Sophie Hatter Defies Conventions

Howl's Moving Castle (Sophie Hatter Defies Convention)Sophie is liberated by the Witch of the Waste’s curse, as it removed her from her assigned “failure” role to finding her own agency; “It was odd.  As a girl, Sophie would have shriveled with embarrassment at the way she was behaving.  As an old woman, she did not mind what she did or said.  She found that a great relief” (Jones 66).  The self-imposed title of “failure” is displayed by the Witch of the Waste’s spell on Sophie, the spell being Sophie’s primary obstacle to overcome, hoping to find meaning in her “failure.”

When Sophie is transformed into a crone her reaction is not typical of a fairy tale heroine, saying, “Don’t worry old thing…this is much more like you really are” (Jones 33), as she examined herself in the mirror.  When Sophie Hatter is transformed into a crone, bravely leaves Market Chirping regardless of advanced age, with more vitality as a crone than as an 18-year-old, the character instructs readers to question and resist social assumptions in the development of individual identity. Continue reading “Sophie Hatter Defies Conventions”

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Howl’s Moving Castle

Howl's Moving Castle (Studio Ghibli)
Howl’s Moving Castle by Studio Ghibli

Diana Wynne Jones’s adolescent novel Howl’s Moving Castle, is escapist literature, that demonstrates to readers not to accept the world as it is, seeing what could & might still be, rather than what was or must be.  The adolescent reader is assured that risk taking works out in the end when there is the ‘happily ever after’.  Jones’ happy-endings are successful because they are the logical conclusion for all the characters, given their fantastical adventures.  She writes in clear language, using characters’ actions to address characterization for her readers, assuring that they will have to get into the characters’ heads to understand motivations, which might not always be clear in the characters’ actions.

Howl’s Moving Castle is the story of female protagonist Sophie Hatter, who is skilled with a needle to make hats and dresses.  Unknowingly, Sophie is capable of magic, as she talks life into objects and convinces people to see things her way.  Born the eldest of three sisters, Sophie believes herself fated to an uninteresting future of running the family hat shop, after their father dies, and they learn the debt schooling the three sisters has put the family in.  To cover expenses, as Sophie’s step-mother can’t afford all three daughters to work in the shop, the two youngest daughters are sent out for apprenticeships.

The story begins with Sophie resigned to her dull fate: Working alone in the hat shop, Sophie’s younger sisters have left for their baking and witchcraft apprenticeships, while her step-mother spends the hat shop’s earnings.  That is until The Witch of the Waste enters the hat-shop, attracted by Sophie’s magical abilities & confuses her with one of Howl’s young lovers.  In jealousy and anger The Witch places a curse on Sophie that makes her into an old woman.  Sophie’s desire to break the spell and return to her rightful age brings her to the moving castle of Howl just above Market Chirping.  Being a crone, Sophie no longer fearing the rumors of Howl eating the hearts of young maidens.  Making herself useful as a cleaning lady, Sophie forces herself on the residents: fire demon Calcifer, apprentice Michael, and wizard Howl.  Sophie strikes a deal with Calcifer that if she can break the contract between Howl and himself, he will break The Witch of the Waste’s spell on Sophie.

Felix Masquerade

I dreamed of super-powers to be like the mutant X-Men, just as I had dreamed about being like the other boys in school.  I didn’t understand why I had to feel alienated and alone from everyone in my school and home; why couldn’t what made me different be celebrated the way athleticism and super-powers were? The character, Felix, I created was originally purely escapism, a way to join my favorite mutants as I read their new issues.   Over time he developed as I grew, becoming a character that I armored myself with in new and boundary-pushing situations.

The original power I grafted onto Felix were my wish fulfillment, liberating me from the conflicts I had with homosexuality’s shame.  Originally, I gave Felix shapeshifting abilities because I’d be able to become anyone other than myself.  With shapeshifting, I’d reflect the popular students throughout middle and most of high school, avoiding the lonely and isolation prophesized by television and movies.  Changing my appearance, Felix could literally become or match anyone’s desire, gaining the perfection that I had desired.  Being able to shapeshift I’d have more tools at my disposal to make my goals and fantasies match my outside.

Felix was eventually given telepathy as I struggled to juggle the various facades I had created to navigate interactions.  Telepathy ensured that the forms I took would be ideal for whom I was interacting with, removing the guess work about how to be part of the group.  I’d know exactly what to say, be prepared for what others would say, and always have a funny quip to keep grace.  Having the correct words, I’d be able to give the illusion that I was known without having to go through the painful experience of not exposing my queerness.

As I began to fully explore what differentiated me from others, I added the final super-power: teleportation.  Felix would be able to truly escape any situation that was uncomfortable; I’d be free to be away from ticky-tacky suburbia and be where the different, foreign, and unique are celebrated –  New York City, home to many of Marvel’s superheroes and faraway from the mundane.  By this time Felix stopped becoming escapism and became the armor for every day, designed to masquerade as popular and fleeting.  Felix had become the mysterious character whose silent smile spoke, so that I didn’t have to expose myself to isolation and alienation.

