Tag Archives: Writing

Modern Fairy Story Reveals Social Commentary

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a1ffac38-681f-48ff-8992-986c22d2c028-large16x9_PLT_Shrek_HeroLast night my wife and I took my kids and her niece to see Shrek: The Musical at the Pensacola Little Theater, and it was a treat! The costumes were fantastic, the setting was amazing, but what I loved the most were the hidden meanings that made me like this modern fairy story in the first place.

My favorite song was “Let Your Freak Flag Fly.” In the play, most of the characters are “outsiders”–the “Big Bad Wolf” is dressed in drag, witches are “not so wicked,” and many of the others are part of the B list fairy stories. What do they tell us? That we should celebrate our differences, and that being divided makes us weak and vulnerable to tyrants and society.

Of course, these characters are the side story, and Shrek and Fiona are the main protagonists. Shrek is definitely not the prince charming, although he rescues Fiona. He does so without violence. He is actually very logical. His whole analogy that ogres are like onions is hilarious yet meaningful. Fiona, as we soon find out, is also an ogre on the inside. She tries to be the typical princess. She shows us that little girls are given expectations based on fairy tales that do not come true. Shrek and Fiona are real life: reality.

One of the most evocative parts that I wish I could have recorded even though I know that’s not cool was when Shrek was mad and hurt and retreated to his swamp to build a wall. A giant green ogre dancing around on stage singing about how a wall was a solution to his problems was just too reminiscent of Donald Trump to go unnoticed.

However, the best example of irony was636053273925510881-Shrek-The-Musical-Farquaad-3 Lord Farquaad–the tyrant who wants to kick out all of the “freaks” so that he can have his perfect kingdom. His size is a realistic portrayal of his brain more than his body.

I appreciated this play, performed mostly for children, so much that I felt compelled to share. Please share your thoughts as well. 636053273954059064-Shrek-The-Musical-Shrek-Fiona-2

 

 

 

 

Lament of the Images–My MoMa experience

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On a recent trip to New York, I finally got to visit the Museum of Modern Art. For a small town Alabama girl who still has big dreams, this is a pretty big deal. I have been teaching a lot of Modernism, so I was looking forward to being in the same fucking room as Picasso’s, Matisse’s and Van Gogh’s work. However, it was the contemporary that got me.

Many times in this small town, I keep my mouth shut about politics because no one listens and not many people care. But, for some reason, I feel very strongly about the conflicts that we are facing at this moment in time, and I strongly believe that we never get the full story. Everything is watered down, and I often try to discover why. People think I’m crazy, or maybe I just assume that people think I’m crazy because I go on rants about Donald Trump or the Syrian refugees and my opinions are most often different from theirs. The contemporary pieces at MoMa spoke to me because they showed me a connection that I don’t get otherwise. Alisa, my partner, –I’ve wanted to write that for a long time–partner because she’s with me, but also partner because we are kindred souls and I know that she will go to the end of the world with me–often allows my points of view, and sometimes she even agrees with me, but I expect that of her because we have these things in common. But, to see some of my passions and feelings visualized, well it was quite moving to say the least.

One display that really spoke to me was the Lament of the Images by Alfredo Jaar.

Jaar explained in an interview,

The work is a metaphor for the blindness in our society. I think we live in a great paradox today. On the one hand we are bombarded by thousands of images, but on the other hand it has never before been so controlled, be it by the government or by a certain part of the private sector. Therefore, I believe that we have lost the ability to see and be moved by images. Nothing moves us anymore, nothing has any meaning. My work is a kind of poetic meditation about the power of images.

In the first room there are 3 stories to read, then you go through a labyrinth and reach another hall with a glistening light that blinds you. In another sense it is like the request “let there be light”, like an appeal to clarify this situation.

This was taken from http://universes-in-universe.de/car/documenta/11/frid/e-jaar-2.htm.

In the wake of terrorism, political debates, threats of war, and mass shootings, I say to you, think of what you don’t see.

Small Town Festival Opens the Door to History and Art

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William Station’s Day takes place on Pensacola Avenue in Atmore, Alabama, in early October. Half of the street closes, and vendors bring their best goods to display. You might think that this is another one of those festivals where if you’ve been once, you’ve seen it all. I used to think that, but when I began taking a folk-lorish lens, I discovered the unique history and array of art that this small town has to offer.

Here is a bit of the history behind the founding and the naming of the town from http://www.cityofatmore.com:

Long before settlers came to the area that is now Atmore, The Creek Indians inhabited the virgin forests of longleaf pines settling along the creeks and rivers. The development of this area began in the 1860’s following the Civil War as the Mobile and Great Northern railroad extended its line south to the Tensaw River near Mobile.

Workers who moved through the area laying track for the railroad were drawn by the rich farmland and abundance of timber. Agriculture and timber are still major factors in Atmore’s economy.

The first structure in what is Atmore was a small shed built along the railroad at which supplies were left for William Larkin Williams who had a logging operation ten miles down in Florida. In 1866 the site was first called Williams Station, just a supply stop along the railroad.

By the 1870’s there were several buildings; a railroad station, a store containing the post office, and one dwelling. Late in 1870 the first sawmill was put into operation. However, it was the sawmill built by William Marshall Carney in 1876 that sparked the growth of the community. Recognizing the potential of this area which abounded in cypress ponds and virgin forests, legend says Carney hitched a mule to a boat and set claim to most of the area. Because of his many contributions to the growth of the community Mr. Carney is often called “the father of Atmore”.

