So it has been a while….

Hello people. It certainly has been a while since I have posted anything on here, and I can only apologise for this. It was my intention at the beginning of the semester to record pretty much everything that happened, but alas I am not organised enough to divvy out my free time. Next semester, I will make sure to update this blog as often as possible. Hopefully I will be able to update everyone who reads this blog (god knows who, most have probably forgotten about it lul) about what exactly has gone down. Hopefully I can answer such questions as: how did I join a fraternity? How come I am always posing with a dog so often on facebook? What is Thanksgiving like? and where have you been while abroad?

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So, I suppose I should start off with a brief run down of what my academic life has been like over the semester. My first problem with studying is one that is apparent over here in the UK as well, which is the cost of the course. If you are an English student you should understand how costly your degree is not in tuition but in ruddy books. You may be a science or maths student and need to buy expensive textbooks, but let me explain. I have 18 weeks of learning at ISU, with about 14 of those weeks needing a book read for each class I take. So as you can imagine, that is a lot of books and the accumulative cost of these books doesn’t bare thinking of. Other than that and the reading list, it is very much like being back in A-levels; assignments seemingly every week, classwork being graded and in class examinations. American University is rather peculiar to me though; it seems like it is more of an extension of high school than what we Europeans would call ‘higher education’. Especially as most students (at ISU anyway) come from in the state of Illinois and therefore have a huge chance of knowing someone from their high school or before. Couple that with the fact that there seem to be family weekends extremely frequently, and the notion of University exposing one to a more individual and self-reliant lifestyle is put in jeopardy. Take my University experience as an example that differs from American University; since being at the University of Leicester, I only know two people who came from my area in Surrey. Two. It made my experience one of my own, and seemed so different to secondary school and A-levels. But I guess it’s just how higher education has developed in both Europe and America and though I have experienced both now, I am always going to be in favour of the European system because I have grown up with it. But both have their merits, despite my bias.

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MOVING ON: So I joined a fraternity. Those who know me know how much I detest ‘lad-culture’, so may be asking why did I join something which seems to supposedly epitomise the values of the ‘lad’ (or ‘bro’ in the States)? Well, as a matter of fact there are many different types of fraternity abound. There are business fraternities for the business majors, service fraternities, latino/a fraternities and social ones too. The second one is the type that I joined, the Alpha Phi Omega chapter of ISU. The values of the brotherhood are: friendship, leadership and service, so essentially it’s about bonding with one another while doing service for the chapter/campus/community/nation. It’s a wonderful organisation, and I have met a huge amount of people through it thanks to the fellowship events advocating the friendship element of the fraternity. One of my goals of my year abroad was to make sure that I didn’t simply hang around with international students to better immerse myself in the culture and the people of midwest America (though I still love them all with the fire of a thousand suns). Service events I have taken part in 10801655_659841990793930_6517975371352217877_ninclude things like helping out in an animal shelter, helping to build a house for women just released from prison and packing food at one of the biggest food-banks in America. The events vary from menial but no less important tasks to bigger, more practical ones. Overall, I seriously advocate organisations like this, whether in a fraternity or sorority form. SERVICE YEAH WOO.

The next thing I joined: a Badminton Team. For as long as 10 years now I have been partaking in this sport, starting off playing it at the local leisure centre with my pops when I 10169278_10204725132864438_1207924273571953951_nwas a little one. I can’t remember the reason behind stopping playing for such a long time between GCSEs and my third year of University but I must say that it feels beyond amazing to be playing once again. And though I took a break from playing the sport, it feels so natural to be playing again and at a level of skill that I face never been before. Thanks to the talent of ISUBC, I have learned to love competitiveness and the fast-paced action that make badminton so damned exciting both to watch and to play. Hopefully by the end of the year I will be good enough to join the University of Leicester Badminton Club!

