READING RESPONSE TO “THE EPITAPH OF SARAH LLOYD” (NO AUTHOR)

Reader, Pause at this Humble Stone, (it) Records, The fall of unguarded Youth, By the allurement of Vice, and the treacherous snares, of Seduction. SARAH LLOYD. on the 23rd of April 1800, in the 22nd Year of her Age, Sufferd a Just but ignominius, Death, for admitting her abandond seducer, into the Dwelling House of, her Mistress, in the night of 3rd Oct., 1799, and becoming the Instrument, in his Hands of the crimes, of Robbery and House burning. These were her last Words: May my example be a warning to Thousands.

Sarah Lloyd’s epitaph, featured right, was initially difficult to take seriously in a modern context.  Like a piece of black comedy or a Monty Python sketch, its total implausibility and incomprehensibility made its morbid reality somewhat surreal.  However, its dated novelty soon revealed vicious undertones; these clearly portrayed its historical significance in understanding the relationship between previous and current discourses of gender, class, age, crime and punishment, power, law and sexuality.  The completely unbalanced and unjust nature of Sarah’s deed and its consequences made it quite impossible for me to practice anything other than an oppositional (resistant) reading – which Moon (2001, p.129) describes as “readings which are unacceptable in terms of the dominant cultural beliefs, and which challenge prevailing views”. In this instance, the dominant cultural beliefs are 21st century values, and the prevailing views are those in practice 210 years ago.

Similarly, my cohort negotiated meanings within resistant re/readings, via their own sources of available cultural capital.  In modern, democratic western societies, death by hanging for unwilling accessory to theft and arson has long since been abolished.  Our activities exposed the gap between current levels of public reaction, judgement and punishment for such scenarios, and those of the text’s era.  Interpretations of the historical language used revealed the multiple discourses present in the epitaph’s invited reading, which is, as Mellor stated, “impossible to read…as was originally intended” (1987, p.67).  What I found remarkable, and totally repositioned my own possible meaning/s into a personal polysemy, was the breadth of infinite possibilities that the cohort created through explorations of the text’s gaps and silences – could a cunning and lusty Sarah have been a co-conspirator rather than a scapegoat?  These silences combined with additional meanings negotiated through a variety of ‘kernels’ the text presents; Jetnikoff defines these as“pieces of information introduced into a narrative to hint at a larger world but not fully developed within the story itself” (2010, n.p.).

Drawing attention through a hailing statement of “Reader”, the epitaph asks one to pause and reflect on the tragic tale of the young, (presumed) innocent Sarah Lloyd’s downfall by sexual treachery.  After elaborating on the circumstances leading to her execution, a final quote is placed as a footnote.  Of course, this begs the obvious question of authorial intention and motive; with Sarah (and the actual perpetrator) eternally silenced, who has judged, sentenced, delivered and dictated her fate?  Was her trial public or private?  As a product of my environment, my assumptions of justice are formed through current Australian socio-cultural values and norms, regardless of gender, race, sexuality or class: we have rights to legal representation, a fair trial, and punishment befitting not only the crime but in line with global human rights standards and ethics.  However, my innate renaissance man understands that such accepted practices, now taken for granted, were not the reality in 1800.  A woman of servant class would more likely have been morally vilified for her promiscuity and inadvertent error of judgement, resulting in a verdict of guilty without any chance of proving innocence.  While this is clearly unacceptable in my present eyes, such injustices were most likely commonplace at the time.  This led me to question links between the epitaph’s historically intended reading, and a currently naturalised resistant reading; how has society and culture shifted its moral and ethical positions over the centuries, to where we locate ourselves today?  Such outrageous disregard for women and the lower class surely shaped feminist criticism – Moon describes these as “methods to demonstrate, explain and challenge the oppression of women” (2001, p.44) – and gave impetus to such discourses, ultimately bringing about the freedoms and equality we enjoy today.  That our learned reading practices are able to critically sift and sort through texts to expose such inherent bias is credit to the educational opportunities we collectively enjoy as young (or borderline middle-aged, in my case) Australians.