Wonder Woman – The Amazon Princess: Queer Diplomat of DC Comics

Wonder Woman by Christopher Moeller
Wonder Woman by Christopher Moeller

Wonder Woman, Diana Prince, with her powerful abilities, centuries of training and experienced at handling threats that range from petty crime to threats that are of a magical or supernatural nature, Diana is capable of competing with nearly any hero or villain.  She’s concurrently the fiercest and most nurturing member of the Justice League, capable of making the hard decisions.  Wonder Woman’s hard-decision making is derived from her backstory and characterization.  In comic books and the DC Universe Wonder Woman’s nickname, The Amazon Princess, makes obvious the dichotomy inherent in the premiere super-heroine.  As an Amazonian she is a trained warrior, powerful, strong-willed, and does not back-down from a battle.  The princess aspect of the character places her in the political and diplomatic spheres, pursing peace without escalating conflicts.  In both worlds Wonder Woman is a leader, who, unlike Superman and Batman, understands the ramifications globally and locally of her actions.

In the DC Trinity Superman is the admiral inspiring heroes to be their best; Batman is the general making the plans other heroes follow; Wonder Woman is the soldier shoulder to shoulder with the other heroes in the battle.  Soldiers are the decisive faction in an army, and in an army of superheroes Wonder Woman is the hard-decision maker.   Where Superman and Batman hold tightly to the superhero code, do not kill, Wonder Woman comes at solutions with more ambiguity.  She is the decision maker who makes the difficult decisions, where killing is never completely off the table, such as when she kills Ares God of War by cleaving an axe through his skull (vol3, #33).  There is also the infamous neck snap of telepathic villain Maxwell Lord to save Superman and by extension the planet.  Maxwell Lord had taken control of Superman and used him to nearly kill Batman.  A brutal battle ensues, Wonder Woman defends herself by slicing Superman’s throat with her tiara, and uses the Lasso of Truth on Lord to demand to know how to end his mental control over Superman, which he revealed was to kill him; if put in jail he’d just escape, regain mental dominance of Superman, and begin again.  Seeing no other way to end the carnage an amoral Superman would cause, Wonder Woman snapped Maxwell Lord’s neck.  While Wonder Woman’s actions are defendable, saving her friends and the planet, her decisiveness put her at odds with other heroes who ardently stand-by the superhero code.

[To Continue Reading the Brief Essay Open PDF Below]

2017.05 Wonder Woman – The Amazon Princess: Queer Warrior Diplomat

Wonder Woman as Queer

Wonder Woman by Nathan FoxWonder Woman is from Paradise Island, a single-sex island, where in the twenty-first century began canonical displays of romantic love towards one another.  Wonder Woman’s advocacy of queer eroticism, which began with her creation by William Marston in 1942 until Dr. Fredric Wertham’s Seduction of the Innocent labeled Wonder Woman dangerous to young American girls by promoting lesbianism.  Fearing cancellation DC Comics’ writers and artists began suppressing Wonder Woman’s textual queer support, barely addressing her erotic history as subtext.  During this time Wonder Woman abandoned promoting equality between the sexes for earning Steve Trevor’s affections.  In the twenty-first century writers leaned-in to modern interpretations of Paradise Island, once again freeing Wonder Woman from heteronormativity, and regaining her role as an advocate of queerness.  Freedom from heteronormative expectations removes preconceived notions of “sex” and “gender” labels, allowing Wonder Woman to embody the idea of universal love.  Wonder Woman’s love for all extends to acceptance, such as in the 2016 (v3, #48), when she officiated over a same-sex wedding, legitimizing homosexuality as a mainstream.  Additionally, given Wonder Woman’s Amazon Princess role means that Hippolyta, queen-mother, would have performed officiations on Paradise Island, and given being royalty her participation would lend significance and validity to the ceremony.

Wonder Woman’s Dichotomy

 

Wonder Woman by Adam Hughes
Wonder Woman by Adam Hughes

Wonder Woman, Diana Prince, with her powerful abilities, centuries of training and experienced at handling threats that range from petty crime to threats that are of a magical or supernatural nature, Diana is capable of competing with nearly any hero or villain.  She’s concurrently the fiercest and most nurturing member of the Justice League, capable of making the hard decisions.  Wonder Woman’s hard-decision making is brought from her backstory and characterization.  In comic books and the DC Universe Wonder Woman’s nickname, The Amazon Princess, makes obvious the dichotomy inherent in the premiere super-heroine.  As an Amazonian she is a trained warrior, powerful, strong-willed, and does not back-down from a battle.  The princess aspect of the character places her in the political and diplomatic spheres, pursing peace without escalating conflicts.  In both worlds Wonder Woman is a leader, who, unlike Superman and Batman, understands the ramifications globally and locally of her actions.  Throughout the character’s seventy-five-year history, and several retcons, Wonder Woman has remained consistently nurtured humanity through compassion and a strong conscience.

