Vietnam and its people were the “others”…right? Is this the reason for the title…kind of like an identity crisis?
Is it a portrayal of the destruction of the identity of the conquered to make them easier to govern?
Thank you, Duong Thu Huong for enlightening everyone on your book, “Novel without a name.” I believe through my research and knowledge, that little interest has been directed toward publishing your novel in Vietnam, could this reflect on how the Vietnamese War – Marxist society disagrees with the postcolonial theory. Could this explain the lack of postcolonial studies of this country and why your novel has never been allowed to publish within Vietnam?
As I look through the lens of Postcolonial, this novel made me question the characters, motives and interactions within the circumstances that led to hybridity, new identities, divisions, borders (Eastern front, Western front, the strategic regions, A, B, C and X) and a break down within their society. Vietnam is comprised of fifty four different ethnic groups and the novel illustrates how hybridity was utilized to combine a multifaceted system created by the repressive influential configuration in the North Vietnamese postcolonial society.
The subcategories that hybridity seeped into were:
1. Racial – Miss Hoa, Quan’s first love, became pregnant and was denounced by her people and it was possible that her child would have been born of a mixed race…someone from another native village, residence or district. “Last year, the village Party committee drafted her. Poor girl. By the end of the year, she was pregnant. No one wanted to claim the child. She refused to denounce the father. Shamed, her parents threw her out” (p. 139).
2. Linguistic – When Quan was heading to “Zone K” and met a young Van Kieu man named Te Chieng he asked, “How many miles off is it?” and the young man’s response was, “What’s a mile?” (p. 70).
The shorter man on the freight train stated, “ ‘Comrade’ can mean many things. From a linguistic point of view, it’s a lie. From a historical point of view, it’s an adaptation. And from a practical angle, well, it’s just a leader’s trick” (p. 159).
3. Culture – While saying goodbye to his liaison, Quan took out a can of meat and stated, “This is the last one I’ve got left. You have it comrade. The agent, “…scrutinized it like a connoisseur. “This is a real luxury for an ordinary soldier” (p. 34).
Mr. Buu commented that, “They study their Marxism-Leninism, and then come and pillage our vegetable gardens and rice fields with Marx’s blessing. In the name of class struggle, they seduce other men’s women” (p. 133).
A. Colonial subjects – The incident of soldiers shooting crates of medicine and Quan’s response, “This is medicine, energy food. The stuff they inject you with when you’re in the army hospital. His answer, “No Chief, you’ve got it wrong, Tuan shrieked. They …they injected me with Soviet medicine” (p. 270).
4. Religion – The little fat man stated, “Well? Did you see that? A nation of imbeciles. They need a religion to guide them and a whip to educate them” (p. 167).
5. Diaspora – Quan was caught in a personal and national identity crisis. Lye stated, “Otherness includes doubleness, both identity and difference, so that every other, every different than and excluded by is dialectically created and includes the values and meaning of the colonizing culture even as it rejects its power to define.”
The concept of violence is one that I don’t believe is new to the postcolonial concern. Within your novel the characters transform by changes in their status resulting in judging individuals in a different light. Zelia wrote, “ ‘Othering’: the process by which, through shifts in position, any given group can be ignored, trivialized, rendered invisible and unheard, perceived as inconsequential, de-authorized, “Other”, or threatening, while others are valorized” (Geever, 1990, p. 7).
Quan had been invited to an elite group by Vu, “Ha, ha – your district is right next to mine! We’re from the same province. So shall we swear to eternal brotherhood in the peach garden? Our little club already has about twenty-three members, and that’s just in my division. You want to sign up?” (p.201).
Quan and Kha shared a secret, they were both others in an army that had gone through withdrawing and reflecting, regrouping and rearming, all the while they were losing any sense of what the war was for and what they were fighting for, “I’ve thought a lot. I also listen to everything that’s said. You see, the people, they do exist from time to time, but they’re only a shadow. When they need rice, the people are the buffalo that pulls the plow. When they need soldiers, they cover the people with armor, put guns in the people’s hands. When is all is said and done, at the festivals, when it comes time for the banquets, they put the people on an alter, and feed them incense and ashes. But the real food, that’s always for them” (p. 275).
It seemed that in your novel the colonial subjectivity laid the foundation for mimicry, those who were raised to believe without resistance. Such as Commander Dao Tien when he stated, “My generation, we joined the army as soon as we reached the age to do our patriotic duty” (p. 75).
Utopia of a National Identity
The soldiers believed in a utopian society that would rise above the limitations imposed by boundaries, as was Quan, “This war was not simply another war against foreign aggression; it was also our chance for a resurrection. Vietnam had been chosen by History: After the war, our country would become humanity’s paradise. Our people would hold a rank apart. At last we would be respected, honored, revered. We believed this, so we turned away from those tears of weakness” (p. 31).