Since education does not exist in a chronological vacuum, and is truly a social and cultural construct, the presence of such texts have merit on the basis of understanding the intertextual nature of past, present and even future discourses.  Classrooms have an endless array of options with this epitaph: a creative re-writing from a silenced or omitted character such as Sarah, the seducer or a family member; an historically biased courtroom role-play, versus a modern celebrity circus trial by media; time-framed journal entries from Sarah’s point-of-view during the gap between event and execution; even combinations or collaborations of all of these are possibilities.  I would personally enjoy teaching such scenarios within senior schooling – taking written history to write for our future.

REFERENCES:

Jetnikoff, A. (2010). Workshop Week 5 Worksheet. Retrieved August 20, 2010 from http://blackboard.qut.edu.au/webapps/blackboard/content/contentWrapper.jsp?attachment=true&navItem=content&content_id=_3353553_1&displayName=Fan+fiction+worksheet&course_id=_63057_1&href=/%40%40/36FAA0A53919E0F057F6E5693D45A3AC/courses/1/CLB322_10se2/content/_3353553_1/fanficworksheet.pdf

No Author. (1800). The Epitaph of Sarah Lloyd. In Mellor, B., Reading Stories (pp.65-67). Scarborough, WA: Chalkface Press.

Mellor, B. (1987). Reading Stories. Scarborough, WA: Chalkface Press.

Moon, B. (2001). Literary Terms: A Practical Glossary (2nd ed.). Cottesloe, WA: Chalkface Press.



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READING RESPONSE TO ARCHIE WELLER’S “STOLEN CAR”

Author Archie Weller (pictured novel: the window seat and other stories)

In Stolen Car, Archie Weller has created a story which not only initially shocked and outraged me, but increasingly does so with subsequent readings.  This response was not due to its language, which is frequently beautiful or vulgar, or its brutal content; its effectual power came via deeper comprehension of the consequences of being born privileged as a white Australian male, rather than into disadvantage as an indigenous Australian.  This persistent issue of racial inequality for Aboriginals surely constitutes a collective national shame and disgrace – which I find impossible not to bear a degree of guilt and responsibility for, simply through my own inactivity and suburban complacency.

Unfortunately, in this instance, I was unable to gauge my peer’s reading positions to any meaningful or substantial depth.  It is my opinion, based on previous experiences of discussions surrounding social discourses of and relations with Aboriginal Australians, that a text such as this one could become highly divisive among Australians of various discursive histories; resistant readings will quite likely be produced through defensive nationalistic (and/or racial) pride.  At the risk of stereotyping rural and city folk, I have often found that people’s habitus determines the type and level of culturally entrenched racism; my experiences of country people, generally with more exposure to Aboriginality, have found they sometimes display higher levels of overt racism towards them.  However, this is certainly not the case in the tale of Johnny Moydan, who has moved from a position of relative respectability in the country – “a good boy”, “a good worker and a good footballer” – to being racially profiled as a young male Aboriginal by the police in the city.

In this manner, and by privileging an Aboriginal perspective, this text negotiates and makes meanings from what Moon describes as “oppositional discourse” – one operating in ideological (and often binary) opposition to those in positions of power (2001, p. 37).  This is seen as the “demon” police (p. 132) systematically instigate a disgusting and uniquely Australian version of institutionalised racism, which takes the innocent and earthy nature of Johnny, and his Aboriginal kith and kin, and criminalise and corrupt them.  This type of racism, with its point of view through the eyes of victims, and related through Weller’s penchant for overpowering metaphor and descriptive language throughout, had an effect akin to toxic shock to my middle class whitefella sensibilities.  I believe many people feel victimised as children due to teasing and various taunts (as I have experienced these myself and witnessed others suffering through it), however the level of violence and hatred directed towards the characters in this story were foreign to me.  My beliefs and philosophy supporting racial equality long ago forced my voice and actions towards denouncement of any such discrimination; these ideologies led me to take up the implied reading out of sympathy for the central character of Johnny.