Many people often overlook the importance of Atmore’s agricultural economy as part of its foundation, but those “virgin forests” are possibly the only reason the town succeeded. Descendants of the sap-collectors have held on to some of the equipment, and they proudly display it at William Station’s Day. Below are some pictures of their display.

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In addition to the agricultural history, storyteller and historian Robert Thrower tells great tales of Indian folklore. He also brings artifacts that he has collected to demonstrate the history of the natives of Atmore and the surrounding area.

 

Soaking in all of the history is fun, but discovering the art of various vendors can be intriguing as well.  I was fortunate in meeting Ikna Smith, creator of these unique pieces of jewelry. I asked her what inspires her, and she answered, “Life inspires me. I like to work with metal and discover all the different ways to shape it. And, I like to play with fire!” IMG_2818IMG_2819IMG_2820IMG_2821

The Gulf Coast Authors also take the stage with their display of their published works ranging from historical fiction to collections of stories originating in the Gulf Coast.

 

 

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Atmore resident Lloyd Albritton displays his publication, Baby Blue.

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Many vendors have a theme that appeals to Southerners and Rednecks, which are in abundance here!

 

 

 

 

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A friend of mine and his wife make these awesome jewelry hangers and pieces that have an artsy flare:

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Some vendors even send their proceeds to benefit different causes!

 

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Sometimes we take the small stuff for granted. I often hear people complain that there is nothing to do in this small town, but these vendors prove that wrong. This town is full of creativity and a rich history: it just takes a different perspective to find it.

A Little More Poe: Poetry and Pleasure in Death

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Emily Dickinson’s poem “My Life Closed Twice before Its Close” expresses the feeling that death is worse on those who are left living than those who have passed from this life. Like Dickinson, Edgar Allan Poe’s best works often deal with expressing the same feelings. Poe’s favorite subject was death, and he deals with the sentiment of death and loss through his poetry. In Edgar Allan Poe, Vincent Buranelli states, “Poe’s theory of poetry makes the death of a beautiful woman the most poetic of themes” (99). He wrote that poetry should be beautiful and sad at the same time (Nextext 22). He expressed this beauty and sadness through a unique form of poetry. His poems, “Annabel Lee,” “Ulalume,” “To One in Paradise,” and “The Raven” all deal with the death of a beautiful woman using different yet similarly effective methods. Through his use of symbolism, imagery and verse, Poe captures and expresses indefinite beauty in his poetry.

Robert Colin McLean writes that Poe was greatly influenced by George Tucker, his teacher at the University of Virginia (798). In his article “From Poetic Theory,” McLean outlines Tucker’s theory, which becomes apparent in Poe’s poetry. His theory claimed that poetry differs from prose in having greater melody of diction, greater brevity or greater amplification, greater dignity of language, more varied and more abundant imagery, and a more elevated tone of feeling and wilder enthusiasm (McLean 798). All of these characteristics are abundant in Poe’s poetry.

Tucker’s theory also suggests that “the strength and beauty of all metaphysical experience have their foundation in our pleasures and pains–those having the greatest effect which refer to our liveliest emotions” (qtd. in McLean 800). Although death and the loss of a loved one do not seem like things in which one could find pleasure, Poe’s poetry evokes emotion while dealing with these subjects. This emotion is found through Poe’s ability to express the feelings caused by his pain so well.

Buranelli shares Poe’s own feelings about poetry from his famous “Letter to B–,” written in 1801. In this excerpt, he offers hints about the attributes that make poetry recognizable:

A poem, in my opinion is opposed to a work of science by having, for its immediate object, pleasure, not truth; to romance, by having for its object an indefinite instead of a definite pleasure, being a poem only so far as this object is attained: romance presenting perceptible images with definite, poetry with indefinite sensations, to which end music is an essential, since the comprehension of sweet sound is our most indefinite conception. Music, when combined with a pleasure idea, is poetry; music without the idea is simply music; the idea without the music is prose from its very definitiveness. (88)

Here, Poe hints at his idea that poetry expresses indefinite pleasure, and by this he means a pleasure that is difficult to define. He also addresses his idea that poetry must be musical. His poetry is definitely rhythmical, and this rhythm is what makes the poem different from prose.

First of all, “Annabel Lee,” one of Poe’s most famous poem, is full of the characteristics that sets Poe’s poetry apart from others. The poem’s imagery sets the stage for the meaning behind it. The narrator expresses the love that he feels for Annabel Lee with the image of the child. He writes, “I was a child and she was a child, / In this kingdom by the sea: / But we loved with a love that was more than love– / I and my Annabel Lee” (7-10). The love of a child is pure and innocent, untainted by worldly troubles. So, Poe uses this image to demonstrate the love shared between the narrator and Annabel Lee, which is infinite and pure.

The other strong image throughout the poem is the symbol of the sea. The sea represents eternity, and the narrator claims that no one, not angels nor demons could separate the souls of him and Annabel Lee. He writes,

For the moon never beams, without bringing me dreams

Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;

And the stars never rise, but I feel the bright eyes

Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;

And so, all the night-tide, I lie down by the side

Of my darling-my darling-my life and my bride,

In the sepulchre there by the sea,

In her tomb by the sounding sea. (34-41)

The images of the moon and stars are all related to the tide and the pull of the moon on the sea, which are being compared to the love that the narrator shares with Annabel Lee. He says that he is always connected to her and that they cannot be separated even when she is dead. He still dreams of her, and when he is near her tomb, he lies next to her. Poe uses very strong symbolism throughout “Annabel Lee” to demonstrate the indefinite love that the narrator feels for Annabel Lee.