Tyson stated, “To be unhomed is to feel not at home even in your own home because you are not at home with yourself: your cultural identity crisis has made you a psychosocial refugee, so to speak” (p.421) Quan reminisces of his childhood, mother, young friends, remembers songs, poems and his dreams as these are his only connection to the culture he holds close to his heart.” The combination of these mimics reflects his lost culture. “I dream: A radiant young man leads me through a field of roses. The sun rises. A few wisps of fog still chasing some crazy dream. The air is fragrant. Roses bloom, opening passionately all the way to the horizon. We walk silently, obstinately” (p. 153).
“Quan The Impassive”
Huong, D. T. (1995). Novel without a name. New York: Penguin Group.
Thank you for giving me the time to discuss my opinion of “The Laramie Project.” I will explain how this play addresses issues that affect everyone, universally.
Starting off, I would like to relay a joke I heard from the comedian Ron White. It went something like this:
I was on the phone with a friend, a major homophobic. The subject of gay men was brought up and Ron asked him, “Do like porno movies?” The guy said hell yeah. Then he asked, “Do you only watch women on women movies?” His friend said, “No, I like to watch a man and a woman make love.” Finally he asked, “So the guy can be small?” His friend replied, “No I want him to have a big, thick…” his friend stopped and thought about what he was saying.
The main question at hand is, “How is the social construction of sexual identity linked to social construction of race?” Sociologists see race as being socially constructed. Race, as it corresponds to the scientific measures of our society is fixed in a sense, to signify the human species as a whole. Consequently, if you think about it, there is only one race, in my opinion, which is…Human. But, in defining race some individuals attach the biological meaning whereas, others view it as a socially constructed perception.
In the play, Mathew is described by Doc O’Connor and Jon Peacock as being a little guy and mousey, “It’s a little guy, about five-two, soakin’ wet, I betcha ninety-seven pounds tops…To the point of being somewhat mousy I’d almost say.” (p.18, 20). Symbolic interactions had been strategically placed, without the intention of the town’s people. Tyson stated, “…characteristics that heterosexist culture stereotypically associates with gay men or lesbians, such as might be evident, for example, in the appearance and behavior of “feminine” male characters or “masculine” female characters.” (p. 340).Shannonremarked, “Shit, he had better clothes than I did. Mathew was a little rich bitch” (p.60). This character had internalized racism (he being a gay man and her being a straight woman) and classified him as a “bad girl.” Being associated with a woman, and not accepting his patriarchal gender role in turn, he had become the “monster.” (Tyson, 2006, p.89). What a sad commentary that he had been categorized as the “other” just as women are seen in today’s society. Regardless of societies views and oppression, Matthew became involved in the gay rights movement and this was to be his in group as Romaine Patterson commented, “And he told me that he had joined the gay and lesbian group on campus, and he said he was enjoying it, you know, he was getting ready for Pride Week and whatnot.” (p.20).
The social construction of sexual identity is represented primarily by symbolic interactionists, a process of describing one’s social location within a changingsocial context. Matthew, a man (anonymous) who had been alone in a bar having a beer as described by Phil Labrie, “The fact that he was at the bar alone without any friends made him that much more vulnerable.” (p.31). As time went on, the social location within the different cultural contexts had changed. When he walked out of the bar, his sexual identity and self image was apparent, a homosexual male. He was not born homosexual or heterosexual rather, he learned through channeled experiences these sexual orientations and this is where he acquired his sexual identity.
Smedley & Smedley (2005) stated, “History is significant because it demonstrates that race is a fairly recent construct, one that emerged well after population groups from different continents came into contact with one another.” This social construction of race is defined as physical features such as eyes (green, blue, brown), skin color (black light/dark, white, yellow) and hair (brown, red, blonde) have been proven to be associated with the components of the location of environment. These traits were not only used to identify one race from another, but also as a determining factor to establish racial superiority. As time went on, the meaning of race began to change. As “races” began melding together they created new and unique individuals. Matthew demonstrates this theory, as he successfully integrated himself into the dominant heterosexual patriarchal society, even though his appearance let him “pass” his racial construction by law determined that he was white.
Sexual identity and race overlap one another through limitations and restrictions. Individuals choose to construct their sexual identity. Foucault wrote the relationship as, “…as a series of crisscrossing boundaries dividing populations into multiple groups differentiated by religion, color, language, culture, and if we note that these boundaries are changeable and permeable (with some boundaries weakening and other boundaries strengthening and with people crossing over from one group to another), then we can begin to move away from primordialist, essentialist understandings of ethnicity and race as biological.” (p.112).
