Sunday, April 28, 2013

Kenyan Folktales


     I thought that Dr. Ochieng's lecture on Kenyan folktales was fascinating and interesting.  Some of the stories teach children morals and explain interesting phenomena that happen in nature that the elders of a tribe could not explain since science was not available such as the story with the bat who has to come out at night because he is hiding from a tribe of rats.  The bat killed the rat by tricking him into bathing himself into a pot of hot water in order to make some good soup and as a result, the rats went out hunting for him and the bat realizes that if it he goes out at night then the rats won't find him.  These stories however are different from the fairy tales we have read so far because these stories don't contain princesses or heroes or castles or villains.  They contain animals and don't have the hero's journey really.  They seem to be more oral than written which folktales generally are.  Fairy tales are more written than oral.

     However, the Kenyan folktales seem to resemble a lot of the Native American folktales because both tell about the beliefs and traditions of each.  They are also wise and very entertaining.  They are also very imaginative.  The language in both the Kenyan and Native American folktales is very focused in imagery which makes sense since these are oral stories which means that the people listening would have to use their imagination to picture the creatures and events happening in the story.  I found his lecture and presentation more interactive than the one Dr. Alles gave on the folklore of India.  Also, the folklore of Kenya actually made more sense than the Indian ones.  I found I could follow and identify with the characters that Dr. Ochieng presented to us.  However, the Indian ones sounded random and like a drunk person's ramble (I apologize but that's really what it sounded like to me).  What I also liked about the Kenyan presentation was that we learned new words for mom or dad or wife while in the Indian presentation, we never really learned new words.  Also, it appeared that Dr. Ochieng's topic has been closely studied and presented by not just him before while Dr. Alles is the only one in the United States who is translating these Indian tales into English and presenting on them.

      Also, the presentation that Dr. Ochieng gave was more organized.  He knew what he was doing and didn't sound like he was laughing half-way through like Dr. Alles was sounding to me.  Dr. Ochieng also even told us the stories the way that the stories would be told in a traditional Kenyan tribe, making me feel like I was really there in Kenya listening to the stories being told.  I also liked the fact that he praised Chinua Achebe who's book, Things Fall Apart, I have read and loved.  This lecture on Kenyan folklore really enriched my knowledge of folk and fairy tales because I feel like I have gotten to see another culture and understand its own traditions and beliefs, many of which I share such as the value of thinking fast on your feet and being intelligent.  The Kenyans seemed to be very intelligent even if they didn't have modern technology and I feel that the British could have learned a lot from them just like the Americans could have learned a lot from the Native Americans.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Jewish Tales vs European Tales


     Reading the Jewish tales we have read, I was interested in how they were very different from European tales.  In one way, I was interested in the antisemitism that was portrayed in each story.  In the story, "A Dispute in Sign Language," the story begins with the priest saying he hates Jews.  To me that is interesting since in most of the European tales we have read, there is no statement of racism or any hatred of a group of human beings.  In fact, we generally don't know if the heroes in the fairy tales are jewish, catholic, black, white, or anything.  Generally, I feel as if I can picture myself as the princess in any story.  In the Jewish tales, you have to be Jewish.

    Also, I like the way that the Rabbi is the main character of most of these stories.  We learn about the Rabbi as an individual and how he makes an impact on the community.  Also, unlike European fairy tales, the  Jewish stories actually focus on the community.  In European fairy tales, they generally focus on the individual.  I also like the fact that the Rabbi can sometimes be portrayed as a trickster figure such as in that story where he swallows a piece of paper that has guilty written on it.

   The stories also show the Jewish tradition.  We can use these folktales as documents to what Jewish people back in the time of these oral stories believed or practiced.  I also like the morals they teach like the story about Rabbi Adam teaches its readers that magic can be risky and life-threatening.  Only in Harry Potter have I seen this presented just as well.  I also like how these stories have someone solve a problem with a story.  For example, I like how instead of the Rabbi just telling the man in the story called "It Could Be Worse" how to solve his problem of his house and family problems in a straightforward way, he teaches him to be grateful for what he has by having him put his animals in his house so he can truly see how much worse off he could be.  Now I will admit that sometimes I do like a straightforward answer, but sometimes I also like the way that people come up with a creative solution to a problem.  I think that if the rabbi had just told the man to be grateful for what he had instead of teaching him how to be grateful, the man would not have absorbed and really taken that lesson to heart.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Cinderella: A Rags to Riches Tale

     Cinderella.  Almost everyone has heard of this story.  A beautiful young girl is mistreated by her stepmother and stepsisters.  She works tirelessly as their servant and doesn't even get a nice place to sleep.  One day the prince holds a royal ball looking for a bride and every maiden in the kingdom is invited to attend.  When Cinderella hears this, she begs to go and her evil stepmother gives her impossible tasks to accomplish leaving her little to no time to get ready.  Soon, Cinderella is left alone crying and then a fairy godmother comes and transforms a pumpkin into a coach and gives her a beautiful dress and glass (or gold or red or wooden) shoes to wear.  She goes to the ball and the prince dances with her AND ONLY HER

     Soon, the clock strikes midnight and she has to leave, but upon leaving leaves behind one of her shoes.  The prince declares that he shall marry no one but the girl whose foot fits in the shoe.  Soon, the Prince comes to Cinderella's house and the stepsisters try to make the shoe fit but fail and soon Cinderella comes and tries on the slipper and it fits perfectly.  She marries the prince and lives happily ever after.

