Tag Archives: Women

The Rainbow, by D.H. Lawrence


D.H. Lawrence, an underrated author from the canon of the early 20th century English writers. A most prolific author, who in his short lifespan created numerous works of fiction, critiques, and essays, challenged the industrial and military norms plaguing his lands of northern England, and shred them with his words. Suffered punishment for his courage of transcending the rules, Lawrence’s topics of sexuality, his focus on horrible conditions of the industrial age and the narrow scope of its inhabitants, caused his work, The Rainbow, to suffer backlash and be suppressed by censorship, forever to be rejected and exiled from the country he called home. Lawrence opened the conditions of England to the world, at the expanse of suffering banishment.

The Rainbow a report on family life in rural England, during the early 20th century. A saga that spans three generations of the Lensky women, and, their infiltration of the English household through the bond of the Brangwen linage. Lydia Lensky is the outsider, an educated women fighting the injustices of government from her early beginnings, in country side Poland. Through all her misfortunes, that leave her at the mercy of the world, with a child in tow, she maintains strength and self respect. A wild animal never to be tamed and demanding respect, she captures the attention of Tom Brangwen, a man of a respected hard working well off English family. The first battles of family life as Tom knows them, are staged in this household and are a foreshadowing of future battles to be fought in the lives of the women in her lineage. Eventually leading to Ursula, the perfect storm of strength and determination, unwavering and determined. The Lensky women are vehicles used by D.H. Lawrence to invade the England of his youth, and challenge its conduct, with a fresh perspective and strong determination. 

In the underbelly of the book runs the theme of revolt against confinement of the individual soul, held down by the government’s systematic approach toward the improvement of the whole, shackling the individual spirit. The book strives to shed light on the individual struggle to express it self and soar out of the death trap, brought on by the habitual course of life, as encouraged by the masses under the spell of industrialization. The values and principles of the socialist life are exposed then challenged. The whole portrayed as a disgusting entrapment in constant motion never reaching any purpose, lost in the mundane, lost in the filthy smoke of the factories and dark mining coal mines.

“But she must get up again and look down from her foot-hold of sunshine, down and away at the patterned, level earth, with its villages and its smoke and its energy. So shortsighted the train seemed, running to the distance, so terrifying in their littleness the villages, with such pettiness in their activity.

Skrebensky wandered dazed, not knowing where he was or what he was doing with her. All her passion seemed to be to wander up there on the downs, and when she must descend to earth, she was heavy. Up there she was exhilarated and free.  (P.438)

The mass portrayed as zombies worried too much about personal status within the whole, always protective of themselves. Never to reveal any human element in their approach to fellow men.

This is sharply portrayed through the conduct teachers have toward the students. In the academic eye (D.H. Lawrence became a teacher himself at an early age) the children are evil vermin that must be beaten into obedience. The rough edges sandpapered to make perfect cylinders that will fit the engines of societal factories. The conduct is perpetuated by the head of the school, Mr.Hardy. A representation of the head of the state, he allows for no feeling or compassion. He is cold as a stone, made clear by his conduct towards all new teachers and students.

“Ursula was rather frightened by his mechanical ignoring of her, and his directness of statement. It was something new to her. She had never been treated like this before, as if she did not count, as if she were addressing a machine.” (P.350)

Mr. Hardy in essence takes all personal conduct out of the children and teachers as well. He will not allow for any freedom of feelings or understanding. Only strict obedience to the systematic whole is respected. The self is beaten out of the teachers and trickles down to the future working class, discouraging self expressions and compassion.

“She must during the next week, watch over her books, and punish any fault. Her soul decided it coldly. Her personal desire was dead for that day at least. She must have nothing more of herself in school. She was to be Standard Five teacher only. That was her duty. In school she was nothing but Standard Five teacher. Ursula Brangwen must be excluded. “

The downfall of Ursula’s predecessors, her mother Ana and Lydia her grandmother, is their need for intimacy and human connection. Excessive lust and sexual intercourse being prohibited in literature, part of a governmental censorship, is the device that Lawrence employs in the story that brings order to the Brangwen household. It’s the underlying dark passion that tames the souls in the night, having a strong and powerful force. No matter how far the souls drift apart during the arguments that inhibit a new and budding household, the sexual passion glues everything back in place. Through it the Lensky lineage is tamed by the Brangwen men, until Ursula arrives – an ungovernable peak of the collision of separate forces. She is the first product of the culmination of Brangwen and Lensky. Too powerful for lust to tame answering to a greater force – the moon, drawing her energy from the natural environment.

