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Friday, May 14, 2010

Final Paper: Slashing the Gender

In “The Philosophy of Composition”, Edgar Allan Poe states that the death of a woman is “the most poetical topic in the world.” Woven into the American slasher film, this Poe-like quality is adapted and transcended beyond the screen to audiences across the nation. Notably, a good slasher flick is not at all terrorizing and gruesome without the female tragedy.  The majority of these horrific writers, however, are men, which calls into question the dependability on this notion of “beauty.” Feminist theorists, Gilbert and Gubar, argue that a woman should not be forced to be killed into the art that the patriarchy paints. That is, the cinematic beauty of a woman dying from multiple stab wounds should not be the only type of woman seen in Hollywood films. Simultaneously, female homicidal maniacs should be able to defend more than just her domesticity. Unfortunately in the 2009 horror film, Orphan, while the movie seems to promise a stray from the typical, it delivers anything but an original outlook on the female horror heroine. By examining Orphan through a feminist and gender studies lens, we will learn that the film’s female characters are not only angelic and demonic, but are stereotypically oppressed by the patriarchal society surrounding them.
The title Orphan, gives way to the plot’s basic outline. The movie begins with a nightmare of a particularly grueling scene concerning Kate Coleman and the loss of her third child, Jessica. Automatically, the film sets its theme on the cruelty of domesticity, for the foundation of the entire movie focuses on a mother’s loss and a family’s attempt at fixing it by way of adoption. After the bloody nightmare, Kate droningly wanders to her medicine cabinet and takes prescription medication which indicates the depression she suffers as a result of the loss of her child. The movie is slow going and considerably more suspenseful than gory, but after stepping into the life of the Coleman family, the viewer then meets the orphan, Esther. The Coleman’s adopt Esther for her brilliance and well mannered behavior, but not long after the honey moon stage with the child, Kate learns that “There is something wrong with Esther,” which is the movie’s catch phrase and premise. Through the use of narrative delay, the audience not only learns of the Coleman’s messed up past with death, adultery and alcoholism, but they also learn Esther’s similar background of cruelty and insanity. The movie’s ultimate and fascinating denouement reveals that Esther is not a little girl, but a 33 year-old-woman.
Unlike most slasher films, Orphan does not concern itself with deaths of beautiful women, but still constructs itself around motifs of angelic and demonic qualities. Gilbert and Gubar argue that “It is debilitating to any woman in society where women are warned that if they do not behave like angels they must be monsters” (Norton Anthology 2027). In other words, women should not only be forced to be considered either or, however it would seem like this binary opposition is not only absolute but considerably prominent in this particular film. At bed time, Kate tells her daughter Max, that her sister Jessica is a beautiful angel up in heaven. Similarly, as the Coleman couple goes to the adoption center, the little girls are all playing in the snow and making, as John calls them “snorphans” or, snow angels. It would come to no surprise then, that Esther lures John upstairs by her angelic singing, away from all the other little supposed angels. She is alone and painting pictures which tell stories of the domestic lives of women and the happiness they have with their children. With ribbons in her hair, tied on her wrists and neck, Esther is undoubtedly angelic. She is always the pristine example of femininity with her pretty dresses as well as her well mannered smile. Kate, however, is the demonic housewife with an ill temper and unstable psychology. She is depicted as neglectful for nearly allowing her daughter, Max, to drown in a pond as she was intoxicated from the alcohol. And it is interesting that despite John cheated on Kate with another woman 10 years prior she is not justified in having her own adulterous acts because it “wasn’t the same.” A man’s desire for sex is not comparable to that of a woman’s intoxicated desire. At least Kate admits it was a mistake, but yet, the audience is trained to see her as unjustly betraying as her husband. This undoubtedly becomes a revelation that the woman of Orphan cannot be seen in Purgatory’s light. Esther transforms from angel to devil and similarly Kate does the same. But interestingly enough, the women in this film have all the right to feel the emotions of which the two extremities bring to them.