     Many people have called this tale an example of the very popular "rags to riches" tale where a character from a low background rises to the top of society (generally through magic or marriage or luck or hard work).  An example of this can be found in the movie "Pretty Woman" staring Julia Roberts and Richard Gere.  Not surprisingly enough, this story does take a lot of its plot from the "Cinderella" story.  Julia Roberts plays Vivian (the "Cinderella" of this story), a witty and strong-willed prostitute (a low background) who one night is picked up by a ruthless yet handsome business man (the "Prince" in this story) named Edward (Richard Gere).  She sleeps with him and then the next morning he proposes a business deal to her.  He will give her $3,000 if she agrees to stay with him for the week and be his escort to certain social events.  She agrees, not believing her good luck.  He tells her to go buy some fancy clothes for the first social event:  a dinner with the grandson and the owner of a company that Edward wishes to buy.  She goes out to a fancy dress place, but because of her appearance and seemingly low background, she is turned away by the snobby owners of the store. 

      Upset and downcast, she returns to the hotel where she is accosted by the seemingly snobby hotel manager who tells her that once Edward leaves the hotel for good, she is never to come back.  Her kind is not welcome there.  This seems to be the breaking point for Vivian as she breaks down into tears and tells the Hotel Manager her woes about not being able to get nice clothes for the dinner she is going to with Edward.  She shows him all the money she has and seeming to take pity on her, he calls a friend who helps her get ready for the dinner.

     Later, after sleeping with Edward again, she tells Edward about her experience at the shop and he takes her to another fancy clothing store and with the credit card (the key to the high life) she is able to buy many fancy clothes and comes out completely transformed into a beautiful woman of high society.  To keep in with her character however, she goes to the store that turned her down before and rubs it in their faces what a "big mistake" they made by turning her away.  She turns heads as she walks back to the hotel and even the Hotel manager smiles approvingly at her as she walks pass him.

     Soon, Edward and Vivian start to fall in love with each other and one night, the definitive night where everything changes, she wears a beautiful red dress with white gloves and then Edward puts on her a very expensive necklace which he got on loan.  Leaving the hotel, you can see how everyone working there is seemingly rooting for her and see her as the beautiful woman she really is (a transformation motif here as well as when she gets the clothes from the fancy dress store).  After they go to the opera, they come back to the hotel and make love for the first time (the previous times they had sex it wasn't as lover-lover).  Soon, the week ends and we find that Edward has changed as well (more personality wise) and has decided that money isn't everything.  He decides to become a partner of the company he wants to buy instead of buy it (this shows how much he has changed).  His lawyer, who is angry about this, goes to his hotel and tries to rape Vivian (damsel in distress) and Edward comes to her rescue, firing his lawyer (Knight on a white horse symbol (Edward not the lawyer).

     In the end of the story, Edward goes to Vivian's apartment and climbs up the stairwell outside her window (which is amazing given his fear of heights) and comes to her with roses in his hand.  She goes down to him and hugs him and kisses him and he asks her what happens after the prince rescues the princess from the tower, to which she replies that she rescues him right back.  So we are left with the implication that they are going to get married and have kids.  This is a rags to riches story because she changes like Cinderella from a low class person to a person of high society (by becoming involved with Edward) through luck, love, and eventually (implied) marriage.

    While this is a nice motif, it isn't too realistic.  I don't think a person can reach success or riches with just marriage or magic or charm.  I think in order  to get to the top, one needs to work hard and make a lot of money and have a lot of luck on their side.  Relying on getting through the top through marriage is not only lazy but also unrealistic.  There is a very low chance that an ordinary girl will marry a billionaire.  And if this happens, generally the billionaire (like Hugh Hefner for instance) is very old and wants someone young.  Also, thinking you need charm and not intelligence kind of insults me and sounds anti-feminist.  I believe that a woman should get to the top by intelligence, friends, and hard work.  Don't get me wrong, there are stories where people have gotten to the top by marriage and charm, but as sweet and romantic as that is, it's not very common in real life.  I mean, let's face it, no one gets anywhere anymore except with hard work.  The only instance in which I can think of someone getting to the top by marriage is Kate Middleton (a commoner) marrying Prince William.  However, she got very lucky I think. 

     "Rags to Riches" may seem like a wonderful motif to pass on in a fairy tale like Cinderella or a romantic comedy like "Pretty Woman" but it's just not realistic to me.  It takes hard work and money and luck to reach the top.  It doesn't just happen randomly.