This is the story of life as it is under the eyes of God, where all creatures are given a presence. The cats of this short novel are central characters, as the life of the story stems from them, with their person counterparts as watchful and commentative outlines to the world of nature within which they themselves play an undefined part. (I was first given this book as a 5th grade Christmas gift by my mother. I promptly devoured it. It has been several years, at least since I have read it, so I hope I remember it well. I have chosen to keep to the few main characters as with all blogs in the column.)
Lessing tells of her first cat, a little grey creature picked up as a stray by her as a little girl, living on a farm with her family in Southern Rhodesia. Lessing loved her kitten, but one day it fell between some pipes into a drain and was fished out by servants to be washed, dried, and placed in bed with Lessing who was recovering from an illness herself. It was the cold season but the windows of her room were kept open as the walls had been recently whitewashed. It was cold during the night. Cold during the day, when the room filled with white light. All around Lessing felt sterile and cold but within her arms, there was a warmth. A grey, purring warmth. The kitten, Lessing's compatriot in illness had caught pneumonia and eventually the sweet feline's purr grew dimmer and lessened until all was quiet and cold in the room. The deceased kitten was tossed into a shaft and that was that.
Though Lessing lived in a world of cats, cats on walls and in gardens, it would be years until she would ever have room in her life for another cat. And no cat would ever compare to the grey kitten who gave warmth and her purr to Lessing for as long as she could. Lessing is an adult with a flat in the U.K., when she had room in her life to love another cat: grey cat. A beautiful butterfly tabby-Siamese mix who had been taken from her mother too young as a kitten. She was grey cat, the flirt, words of admiration would be cooed to her and she would half close her eyes to each compliment, as she lay upon the rug of the flat to be admired.
Grey cat was charm, Lessing wrote that if a fish is the movement of water encaptured in a singular solid form, grey cat was the embodiment of air, as if a butterfly. Grey cat was a princess. Every visitor would come to the door to exclaim, "Pretty cat!" And grey cat would soak in the admiration while twining about legs. When grey cat went into heat, Lessing and her friends watched as she cried and frolicked and lolled on the grass for a mate. An old ugly tom wins the bid. But he bungles the job.
As Lessing is in the garden having wine, her friend exclaims what a shame it all was that such an enchanting creature should go to a brute of a tom with no idea how to make love. He would make love to grey cat himself if he could. The friend's wife implies he is disturbed for this and so the commentary continues.
Grey cat is impregnated, eventually, to become a disaster of a mother. Grey cat has no idea what is occurring when she goes into labor and instead of finding some quiet place to have her litter, she constantly demands attention from the people around her. Lessing eventually makes grey cat a nest, herself, and when grey cat has the litter, she gets up and wants to play and be admired. Lessing sends grey cat back to the bed to nurse. The kittens are a motley crew and are all given homes. Grey cat has about one more litter until she is fixed.
Lessing is in inner turmoil over the revocation of her cat's sex. But cats can have up to 4 litters a year. Lessing ponders the logic of nature, but in the end she decides to fix grey cat.
Grey cat then changes. Her face broadens, she softens after the surgery to become, a "plump, if pretty cat." Then the world of grey cat darkens more, as in the tumultuous world of people, drama has occurred and a pretty blond girl, a student studying for exams in a room above Lessing is no longer able to keep her cat. And so Lessing is given black cat, a pretty and simple black cat on a red leash and collar. Where grey cat was a creature of line and sophisticated coloring, black cat was simple. A cat of the underworld. "Midnight cat!"
Grey cat hates black cat. If black cat rests in a chair, grey cat takes to the bed, or wherever is higher than black cat. And so it goes on in such a manner. Black cat proves to be a wonderful mother with machine like consistency. Eating when she would rather not just to serve as example to her kittens.
The desexed grey cat watches but does not hurt the kittens. Grey cat is a people cat, except until years later in her old age she chooses a neighborhood cat as a friend. He was an unremarkable creature with no fineness of quality other than being chosen by grey cat. It is unusual for female cats to befriend other cats. Grey cat had chosen him, and he came with her into the flat. They would share time together. He disappeared from the neighborhood after some time, and grey cat looked for him. She never liked another cat before or after him. He was the only friend of her kind, she ever had.
By Sarah Bahl
"Ballet's Greatest Hits–YAGP Gala" played at AFI Silver Theater last Sunday, is remarkable for bringing to life what people love most about ballet. The still shots of dancers perfectly embodied in mid-air remind one of how perfectly graceful these athletes are. Their grace brings an ethereal sense of power to a long standing dance profession which will hopefully never die out. The Nutcracker was delved into as one of the most popular ballets of all time, due to its storyline and the playful, elegant qualities of Pyotr Tchaikovsky's score that brings a person to another world, that is filled with sugar, light, and its own magical dangers.
The cross cultural affinities of ballet were addressed with discussions of Flames of Paris, a Soviet ballet of the French Revolution. Though, the dancers' movements were basic, (at least based on the clips shown) the intrinsic cultural values were of utmost precedence for the piece. The historical accounts of Giselle were interesting as the first dancer to play Giselle, Isabelle Ciaravola, is still so well known today. The lead dancer for the Willis was interviewed, and the otherworldly elements of the piece and the psychological meanings behind them are commented on by the dancer(s).
Overall, the film is fun, interesting, and of great cultural and historic value. That is, once one recovers from the horror of watching ballet via film and not live. The still shots of the dancers in air, helped balance the ballet on film aspect. Seeing is not believing, as one may see, blink, and still not quite find to be true, the wonderful love for life and beauty that is ballet.
I was first introduced to Fried Green Tomatoes at the movie theater, in 1992. My mother thought it would be a good film for my grandmother, Mary McGraw, and for my sister and myself to enjoy; and it was. My grandmother, born on August 6, 1917; grew up as part of a large family in a small Irish town, in Western Maryland. The film would remind my grandmother of what she was used to growing up, my mother explained. The film is filled with those old large wooden houses, with the wrap around porches and the sound of a large noisy family.
My grandmother took after her mother as the family beauty, and was graced with singing, musical and artful talents. As a child I knew she loved films and TV shows and she always had the radio on to classical music. My grandmother has been for some years now, buried in Arlington National Cemetery with my grandfather, Dennis McGraw.