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SO. Where have I been???? WELL I SHALL TELL YE. So last semester I didn’t travel too far, but I certainly went to some lovely places. First place I went to was Washington DC, with my lovelies Helen and Jess, both on their own study abroad’s in Maine and Virginia. It was so so incredible to see them both again after months away from each other. First day, we ran around the Smithsonian campus, nerding out over natural and American history, constantly saying “our professors back home would be so damned proud of us holy wow”. We also looked around a few memorials, mainly the Washington memorial (which I am convinced should be used in Pacific Rim 2 as Gypsy Danger’s sword, by the way), the National World War Two Memorial and the Lincoln Memorial. All very grand and as they seem in the picture shows. Unfortunately, and rather unsettlingly, we couldn’t find the memorial to the Japanese Internment campaign. This, unfortunately, says far too much about the neglectful nature of how American historical pride often shades the darker parts of America’s past (think about the treatment, or lack thereof, of Vietnam in American history classes). When I go back, I am determined to find it and pay my respects to those who were mistreated in the horrendous campaign. After looking at a few memorials, we headed down to Georgetown which is a really hip part of the city. Lots of bars, lots of awesome and quirky shops and a strange similaDSC_0096rity with European city culture. I couldn’t, and still can’t, put my finger on what made the area so familiar, but it was a pleasant surprise and was a little intoxicating to be such an area. The next day we went to the Air and Space Museum, and had the biggest shock of our lives. There I was, taking a nice picture of the pre-Fall park next to the museum and suddenly I felt someone hugging me aggressively. This stressed me out hella, because my two compadres were off in the distance taking their own pictures. I then decided to face my assailant and who could it be but our beloved Jasmine from Leicester! After about ten seconds of intense hugging and trying to grasp the situation, the four of us fell into a laughing stupor that took up about 30 solid minutes. Speechless summarised how we were, actually. Our friend Jasmine, on her year abroad in North Carolina, bumped into us in DC in the US (not a small country if you didn’t know), outside the Air and Space Museum at the same time we were there. WHAT. Right? I know. Crazy. The chanDSC_0201ces of it happening were so slim I began to doubt if it ever happened at all. After that, me and Helen went to look at Jefferson’s memorial which is horrendously lovely considering the disgusting things he wrote about black Americans. We particularly liked FDR’s memorial, which expressed the though times that he was inheriting as President like the Great Depression, and new problems like World War Two. More than just a monument, it was like walking through a physical history lesson. Wonderful. D.C is a lovely city, and a weekend is just not long enough to soak up all the culture that it boasts.

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Ok so that’ll do for part one of my semester’s escapades, because it’s Christmas bloody Eve and I fancy a strong G&T. Will update the next post with details about Starved Rock, Thanksgiving and other things I got myself involved in over the months in America. Until then, chaps.

– James

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Chicago, ISU and the start of my adventure.

At last the day came about a week and a half ago where I was to abandon England for a year and serve my time in America at Illinois State University in Normal, in the middle of the state of Illinois. I’ll detail a few of my days out in Chicago and my first thoughts on my 6 days at ISU so far.

Day 1: Wednesday August 6th

After a miserable customs officer allowed me passage into the land of opportunity (hmm), I was greeted by the goofy sight of my buddy Quinn who is native to the lands of Chicago and Illinois. During my freshman year, he attended my home university (Leicester Uni), and it just so happened that I was allocated his university for my year abroad. After a few hugs, witty quips and some vicious analysis on how our appearances have changed (not really), we proceeded to head to his family house.

My overall feeling to American suburban architecture is that the buildings are not want of wood and grandiose. Whereas I am mostly used to square brick buildings, these homes were vast and extremely different from one another. Even the houses have a sense of independence… I had the basement (unheard of in Blighty, or if present then not habitable), with my own little habitat to claim as my own for the few days I stayed with his family. The room was decked with classic American film posters such as the Blues Brothers and Grease, as well as a plethora of DVDs, CDs and, of course, alcohol. My kinda home. Shout-out to the Wermeling family for hosting me during the time and generally being the most lovely and accommodating people. Enjoy the biscuits!