In conclusion, Tyson stated, “Race intersects with class, sex, sexual orientation, political orientation, and personal history in forming each person’s complex identity.” (p.376). Matthew Shepard sacrificed his life and in doing so strengthened the link between the social construction of sexual identity and the social construction of race…the human race.
Therefore, transformation will always be in the air, as Rust wrote (1993), “…the construction of these categorizes creates the possibility of change.”
Some of the town’s people will never begin the process of releasing the programmed stigmatism of homosexuality yet; others have been enlightened by the brutal death of Matthew and have learned from it. These are the ones that will hold close to their hearts, the cliché of “Live and Let Live.”
Weather trend 10/07/1998
18 hours before he was found. They left the bar at 11:30 pm. You do the math.
Home on the Range: Laramie Wyoming Stats:
I FACT SHEET
1. Geography:Wyoming is about 360 miles long and 280 miles wide. On the north it bordersMontana andUtah while to the south isColorado. On the east, it is bordered bySouth Dakota andNebraska and to the west isIdaho andUtah. Several relatively flat areas betweenWyoming mountain ranges are part of the Intermontane Basins. These areas are characterized by short grasses and lower brush. They are mostly treeless and don’t receive the amounts of rainfall that are found in the mountains. Major basins are the Bighorn andPowderRiver Basins in the north, theWindRiver Basin in centralWyoming and the Green River, Great Divide, andWashakieBasins in the south. Ranges of theRocky Mountains cross the state in a mainly northwest southeast direction. In the southeast are the 10,000 to 12,000 footLaramie and Medicine Bow mountains, which enclose the Shirley andLaramie basins. Nearby is the Sierra Madre range. Ranges in centralWyoming are relatively low; those in the northwest rise to great heights. The Wind River Range contains the state’s highest mountain,Gannett Peak, which is 13,804 feet. The Bighorn Mountains, in the north, and theAbsarokaMountains, in the northwest, rise to more than 13,000 feet and edge theBighornBasin. Most of southwesternWyoming is part of the broadWyomingBasin, which includes a number of smaller basins.
2. Climate: TheGreat Plains and the large western basins have a dry and sunny climate. The mountains, in contrast, have a more humid, colder climate, which becomes more severe with increasing elevation. Summers are fairly warm on the plains and in the basins. July temperatures often reach 80° to 90° F. during the day, but drop sharply at night; they average about 60° to 75° F. throughout most of the state. Freezing temperatures can occur in the mountains throughout the summer months.
Winters are long and cold with occasional blizzards as well as brief periods of mild weather brought by chinook winds. October’s minimum temperature is 29° and the mean is 44°. January temperatures often dip considerably below 0° F., but average 10° to 25° F., depending on location. The coldest weather is in the mountain basins. Most of theGreat Plainsreceives 12 to 16 inches ofprecipitation each year; the western basins, 5 to 10 inches. However, the total amount, both locally and for the state as a whole, is highly variable from year to year. Snowfall is heavy only in the mountains, where it reaches 200 inches a year or more.
3. History: Laramie nicknamed, “Gem City of the Plains” is the third oldest town in Wyoming which is nicknamed, “The Equality State.” Its county seat, Cheyenne is also its capital. The city was named after the trapper, Jacques la Ramie, who built a cabin at the junction of Laramie and Platte Rivers. In 1866 the route for a transcontinental railroad was selected and as it approached the Laramie area, railroad employees and tradesmen began arriving. Knoblich (2001) recited, “In 1868, Wyoming territorial organizers had every reason to expect the rapid growth of urban settlements and economic activities. They believed they were on the cutting edge of the expansion of industrial development, not waiting in a rural backwater for industry to come their way; industry in the form of Union Pacific railroad construction and maintenance, precipitated political organization.” Union Pacific Railroad’s chief surveyor, General Grenville Dodge selected the Laramie town site and its name, Laramie City. The railroad began selling lots in April of that year. On May 9th, the line throughLaramie was completed with the first train arriving the next day. Buildings such as churches, houses, stores and a school were constructed in the city soon after the first train arrived. It was unfortunate that the industrial progression did not come as expected resulting through the train, but as Knoblich (2001) described it, “…hunters and fishers, hikers and campers certainly did.” (p.209)Laramie’s early days typified a Wild West town, complete with rough and rowdy characters. Vigilante justice mitigated and in order t resolve this issue in 1872 the Wyoming Territorial Prison was built nearLaramie. In later years, this prison housed many famous outlaws, including Butch Cassidy. A second accomplishment for this city was having a dream come true, for the Women’s Suffrage Movement. In 1869, According to the website The Aurty, “…the twenty-member Territorial Legislature approved a revolutionary measure stating: That every woman of the age of twenty-one years, residing in this Territory, may at every election to be holden under the law thereof, cast her vote. William Bright, the bill’s sponsor, had come to share his wife, Julia’s, belief that suffrage was a basic right of American citizenship.” There was no organized suffrage campaign, and not a single parade, debate or public display. But women kept vigil outside Governor John A. Campbell’s office until he signed the bill into law. Eliza A. “Grandma” Swain of Laramie claimed the honor of castingWyoming’s first female ballot on September 6, 1870. She was first woman to vote legally in theUnited States. After this monumental moment in history, women gained fame as the nation’s first female justices of the peace. The next year Wyoming’s women sat on juries. It is clear that Wyoming women embraced their right to vote and loyally defended it against all threats. The City was incorporated on Dec 12, 1873 seventeen years beforeWyomingbecame a state. In 1924 they are also acclaimed for having the first woman as governor. Today,Laramieis still a small town which sits on the high plains prairie of the Medicine Bow Mountain Range. Its history is close to home in the Wyoming Children’s Museum andNatureCenter, University of Wyoming Geological Museum,AmericanHeritageCenter, University of Wyoming Art Museum, University of Wyoming Anthropology Museum and theLaramie Plains Museum.