Every family has its own dramas, hopes and legacies. My grandmother grew up in a small town, South of the Mason Dixon line. This might be considered an old fashioned stereotype: but if there is one thing Southern American women can do: it’s talk. As well as cook…and eat…and talk some more. And so from this premise is born Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe. The novel begins with the Whistle Stop Cafe news bulletin announcing the 1929 opening of the town’s only cafe. The writer’s name is Dot Weems. There are few things cuter than a little Southern woman named, Dot, working at the post office and writing weekly news bulletins in which she makes fun of her own husband half the time.
Now, if one is the kind of woman who eats ice cream sandwiches for breakfast, (me), then she would want the writer to skip to the good stuff…cafe? A Southern cafe? What is on the menu? Well, here we are:
“For lunch and supper you can have: fried chicken; pork chops and gravy; catfish; chicken and dumplings; or a bbq plate; and your choice of three vegetables, biscuits or cornbread, and your drink and dessert – for 35 cents…the vegetables are: creamed corn; fried green tomatoes; fried okra; collard or turnip greens; black eyed peas; candied yams; butter beans or lima beans. And pie for desert. My other half, Wilber, and I ate there the other night, and it was so good he says he might not ever eat at home again. Ha. Ha. I wish this were true…Dot Weems.” The Weems Weekly, Whistle Stop Alabama’s neighborhood information letter, gives all the needed information for everyone in Whistle Stop.
Then, the narrative flips to December 1985; a woman, Evelyn Couch who, with her husband, has just arrived at Rose Terrace to visit her mother-in-law, Big Momma. Evelyn cannot stand sitting around and watching television with them, so she takes the only sweet thing in her life at the moment; a candy bar, then goes to silently and singularly shove her face in the cold, sterile, visitors’ lounge.
But instead of sweetness and solace, Evelyn finds herself next to a large boned, chatty old woman; “Now, you ask me the year somebody got married…who they married…or what the bride’s mother wore, and nine times out of ten I can tell you, but for the life of me, I can’t tell you when it was I got to be so old. It just sort of slipped up on me.” The 86 year old woman, is a Mrs. Cleo Threadgood, “It’s funny, when you’re a child you think time will never go by, but when you hit about twenty, time passes like you’re on the fast train to Memphis,” Mrs. Cleo Threadgood, a.k.a. Ninny, continues. Ninny, who never had a driver’s license, and had never lived anywhere but Whistle Stop until she is at Rose Terrace.
Ninny came to keep Mrs. Otis, her friend, company. And it is a good thing she did, because Evelyn Couch needed a friend for herself more than ever. Though friendship is not what Evelyn initially sought when she entered that visiting room, but it is what she found.
Evelyn was 48 years old and had discovered the world was not as she had always been taught it would be. The bad girls in highschool who had gone “all the way,” had not ended up living in ruin and disgrace, but were either happily or unhappily married like everyone else. Evelyn had waited until her wedding night and found out it hurt. But, not nearly as much as giving birth. The doctor told her she would forget the pain as a natural defense mechanism. The doctor, was either a fool or a liar. Evelyn remembered every bit of the pain. And birthing pain hurt just as much the second time around.
She had two children, a girl and a boy. When her daughter had grown up, she wanted to know how many men Evelyn had slept with. Evelyn had only ever been with her husband. Her daughter was shocked, “Oh mother, how dumb. You don’t even know if he is any good or not. How awful.”
And her daughter was right. Evelyn had no idea if Ed was any good or not. Evelyn had been part of her highschool’s golden circle, in the 1950s. A smiling cheerleader, Evelyn never knew the names of the boys in the band nor those of the girls with the see-through blouses. She never cared to know.
And now, at 48, Evelyn Couch had woken up. Not that she hadn’t tried to be a fuller person along the way. She tried to raise her son to be sensitive but Ed told her he would turn out, “queer,” so she stopped. And her son became only an apparition to her; a stranger.
Evelyn thought about the War in Vietnam but Ed had told her that anyone against the war was a communist. So, she never argued, but it did occur to her sometime after the war was over that maybe it had not been such a “good war” after all. One day in her mid forties Evelyn, with her shopping cart, stared into a vast array of TV screens, all for sale. Evelyn honestly wondered who the fat, pretty little woman was and what she was on TV for. Then Evelyn realized with horror it was her own reflection. Time had taken Evelyn with it, and she never once demanded an answer from Time, nor ever even asked Time any questions.
Evelyn was lost. She had awoken from the dream of her life, to realize she did not know where she was nor what she was doing there. The dull torpids of Americana, stared her in the face: TV, grocery shopping, air conditioned car, a husband who spends hours at the Home Depot looking for nothing. She wanted to seek comfort from Ed, but he was just as lost as she was.
At their 30th highschool reunion Evelyn prayed for an answer. A true connection in the dark, nebulous emptiness that was her life. But all the other wives looked just as scared and confused as she felt; clinging to their drinks and husbands as if they were about to plunge over a cliff.
Evelyn had spent her whole life doing everything because someone else told her to. She feared names. She never had more than one drink at a party, as she did not want a reputation. She got married as to not be thought of as frigid, she waited until her wedding day, so she would not be called a slut. Evelyn had done everything she was supposed to her whole life…and she now had no real girlfriends nor job. She went to Christian women gatherings were she was told all those successful career women were secretly lonely and miserable. Evelyn had a hard time picturing Barbara Walters giving it all up for Ed Couch, but alright.
It was her duty to save her marriage, as far as she knew. Ed, at one point was having an affair with some woman from work and Evelyn tried to sex up her marriage by dressing up in nothing but saran wrap and answering the door for Ed. (It was what the Christian womens’ circle told her to do.) Ed just pushed her to the side when he came in from work and asked her if she had gone crazy. Self-esteem was not coming to Evelyn from all directions, to say the least.
Ed’s affair ended and the situation settled down, but still, Evelyn did not have enough for herself. Instead of them working on losing weight together, Ed would look at Evelyn “whenever she had anything fattening to eat and said in mock surprise, ‘Is that on your diet?’” So, Evelyn ate in secret, alone with whatever she could find that was sweet. “Evelyn stared into the empty ice cream carton and wondered where the smiling girl in the school pictures had gone.” She bought the ice cream from Baskin Robbins, telling the sales clerk, it was for her grandchildren. She did not have any grandchildren.
