Tutor profile: Erin H.
The following is an example of my ability to construct a thesis, write clearly and convincingly, analyze texts, provide evidence, and communicate in an engaging, professional manner. Question: Analyze the role of Nadja and the use of surrealism in Andre Breton's "Nadja."
Considered the goddesses of inspiration in literature, science, and the arts, it is fitting that the muses of classical mythology would be women. A muse, even today, has nothing more to do than inspire. Typically a woman, a muse inspires the artist with her beauty, guides them on their journey, and challenges them to grow. Though one would think this idea archaic, and that an avant-garde movement dedicated to the idea of expanding notions of reality would be able to change this narrative, the muse of André Breton’s surrealist work, "Nadja," maintains this myth. Intended to communicate the values of surrealism, "Nadja" chronicles Breton’s few fateful months with the mysterious Nadja, a woman he meets on the streets of Paris. Yet, like all women in literature, Nadja is used as a tool for the man, in this case, Breton and his surrealist goals. Thinking about Nadja in this way, it can be said that the woman who appears in the text is not a real person at all, but rather an empty vessel Breton uses to convey his surrealist manifesto. While Nadja may be a person Breton once encountered, the story Breton tells is not hers, and therefore not real. Furthermore, precisely by twisting Nadja’s narrative to fit his surrealistic intentions, Breton undermines his own surrealist manifesto, which is dedicated to truthful observations and facts, rather than fiction, as Breton himself explains in Nadja. He ignores her personhood to use her as a vehicle for his own devices. First and foremost, Breton’s narration reveals the way in which the Nadja depicted in the novel is an invention of Breton’s own design. The reader’s understanding of Nadja comes from Breton’s interpretation of her. He is the one who provides her back-story, and he is the one who characterizes her for the reader. Rather than providing “facts which may belong to the order of pure observation,” with which Breton claims he is solely “concerned,” he creates his own meaning of Nadja (19). When he first spots her on the streets, he describes the reflection of “some obscure distress and at the same time luminous pride” in her eyes as though she can see something others cannot (65). Though he has only known her for a moment, Breton instantly decodes the meaning of her appearance. Here, Nadja has yet to say a word, yet Breton is the one who relays to the reader it was “In Lille, her native city which she had left only two or three years ago, she had known a student she may have loved and who loved her” (65). He goes on to explain why she came to Paris and states, “What Nadja is doing in Paris – but she wonders herself” though the Nadja in question gives no indication she does not know what she is doing in Paris (68). He wants to give the impression she is spontaneous and free. By not being able to even tell her own story, Breton takes away Nadja’s agency and relegates her to the role of a symbol and object. Even when Breton seems to be purely observing Nadja, which would imply she is an independent person, he then explains her inner thoughts even though there is no evidence she has revealed such thoughts to him. For example, sitting in a park, Breton tells the reader “her attention is monopolized by the behavior of a man passing back and forth in front of us whom she thinks she knows” (86). Because there is no direct quote from Nadja here, it is impossible to know if this is true or only Breton’s interpretation of the moment. Considering his belief in “the mercy of chance” and “petrifying coincidences,” it would make sense Breton would want to interpret this instance of recognition between Nadja and a “stranger” as a moment of chance or coincidence (19). In this way, it would be a surreal encounter to happen upon a man one may once have known in a park. However, the reader has no idea if this is truly Nadja’s own view of the moment. In almost all instances, Breton speaks for her, which means Nadja is only visible through Breton’s understanding of her. He directs the reader’s interpretation, relegating her to a passive role an object to be analyzed as opposed to allowing her control over her own narrative. Because the woman described in Nadja is conveyed through Breton, she is not a real person at all, but rather a representation of his own thoughts. While it could be argued that Nadja does communicate her own thoughts and feelings, compared with Breton’s own narration of her life, these moments seldom occur. She does tell Breton her father “was so weak” and goes on to say, “If you knew how weak he always was. When