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After a catch up with Quinn Latifa, we went and got some nosh. Being a foreigner and wanting to experience the goods of the land, we decided to get some traditional famous Chicago cuisine: deep dish pizza from Giordanos (sponsor! [kidding]). I pretty much became religious after I took my first bite. I don’t want to sound like that dude from Man vs Food, but the cheese was so stringy, stodgy and delicious that I almost threw caution to the wind and proposed to the last slice.

After that romantic spell, I wanted to be lame and go to a drive-in because ‘murica. And guess what film was bloody well playing. GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY. Ok so if you don’t know me you should know that I am a huge Marvel fan, and Guardians is one of my favourite comic book series in the Marvel Universe. The film completely reflected the light-hearted, hilarious yet very heroic tone of the comics without being cheesy or unfocused. It’s worth seeing just to marvel (ha) at the epic friendship of a raccoon and a tree. Oh and Lee Pace being an furious blue and black alien who seems to have beef with Glenn Close (or Nova Prime). Perhaps he thought she was still playing her role as Cruella DeVille and found her decision to make a coat out of puppies both questionable and immoral? Perhaps we misjudged Ronan’s ethical choices on genocide…

Day 2: Thursday August 7th

The day started lazily which was excellent as I had been awake for about 24 hours the day before due to differing timezones and whatnot. The two of us (Quinn Elizabeth II and I) got the train into Oglevie Station, right in the middle of the metropolis. What struck me about the scenery on the way into the city was that the development of the towns don’t become more grand or vast upon approaching Chicago. Rather, the downtown part of the city sneaks up on you and suddenly the Sears Tower (or Willis Tower, Big Willy etc.) as, err, towering over you. It’s fascinating, and a completely different city structure to, say, London or Berlin which sprawl out like big splats.

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So after arriving in the city, we tracked East towards Millenium Park, home to a big shiny bean. Which bean it was meant to be or designed after, I am yet to discover. So after some selfies and a bit of twerking in the reflection of the bean, we decided to have some culture injected into our souls courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago. The museum has a healthy collection of iconic artwork from Picasso, Lichtenstein and O’Keefe, amongst contemporary and classical sculptures and mosaics.

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After finding ourselves within the bright colours of Franz Marc’s The Bewitched Mill (below), we headed to ‘Billy Goats Tavern and Grill’. This place is famous for it’s loud and rude waiters and waitresses, even having a sketch on Saturday Night Live. The restaurant got its name from a billy goat entering into the place after falling off the back of a moving truck. The owner, William ‘Billy Goat’ Sianis, adopted the goat and named it Murphy. He then sort of cursed the Chicago Cubs because Mr Wrigley himself said that poor old Murphy stank, and the Cubs have never bettered 5th or below in any championship since. Spooky.

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After that, we walked along the lake front after passing under the dizzying heights of the Hancock Tower, one of the other immense skyscrapers that are ever-present in American cityscapes. Though the lake looked a little dirty, it still looked very nice and refreshing as it was a fairly hot day (though merely mild to Illinois residents… typical British tourist eh?). After walking up the lake a bit, we then went down North Avenue on the way to Lincoln Park to meet a friend. The walk wasn’t too interesting, just a long road with some nice little restaurants, cafés and shops goading us to enter. Overall, we walked about 10 miles that day which would explain why my legs ached so much when the day was done.

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Day 3: Friday August 8th

On the third day, God created the Field Museum. That’s a lie, but the relics inside the museum may have been old enough to see God make stuff. Which is also a lie. This was probably my favourite museum that we visited of a grand total of two. Mainly because of the taxidermy animals. And the dinosaur skeletons. Cue dinosaur selfie reel….