But, if Evelyn had not escaped for something sweet she would never have met Ninny Threadgood. Ninny, with her stories of times gone by. So, when Evelyn came the following Sunday and all other Sundays, clutching her Almond Joys and her Snickers as if they were the Bible, and sat down in the visitors lounge, she really had no choice but to listen to Ninny with her stories of the Threadgood family.
“The front yard had an old chinaberry tree. I remember, we’d pick those little chinaberries all year long, and at Christmas, we’d string them and wrap them all around the tree from top to bottom.” Ninny was raised by the Threadgood family, who was the prime family of the small Southern town. Families in general, were much bigger in the 1920s, 30s, and 40s, than now.
The two main characters of the family in relation to Ninny, are Buddy and Idgie, short for Eugenia; as well as Cleo, who she married. Buddy is the family darling, with a million dollar smile and the personality to match. Idgie, born a tomboy, might have been out of sorts in the family, if it were not for Buddy’s protection, for when Buddy had a football game, Idgie sat on the bench right there with him and his teammates. Buddy was popular with everyone.
When he began seeing a woman from the other side of the tracks, Buddy did what no other man in town would do. He took her right home to meet the family. It was a tragedy for everyone who knew him, when, Buddy was hit by a train while he was too busy flirting with yet another girl in town to notice the train pulling up right behind him. Trains in those days claimed, fingers, legs and lives. Children would play on the tracks and yes, one can hear the trains coming behind from behind, but not always, and especially not always fast enough.
Ninny had been kissed by Buddy, but she was one of many. Ninny always had a crush on Buddy, (who didn’t?) but she married Cleo in her 17th year. Ninny points out that the one wanted is not always the one gotten, but one can still be happy. Cleo fell in love with the tall, sweet woman who had been adopted by the Threadgood family when her parents died years before.
Evelyn learned to love and look forward to Ninny’s stories, about Idgie and Ruth especially. Ruth came into Idgie’s life the summer of 1924. Ruth was from Valdosta Georgia and was put in charge of all the Baptist Youth Activities for Momma, Mrs. Threadgood. Ruth was truly one of the most beautiful women anyone had ever seen, and Idgie was in love with her at first sight.
For some reason, for a small Southern town so viciously racist, there is little eyebrow raising toward lesbianism. It is treated the same as heterosexual love on a social basis. At least in the novel, Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe it is. And is Idgie ever in love with Ruth.
Idgie wakes up Ruth very early one morning and with her brother’s stolen car keys, Idgie drives them both out to the country so Idgie can take Ruth on a romantic picnic. Idgie also wants to show Ruth a secret. She picks up an empty jar, walks over to where a beehive is and sticks her hand right in, to pull out some honeycomb. The bees cover Idgie head to toe in layers but by the time she walks back to where Ruth is panicking next to a tree, they have all flown away. Ruth is hysterical that Idgie might have killed herself. But Idgie was only charming bees. For Ruth, that is.
But their love was not to last that summer as Ruth was already engaged to Frank Bennett; one of the more notable lowlifes in all of literature. Frank Bennett, owned a fair amount of land from a town in Georgia and knew all the ladies. He knew them, whether they wanted to know him or not. Frank, supposedly scarred from some childhood trauma, had grown a cold heart and didn’t care what he took and who he took it from. He raped at will, with his buddies nearby, enjoying the scene or “helping” Frank Bennett along. Before the days of DNA tests and scientific proofs…if a man wanted to take in such a manner, there were only social repercussions to really stop him. And in Georgia, at that time, no one seemed to be stopping Frank Bennett.
So, when Ruth married Frank, he treated her no better than usual. All women meant one thing to Frank, including his wife. Idgie had kept an eye on Ruth since Ruth left, asking about her to the local townspeople. And when she heard from a store clerk that the clerk was not so fond of men who beat their wives, such as Frank; Idgie, went right up to Frank while he was getting a shave in the local barbershop and threatened to kill him. Then Idgie got in her car as fast as she could and drove away. The barber thought Idgie, though technically a pretty woman, must have been some crazy boy.
There was nothing more to do, until Idgie received a note from
Ruth, “Ruth 1:16-20:
And Ruth said, Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee; for wither thou goest I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God.”
Idgie, not the symbolic sort, had no idea what the note meant. Momma Threadgood, tells her, “Well honey, it means what it says.” And she orders Idgie to take Big George, who worked for Idgie in the Cafe, and her brothers and go over to get Ruth and bring her back to Whistle Stop.
Idgie did just that, but her rescue effort met with repercussion years later when Frank ended up missing and Idgie had to stand for a murder trial in 1955. The judge threw the case out, as there was really no evidence, and in either case, the judge's daughter had died, "old before her time and living a dog’s life on the outskirts of town, because of Frank Bennett; so he really didn’t care who had killed the sonofa-.”
And so here we have a case of Southern justice. Though, Frank Bennett’s legacy is carried on in his son by Ruth, Buddy Jr., who lost an arm to the trains but not his life. Buddy Jr., then called Stump, grows to be a football hero with only one arm. And when Peggy, a highschool girl with glasses asks Stump, back from college, to the highschool dance, Stump laughs at her and tells her to come back when she’s grown some t-ts. Idgie lets Stump have it about that one, after Peggy runs into the Whistle Stop Cafe in tears and blurts the whole story out to Idgie.
Idgie outright tells Stump she did not raise him to be white trash and what if Peggy’s brother had been there? Stump said Peggy’s brother was there and he laughed too. Idgie takes the highroad and says Peggy’s brother should have had his butt whipped as well.
Idgie inquires as to Stump’s lack of dates and points out that Stump does not want to end up like Smokey Lonesome, the hobo who takes up at the Cafe from time to time. Smokey spent his childhood, or his growing years at least, in the mountains. His mother had his father arrested for making moonshine and then was bit in the face by a rattlesnake during a preaching event. Smokey and his sister were separated by surviving family, then Smokey took off for the rails and never again looked forward nor back.
Stump eventually admits to Idgie that he is afraid of being laughed at, by the girls, because of his arm. Idgie solves the problem by taking Stump over to Eva Bates’s, the same woman who Buddy loved so long before. It seems to solve the problem as when Peggy wants to go to her spring dance with Stump, despite his prior way with words toward her, he accepts.
Ninny tells this whole story and much, much more to Evelyn and it helps Evelyn connect, to raise her esteem and get through a hard part of her life. Ninny tells Evelyn she should sell Mary Kay cosmetics, with Evelyn’s great skin and good personality. Evelyn goes out and does just that.