While pain is biological, it is not a woman’s job to feel pain, for comfort could be provided especially by males. If a man loved Esther, these biological pains could possibly be alleviated. But as Simon de Beauvoir puts it, “Men need not bother themselves with alleviating the pains and burdens that physiologically are women’s lot, since these are ‘intended by Nature’; men use them as a pretext for increasing the misery of the feminine…by refusing to grant woman any right to sexual pleasure, by making her walk like a beast of burden” (1409). Womanly pains are burdens because they are exclusively felt by women. A man does not have to suffer vicariously because, after all, he was not the one to bite Eden’s forbidden fruit. This indifference is noticeable in Kate’s situation, as John is adamant about his wife’s constant trouble with post partum depression and instead, always seeks to have sex with her when he feels vulnerable. Sadly, he does not once consider her needs. In the only pornographic scene between John and Kate, John mounts Kate like an animal in the kitchen, assuming a male dominated role for his own desires despite that Kate is not willing to consent in the first place. Similarly, as Kate has issues with Esther’s ever growing violent behavior, he neglects her warnings and instead threatens to leave the marriage. But notably, for Esther, there is a scene in which she commits her first malicious crime in bricking a pigeon. It is highly symbolic in terms of the feminine and the role men must assume in correspondence with responsibility in alleviating pain. Earlier, the archetypal brother, Daniel, complete with the workings of a typical American boy, shoots a pigeon with a paintball gun and severely injures it. Upset, Esther picks up a brick from the snow and hands it Daniel and states very clearly, “put it out of its misery. It’s in pain and it’s your responsibility to fix it.” To no avail, Daniel declines, afraid. Quite possibly, if Daniel had taken the brick, he might have transcended beyond his father’s animalistic nature, in that, he would have vicariously relieved the suffering of woman (Esther’s feelings) through the bricking of a pigeon. But he did not take that responsibility for it is not a man’s job. The external emotions are not only projected due to the physiological nature of a woman, but exist within the extrinsically sociological interactions as well.
What is unfortunate for the woman monster, the female homicidal maniac, is that she can never really be any of those things for the sake of thrill, but instead all her malicious behavior seems to depend upon the people she encounters. All the external cruelty is what scars her interior being, which in turn accumulates towards revenge, seeking to kill only those who have caused harm to her. For Kate and Esther, a multitude of exterior factors contribute to their need and want to harm others. Aside from her body, all other women and girls alike are threats to Esther. In the playground scene, Esther is not only irritated by the fact that John pays attention to an older woman, she also hunts a young girl who has tortured and bullied her in the halls of her school. Funnily enough, the young girl who bullies Esther picks on her because of her dresses and the fact that Esther carries a Bible with her. She even goes as far as calling Esther a “Jesus freak.” It would appear that this young girl represents the modern view in American society where women should not have to carry this act of angelicness, but yet the audience is trained to view this young girl as the devil picking on a poor innocent good girl. Therefore, we sympathize with Esther and almost hope that she will seek her revenge on this young girl at some point or another.
Kate’s exterior motives are a lot more extensive than Esther’s. While Esther is one of the major reasons Kate seeks revenge, it would not have happened if her husband, John, had not even brought up the fact that he wanted to adopt. The adoption was not to fill the holes of Kate’s tragic loss, but was instead John’s desire to have his third child. Aside from that, because of past troubles with alcoholism and neglect, Kate is told by a female psychologist that she is an inadequate mother. But it is Esther who brings to the surface these haunting facts, and it is Esther who tells Kate, “…it’s your own fault. You took your family for granted.” But ultimately the trouble for both women extends to their domestic lives. While the film seems to promise a numbing masochistic female maniac, what Orphan has given is a classic case of American feminine vengeance, which is no wonder why this particular film seems to fit the plot of other female driven films. As Ann Archer’s character in Fatal Attraction said, “You cannot come near my family again or I’ll kill you,” Kate Coleman in Orphan says something quite similar to this effect with: “I will do whatever it takes to protect my children.” As Kathi Maoi states in her article for Agenda Magazine, “Women can shoot a gun…and blow anyone away who threatens their men or their kids…” but otherwise, women fail in doing so for other external factors aside from her domestic responsibilities.
