Dawn Pisturino's Blog

My Writing Journey

Child Observation Notes: “Caitlin I”

(Photo by Vitolda Klein, Unsplash)

The assignment for my children’s literature writing class was to find a child that I did not personally know, observe the child, and to take notes. Trying not to look like some kind of pervert, I sat in the children’s section at Barnes & Noble, chose a little girl who was about 12 years old, and took notes on her appearance, body language, behavior, interactions with others, and anything else that seemed important.

Child Observation Notes

by Dawn Pisturino

There was nothing extraordinary about the young girl sitting on the carpeted floor with her knees bent, an open storybook in her lap. She looked like a typical American teenage girl with her slinky blond hair swept back into a high ponytail, a short-sleeved green tee clinging tightly to small, firm breasts, and white sneakers protruding from the legs of crisp blue jeans.

A small boy with sandy hair who looked about three years old sat on the floor to her right, eagerly listening to the story she was reading. A girl about five years old with light brown curls stood impatiently to her left, energetically bouncing up and down with one finger in her mouth as the girl turned the pages of the book.

The girl, who could have been named Caitlin, smiled brightly as she read to her younger brother and sister. An aura of simple goodness radiated like the points of a shiny white star from her smooth, unblemished face. Her small, impish nose wrinkled up with laughter, and her hazel eyes sparkled with mischief as she pointed her finger at a silly picture. She held up the book so both siblings could get a clearer view.

When the younger boy and girl grew tired of the book, they scampered off. Their mother turned from her conversation with the sales clerk and said something sharp, but Caitlin answered lightly, ” Don’t worry, I’ll take care of them. Nothing will happen.” She followed them around the colorful racks of children’s books, unhurried and untroubled, showing no signs of resentment or frustration at being held responsible for her younger brother and sister.

She was slim and light on her feet, her posture fully erect. She could have been a young dancer or gymnast. With graceful movements, she picked up her younger brother and whirled him around in the air, making him squeal with delight, while his curly-headed sister danced around and begged for a turn.

It was a touching glimpse of family bonding and a rare reminder that happy families do, indeed, exist.

~

The next part of the assignment was to write a short story based on this profile, which I will present in the next post.

Thanks for reading! Writing for children can be fun and rewarding.

Dawn Pisturino

July 8, 2008; May 5, 2022

Copyright 2008-2022 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

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Rebel Without a Cause: Juvenile Delinquency

ATTENTION: SPOILER ALERT!

       After World War II, Hollywood struggled to re-define itself.  Box office revenues stagnated, and Hollywood needed new markets to keep going.  The teenage market was an obvious choice.

       Post-war prosperity in the 1950s made it possible for the middle-class to own houses, cars, and the latest work-saving appliances on a widespread scale.  After the fear and deprivation of the war years, Americans wanted to enjoy their new-found prosperity.  Television invaded American homes, bringing new entertainment and exposure to the latest products.  The consumer economy had begun.

       Teenagers had unprecedented pocket money and leisure time.  While their parents climbed the social ladder and hung out with friends at the country club, teenagers necked in the back seats of cars and danced to the latest rock and roll tunes. Hollywood targeted teens to become the new movie-going generation (Lewis, 250, 255).

       The upbeat world of the 1950s cringed under the shadow of nuclear war and an increasingly aggressive Soviet Union.  Beatniks mourned the impending death of humanity in coffee houses and cafes.  The McCarthy years dragged on, and the fear of Communism ran rampant throughout the country.  At the same time, a new kind of socially-conscious movie was being made to highlight problems in American society (Lewis, 228).  Juvenile delinquency became a hot topic.

       Nicholas Ray’s 1955 movie, Rebel Without a Cause, explores the alienation and delinquency of “upper-middle-class white suburban teenagers” (Lewis, 253).  The movie was filmed using Cinemascope widescreen technology and Warnercolor.  Starring James Dean, Sal Mineo, and Natalie Wood, this tense melodrama was meant to serve as a wake-up call to parents: take care of your children, or they will go down the wrong path (Lewis, 253).

       When the movie opens, it is Easter in Los Angeles, California, 1955.  Jim Stark (James Dean) is lying on the pavement, drunk, playing with a mechanical monkey.  It is a poignant scene that shows a lost character who is torn between childhood and adulthood.

       Jim Stark is hauled off to jail and becomes aware of John/Plato (Sal Mineo) and Judy (Natalie Wood).  The three troubled teens are required to speak to the juvenile officer, who tries to understand them.

       Judy cries about her father, who pushed her away when she reached puberty, and complains that she feels unloved by him.  She craves his attention, runs out of the house, and wanders around alone after dark when they get into a conflict over wearing make-up and grown up clothes.  Judy is trying to grow up, but growing up means losing closeness with her father (fear of incest).  She cannot understand why he is pushing her away because nobody has talked to her about it.  Her anger and despair lead her to hang out with the tough high school gang, The Wheels, and the gang’s leader, Buzz.

       John/Plato is an abandoned and neglected rich boy whose black maid is paid to raise him.  It is his birthday, and he is angry because his parents are divorced, his father is not involved in his life, and his mother stays away on vacation.  He has been picked up for shooting some puppies, a deviant behavior that is considered nowadays to be a precursor for sociopathic/psychopathic serial killers (Siegel, 353).  Although his black maid appears to sincerely care for him, calling him “her boy,” she is powerless to help him.  John/Plato appears to be emotionally unstable, starved for love, rejected by his peers, vulnerable and gullible, and physically and emotionally immature. 

       While waiting to see the juvenile officer, Jim Stark annoys the other police officers by wailing like a police siren, making obnoxious comments, and exhibiting a negative, sarcastic attitude.  In one scene, a deep-focus camera shot captures the three troubled teens through windows: Judy sitting in the office with the juvenile officer; John/Plato waiting in the office next door; and Jim sitting on a chair in the background.  The viewer understands that these three troubled teens will eventually get together, connected by their common suffering and antisocial behavior.

       Jim’s mother and father show up at the police station wearing a mink coat and a tuxedo.  They have been at a party at the country club.  Jim’s father laughs and minimizes his son’s drinking.  After all, the family has just moved to Los Angeles, and Jim has not made any friends yet.  The parents bicker, blaming one another; and Jim’s father says to him, “Don’t I buy you everything you want?”  Jim covers his ears and cries at his parents, “You’re tearing me apart!”

       Jim loses control, punches the juvenile officer, and bangs on the desk.  He is in danger of going to juvenile hall.  His parents admit that they have been moving frequently because of Jim’s behavior in order to protect him and their own reputations.  It becomes clear that Jim’s father is weak and cowardly.  His mother is a nag.

       On the first day of school, Jim is bullied for being the new kid.  He tries to befriend Judy, but she smokes cigarettes and hangs out with the tough crowd.  John/Plato looks up to Jim and tags along behind him, calling him “my best friend.”  During the field trip at the Griffith Observatory, the teens are exposed to a presentation about the universe and a nihilistic commentary about the insignificance of earth and human beings.  Jim and John/Plato can both identify with this.

       Jim gets into a knife fight with Buzz, the leader of The Wheels.  At the end of the fight, they agree to compete in a “chickie run.”  Jim doesn’t know what this is, but he agrees to do it as a matter of honor.  When he consults his father, his father cannot give him any worthwhile advice.    Later that night, Buzz is killed when his jacket gets caught on the door, and he is unable to escape from the car.  His car goes over a cliff, and all the members of the gang take off.  Jim confesses to his parents what happened.  His mother wants to move.  His father tells him to keep quiet.

       Jim wants to do the right thing and confess to the police.  The police ignore him and tell him to go home.  Gang members think he has squealed and go after him.  A live chicken is hung up over the door of Jim’s house, scaring his parents.  Jim and Judy hide out in an abandoned mansion.  Parallel to this, the gang attacks John/Plato, and his black maid chases them off.  In his mother’s room, he finds a child support check from his father, gets angry, grabs his mother’s gun, and takes off for the abandoned mansion.