After Ninny passes away, Evelyn goes to her gravesite and also receives from Ninny's old neighbor the last few items of Ninny’s life; all in a shoebox. Evelyn finds pictures and she realizes and is startled by how truly beautiful Ruth was. One of the most beautiful women to live on this earth and she breathed, loved and died in two small towns. Ruth probably never went so far east in Georgia as to see the ocean. In a photo, Evelyn sees Buddy, who she can recognize from his smile. Evelyn cries because she will never understand why people have to grow old and die. On the way back from Ninny’s grave Evelyn notices a jar of honey with a card by Ruth Jamison’s stone. The card is signed, “I’ll always remember. Your friend, The Bee Charmer.”
By Sarah Bahl
Margaret Mitchell begins the initial statement of one of the world’s best selling novels with, “Scarlett O’Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it…” If Scarlett, with her pure green eyes, black lashes, dark hair and ivory skin was not beautiful, then it is hard not to imagine that she must have been at the very least quite attractive and attracting. Scarlett’s looks reflect those of Mitchell herself. The novel begins with Scarlett, at her family’s plantation, Tara, on the front porch, gossiping with two twin beaux of hers, the tall red headed Tarletons.
Scarlett was bred to be a lady and to catch a husband. Wealthy Southern women during the mid 1800s were expected to be ladies and businesswomen. As soon as their coming of age, at about 15 or 16, they could be wed and running plantations of 100 persons or more including husband, children, slaves and personal staff.
Though, on the day of the start of a Georgian summer, the sixteen year old Scarlett is thinking less about the ins and outs of plantation life as she is about Ashley Wilkes, (the man, women of the novel seem to have a crush on though, as a reader, I simply find him annoying). Ashley is tall, with large grey dove like eyes and blond hair. He sports the rare affiliation among Southern aristocrats: a Harvard education. Ashley; with his books, poetry and dreams. The most likeable quality about Ashley is his admitted imperviousness toward reality. He sees the world around him, and neither likes nor dislikes the people in it. He simply prefers the beauty of his music and his books and after doing a once about gaze toward life, shrugs then returns to his most natural element; a world of dreams. Reality just isn’t his thing.
Scarlett and Ashley have nothing in common other than they are exact opposites. Scarlett can never understand Ashley’s wisdom nor his poetry. Though, he seems to understand her perfectly well. Which is why he decides not to marry her. Scarlett is not the type to have affairs, at least she never does throughout the entire 1023 page novel, but she does attract attention wherever she goes. And Ashley needs the quiet comfort of someone who he knows would be all about him, the constancy within a wife, who he can depend on as a woman to him, though he lacks manly capabilities, in a man’s world. This woman of his chosen suit is also his cousin, Melanie Hamilton.
Melanie with her large brown eyes, small bust and small hipped figure, resembles a Calvin Klein waif of a beauty. She never fully develops her figure and for women at the time this is no more of a dilemma for child bearing than for small hipped women today. It simply makes it harder to carry and birth a child when a woman's hips are too small. And not only harder, but more medically dangerous. Despite her physical setbacks, Melanie does understand Ashley in a way Scarlett never could. Melanie can share with Ashley and support him and his perspective of the world, in the manner of no other woman.
Though, she dreams of Ashley, Scarlett, could literally have any beaux in the county. In the next three counties for that matter. Scarlett’s overall attitude toward men is predatory, calculating and expansive. She sports a post corset, 17-inch waist, a developed bust and the curves to match. Wherever Scarlett went, so did the men.
Scarlett is not one to trouble herself with thoughts toward books. Libraries depress her. She enjoys people, the country and open air. It is hard not to fall in love with Scarlett by the end of the first page. For Scarlett is neither a man nor a woman. She is Scarlett. She is herself. It is likely the state of Scarlett’s universal appeal that makes Gone With the Wind one of the most widely read novels of all time.
From her French aristocrat mother, she inherits her penchant for math. For adding up numbers quietly and favorably. From her Irish father, Scarlett inherits her spirit, including her love for land.
When her mother, Ellen Robillard, prize daughter of an elite Savannah family, tall, of beauty and graceful, agreed to marry Gerald O’Hara, the plucky self made Irish man 28 years her senior and a head shorter, Gerald simply could not believe his luck.
“That was the year when Gerald O’Hara…came into her life-the year too, when youth and her black eyed cousin, Phillipe Robillard, went out of it. For when Phillipe, with his snapping eyes and his wild ways, left Savannah forever, he took with him all the glow that was in Ellen’s heart and left for the bandy legged Irish man who married her, only a gentle shell. But that was enough for Gerald, overwhelmed at his unbelievable luck in actually marrying her. And if anything was gone from her, he never missed it.”
Their love affair is one of marked humor and infinite sadness. Ellen found it to be a man’s world and she listened to Gerald drone on about politics, raised her daughters with care, fed and clothed an entire plantation, smelled of lemon verbena sachet; and was the perfect martyr in every way. She never really loved her husband, yet it never mattered that she didn’t. Her dying words were for “Phileep! Phileep!” But God, did Gerald love her.
For when the Civil War came and Ellen, always caring for others, was unable to pull through Gerald quite simply lost his mind. “He would never be any different and now Scarlett realized the truth and accepted it without emotion-that until he died Gerald would always be waiting for Ellen, always listening for her. He was in some dim borderline country where time was standing still and Ellen was always in the next room. The main spring of his existence was taken away when she died and with it had gone his bounding assurance, his impudence and his rest-less vitality. Ellen was the audience before which the blustering drama of Gerald O’Hara had been played. Now the curtain had been rung down forever, the footlights dimmed and the audience suddenly vanished, while the stunned old actor remained on his empty stage, waiting for his cues.”
And the moral of this heartrending love story? Do not ever actually need anybody. For to need is to run the risk of one becoming a daft wandering fool. Scarlett inherits from her mother a certain quality- she utilizes chimeras, muses for her love, while caring less about those who are actually around her.
Scarlett, is the opposite of the sad little match girl, and is made for survival in every manner. She is born into a loving family and has a small waist, large hips, full breasts, never catches ill easily, recovers from births quickly and has never once actually needed anyone in her whole life. When she needs a husband Scarlett marries one. She never once actually needs the husband, himself.
