Before a discussion of the three books about how the local people suffer from the oppression of post-colonial political power and social classes, and how they fight back and strive for a better future will be presented, each of the book will be analyzed and will be given a short summary
‘Dogeaters’ by Jessica Hagedorn
Dogeaters is a historical and political story of Philippines that is executed on a world stage via human and symbolic characters. The novel is a post-modern, realistic and dramatic narrative, exploring key themes, such as colonization, politics, exploitation, sexuality, identity search, as well as religion, which existed in the Philippines in the 1950s. It is set in post-colonial Philippines (Manila) towards the end of 1950, during the period of nation building under the rule of President Ferdinand Marcos, who was a dictator. This novel portrays Philippines’ as a nation that is attempting to rise above the oppression of colonialism, exposing the negative impacts of colonialism to the nation and its citizens. For instance, post-colonialism effects left people of Philippines alienated from their culture, history, as well as each other.
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Dogeaters follows the tale of numerous characters within the Philippines, together with members of the Avila, Alacran and Gonzaga families. Philippines is ruled by a dictator president, but there are people (referred to as leftists) who have risen to oppose his actions and authority, leading to the massive violence and turmoil. The novel commences with a long introduction and description of characters. Rio Gonzaga, a young Filipina girl, narrates her family’s story, with other significant characters, like Severo Alacran and Isabel (Severo’s wife) introduced via a third person narrator. A sharp contrast is displayed between the various social classes within the Filipino society, like the extremely rich Alacrans and Gonzagas, and characters that are extremely poor. Joey Sands, a male prostitute and a DJ at a local gay club is the third narrator in the novel. While the society expects actresses to live comfortable and glamorous lives, that is not the case in this novel; actresses like Lolita Luna are trapped in lives of sexual exploitation and drug abuse.
The novel intertwines its stories and characters via a series of events, such as the Manila International Film Festival, the annual event of the “Young Miss Philippines’’, and the murder of Senator Domingo Avila, a human rights activist. Despite the Senator’s daughter, Daisy Avila winning the beauty pageant, she gets depressed instead of rejoicing to the extent of denouncing the pageant. Subsequently, she gets into a chaotic relationship with Malcom Webb, who is a foreign banker, and later with Santos Tirador, a political leftist.
In the meantime, a cultural center under the construction collapses, killing numerous Filipino employees. The First Lady gives an order for the cement to be poured on the bodies of the dead workers, and for the construction to continue. Joey, who has been keeping Rainer (a German director visiting the Philippines for the film festival) company for one week, steals drugs and money from him and escapes to a rebel camp located in the mountains. Joey also witnesses the killing of Senator Domingo Avila. In the mountains, Joey meets Daisy Avila, who, because of her relationship with leftist Santos, has been tortured and raped by General Ledesma, together with his men. Though innocent, Romeo is framed for the assassination of Senator Avila. In the subsequent chapters, Rio continues to narrate the remaining part of the story, including the life stories of members of her family. This novel is remarkably engaging, informative and amusing that make it a must read for everyone.
‘Unaccustomed Earth’ by Jhumpa Lahiri
Unaccustomed Earth is Jhumpa Lahiri’s latest book that provides a reflection of life that has two different cultures and the way people cope with them. From Cambridge, Seattle, India, to Thailand, the author takes the reader through eight stories that are divided into two sections. The opening section contains five different short stories, which start with the novel’s most fascinating part titled, “Unaccustomed Earth’’. The story is about how Ruma, his father and son, different characters from three different generations, relate to one another. Ruma is a young mother living in the Seattle suburbs with her husband and son. Ruma’s father, who is a recent widower and retiree, pays her a visit, and as he tends to her garden, he develops a distinctive bond with Akash, his grandson. Akash, who is from the third generation, is absorbed by the new culture, to the extent that he finds his grandfather’s habits, including his foreign language fascinating. On the other hand, the newly-found freedom of Ruma’s father to travel has enabled him to meet a female friend, with whom he is in a relationship. However, he is keeping it as a secret from his daughter. There is a restricted communication between the father and the daughter brought about by the fear of admitting their move away from their original culture to a new culture, which they have embraced.