       At the mansion, the three teens pretend that they are a nuclear family, bemoan the presence of troublesome children (they should be drowned), and isolate themselves from reality.  After John/Plato falls asleep, Judy and Jim go off by themselves.  The gang shows up, and John/Plato goes nuts when he finds out that Jim and Judy have left him alone.  He shoots one of the gang members.  The police show up.  John/Plato runs off to the nearby Griffith Observatory, and he shoots at the police.  Jim and Judy get into the Observatory, take the bullets out of the gun, and escort John/Plato out of the Observatory.  John/Plato does not realize the gun is empty and points it at the police.  The police shoot and kill him.

       At the end, Jim breaks down and cries “Help me!”  His father finds renewed strength and courage and promises to be there for him, no matter what happens.  Jim’s mother finds new respect for her husband.  The family is saved.

       The importance of a strong family and good communication are highlighted throughout the movie.  No matter how much wealth a family has, wealth cannot give a child what it needs to be happy, secure, and well-grounded.  Parents are responsible for raising good citizens who contribute to society.  Nicholas Ray sent this message loud and clear when he made Rebel Without a Cause. 

Dawn Pisturino

Thomas Edison State University

February 13, 2018

Copyright 2018-2022 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

Works Cited

Lewis, Jon. American Cinema: A History. New York: Norton, 2008.

Ray, Nicholas, Dir. Rebel Without a Cause. Perf. James Dean. Warner Bros., 1955.

Siegel, Larry J. Criminology. Belmont: Wadsworth, 2012.

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Film Noir: The Maltese Falcon

ATTENTION: SPOILER ALERT!

John Huston’s 1941 movie, The Maltese Falcon, is a film noir that borders on dark comedy. The opening music is melodramatic, dark, and foreboding. The story takes place in San Francisco, a romantic city with a wild and shady past. The movie is appropriately filmed in black and white, using chiaroscuro contrasts of deep shadows and bright light.

An attractive and distraught woman, Miss Wanderly (Mary Astor), seeks the help of hard-boiled and pessimistic Sam Spade (Humphrey Bogart) and his partner, Miles Archer, in finding her sister. This sister allegedly ran away from New York with a sinister man named Floyd Thursby.

Spade and Archer agree to help, and not long after, Archer is gunned down in the fog and the dark.

(Archer gets gunned down)

Two detectives visit Spade and question him.  In this scene, the lighting causes the brims of their hats to cast shadows over their eyes, making the detectives appear dark, tough, suspicious, and corrupt. They imply that Spade (his name reflects darkness and corruption) has a shady past and they want to put him away. (“Spade” could also symbolize digging up the truth.) Spade’s face is in bright light as he defends his innocence.

(Spade and the two detectives)

Spade does not show any emotion over his partner’s death, and this makes him appear unfeeling, cold, and possibly, guilty. Soon after, Thursby is also shot down. This reinforces the detectives’ suspicions that Spade has something to do with the two murders. It would be natural for him to avenge his partner’s death, and the two detectives empathize with him.

We soon discover that Spade has been having an affair with Archer’s wife. She is far more glamorous than Miss Wanderly. Spade rejects her, especially when she accuses him of murdering her husband. This puts even more doubt in the mind of the viewer. Did Spade do it?

(Photo of Spade and Mrs. Archer)

Spade forces Miss Wanderly (Mary Astor) to confess her real name – which is Bridget – and the real story. (Who knows what’s real and not real or who’s lying and not lying?) She uses her sex appeal and plays the helpless victim, saying, “Can’t you shield me so I don’t have to answer their questions?”

(Spade and Bridget Wanderly)

Throughout the movie, Sam Spade keeps his back to the wall, implying paranoia and danger. He stays alert and pays attention. He is familiar with crooks and the underworld of crime. He expects people to lie and cheat.

Mr. Cairo (Peter Lorre), a short, well-dressed dandy with an exotic accent, approaches Spade and asks for his help in recovering a statuette of a black bird. He claims to know about Archer and Thursby and offers Spade $5,000.00. Spade knocks him out and searches him after Cairo pulls a gun on him. Cairo gets back his gun and holds Spade at gunpoint while he searches his office.

Spade laughs at Cairo (as he does at everyone throughout the movie). When he is free again, he discovers that he is being followed by “the boy.” He dodges him and goes to Bridget’s apartment. There, he tells her to knock off “the school girl manner.” She admits that she’s a very bad girl who’s done a lot of very bad things. Spade kisses her, playing along with her, and finds out that she knows Cairo. But she claims to be afraid of him and needs Spade’s help. They go to Spade’s apartment, and Archer’s wife sees them outside. They wait for Cairo, knowing that “the boy” is watching the apartment. The tension builds.

Throughout the movie, Spade laughs at all of them and tries to stay one step ahead of everybody. He is always bluffing, like an expert poker player, and taking chances. He plays one side against the other in order to dig up the truth and protect himself. Everybody is guilty of something, and nobody can be trusted. Every character – including Spade – is shady, pessimistic, comical, and greedy.

When Cairo comes to Spade’s apartment, it comes out that Floyd Thursby was working for the “Fat Man” (Sydney Greenstreet). A fight ensues. Bridget slaps Cairo (exerting her dominance) and Cairo pulls out his gun. Spade intervenes, saying, “When you’re slapped, you’ll take it and like it.” (Cairo looks weak and defenseless in comparison to Bridget and Spade). The detectives show up and accuse Spade of killing Archer over his wife.

(Bridget slaps Mr. Cairo)

Bridget and Cairo continue to fight, and Cairo cries for help (the emasculated man). Bridget kicks him in front of the cops, and they get hauled off for questioning. 

Throughout the movie, Bridget flirts with Spade, trying to manipulate and distract him. He plays along with her, even letting her tell him she loves him. He finds out that Bridget and Floyd were paid to help Cairo and the “Fat Man,” but Floyd betrayed her. Spade later discovers that “the boy” is also working for the “Fat Man.”

When Spade finally meets the “Fat Man,” he discovers the history behind the black bird (stirring up greed and fantasies of great wealth). The “Fat Man” knows what it is (the Maltese Falcon), and Spade claims to know where it is. It is a cat-and-mouse game. The “Fat Man” and Cairo are not professional criminals, but they are driven by greed. The “Fat Man” slips Spade a Mickey Finn (to knock him out). Cairo searches Spade’s apartment. When Spade wakes up, he searches the “Fat Man’s” apartment.

Later on, Spade tells his loyal and adoring secretary about the black bird. A man stumbles into his office with a package and drops dead. He is Captain Jacoby, Master of the ship, La Paloma, which has just arrived from Hong Kong (in keeping with San Francisco history and the romantic history of the bird). Spade hides the bird and drives down to Burlingame after dark. (I used to live in Burlingame, which is on the San Francisco Peninsula, so I always get tickled by this part of the movie). He meets with the “Fat Man,” Cairo, Bridget, and “the boy.”

Spade’s secretary brings him the bird. Spade laughs maniacally and watches, transfixed, as the bird is unwrapped and the “Fat Man” tries to scrape off the black coating from the statue. The bird is a fake. Cairo turns on the “Fat Man”, but the “Fat Man” laughs like a little boy and persuades him to go to Istanbul with him.

(Spade, Mr. Cairo, Bridget Wanderly, the Fat Man)

Spade calls the police about the crooks and confronts Bridget. She is the one who shot Archer. Spade gives her up to the police, saying, “You’re taking the fall.” She cries and accuses him of not caring for her. He tells her that when your partner is killed, you’re supposed to do something about it. With a maniacal look on his face, he says, “I’m as crooked as I’m supposed to be.”

Spade kisses Bridget and turns her over to the cops. They get onto the elevator with her. When the elevator gate closes, it looks just like prison bars.

(Bridget Wanderly going to jail)

In the end, Spade picks up the Maltese Falcon, calling it “the stuff that dreams are made of.” He got his revenge for his partner’s death, who died over a lead bird—a stupid, worthless piece of junk.