 Perhaps the problem in constructing a female horror heroine is not because of just a socio constructed gender, but because of the gendered body itself. Unlike male American constructed monsters, female monsters cannot “transition from inflicting violence on himself to turning the violence outwards [because] that monstrosity originates when the ability to resist pain turns into a desire to harm others” (Briefel 18). Women have been given the natural ability to feel pain because of their menstruation. This is not something escapable for it is biological. If women can escape their biological pain, it is only then that women can become true blue serial killers. As the film opened with a type of menstruation, a still birth, but vaginal bleeding nonetheless, it is safe to assume from then on that Kate is not a serial killer. Although she is depicted as a demonic housewife, her depression from a still birth leaves her an inadequate homicidal maniac as much as a supposed inadequate mother. However, for Esther, while it seems she has potential to become a masochistic in-it-for-the-thrill killer, her body is still a restriction.  Despite that Judith Butler suggests that, “…the body is not a ‘being’ but a variable boundary, a surface whose permeability is politically regulated”, it would seem that more than political factors regulate this biological phenomena (Norton Anthology 2499). Men do not tell women they must feel pain when they menstruate, for any woman knows, both menstruation and child birth are naturally inherent pains which cannot be escaped. Esther does not demonstrate these pains, but it is very clear that she is in pain because of her biological existence.  Esther, as the viewer learns, is trapped within a cage--her own body-- not really able to fulfill her womanly sexual desires because she is condemned to look like a child. A hormone problem has left her with a proportional dwarf-like deformity, which makes her a victim of self loathing. In Gilbert and Gubar’s “Mad Woman in the Attic,” they suggest that “learning to become a beautiful object, the girl learns anxiety—perhaps even loathing—of her own flesh” (Norton Anthology 2030). And while Esther is a pretty little girl, she is not a beautiful woman. Embracing that notion that she will never be able to become the attraction of a man’s eye, leads her to this facade of acting like a child to attain what she really wants, a husband.
Like all horror movies, a woman typically lives to tell the tale of torture. For this movie, a young girl by the name of Max becomes what Carol Clover calls, the Final Girl. By definition the Final Girl is, “the one who encounters the mutilated bodies of her friends and perceives the full extent of the preceding horror and of her own peril…She is abject terror personified” (Clover 201). The foreshadowing of Max’s role of Final Girl happens when she asked Kate for a sister. Automatically, the viewer knows that the ties between Esther and Max would be inseparable, but not by choice. While Max does not wish to aid Esther in the brutal beatings of a nun, her father, her brother and so-on, the literal and figurative silence causes her to be just that, silent. Max has no language because she is hard-of-hearing and completely deaf without her hearing aids. This factor becomes symbolic in the nature of the feminine, for women’s languages (either by her body or mind) are never understood in the first place. Earlier on, the viewer watched as Daniel and John ignored Esther and Kate directly, as they verbally spoke on their sufferings and worries. Unlike Kate and Esther, Max has no voice and it is because of that which causes her to be the center of torture more-so than her other female counterparts. While this little girl displays apparent characterization of masculine qualities, she essentially assumes a very feminine role. Symbolically, when Max attempts to use the phallic symbol of a gun to shoot Esther, it ultimately fails her. The patriarchy fails her. Her father is killed, her brother is nearly dead as well, and she is the only one who can save whatever domestic life is left for her and her mother. How this is empowering to female viewers is questionable. Again, Max is trying to kill for domestic responsibilities and external sociological confrontations with Esther aside from trying to kill for the sheer pleasure of death. Perhaps she would become more empowering if she was not killing for her mother and if her characterization strayed from the typical “maning-up” of most, if not all, Final Girls.
The patriarchy in this movie becomes the hero despite that no men live to tell the tale. The women are still kept in their rightful place in spite of it all. While the movie itself is not a rendition of previous horror flicks, its originality cannot be praised for it is very typical in terms of the usual binaries consisting of: male vs. female, angel vs. demon. There are some qualities which make this movie stray from the typical, but they are subtle and do not compete with the overall commentary that a woman’s job is in the home, protecting her children and her beloved unfaithful husband. In fact, it shows how weak women in America can be. Kate, in the present day, does not have a real job but her husband does. Had she left him long after he cheated on her, she would inevitably have nothing. Her makings of a failed woman would be known. Instead, she chose a path in which caused her more suffering and torture. Kate placed her children in a position of death for the sake of her husband, John’s, needs. Despite the will to become a masochist and kill several men and his families, Esther fails as an empowering horror heroine. If Esther’s motives were constructed more on the thrill-seeking aspect of homicide, rather than succumbing to the pressure of external factors, she would have been more heroic. Unfortunately for Orphan, the gender biases and stereotypes were not slashed, but rather, amplified. 
 Word count: 2,715