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So yeah, I at least had lots of fun.To round off the day we went to see an excellent play called ‘The Qualms’ at the Steppenwolf Theatre Company. The play was about a couple who wanted to try something new and exciting, quenching this desire for excitement via partner swapping. The script was hilarious but also loaded with mildly profound statements which left me pondering afterwards for a while. 

Day 4: Saturday August 9th

This day was more about having a relaxing time than really doing things, which was a relief considering how much me and Quinneth Paltrow had been walking over the past week or so. We chillaxed on the beach and soaked up some rays, then to finish off the day we went to Navy Pier, which baffled me slightly. The amount of people roaming the pier was mad considering that the pier is essentially some rides, an admittedly great band doing acoustic covers of hit songs and a kind of bad shopping centre. Maybe the rides unsettled me to the extent of questioning the existence of the whole place. It did provide a rather pretty view of the city though, and if you’re a tourist in Chicago it’s a cool place to go. Otherwise, I would give it a miss.

 

 

 

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Day 5: Sunday August 10th

For my fifth day in the States, we went to go and see a game at the Wrigley Stadium to see the notoriously bad Chicago Cubs. Not that I had the foggiest idea of what was going on. From what I observed they were doing ok… What I’ve noticed from watching the game and also the Superbowl is that sports events take longer to finish. It’s not exactly like I found it tedious but it was a lot longer (about 2 and a half hours?) than the 80 minute rugby games at the Welford Road Stadium that I am used to. However at the same time it’s not just about watching a game in the States, it’s also about socialising and getting roaring drunk with friends and family. Either way, there are merits to both ways sports are played. After this we went a couple blocks down the road to Boystown, and lo and behold there was a street festival going on at the time. The atmosphere was not dissimilar to Brighton Pride, only there was a ton of free stuff (don’t worry Mum and Dad, nothing naughty! Just facial cream and wristbands mostly!).

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Day 6: Monday August 11th

After an awesome few days in the wonderful city of Chicago, it was finally time to leave northern Illinois and head down to Normal (or for Quinn it would be back to Normal hur hur hur). What’s striking about the Illinois scenery is the sheer amount of corn there is in the state. When we got out of the suburbs of Chicago, either side of the freeway there seemed to be unending amounts of cornfields and farms. Small wonder ISU has a big agriculture department. What’s great about ISU is that by train it takes about 2 hours to get to Chicago, so weekend trips are entirely feasible and affordable.

From my time here at ISU there are a few things that I have noticed: 1) American Universities seem to entirely occupy the towns that they are in. It’s extremely difficult to go somewhere in the towns of Normal or Bloomington without either seeing fellow students or a car emblazoned with a Redbirds sticker (the University Sports Team). 2) There seems to be a lot more pride with going to University over here. Whereas back home in Leicester the most merchandise you get is a hoodie, a mug, maybe a wine decanter because Britain. Over here the limit does not exist (that was a reference and if you get it I love you). *takes a deep breath* you can get ISU themed nail polish, earrings, lip balm, shoes, flags, bumper stickers, license plate surrounds, toddler cheerleading or player outfits, watches, silverware, pompoms, keyrings, vacuum flasks, paperweights, letter openers, t-shirts, tracksuit bottoms, shorts, glasses case… I could go on. But hopefully you get the picture by now. 3) While the fraternities are exactly what you’d imagine them to be, the parties are not nearly as crazy mainly because of the idiotic drinking age limit. Because the drinking age is 21 and over, most people have to wait until their Junior year (or third year to everyone else) to drink, which means that for most of student’s university experience, they cannot drink. With Freshman and Sophomores budding to get the full University experience and get drunk without having to be wary of the ‘rentals, you can imagine that most house parties are a mixture of underage and of age students drinking similarly silly amounts of the sauce. With this in mind, the ISUPD and Normal PD are constantly scouting about the area looking for parties to shut down for withholding underage drinkers, which means that parties are usually contained within a house and never too loud or crazy. That said, it’s not like being at a school disco. There is still drinking, but nothing gets out of hand which I guess is nice. 4) The stereotype of Americans loving the British accent is very very true. Pretty much every American that I have talked to has asked me if I was British in an excited tone and then proceeded to tell how cool I was (which I am not, I mean look at the bloody selfies I took I am so lame) for merely belonging to a country not of the American variety. It’s very good fun, but not exactly what I’m used to when people hear my accent.