“Skrebensky, like a load stone weighed on her, the weight of his presence detained her. She felt the burden of him, the blind, persistent, inert burden. He was inert, and he weighed upon her. She sighed in pain. Oh, for the coolness and entire liberty and brightness of the moon. Oh for the cold liberty to be herself, to do entirely as she liked. She wanted to get right away. She felt like bright metal weighted down by dark, impure magnetism. He was the dross, people were the dross. If she could but get away to the clean free moonlight.” (P.300)

Every great force comes with consequences. Characters must exhibit great strength to draw on such powers and advance societal norms further. The lack of understanding from the surrounding citizens, results in societal punishment, refusing to welcome change and a uprootedness to their beliefs, way of life. Ursula’s consequences are a result of harboring a view of life far too advanced for the current times and executing on them with determination, throwing caution to the wind. Only upon losing everything do question of being too proud and self centeredness trouble her. In the end she is broken and turns the blame inward. She didn’t choose the moon, and perhaps without it she might have fallen prey to lust, might have been conquered through passion, might have led the normal life of rural England, but the world, chose her to lead society further, to establish the foundation for feminist values. It gave her a foundation too strong for temptations of the world to conquer, and left her to suffer the consequences.

In Ursula one sees the embodiment of D.H. Lawrence, a boy from a mining town in England, a teacher in his youth, escaping England’ system of exploitation. The battle within Ursula must have also raged within Lawrence. Unlike Ursula, Lawrence was able to escape the confines of England and spend a life of traveling and writing and chasing his dreams. This didn’t make the burden of expatriation any less severe. His works only widened the distance between the man and home, every page making the welcome less and less. All his works where a direct challenge for change, a change that landed him outside the borders.  Hence we are left with a direct caricature of life in England in the early 20th century, that spokes the sharp truth,  taking no regard for censorship, while at the same time showing appreciation and finding beauty in all scenes dear to him.

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Freedom, By Jonathan Franzen (The ever-changing role of today’s woman)



Freedom by, Jonathan Franzen, takes you into the depth of an all-American family. A book that tells the struggle of the Berglunds. The struggle to discover themselves, to raise children into successful citizens of the world, to find communication within the family circle, and finally to survive in a world full of corruption, desire, and competitiveness that seeks to destroy the foundation of their bonds. Freedom is a major work that is a masterful read. I can’t but think that Franzen, uses each character in this work as a way to introduce great social and political themes of our times. Each characters presence in the work is relative to the size of issue/problem Franzen is trying masterfully to get across to the reader. He never allows one to get bored, by constantly shifting the focus between complex characters. The work is an honest, sometimes all too harsh view of the current American family, that would surprise and educate the foreign perception.

Jonathan Franzen’s themes some times seem redundant in this work, and it’s true that his major, impossible to miss, themes such as freedom, competitiveness, overpopulation, governmental corruptness in the Bush regime, are all at times nauseating.  I at times in the work, found myself as sick of Walter, as I did of Al Gore and his global warming propaganda that captivated the world for a brief period, and then faded of the map, once Al Gore got the publicity he apparently needed to validate himself as a human being. However the interchanging point of views with in the novel, never allow Walter’s political views to make the work unbearable. Franzen’s skill of characterization, rewards a reader who looks deeper, beyond the obvious. I, for example, found Franzen’s deep characterization of the major female characters in the work enlightening and educating on the ever-changing role of woman in todays society.

Inside Freedom, there are two camps of women. There is the American housewife type that consists of Patty Berglund and her son’s teenage love, turned college long distance detached girlfriend, and finally wife, Connie. On the opposite side of the spectrum, Franzen gives us the independently driven urban woman. This type is embodied in Jenna and Lalitha.

The Berglund men, Walter and his son Joey, all seem to land the same type of woman. One who loves endlessly, throws herself into the family life, and devotes her whole life to keeping the household running. The Berglund women’s excessive love is overwhelming and suffocating. While this may speak to some genetic make up of the men, that is encoded in the underlying of the fundamental search for a partner. In my opinion it has more to do with the type of women that calls middle America home. Patty ran away from the city lights and competitive life style for the quiet rural life of Minnesota. Little did she know her whole life would end up a competition between the urban rock star Richard Katz, and, her tree hugging rural husband Walter.

Failing to have an affair in college, with a city rock star Richard Katz, Patty’s mission becomes to establish a loving household with Richard’s intellectual dedicated roommate Walter Berglund. Patty throws herself into being the perfect wife and mother. In this she finds her ego fulfilled. As Patty’s love is excepted and praised not only by her household, but by the community it self, Patty manufactures more and more of this love. Love becomes the only thing she is good at, and the overwhelming proportions, are taken to a dangerous level. Her love eventually begins to suffocate its subjects.  The subjects start to avoid her like a plague. Walter her husband acquires a job with the requirement for long work trips. She focuses her love on her son Joey. He unbelievably at 16 moves next door to escape it and live with Connie, his girlfriend, and, Carroll, her mother. Having alienated both men, she focuses on Richard Katz. Richard gives in for a time at the Summer House, but soon escapes her himself. In Patty one finds a sad character, who tries to conquer all with love, but never grasps how one dimensional, suffocating, and, uninteresting, she becomes as a woman.