Works Cited
Beauvoir, Simone De. "The Second Sex." The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2001. 1406-414. Print.
Briefel, Aviva. "Monster Pains: Masochism, Menstruation, and Identification in the Horror Film." University of California Press 58 (2005): 16-27. JSTOR. Web. 20 Apr. 2010. .
Butler, Judith. "From Gender Trouble." The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2001. 2485-501. Print.
Clover, Carol J. "Her Body, Himself: Gender in the Slasher Film." University of California Press 20 (1987): 187-228. JSTOR. Web. 20 Apr. 2010. .
Gubar, Susan. "The Madwoman in the Attic." The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. By Sandra M. Gilbert. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2001. 2023-035. Print.
Maoi, Kathi. "Women Who Murder for the Man." Agenda 1992: 5-8. JSTOR. Web. 20 Apr. 2010. .
Poe, Edgar Allan. "The Philosophy of Composition." The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2001. 742-50. Print.

Friday, April 30, 2010

"I am not an animal, I am a human being..."

While The Elephant Man was intruguing, it touched on a subject that has not gone away in literature. Deformity has long since played apart in many classics: "The Hunchback of Notre Dame", "The Phantom of the Opera" and the more modern movie, Mask. In all of these classics, the similarities between the deformed, are almost similar.

John Merrick is gentle as is Quasimodo in the Hunchback of Notre Dame. But unlike in the Phantom of the Opera, Erik becomes a man or murder and violence. Still, these creatures are treated with disrespect and can never attain the one true thing in which all "normal" human beings desire: love. For the deformed, the spectacle, the other--they never can full assimilate into society and are forever locked away in either, attics, bell towers, undergrounds or bedrooms. But yet, they are all masters of arts, be it in music, writing or crafting. They are all superhuman and beyond genius.

What does the deform actually do for the audience who views them? Do we become sympathetic with the other, or are we indifferent?

Taking into consideration of Edmund Burke's sublime, these "monsters" are the things in which are unseen. In being unseen, the human mind crafts these things with their imagination, and the thing which is unseen--is terrifying. Because of the uncertain, the darkness of the unseen, no pleasure can be derived from it. I take John Merrick (Elephant Man) and all his other deformed friends to be the unseen. A human mind can only imagine how ugly the creature in the bell towers of the Notre Dame are, as can only one imagine how gruesome the Phantom is in the undergrounds of the opera house. These people are hidden in darkness, away from society. Their existence can not be associated with pleasure, for they are unknown and crafted in the human mind, prior, as something monsterous.

As for Beauty, according to Burke, the taste is exclusive. But this idea that the monsters cannot find love, seems to distort Burke's beauty theory. If taste were exclusive, than why does no one romantically engage with any of these deformed men? It would seem that beauty is universal in this case. Deformity is a universal beauty in which everyone worldwide, seems to evade.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Woman Warrior Presentation

For a long time, our group had considered a variety of possibilities to present on The Woman Warrior. There was some speculation on whether or not we would decide to formulate it based on the infamous game-show, Jeopardy. As a group, we all agreed that this would probably be the best option, considering it would hopefully make fellow peers more excited to participate in the conversation. Who wouldn't want to win fake money, after all?

After spending a couple of hours together at a local restaruant fiddling with the template and coming up with basic questions for the first two sections in the book, we decided to email each other ideas to place on the board later. For the group presentation, I presented my group with the following questions for "Mad Women in Jeopardy":


"...During the war, though, when you were born, many people gave older girls away for free. And here I was in the United States paying two hundred dollars for you." (83)

"...Human beings don't work like this in China. Time goes slower there. Here we have to hurry, feed the hungry children before we're too old to work....I can't sleep in this country because it doesn't shut down for the night." (105)

A Song for a Barbarian Reed Pipe

"I cut it so that you will not be tongue-tied. Your tongue would be able to move in any language. You'll be able to speak languages that are completely different from one another. You'll be able to pronounce anything. Your frenum looked too tight to do those things, so I cut it." (164) Consider the language of women in Gilbert and Gubar and also consider the ideal of language in Borderlands.