Dawn Pisturino

Thomas Edison State University

January 15, 2018

Copyright 2018-2022 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

Works Cited

Huston, John, Dir. The Maltese Falcon. Perf. Humphrey Bogart. Warner Bros., 1941.

Lewis, Jon. American Cinema: A History. New York: Norton, 2008.

28 Comments »

God is Great – a Short Story

Pixabay/WEBSI

(NOTE: Fear and misunderstanding occur any time two cultures come together and clash. I tried to show that in this short story. No offense was intended to any culture or religion.)

~

The sand was blowing so hard against the windshield, he could barely see where he was going. Catching a glimpse of white at the side of the road, he cautiously turned the SUV onto the rough, sand-blown driveway of a small combination gas station and convenience store. He parked in front of the store, uncomfortably aware of the bright neon beer signs in the window. Turning off the engine, he leaned back in the seat, listening to the howling wind as the vehicle rocked gently back and forth.

“Well, that’s it,” he said quietly, looking anxiously at his wife. “We’ll have to wait out the storm. Insh’allah – God willing – it will pass quickly.” He reached over and squeezed her hand reassuringly.

She gave him a forced smile, her beautiful dark eyes marred with worry. The baby stirred in the infant seat behind her and began to cry.

“He’s hungry,” she said, unbuckled her seat belt, and turned around to check on the fussy infant. “He needs to be changed.”

The other child in the back seat, a boy of five with sleepy black eyes and a mop of thick black hair, leaned dully against the window, thumb in mouth, unmindful of the blowing hot sand. The woman placed a hand on his forehead.

“He’s still hot,” she said to her husband.

“He needs medicine,” he answered, looking at his watch. “Let’s go inside. We’ll take care of the children in there. It’s already 1:00. We can spread our prayer rugs on the floor and give thanks to Allah for guiding us to this place.”

His wife nodded obediently and pulled her black dupatta closer around her face.

* * *

“Hey, Roy, look at that!”

Blanche Carter suddenly perked up behind the cash register and nodded her permed gray head in the direction of the front door. The beer-belly cowboy leaning lazily against the counter lifted the brim of his black cowboy hat and turned to look.

“What the heck!” he exclaimed, rising to his full six feet.

“Roy,” the cashier said in a low voice. “Do you still have that gun on ya?”

He peeled back the left side of his black leather vest to show her a stiff leather gun holster nestled under his armpit. With his right hand, he unsnapped the top, giving him free access to the small handgun, if the need arose.

“Don’t worry, Blanche,” he grinned. “You’e safe with me.”

“Thank God,” she said gratefully.

They watched intently as a little man with dark skin and hair wrestled with the heavy glass door, making the cowbells hanging from the handle clang furiously. Behind him, the wind tore fiercely at a small woman draped head-to-toe in black. The man held the door open against the wind, and the woman stumbled inside, her black robes flapping, her face nearly invisible in the black folds. A loud wailing competed with the howling wind, and the woman threw back her complicated drapery to reveal an infant carrier heavily swathed with blankets, a blue diaper bag slung over one shoulder, and a small boy clinging desperately to her skirts.

Blanche narrowed her eyes at the spectacle, clenching her jaw and fists. Resisting the urge to spit on the floor, she glared at the woman angrily, feeling a thick wall of resistance rise between them.

As the dark little man cautiously approached the counter, she saw that he carried what looked like a bundle of rugs under one arm and a wicker picnic basket under the other.

“Good day, ma’am . . . sir . . .” he said politely, bowing his head, fear betrayed in his large dark eyes. “If you please, I need some liquid medicine for my son.”

Blanche waited silently for Roy to respond. She was aware that he shifted his weight slightly to create a solid barrier between her and the timid little man. A large American flag was embroidered on the back of his vest, the familiar image giving her hope and comfort. Roy was a proud American, even if he did whore around and drink too much, and he would handle the situation the way he saw fit.

“Over there,” Roy said gruffly, waving his hand to the right.

“Thank you, sir,” the little man said. “I am most grateful. Alhamdu lillah – praise be to God – for your kindness.”

Roy said nothing. But Blanche saw his body stiffen and the whiteness of his big, flabby hands as they curled tightly into fists.

Blanche wanted to scream, Get your stuff and get out! But she was afraid they would complain to the owner of the store, and she would lose her job. It was the only job available for miles around, and she couldn’t afford to lose it. Most of the desert rats around there who bothered to work a steady job commuted to Phoenix. But Blanche was too old and tired to make that long, hot journey every day. She bit her lip and glared, feeling hostile and afraid.

But it don’t make it right, she fumed bitterly. These furriners come to this here country takin’ good jobs away from law-abidin’ Americans — and we jes’ have to put up with it! The government don’t do nothin’. The country’s goin’ down the tubes anyway. That money-grubbin’ TV evangelist, Graham Robertson, is right — the end times are here, and Jesus is comin’! Won’t that be a blast! He’ll give these heathens a run fer their money. Praise be to God! Ain’t He great?

A picture of global disaster — vividly described in the Book of Revelations — filled her limited imagination. She clearly saw the destruction of the world, the cries of the damned, the end of Israel and the Middle East. But what did she care? She attended services every Sunday at Reverend Boyd’s home (there wasn’t enough money in the collection plate to build a church), fervently believed in Jesus as the true Savior of the world, and diligently read her Bible every day. She was one of The Saved!

When the Rapture comes, she thought with satisfaction, I’ll be carried up to Heaven on the wings of a dove with all the rest of The Elect. I won’t even be here when Armageddon comes! Lord Jesus, do your stuff!

She cackled suddenly with glee. “Hey, Roy, lighten up a little and show the man where the medicine is.”

Roy turned and glared at her. What the heck? his eyes said.

Blanche smiled and shrugged her shoulders. “It’s good customer service.”

  • * * *

Ayesha looked at the big fat man with the black cowboy hat, faded blue jeans, and pointed cowboy boots and trembled with fear. This man is dangerous, she thought. Please, Allah, protect us from harm!

She felt the intense hostility emanating like a deadly radiation from the wrinkled up, gray-haired old woman behind the cash register, but she had felt that before from similar women in other parts of Arizona. She knew it originated from fear, and she expected it.

But the man was something different. He looked at her husband with hard, dark eyes — pig eyes, she thought — and he was so big! He dwarfed her husband, making Mahmood appear small and helpless. A terrible sense of foreboding seized her. They were so alone and vulnerable in this desolate pig-sty of a town. Was there even a town? Or was this all?

She wished they had never come on this trip. They could’ve spent the weekend at home, safe, sound, and secure. But Mahmood was feeling restless after being on call all week at the hospital and wanted to get away for the weekend. Let’s do something fun, he had pleaded, convincing her with boyish black eyes lit up with excitement. He worked so hard and was such a good provider, she couldn’t turn him down. So they had booked a room at a fancy hotel and spa in Phoenix and started out early in the morning.

The wind was blowing even then, but not like now! The last few miles had been torture, Mahmood driving at a snail’s pace, trying desperately to follow the broken yellow lines in the center of the road and the solid white line at the edge. They had stopped several times along the way and waited for the hot, sandy wind to abate. But it only seemed to grow worse.

Ayesha was afraid, but she kept her feelings to herself. The baby had slept most of the way, and five-year-old Akbar, who was usually so energetic, seemed to droop in the back seat. She finally realized that he was sick. He looked at her with glazed eyes, oblivious to the fearful wind, and finally fell asleep with his chin hanging down on his chest. When she touched his forehead with her hand, it felt hot and damp. The poor boy was sweating despite the air conditioning inside the SUV. Ayesha was worried.

The big fat cowboy moved now, scowling as he showed Mahmood the display of cold medicines, allergy tablets, boxes of generic headache pills, and bottles of liquid medicine. Mahmood chose the appropriate bottle, thanked the big fat man, and headed for the counter.

Ayesha relaxed a little when the old woman smiled at Mahmood and cheerfully rang up the purchase. She spied the restroom sign on the wall and carried the infant into the women’s bathroom, her older son trailing close behind.