he was young, you see, no one ever refused him anything” (67). Here, Nadja speaks for herself, but it is a rare occurrence. Overall, the majority of the reader’s understanding of Nadja comes from Breton’s descriptions and judgments. One could also argue that it is natural that as the narrator, Breton is the one providing information on Nadja, but he rarely provides direct quotes. If perhaps, Breton more frequently included direct quotations of Nadja as opposed to narrating her life for her, this argument may hold more sway. Yet, the fact remains that Nadja is predominately understood through Breton’s explanation of her. Even while she is reading, Breton tells the reader what Nadja is thinking and feeling. He writes, “At the end of the second quatrain, her eyes brim and are filled with the vision of a forest. She sees the poet passing near this wood…” (72). While it may very well be true, the reader has no way of knowing if it is so because the information only comes from Breton. He provides no description that could verify his judgments but simply tells the reader what he thinks is true of Nadja. In this way, it is impossible to tell if the Nadja of the book is a real, accurate depiction of this woman or a caricature of Breton’s own perception. Either way, what is clear is that Breton is twisting her story for his purposes. Additionally, the fictitious nature of the Nadja communicated to the reader can be seen in the way Breton immediately pulls away from her the moment she strays from his surrealist narrative. The second Nadja asserts her own personhood Breton dislikes her. As a part of his surrealist manifesto, Breton is interested in “the forbidden world of sudden parallels, petrifying coincidences, and reflexes peculiar to each individual” (19). That is to say, Breton is focused on the ways in which the ordinariness of reality can be seen as both beautiful and absurd. Yet, when Nadja reveals the ordinary trivialities of her life, the ones that lend no beauty or absurdity to reality, Breton promptly rejects her. Nadja tells him a story of how she was once punched in the face by a man she refused and Breton responds, “this story…almost managed to alienate me from her forever” (113). Instead of sympathy, he reacts with “terrible violence against the over-detailed accounts” she gives of her life as if it does not matter she has faced abuse. (113). How can Breton’s interpretation of Nadja be trusted when he cannot even speak out against such violence towards women? When Nadja provides real insights into her life, Breton flees because it shatters his illusion of her as a “mysterious, improbable, unique, bewildering…” figure (136). He is only interested in the Nadja that “always inspired,” not the real person with real problems (113). Breton has no concern for anything other than what appeals to his own interests. If Nadja cannot inspire him or fulfill his surrealist ideas, he has no use for her. On the one hand, the fact that some of Nadja’s actions alienate her from Breton does confirm that she is a real, tangible person. However, on the other, Breton’s rejection of Nadja’s “over-detailed accounts” also indicates that there is only a certain part of her story he wants to communicate to the reader (113). If Breton only wants the Nadja that will inspire, it would make sense that he would control her narrative. She has the capacity to ruin his illusion. He only gives the side of the story that supports his surrealist interpretation of Nadja. In this way, Nadja’s predominant narrative as a “mysterious, improbable…” force can be read as not necessarily a true representation of her, but rather a result of Breton’s distorting perspective (136). While Nadja may be a real person with the capacity to offend, the one that is most predominately features in the book is Breton’s creation. On the whole, for Breton, Nadja is a fine creation. In every way possible, she lifts him up and encourages his work. She is literally a muse designed to inspire him and nothing more. He writes, “…she takes me for a god, she thinks of me as the sun” and imagines he has been “struck by lighting, lying at the feet of the Sphinx” (111). If the direct interpretation of him as a god was not enough, by placing them in the realm of deities like gods and Sphinxes, Breton further elevates himself. It is as if only he can see into this other supernatural world. What’s more, by referring to Nadja as the “Sphinx,” the classical beast that only allowed travelers to pass once they answered a riddle, Breton once again reinforces the idea that she is only there to challenge him to find answers and guide him on his journey (11). It is also Nadja who encourages him to write a book. She says, “You will write a novel about me. I’m sure you will…you’ll take another name,” as if even she knows the