"...I knew the silence had to do with being a Chinese girl." (166) She specifies that silence and being a girl go hand-in-hand. Is it more because she is Chinese or is it more because she is a woman?

"I could not understand 'I.' The Chinese 'I' has seven strokes, intricacies. How could the American 'I', assuredly wearing a hat like Chinese, have only three strokes, the middle so straight? Was it out of politeness that this writer left off the strokes the way a Chinese has to write her own name small and crooked?..."(166-167) In Borderlands, there is a a thought that "I am my language" and if we don't understand our language, we necessarily don't understand or embrace ourselves.

"No Chinese women's voices are strong and bossy, We American-Chinese girls had to whisper to make ourselves American-feminine."(172) Not only is a biological body of woman trapping, but the social constructs of femininity are also binding. Again, how would Butler respond to this?

"I thought every house had to have its crazy woman or crazy girl, every village idiot. Who would it be at our house? Probably me." (189) The paragraph following this line could be our final Jeopardy question as we beg the question: who is the MADWOMAN in this story?

'"A husband may kill a wife who disobeys him. Confucius said that.' Confucius, the rational man." (193) The paragraph before this has a woman standing on a chair singing, "Beat me". Refer to Simon de Beaviour and the slave theory between men and women.

"Not everybody think I'm nothing. I am not going to be a slave or wife." (201) Implies that marriage is a patriarchal construct which enslaves women.May refer to Gilbert and Gubar and the images men paint of women, or Simon de Beauvoir.

At The Western Place:

"'You want a husband, don't you?...Do you want him to see you with your eyes and nose swollen when that so-called wife wears lipstick and nail polish like a movie-star?'" (151) Consider Gilbert and Gubar's theory on self loathing or are ideals of feminism a universal social construct or perhaps...because she is now American, does the culture put an even greater mark on her feminism?

"'She has had food. She has had servants. Her daughter went to college. There wasn't anything she thought of that she couldn't buy. I have been a good husband." (153) This is a basic feminist question concerning Moon Orchid's husband, is he really being a good husband by sending her money and providing for her? Is that not what social constructs suggest a man do?

"But each day Moon Orchid slipped further away. She said that the Mexicans had traced her to this house. That was the day she shut the drapes and blinds and locked the doors. She sidled along the walls to peep outside." (157) In the second chapter of Mad Woman in the Attic, Gilbert and Gubar suggest that the patriarchy drives a woman to keep to herself and she builds an agoraphobia. Is this agoraphobia due to the fact that she has been rejected from her domestic place or is it because she has lost her identity living in America?

Not all questions made it to our single round game of Jeopardy, but they were highly considered. Some were also reformatted for the sake of space-saving for our digital Jeopardy template.

Final Paper Sneak Peak

In “The Philosophy of Composition”, Edgar Allan Poe states that the death of a woman is “the most poetical topic in the world.” Woven into the American slasher film, this Poe-like quality is adapted and transcended beyond the screen to audiences across the nation. Notably, a good slasher flick is not at all terrorizing and gruesome without the female tragedy. The majority of these horrific writers, however, are men, which calls into question the dependability on this notion of “beauty.” Feminist theorists, Gilbert and Gubar, argue that a woman should not be forced to be killed into the art that the patriarchy paints. That is, the cinematic beauty of a woman dying from multiple stab wounds should not be the only type of woman seen in Hollywood films. Similarly, female homicidal maniacs should be able to defend more than just her domesticity. By examining the 2009 horror film, The Orphan, through a feminist and gender studies lens, we will learn that the movie’s female characters are neither angelic nor demonic, but oppressed from the patriarchal society surrounding them.

Friday, April 16, 2010

"I am a monster, nothing but a monster..."

...the images of 'angel' and 'monster' have been so ubiquitous throughout literature by men that they have also pervaded women's writing to such an extent that few women have definitively 'killed' either figure.
- Gilbert and Gubar

As a woman, it is interesting how, while I have seen the unfair treatment of women in literature, I never once considered how male writers have painted their counterparts as "angels" and "monsters." What is even more interesting is women continually write themselves in this either/or category. Just recently, I have finished reading a short story entitled, "Never Marry a Mexican" by Sandra Cisneros. In the reading, the character of Clemencia finds her identity through the eyes of the male figures in her life. She paints her self image through the image of man, and nothing else. Clemencia ultimately finds that she is "vindictive and cruel" as opposed to her given name, which means: merciful, mild and gentle. Even in the modern day, women have cast themselves into the roles of good and evil, but never in between.