I hope this has been an appropriately exciting post about the start of my great American adventure, and that for some reason you may look forward to reading what else I get up to. My next blog post will be a few words and pictures about the ISU campus.

Thanks for reading! 

– James

Tea and Sympathy film – A Revolutionary Film

(Before I begin, I just want to say that this is an adapted and revised essay (gonna call it more of an article though lmao) that I wrote last year as a part of a film studies module on American film. I didn’t get a good mark for it but I don’t care because the subject is very close to my heart and I think he was being a nasty marker :)))))) hope you enjoy the article!)

One of my favourite films, Tea and Sympathy directed by Vincente Minnelli in 1956 (and based on the even more controversial play of the same name by Robert Anderson) is an oddity of 1950’s American filmography. Though America was going through a conservative streak during the making of the film, it was still able to make it to cinemas despite the fact its narrative focus was on effeminate men and an adulterous woman, things that were still very much a social taboo. Prior to this film, the role of the homosexual (or gender deviant) male were limited to comedic or villainous roles, so for audiences to be invoked to sympathise with a gender deviant male was a peculiar sight, and a spectacle in itself. In this article I will place the film in it’s time and show how the special the role of the homosexual male is within the film.

The historical positioning of the making of the film had a huge impact on the narrative structure of the film. The narrative of Minnelli’s Tea and Sympathy, whilst still radical in it’s ‘fabula’, is generally agreed to be a far more diluted version of Robert Anderson’s play. The key part of the narrative, Tom Robinson Lee’s suspected homosexuality, was the biggest issue with adapting the revolutionary play to cinema screens; homosexuality was seen as ‘indecent’ according to the Hollywood Production Code and the Catholic Legion of Decency. David Gerstner says that to satisfy this aspect of the play, which was going heavily against the making of the film, M.G.M had to convince them “that it would not overtly or covertly make any reference to homosexuality”. Another measure made was by altering the ‘syuzhet’; to adhere to the Hollywood Production Code, the play has an additional prologue and epilogue. The prologue is set ten years after Tom leaves Chilton High, the re-telling of the relationship between him and Laura stimulated by a nostalgic walk round the campus where the events unfolded. The epilogue examples how the sexual transgression of Laura has affected life; Tom is now married, being miraculously ‘cured’ of his homosexuality after their eloping, and Bill Reynolds, Laura’s husband, is an emotional and physical wreck, alone and unhappy. Genre-wise, it’s clearly a romance/drama movie that relies on the troubles of Tom’s lack of social cohesion and his and Laura’s developing relationship; the plot is driven by Tom’s difficulties in a society where there is a distinct lack of respect for an effeminate male. We can see here how Minnelli had a mammoth task of translating the play to the screen – deleting the issue of homosexuality in the film would’ve meant an important part of the films narrative focus would’ve been lost.

