? What can’t you?” Denver says, “I can’t live here. I don’t know where to go or what to do, but I can’t live here. Nobody speaks to us. Nobody comes by. Boys don’t like me. Girls don’t either” (14). Girls and boys do not talk to Denver because they know Denver’s mother was in prison once, and they know why. Denver also learns that Denver herself had been in prison with her mother when she was only a baby. With her mother who refuses to look at her “[a]s though the size of it was more than vision could bear” (14), and her own fear that her mother may do to her what she did to her sister, Denver is terribly lonely all the time.

Can a mother’s love be powerful enough to kill her daughter? When Sethe killed Beloved, she killed a huge part of herself. No one relationship between mothers and daughters will be the same, and for Sethe’s case – who grew up in slavery – there may be too many risks for mothers and daughters to be able to have a “normal” relationship. Regardless, Sethe loved her daughter fiercely, even if her decision may not be completely understandable for readers.

What Denver needs to realize is that her mother loves her, too. She may not be able to see that because she may not realize that her mother loves both her and her sister, but in different ways. Paul D thinks this is risky. He thinks:

[f]or a used-to-be-slave woman to love anything that much was dangerous, especially if it was her children she had settled on to love. The best thing, he knew, was to love just a little bit; everything, just a little bit, so when they broke its back, or shoved it in a croaker sack, well, maybe [she]’d have a little love left over for the next one… (43)

Paul D believes it is in Sethe’s best interests to spare her love for her children, so that she can save herself a little bit when her children are taken away from her. However, Sethe feels differently about the meaning of motherhood. When Paul D reminds her that Denver is a grown child, Sethe tells him, “I don’t care what she is. Grown don’t mean nothing to a mother. A child is a child. They get bigger, older, but grown? What’s that supposed to mean? In my heart it don’t mean a thing” (43). Even when Paul D reminds her that she cannot protect Denver forever, Sethe says “I’ll protect her while I’m live and I’ll protect her when I ain’t” (43). For Sethe, motherhood means not just loving her children. It also means protecting them for as long as she can.

Whether it was from Sethe’s fierce love and regret, or Beloved’s fierce love and regret for what happened, Beloved does come back to her mother. This shows that there is an unbreakable bond between mothers and daughters. Sethe’s pain and suffering is shown when she confesses that “didn’t have the time to explain before because it had to be done quick” (200). However, she believes, or wants to believe, that Beloved had come back to her of her own free will.

Towards the end of the novel, all three women – Denver, Sethe, and Beloved – speak, even though it’s not clear who is saying which part, or whether they are all speaking in unison:

Beloved
You are my sister
You are my daughter
You are my face; you are me
I have found you again; you have come back to me
You are my Beloved
You are mine
You are mine
You are mine. (216)

All mothers are mothers, daughters and sisters. All daughters are mothers, daughters and sisters. The connection between mothers and daughters are powerful, unbreakable, and eternal. Even if circumstances in life prevent them from living peaceful lives, they find each other again. As shown in Beloved, the relationship between mothers and daughters are such that they will always love, protect, and ache for each other.

 

 

<Works Cited>
Morrison, Toni. Beloved a Novel. Vintage International, 2004.

A Snow-Covered Dublin: “The Dubliners” by James Joyce

A Snow-Covered Dublin:
The Dubliners” by James Joyce

The “Dubliners” is a story of 20th century Dublin, Ireland. Through the short stories, James Joyce shows the struggles that the Dubliners face, starting from “The Sisters” where a boy learns of the death of Reverend James Flynn, to “Eveline” where she tries to run away with a man she loves, all the way to the end of the last story, “The Dead,” where snow falls to cover both the living and the dead.

In “Eveline,” Eveline makes the decision to run away with her lover, Frank, whom her father does not approve of. Frank decides that the answer is for Eveline and him to run away to Buenos Aires. The boat is ready, and all she and Frank have to do is get on it. However, the inner turmoil within Eveline grows, and while she understands that “…she wanted to live,” and that “[s]he had a right to happiness” (23) she is still filled with terror. At the same time, she tells herself that “Frank would save her,” and that “[h]e would give her life, perhaps love, too” (23). And while the moment has come for her to make her escape, she cannot decide. In the end, she watches as her lover yells her name while being led away from her by the boat. As she watches Frank, who is desperately calling out her name, there is no recognition in her eyes. Even though it is unfortunate Eveline was unable to make an escape, at the same time, I wonder if her life would have been any better if she had succeeded in running away with Frank. Who would not have felt the same as Eveline? The struggles, fears and doubts that Evelin’s story shows is a story that many women can relate to.