Laramiewill always have a place of infamy as it will be sadly and notoriously known as the town where there had been a brutal torture and slaying of a young gay man who was barely 22 years old. It was considered a hate crime in 1998.
4. Demography: The Economic Expert website (2010) posted these statistics: The racial makeup of the city is 90.81% White, 1.24% African American, 0.89% Native American, 1.92% Asian, 0.06% Pacific Islander, 2.89% from other races, and 2.19% from two or more races. 7.94% of the population is Hispanic or Latino of any race. TheCounty ofLaramie, a middle class town inWyoming, as of 2009, has a population of 86,353 people. In the city ofLaramie, the population is spread out with 17.5% under the age of 18, 31.8% from 18 to 24, 25.8% from 25 to 44, 16.8% from 45 to 64, and 8.1% who are 65 years of age or older. The median age is 25 years. For every 100 females there are 107.0 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there are 106.7 males. The median income for a household in the city is $27,319, and the median income for a family is $43,395. Males have a median income of $30,888 versus $22,009 for females. The per capita income for the city is $16,036. 22.6% of the population and 11.1% of families are below the poverty line. Out of the total population, 15.7% of those under the age of 18 and 8.3% of those 65 and older are living below the poverty line.
5. Culture: Laramieis a rural culture.Knoblich (2001) stated, “Wyoming resident’s original dreams of a diversified economy, including both rural and urban development, were rapidly and consistently accompanied by cultural images of the state as “Western.” For insiders and outsiders alike, these images identified Wyoming the beautiful natural scenery and the world of the range cowboy – in short, as an underdeveloped, even undevelopable place. The cultural forces shaped Wyoming’s state identity.” (p. 201). The cowboy culture is more of a mind set. This individual was kind, tough, and hard working, he stood for morals. The Thomas Ranch Website (2003) was informative in bringing to light the definition, “The morals of the Cowboy are steadfast. He takes on and accomplishes any job given to him, no matter how hard or dangerous this job maybe. He rides and competes for pride, not for the actual belt buckle or title. A Cowboy stands for all that is pure and true. He knows that a job must be done. He can stay all night on a trail of cattle being pushed around the state or country, he could at the same time go twenty miles out of his way to take a sick dog to a vet for a child. They were never looking for trouble, but when it came, they faced it with courage and dignity. The Cowboy is always on the right side (if there is a right side). They defend good people, who cannot defend themselves, against bad people. They have always had high morals. They had good manners and were honest.” A second prevalent culture is the university cultural aspect which has a population of half the size of the city population. The bars inLaramieare frequented byWyomingstudents, andLaramie’s residents visit the campus to attend cultural and athletic events.
6. Language: There are two main languages that stem from two different types of people, maybe even classes. Individual’s who attend college will perceive the world in more diverse aspect and therefore, have a dissimilar dialect then say a farmer, cowboy, rancher or a non-student. The terminology is different and even body language can be misunderstood.
7. Religious Beliefs: The town is divided.Laramie Church Of Christ/ Saint Laurence O’Toole Catholic Church/WestboroBaptistChurch /Saint Paul’s United Church Of Christ andTrinityEvangelicalLutheranChurch, all have their individual belief systems which seemed to be respected, but what divided the people was the concept of the equality of one man. The Westboro Baptist Church ignited the division and I think the website says it all, “http://www.godhatesfags.com”. From this website I quote, “Since 1955, WestboroBaptistChurchhas taken forth the precious from the vile, and so is as the mouth of God (Jer. 15:19). In 1991, WBC took her ministry to the streets, conducting 41,226 peaceful demonstrations (to date) opposing the fag lifestyle of soul-damning, nation-destroying filth.” The moral beliefs and values of individuals of this town have been questioned and torn apart. As an NBC reporter put it while standing outside aLaramiedrinking joint, “At Wild Willies Cowboy Bar today, patrons said hate is easy to find here.”