The remaining four parts of this section have the same themes. In ‘Hell-Heaven’ for instance, a young female remembers her early days, when a fellow Bengali grew to be a friend to her family, being part of her life, as well as her mother’s one. In “A Choice of Accommodation’’, Amit’s effort to turn the wedding of an old friend into a romantic getaway with his wife Megan takes a dark turn, because the party lasts into the night. In “Only Goodness’’, Sudha, who is newly married and has recently given birth, is overwhelmed with anger, guilt and anguish over his brother, Rahul’s alcoholism that is a threat to her family. The part on “Hema and Kaushik’’ is the last part on the section one, and it contains stories of life, love, death and fate of a boy and a girl, who share the residence in Massachusetts during one winter. Though, they follow different paths, fate brings them together in Rome after several years.
The second section of this novel is divided into three intertwined stories involving Hema and Kaushik. “Once in a Lifetime’’ is the first story narrated in the first person by Hema, and it talks about how the families of these two characters used to be close due to a common culture and the experience of adjusting to a new culture. However, they are gradually drifting apart. The second story is titled, “Year’s End’’. It is narrated by Kaushik, who talks about his life following the demise of his mother, and the way he deals with the unexpected complex relationships with his newly remarried father, step sisters and step mother. The situation, eventually, affects Kaushik to the extent that he becomes a wanderer. The final story is titled, “Going Ashore’’, and it chronicles Hema and Kaushik’s chance meeting in Italy two decades later. Hema who is now a college professor is tormented because of her past relationship with a married man, who makes her want to marry a man she barely knows. Kaushik, on the other hand, is a successful photojournalist, who is preparing to begin a desk job based in Hongkong. Regardless of everything, these two characters find the deep connection between them irresistible.
‘Zoot Suit and Other Plays’ by Luis Valdez
Through Zoot Suit and Other Plays, Luis Valdez demonstrates how Chicanos have been treated in the United States all through its history. The book consists of three plays i.e. “Zoot Suit,” “Bandido,” and “I Don’t Have To Show You No Stinking Badges (Ysmael 49). “Zoot Suit” is about the “Pachuco Riots”, which took place throughout the Second World War in Los Angeles. Valdez talks about the murder case of Sleepy Lagoon, where Henry Reyna, together with several young Chicanos, were found guilty of murdering Jose Williams, and sentenced to the life imprisonment (Valdez 4). The play ends with different versions of the story, with the press reporting that, after Henry was released from prison, he went back and murdered a prisoner, while Alice says that Henry got married to his girlfriend Della, and had five children (Denzin 89-95).
“Bandido”, on the other hand, is a melodramatic musical, which occurs throughout the Gold Rush. It regards the cultural clashes in California during the nineteenth century between the local Mexicans and newcomers in America (Valdez 4). The play talks about the tale of Tiburcio Vasquez, a self-proclaimed rescuer and a real life thug from California, whose prohibited adventures as a selfish Californian liberator resulted in his seizure and trial for the killing of 3 men in California (Daniels 5-10). The play ends with Valdez being hanged in San José California.
“I Don’t Have To Show You No Stinking Badges” concerns a family that is struggling with diverse problems. Actors Buddy and Connie are experiencing difficulties in getting roles in not stereotypical movies and commercials (Acuna, and Toplin 5-10). They find impossible to be given any other roles apart from maids, gardeners, whores etc just because they are Latinos. On the other hand, Sony, a sixteen year-old son of Connie and Buddy and a school drop-out, is facing the confusion and has no idea what to do with his life. In the midst of his confusion, he carries out a robbery and the cops come to arrest him. The play ends with Connie and Buddy’s taking Sonny away.