Though the adapted narrative seemed to satisfy the Hollywood Production Code, Motion Picture Association of America and the Legion of Decency, there are still some very strong messages about the characters being conveyed through the film to the audience. The first is the nuanced yet unsettling attack on the typical figure of masculinity. Laura’s husband Bill is the typical gym coach; big, tall and has a strong bond with his ‘boys’. Despite this, there is reason to suggest that Bill is himself unsure about his own sexuality; he always surrounds himself with his male students and “has intimacy problems with his wife” which are not explained. This is particularly distressing to the heterosexual male as the film implies that even the most archetypal figure of masculinity has the capacity of being homosexual. This idea is heightened by Bill’s treatment of Tom; he does not stop the other boys from humiliating him for preferring heterosocial company with the teacher’s wives rather than his male peers. This invokes the idea that Bill could see something of himself in Tom’s behavior, the part he has been trying to repress with his almost vulgar masculinity. There seemed to an agreement of this within the press at the time, as one critic said that “It may make more than one adult male squirm in his seat with unhappy memories of youth”. The second message is Tom Lee’s suggested homosexuality through his gender deviance. Instead of indulging in the loutish and brash homosocial behaviour that a ‘regular guy’ would partake in, Tom prefers to sit in the choir room listening to folk music, read poetry in his solitary hideout in the woods or sit with the faculty wives showing nifty sowing techniques. Though this is not a particularly shocking personality attribute of Tom’s, it’s easy to suggest that he conforms to the idea of the ‘pansy’; the ‘effeminate male threatening the masculinity of the American male’. According to Harry Benshoff and Sean Griffin, “pansy was the term used colloquially to describe a certain type of queer man – a flowery, effeminate soul given to limp wrists and mincing steps”. Whilst it is far reach from the comic portrayal of queer men in past filmography, the references are undoubtedly there. Benshoff and Griffin again say “Linking a man to any [feminine] profession was as good as labelling him homosexual”. Though M.G.M indeed didn’t make any explicit reference to Tom’s orientation, it is the silence and ambiguity that, if anything, amplify the obviousness of the connection between gender deviance and homosexuality.

Gender deviance and the notion of the ‘pansy’ can also be seen to be a spectacle of sorts, especially to a 1950’s American audience. However, I should outline my interpretation of what spectacle is, or rather can be. The term spectacle can be used not only to describe a lavish, colourful, visually sumptuous display, but also a presentation of something unorthodox or unusual. In this way, the presentation of Tom as a homosexual male in the film is indeed a spectacle. In films before the enforcement of the Hollywood Production Code, the gay man was mainly presented in two ways. The first was the ‘pansy’ previously mentioned, mainly used for comedy and not to drive the story in any way; Stephen Paul Davies comments saying, “homosexuality was, quite literally, a joke”. The other more dark use was in villains or psychopaths, something Alfred Hitchcock was rather fond of, such as in the 1948 film Rope where two boys (based on the murderers Leopold and Loeb) commit a murder and then hold a house party whilst trying to ensure nobody finds the body under the kitchen floor. Also a good example of the evil homosexual was the 1951 film Strangers on a Train about, as the title suggests, two strangers meeting, and mutually plotting the ‘perfect murder’ while aboard. Though their sexuality was never made explicit, probably due to the Hollywood Production Code, there is an undoubted ‘homosexual subtext’ in both films. Benshoff and Griffin comment again saying “postwar Hollywood continued to use connotative homosexuality to suggest villainy, especially in crime films”. With these two films in the audiences recent memory, it would certainly be a surprise and shock for the homosexual male protagonist of the film to be a) sane and b) not a murderer. This makes Tom a very different character indeed. His gender deviance is an obvious euphemism for homosexuality, yet he is someone whose situation we are undoubtedly meant to pity; when his flat-mate Al tells him that he is going to move out for the following year, we realize that Tom really doesn’t have any other allies but Laura. Not even his father sympathizes with him, suggesting that he should be a ‘real man’ and fight back against his bullies, which is simply not in Tom’s nature. This is one of the first instances where the audience is invoked to empathise with a supposedly homosexual character, if not completely understand it. This becomes particularly poignant when we also consider how this was a film made in America’s infamous McCarthyism era where not only ‘commies’ but also ‘queers’ were witch-hunted, and where “the police stepped up raids on gay and lesbian meeting places, in which the press discovered, or invented, the homosexual scandal story”. With homosexuality in the public eye, and not exactly in a good way, this makes Tom’s character and the way that we are meant to sympathise with him very unusual. 