8. Education:TheUniversity ofWyoming, located on the windswept plains ofLaramie is the state’s only four year educational institution. Its estimated 13,000 students have a choice of seven schools: Agriculture, Arts and Sciences, Business, Education, Engineering, Health Sciences, and Law. The most popular schools are Business and Education, butWyoming also has very strong Geology and Biology programs.Wyoming has a reputation as a big party school, and many of its students are involved in Greek life. Most of the student body comes fromWyomingor from nearbyColorado, and it is a predominantly white, conservative school. About a third of the students live on campus, which makes the school residence halls the most densely populated area in the state. Students frequently complain of the altitude, 7,000 ft. above sea level and the relentless wind. A student should be prepared to face long winters, strong winds, and social restrictions. Some have been known to experience loneliness.
Other educational facilities that are available to individuals are Wyoming Technical Institute which is a vocational school offering careers in automotive, diesel, or collision/refinishing andLaramieCountyCommunity Collegewhich enrolls more than 1500 students in credit courses each year and an additional 250 students for non credit programs.
9. Transportation: The City ofLaramie sits clearly at the crossroads of two major interstates and railroads which acts as a transportation corridor for the east/west connections of Interstate 80. The location provides connections for trucks, interstate traffic, and traditional rail freight cars passing through theRocky Mountain region. Union Pacific Railroad mainline operates over 55 freight trains on a daily basis throughLaramie. Interstate 80’s highest point, 8,640 feet, is at the summit of theLaramieRangein thePoleMountainarea. The City ofLaramieis also served by theLaramieRegionalAirport. Flights are offered on a daily basis. The airport offers service for commercial air flights as well as private planes. Greyhound has a bus depot located in the city.
10. Economy: Agriculture is an essential and fundamental aspect ofLaramie’s economy. It is relative to the natural resource sectors consisting of raising of cattle/calves, hay, hogs, sheep, lamb, wheat and barley. The main exports are feeders, fodders, feed grains, wheat, seeds and animals (dead or alive).
11. Major Industry:Wyoming is known for its coal and oil industry which has been a part of theWyoming economy since the beginning days of statehood. Although the fields inWyoming, for the most part, are aging, oil production and coal mining remain important to the state in 2009. One of the current issues is that a neighboring city of Laramie, Cheyenne, will effect Laramie’s economy in the future by incorporating a company that will capture over half of the carbon dioxide emitted during the coal refining process. Nearly (2009) wrote, “It plans to pipe the CO2 gas toWyoming oil fields where pumping it underground would serve the dual purpose of keeping it out of the atmosphere while pressurizing the oil reserves to allow more of it to be pumped out. The U.S. Department of Energy is weighing an application from DKRW Advanced Fuels LLC of Houston for a loan to help build the proposed $2.7 billion coal-to-gasoline plant. This would be the first major industrial gasification facility that produces transport fuels — gasoline or diesel — from coal in theUnited States, DKRW chairman Bob Kelly ofHoustonsaid Friday. The plant would process nearly 10,000 tons of low-sulfur coal a day from a mine into 21,000 barrels a day of gasoline. The fuel then would be piped roughly 200 miles southeast to theDenvermarket.”
12. Rural Income: Unprecedented economic growth during the 1990s benefited rural areas. Rural income grew from $16,506 in 1993 to $21,831 in 2000, and the percentage of rural people in poverty fell from 17.1 to 13.4 percent over that period. Welfare policy and the growing economy contributed to declines in food stamps, assistance to needy families, and unemployment. But, the 2001 recession caused rural income growth to slow and poverty and assistance payments to slowly rise.
Today’s ratings range from (lowest) to (highest).Characteristic
Compared to Peers (small towns nationwide)
Compared to State
Median Family Income
People in Middle Class or Better
People Above Poverty
13. Employment/Unemployment: The Census Bureau reported, “Through the third quarter of 2009, the greaterCheyenne economy has preformed much as expected since the start of the Great Recession (December, 2007). Anticipated declines in local employment and increased rates of unemployment lagged these same national indicators by a little more than 12 months. By the close of the third quarter,Laramie’s unemployment rate had risen to 6.1 percent, up 33 percent from December 2007’s rate of 4.6 percent. The just released unemployment rate for October 2009 was 7.2 percent.” The blue collar occupations in Laramieinclude farming, forestry and fishing; handlers, equipment cleaners, helpers and laborers; machine operators, assemblers and inspectors; precision production, craft and repair; private household services; protective services, transportation and material moving.