 Buranelli argues that “Indefiniteness implies music” (91). In order for Poe’s poetry to achieve indefiniteness or to express indefinite beauty, it had to have qualities of music. Poe uses a specific technique in “Annabel Lee” to make a musical verse. Shmoop.com breaks this down:

In the first lines, he mixes what’s called an anapest (which is two unstressed syllables followed by a stressed syllable) with what’s called an iamb (which is the meter you hear most commonly in poetry, an unstressed syllable followed by a stress: It was ma/ny and ma/ny a year/ ago/, The first three groups have three syllables each, and each one ends with a stressed beat. Those are the anapests. The last group (or foot) only has two syllables–that’s your iamb.

This creates a rhythm: da da DUM, da da DUM, da da DUM. So, Poe combines the imagery and symbolism with the rhythm to create an indefinite beauty through this poem.

Another poem that shares similar qualities is “Ulalume.”     In this poem, the strong imagery that Poe uses is in reference to the setting. He describes the “woodland of Weir” (9) as “ghoul-haunted” (9). The lake is described as “dim” (26). He uses this dark and gloomy imagery to set the setting as one that is bleak and somber.

Perhaps more strong than the imagery is the symbolism used in “Ulalume.” He personifies Psyche, which according to G. R. Thompson, editor of The Selected Writings of Edgar Allan Poe, is a symbol for the soul and butterfly (62). Thompson also references the Greek story of Cupid and Psyche, “a soul/body fable” (62). Taking this journey with his soul shows how the narrator is bearing his soul when he comes to realize that he has ventured out on the same night a year later that he lost his love.

“Ulalume” also has a very distinct rhythm. Gradesaver.com explains:

The rhythm of “Ulalume” consists mainly of dactyls, which consists of one accented followed by two unaccented syllables, and of anapests, which reverse the pattern with two unaccented syllables followed by an accented one. However, the most notable element of the poem’s form comes in its useful of variations of rhyme and of repetition. The rhyme scheme makes frequent use not only of end rhyme but also of repetition of words. For example, the first stanza’s rhyme scheme is A1 B1 B1 A2 B2 A3 B3 A3 B3, where B1 is the repetition of the word “sere,” A3 is the repetition of “Auber,” and B3 is the repetition of “Weir.” All nine stanzas begin with A1 B1 B1 A2 as the scheme of the first four lines, and the rest of the verses’ schemes are all very similar. Poe also repeats much of the description of setting in the first stanza in the third and last verses, giving the poem a circular form that parallels his metaphorical voyage of a year and return to Ulalume’s grave.

Poe uses these very distinct patterns to create a sing-song rhythm in the poem. This rhythm makes the poem more enjoyable for the audience, and it draws the audience into the poem.

In “Ulalume,” the narrator’s realization of where he is expresses strong emotion. It is this expression that creates the sense of indefinite beauty that Poe captures in his poetry. The reader can feel the loss that the narrator expresses through the words like, “Then my heart it grew ashen and sober / As the leaves that were crisped and sere– / As the leaves that were withering and sere” (82-83). This expresses the indefinite feelings that the narrator feels, and the reader can experience these feelings as well, which evokes the beauty of the poem. Therefore, the combination of imagery, symbolism and verse create the effect of indefinite beauty.

“To One in Paradise” is another of Poe’s poems that deals with the death of a beautiful woman. In this poem, Poe compares the narrator’s love to “A fountain and a shrine, / All wreathed with fairy fruits and flowers / And all the flowers were mine” (4-6). The shrine indicates that she was something to be worshiped, and the images of the fruits and flowers suggest that she was fertile. “And all the flowers were mine” (6) suggests that she returned his love just as strongly. These images set up the strength of the love that is felt between the narrator and his lover.

The symbols emerge when the love is lost to death. The narrator compares the past to a dim gulf, which is like the sea. Then he says, “‘No more–no more–no more–’ / (Such language holds the solemn sea / To the sands upon the shore)” (16-18). These lines show that what is lost is unrecoverable. The symbol of the sea in this poem is one that shows the indefinite loss of his love. Here, Poe expresses how the loss of a loved one is worse on the one left living. He writes:

And all my days are trances,

And all my nightly dreams

Are where thy dark eye glances,

And where thy footstep gleams–

In what ethereal dances,

By what eternal streams. (21-26)

He shows that the narrator lives with the loss of his love during the day and all night. During the day he is in a trance, and at night he sees his love in his dreams. However, like Poe’s other narrators, he sees this as a way of holding on to his love even after her death rather than letting her go. These symbols of perpetuation, like the sea, show how Poe believed in love after death.

    Poe’s verse in “To One in Paradise” builds up the feeling in the poem. Joanna, a contributor to Ampoetistas, writes that the four repeating “And’s” in the last stanza “emphasize the speaker’s life of drudgery without his lover. The repetition gives the reader a sense of no way out, and that the pattern (of life without love) will continue endlessly” (1). She writes, “The feelings evoked by the words and the way the words are placed help give the poem life” (1). Poe also uses a traditional rhyme scheme of ABABAB, which adds to the song of the poem. Like Joanna says, the way that Poe places his words are what give the poem its life.

Finally, “The Raven” is one of Poe’s most well-known poems, and it shows the connection between Poe’s dark side and his romantic side. It is apparent from the beginning that the narrator is in a bad mental condition. It is difficult to tell whether he is imagining these things that are happening or if they really are occurring. He says, “Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing, / Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before;” (25-26), which shows that his mind has been affected by something that makes him see or fear things unlike others. In Edgar Allan Poe: His Writings and Influence, Charles Haines writes, “Poe believed that poetry should deal with, and aim at, what lies ‘beyond beyond’” (76). Having his characters portray madness was one way that Poe dealt with the beyond: what is beyond the consciousness of man? He presents his narrator as someone who has been driven mad by his loss and his loneliness in order to evoke feelings in the reader of wonderment.