A Discussion Based On the Three Books Regarding How the Local People Suffer From Oppression of Post-Colonial Political Power and Social Classes and How They Fight Back and Strive For a Better Future
According to Dogeaters, the local people of Philippines still continue to suffer from the post-colonial political power and social classes. Filipino women are viewed as the inferior gender that has to be tamed, gazed and enjoyed sexually, and has no place in the political arena. This is a continuation of how people were treated during the colonial period. Because women are not allowed to participate in politics, they are compelled to collude with patriarchy, in order to have a feel of power. This is evident in case of the wife of the General. It is vital to take a note of the fact that the Philippine political arena is dominated by males, just like during the colonial period, and to continue keeping women away from political power, they are encouraged to compete in beauty contests in the name of nationalism, while in the real sense, beauty contests change them into objects to be gazed at, thus, disempowering them (Kaplan 22). According to Kaplan, beauty contests are, thus, forums of power play, which serve to endorse the male power, while diminishing women’s authority to participate in a nation building.
Another way through which the local women suffer is by not being allowed to challenge male voices and decisions; ideally, women are supposed to consent with what men say or do, and side with them, irrespectively of whether they are right or wrong. This is evident in Lee’s statement (98), ‘The stickiness of female consent for male violence …’’. In the novel, it is seen in the case of Leonor Ledesma, who concurs with the cold-blooded brutality and assassinations of the General (her husband), which in a sense, frees him from any wrong doing, enabling him to continue his violence spree (Hagedorn 67).
Daisy Avila is, however, a sharp contrast of a consenting female. She resorts to violence to show her strong resistance to the male brutality. To the disappointment of the First Lady who endorsed the beauty pageant, Avila denounces beauty competition on a talk show that is broadcasted nationally, describing it as “a giant step backward for all women’’ (Hagedorn 109). From this novel, local women use feminism and violence to fight back against the oppression of the post-colonial political power that bars them from participating in national politics, in order to strive for a better future. This fierce feminism is seen in the transformation of Daisy into Aurora; the beauty queen turns into a rebel battling with the nation builders. She marches in the streets hiding grenades in her dress; an indication that women are tired of being oppressed and viewed as the insignificant people, and the fact that they are prepared to penetrate the male-dominated political playing ground, so as to be able to bring positive changes into their nations.
It is expected that the post-colonial governments should attempt to correct numerous wrongs done by colonialists, such as using women as sexual objects. Instead, they have continued to colonize women by desecrating their bodies and demeaning them to mere bodies. Thus, women in this novel continue to suffer in hands of males who exploit them sexually. This is evident when Daisy is tortured and gang-raped by General Ledesma, together with his men because of having an affair with leftist Santos. According to Brownmiller (209), attempted and actual rapes are both used as political tools to forcefully perpetuate male power over women. Like Daisy, Lolita Luna, the film actress, is another character in the novel that suffers from violence and oppression. Hagedorn (170) states, “Her life reduced to mere sexuality by her two lovers; an Englishman with colonial obsessions and General Ledesmo, the postcolonial military leader.’’ Luna is ironically referred to as a movie star, which portrays a sharp contrast between the reality of her defilement and her supposed glamour.
In the Unaccustomed Earth, the local people suffer from the oppression of post-colonial political power and social classes by not being able to communicate effectively due to language and cultural barriers. For instance, Akash’s complete immersion into the American culture makes it hard for him to communicate effectively with his grandfather, who has an Indian heritage. In addition, Ruma and her father are feeling guilty for turning their backs on their Indian native culture and embracing the American culture; something that is limiting communication between them. To fight for a better future, characters in “Unaccustomed Earth’’ have decided to stick together as a family, and accept their new culture, despite their cultural and generational variations. In “I Don’t Have To Show You No Stinking Badges” of Zoot Suit and Other Plays, main characters, actors Connie and Buddy face discrimination in Hollywood, which makes it hard for them to get prominent roles in movies and commercials just because they are Latinos.
The colonialists did not only colonize resources, but also minds of the local people. Long after different nations that were colonized attained independence, the effects of post colonization are still highly evident. For instance, there has been a problem of gender identity in the Middle East i.e. a majority of countries in the Middle East have not been able to define and maintain their national identity in over three quarters of a century, following the disintegration of Ottoman Empire, from which they emerged (Kumaraswamy 171-178). The borders drawn by the colonialists still continue to spark war and social fragmentation in the Middle East, long after the colonialists left. In general, the three books are extremely informative and interesting to read.
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