Friday, 15 March 2013

Carrie's War seminar notes

This week we focalized our discussion of the text through one of the questions for assignment two: ‘analyse and discuss the implications of class and power in two texts studied in this module.’

Everyone in the seminar session came up with an example from Carrie’s War and/or one of the other texts that we look at on the module and statements that they would make about them that could be used in the assignment. Then we tried to link the ideas together to form arguments.

Here were some of the ideas about power that I gave as examples to set everyone off:

Carrie's War
Carrie and Albert want to fight Mr Evans when they believe that he has stolen his sister’s will but feel powerless to make a change because they are children. They realise that they have no agency (that is, no ability to fight the ideological power imbalance between adult and child). They feel adults won't listen to them and the law won't listen to them as minors. At the end of Carrie's War it is revealed that Albert's suspicions about Mr Evans were wrong and a lot of the beliefs and ideas they had about him are viewed very differently by the adult Carrie. Thus although the text seems to challenge the assumption that adults know best and critique the power imbalance as one which allows wrongdoing to happen, it ultimately perpetuates the power imbalance and idea that children cannot accurately and rationally perceive the world around them, nor see ‘the bigger picture’.
This also links to this idea:
Carrie is afraid of Mr Evans and what he will make her do or tell him. As a child she is fearful of knowing important things which could have an impact (i.e. Mr Evans’ sister’s message) and thus having power over a situation because she feels the adult Mr Evans has the ability to control that power and use it to manipulate people. As a child she is trapped in a web of adult conflict and tension. Adults exploit her, or so she feels, because of her child position and image of innocence. She is used as a messenger, as a spy, as an actor, as a weapon.
This also links to this idea:
Nick is able to exploit Mr Evans’ fears so wields some power over Mr Evans. For example, Nick understands that Mr Evans is afraid that the construction of himself as a Christian, nurturing, caring, generous, respectable, hard-working provider will be exposed as false so he knows that he can threaten Mr Evans with telling people he doesn't feed them and that he doesn't treat them well. Mr Evans tries hard to make a good impression on Carrie and Nick’s mother and she fails to see the truth as Carrie and Nick act so well. Their mother is effectively powerless in the situation and the children feel a responsibility to care about adults, in this case their mother, and don’t want to upset her by telling her they are miserable.
This also links to this idea:
There is some reversal in parent/child roles in Carrie’s War. Carrie as an adult is afraid of her past, and the landscape. She is useless, irrational and moody. Her eldest child, however, takes control and cares for both her and his younger siblings. Auntie Lou is also weak and easily manipulated by the children. They feel some responsibility towards her and worry about her and act in a way to not distress her. They tell her to go after her American friend and she obeys them. Albert holds some power over Mr Evans’ sister and ultimately, holds the fate of Hepzibah and Mr Johnny in his hands. There are other examples of this which you can note for yourselves.  

Is Mr Evans bitter about losing power over Aunty Lou and his sister to other men?
Is Mr Evans jealous of both his sisters for their ability to transcend social status and acquire wealth through marriage while he has to work hard?
Does he get angry about Hepzibah because he is jealous of her effortless power over the children when she is just a cook and he a shop-owner?

The Seeing Stone
Arthur's friendship with Gatty is tested in many ways. Firstly, because his family do not think it is his duty to help her with her field work. This then causes him to question the socio-political and cultural structures of the medieval society he lives in. It helps him develop his identity and subjectivity. It is significant, however, that as a male he has the power to make changes (and he does at the end of the trilogy when he inherits his own manor and creates an equal society, a round table)!
There is tension between him and Gatty because he likes her but they can never marry.
He makes promises that he cannot keep because he is able to follow his dreams and she cannot as a female and of lower class.
The girls in the text have quests / goals to find a husband but Arthur’s goal is to become a knight. The means of social progression and acquisition of wealth are gendered as are virtues and morals.
Arthur struggles with his yard skills and has different strengths like literacy and creativity (he is a Romantic child!) but as a young male of his class he has a particular model of masculinity to which he is pressured to conform.

These are just some of the ideas that the group came up with which we developed and discussed:

A contrast is set up between Mr Evans’ shop and Druids Bottom. The first is a place of order, hard work and Christian self-sacrifice and self-management, the second is an idyllic world of warmth and love and the nurturing Hepzibah, in which they are fed well and they are creative and share stories. Nick loves it which annoys Mr Evans. Mr Evans claims Nick is ungrateful and should acquire the working class ethic he feels he embodies.
After Hepzibah’s comment that Mr Evans is bitter and cold because he has had to work so hard, Carrie pities him. They come from a different world and previously had a maid. Nick finds it funny when they arrive at Mr Evans’ and he is so precious about his carpet and Aunty Lou is proud of their indoor toilet and Mr Evans being a councillor. BUT it is just all for show; Mr Evans and Aunty Lou are trying to raise their social status and are proud and Nick laughs when Aunty Lou and Mr Evans don’t realise that they are of a higher class than them and pity them when he thinks they should be pitied.
Aunty Lou marries an American soldier and Mr Evans looks down his nose at them. Is this because Americans are not reserved, and America is becoming a superpower and Mr Evans feels this goes against his philosophy of hard work? Is Mr Evans a racist? He is annoyed at his sister for marrying an Englishman and another sister for marrying an American. Is he jealous of the power of the other nations?
Hepzibah draws attention to the power of her story over Carrie. This also comes up in The Book Thief, Here Lies Arthur, The Knife of Never Letting Go, Peter Pan and The Seeing Stone in particular. People think of their lives as narratives and retell stories the way they want to either give an impression or so they can deal with it because of unconscious desires and/or anxieties. They choose what to remember and what to forget.
The adult/child power imbalance is reinforced by messages such as ‘children must be seen and not heard’.
Mr Johnny, as a disabled person and one of lower class, is doubly disempowered in the text. He does not have a voice, he cannot communicate what he needs to, nor does he have a say in his own fate.  
Hook wants to gain power over Peter Pan. Peter Pan has power over the island.
Mr Darling is strongly affected by the pressures of conforming to class expectations. He worries about what the neighbours will say about a nanny dog amongst other banal things.
There is also a role reversal at the beginning of Peter Pan where Mr Darling acts childishly and the children are disgusted at him.
Peter Pan and Wendy, John and Michael act out the family according to what they have learnt from their parents. It is an image of the family of a particular class. They must do things ‘properly’ according to their class.

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