Poe sets up the darkness of the poem through imagery. In the second stanza, he writes, “Ah distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December; / And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor” (7-8). The image of a bleak, cold December makes the setting dark and dreary.  Then he sets forth the image of a coal burning out and making shadows on the floor that he describes as a “ghost”. All of these images, and the rest that he uses throughout the poem set the stage for the darkness of the poem.

The strongest symbol in the poem is obviously the symbol of the raven that appears to the narrator. According to Thompson,

Several ancient traditions regarding ravens exist. The Greeks considered them prophetic, and they were sacred to Apollo. They were regarded as prognostic of death because of their omnipresence after a war, scavenging the battlefields for carrion. In Roman myth, the raven was originally white; as punishment for an offense against the gods, its plumage was changed to black. (59)

In any association, the bird seems to bring a message. Thompson claims that the source with most validity for Poe’s usage of the raven is the raven Grip in Charles Dickens’s Barnaby Rudge (59). Nevertheless, the raven appears to the narrator and brings only more pain to the man who has lost his love, Lenore. To the questions that the narrator asks in regards to Lenore, the raven only replies, “Nevermore.” This suggests the doom of the lover to never see his love again, and the repetition implies that he will continue to suffer because of his loss. The symbol of the raven, a dark bird who shows up croaking after death shows the extreme melancholy of the narrator.

“The Raven” is also a very carefully constructed poem. It’s rhyme scheme and rhythm reiterate the feelings evoked by the words. Shmoop.com explains, “The first and third lines have a rhyming word at the middle and at the end of the line (as in “dreary” and “weary”). This is called internal rhyme” (1). The website continues:

The most noticeable rhyme in the poem comes at the end of the second, fourth, fifth, and sixth lines in each stanza. It’s easy to pick out because it’s always an “or” sound (e.g. lore, door, more, floor, Lenore, and of course, Nevermore). That means that two thirds of the lines in this poem end with the same sound! In English-professor jargon, this rhyme scheme would be called ABCBBB, with each letter standing for the sound that ends a line. (1)

This rhyme scheme gives the poem the sound of music. Poe wrote in his “The Poetic Principle,” “It is music, perhaps, that the soul most nearly attains the great end for which, when inspired by the Poetic Sentiment, it struggles–the creation of supernal Beauty” (qtd. in Buranelli 91). By creating music with his poetry, Poe achieves beauty.

    Poe’s subjects are often dark subjects like death and the loss of a loved one; however, he deals with them in poetry, which suggests a deeper meaning than the darkness. Poe finds ways to create beauty out of this darkness. He uses imagery to present dark settings, which often express the feelings of loss. He uses symbolism to express a meaning beyond the setting, such as the eternity of the sea. And, he creates music through his rhyme schemes and construction of the poems, which add to the beauty of his works. The beauty that Poe expresses in his poetry is that he can find the ways to express the feelings of loss through poetry. Throughout the poems that deal with the death of a beautiful young woman, such as “Annabel Lee,” “Ulalume,” “To One in Paradise,” and “The Raven,” Poe uses these similar devices to create beautiful lines that express the feelings of the loss of the young women. These indefinite emotions are difficult to find words to express them, so when Poe puts these into poetry, he is creating indefinite beauty.

Annotated Bibliography

“Annabel Lee: Rhyme, Form and Meter.” Shmoop.com. 2013. Web. 15 July 2013. This website offers information about the rhyme, form and meter about Edgar Allan Poe’s poem, “Annabel Lee.” I use it to show how the poem has a rhythm that makes it musical.  

Buranelli, Vincent. Edgar Allan Poe. New York: Twayne, 1961. Print. Vincent Buranelli discusses Poe and his works. He presents his theories about what Poe does and how he does it. This is useful insight into Poe’s purpose and method.

Complete Stories and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe. New York: Bantam, 1950. Print. This book gives all of Poe’s works that I use in my paper. It also offers a little background information about Poe.  

Haines, Charles. Edgar Allan Poe: His Writings and Influence. New York: Franklin Watts, 1974. Print. Charles Haines examines Poe’s works and his influences. He talks about what Poe wanted to achieve through his writing. He says that Poe wanted to go deeper than the surface and present the beyond in his poetry.

McLean, Robert Colin. “From Poetic Theory.” The Selected Writings of Edgar Allan Poe. New York: Norton, 2004. Print. 798-807. Robert Colin McLean presents Poe’s teacher’s poetic theory and shows how this influenced Poe. He discusses Poe’s use of music and how he came to write his poetry in verse form.  

Poe, Edgar Allan. “Annabel Lee.” Complete Stories and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe. New York: Bantam, 1950. Print. “Annabel Lee” is one of Poe’s most famous poems about the death of a young woman. It contains all of the elements that makes Poe a distinguished poet.

–”The Raven.” Complete Stories and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe. New York: Bantam, 1950. Print. “The Raven” is also a very well-known poem by Poe. It is the darkest of my selections, which shows how Poe dealt with the supernatural, the beyond and made it beautiful.

–”To One in Paradise.” Complete Stories and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe. New York: Bantam, 1950. Print. “To One in Paradise” is not a popular poem, but it also deals with the death of a young woman. It definitely portrays the musical rhythm that Poe desired in poetry.

–”Ulalume.” Complete Stories and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe. New York: Bantam, 1950. Print.