  • * * *

Roy stroked the rough stubble on his chin and shook his head in disbelief. What the heck has gotten into Blanche? He knew she resented these foreign intruders as much as he did. But suddenly, she had decided to be POLITE and SERVE them! Was she just afraid? Hadn’t he reassured her that he would handle any trouble that came up? Obviously, she didn’t believe him. Did she think he was just another ordinary American kow-towing to these vermin who were infesting his beloved country while the government stood by and did nothing? He would show her, alright! He might be the last of a dying breed, but he would go down fighting — just like his brother did in Desert Storm.

He had been mighty proud of his brother Eddie for joining the Army and going off to the Gulf to kick Saddam Hussein’s rotten behind. He had even been proud when his brother came home in a body bag. After all, he had died bravely in battle and would receive a Purple Heart. Roy’s heart had nearly bust wide open in his chest, he was so proud. But when President Bush Senior had pulled back the troops and ended the war before finishing their God-given job to destroy that monster Saddam Hussein, he had raged with fury, going so far as to beat his wife Gladys black and blue. She had left him not long after that, fearing for her life, and he had raged even more, going on a drunken spree that lasted two weeks.

When he woke up finally in a detox unit in Phoenix, he had vowed not only to straighten himself out, temporarily, but to hate the American government that had betrayed his brother and all the other soldiers who had given their lives in the Gulf War.

After his release from the detox unit, Roy contacted all his neighbors and formed The People’s Militia. They erected a rustic shooting range in the isolated wash way back in the hills, where they met every Saturday morning for target practice. Beneath the floorboards of an abandoned barn, they constructed an underground bunker, where they were slowly gathering quite a stockpile of water, food, explosives, firearms, and ammunition. He had learned how to do this from some Mormons down in Showlow, who were preparing for the end of the world. But Roy and his gang had already agreed to begin their own reign of terror if the government didn’t get its act together. They would call themselves the Warriors of Allah and blame their crimes on the large Arab population in Phoenix. The whole idea had belonged to Jed Turlock. Now who would have thought that a grizzly old man like Jed could come up with such a brilliant idea?

  • * * *

Mahmood spread the small woolen prayer rugs, bearing woven images of the Ka’ba in Mecca, onto the hard linoleum floor in front of the cooler containing gallon jugs of milk, quart bottles of orange juice, boxes of butter, and packages of cheese. He hurried to the men’s restroom to perform the ritual ablutions, which involved purifying various parts of the body with water, then returned to wait for his wife to finish breast-feeding the baby and toileting the eldest boy, Akbar. He removed his shoes and knelt down on a prayer rug to give thanks to God.

His wife Ayesha presently returned with the children. The baby was quiet now, and she placed the infant carrier on the floor in front of a prayer rug, where she could keep a watchful eye. She measured out a dose of liquid medicine into the small plastic cup attached to the top of the medicine bottle, managed to get it into the elder boy, removed his shoes, and encouraged him to lie down on one of the rugs to take a nap. Then she removed her own simple shoes and stood quietly, waiting for her husband to begin the prayers.

He stood up and cupped both hands behind his ears, crying, “Allahu Akbar!” (God is Great!) Then, crossing his arms across his chest, he proceeded to chant, the sacred Arabic words rolling with melodic harmony out of his mouth. His wife mimicked his motions but remained silent.

Bismillah-i-Rahman-ir-Raheem.” (In the name of God, the Benevolent, the Merciful.)

Alhamdu-lillah-i-Rabbil’aalameen-ar-Rahman-ir-Rahim . . .” (Praise be to God, Lord of the Universe, the Benevolent, the Merciful . . .)

  • * * *

Blanche couldn’t believe her ears. Horrified by the sounds of heathens performing pagan prayers on Christian territory, she motioned to Roy to sneak around to the back of the store and stand guard at the end of the aisle. Fascinated by this strange turn of events, she adjusted the security camera so that it pointed directly down on the devout couple. She wanted to act as witness against their treacherous performance and capture them on tape.

Qul hu-Allahu Ahad, Allahu-Samad . . .” (Say: He is Allah, the One — Allah, the eternal . . .) The dark little man chanted loudly and earnestly with poetic rhythm, pouring his heart out to heaven.

Blanche was about to spew out her indignation when the musical chanting seemed to capture her soul, calming her turbulent spirits. She kept her eyes glued to the video monitor, listening intently, not understanding the ancient Arabic words, but responding to their holy sound, mesmerized by the rhythmic chant.

  • * * *

What kind of voodoo is this, Roy muttered silently to himself as he followed Blanche’s prompting and strode quietly to the rear of the store. He mentally stuffed his ears with cotton, refusing to listen to the foreign mumbo jumbo. After all, who knew what hexes and curses these people could place on him and Blanche? Everybody knew they had spread their religion across Asia and parts of Europe with the sword. Maybe now, with Saddam Hussein dead and Osama bin Laden on the run, they were resorting to witchcraft. Anything was possible, right?

He planted himself in the center of the aisle and watched from behind as the man and woman bent forward at the waist, placing their hands on their knees.

Subhana Rabbiyal-Azeem!” (How glorious is God, the Great!)

Roy sucked in his breath as reverently, deliberately, the man and woman continued their prayers, then fell humbly to their knees and prostrated themselves across their prayer rugs, their heads touching the ground.

Subhana Rabbiyal-a’la.” (All glory be to God, the Most High.)

Roy’s muscles tensed, and his stomach twisted, making him want to puke. He felt the waves of bitter anger rise up into his throat. He covered his ears with his hands, squeezed his eyes shut, and silently pleaded, Please, God, make it stop!

Then he turned to Blanche and hissed, “Make them stop, Blanche, make them stop!” But she only ignored him, spellbound, her eyes glued to the video monitor, her face shining, her eyes serene and far away.

They’ve got Blanche, he thought frantically. He took a step forward and shouted, “Stop!” But they only ignored him and began the sequence of prayer all over again.

Allahu Akbar!

Once more, Roy covered his ears with his hands, the fear and anxiety growing steadily inside him, making his heart race and his head pound. He saw his brother’s face in his mind, heard his voice in his ears, remembered the casket draped with an American flag lowered into the ground.

He died for his country, his mother said softly, wiping away the tears from her eyes. He was so brave!

He died for nothing! Roy shouted inside. Here’s the proof!

Qul a’oothoo bi rabbin nas . . .” (Say: I seek refuge in the Sustainer of Mankind . . .)

Roy thought of his brother rotting in the grave, a formless mass of flesh and bones, gone forever — and the family he had left behind. His beautiful, faithful wife, who had cried on Roy’s shoulder at the funeral. The pretty little girl with blonde pigtails who had grown up bitter and destroyed herself with drugs. The baby boy raised without a father who had run off to San Francisco at the age of sixteen, declaring himself gay.

Allahu Akbar!

More bowing at the waist. Roy slipped his right hand inside his vest and fingered the smooth end of the handgun under his arm. This is my country, he silently declared. And my God is the only god.

The man and his wife were kneeling again, ready to fall forward on the ground. Slowly, ever so slowly, Roy drew the shiny handgun from its holster and pointed it at the dark-skinned little man lying prostrate on the ground. As the man raised himself again to a kneeling position, Roy aimed the pistol at the back of the little man’s head.

Allahu Akbar!”

With a steady hand, Roy concentrated hard and slowly began to squeeze the trigger. But suddenly, clang! The cowbells hanging on the front door began to loudly ring as the heavy glass door burst open and the local sheriff came through the door.

“Thank God that wind has stopped,” he exclaimed, brushing the sand from his uniform. “Blanche! Where the heck are you?”

Assalamu ‘alaikum wa rahmatu’ allah.” (The peace and mercy of Allah be upon you.)

Startled, Roy lowered the gun and shoved it quickly back into its holster. He saw Blanche shake her head, wake up from her reverie, and tear herself away from the video monitor.

“Did you say the storm was over?” she asked blankly.

“See for yourself,” the sheriff said. “How about filling up my thermos with hot coffee?”

“Right away.”