story will change (100). While this encouragement may reveal Nadja as a real figure, it is not a stretch to assume Breton’s manipulation of her story is only for the text. Breton writes, “Now she tells me of my power over her, of my faculty for making her think and do whatever I desire, perhaps more than I think I desire” (79). Although he claims Nadja pushes him to think more deeply, Nadja’s statement is an admission that Breton forces her to think and behave a certain way. He wants a certain outcome, something that will say, “open mornings,” so he acts in a way that will get these results (111). It is no wonder Nadja fits his surrealist ideas when he provokes her to act in such a manner. Breton gives no thought to her personhood, but rather force her to be what he wants, relegating Nadja to just another woman being used as a tool. She only exists in the text to elevate, inspire, and encourage him. It is not a reciprocal relationship. Though Breton may claim he, too, encourages her, Nadja exhibits no signs of growth or even change. She is solely there to reaffirm Breton. While it is bad enough Breton uses a woman to fulfill his artistic objectives, the act of fictionalizing is a direct violation of the tenants of surrealism Breton outlines in the beginning of the piece. He lauds “the days of psychological literature, with all its fictitious plots, are numbered,” yet goes on to create a narrative about Nadja (18). While Nadja may be a physical, real person, twisting her story to fit his own ideals is certainly not a true to life account. As mentioned earlier, Breton also discusses the “organic plan” of life as well as the way in which “facts” and “pure observation” open the doors to a world of greater understanding (19). Yet, Breton does nothing organically and leaves nothing to pure observation. He takes his observations of Nadja and manipulates them so he can see into a new “shimmering, delicate” world (19). He does not let these insights into reality speak for themselves. Nadja is not a surrealist text meant to confound reality, but rather another story about a man who uses a woman to fulfill his goals. For all this arguing over whether Nadja is real or not, Breton himself seems to admit at the end that he may have created an illusionary figure. In a footnote towards the very end, he recounts a story in which a woman in the car with him “…(who was Nadja, but who might have been anyone else, after all, or even someone else) pressed her foot down on mine on the accelerator, tried to cover my eyes…so that we should collide at full speed with the splendid trees…” (153). Breton, of course, thinks this is wonderful and a “principle of total subversion” to his ideals, but he also admits Nadja is interchangeable with any woman (152). It does not matter who the person is, but how they behave in regards to his surrealist principles. Nadja is a stand-in, a symbol for his beliefs rather than a real person. After this episode, Nadja’s story ends in a sanitarium. Breton seems to admit, however briefly, he may have had a hand in it. He writes, “…in what I have related of Nadja, to ideas already frenzied and will perhaps set a terribly decisive value to my role in her life, a role favorable, in practice, to the development of such ideas” (136). He notes that only in the pieces of Nadja that he has chosen to reveal fit the overall story. Breton also confesses the ideas he so deeply believed in and wanted Nadja to believe in may have set the course for her life. Overall, Breton admits he not only manipulated Nadja’s story, but also her life. This manipulation shows a direct disregard for Nadja as a person. He does not care she is institutionalized. He uses her institutionalization to rail against sanitariums. The only thing he values in Nadja is the fact that she lived out his surrealist principles by nearly killing them in the car as well as enlightening him as to the limits and practicality of his theory. While it is all good and well that Nadja is willing to kill herself for his ideals, Breton makes it clear he is not willing to push himself that far. He likes her only for what she fulfills in him. She could be any woman and so long as she lives up to Breton’s surrealist expectations, he would like her. So although Nadja may have been a real person Breton carried on with, it is clear that Breton twisted her life to create a story that would serve his purposes. It is not Nadja’s true story. What her true story would’ve been is unknown, because, like most women, she is used as a man’s object. In this rendering, she is not her own person. "Nadja" is not about Nadja. It’s about André Breton.
Subject: World History
Evaluate the extent to which Islamic civilization during the Abbasid Dynasty (750-1258 CE) marks a continuity from the Umayyad Dynasty (661-750 CE).