“Ulalume” is a very unique poem that has a very unique meter and rhyme scheme. It really shows how Poe was able to capture the emotions of death of a loved one.  

“Poe’s Poetry Summary and Analysis: ‘Ulalume’.” Gradesaver.com. n.d. Web. 15 July 2013.

This website offers insight and analysis of “Ulalume.” It also discusses the form of the poem, which I use to show how the poem is musical in its rhythm.

“The Raven: Rhyme, Form & Meter.” Shmoop.com. 2013. Web. 15 July 2013.This website discusses the rhyme, form and meter of “The Raven.” It explains the unique rhyme scheme and tells what this is called.  

Thompson, G. R., ed. The Selected Writings of Edgar Allan Poe. New York: Norton, 2004. Print.

As the editor of The Selected Writings of Edgar Allan Poe, G.R. Thompson offers insights and details into the specific pieces of writing. He addresses Poe’s symbolism and his technique.  

“To One in Paradise” (Joanna). ampoetistas. 12 Oct 2007. Web. 15 July 2013. This blog discusses the poem “To One in Paradise.” It gives information about the form and the rhyme scheme that show the musicality of the work.

Just Thinking About Imagery…Reconstructing the Southern Belle

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Reconstructing the Image of the Southern Belle

    Alabama’s history is full of mixed concepts of race, gender and class structure. There have been divisions since the settlers made their way through the state and settled the land. These divisions have since been blurred by emancipation and desegregation as well as through shifting social and economic changes. In many ways Alabama has overcome its tainted history of racism, sexism and class divisions. However, there are certain symbols that perpetuate racism, sexism and class divisions. The Rebel flag has been determined as one of these symbols, and it has been removed from state buildings and monuments. Another symbol that may continue these ideologies is the image of the Southern Belle. Many small town celebrations still incorporate this image by having Southern Belles dress up and perform for audiences.  Because of its connection to Alabama’s stained history, the image of the Southern Belle enables concepts of racism, sexism and class divisions to continue.

    Anyone who has visited a small town festival has probably seen a replica of a Southern Belle walking around with a big layered, floor length hoop dress and sporting a small umbrella to shade her from the sun. The characteristics of the Southern Belle go beyond their appearance. Temi Duro-Emanuel’s article titled “The Progression of the Image of the ‘Southern Belle’ as Shown in Gone with the Wind and Southern Belles” describes the Southern Belle as “one that was born in the American South and refers to a young, delicate, woman of the Southern upper class who is both aware of and utilizes her social graces” (2). This definition shows the class status and depicts the Southern Belle as “young” and “delicate,” which both denote a sexist undertone. This undertone is reminiscent of the Victorian ‘angel of the house,’ which is the figure of the ‘ideal’ woman—frail, submissive, nurturing.

    Biljana Oklopcic, senior lecturer at the Department of Foreign Languages, University of Osijek, Croatia studied the Southern Belle through the Southern play, A Streetcar Named Desire written by Tennessee Williams. The play “observes a uniquely Southern phenomenon: the Southern belle” (Oklopcic 1).Oklopcic describes the figure of the Southern Belle as being “founded on a canonized discourse, resting on a cultural and social personification—a description, a code, a stereotype—which legitimizes and authorizes the interpretation of culture and nature, masculinity and femininity, superiority and inferiority, power and subordination” (1). In other words, the figure of the Southern Belle is one that made positive the patriarchal system of the south. By giving women something to aspire to like becoming a belle, the patriarchal system ensured that they would strive to exhibit the qualities of an ‘angel in the house.’

    Oklopcic examines the “appearance, development and ‘purpose’ of the Southern belle stereotype” (1). She notes that

appearance was tied to the Southern antebellum chivalry and masculinity code origin of which can be looked for in attempts to preserve English moral standards in the U. S. South. They, based on the Victorian model of a woman as an angel in house as well as on the small number of upper class women who were, thereby, considered ‘custodians of culture’ (Bartlett and Cambor, 11), confirmed and authorized the hyperevaluation of upper class Southern women. (1-2)   

Their appearance continues the image of the ideal woman, who would uphold antiquated social standards. Although many people see the morals and standards as a positive aspect of belles, the other aspects of the belle image are associated with negative sexist attitudes. The submissive nature of the belle ensures male dominance over her.

    Portrayals of the Southern Belles can best be seen on film related to the Antebellum period, notably Gone with the Wind. Duro-Emanuel wrote, “Gone with the Wind is considered to be an American classic by many and introduced the movie going public of America to the archetype of the Southern Belle, represented by Scarlett O’Hara and to some degree Melanie Hamilton Wilkes” (2).   Scarlett O’Hara is by no means frail, but she does have the beauty and the commitment to a Southern way of living (Duro-Emanuel 2). The fact that Scarlett portrays a Southern Belle is disheartening because of her strength. Although Scarlett feisty and even manipulative, her strength shows a feminist attitude well out of range of the typical Southern Belle.

    The foil to Scarlett’s character, Melanie, “represents the traditional ideal of a Southern Woman. She is kind, docile, and practical and shows repeatedly through her continued friendship with Scarlett, the power of forgiveness and ignorance” (Duro-Emanuel 3). Her embrace of ignorance is perhaps the worst possible ideology associated with the Southern Belle.

    Oklopcic also describes the belle as “lively, little bit vain, rather naïve” (2). She says that belles “had few tasks other than to be obedient, to ride, to sew, and perhaps to learn reading and writing” (2). Courtship, innocent romances and marriage were the highest aspirations of the belle’s life, so her skills and energies were mainly directed to finding and marrying real Southern gentlemen (Oklopcic 2). The belle’s entire identity was based upon having a husband and being a belle.