Because Disney is extremely popular with young children and adults alike, it is easy to see that the writers of their movies have portrayed women in the same sense. Women are angelic or women are monsters like Cruella Deville. The name itself is allegorical and can be linked to root words such as: cruel and devil. For me, the most controversial Disney movie is the Hunchback of Notre Dame. It touches on subjects of religion and of sex. Looking at the character of Esmerelda (the only female portrayed in the movie) against her male counterparts of: Frollo, Quasimodo and Pheobus, we can discern how the her femininity is constructed.

...she also becomes herself an embodiment of just those extremes of mysterious and intransigent Otherness which culture confronts with worship or fear, love or loathing.
- Gilbert and Gubar

Esmerelda is lusted after by three men. Frollo, while he loves her, considers her a demon. Her flesh is the sin that he craves but he fears the emotions that she is igniting within him. He tries to justify that it is just her gypsiness, but admittingly, he wishes to only have sexual relations with her. For Quasimodo, he puts Esmeralda on a pedestal. He worships her and he loves her. They all essentially love her, but it is only one who really fears and loathes her because of her beauty. But it is because of her beauty that makes her loathsome and feared.

Female sexuality is consistently equated with degeneration, disease, and death...
- Gilbert and Gubar

In a more modern and adult version, Frollo stills shows this fear and loathing, and even has the audacity to claim that Esmeralda will "destroy me." However, the beauty portrayed in this classic seems to contradict Gilbert and Gubar's notions on beauty. They claim that women suffer and even go as far as to loath their own bodies. However, we never see the Esmeraldas in either the play or movie express loathing of their bodies. Instead, they seem to be empowered by their sexuality. In fact, their sexuality is the prominent characteristic and a motivation, almost. Only the men see this sexuality as fearing. The women embrace it. Depending on what angle one is looking at, a reader may take the man's argument and agree that women should not be so sexual, or the reader can take into consideration that women are blessed with certain features that should be embraced by men and not see it as something fearful. However, the fear that men draw from women's sexuality is perhaps due to the strange control and power which that sexuality holds over them. Men are used to being strong, and clearly in the case with Esmeralda, she makes the men around her fall weak.

Monday, April 5, 2010

The Weight of Riches

In reading "The Jungle" by Upton Sinclair, my thoughts turned to considering how true this novel really was to the present-day American culture. The idea of the American Dream is not as pleasant as most people are delusioned into thinking.Capitalism is a disease. The tainted meat that is sold can be thought of as symbolic in that tit represents capital itself. No one really considers the consequences of riches or the consequences that lead to obtain those riches.In fact, there was a moment where a character (I forget her name, now), actually sews the money into her clothes and carries it through the snow. It weighs her down.

Money is not freedom. With money there are restrictions and literal prices to pay, if one does not use their money properly. Yes, while spoiled meat and baby cows thrown into the grinder and sold as pickled ham sounds disgusting, so does the fact that the very slogan we live by, is a lie. America, is not free. Life is not free. Morality, even, is not free. We pay God to protect us, for we pay for the churches to continue to run. But what God would ask for that? Is not preaching in the streets freedom of speech? But of course, not even that is considered free--there are restrictions to that, too.

This novel proved, for me, to be a difficult read for the protagonist never really gets to lead a happy life. There seemed to be more happiness in the poor country in which he was born, but as soon as he entered America, he faced nothing but torment. He continued to lose and lose the more he tried to gain and gain. The irony of captialism is certainly horrific.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Metaphor By Boring Metaphor: Deconstruction Theory Explored