Her first husband is Charles Hamilton, Melanie’s brother, who she marries out of spite, since Ashley is marrying Melanie. Charles does love Scarlett, though, she does not seem to care that he does. He proposes to her while at a Twelve Oaks barbecue on the eve of the Civil War, and when he does, he gives her the most pure and noble look from his brown soft eyes, that Scarlett ever has or ever will receive from a man. Though, Scarlett does not realize this. She merely equates his ethereal gaze to that of a dying calf, and a swift calculation plays in her head. Then that is it. She thinks nothing more about it.
Scarlett’s first husband gives her Wade, named after a general as was popular in those days. She cannot believe she is a mother and has no particular natural motherly instincts, though she provides for Wade as is necessary. She is also no more than 17 years old and still thinks very much like a teenager. Charles dies shortly into the war, and Scarlett becomes a bewildered widow. She moves to Atlanta, to join her Aunt Pitty and Melanie, for a change of scene. She stays in Atlanta until the war comes to her.
Melanie is pregnant, and gives birth while Atlanta is besieged and burnt down by Yankees. The birth is hell, Scarlett is drenched in sweat, Prissy, their house slave is of no help, and the only doctors in town are caring for the hundreds of dying men. The birth nearly kills Melanie but doesn’t. Scarlett, with the help of one of her beau, Rhett Butler, gets Melanie, Prissy, Wade, the new baby and herself out of Atlanta and to Tara all in one piece somehow.
Once at Tara, Scarlett becomes the protector, the overseer, of her lost father, her two ill sisters, the recovering Melanie, and the children; with the help of the house slaves, including Mammy and others. (It’s odd to me, that the beloved Mammy never seems to want a husband or children of her own. I also find it comical, that when the time comes for picking cotton, everyone argues about who has to do it, because even the house slaves are horrified at the idea of doing field hand work). Yet, Scarlett troops along. She does the books and finds food somehow. It’s actually amazing any of them lived at all considering the food shortages and from what is described, they could not have been living on more than 500 calories a day each during the darkest parts of the war. But all of them survive, in one way or another. And the house also lives in constant fear of Yankees returning to steal what they have not taken already. Wade is certain that Yankees are coming for him, and Scarlett does not have the time or inclination to calm his child like fears.
She tries to prostitute herself to Rhett to pay the taxes on Tara, but when that doesn’t work, she marries Frank Kennedy, a beau of her sister, Suellen. Rhett claimed his assets were frozen, but it was probably more that he simply loved her too much. Scarlett, moves to Atlanta and takes lumber mills from her husband’s control to expand their profits immensely. Frank is stunned that his pretty little wife, can do math so much more quickly and accurately than he can. He is even more stunned by her incentive to do business. Scarlett is prone to rages when she does not have her way and there is no one in Atlanta to cross her path on that count. She does business with Yankees, drives a carriage by herself, until Rhett gives up watching her and drives her about town himself. In short: she acts like a man nearly to the point of outcast. The pretty little bell of the ball, is now doing what it takes to make it through, regardless of gender based propriety. And the whole town talks about it.
Frank Kennedy is killed defending her honor after she is molested during one of her carriage rides by herself. Rhett protects the rest of the men, by claiming they were all drunk at the local whore house at the time of the shooting. For at the time, all white shootings were investigated by Yankee officials.
Melanie remains Scarlett’s best friend throughout. For really Melanie knows that Ashley is useless and she must be married to Scarlett in order to survive and provide for Beau, her child. Scarlett gives Ashley a job at the mills, but he blunders it and the Wilkes household is always skimping by. But Melanie does pay Scarlett back. She does not have the physical strength but she does have the connections. For Scarlett just does not think politically or abstractly. She is a calculation machine. Melanie tends to think in terms of people, sex and ability. She weighs the merits of humanity with the same efficiency as Scarlett plays cash machine. Melanie is as political as Scarlett is financial. The two make a fine pair.
And when Scarlett is caught in the arms of Ashley Wilkes (nothing actually happened…but it was enough to scandalize the town), it is Melanie who defends her and prevents Scarlett from being more of an outsider to the Southern Confederate community, than she already is. For if Scarlett is entirely disgraced then the mills might lose too much money and how would Melanie then provide for her family?
Scarlett wears the crown of King Rat and she is too busy to feel its weight. When her third husband, Rhett, walks out the door on her with the famous line, “My dear, I don’t give a damn,” it is a lie. For Rhett very much still did give a damn. It was truly Scarlett, for all her beaux, babies and money, not once in her life did Scarlett O’Hara ever truly give a good god damn. (Perhaps for the love of her mother, but that was it.) She would not be Scarlett if she did. And in her heart of hearts it is hard for one to believe Melanie ever gave a damn either. They were both little women, who were born into a certain world, and upon a certain way of life. Both needed to survive and that they did.
Melanie’s legacy is carried on in Beau, and for Scarlett, her true legacy, lies in Wade, her child by the man, Charles, who she so coldly related to a dying calf. Her other surviving child is Ella, by Frank Kennedy. But somehow, it is of doubt Scarlett will ever realize what she has in Wade, just as she will never realize what she had in that soft, pure gentle brown eyed look that boy gave her that day at the Twelve Oaks barbecue. And the worst-best part of it all is that it will never really matter that Scarlett will never know. For Scarlett did more than know. She survived.
By Sarah Bahl
Now we turn our thoughts to the less than fun loving world of The Magdalene Sisters (2002), directed by Peter Mullen. The film's setting begins in the county of Dublin Ireland; the year is 1964. It is a film based on the reality of thousands of women, who worked within the Magdalene asylums.
The first series of scenes takes place at a wedding. A priest sings a beautiful and sensual ballad to the wedding couple while they hold hands and the guests smoke and listen intently to the beauty of the drumming and the priest's melodic voice. At this wedding, there is Margaret, the first represented of a set of girls who will soon become well acquainted with a Magdalene laundry asylum.
Margaret is adorable and simply pretty without being of any particular or unusual beauty. She wears a blue dress, a cardigan and a blue ribbon sits in her hair to off-set her simple, large, brown and trusting eyes. None of the women in the scene, are wearing makeup or at least very little of it, though they are dressed for a wedding.
Margaret speaks to a woman who sits next to her, and her manner of doing so evokes the sensibility of longstanding acquaintance between the two women; either as relatives, friends or both. Margaret's acquaintance is larger than her, a very pretty woman with blond hair and large dark eyes. Her hair is done up in a braid with flowers twisted through. The way her hair is done reveals a sentiment toward the beauty and natural rhythms of life that match with the words of the music; a song of green groves and lilies, down in the valley. The priest plays the drum as if he were making love to it.