Even while Johnny and his friends Wallaby and Billy commit crimes of theft, it is difficult not to forgive such acts as necessary for survival in a condition of such intensely marginalised oppression.  Thus I found it quite impossible to accept any reading position which retained any semblance of ‘subjectivity’ (which Moon describes as self-control (2001, p.150)) for poor Johnny Moydan.  After being constantly accused, beaten and finally wrongly convicted and jailed, he is resigned to a life of dispossession, depression and despair.  Weller interweaves constant indigenous and western semiotics, subtextual and intertextual references, to illustrate the environmental and social effects of the city on the country boy’s spirituality and personality.  The narrative climaxes and concludes with this symbolism, as fate delivers an irresistible opportunity to steal a car from a hegemonically privileged young man.  Johnny commits his first and last crime in his quest for freedom and release, which the car tragically offers him; ultimately, under police pursuit, his life is taken in much the same way as the wind blows out a flame – “leaving just a wind in your wake.  And who remembers the wind?” (Weller, p.140).

I hope to use this text in my future practice as an English teacher – its messages surrounding race, class, gender, power and privilege are impossible to ignore, and could benefit senior studies greatly.  Exercises specifically utilising this text, such as those provided in Martino’s “Exploring Masculinity and Aboriginality” (1997, pp.97-105), can assist in developing critical reading practices on many levels.

REFERENCES:

Martino, W. (1997). Exploring Masculinity and Aboriginality. In Martino, W. (Ed.), From the margins: exploring ethnicity, gender and aboriginality (pp.97-105). Retrieved August 25, 2010 from https://qutvirtual.qut.edu.au/portal/pls/portal/cmd_request_p.show_item?p_item_id=107697

Moon, B. (2001). Literary Terms: A Practical Glossary (2nd ed.). Cottesloe, WA: Chalkface Press.

Weller, A. (1978). Stolen Car. In Muecke, D.J., Narogin, S. & Shoemaker, M. (Eds.), Paperbark: A collection of black australian writings (pp.28-140). Retrieved August 25, 2010 from https://qutvirtual.qut.edu.au/portal/pls/portal/cmd_request_p.show_item?p_item_id=107930

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what is the value of an opinion, when everyone has one?

Opinions, blowing around like farts in the wind...Ado: "What was that smell? Oh well, its gone now - I guess it didn't matter anyway..."

This question has been eating me for some time.  The obvious egalitarian answer would surely be that all opinions are of equal value, and should be represented thus.  However, given the recent Australian political debacle (which thankfully resolved itself favourably) every man and his dog had plenty to say.  In a climate of media-driven fear and insecurity, many opinions were, quite frankly, based on ignorance and misinformation.  Why, then, should these opinions be given airplay and any credence, and how does one differentiate between well-informed opinions and bullshit ones?

Opinions and farts, everybody does it!

A wise man once told me, “Ado, opinions are like arseholes…everyone’s got one”.  I’m learning to pull this one out whenever someone behaving like (and with an opinion to match) an arsehole offers me their opinion, when I didn’t ask for it.  The beauty of this line is that it can be followed straight through (mind the pun) with the classic, “If I’d wanted to hear from an arsehole, I would have farted!”

Thankfully, not all opinions (or farts) are created equal...snorkelling anyone? :p

Of course, being the flamingly opinionated hypocrite that I am, rest assured – I’ll always give you mine!

Flamingly, hypocritically opinionated flatulence? Ah, the beauty of words...

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READING RESPONSE TO CHARLOTTE PERKINS GILMAN’S “TURNED”

Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Turned, by the very insinuations present in its title, sets up a circuitous path between binary oppositions (which Moon describes as “patterns of opposing features”, (2001, p.6)) of male and female, wrong and right, and moral and social class high and low; my interpretation of the notion of being turned is that one either turns toward or away from some ‘thing’.  Being made previously aware of its era (1911) led me to pre-judge its inherent discourses as being historically dated.  This transformed during my initial reading to a realisation that this was, perhaps, a seminal (even revolutionary) first-wave feminist text, and I responded favourably to its unconventional, chronologically non-linear plot by assuming an invited reading position of empathy for the central female characters.