Roy headed for the men’s restroom, his hands shaking, his legs weak and wobbly. My God, he thought in horror, nearly wetting his pants. My God, my God, what was I about to do?

  • * * *

Insh’allah, the storm is over,” Mahmood said with relief, rolling up his prayer rug.

“I’m so happy!” Ayesha said, giving him a big grin. She roused the older boy from his nap and felt his forehead. It was cool and dry. “Everything will be okay now. Allahu Akbar!

Dawn Pisturino

October 31, 2007

Copyright 2007-2022 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

15 Comments »

Jurassic Park: The Movie

Photo: Universal Pictures

(Attention! Spoiler Alert!)

Steven Spielberg’s 1993 science fiction thriller, Jurassic Park, tells a linear story using continuity editing. The movie explores the ethics of scientific manipulation of nature and introduces the concept of chaos theory. The editing, done by Michael Kahn, is seamless and flawless. There are no superfluous scenes. Each scene is designed to support the story and the theme of the movie. The pacing of the movie keeps the tension building to the climax. The editor relays the story “clearly, efficiently, and coherently” (Barsam and Monahan), leaving no doubt or confusion in the mind of the viewer. Based on the book by Michael Crichton, the camera moves smoothly back and forth between situations and scenes (parallel editing), just like a book. The opening music, written by John Williams, is ominous and primitive, implying that the viewer is entering untamed territory.

The opening scene (the master scene) shows the expert hunter standing grimly by with his gun as workers unload a metal crate. This is on the Isla Nubar, 120 miles off the coast of Costa Rica. An accident occurs, and a worker is killed when the creature inside the crate is released and grabs the worker’s leg. The viewer never sees the creature. Its presence is inferred by the creature’s movements and vocalizations, the intense and horrified expressions on the people’s faces, and the scene where the injured worker is pulled from the grip of the expert hunter. The viewer understands that something predatory and dangerous was in that crate.

A “blood-sucking” lawyer (reflecting blood-sucking mosquitoes), arrives at the amber mine at Manos de Dios (hands of God) in the Dominican Republic. There is a lawsuit now against the project. A scientist (a “digger”) views a piece of amber that was just found, containing a mosquito. From his facial expression, the viewer understands that this is a rare and valuable find.

In the Badlands near Snakewater, Montana, Drs. Allen Grant and Ellie Sadler are working hard and painstakingly on a dinosaur dig. Dr. Grant is skeptical of new technology. He dislikes kids. Dr. Sadler is more flexible and is trying hard to convince him to have children with her. The scene with the fat kid is hilarious. The camera perfectly captures the changed expressions on his face. Dr. Grant shows that he has a sense of humor.

After John Hammond, the wealthy entrepreneur, arrives and convinces the pair to go to Costa Rica with him to view his “biological preserve,” the scene cuts to San Jose, Costa Rica. We see a sweating fat man (Wayne Knight of Seinfeld fame) at a café, meeting with a suspicious-acting man. It is clear that something criminal is going on. The man offers the fat man a lot of money in exchange for some “viable embryos.” The viewer does not yet know how this scene is related to the other scenes, but his imagination is captured, and he wants to know what’s going to happen next. The director is slowly laying the groundwork for the plot of the story.

In the helicopter, Dr. Grant (a paleontologist) and Dr. Sadler (a paleontological botanist) meet Dr. Ian Malcom, a theoretical mathematician who calls himself a “chaotician.” John Hammond is not impressed with his “rock star” personality. The other doctors have not heard of chaos theory. Malcolm flirts relentlessly with Dr. Sadler.

When the helicopter reaches the island, the camera reveals a lush, tropical paradise. The music becomes uplifting and upbeat, inspiring feelings of expectation and hope. There is a promise of adventure.

As the travelers are transported in a Jeep to the main center of the island, they witness huge electrical fences equipped with 10,000 volts, moats, and large concrete walls, which are meant for the “stability of the island.” If it’s just a “biological preserve,” why do they need all of this heavy-duty protection?

The Jeep stops at a truly beautiful and peaceful pastoral scene. The camera dollies in for a close-up of Dr. Grant’s facial expression. He reaches over and grabs Dr. Sadler’s head and turns it. Both of their faces show overwhelming awe, surprise, and excitement. They are looking at a live brachiosaurus! Dr. Malcolm looks awed but concerned. The lawyer gleefully says, “We’re going to make a fortune with this place!”

The camera shows a long shot of a lake with herds of brachiosaurs and other creatures. Dr. Grant is confirmed in his theory that these creatures roamed around in herds. The viewer is also overwhelmed with awe and admiration. There is no doubt that this is a splendid park that everyone will want to visit!

At the visitor center, the doctors watch a video presentation about the “miracle of cloning.” The viewer needs this information to understand the plot and the theme of the movie. Scientists in the film extracted “Dino DNA” from mosquitoes trapped in amber, but the DNA is incomplete and filled in with DNA from frogs. (The DNA, therefore, is corrupted, or mutated.)

Throughout this segment, the doctors are so excited, they break all the rules, and John Hammond cannot control them (a foreshadowing of things to come.) Overhead, we hear the announcement that the boat for the mainland will leave soon. At the same time, the doctors are witnessing a dinosaur hatching from its shell (the miracle of life.) These dinosaurs are impure, altered, corrupted, and laboratory bred. While the lab scientist (B.D. Wong) seems completely unconcerned, Dr. Malcolm is calculating in his head all the predictability/unpredictability ratios. The lab scientist reveals that all the animals are female and cannot breed because the chromosomes have been muted (implying perfection and control.) Dr. Malcolm refutes that with an impassioned speech about the history of evolution, the power of life, and the inability to contain it: “Life finds a way.” When Dr. Grant discovers that they bred velociraptors, a close-up of his face shows his mood change from elation to deep concern. Dr. Malcolm’s speech and Dr. Grant’s mood change portend danger and chaos.

The expert hunter confirms their concerns when he says, “They should all be destroyed.” The viewer recognizes him as the man with the gun in the master scene. He explains that these creatures are calculating problem-solvers who are always watching and waiting and testing the fences to get out (a foreshadowing of the future.) The hunter is a realist who has seen these creatures in action.

At lunch, John Hammond goes on and on about the significance and legacy of his theme park, and the lawyer goes on and on about the lucrative investment. Dr. Malcolm is appalled and points out their “lack of humility before nature.” He calls them careless exploiters who did not earn the right to use this technology. As a result, they have no understanding of what they have created and take no responsibility for the results. The theme of the movie is summed up nicely here when he says that the handsomely-paid Jurassic Park scientists were so caught up in “whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think whether or not they should.” And Dr. Grant and Dr. Sadler back him up about the unpredictability of the result (foreshadowing what’s about to happen.)

The chaos elements begin to reveal themselves: the grandchildren arrive, who are knowledgeable city kids but vulnerable in this environment; a tropical storm is imminent; and Dennis, the disloyal fat man, hacks into the computer system in order to implement his nefarious plan.

When the basic tour begins, Dr. Malcolm remarks that the huge gates to the park remind him of King Kong. Richard Kylie narrates information about dilophosaurus, describing it as a deadly creature that spits poison into the eyes of its victim (foreshadowing later events.)

The scene cuts to a conversation between Dennis and John Hammond. Dennis has financial problems, which is why he is willing to sell dinosaur embryos for money, and John Hammond responds that people should pay for their mistakes (foreshadowing future events.) When his plan is in place, Dennis makes a fumbled explanation of going to the vending machines, steals the embryos, and exits the building.

On the tour, the scientists have not seen any dinosaurs except the tame and sick ones. There is an illusion of order and peace. When the storm hits, however, the chaos begins. The park systems begin to shut down, including the cars containing the scientists, the lawyer, and the children.

The best segments in the movie, in my opinion, are the scenes involving the T. Rex and the car. The editing is seamless and flawless. There is no indication anywhere that the T. Rex is not real. The acting is superb, revealing the absolute terror and horror felt by the children. The children come face-to-face with the creature, as indicated by this photo (T. Rex point of view):

As the T. Rex terrorizes the group, every character is suddenly confronted with his own mortality and feelings of powerlessness. There are several shots where the T. Rex and a character come face-to-face and even meet each other at eye level (the eyeline match cut.)