    This aspiration to get married was often actually detrimental to women’s identities, and marriage was a form of oppression. According to William Warren Rogers, et al. in Alabama: The History of a Deep South State, “Antebellum Alabama society was male dominated, and there were more males in the state than females” (114). Once women were married, they were under the rule of their dominating husbands. Rogers wrote, “The wife’s sphere was to obey, and in the words of Henry W. Hilliard, society expected ‘to see every man manly, and every woman womanly’” (114). This meant that women were to be “pious, modest, compassionate, quiet, and dainty, by nature self-denying and soft-spoken, a paragon of virtue” (Rogers 114). In other words, women were to keep their mouths shut, obey their husbands and be beautiful while doing so. Rogers continues to paint the real picture of the wife’s life during the Antebellum period:

Once married, a woman was to be a submissive wife whose only reason for being was to amuse and serve her husband, bear his children, and train them in the ways they should go. Southern society decreed demanding rules for a genteel woman’s behavior: she was to entertain graciously, receive callers, and return the calls promptly. She was to be chaste and pure, hiding any suggestion of pregnancy in public while enduring the pain of childbirth with silence. Many women chafed under the social restraints society placed upon them, noting in their diaries the similarity between women and slavery. (114)

Rogers portrait of the Belle’s place as a wife is certainly not a picturesque one. Women who perpetuate this image must have no idea about the treatment of Belles. Who would want to be treated this way?

    Oklopcic also argues that “the Southern belle stereotype rested on a set of very strict class, race and gender traits” (2). Perhaps the most prominent aspect of the belle is the racist undertone. Oklopcic remarks that “the belle was white and of aristocratic origin” (2). There are no pictures of African American or Indian belles. Only white women represent this image.  Duro-Emanuel argues that Gone with the Wind “is a love letter to the glorious old American South and as with all love letters, the movie chooses to highlight the positive (wealth, gallantry and happiness) and largely disregard the negative (slavery and racism)” (3). This is the same portrait that those who still view the Southern Belle as a positive portrayal of Alabama’s heritage want people to see–the positive.

    Believe it or not, there is still a large amount of people who try to uphold the image of the Southern Belle. All over the web, there are images and brands that cater to the Southern Belle. A tee-shirt company bares an emblem and makes shirts with sassy sayings about being southern. As previously mentioned, many festivals still recognize the belles with performances. So, the question is, is the image of the Southern Belle actually a proud part of Alabama’s heritage or should it be dismissed as a symbol of racism, sexism, and class divisions.

One instance of the modern Southern Belle is the beauty pageant queen. Blain Roberts wrote an article titled “The Ugly Side of the Southern Belle” in The New York Times that explains the Southern Belle’s reign in the Miss America pageant. This year’s winner, Mallory Hagan, lived in Brooklyn, but she was actually born in Tennessee and raised in Alabama. She moved to the city to attend school. This is only peculiar because of the seemingly Southern dominance in the pageant, which Roberts investigated. He wrote,

From 1921, when the contest began in Atlantic City, through World War II, only one woman representing a former Confederate state won the competition. Then, beginning in 1947, when a woman from Memphis earned the top honor, the fortunes of Southern contestants rose precipitously. From 1950 to 1963, seven southerners were crowned (each served the following year), including back-to-back wins by Mississippians in 1958-1959–though southerners made up only one-fifth of the possible winners. (1)

A person may not find this to be extraordinary information. It could mean that Southern women were just more beautiful and entertaining. However, Roberts goes on to explain that it was during this time that “black Southerners opened a full-scale campaign against Jim Crow, prompting a bitter backlash by white Southerners” (1). He also remarks that “White resistance began in earnest in 1954, when the Supreme Court issued Brown v. Board of Education, its decision to desegregate public schools” (1). So, what does this have to do with the image of the Southern Belle?

    Roberts shows how there was a connection between the white Southern women’s popularity and the racist attitude coming from the South. He writes,

This wasn’t a coincidence. Images of white Southerners spitting on black students, and news of white lynch mobs killing children like Emmett Till, shocked the world. Other whites, many of them pro-segregation themselves but fearful of the national reaction brought on by anti-civil rights violence, understood that Southern beauty queens could serve as persuasive public relations agents, a genteel veneer to cover up the region’s unsavory behavior. (1)

Presenting a pretty, innocent looking face to the world would take away from all of the negativity coming from the South. The winnings of the pageant brought positive publicity to the South, all through the image of the Southern Belle. This Southern beauty served as a cover up for the cruel acts of racism.

Roberts continues his argument to show that the Southern pageant winners were also a sort of argument against desegregation:

Southern Miss Americas also symbolized what was at stake in the battle over desegregation: the possibility of interracial sex. Their scantily clad bodies splashed across newspapers nationwide, young white women were the Southerners who would supposedly suffer most if schools were integrated. They would become vulnerable to black men in other public facilities as well, especially swimming pools. Indeed, precisely because they were “more sensitive than schools,” a judge upheld the segregation of Baltimore’s municipal pools in 1954. (2)

Presenting these ladies as innocent victims doomed if integration occurred was what the South hoped would win their argument. Southerners had gotten comfortable in their ways of living, and they were not prepared to give them up.