Overall, the importance of the film Tea and Sympathy in allowing a new and expanded perception of the homosexual male is immense. THIS is why I love this film, it went against all conventions of the time to deliver a hugely suggestive and unorthodox message to the masses. But I love most how the implications of a film made nearly 60 years ago are still relevant today in school where the boy who doesn’t like football is called ‘gay’, or the one who likes art is a ‘fag’. Despite the huge difficulties that Minnelli faced to get the film’s approval from various corporations, he still managed to deliver a film which seriously questioned male heterosexual behaviour in a time when the need to conform was at its historic peak.

– James

One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest by Ken Kesey – Book Review

The common modern myth nowadays is the belief that no movie adaptation of a novel can be as good as the book. This is certainly true of a few books; Luhrman’s The Great Gatsby, for example, while grasping the essence of the 20’s well, didn’t quite adhere to the subtleties of Fitzgerald’s writing. However, there are some absolute gems of movie adaptations that have been produced; Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird with Gregory Peck, Stephen King’s Misery, Green Mile, Shawshank Redemption and Stand By Me. In fact, some films are so good that we forget they were originally books to begin with. This is certainly true of One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest, by Ken Kesey.

For those who haven’t seen the Milos Forman film starring Jack Nicholson and Louise Fletcher, or haven’t read the novel, I’ll give you a quick synopsis. The story follows Chief Bromden, a psychiatric patient at a mental hospital pretending to be deaf and dumb in order to escape ‘Combine’, his own idea for the elements of society that try to teach, control or, as in the Chief’s case, ‘fix’ people to make them more acceptable in society. Soon after we meet and get to know the Chief, a new patient arrives by the name of Randall McMurphy and quickly realises the tyranny of Nurse Ratched, or ‘Big Nurse’ to the patients. McMurphy, though not clinically mentally ill and only in the hospital to escape prison, takes it upon himself to bring Nurse Ratched down and to destabilise her dictatorship. Through cheeky and childish yet charming behavior Mac wins the hearts of the other patients, subsequently bringing Chief out of his shell. He soon pushes the Nurse to the extreme, and in trying to liberate his fellow patients, suffers the consequences.

So what makes this fairly sad sounding book so good? Well, much like Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, much of the appeal of the book concerns the novel’s standout ‘hero’, in this case being McMurphy. He is hilarious, courageous and charming, but also a teacher to the other patients. He is an ultimate symbol of freedom and something that the patients of the hospital aspire to. I found myself at multiple points laughing right out loud at his eccentricity and cheekiness. More importantly though, through him the book raises important social questions, such as; Are these patients unstable, or are they simply social outcasts tagged as ‘mad’ because of their slightly odd behavior? Could we class Nurse Ratched as ‘mad’ because of her obsessive need for control and order? Does Chief Bromden’s ‘Combine’ concept really apply to institutions like mental hospitals, schools and government? Doubtless there is a definite sense of oppression and hypocrisy in Ken Kesey’s vision of 1960’s America and it’s attitude to mental patients, and Chief Bromden’s theory on the ‘Combine’, though eerie in description, can effectively be applied to social institutions today.

The novel is extremely layered, very entertaining, well written, provides extensive social commentary and is heart-poundingly intense near it’s climax. It’s a roller coaster of emotion, and a true unsung hero of American literature. 

– James

On The Road by Jack Kerouac – Book Review

Though Jack Kerouac’s On The Road may not be as easy and conventional a read as what most are used to, it was one of the literary works that defined a generation. I read it last week to see what all the fuss was about.

Before I begin I should point out that by reading the synopsis alone I knew I was going to enjoy this book; the open road, the freedom, the unending quest to carpe diem, to ‘seize the day’ as it were, are all things I find particularly tantalising, so forgive me if I sound biased in this review. Second of all, to anyone who doesn’t know, I will explain what the Beat movement was and how Kerouac’s work is a perfect exemplar of what the ‘Beatniks’ strode to achieve. The works of the Beat’s included writing that has made a conscious effort to reject the conventions and principles of accepted world literature. It sneers at possessions, traditional fashion, organized lifestyle and pays an ode to spontaneity, youth and living for the moment. As Kerouac says in one of the novels most famous lines, it’s about “the ones that are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time…”. If you’re familiar with American Modernist poetry (like William Carlos Willaims’ work, for example) and it’s concept, you will, as the ‘hero’ of the novel Dean Moriarty says, “dig this.”