The song ends, the bride and groom kiss and the audience applauds with fervor. Margaret is approached by Kevin, her cousin, who leads her upstairs, as he has told her he has something to show her. She follows him upstairs, honestly believing there must be some secret he has to show her. He of course, has nothing but begins to kiss her forcefully. Margaret pushes him away and slaps him, "What would your father say?" she tells him.
Kevin appears to admit defeat, and leaves but just as Margaret opens the door to leave after him, Kevin rams the door back open, hitting her strongly in the face with it and stunning her. Kevin proceeds to rape Margaret, while the music and dancing continue below. Then, Margaret comes downstairs after Kevin. He takes a drink of beer and watches the dancing. He is uncomfortable to watch, as his gaze is vacant and he stares too long at something the viewer cannot see. Margaret sits down and though she is watching the dancing too, she is obviously shaken up. Her plain, unmade face is tearful and lost seeming. Margaret doesn't know what to do.
Margaret's friend, with the flowers in her hair, approaches her and asks her questions. None of the spoken words are evident as all the viewer hears is the wedding music. The setting is very realistic in this manner. The viewer is a watcher of a scene, as it would be playing out in real life.
But, despite the lack of verbal testimony, it is obvious her friend is asking Margaret what happened and a tearful Margaret informs her of the rape. Her friend immediately confronts Kevin with outright anger and disgust. The friend then also tells the priest, Margaret's father, and another man, perhaps Kevin's father. And while Margaret looks on with embarrassment, sadness, anger and hope in her eyes; the male relatives and the priest escort Kevin into a separate room for questioning and then out of the house. Margaret looks, as if to say, "It is going to be o.k., right?"
What is odd is Margaret's mother's behavior. She coolly watches the scene, takes a sip of her drink and looks almost entertained. The mother does not get up to ask why her daughter is in tears nor why a cousin of Margaret's is being led by other men, out of the house. The mother simply sits and watches. It seems an almost unnatural reaction.
The next scene is of a car, driving up a country lane with Queen Anne's Lace on either side of the unpaved road. Margaret's father wakes her in a room she shares with a couple of siblings. Margaret quickly rises out of bed and puts on a simple and comforting skirt and sweater. She seems trusting though Margaret's brother does not look so certain of what will happen to her.
Her brother asks Margaret what is going on and she says, "I don't know," then nods toward her sleeping siblings, and tells her brother to hush. After going downstairs, Margaret is placed in the car, being driven by a priest. Her bag has already been packed by her parents. She looks angry, confused, even shattered. Her brother shouts out the window, "Da, where is Margaret going?" There is no reply as the car's engine tunes up and the vehicle pulls away.
The mother gazes out the window at the scene, her lips pursed yet smiling. She appears jealous of Margaret and glad to be rid of her. When her son asks, "Ma, where is Margaret going?" the mother winces, closing her eyes. Sweet, trusting, loyal and put together Margaret, was raised this whole time by parents who never really loved her. Margaret's brother loves her, but he is too young to do anything for her yet. He can only ask questions, that for now, go unanswered.
Then next, there is Bernadette, a beautiful girl, who also happens to be an orphan at St. Attracta. Bernadette, has raven dark hair, enormous eyes, arched eyebrows and full lips. She is awoken by two other orphan girls, who look to be of about nine years of age, demanding to use her brush. One of them farts in Bernadette's face, in order to obtain the item. "Jesus, how do you do it?" Bernadette asks the farter. Bernadette then gives in and pulls the brush, a beautiful item, made of silver and with a portrait on its back, out from under her pillow. "Here, take the damn thing," she tells the rambunctious pair.
Bernadette has her hair brushed by the little girls, who fight over whose turn it is to brush based on whether or not the count has gotten to twenty. One of them asks Bernadette whether it is a sin to be beautiful and Bernadette intelligently replies, "No, it is a sin to be vain," and cites the Virgin Mary as an example of beauty. Bernadette is down to earth and tolerant of the little girls who so want to brush her hair.
Later, on the school/orphanage's playground, Bernadette has attracted a group of teenage boy admirers, and though she is wasting her time talking to them, there is nothing wrong with doing so. Bernadette is the type to stand up for herself and she is just as curious as the boys are. The school principal, a very severe professional appearing woman tells the boys to move it or she will call the guards. But, as soon as the principal leaves, the boys flock right back into place by the fence and start paying attention to Bernadette. The bell chimes, and everyone returns back to their place except for Bernadette, who remains by the fence with the boys. The same two little girls appear and tug Bernadette toward the school.
Watching Bernadette this whole time, is the school principal and an unknown man, standing next to her. Next we see see the brush, underneath Bernadette's old bed, with other scattered belongings. The bed has been emptied and the mattress and sheets are all rolled up. The little girls rush toward the bed as is their usual morning routine, but this time stop and gaze at the scene a moment for it is clear Bernadette is gone. Then after their singular pause, they swoop in and one of the little orphan girls takes the brush. They do not seem to question that Bernadette is gone, which is not abnormal for their age.
The next series of scenes takes place at the maternity section of a hospital. We see a woman, still in bed, holding a newborn. This is Rose, who has just given birth to a newborn son. Rose begs her mother to just look at her grandson, as her mother sits, stiffly upright in a chair next to Rose's hospital bed.
Rose is a large girl, fair, with pale blue thoughtful eyes. Her mother stares ahead coldly. Rose, says she knows what she did is a sin, but surely the baby boy cannot be blamed for something he has nothing to do with. The mother is unmoved.
Rose is then called out into the hallway and with her father sitting next to them, she is coerced by a priest to sign paperwork, waiving all known rights to her son. Rose signs, but then quickly regrets the decision and fights her father, crying out, "I want my baby." The father appears to feel bad, but still keeps Rose from seeing her newborn son. A nurse, holding the baby, crisply walks away, down the hall with the priest next to her. They both ignore Rose's heartfelt cries, as does Rose's mother.
The three girls are taken to what is a combination of a convent and laundry asylum. They now wear shapeless long brown dresses. They no longer have any worldly possessions. No books, no journals, no personal brushes, no photographs. Nothing. Everything that is theirs belongs to the convent.