14. Hazards: One ofWyoming’s natural hazards is earthquakes and there is suspected active faults with surficial expressions under the ground. In 1882, a magnitude of 6.2 to 6.5 intensity occurred between Laramie and Estes Park, Colorado. These occurrences are common in Wyoming. Historically, they have happened in every county over the past 120 years. One earthquake in Colorado caused minor damage in southern Wyoming. Plaster fell and windows broke as far north asLaramie. An aftershock was reported to be almost as strong as the main shock inLaramie and Denver.
LaramieWyomingat first glance is just a small town in the mid west. But, closer examination reveals underlying mental, physical and environmental limitations.
After reading the book, I discovered many reasons for this, including financial constraints, the need to recover from failure, and loss, and fatigue and frustration of pursuit itself. As Laramie expanded and Wyoming became a state, the size and status of the population changed as well. I was saddened by the strong split of moral, ethical and religious belief systems held by these people. On the one side, support for the LGBT community as opposed to the traits of the “haters.”
At last count, I explored 65 web sites as well as reading, “The Laramie Project” play. I have learned that discrimination of individuals have existed from the beginning of time and will arise when least expected in the largest of cities as well as the smallest of American towns. The cliché holds true, “We are everywhere.” Oppressors come in all shapes, sizes and colors and these individuals showed themselves and were heard loudly as their voices screamed sounds of hatred.
Themes throughout the novel: the value of truth/truth and perspective, human needs and relationships, the need for control/ stability/power, the nature of difference, communication, acceptance and the rites of passage…
Statistics: Autism is one of the most common developmental disabilities. Individuals are of all races and ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds. Current estimates suggest that approximately 400,000 individuals in theUnited Stateshave autism. Autism is three to four times more likely to affect boys than girls. Autism occurs in individuals of all levels of intelligence. Approximately 75 percent are of low intelligence while 10 percent may demonstrate high intelligence in specific areas such as math.
Autism is a psychological syndrome distinguished by an emotional shutdown of an individual. It is a fact that severely autistic people will shy away from human contact and social pleasure, often engrossing themselves instead in routines, repetitive tasks or private interests. We know that they are not mentally retarded, and can be extremely intelligent, talented and yes, different. As the cliché goes, “You can’t judge a book by its cover.”
In the autumn of 1998 the multifaceted emotions of his parents and the pain that they endured will always linger as a hidden secret. I speak of the protagonist, Christopher Francis and his parents Ed and Judy Boone from the book; The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. I would first like to declare that autism is as blind as a bat. It makes no difference if one is black, white, yellow or brown, rich or poor. There are no discriminatory factors within the disease. We all know someone who has been diagnosed with this heartbreaking syndrome, autism. But what does it look like? Have you seen the movie “Rain man” with Dustin Hoffman? Look around. Look at who is sitting next to you, or your friends, children or family. All of them could very well be the minority group of the faces of autism. Whether it is a daughter, son, brother or sister. That is why we are here. Have you ever experienced what those parents did in the novel? The tears, frustrations, anger and love as Ed and Judy Boone struggled with their own inner torments and joys which were only glimpses in the book? I’ll bet your answer would be yes. Could you relate to the evidence laid before you when someone you knew had almost a complete lack of understanding and mimetic ability making life very difficult for parents? Yes, again.
The characters within this text are shaped by living in a working class urban environment. The house in which Chistopher and his father lived in had a garden. Christopher described his hometown inSwindonas being small. Individuals within this town were capable of holding the power of their social status through their work, living in a society based on equality. As with Christopher’s parents, it was their independence and freedom of progression that became apparent when the reader discovered his father was a heating engineer who owned and operated a maintenance and boiler repair company and his mother was in search of herself and a career.
Whereas, the family values were depicted in a more negative light, “I used to think that Mother and Father might get divorced. That was because they hated each other. This was because of the stress of looking after someone who has Behavioral Problems like I have.” (Haddon, 2003, p.45). The structure of the family unit appeared fragile and weak resulting in not one but two marriage dissolutions.
His mother followed her dream to be independent and had to walk away from her family for her own sanity. She felt she was living in a falling tower and destruction was on her heels. She could not accept the trials and tribulations of being a mother of an autistic child and the loss of love within her husband. Motherhood was not a priority as she recognized her maternal instincts were insufficient knowing that she did not have the patience to cope with her son’s behavioral issues.
It was not only the mother who was barely coping, but also the long suffering father. Being a single parent for two years was extremely difficult for him. As hard as he tried he appeared to be insensitive to his sons needs. One can sense the torments and the power struggles of forbearance leading to his being short tempered, even inept when it came to his family yet, this character truly revealed his love and devotion towards his son. There was a dependence that was shared between the two of them. As a person with autism, his father took care of him in every meaning of the word and a small example of the reverse was when the reader was told his father never had to write down his bankcard pin number down, “…Father hadn’t written it down in a safe place, which is what you’re meant to do, but he had told me because he said I’d never forget it. And it was 3558.” (Haddon, 2003, p.135). Foucault made an interesting point, “…whose ideas have strongly influenced the development of new historian, power circulates in all directions, to and from all social levels, at all times.” (Tyson, 2006, p.284). Unfortunately, the end result was that Christopher became more of a loner than a family member. He was in need of a traditional family lifestyle and to feel protected in a secure place in which he could call his own in order for happiness to occur.