 

Wonder Woman and American Ideals

 

wonder woman by iumazark-d3iekm2
By Gabriel Iumazark

Batman and Superman are aspects of the American experience in ways that Wonder Woman is not.  Superman is the immigrant experience, constantly having to be better and stronger than the ideals – truth, justice, the American Way – he embodies because if he does not than all immigrants/aliens/heroes would be viewed as untrustworthy.  Batman is the guilt wealth brings, fighting the shadows to right the wrongs upon which success is built upon.  Wonder Woman though is not born of the American Dream – she does not come from guilt due to success, nor is she an immigrant who holds ideals of a culture.  Wonder Woman, is a visitor to America; she is an emissary of foreign ideals that she hopes to impart.  By her actions and adventures Wonder Woman inspires all peoples to possess physical and mental strength, values, and ethical and moral attributes, proving that not only American values need dominate the world stage.  She is not looking to eclipse the core of American ideals, rather Wonder Woman’s goal is to symbolize that anyone can embody truth and justice.  Wonder Woman normalizes that esteem for human life is a source of strength.  This diminishes the American belief, which has vacillated through its history, that armed conflict leads to conflict resolution.

 

Wonder Woman as Soldier

Wonder Woman and Batman by Kevin WarrenIn the DC Trinity Superman is the admiral inspiring heroes to be their best; Batman is the general making the plans other heroes follow; Wonder Woman is the soldier shoulder to shoulder with the other heroes in the battle.  Soldiers are the decisive faction in an army, and in an army of superheroes Wonder Woman is the hard-decision maker.  Where Superman and Batman hold tightly to the superhero code, do not kill, Wonder Woman comes at solutions with more ambiguity.  She is the decision maker who makes the difficult decisions, where killing is never completely off the table, such as when she kills Ares God of War by cleaving an axe through his skull (vol3, #33).  There is also the infamous neck snap of telepathic villain Maxwell Lord to save Superman and by extension the planet.  Maxwell Lord had taken control of Superman and used him to nearly kill Batman.  A brutal battle ensues, Wonder Woman defends herself by slicing Superman’s throat with her tiara, and uses the Lasso of Truth on Lord to demand to know how to end his mental control over Superman, which he revealed was to kill him; if put in jail he’d just escape, regain mental dominance of Superman, and begin again.  Seeing no other way to end the carnage an amoral Superman would cause, Wonder Woman snapped Maxwell Lord’s neck.  While Wonder Woman’s actions are defendable, saving her friends and the planet, her decisiveness put her at odds with other heroes who ardently stand-by the superhero code.

Re-Read SILK: Introduction

Silk by Caitlin R Kiernan            I first read Caitlin R. Kiernan’ Silk on a train ride returning to college freshman year.  Her usage of words and compounding nouns to colors creating imagery pulled upon collective memory to produce emotion was angry, hurt, and younger version of the Southern Gothic Writers (Toni Morrison and Carson McCullers) I enjoyed.  Her frustrated with life’s reality had reflected my own by this point.  With that book, and all the followed, Caitlin R. Kiernan became a writer whose books I purchased, on the strength of previous work, on release day.

            Like all the characters in Silk I wanted more from life, to achieve the dreams that I dreamt for my grown-up self.  In my first reading, the weight of pain of characters’ life was lost upon me because I was still in the midst of my own and was unable to identify it.  The pain that characters radiated bloomed from their queerness, their ability to perceive and reconfigure the world so that it reflects their identity.  While Kiernan was able to infuse the characters with knowledge of their uniqueness, I was still constructing mine and so did not see that my lack of knowledge was the source of my repressed anger.

Conflicting Teacher Philosophies

Teachers Cant Be Erased (conflicting teaching philosophies)‎            I lost my passion for teaching because of the teacher I worked with, Lorela Graham, passive-aggressively pushed me out.  Lorela began by criticizing my clothes and hair, rather than help me build better lesson plans or practice performing the lessons before teaching them; she preferred me do her paperwork and grading.  I was given the upcoming week’s outline on Sundays, leaving 6 hours to personalize lessons for an entire week.  She “hazed” (her word) by having me out of the room following students to gather data on their behavior in an effort to remove them.  Lorela’s life problems (such as her son’s college suspension related to drugs) were taken out on me, erupting and swearing at me after school hours.

Lorela and I had different educational philosophies.  She did not believe in connecting student lives to curriculum, that students did not have agency and shouldn’t engage in dialogue with the teacher. She preferred comma placement over critical engagement, and avoided student imagination. Lorela was about results, through lessons that were easily duplicated yearly, which is little more than playing school.  The unresponsive teaching reinforced the status quo, and for a homogeneous student population that is a dangerous proposition because college becomes an uncontrollable culture-shock upon discovering not everyone has the same background, opportunities, and financial resources.

My conflicting philosophy was that connecting ELA to student lives creates global citizens capable of compassionately understanding human values, creative experiences, and skills in conflict resolution.  ELA analysis of language can be used to question the socially constructed self, giving students the ability to deconstruct attitudes towards culture/ethnic groups, and transform into democratic agents prepared for civic choices towards societal change.  Stories have the unique ability to present students with influences inspiring students to re-imagine the world from another cultural perspective and appreciate culture-originated solutions, to find unique solutions based on multiple perspectives.