    Roberts demonstrates the extreme adherence to the views of the South:

The Southern Miss Americas of the 1950s and ’60s embodied the Southern “way of life” and justified its defense, however strident. “The winner always carries the ideals of her city and state throughout the world,” Miss South Carolina, Marian McKnight, announced during the 1956 finals (she won the crown). She added that those of her home state were “the finest ideals there are.” (2)

The Southern “way of life” was strengthened by white aristocracy. Rich white people were afforded privileges such as basically private education, separate facilities, etc. They enjoyed these aspects of their lives, and they certainly were not prepared for change. Although the reign of the Southern beauties has waned over the years since the Civil Rights Movement, Roberts says that “we would do well to remember the troubling historical links between Southern beauty queens and racial politics, even when the winner lives in Brooklyn” (2).

    The modern day Southern Belle is represented by Garden and Gun, an online magazine. Three beautiful white women dressed in white posing on the front porch of a large, expensive house are in a picture above the article, “Redefining the Southern Belle.” The title, however, is a bit ironic as the article does not address much about “redefining” anything. In fact, it is almost like a rule-book or definition for the original Southern Belle:

Southern women, unlike women from Boston or Des Moines or Albuquerque, are leashed to history. For better or worse, we are forever entangled in and infused by a miasma of mercy and cruelty, order and chaos, cornpone and cornball, a potent mix that leaves us wise, morbid, good-humored, God-fearing, outspoken and immutable. Like the Irish, with better teeth. (Glock 1)

The tone is already judgmental and pretentious, poking fun at others. The author goes on:

To be born a Southern woman is to be made aware of your distinctiveness. And with it, the rules. The expectations. These vary some, but all follow the same basic template, which is, fundamentally, no matter what the circumstance, Southern women make the effort. Which is why even the girls in the trailer parks paint their nails. And why overstressed working moms still bake three dozen homemade cookies for the school fund-raiser. And why you will never see Reese Witherspoon wearing sweatpants. Or Oprah take a nap. (Glock 1)

First of all, what distinctiveness? What are Southern women representing if their distinctiveness comes from a past full of hatred? Why use the language “even the girls in the trailer parks”? Are girls in the trailer parks a part of this distinctiveness? The tone of the article reiterates the feelings that the image of the Southern Belle conjures: feelings of entitlement and privilege afforded only to those who were lucky enough to be born white and rich.

    Many feel that this ‘luck’ of being born white and of privilege has nothing to do with race. However, the image of the Southern Belle is an image of white privilege. There were no black Southern Belles. There were no poor Southern Belles. By upholding this image, people are upholding white privilege. Peggy McIntosh’s essay “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” gives an interesting look at how white privilege is a form of racism. McIntosh’s view comes from her work in women’s studies. She noticed that while men “say they will work to support women’s status, in the society, the university, or the curriculum, but they can’t or won’t support the idea of lessening men’s” (1). She argues that by men’s advantages are continued through women’s disadvantages, which protect male privilege from being fully acknowledged, lessened or ended (1). Her thoughts about male privilege lead her to examine white privilege.

    She writes, “As a white person, I realized that I had been taught about racism as something that puts others at a disadvantage, but had been taught not to see one of its corollary aspects, white privilege, which puts me at an advantage” (1). This teaching continues as a part of the privilege. People are taught not to recognize how their privilege is oppressive to others. McIntosh notes, “I remembered the frequent charges from women of color that white women whom they encounter are oppressive. I began to understand why we are justly seen as oppressive, even when we don’t see ourselves that way” (1). McIntosh’s colleague, Elizabeth Minnich, points out: “whites are taught to think of their lives as morally neutral, normative, and average, and also ideal, so that when we work to benefit others, this is seen as work that will allow them to be more like us” (1). McIntosh points out the ways in which she daily enjoys white privilege, such as:

1. I can, if I wish, arrange to be in the company of people of my race most of the time.

2. If I should need to move, I can be pretty sure of renting or purchasing housing in an area that I can afford and in which I would want to live.

3. I can be pretty sure that my neighbors in such a location will be neutral or pleasant to me.

4. I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely represented.

5. I can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well assured that I will not be followed or harassed.

6. When I am told about our national heritage or about civilization, I am shown that people of my color made it what it is.

7. I can be sure that my children will be given curricular materials that testify to the existence of their race.

8. If I want to, I can be pretty sure of finding a publisher for this piece on white privilege.

9. I can go into a music shop and count on finding the music of my race represented, into a supermarket and find the staple foods that fit with my cultural traditions, into a hairdresser’s shop and find someone who can deal with my hair.

10. Whether I use checks, credit cards, or cash, I can count on my skin color not to work against the appearance of financial reliability.

11. I can arrange to protect my children most of the time from people who might not like them.

12. I can swear, or dress in second-hand clothes or not answer letters without having people attribute these choices to the bad morals, the poverty, or the illiteracy of my race.

13. I can speak in public to a powerful male group without putting my race on trial.

14. I can do well in a challenging situation without being called a credit to my race.

15. I am never asked to speak for all the people of my racial group.

16. I can remain oblivious of the language and customs of persons of color, who constitute the world’s majority, without feeling in my culture any penalty for such oblivion.

17. I can criticize our government and talk about how much I fear its policies and behavior without being seen as a cultural outsider.

18. I can be sure that if I ask to talk to “the person in charge” I will be facing a person of my race.

19. If a traffic cop pulls me over, or if the IRS audits my tax return, I can be sure I haven’t been singled out because of my race.

20. I can easily buy posters, postcards, picture books, greeting cards, dolls, toys, and children’s magazines featuring people of my race.

21. I can go home from most meetings or organizations I belong to feeling somewhat tied in rather than isolated, out of place, outnumbered, unheard, held at a distance, or feared.

22. I can take a job with an affirmative action employer without having coworkers on the job suspect that I got it because of race.

23. I can choose public accommodations without fearing that people of my race cannot get in or will be mistreated in the places I have chosen.