The cowardly lawyer leaves the children alone and gets his comeuppance in a dramatic scene that reveals how powerless humans are compared to these creatures.

The viewer cannot help feeling glad that the lawyer got his just reward because he just wanted to exploit these creatures for profit. The editing here is a marvel of technology because it looks absolutely real, with no obvious separation between the physical scenery and the artificial creature.

When Dennis leaves the park and gets stuck in the mud, he loses his glasses and the shaving cream canister containing the embryos. When he meets the dilophosaurus, he treats it like a dog, calling it stupid, asking it to fetch, and remarking, “No wonder you’re extinct.” He has no respect for the power and danger that have been unleashed. The creature meets him face-to-face in the car, after outwitting him, and kills him. Dennis gets his just reward, and the embryos are lost forever in the mud.

As the characters deal with varying life-threatening situations, Dr. Grant protects and rescues the children, thereby learning that kids are not so bad after all. The characters learn that everybody is necessary in a survival situation, no matter their age or gender. John Hammond realizes that human life is more important than leaving behind a fantastical legacy for the world. Dr. Malcolm is proven right. And the hunter learns that weapons are not enough against a calculating predatory creature that was able to outwit him.

Dawn Pisturino

Thomas Edison State University

January 22, 2018

Copyright 2018-2021 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

Works Cited

Barsam, Richard, and Dave Monahan. Looking at Movies, 5th ed. New York: Norton, 2016.

Spielberg, Steven, Dir. Jurassic Park. Perf. Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, Richard

       Attenborough. Universal, 1993.

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Marilyn Monroe in “Niagara”

** Spoiler Alert **

The 1953 film Niagara, directed by Henry Hathaway, stars Marilyn Monroe, Joseph Cotten, and Jean Peters. The traditional honeymoon site, Niagara Falls, provides the backdrop for murder.

The music accompanying the opening titles is dark, foreboding, and powerful. The first scene of the movie is a wide camera shot that captures the powerful and majestic Niagara Falls, sporting a rainbow (a symbol of hope). The camera shifts to the right, revealing Joseph Cotton walking along the bank of the river. Compared to the falls, he looks small and impotent. He seems unhappy, lost, and alienated. Indeed, he delivers a monologue to the falls, extolling their strength and power, and decrying his own weakness and failure. It’s a strange scene that gives the viewer the impression that his character is mentally unstable and may be contemplating suicide.

This is an example of how the setting, music, character, camera angles, contrasts, and symbols act together to create impressions in the mind of the viewer. Indeed, Niagara is almost Hitchcock-like in its overall design and presentation.

The viewer soon realizes through her actions and body language that Cotten’s wife, Marilyn Monroe, does not love him. She, too, is unhappy. She deliberately does things to rile him up and explode into small episodes of violence. She implies to another honeymooning couple that her husband is mentally unstable and capable of violence and self-harm. She pretends to worry about him whenever he has gone somewhere alone. But this is all a ruse, because she has a lover, and the lover is planning to kill him.

In the colorized version, Marilyn Monroe stands out from the crowd by wearing stylish, colorful clothing. She carries herself as if she is looking for a good time. She is described by her husband as a bar tramp. Although he loves her, he blames her for the loss of everything he ever had. He strongly suspects she has a lover. In fact, he sees her as out-of-control—just like Niagara Falls. But he is too weak and impotent to leave her.

It is hard for the viewer to feel sympathy for either of these characters. Marilyn Monroe is too scheming and conniving. Joseph Cotten is too weak and unstable.

When Joseph Cotten disappears and a body is found in the river, it looks like the two adulterous lovers got away with murder. When the detective takes Marilyn Monroe to the morgue building to identify the corpse, they walk through a dark and forbidding corridor before they come to the body, lying on a gurney in a cold, sterile room. When the detective turns on the light above the body, the truth is revealed. Marilyn Monroe cries out, faints, and ends up in the hospital. The viewer believes the enormity of her crime has struck home. The viewer soon finds out, however, that her husband is still alive and it is the lover who is dead.

In a remarkable and dramatic scene, Joseph Cotten confronts his wife in a bell tower. This bell tower is a solid building that plays music by request. It represents the strength and solidity of marriage. But the bells are silent now. The room is shadowy and filled with contrasts. The camera looks down from between the bells, making the characters look small and insignificant. The scene tightens as Joseph Cotten struggles with his wife and murders her. He leaves her lying on the black-and-white parquet floor and runs off. The camera lingers on the body for a few seconds, then cuts away, showing Joseph Cotten trying to get out of the locked building. He finally comes back to the body and picks up his wife’s lipstick, a symbolic act that he still loves her.

The police also know that Joseph Cotten is still alive and murdered his wife. He steals a boat, kidnapping Jean Peters. The boat falters and begins drifting toward the falls. Waves wash over the boat, throwing Peters and Cotten around. No matter how hard they try, they are powerless against the waves. The acting here is so realistic, it feels like it is actually happening.

Joseph Cotten tries to sink the boat. He allows Jean Peters to climb onto a wet rock in the middle of the river. She struggles and uses all of her strength to climb onto the slippery rock. The camera cuts back to the boat then back to Jean Peters. She watches, horrified, as the boat goes over the falls. The camera uses a wide shot to show the boat falling down Niagara Falls. Compared to the falls, it looks like a wooden toy.

A helicopter appears to rescue Peters. The camera juxtaposes between Jean Peters and the helicopter. The scenes become shorter and the juxtaposition quicker. She struggles to get into the chair that is sent down from the helicopter. Will she make it or fall into the river? She makes it into the chair. She is rescued.

The final scene of the movie is a wide shot of Niagara Falls. Acting as judge, jury, and executioner, justice has been done.

Dawn Pisturino

Thomas Edison State University

December 11, 2017

Copyright 2017-2021 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

Barsam, Richard, and Dave Monahan. Looking at Movies, 5th ed. New York: Norton, 2016.

4 Comments »

How “Citizen Kane” Challenged the Hollywood Studio System

Charles Foster Kane played by Orson Welles.

Citizen Kane was made in 1941 during the height of the Hollywood studio system.  Orson Welles was a well-known theatrical actor and director by then.  He brought his theatrical vision and independent imagination to Hollywood, but the standardized operations of the studio system did not allow for too much independent creativity.  Studio movies had to reflect the look and feel of each individual studio.  Welles was unable to deliver on this and earned a reputation for being unreliable and difficult.

Even today, Citizen Kane stands out as an unusual movie.  The script was written along the lines of a news story/detective story.  In the beginning, a news reel summarizes the life of a dead media mogul.  But an enterprising journalist wants more.  He wants to understand the real man and embarks on a journey to find out, intrigued by Kane’s last word, “Rosebud.”  This kind of “parallel narrative structure is the first thing most viewers notice” (Lewis 158).

Using this kind of narrative supports Kane’s character as a hardcore newspaperman.  It seems perfectly natural to explore his life through this kind of device. (Welles had also used the news story device very successfully in his radio adaptation of War of the Worlds). 

Charles Foster Kane is a conflicted character in the sense that he longs for his lost childhood (represented by the snow globe), on one hand, and enjoys the authority and power that his wealth affords him, on the other.  He tries to control the events and people around him, to his own detriment.  He is a tragic Shakespearean figure who gains everything—and loses everything.  Welles supports this conflict through the narrative and the composition of his camera scenes.

Throughout the film, Welles carefully stages nearly every scene using depth-of-field choreography and cinematography, reflecting his vision and theatrical experience.  Lewis uses the childhood scene, in which a deep-focus camera shot shows the young Kane outside playing in the snow, as an example.  Inside, he is still framed by the window in the background. His father is stage left, protesting his wife’s action.  Stage right, and looming larger in the scene, Mr. Thatcher (the banker) and Mrs. Kane (the mother) are signing the papers which will sign away young Kane’s childhood forever (Lewis 159).  It’s a brilliant and powerful scene.