In the end, the stories come to a close as the narrator describes how the whole of Ireland is covered by snow. I thought it was interesting that Joyce titled this last story “The Dead,” while hinting that this snow could represent a cycle of the lives of people in Dublin. As Gabriel falls asleep next to his wife whom he no longer knows, he reflects on what he sees:

Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland…It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead. (152)

My first question is, does the snow mean that everyone is cleansed, no matter what they have done, or been through, and that they can start a new beginning? Is everyone forgiven for their wrongs and their mistakes? My second question is, does the snow suggest renewal? The snow does more than just connect the dead and the living of Dublin, Ireland. It also connects the stories of Dubliners to the stories of readers’ and their worlds. The everyday struggles, fears, frustrations and regrets felt in the stories of “Dubliners” are important elements that still continue to make up our world today. Through the characters in “Dubliners,” I can easily see the faces of the people around me.

In “Dubliners,” Joyce captures the people of Dublin, Ireland, at their most intimate levels, revealing so much about their lives in a short amount of time. Even though it is a work of fiction, it still teaches readers about 20th century Dublin and its people. It also lets readers know that people will always struggle in their everyday world, no matter who they are and where they are, and that the world will go on the way it does. And surprisingly, the struggles that people deal with in “Dubliners” are similar to the struggles people face today. By sharing the stories of Dubliners, Joyce allows readers to understand not only the lives of its characters, their thoughts, and actions, but also allows readers to question what has changed from 20th century society to today’s society.

 

<Works Cited>
Joyce, James. Dubliners. New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1991. Print.

“Take It Slow, Romeo”: Learning from Friar Lawrence’s Advice in Romeo and Juliet by Shakespeare

“Take It Slow, Romeo”:
Learning from Friar Lawrence’s Advice in Romeo and Juliet by Shakespeare

Shakespeare’s play, Romeo and Juliet, holds an important place in our culture today. The unfortunate story of the two young lovers have been performed, made into movies, and they are still being read and discussed in classes today. The movie edition of Romeo and Juliet by Franco Zeffirelli (1968) stays closely to the setting of the play of 16th century Verona (even though it may never be known exactly how Shakespeare wanted his play to be performed). The movie also emphasizes the bawdy comedy of the play, as well as the tragic end that Romeo and Juliet meet due to their families’ never-ending feud. Because the play contains many universal messages, the setting of the play could be altered to speak to different bodies of audiences. One of these important messages from the play is that one should not act to quickly. One needs to think carefully before taking action.

One of the many prominent themes of the play is love – specifically, falling too quickly in love. It is true that the two families’ stubborn unwillingness to end their feud leads to the deaths of the Montague’s only son, and the Capulet’s only daughter. However, it is also true that Romeo and Juliet fall in love instantly. When Romeo asks Friar Lawrence to marry him and Juliet right away, Friar Lawrence is surprised to hear that Romeo has gotten over his love for Rosaline so quickly. Nevertheless, he agrees to help with Romeo and Juliet’s marriage, in hope that this will help end the two families’ feud. Unfortunately, this is only Friar Lawrence’s hope, and all Romeo hears is a ‘yes.’ And as soon as he does, he is eager to get out of Friar Lawrence’s cell. Even when Friar Lawrence tells him, “Go wisely and slowly. Those who rush stumble and fall” (2.3.101), it only goes in Romeo’s one ear and out the other. If Romeo and Juliet had considered Friar Lawrence’s message, maybe it could have warned them about the consequences of their marriage would have on both their families. Or maybe not, since they were too blinded by love to ever truly consider anything else.

It is important to always take things one step at a time. Friar Lawrence says to Romeo, “…love moderately. Long love doth so./ Too swift arrives as tardy as too slow” (2.6.14-2.6.15). Here, he explains the importance of being moderate by describing the dangers of being too fast or too slow. This advice is not solely relevant to Romeo and Juliet. This is an important message that all of us could benefit from. I wonder if Romeo and Juliet’s story could have turned out differently if they had taken things a bit slower. At the same time, I realize that it had been Romeo and Juliet’s fate to live and die as “star-crossed lovers” (Prologue, line 6) and that they would have met a tragic end, no matter what.

Even though Shakespeare set the story in 16th century Verona, the story of Romeo and Juliet continues to speak to us today. The play’s messages concern love, family feuds, reputation, and fate. These are important aspects of society that continue to influence our lives. And as we read or watch a performance of the play, maybe we ourselves should consider Friar Lawrence’s message: To take things neither too quickly nor too slowly, but to take things one step at a time.

 

 

<Works Cited>

Folger Shakespeare Library. Romeo and Juliet from Folger Digital Texts. Ed. Barbara Mowat, Paul Werstine, Michael Poston, and Rebecca Niles. Folger Shakespeare Library, 24 November, 2017. http://www.folgerdigitaltexts.org

Shakespeare, William, et al. Franco Zeffirelli’s Production of William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Paramount Pictures Corp., 1968.