While both the Umayyad (661-750 CE) and Abbasid (750-1258) Dynasties maintained patriarchal systems in which women were subservient to men, overall, the Abbasid Dynasty marked a drastic change in Islamic society because as a result of the Abbasid Dynasty's tolerance of foreigners and inclusion of non-Muslims in their government, which caused subsequent interactions with new cultures, the Abbasid Dynasty saw a technological revolution that advanced their society as well as new forms of Islam such as Sufism. Despite many changes to Islamic society after the Abbasids took over from the Umayyad's, one consistency is the continuation of patriarchal rule. The Umayyad's strict adherence to Quranic laws, for example, meant that women only had access to half the rates of their dowries and property in comparison to their male counterparts. As Islamic civilization further urbanized under Abbasid rule, women's freedom was further restricted. In mosques, women were secluded and veiled from the men. Caliph (ruler) Mansur, who ruled from 754-775 CE, for example, ordered the building of a separate bridge for women to be constructed over the Euphrates in Baghdad. One primary change from the Umayyad Dynasty to the Abbasid Dynasty was the advancement of technology due to interactions with new cultures. As Islam spread across the world and came into contact with new practitioners, new ideas were exchanged about technology. For example, papermaking techniques improved in the Abbasid Dynasty, and soon paper mills were operating all over Persia, Iraq, and Egypt. This change only occurred because Islamic scholars and missionaries were traveling and coming into contact with other cultures. Building off the original Chinese invention, Muslims were able to revolutionize the printing process. Furthermore, the improvements to the printing press allowed the Islamic world to further prosper technologically because with the ability to publish and circulate texts, academic centers such as the House of Wisdom could be established and more people could educate themselves, which only led to further advancements. Without access to the technology of other cultures, such as the Chinese printing press or Greek texts, the Islamic world would not have been able to make such technological progress. Additionally, Islamic itself changed as it gained more and more followers. While those living under Umayyad rule practiced a traditional form of Islam and considered the Quran, or the word of God, to be their guiding text for both religious and legal matters, Sufism preached a more mystical connection to Allah. Concerned over people's attachment to the material world and the rise of greed and corruption in the Abbasid government, which was perhaps a result of its growing wealth caused by the technologies previously mentioned, Sufis believed that Quranic study had its limitations and that one must meditate in order to connect with the divine. While the Umayyads may have been the first to rule over the Islamic world and set the precedent for the treatment of women across the Muslim world, overall, the Abbasid Dynasty advanced Islamic society, and in turn, changed much about it. As a result of cultural diffusion within and outside of their empire, the Abbasids developed new technologies, generated more wealth, and expanded their empire. In turn, such changes also caused new developments within the religion itself, such as with the creation of Sufism, a mystic form of Islam.
Beloved, the titular character of Toni Morrison's novel "Beloved," is a complex, ambiguous figure whose role and significance are unclear. In some scenes, she appears as a corporeal figure, and in others, she appears to only exist in the memory of Sethe, the protagonist. The townspeople believe Beloved is not real at all, but simply the ghost of Sethe's deceased child. Given this ambiguity, analyze the figure of Beloved in Morrison's novel - what purpose does she serve in the book?
It is clear from the onset of Toni Morrison’s novel, “Beloved,” that 124 Bluestone Road is haunted by something. While some believe the ghostly figure is the specter of the protagonist, Sethe’s, dead baby, this conclusion is complicated by the appearance of a woman who emerges from the river and calls herself “Beloved.” Drawing on Cathy Caruth’s definition of trauma, which she describes as a wound that is “inflicted not upon the body but upon the mind” and a “voice that cries out…released through the wound,” it is clear that the mysterious figure of Beloved is not a real figure, ghost, or hallucination, but rather the voice of Sethe’s trauma, forcing her to remember and engage with her past (2). Understood in this way, Beloved is an allegorical figure meant to convey Sethe’s specific trauma, and more generally, the trauma inflicted on all enslaved peoples. Beloved is the “voice” of Sethe’s wound. One of the first elements of Caruth's "voice" is the way in which the voice, and trauma itself, are “...not available to consciousness until it imposes itself