Rose, Bernadette and Margaret are paraded up a staircase and into Sister Bridget's, office room. Sr. Bridget, the head of the cloister, gives her newbie lecture to the young women as she counts bills with a rubber thimble, on her finger, that makes it easier to accurately shift through the vast amounts of money. Saint Mary Magdalene, was a sinner of the worst kind, Sr. Bridget informs the girls. Magdalene gave of her flesh to the lustful and depraved, in return for financial compensation. So, in the spirit of Magdalene, the philosophy is a simple one; here at the order of Magdalene the fallen may rectify their bodies and souls for lusts of passion and sins of the flesh through penitence and ritual labor. Salvation came for Magdalene by her forsaking all pleasures of the flesh and working beyond all human withstanding.
It is ignored that even if society did have a right to judge these women; Bernadette is a virgin, Margaret was raped, and Rose, though a sinner would have made an excellent mother all the same. The facts are the least of the knowledge base by which the Magdalene Asylums were run. Sr. Bridget, after her less than welcome speech, stands up and faces each girl individually. She reminds each of them directly how they are stupid, whoring outcasts. To Bernadette, she informs that she is acquaintances with St. Attracta's head principal and has heard all about Bernadette and her wayward manner. Sr. Bridget renames Rose, Patricia, as the asylum already has another Rose. Patricia is Rose's confirmation name.
After, Sr. Bridget has completely insulted the girls' sexuality, intelligence, social standing, as well as integrity at large; the three are quickly sent to work in the godforsaken laundry rooms. They are made to wear large blue aprons to cover their shapeless uniform dresses. And so, they work; scrubbing, ironing and sweating in silence. Sr. Bridget as part of her "welcome speech" also informs them the laundry is not just clothes and sheets but is the same as their souls and the girls must work to remove from the clothes, the stains they see before them and in doing so they are removing the stains from their very souls for all the whoring sins they ever committed throughout their short teenage lives.
Later that night, Patricia wakes up Bernadette and asks Bernadette to help her to the bathroom. Patricia is shuffling and hunched. Once they get to the bathroom, Bernadette cups her hands under the running faucet and crouches down to have Patricia drink from her enclosed hands. Patricia says it is so painful and she is probably going to faint, then she sinks to the ground. Bernadette who had never been pregnant and had never been close to anyone who ever was so, had no advice to give Patricia.
Another woman comes in to pee, and asks Patricia if her milk is stuck. Patricia says she doesn't know but the pain is terrible. The girl, on the toilet tells Patricia not to touch her breasts because if Patricia does, she will start leaking, and the nuns go crazy if anyone leaks, so it is best to take the pain that should be gone in a couple days.
Bernadette helps Patricia back to bed and there is nothing more to be done. The girl, also warns both Bernadette and Patricia not to talk or be friendly for the nuns will be enraged if they catch the girls conversing in any manner for any reason. The next morning, bright and early before breakfast all the asylum girls are awoken by an obnoxiously perky nun who demands to know if any of them saw Una O'Connor leave or heard anything during the night. It has to be before six am and the girls stand there in their bedclothes, either unable or unwilling to answer.
The girls are then piled into two lines and down the long hallway, following a nun to breakfast they go. While sneaking in breakfast the same girl, who warned Bernadette and Patricia about talking, recites the daily morning prayer. She tumbles over some of the words and one wonders as to her level of education.
Prayers are recited for most, if not all of breakfast. The girls eat, what looks like some sort of yogurt or porridge. While the nuns have deli meats and fresh bread. The nuns argue in whispers over what happened to Una O'Connor.
The day is spent in the sweat shop of a laundry in silence, except for Crispina, a homely woman who has some sort of speech or learning disability, either organically or through abuse. An old woman, Katie, still wearing the brown dress she probably initially donned as a young girl, yells at the girls for talking. Crispina keeps on chatting, no matter what it seems. Though, no talking among the inmates is allowed at the laundry. Probably to keep them from sharing information or forming bonds.
Most of the girls do not know each others' names. (In reality probably no one ever really knew some of the girls' names after awhile. Many if not most, who remained in the laundry for life, were buried sans names and in unmarked graves.) They are never introduced to each other, they are just thrown into work.
Crispina has a son, her sister brings to the asylum, though of course not actually within the asylum, to visit. The sister, with her nephew stand at the back gates and sometimes, when there is laundry to be hung outdoors to dry, Crispina gets to see her son. She loves her son and exclaims, "Isn't he the biggest boy you've ever seen?" to Patricia. Crispina's son is two and when he comes Crispina pulls out a Saint Christopher medal so she can talk to the boy, as he holds the same type of medal.
(In reality, many "Magdalenes" worked next to the orphanages where their bastard children had been placed and women would beg to see their children. Just to know what the child looked like. Some Magdalenes would spend much of their lives working next to their child and would never get to see him or her.)
Later that night, Margaret puts on her day dress under her nightdress and prepares to sneak out on her own but hears shouting and noise outside the locked door, so she shuffles back into bed and throws the covers back over herself. Margaret watches as the lights go on and Una O'Connor, her face bloodied, is dragged back in by her father. Una screams that she hates it there, and the father returns to beat her with his belt, as Una hides under the blankets in her bed.
Una's father then tells her while holding her face close to his, that she doesn't have a mother or a father anymore. He blames Una for killing them both. Sr. Bridget, in her nightcap, tells the father to leave. It's odd to see Sr. Bridget act as if she had compassion, no matter how little.
The next day, Bernadette and Crispina end up in Sr. Bridget's office. Bernadette for demanding to see Sr. Bridget, after a working boy, Brendan, who came to collect the laundry asks her to suck his cock and Crispina, for asking a nun the symbolic name for the use of her St. Christopher medallion. The word being, "telephone."
Sr. Bridget is in the process of shaving Una's head, to keep her from running away again. Una tries to pick up the pieces of her own hair, causing Sr. Bridget to ask Una if she has lost her mind, as her hair is no good to her anymore. It is to be sold and the money will go to the black babies, Sr. Bridget states.
(Perhaps Sr. Bridget is telling the truth but I doubt it. There were so few black babies in Ireland in the 1960s. The nuns probably sold the hair and kept the money.)