Here is the bottom line. You must know that your unconditional love can and does make a difference. We love these individuals and accept their innate disabilities and culture. Because what is culture but the essence of a society, of shared patterns, behaviors and interactions. Thompson (1997) commented, “that disability is another culture-bound, physically justified difference to consider along with race, gender, class, ethnicity and sexuality’.” (p.248). I believe if one thinks about it, are we not all born into a society and culture? Diversity is a part of life.
Within all cultures exists some type of language even in groups of individuals with life long developmental disabilities. It could be through gestures, drawings, physical actions and non verbal cues. Christopher utilized his communication skills through the world of art. As a child with autism drawing was means of relaying his message the only way he knew how. The wooden puzzle piece on page thirteen, the map of the street in which he lived on page thirty five, the constellation Orion on page one hundred twenty five, the Double Decker bus on page 211 and a more intricate wooden puzzle on page 217. These were clearly images that Christopher did not have the words to adequately express. This was one of many things he did because he had Asperger’s Syndrome. Tyson explained this as thick description. “Thick description, through close, detailed examination of a given cultural production – such as birthing practices, ritual ceromonies, games, penal codes, works of art, copyright laws, and the like – to discover the meaning that particular production had for the people in whose community it occured and to reveal the social conventions, cultural codes, and ways of seeing the world that gave that production those meanings.” (p.288). The main character was uncontaminated by societal logic and was limited by his own language. He appeared to be lacking in people skills, had difficulty in understanding tones of voices and difficulty with any type of gestures or body language. The National Autistic Society was quoted, “For people with autistic spectrum disorders, ‘body language’ can appear just as foreign as if people were speaking ancient Greek.” He is not the only one, for all children born with this disease share common characteristics, as a set pattern. There is what is called a triad of impairments and in layman’s terms means three social disorders are trapped within them. They have trouble with many aspects we all take for granted such as utilizing social/creative imagination, social interfacing and dealing with aspects of social communication. Let it be known that there are also differences within the population of individuals who have this disorder. No two are exactly alike.
How frustrating it must be not only for a child, but a parent when verbal communication is complicated or becomes unattainable. It has been said that most people inflicted with this disorder have difficulty effectively utilizing language. A daily occurrence, a constant struggle of understanding what a child wants or needs. Are they happy, sad, or maybe hungry? This was due to the fact that the child may experience emotions and feelings but, does not know and/or can’t express the meanings. Webster-Heard discussed her seven year old son’s ways of non-verbal communication, “My seven-year old, who is on the low end of the spectrum is nonverbal and is only able to show me what he wants by taking me to it or bringing a picture to me. The fact that he can’t communicate is the reason for most of his severe temper tantrums.”
With Christopher, his perception was only through conventional signs. Through piecing the puzzles together he was able to distinguish when his father shouted that he was angry or when there were tears it meant sadness. Consequently, all language subtleties whether they were ironies or metaphors were vague to him. He was disabled in his capability to efficiently interpret certain fundamentals he encountered, powerless to comprehend emotions in a normal fashion and found countless every day events to be intimidating and ordinary actions challenging. The coping mechanism he used was to surround him self with rules, rituals and math, “4 red cars in a row made it a good day, and 3 red cars in a row made it a quite good day, and 5 red cars in a row made it a super day and why 4 yellow cars made it a black day.” (Haddon, 2003, p.24).
It is unfortunate that the social order in place today has negative undertones of this brain disorder. As a young child, Christopher distinguished his thought process as a slicing machine in a bakery. This portrayed how his mind performed by certain regiments, at his own pace. His mind was configured as a machine or computer that transformed information. As with a computer, considering their intrinsic existence, the language of logic, and their ultimate determinate nature, it would seem that the machine of order and stability was the representation of the protagonist. At fifteen years old he was extremely intelligent, excelling in college level math and had held great deal of knowledge in technical and scientific facts.
An individual’s disability could be examined from many different lenses, whether it be the social construction, a medical standpoint, psychological or through a glimpse into the group dynamics as a minority. If one thinks about it, we all have our little quirks whether it is the type of food we eat, how we eat it and why. Or maybe it’s the colors in one’s wardrobe (is there a predominant theme?), or maybe…the list is endless. It is true that our “normal” world was significantly different from a person with development disabilities as in the main character. It can’t be easy for someone with a disability in our world which is consumed with competition, rivalry, restraint, and independence.