The novel follows Sal Paradise (who is meant to be Kerouac himself), a young writer based in New York who yearns to see the West of America. His friend, Dean Moriarty (a representation of fellow Beat writer Neal Cassady), has a passion and enthusiasm for life that few who come by him can resist; Sal finds him refreshing and infectious, and develops a drug like addiction to him. Throughout the novel, via drunken parties and casual flings, Sal attempts to live like his hero in the hope of rejuvenating his own life in New York, where he lives in his Aunt’s apartment and has no “chick” to speak of. It’s essentially a series of road-trips, with no linear plot to follow and no clues as to what to expect next.

This is a key characteristic of Kerouac’s writing style, achieved through “Kick-writing”; the idea was that he would write non-stop without a break to give the story it’s famous fast pace and momentum. This can be a little frustrating at times however; you rush through events, places, names and find you’ve only got through half a page, which can be quite exhausting. This non-linear plot is echoed in another one of my favourite novels, J.D Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, which tells of the amusing and characterful Holden Caulfield and his adventure around New York City after being kicked out of college. Like Salinger’s work, On The Road is about the experience of the events, rather than what happens and for what reasons.

The hero of the story, Dean Moriarty, a promiscuous youngster and, by the regular American standard, a loser, is an example of the non-conventionality that the Beat generation so aspired to achieve. Like Gatsby is mythologized through Nick Carraways description of his gaudy, luxurious, quintessentially Jazz Age persona, Dean is given a hero status for simply living to live. He is a cocker spaniel puppy amongst tired old St Bernard’s. His eagerness for life is infectious, uplifting, and frustrating all at once. Don’t get me wrong though, I am not about to stumble into the pit of adoration that Sal has fallen into and name him a hero or someone we aught to aspire to. If anything, I think Dean is precisely something we should try to avoid; his life is a mess of random journeys and adventures (which ends up biting him on the ass later on), he treats women appallingly (another somewhat unsavoury feature of Beat writing) and flits between friendships and lovers in a very sporadic nature. To appreciate the novel, it’s important that we understand why Sal adores Dean so much (the spontaneity, his addiction to living etc.), but not fall into the same trap and consider him admirable. 

To wrap up, the novel is an expression of freedom, of America and of youth. It’s Kerouac’s vision of what the American dream is; sex, drugs, alcohol, love, adventure and friendship. If you aspire to travel after graduation, be it alone or with close friends, On The Road is a must read. 

– James

 

About me

Howdy. If you’re reading this you either already know me and are one of my friends who I’ve forced to read my blog, or you’ve stumbled upon it by chance. Regardless of your relationship to me I shall give a quick run down of who I am and what I hope to write about on this blog.

So me. My name is James, I am 20 years old, I study English and American Studies at the University of Leicester and will be attending Illinois State University for my third academic year at university. I like books, coffee, cars, comics and jumpers, and hopefully will post about all of these glorious things while on my year abroad (and after). Essentially I’m a huge lumbering nerd and act like a human puppy whenever I see something / someone I like…

My aim for this site is not exactly specific to just cities I visit or people I meet. My main aim is to document my year abroad with whatever I find interesting; be it a café in Chicago, the different car culture I witness or the doubtless wonderful people I will meet when stateside. Pictures will be included too…

Until then I will be posting book reviews and a few articles that I’ve already written that I deem only just acceptable to be shared with the world. I hope you enjoy and please leave comments (whether encouraging or critical) on my writing, it would be a great help!

Large.

 

‘MURICA! 

– James

Photo on 25-12-2012 at 23.27