Bernadette wants to know why she is there in the first place, as she has never been with a boy. Sr. Bridget informs her that wanting to be with a boy and being with one are the same thing and since Bernadette shows interest in boys she is automatically a sinner. And beside, Bernadette is stupid, according to Sr. Bridget, and therefore it is more likely for boys to get their fingers inside of her the same as with Crispina.
Crispina agrees, though she admits she was not listening, which could be a sign of lack of intelligence or a simple reflection of her environment, or both; as it really does not make much of a difference if Crispina listens or not, they are all still stuck there for invisible reasons. Sr. Bridget switches Bernadette and Crispina on the back of the legs for their insolence. Bernadette decides that if she is a rotten whore as a virgin, she might as well sell herself to get out of there. The next day Bernadette gives Brendan, a look at what she has in exchange for him to come later that night with the key to let her out.
Katie, the simple minded silencer, witnesses the scene and runs, threatening to tell the nuns. Bernadette chases after Katie and they get involved in a dramatic moral argument. Bernadette is arguing with Katie as an adult would bargain with a child. Bernadette tells Katie that if Katie tells the nuns, then Brendan will never marry her, and if he doesn't marry her, then Katie will have committed a sin on both their parts. Katie informs Bernadette, that if she does tell the nuns, then Bernadette will be punished most severely, kept by the nuns forever and all her sins will be erased by the punishment. Bernadette counters by telling Katie, that if Katie rats she will kill herself and both of them will go straight to hell, as suicide is a huge mortal as compared to venial sin.
Katie does not tell and Brendan actually does come by himself on his bike at night. He opens the door and then shuts it again, nervously jiggling the key, waiting for Bernadette to come. She has to break out of the dorm, they are locked in and get down multiple flights of stairs. The convent is huge. Brendan tells himself, that it is madness, what they are doing, and just before Bernadette gets to the door, he changes his mind and locks it.
Through the closed, thick, wooden door Brendan tells Bernadette that he has changed his mind and that he does not even know her name. "Bernadette. My name is Bernadette!" But it is too late. Brendon tells her, that his brother was put in jail for a term of six years for stealing apples from the nuns. What would they do to him if he were caught letting Bernadette out? He says he is sorry but he cannot. Bernadette loses it and starts chipping at the door with an iron bar, all in vain, as the nuns have come and are watching her. She turns toward them, with the bar in her hands, temporarily at a loss for what to do. Though, once captured by the nuns, Bernadette keeps on fighting. She is bloodied as they chop off her hair.
Bernadette, Crispina, Patricia, Margaret, as well as the other girls have to endure a continuous lonely and grueling life at the Magdalene laundry while the nuns rake in the money. Before tea the girls jog, naked, in silence, in front of two of the nuns. The nuns decide which girl has the smallest breasts, the biggest breasts, the biggest bottom and the hairiest pubic region. Crispina is the hairiest and when given this honor directly and verbally by one of the nuns, Crispina begins to cry. The girls gaze at the nuns as if they are executors, which they really rather are. The nun honestly does not seem to understand why Crispina is crying. The nun tells her, "You've won. It's a game."
There are constant hints that the nuns did not begin as total abusive psychos. It is indicative they became this way over time. The girls are born into a culture of sin and guilt. (The Catholic Church ruled and contraception was banned.) A person is either an abuser or victim. There seems little room for anything else. The world is as black and white as the robes and head-dresses of the nuns.
The seasons go by and in the late spring/summer Father Fitzroy, the priest who says mass and hears confession at the convent, is caught enjoying a blow job from the simple Crispina, by Margaret, who stops to tie a shoe and sees them through a window. Margaret tells Crispina, "He is not a man of God." Crispina soaks her nightdress before bed one evening and tries to die of the flu. The ever sweet Margaret takes care of her, but in falling from her illness, Crispina loses her St. Christopher. Margaret promises Crispina she will find the medal. It is Bernadette who has it, as she found it on a table.
Bernadette would have given it back but she decides Crispina is probably not going to make it anyway, and so it is best to just finish her off. So Bernadette keeps the medal. Margaret, spurred on by accusations from Crispina goes through Bernadette's few items and finds the medal. The two, Bernadette and Margaret, get into a fight over it, as the medal is the one real thing Crispina has. Even after receiving the medal Crispina tries to kill herself, by hanging with sheets. Margaret catches her and the girls are able to lower Crispina down in time. Margaret asks Crispina, "Why would you want to kill yourself?"
"Jesus, that's a stupid thing to ask in this place," retorts a watchful Bernadette, who further says she does not know why Margaret is bothering to save Crispina. Each girl reacts differently to being in that place. Bernadette is aggressive and realistic to the point where she becomes a bully herself. Margaret is aggressively protective and sweet, which is why she butts heads with Bernadette. Patricia is helpful and caring wherever she can be. Crispina seems to know her odds and is losing it. Una goes from escapee to nun to be, and the system carries on.
Margaret is eventually rescued by her brother. Bernadette realizes that unless she gets out, she will become just as abusive as the nuns. The tolerant girl who got her hair brushed at the orphanage is disappearing. Bernadette breaks free with Patricia's help.
Patricia does find her son, 33 years after he was taken from her. Bernadette becomes a hairdresser. Crispina is the only one who did not make it, to have her own life. Her real name was Harriet, and after being placed in an insane asylum, she died of anorexia at the age of 24.
And so, I have not relayed all the scenes in exact order, but give much of a thorough and accurate portrayal of the film as is fitting. And of the women who saw the film, the remaining Magdalene laundry survivors, according to reports online, said the reality was far worse. "Tragically, it seems that there may indeed be truth to these charges. While The Magdalene Sisters is a work of fiction, the abuses it depicts are allegedly based on credible survivor accounts of life in the Magdalene institutions, which are said to have taken in as many as 30,000 women between their inception in the 1880s and their final closing in 1996. In fact, there are reports that, according to some survivors, the abuses depicted in The Magdalene Sisters actually fall short of the worst that really happened, and the director himself has commented that he refrained from recreating the most terrible reported incidents for fear of overwhelming and alienating the audience." -Steven D. Greydanus
The director, Mullen, is reported to have been inspired to create the film after watching, Sex in a Cold Climate, a documentary depicting the conditions within the walls of such places. (And please; let this writing not be a reflection of nuns as a whole. Almost every nun I have known has been incredibly sweet and sincere. I was raised as Roman Catholic). It is more a revelation of the abuses that come when any given group has absolute power within the bounds of a confined world.
By Sarah Bahl