again, repeatedly in the nightmares and repetitive actions of the survivor” (Caruth 4). Repeated actions being the key factor here, Beloved can be considered this voice because she appears repeatedly and habitually to torment Sethe. The minute Beloved emerges from the river by 124 Bluestone, she is attached to Sethe and clings to her. Sethe is “licked, tasted, eaten by Beloved’s eyes,” but Beloved is never satisfied (Morrison 68). Beloved incessantly follows Sethe to the point where she claims, “I am not separate from her there is no place where I stop her face is my own and I want to be there in the place where her face is and to look at it too” (Morrison 248). Beloved repeated presence is so forceful and persistent in demanding Sethe’s attention that the two essentially become one. She is nothing if not relentless, which certainly demonstrates that Beloved is part of the “repetitive phenomena” Caruth speaks of when defining the voice of trauma (Caruth 91). However, it is not only the fact that Beloved repeatedly appears that proves she is the traumatic voice. Beloved’s childlike behavior and appearance suggest that her voice comes directly from the trauma Sethe experiences over killing her own daughter to save her from a life of slavery. Appearance-wise, Beloved arrives at 124 Bluestone Road with “...new skin, lineless and smooth...” as though she were fresh out of the womb (Morrison 61). She also has a scar in the shape of a “curved shadow of a smile in the kootchy-kootchy-coo place under her chin,” the same place Sethe cut the throat of her child (Morrison 281). All of these physical attributes, similar to that of Sethe’s murdered child, indicate that Beloved is, indeed, the traumatic voice of this child and the event. Furthermore, Beloved’s demeanor is also reminiscent of a child or infant. When Beloved follows Sethe around, she expresses childlike desires of comfort and care, and Sethe complies by playing “with Beloved’s hair, braiding, puffing, tying, oiling it…,” feeding her with “fancy foods,” and dressing her in expensive, “Bright clothes - with blue stripes and sassy prints” (Morrison 282). At this point, they appear to be in a typical mother-daughter relationship. Whether Beloved is the Beloved, Sethe’s dead daughter, or only assuming the same name, is beside the point because here, she is still taking on the role of a child and forcing Sethe to meet the same basic needs a child would ask of their mother. In this way, Beloved becomes the “...human voice that cries out from the wound” (Caruth 3). By acting presumably how her dead child would, Beloved activates the site of Sethe’s trauma and repeatedly forces her to engage with her guilt and anguish, as only the voice of trauma can. In addition to her repetitive appearance and resemblance to Sethe’s daughter, Beloved can also be thought of as the voice of Sethe’s trauma because she forces Sethe to “bear witness” to a past she is trying to forget (Caruth 3). A central part of the traumatic voice is that it is “not available to consciousness until it imposes itself again…” and in the same way, Sethe rarely engages with her trauma or past (Caruth 4). She feels her past is “unspeakable” and refuses to tell her living daughter, Denver, any stories of her life on a plantation (Morrison 69). Yet, with Beloved, Sethe notes the “profound satisfaction Beloved got from storytelling” and actually divulges stories of her past (Morrison 69). Here, thanks to Beloved, Sethe becomes conscious of her trauma. Because Beloved draws out stories of Sethe’s past, forcing Sethe to literally speak to her trauma, Beloved exhibits the trait of the traumatic voice that forces the victim to bear witness to their past. Due to the way she haunts Sethe, resembles her daughter and is able to speak to Sethe’s own, unique past, Beloved is directly related and tied to Sethe. So, it must be asked then, if Beloved is the voice of Sethe’s trauma, why can other characters hear and interact with Beloved? Caruth answers this by explaining that often, “one’s own trauma is tied up with the trauma of another...trauma may lead...to the encounter with another, through the very possibility and surprise of listening to another’s wound” (Caruth 8). Denver and Paul D., Sethe’s daughter and lover respectively, can hear and see Beloved because she is the voice of their trauma, too. Sethe, Denver, and Paul D.’s pain are all interconnected. While Denver did not experience slavery or witness her sister’s murder, she does feel the effects of both. Denver is still traumatized by her mother’s actions and is afraid Sethe will do to her what she did to Beloved. Denver dreams “She cut my head off every night” and imagines the way her mother “...comes over to my side….when she cuts it off it’ll be done right; it won’t hurt. After she does it I lie there for a minute with just my head” (Morrison 244). Despite whatever love Denver has for Sethe, Denver is also terrified of her, so in this way, Sethe’s trauma becomes intergenerational and interconnected. The