Welles was a master at composing black-and-white camera shots using chiaroscuro lighting (deep contrasts of dark and light) (Barsam 180) and German expressionism (Lewis 159).  His sets are often large, exaggerated, and overblown, especially Xanadu.  The inside of the castle reeks of funereal sadness and gloom.  Hoarding priceless artworks and zoo animals cannot lighten the darkness.  Kane’s world is empty, twisted, and dark—like the character himself.

Welles’ camera is not stationary.  He uses the camera to make creative transitions and keep the story going.  When the journalist first meets Susan at the El Rancho, the camera leaves the Thatcher Library and rolls over to the roof of the El Rancho, where it points down through the skylight onto Susan.  The viewer feels like he is eavesdropping on a private conversation.  Despite this intrusion, Welles has met his goals “to simulate a theatrical look (blocking actors . . .) and to create a realist aesthetic (an artistic conception . . .) through composition in depth” (Lewis 160).

Welles uses low-angle shots to make characters appear larger.  Reflections in glass and mirrors include more characters into the scene and reveal their reactions.  He uses a brilliant montage of scenes in the beginning of the movie which transition into one another, creating new scenes.  Welles also included a combination of both live and dubbed sounds into Citizen Kane, drawing on his radio experience (Lewis 161).

 Citizen Kane defied the parameters of most studio formula movies because it is a piece of art.  It has become a classic film that has influenced generations of independent filmmakers.  And it is a true reflection of the master himself— Orson Welles.

Barsam, Richard, and Dave Monahan. Looking at Movies, 5th ed. New York: Norton, 2016.

Lewis, Jon. American Cinema: A History. New York: Norton, 2008.

Welles, Orson, Dir. Citizen Kane. Perf. Orson Welles. Warner Bros., 1941.

(The character of Charles Foster Kane was based on newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst.)

Dawn Pisturino

December 20, 2017

Thomas Edison State University

Copyright 2017-2021 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

5 Comments »

Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice: The Marriage Game

Photo from the BBC production of Pride and Prejudice.

Throughout Austen’s novel, Pride and Prejudice, Mrs. Bennet schemes to marry off her five daughters. Driven by anxiety over an uncertain economic future, she struggles to overcome the entailment of her husband’s property, his indolence, and her own feelings of powerlessness, in order to secure their futures.

Marriage, in Austen’s time, was a social and economic necessity, particularly for women. Any single man of means who appeared on the scene became an instant target for cultivation and courtship. Mrs. Bennet expresses this clearly in Chapter One: “A single man of large fortune; four or five thousand a year. What a fine thing for our girls.”

Mrs. Bennet is focused solely on the economic advantages of such a marriage. She wastes no time considering the disadvantages. She hopes that Mr. Bingley, the new gentleman in the neighborhood, will fall in love with one of her daughters. regardless of how her daughters feel about it. And she pushes her daughters into competition with all of the other available daughters in the neighborhood. This is her duty as a wife and mother. Even Mr. Bennet, despite his cynicism, recognizes this: “But if we do not venture, somebody else will . . .” He does his duty and makes the necessary introductions to open up opportunities for his daughters to marry well.

Mr. and Mrs. Bennet were subject to the same social and economic pressures when they were young. The question is — did they both marry well? Austen makes it clear throughout the novel that the marriage is not a happy one. Each partner seems disillusioned by the other. Mrs. Bennet accuses her husband of taking pleasure in “vexing” her. Mr. Bennet is aware that twenty-three years of marriage have not helped his wife to “understand his character.” Each partner finds comfort in his or her own interests. Mrs. Bennet distracts herself with matchmaking, local gossip and news, and social duties. Mr. Bennet escapes into his library. They keep up appearances, for the sake of their standing in the neighborhood, but find no pleasure in each other.

Before his death, Mrs. Bennet’s father was an attorney. Her sister married her father’s office clerk, and he eventually took over the practice. Her brother moved to London and became a successful tradesman. Mrs. Bennet improved her economic and social standing by marrying her husband.

As a member of the lower landed gentry, Mr. Bennet has a small estate and an income of two thousand pounds a year. His assets would have been considered modest for that time. But his social status makes him one of the leaders of the local community. And that brings upward mobility to Mrs. Bennet and her family. She seeks to do the same thing for her daughters.

The dark side of Mrs. Bennet’s improved status is the entailment of her husband’s estate. Once her husband dies, the entire estate will be inherited by a distant male cousin, Mr. Collins. This puts Mrs. Bennet and her daughters in a precarious situation. Mrs. Bennet inherited four thousand pounds from her father. But this is not enough money to sustain a family and help her daughters’ marriage prospects. She bitterly points this out to Mr. Collins himself: “It is a grievous affair to my poor girls . . . they will be destitute enough.” Since he is more than willing to marry one of the daughters to make things right, Mrs. Bennet is more than willing to accommodate him.

Mr. Collins improved his economic and social status by gaining the patronage of Lady Catherine de Bourgh. He wants a wife who will meet with Lady de Bourgh’s approval. He is steered toward Elizabeth by Mrs. Bennet since Jane is expected to marry Mr. Bingley. Elizabeth refuses him, however, and Mrs. Bennet is distraught when her husband sides with his daughter. She continues to hound Lizzy, considering her selfish and foolish: “But I tell you what, Miss Lizzy, if you take it into your head to go on refusing every offer of marriage in this way, you will never get a husband at all — and I am sure I do not know who is to maintain you when your father is dead — I shall not be able to keep you — and so I warn you.”

To add salt to the wound, Lizzy’s friend, Charlotte Lucas, “accepted him solely from the pure and disinterested desire of an establishment.” Right away, Mrs. Bennet blames Lizzy and refuses to forgive her for many months. She has been publicly humiliated by her daughter. The Lucas family will ultimately benefit from her husband’s estate.

Mrs. Bennet bitterly resents her husband for the entailment of his estate, and she does not hesitate to remind him. “I do think it is the hardest thing in the world, that your estate should be entailed away from your own children; and I am sure that if I had been you, I should have tried long ago to do something or other about it.”

Mr. Bennet, for his part, had expected to have a son, who would nullify the entailment of his estate and provide for his wife and daughters after his death. Although his wife and children will eventually divide five thousand pounds among themselves, he regrets that he was not more proactive about their futures. His five daughters have no property or income to entice possible marriage partners. He convinces himself that his two eldest daughters, Jane and Elizabeth, “must be respected and valued” wherever they go, so their natural qualities will secure for them appropriate husbands. He, therefore, leaves his daughters to the whims of Fate. And by the end of the book — when Darcy has arranged the Fate and fortune of the Bennet family — he is relieved and grateful, saying to Lizzy, “So much the better. It will save me a world of trouble and economy. Had it been your uncle’s doing, I must and would have paid him; but these violent young lovers carry every thing their own way. I shall offer to pay him to-morrow; he will rant and storm about his love for you, and there will be an end of the matter.”

Lizzy’s father is, therefore, vindicated in his belief that his two eldest daughters will secure worthy husbands for themselves based on their own natural qualities. He, himself, was not so wise. “Captivated by youth and beauty, and that appearance of good humour, which youth and beauty generally give,” he marries a woman whose natural charms, poor manners, and intellectual ignorance quickly lose his interest. He turns his affection and attention to his daughter, Lizzy, who “has something more of quickness than her sisters,” whom he regards as “silly and ignorant” — just like their mother. His disappointment in his wife and three youngest daughters becomes evident through his sarcastic comments, cynical view of life, and lack of motivation to do more for his family.

Mrs. Bennet’s powerlessness and frustration come through loud and clear. She may have achieved her goal, while young, of marrying well, but once married, her charms can no longer keep Mr. Bennet under her control. Throughout the novel, Mrs. Bennet is characterized as “intolerable.” When her schemes do not come to fruition, she feels herself “barbarously used.” She suddenly becomes ill, retires to her room, cries, curses the world, feels sorry for herself, and imagines the worst catastrophes. She takes no responsibility when Lydia disgraces herself and the family. She takes to her bed, expecting the rest of the family to wait on her hand and foot. Mr. Bennet is so disgusted by her self-absorption and self-pity, he threatens to “do the same; I will sit in my library, in my night cap and powdering gown, and give as much trouble as I can — or, perhaps, I may defer it, till Kitty runs away.” Mrs. Bennet is more of a burden than a help to her husband.