The most prominent term associated with post-modernist analysis would no doubt be Jacques Derrida’s term, “deconstruction.” Deconstruction is a way of interpretation, deconstructing the meaning of a text to more than simplistic binaries. Several meanings can in fact be derived from more than the supposed central paradox of a text. Essentially, nothing is entirely what it seems and literature is thusly, plural. Because deconstruction is firmly rooted in language, and the picking apart of language, there is no better way to examine this post-modernist analysis than to use the trope of metaphor. It is by way of metaphor in which we will deconstruct Paramore’s “Brick By Boring Brick” and reveal that there is in fact no central paradox, to not only this particular song, but to any text which has preceded it and will follow it.
To understand metaphor, we must first understand the established relationship between Ferdinand de Saussure and Jacques Derrida. Derrida in his work “Differance” noted that the spoken word did not allow for the hearer to see the difference between sound images and concepts. To put it metaphorically, Saussure married a couple consisting of signifier (sound-image) and signified (concept), assured that they would essentially be married forever to one another, thus creating a single unit known as the sign. However, Derrida divorced the happily married couple, for he noted that the signifier coveted other signifies and cheated on the entity of the sign. The supposed “love” (the eternally bounding contract) between the signifier and signified is ever changing, never once staying in the present moment and thus attaches itself to future lovers. The trope, metaphor, does the exact same thing. No one metaphor attaches itself permanently to a concept because essentially there is no designated concept. This is important to understand considering this very metaphor of marriage could apply to anything, not just Saussure’s linguistic theories nor Derrida’s deconstruction theory.
All texts are unstable, despite they may seem to provide one central paradox and concrete goal. Professor of Political Science at Carleton College, Catherine Zuckert writes, “[t]he deconstructionist critic brings out the fundamental instability of meaning at the core of every text […] the text necessarily deconstructs itself” (338).  While all texts seem to have determinative meanings, they in fact carry no absolute value. Singer/songwriter Hayley Williams has written a song using the metaphor of fairytale, which in itself seems concrete; there seems to be only one absolute narrative drive regarding the song. In the song she sings, “Go get your shovel/And we’ll dig a deep hole/ to bury the castle” (11-13). The central paradox would suggest that Williams is singing about raging war over the monarchy while the “bury” suggests the physical aspect of war, and the “castle” suggests the ruler in power. While true, this metaphor could extend itself to read in other ways: perhaps the “castle” is not a “castle” and its signifier could instead marry to the term “Hollywood.” Because “Hollywood” resembles power, as does monarchy, it is no wonder why this metaphor would seem appropriate. However, the metaphor could go on to mean an array of things which is relative to the term “power”: patriarchy, the President of the United States etc. Similarly, even the term “bury” could suggest something other than war and could signify other signifieds such as: forgetting, repressing etc.
Our lives are impacted by language which indicates that language is not just a means of communication, but it is a way of life.  Zuckert goes on to write, “[i]f things, words, ideas, and their relations were determinate and hence determinable, the world would be static. There would be no history: indeed, there would be no creation or life” (339). It is due to this infinite value that the cycle of life can in fact, continue. Metaphors are more than tropes used in literature to propel figurative language and instead have become the center of our being, as implied by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson in the book “Metaphors We Live By”. In short, metaphors are constructed through experience of a culture. Due to the many existing cultures in the world, there are then many different views, or “practices” from which our theories and concepts are produced. Experience justifies the way one sees the world, reads a metaphor and interprets a text.  It is because of this that literature then produces a plurality of meaning. Examining the lyrics again, depending on what a person has experienced, “castle”, “bury”, “shovel”—all such words could imply varieties of signifieds (concepts). “Shovel” may only be a “shovel” or it may in fact be a tool that represents voice, defiance and the like. Based on personal experience, I justify the “shovel” as resembling that of a pitchfork, in that I am about to conquer the “castle” (the ruler in power) and “bury” the suppressions of its ruling. While that is my interpretation, perhaps another reader/hearer will relate the metaphor to some other experience that they have gone through in their own life.