trauma of Sethe’s actions creates the voice of Beloved and in turn, directly affects the way Denver is raised, which is why Denver can interact with Beloved. Similarly, Paul D., Sethe’s lover who she lived with on the same plantation, can also hear and engage with Beloved because his trauma is connected to Sethe’s. They share a past. Working on the same plantation, Paul D. worries their past may be “a place they couldn’t get back from” so he deals with his trauma by locking it in a “tobacco tin buried in his chest where a red heart used to be. Its lid rusted shut” (Morrison 87). Paul D. tries to suppress his trauma, but he hears Beloved, a piece of Sethe’s trauma, and Beloved forces him to address his own pain. Initially, Paul D. dislikes Beloved and sees her as a malicious force, but she implores him to “...touch me on the inside part and call me my name” (Morrison 137). This statement can be read as a seduction of Paul D. and a betrayal of Sethe, but it can also be read as Beloved, a part of Sethe’s trauma, calling to Paul D. to bear witness to his past and his trauma. By asking Paul D. to call her by her name, Beloved is also asking him to directly address the trauma of his and Sethe’s shared past. A voice, she is crying out to him. When Beloved does this, she splits “the seams of his tobacco tin” and breaks its lid, causing him to be open to his memories and trauma (Morrison 138). He accesses his “Red heart” or his humanity (Morrison 138). Again, Beloved shows she is this voice of trauma because she locates Paul D.’s repressed pain or the pain that is “not available to the consciousness” as Caruth would say, and forces him to reckon with it (Caruth 4). It is crucial here that Beloved is the one to unlock Paul D.’s tin heart because it demonstrates the way in which people can share wounds, traumas, and voices. Beloved, the voice of Sethe’s trauma, connects to Paul D. and enables him to open up because their traumas come from a shared experience. Because their trauma is “tied up with the trauma of another,” Paul D. can interact with Beloved, the voice of Sethe’s trauma, too (Caruth 8). What’s more, the confusion Paul D. and other characters feel about Beloved actually further characterizes her as the traumatic voice. The voice of trauma, along with the traumatic experience itself, occurs “as an absolute inability to know it,” meaning that to some degree, both the trauma and the voice, are unknowable to the victim (Caruth 92). If the voice “remains unknown in our very actions and our language,” then it is no surprise Beloved, too, remains an ambiguous character in the novel (Caruth 4). It is precisely because she emerges at the limits of language that the characters in “Beloved,” as well as even the reader, all believe different things about who or what Beloved is. She is incomprehensible because traumatic events are incomprehensible (Caruth 6). Besides the varying opinions on who Beloved is, Morrison also pushes this characterization of Beloved by never actually describing the moment that, among others, traumatizes Sethe. The moment Sethe cuts off her daughter’s head is never explicitly depicted, only the before and after. Morrison describes “ a nigger woman holding a blood-soaked child to her chest,” but not the decapitation (Morrison 175). The omission of the precise moment that instigates Sethe’s trauma reveals that there is no way to describe such a violent event. Such violence is not only incomprehensible to the witness but also incomprehensible to language itself. Therefore, the fact that Beloved emerges out of this unclear moment as an ambiguous character demonstrates the way in which she symbolizes trauma itself. Beloved’s ambiguous nature encompasses the incomprehensibility of the moment itself. Despite the fact that Beloved emerges out of the limits of language, she is still an expression of trauma, pain, and anguish. Despite the incomprehensibility of her presence for both the characters and the reader, Beloved still manages to give shape to trauma and depict how it may feel for the victim. This ghostly figure, this voice, this woman from the waters - she becomes larger than life in the eyes of the occupants of 124 Bluestone Road because often, that is how trauma feels. In “Beloved,” trauma literally takes on a life, and voice, of its own. Although Beloved’s presence does wreak havoc, she gives a voice to Sethe’s pain when Sethe cannot find one. She bears witness to Sethe’s past when Sethe cannot bear to remember. Morrison’s novel does ask if it is a good thing that the past and trauma can loom so present in life as it does with Sethe, but she leaves the answer up to the reader. In the end, what can be said about the mysterious figure of Beloved is that her voice not only gives a voice to Sethe’s pain but also to the millions of others affected by slavery. Beloved is their voice, calling out from their wounds, and in calling out for them, “Beloved” demands that the reader, too, bear witness to this past.
needs and Erin will reply soon.