This empathic, invited reading was taken up (at least verbally) by a vast majority of my cohort in the tutorial workshop.  I believe few would dare to publicly challenge the decisions made by the main protagonist (Mrs. Marion Marroner), based on the moral choices available to her.  Indeed, I feel many readers grew to respect and admire her mental fortitude and gracious support of the ‘other woman’ (Gerta), given the context the story presents – that of a female servant’s pregnancy to Mr Marroner.  This favouritism became particularly evident when our activities found similarities and differences between the central female characters in H.E. Bates’ The Good Corn and Gilman’s Turned; after being deceived, the former submits, while the latter takes a position of personal empowerment.  With a diverse array of socio-cultural backgrounds present, various opinions and insights into Turned‘s polysemous available readings deepened my understanding of its gender and social class stereotyping – however, acceptance of the foregrounded righteousness of its ideal (feminist) re-reading was virtually unanimous.

That this occurred, regardless of sex and/or gender, is not terribly surprising given the language used to construct meanings in this text.  I am not female; although as a middle aged and class, Anglo-Irish Australian male whose upbringing celebrated femininity and egalitarianism, my response reflected the moral values encouraged by my culture and history.  Our culture makes it explicitly clear that a married man impregnating a young woman, especially for whom one holds responsibility and duty of care to, is socially and morally unacceptable.  While I cannot speak for other cultures, I believe it would be difficult to dismiss this dominant, desired reading response which I and most others found appealing while negotiating meanings.  The reader is left with no doubt as to who has been wronged, and why their course of action is appropriate and virtuous.  When Marion actively removes herself from the victim role – placing Gerta there in her stead – she makes her position clear:

“”This is the sin of man against woman,” she said.  “The offense is against womanhood.  Against motherhood.  Against – the child.”” (Passage 9, p.21)

With this statement, Marion’s loyalty and compliance within her husbands (and society’s) patriarchal hierarchy is abandoned.   Liukkonen (2008, p.1), while crediting Gilman’s feminist  theory and literary work (which, ironically, she refused to be categorised as) wrote that “her goal as a humanist was to campaign for the cause of women’s suffrage. Gilman saw that the domestic environment has become an institution which oppresses women”.  With the above goals evident, this also becomes the point at which Gilman’s portrayal of a previously hegemonic (binary) class structure begins to erode as high-class Marion takes responsibility for servant-class Gerta.  On Mr. Marroner’s return, he finds both his marriage and household deconstructed with clinical precision, which the reader witnesses through the eyes and mind of Marion’s “icy peaks of intellectual apprehension” and resultant social justice prowess (Passage 8, p.20).

The infidel husband’s experience of the above on his return marks a reversal of perspective for the narrative; where there was a ‘silence’ (with the exception of his incriminating letters) from his viewpoint, there is now absence of the feminine.  This dramatic method of binary opposition is subsequently used to contrast his indecision and incompetence with Marion’s swift and conclusive departure.  His inability to comprehend her disappearance and his denial of responsibility, manifested through self-victimization, portrays the male as morally corrupt and untrustworthy.  This portrayal culminates with hubby’s intention to beg forgiveness and confess remorse in a pathetic attempt at reconciliation.  This is in itself stereotyping – I half expected to hear the classic “all men are bastards” catch-cry at any moment – and essentialising men, myself included.  I resemble…sorry, I mean resent that!  This response in itself reflects my discursive history of actively assuming single parental responsibility in the absence of a partnered relationship.  However, I cannot deny that certain gender traits and trends have collaborated in constructing this feminist perspective of societal inequity.  As a father to a daughter, a son to a mother and a brother to a sister, I must personally endeavor to create a more equal society and culture.

To this end, I also support the use of such feminist readings in schooling environments; not only are these texts important for senior year levels, but also middle and junior.  Clearly this text has adult themes which better suit senior levels, although the opportunity to understand and critically analyse gender, class, identity and sexuality (with methods and activities such as those employed for this text in Mellor’s Reading Stories) through similar literary texts must also be offered to juniors.

REFERENCES:

Liukkonen, P. (2008). Charlotte (Anna) Perkins Gilman (1860-1935). Retrieved September 13, 2010, from http://www.kirjasto.sci.fi/gilman.htm

Gilman, C. (1911). Turned. In Mellor, B., Reading Stories (pp.13-24). Scarborough, WA: Chalkface Press.

Mellor, B. (1987). Reading Stories. Scarborough, WA: Chalkface Press.

Moon, B. (2001). Literary Terms: A Practical Glossary (2nd ed.). Cottesloe, WA: Chalkface Press.

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agog @ blog

bleep.  sleep.  deep…

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