Point one: Who killed Wellington was an underlying theme in the novel? I would say the initiator of chaotic excess seemed to be the murderer ofWellington. Christopher loved animals, Toby his rat and dog’s because the canine portrayed characteristics he could relate to, “I also said that I cared for dogs because they were faithful and honest, and some dogs were cleverer and more interesting than some people.” (Haddon, 2003, p.6). This love of animals progressed into his search for order and stability. This was Christopher’s mind, literal, categorized and classified. Anything out of the “norm” jeopardized his happiness and feelings of safety. He observed the poodle’s death as representation of turmoil and disarray and therefore needed to be corrected in his mind due his high functioning Asperger’s Syndrome. The realization that he could not be in control all the time and not everything had logical explanations was disturbing to him. The only way he knew how to communicate and respond was through anger or logic. He concluded that the passing over of this creature was an event to him in which he experienced and therefore chose a logical way of dealing with it, and so began the search for the truth. This was the beginning of his rite to passage. His handicap had become his strength.
Point two: Communication in general comes in a variety of forms. Ed Boone’s character was shown as someone who utilized cursing and foul language. For example, when discussing Judy’s letter’s, “Wrote to him? What the fuck use is writing to him? (Haddon, 2003, p.196). It was also through his language that he emphasized just how difficult Christopher tended to make situations for him and unfortunately not taking into consideration the type of communication his child could absorb. At one point stating, “Then he said, “Holy fucking Jesus, Christopher. How stupid are you?” (Haddon, 2003.p.81). Although, the father seemed usually very patient and understanding with Christopher, signs were shown of his gradual uneasiness. He had chosen not to relay the circumstances behind the cruel murder ofWellington to his son. Christopher’s comments held true, “Most murders are committed by someone who is known to the victim? (Haddon, 2003, p.42). Art imitating life? As a man who had been disgraced by his ex-wife’s infidelity and flight from her responsibilities, he was in his own emotional turmoil. He had killed the animal in a state of rage knowing it was wrong from a societal point of view. He observed the death of the animal as a symbol of releasing his hatred of the situation, the anger he held inside, the circumstances in with he had no control or power over. Was he brought up in his cultural setting knowing right from wrong? Probably so, Yes. Were his morals askew? Yes. Was he penalized for his actions? No. He concluded that the intentional death had resulted in newer struggles with Christopher. A bridge, a larger gap between himself and his son, emotionally, physically and stemming from a lack of trust. Their communication had reached a different level in hopes of creating a stronger relationship.
Point three: Judy Boone’s concern and emotional feedback for Wellington seemed small and trivial. Her life had been revolving around making a home for herself and her new mate. Trying to pick up the pieces and begin a new. Although, she ran from her own fears and insecurities into her neighbor’s arms, a man who at one time owned Wellington. She had no other connection with her past which consisted of befriending her neighbors and their dog. She had observed the animal’s death as a representation of a past that was already put to rest, her personal historical closure in a sense. There were no real signs of sympathy, as she concluded that the tears of her past had already been shed.
Point 4: Eileen Shear’scharacter was a neighbor of Christopher’s and the ex-wife of Roger Shears. She too had gone through many struggles as one divorce themselves from a cheating spouse. She cursed and utilized foul language, “Let go of the dog”, she shouted. Let go of the fucking dog for Christ’s sake.” (Haddon, 2003, p.4). She was not a religious woman as she used words that some would say were spoken in vain. She became a female influence in Ed’s and Christopher’s home. “This is why Mrs. Shears came over and did lots of cooking for us after Mother died, because she didn’t have to cook for Mr. Shears anymore and she didn’t have to stay at home and be his wife.” (Haddon, 2003, p.42). A relationship progressed, blossomed and ended with her and Ed. She observed the death of her dog with anger but no tears. Is the reader to assume that she found out who killedWellington which led to the ending of their friendship? She concluded the death was a malicious action based on her past experience with Ed.
Point 5: Siobhan is Christopher’s teacher, mentor and friend with attributes of, “…long blonde hair and wears glasses which are made of green plastic.” (Haddon, 2003, p.5). She knows how to communicate clearly with Christopher. She enlightened him on the inner workings of society and proper behavioral actions and reactions within its complicated rules. She observed the death ofWellington to be a learning experience for her student. She guided him in showing him an outlet of his feelings, through a new art form with the hopes of educating him. Therefore, she concluded that even though it was a sad occasion and a loss, the death brought about a positive ending and the personal growth of Christopher.
In conclusion as these points suggest, “what is “right”, “natural,” and “normal” are matters of definition. (Tyson, 2006, p. 285).
Haddon, M. (2003). The curious incident of the dog in the night-time.New York: Vintage Books.