24. I can be sure that if I need legal or medical help my race will not work against me.

25. If my day, week, or year is going badly, I need not ask of each negative episode or situation whether it has racial overtones.

26. I can chose blemish cover or bandages in flesh color that more or less matches my skin. (2-3)

McIntosh’s list is full of experiences that white people in particular take for granted. Overall, McIntosh argues that the idea is that our society opens doors for certain people through no virtues of their own; what should be normal for everyone in our society is still not normal (3). For McIntosh, she realized that there was a pattern in her examination: “There was one main piece of cultural turf; it was my own turf, and I was among those who could control the turf” (3). She found, “My skin color was an asset for any move I was educated to want to make” (3). It was not that McIntosh was born white that afforded her these privileges, just like this is not the reason that all whites have some of these same experiences. It is more a matter of a system being continued in this direction.

    While whites are enjoying their privileges, the opposite is occurring for those who are not white. McIntosh wrote, “In proportion as my racial group was being made confident, comfortable, and oblivious, other groups were likely being made unconfident, uncomfortable, and alienated” (3). For example, if a baseball team wins, another team has to lose. So, if white people are given all the comforts of life and being made out to be the “norm,” then other racial groups are being made to feel less than normal. McIntosh wrote, “some of the conditions I have described here work systematically to overempower certain groups. Such privilege simply confers dominance because of one’s race or sex” (4). These privileges do not only form a sense of ‘normal’ versus ‘less than normal,’ but they also secure a certain amount of dominance for the privileged.

    McIntosh explains the differences between earned strength and unearned power. She writes,

I want, then, to distinguish between earned strength and unearned power conferred systematically. Privilege can look like strength when it is in fact permission to escape or to dominate. Power from unearned privilege can look like strength when it is in fact permission to escape or to dominate. But not all of the privileges on my list are inevitably damaging. Some, like the expectation that neighbors will be decent to you, or that your race will not count against you in court, should be the norm in a just society. Others, like the privilege to ignore less powerful people, distort the humanity of the holders as well as the ignored groups. (4)

These ideas demonstrate how oblivion can continue the oppression, the racism. White people are taught that racism is an act or speech against someone of a different color. But, domination over others is the ultimate form of racism. By leaving out people of other races, white people are dominating. So, when someone says that he or she is not racist because he or she does not perform racist acts, that person is actually overlooking the truth of white privilege: that the system that afford white people ‘normalcy’ is racist.

    So, white privilege is not necessarily easy to be seen. It is something that white people take for granted. But, this is part of the system that has been constructed to ensure the Southern ‘way of life’ despite integration. By teaching white children that racism is in acts and negative words, white parents are teaching them to overlook the privilege that allows whites to remain the dominant race. The same domination occurs in all forms of oppression: sexual, racial, and socioeconomic. The first step to overcoming the ignorance of white privilege is to recognize it, and the image of the Southern Belle is one of the most prominent pictures of white privilege.

    Virginia Foster Durr, “a Southern White woman, born in 1905” (Tatum 1), wrote a book called Outside the Magic Circle in which she describes her life as an anti-racist. According to Beverly Daniel Tatum, Ph. D.’s article, “Outside the Circle? The Relational Implications for White Women Working Against Racism,” Tatum recognized the problems of racism. Tatum writes, “She described her early life as one of great privilege and of pervasive racism, a world of Black servants and assumed White superiority. She was raised to be a ‘Southern belle’” (1). Durr recognized her position as one of dominance over others. She wanted to escape the identity of being a Southern belle because she recognized the image’s work in continuing the attitudes associated with Alabama’s history of cruelty and entitlement.

    Overall, the image of the Southern belle reinforces many negative aspects of Alabama’s history. The image represents the Southern beauty whose aspiration was to become a wife and mother despite the horrible treatment of wives by their dominant husbands. Ultimately, the image therefore represents the sexist attitudes of men of the antebellum period in Alabama. The image also represents the racist attitudes as only white women were raised to be Southern belles, and only white women were praised for their beauty, which left those of other races to be viewed negatively. Belles were those born of privilege and money, so the image also perpetuates the division of the classes. The attitudes of the belles were snooty and snobbish. For someone to want to continue these ideals in this day and time is ridiculous. While people should be proud of their heritage, this is only the case when the heritage is one of merit and goodness. Women must get beyond the negative image of the Southern Belle and truly redefine the Southern Woman as one who is intelligent enough not to want to perpetuate the ignorance that originated the image.

 

Works Cited

Duro-Emanuel, Temi. “The Progression of the Image of the “Southern Belle” as Shown in Gone with the Wind and Southern Belles.” Media and Difference in Southern and Jewish Films. 25 Apr 2010. Web. 11 April 2013.  

Glock, Allison. “Redefining the Southern Belle.” Garden and Gun. Aug 2011. Web. 11 April 2013.

McIntosh, Peggy. “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.” Independent School. 1990. Web. 11 April 2013.

Oklopcic, Biljana. “Southern Bellehood (De)Constructed: A Case Study of Blanche DuBois.” E-Journal of American Studies in Hungary. Web. 11 April 2013.

Roberts, Blain. “The Ugly Side of the Southern Belle.” The New York Times. 15 Jan 2013. Web. 11 April 2013.

Rogers, William Warren, et al. Alabama: The History of a Deep South State. Tuscaloosa: U Alabama P, 1994. Print.

Tatum, Beverly Daniel, Ph.D. “Outside the Circle? The Relational Implications for White Women Working Against Racism.” Wellesley Centers for Women. 1996. Web. 11 April 2013.