Joey, who escapes his mom like a plague, moves in across the street with his childhood love Connie. As he becomes more independent, and career oriented he finds Connie to be a carbon copy of his mom. Connie has no motivations, other than being there for Joey.

“ I only want to be with you. That’s all I want in my life. You’re the best person in the world. You can do anything you want, and I can be there for you. You’ll own lots of companies, and I can work for you. Or you can run for president, and I’ll work for your campaign. If you need somebody to break the law, I’ll do that for you. If you want children, I’ll raise them for you. “  (p.250)

Joey moves away to school in Virginia, then eventually the quest for capital gain brings him to New York City, ironically the city his mother Patty escaped with her first chance at freedom. While Joey is chasing dreams, Connie is stuck at home being abandoned, and working as a waitress in a local dinner. Joey in the work, puts his dreams first and Connie second, or third or fourth, depending on the situation (Since he knows she will always be there, no matter what).This abandonment forces Connie into manic depressions, similar to Patty. The lack of enthusiasm outside the housewife life and playing the supporting role, makes her dull and unimportant in Joey’s life. He is almost ashamed of her, and feels that she ruins his image. Too embarrassed to even tell his roommate Jonathan about their relationship or hiding from his hall mate Casey that he and Connie are shopping for wedding rings.  Much like Patty, the only way Connie is able to keep Joey around is by forcing him to feel terribly sorry and indebted to her.

These two women, are juxtaposed by two female characters the Berglund men are energized by. For Walter it’s Lalitha, a young Indian female, and partner in Walter’s environmental quests.  While Joey’s prized possession is Jenna, the sister of his college roommate Jonathan. A Jewish goddess, and, intelligent duke graduate.

Lalitha captures Walter’s attention, with her young enthusiasm. She and Walter are united with a mission of achieving a sanctuary for the Cerulean Warbler. Through her determination to bring the difficult project to fruition, Walter gains a deep respect and affection for Lalitha.

“Her success made him feel inferior and unworthy of her admiration, and thus all the more grateful to her. Which then led him to a more general enthusiasm about young people and their capacity to do good in the world” (p.316)

Lalitha in Franzen’s work is a representation of the modern day woman. A strong individual who upon achieving a desired situation in life, doesn’t sit back and work on securing her strong hold. A woman who continues to move forward and fight for everything she receives. This quality within Lalitha attracts the reader, and, captivates Walter’s heart.

“Poor Patty, poor competitive lost Patty, who wasn’t doing anything remotely brave or admirable in Washington, could not help noticing his admiration of Lalitha” (p.323)

Joey, is intrigued by Jenna, another strong female character.  The main reason Joey falls for her, is that she is unattainable. He is warned by his roommate Jonathan, from the start.

“…I’m not going to tell Jenna. I’ll just warn you right now that you’re lacking the key to her heart.”

“And what’s that?”

“A job at Goldman Sachs. ‘That’s what her boyfriend has. His stated ambition is to be worth a hundred million at age thirty.” (p.277)

Jenna’s independence arises from having everything in life. Being born into a high society family with an influential father, perhaps the easiest option would have been to become daddy’s girl and reap the benefits. However Jenna is too bright a character. A duke graduate, she realizes that depending on anyone won’t open many doors.  Much like Lalitha, she refuses to put all her eggs in one basket. Within the novel she is always on the move. We find her among fancy dinners, gatherings in the Hamptons, sky rises of Manhattan financial district, and riding horses in Patagonia. Jenna’s freedom is earned, and not given to her through other people’s achievements. This independence, along with her beauty, makes her a prize worth paying attention to, for any up and coming man on the ladder to success. Every time Joey gets any acknowledgement from her, his body hair stands up, and, Connie becomes a second thought. Joey is so overpowered by Jenna’s strong image, that when he finally gets a chance to fuck her, he can’t even perform.

Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom strives to bring forth issues relevant to today’s American public. Characters are the transportations for Franzen’s thoughts. They are highly stylized and realistic vehicles that drive the author’s points home. Such a point, is the role of women in today’s world. At first the reader is presented with the old fashioned middle American version of the Housewife. The role Patty and Connie undertake is outdated. It makes the women unattractive, and enforces psychological damage. In todays world the housewife is a fish out of water, unable to swim, a fish aimlessly beating on the dry sand as it dries up in agony. Evolution has changed the woman’s role. It’s now sleeker better and improved. Women have a voice, the open world is no longer along the shore. A woman to be attractive, must follow her man into the depth of the ocean. Must be fearless and exciting, free and not burdened. It’s enjoyable to have a partner who is as capable of achieving the unachievable as yourself. Freedom demonstrates such a point , which make it all the more powerful. A view on today’s ever changing landscape of America.

Tagged , , , , ,