We are constantly influx with our notions and perceptions about the world. In Zuckert’s essay she writes that, “the world is thus continually being reconstituted anew in somewhat different form by each and every individual, but these individuals are not conscious, much less in control of the process”(351). In the future to come, Williams might see her song to mean something different than she thought to have meant it in the past. As mentioned earlier, there is no present essence, so whatever William may have intended to write in “Brick By Boring Brick” is irrelevant. Her experience in life will have changed and therefore, her perceptions of the song and her world view will have also. The same goes for myself. While I have interpreted the song in regards to committing acts of homicide against Hollywood, in the future, perhaps I will assign the song and entirely new meaning. James Seitz, assistant professor of English at Long Island University notes, that Derrida advocated the fact that “we are selected by language”, in other words, metaphors are a natural occurrence (291). Because of this, we are not fully in control of meaning. “Lens” as sung in the line by Williams, “It’s all about the exposure/ the lens/ that told her” (3-5), for photographers could be a camera, but in my interpretation, the “lens” is a human. For anyone native to Los Angeles, the implications with “lens” and “Hollywood” are easily derived. Others in the world might conceive of this the “lens” as the eye, and not with things which link closely to Hollywood. We use words according to how our culture uses it, and even then, culture itself is neither stable nor absolute.
All things which one conceives as literal, is in fact, metaphorical by nature and it is because of this, that new concepts are continually assembled. Lakoff and Johnson remark that even the very usage of the word “in” suggests something metaphorical. “In” is what is known as a container metaphor, in that, when using “in” the noun is being held in a container of another noun. Turning back to Paramore’s song, Williams sings “If it’s not real You can’t hold it in your hand”(31), implies that the “it” is being held “in” a hand, as opposed to “on” a hand. Similarly the opening lyrics “she lives in a fairytale”, also implicates that the character is contained “in” something magical. Changing “in” to “on” could give the song an entirely different meaning. Seitz remarks that Derrida  “argue[d] that metaphor serves as they very process by which new concepts are produced”(289). While the fairytale metaphor is not exactly a new, Williams uses it in a way to conceive a new concept of the world. Similarly, if an adoring fan chose to rewrite this song, perhaps he/she would change the word “in” to “on” and thus would reanimate the metaphor, creating a new conception on how one “lives ON a fairytale”.   It is because of the metaphor that any one person can see the inter-workings of language and the texts themselves.
Deconstruction theory can be used to destabilize more than literature. Zuckert writes that “Derrida suggests that social and political institutions represent the unintended, incremental accretions or traces of past actions” (354). While nothing has a concrete meaning, for Derrida, there is no escaping the histories which have preceded us. The past never stays in the past for it drives itself continuously towards a future. Of course then, this would explain how the fairytales of Cinderella and The Three Little Pigs are easily incorporated into William’s song. All texts contain intertextuallity and allude to a text that has previously been written. “So build your home brick/ by boring brick or the wolfs gonna blow/ it down” (20-22), Williams sings, and there we find The Three Little Pigs, as we find Cinderella in the lines, “But it was a trick and the clock stuck 12” (19). And it is because of the past texts which allow us to deconstruct the texts presented in the future, while simultaneously allowing us to examine the life cycle of metaphors and language itself.
Thus, because humans are made up of language and histories, humans themselves are texts made up of metaphors and the like. Whatever an author writes, the text is derived from their human practice, or experience, which is then deconstructed by another human who has another perception in life. Deconstruction is a cycle that is unending. Despite that Williams’s song reflects that of a paradoxal relationship between a fairytale and Hollywood (at least in my understanding), the future generation may rewrite the metaphor, conceiving a completely different meaning. However while one metaphor dies, another generation revives it which thus creates new concepts, a new language and a new perception in life.

Works Cited
Derrida, Jacques, and J.-L. Houdebine. "Interview: Jacques Derrida." Diacritics 1st ser. 3 (1973): 33-46. JSTOR. Web. 9 Mar. 2010. .
Hartman, Charles O. "Cognitive Metaphor." New Literary History 2nd ser. 13 (1982): 327-39. JSTOR. Web. 2 Mar. 2010. .
Lakoff, George, and Mark Johnson. Metaphors We Live by. Chicago: University of Chicago, 1980. Print.
Rivkin, Julie. "Course in General Linguistics." Literary Theory an Anthology. Malden, Mass.  
[u.a.]: Blackwell, 2004. Print.
Seitz, James. "Composition's Misunderstanding of Metaphor." College Composition and Communication 3rd ser. 42 (1991): 288-98. JSTOR. Web. 2 Mar. 2010. .
Zuckert, Cahterine. "The Politics of Derridean Deconstruction." Polity 3rd ser. 23 (1991): 335-56. JSTOR. Web. 9 Mar. 2010. .
Williams, Hayley. "Brick By Boring Brick." Brand New Eyes. Paramore. 2009. MP3.