In the end, Mrs. Bennet improves her position in life through marriage, while Mr. Bennet suffers from marrying a woman who is clearly beneath him. Mrs. Bennet takes pride in the marriages of her two eldest daughters, even though her vulgar behavior drives the Bingleys away. Mary remains at home to attend to her mother’s needs. And Mr. Bennet, missing his favorite daughter, Elizabeth, escapes frequently to Pemberley to visit her.

Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. Ed. Donald Gray. New York: Norton, 2001.

Dawn Pisturino

November 7, 2017

Thomas Edison State University

Copyright 2017-2021 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

3 Comments »

Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice: Elizabeth vs. Lydia

Photo from the BBC production of Pride and Prejudice.

The novel Pride and Prejudice is a remarkable portrait of Regency England and society’s obsession with marriage. If a woman did not marry — whether for love or financial security — she was doomed to spinsterhood and poverty. Through the use of contrasting characters, expectations, and situations, author Jane Austen highlights Elizabeth’s desire to marry a man who will make her happy, regardless of wealth, which sharply contrasts the goals and desires of her sister Lydia, and her mother, Mrs. Bennet.

Mrs. Bennet’s chief concern is the entailment of her husband’s estate. Once her husband dies, the whole family “will be destitute enough.” Marrying her daughters off is crucial to the family’s future — and she is not too particular about whom they marry. When Lydia disgraces the family, Mrs. Bennet never scolds her daughter but waxes triumphant that one of her daughters will finally be married.

In spite of her ignorance, silliness, and embarrassing behavior, Mrs. Bennet is fulfilling her perceived duty by desperately pushing to get her daughters married.

Lydia, the youngest daughter, is spoiled, indulged, and never held accountable for her questionable behavior. She is almost the mirror image of her mother in every respect because “she has never been taught to think on serious subjects . . . she has been given up on nothing but amusement and vanity. She has been allowed to dispose of her time in the most idle and frivolous manner, and to adopt any opinions that [come] in her way.”

Even the elopement with Wickham appears frivolous, as she brags to her sister, Kitty: “What a good joke it will be! I can hardly write for laughing . . .”

Lydia sees no shame in running off with Wickham. She only cares about her own self-indulgence. Although her family believes that marriage “with such an husband, her misery [is] considered certain,” Lydia cannot envision the consequences of her actions. When she returns to Longbourn after her wedding, the whole family sees that “Lydia [is] Lydia still; untamed, unabashed, wild, noisy, and fearless.” She immediately demands to replace Jane in the family hierarchy, insisting, “Ah! Jane, I take your place now, and you must go lower, because I am a married woman.” Lydia does not care what kind of man she has married; only that she is married.

Instead of symbolizing the fallen woman, Lydia reflects her mother’s desperation to marry off her daughters at any cost. She is proud of being the first daughter to marry, regardless of the circumstances, saying, “I am sure my sisters must all envy me” — and offers to become the matchmaker for the rest of them. “You may leave one or two of my sisters behind you; and I dare say I shall get husbands for them before the winter is over.” She is oblivious when Elizabeth remarks, “I do not particularly like your way of getting husbands.”

Throughout Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth rejects the dishonesty and superficiality of the “marriage game,” while examining “the unhappy defects of her family.” She loses respect for her parents, despite her father’s affection. Their character flaws will make it difficult for Elizabeth and her sisters to marry well. She does not want to marry for the sake of marriage alone. She wants to marry a man who will complement her and make her happy, even if he has little money or social position.

Although intelligent, judgmental, and keenly observant of others, Elizabeth is blind to her own faults. It is not until she rejects Darcy and reads his letter that Elizabeth honestly examines her own behavior and emotions. “I meant to be uncommonly clever in taking so decided a dislike of him, without any reason.” She realizes that he is the only man that can make her happy.

But it is Elizabeth’s honesty and sincerity that attracts Darcy to her and makes him fall in love. He is willing to change his own attitudes and behavior to win her over. He is even willing to overlook the flaws in her family, and the objections of his own family, in order to marry her. They both have a chance at happiness because they are honest and willing to change.

In this respect, she is uniquely different from Lydia and her mother, who willingly overlook the dishonesty in their relationships and the flaws in themselves in order to conform to society’s expectations about marriage.

Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. Ed. Donald Gray. New York: Norton, 2001.

Dawn Pisturino

October 18, 2017

Thomas Edison State University

Copyright 2017-2021 Dawn Pisturino. All Right Reserved.

1 Comment »

Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice: The Dysfunctional Bennets

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Mr. and Mrs. Bennet clearly depict the typical unhappily married couple whose loveless marriage was prompted by social expectation and confirmed by an economic social contract. Mr. Bennet is witty and intelligent. He likes to escape into his study to read and ruminate. He prefers his second daughter, Elizabeth, because she is most like him. He recognizes that she “has something more of quickness than her sisters.” Mrs. Bennet, on the other hand, is so frivolous, superficial, inappropriate, and self-absorbed, she seems to come from a lower class than her husband. Mr. Bennet consistently responds to his wife with sarcastic comments and regards his three youngest daughters as silly and ignorant — just like his wife.

Although his property is entailed, Mr. Bennet does not seem very motivated to provide for his daughters. He expects them to follow the precepts of society and marry as well as they can, if possible. He is, therefore, willing to go meet Mr. Bingley in order to pave the way for his daughters’ introduction to their new neighbors. He has full faith that his daughters, Jane and Elizabeth, have the sincerity and moral character to find suitable husbands. He does not seem to have much expectation for his younger daughters. Despite Elizabeth’s warning, he is caught by surprise when Lydia disgraces herself. However, Lydia’s disgrace makes him realize that he has not done enough to secure his daughters’ futures. And he goes to the other extreme and threatens to severely restrict Kitty’s life until she is properly married. Mary seems to be overlooked here, as if her only expectation is to become an old maid.

Mr. Bennet recognizes the ludicrousness of a marriage between Elizabeth and Mr. Collins. He knows that Elizabeth is worthy of so much better — unlike his wife, who feels it is “the business of her life” to get her daughters married off, regardless of the unsuitability of the match. Secretly, Mr. Bennet would like to spare his two older daughters the unhappiness and torture of a loveless marriage.

Exposed to the dysfunctional dynamics of her family, Elizabeth is determined to avoid the same fate as her father. She acknowledges his faults, empathizes with him, and longs to escape her mother and younger sisters and their constant nagging and bickering. She disdains superficiality and shallowness because she experiences it every day with her own mother and younger sisters. She hates being pressured to conform to her mother’s irrational will. She is embarrassed by her mother’s uncontrolled tongue and thoughtless behavior. She is humiliated by the carelessness and impropriety displayed by her younger sisters. She wants to be better than all of them. When she sees the same vanity and artificiality in the upper classes, she is unimpressed.

Elizabeth realizes that her family is a hindrance to her chances of securing a happy marriage. She feels this even more acutely when she begins to fall in love with Darcy. When she visits Pemberley and realizes that Darcy is well-regarded and burdened with many responsibilities, she longs to be a part of his world. She fiercely defends herself when Lady Catherine de Bourgh confronts her. And when she finally gives in and accepts Darcy, her father welcomes the marriage as the best course of action for Elizabeth and her family. Darcy has proven that he is a responsible, morally upright man.

The fairy-tale ending is not unreasonable, however. Both Elizabeth and Darcy complement each other in positive ways that convince the reader that a happy marriage will, indeed, be the end result.

Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. Ed. Donald Gray. New York: Norton, 2001.

Dawn Pisturino

October 3, 2017

Thomas Edison State University

Copyright 2017-2021 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

4 Comments »

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