Friday, January 31, 2014

Harlem [Dream Deferred] 
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?
- Langston Hughes

Langston Hughes’ poem, “Dream Deferred” reveals that dreams that are deferred end up becoming toxic because of the permanent regret that remains from not fulfilling the dream. His message is made more prominent through his usage of rhetorical questions and vivid imagery.
            He first compares a dream deferred to a dried up raisin in the sun (lines 1-2). Raisins, while still considered “fruits” are a dried up, aged version of grapes. Wrinkled up, losing its vibrant color and juiciness, raisins can be considered less appealing than grapes. Like dreams, grapes are best when they are fresh. By making this comparison, Langston Hughes is advocating that dreams be fulfilled as quickly as possible and not be deferred. By waiting and putting the dream on the backburner, the fresh possibility of the dream fades and the regret takes over. A raisin, which is much like the shell of the grape, robbed of its moisture and freshness of the fruit is like the regret that is left over when the dream is deferred.
            In lines (3-4), the dreams that were put aside are compared to festering sores. “Sore” can refer to a wound or diseased part of one’s body part but it can also refer to “sore” as in causing great suffering, misery, or hardship ( One can also be “sore” as a result of suffering bodily pain from bruises or wounds. When one becomes “sore” it is usually after enduring slight pain over a great deal of time. Langston Hughes makes the argument that dreams work in the same way. If a dream is put aside for a long period of time, the pain and regret builds up, therefore making one “sore”. That regret, remains permanent until the dream is fulfilled.
            He asks the reader, “Does it stink like rotten meat?” in line (5). Like the festering sore in lines (3-4), “rotten” gives off the image of “decomposing” or “tainted” meat. If unattended and uncared for a long enough time, dreams too can decompose and turn rotten, corrupting a person from the inside just as festering sores and rotting meat does. It is through the neglect that the regret and harm arises.

            However, Langston Hughes does not end his views on deferred dreams by saying that they simply rot inside a person. Instead, he chooses to end his poem with a rhetorical question as his last line, “Or does it explode?” It’s as if the regret built itself up to a great pressure and burst out from within the once-dreamer. Dreams that are deferred do not merely sit within a person; instead, they burst out after years of being put aside. No matter what, they find a way out. It’s as if the whole process is necessary for cleansing. Like a festering sore, the infection or the rotting flesh must be terminated or amputated. Deferred dreams, because of how harmful they are, must find a way to escape the body. 

Thursday, January 9, 2014

The Manic Pixie Dream Girl

The manic pixie dream girl is a female trope that frequently turns up in popular culture. Appearing in books such as  The Perks of Being a Wallflower, movies such as  500 Days of Summer (or anything Zooey Deshanel is in), and TV shows such as Skins, the manic pixie dream girl often serves as inspiration and an escape for the male lead character. She is characterized by her quirkiness, craziness, childishness, and her carefree attitude on life. Unfortunately despite all her “uniqueness” that sets her apart from the rest of the world, the manic pixie dream girl often falls flat as a character. Too often one dimensional, with no desires, dreams, or conflicts of her own, this trope enters the story in order to move the male lead along. This is most prevalent in romantic comedies/ romance movies where the female lead character meets the grumpy, closed-off male lead. She is childlike, quirky, and full of life, while he is cynical and sullen. The male lead reveals that he has been hurt once and that despite his hard exterior, he has a soft inside. The manic pixie dream girl eventually gets him to open up and love life again, giving the movie a happy ending. 27 Dresses features Jane, who is a more grounded version of the manic pixie dream girl. She is kind to everyone, including her self-centered and whiny younger sister, and has kept all 27 of her bridesmaid dresses. She eventually gets the male lead, a cynical writer who has had his heart stomped on, to open up after drunkenly singing a rendition of “Bennie and the Jets” with him in a bar. Similarly, Leslie (though too young to be a love interest) from Bridge to Terabithia is a manic pixie dream girl trope in the sense that she is solely there to inspire Jesse to live his life to the fullest. Her death, then, becomes far more tragic, and she becomes something of a hero and idol to Jesse.

            The problem with this trope is that once oversimplified, the character becomes flat, one dimensional, and somewhat of a Mary Sue. The manic pixie dream girl trope has been criticized by film critic, Nathan Rabin, as being "that bubbly, shallow cinematic creature that exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures". She often has little character development, acting as a Peter Pan-like character that never grows up, existing only to restore youth and happiness to surrounding characters. Thus, looking at this trope through a gender lens, this particular female character trope generally implies that a women’s sole purpose is to act as an angel and muse for men, providing comfort and vitality to those who see the harsher realities of the world. “Unique”, childish, and always aesthetically pleasing and pretty, the manic pixie dream girl is much like a doll. Although she can sometimes be stubborn (but always in a “cute” way that makes the man fall in love), for the most part, this character is passive, sweet, and holds few flaws.