Father Foils

In Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, the protagonist Aristotle is shown to have very limited connections to other men. Besides the boys of his own age to whom he can’t relate to in the realm of sexuality, Aristotle also has a very unclear relationship with his incarcerated brother, about whom he knows very little. But most significant to the novel is the distant relationship he has with his father. From Ari’s perspective, the relationship is marked by longing and uncertainty. One mystery about his father that is referenced over a dozen times in the first section of the novel is the secrecy Ari’s father keeps about his experience in the Vietnam war. At one point, Aristotle even obsesses over his father’s finger as it “tapped the book with approval. That finger had pulled a trigger in a war” (Saenz 35).

In contrast to their relationship, the reader also sees the very opposite father-son relationship between Ari’s eventual love interest Dante and his father. From Ari’s first introduction to Dante’s father, he notes a strong contrast between the affection levels, as Dante greets his father with a kiss on the cheek, which makes Ari feel quite uncomfortable.

Another foil presented in this novel is between the two mothers. Aristotle’s mother is very open and welcoming, while Dante’s mother by comparison is reasonably reserved. A loose parallel that could be drawn is that between the two sets of spouse, namely that Aristotle’s mother seems more similar to Dante’s father and that Aristotle’s father seems more similar to Dante’s mother. However, perhaps it is unfair to parallel Aristotle’s father’s distance with Dante’s mother’s reservation. “It was just that when Dante said that his mother was inscrutable, I knew exactly what he was saying” (Saenz 125).

 

Questions:

Do you think as much of the narrative would deal with the distance Ari feels between himself and his father if he did not know the relationship between Dante and his father?

How significant to the narrative is the foil between the two mothers, in comparison to the foil of the two fathers?

Tone in film.

Similar to how an author establishes the tone of a novel in the first page or chapter, Desiree Akhavan uses the first scene in her film Appropriate Behavior to establish the movie’s uniquely dark, ironic, and comical tone. Specifically, in the beginning portions of the film, Akhavan initially sets a very dark and somber tone with a purposely trite and artistic shot of protagonist Shirin riding the subway alone, followed by montage of her and her girlfriend breaking up. This gloomy tone however is quickly reversed when Shirin tosses a box of old possessions into a dumpster but then retrieves a dildo from inside and then carries it very open down the street; at this time, the title “Appropriate Behavior” is displayed to create a comical irony between the title and the subject’s actions, namely that Shirin is carrying a dildo in broad daylight, something not typically classified as appropriate.

The film is also quite circular thanks to its non-chronological narrative, as well as how Akhavan also very effectively bookends the movie with continued or paralleling scenes. The penultimate scene continues the beginning scene in which Shirin picks up the dildo, but in this continuation, she deposits it in a trash can, ending this instance of inappropriate behavior. Then the last scene has Shirin again on a train, but this time happy and with her best friend Crystal. During this scene Shirin sees her ex-girlfriend on the subway platform and quickly waves goodbye to her, seemingly ending the relationship and providing closure to this chapter in her life of inappropriate behavior.

In what other scenes does Akhavan use irony to uphold the dark comedic tone?

How much of Shirin’s inappropriate behavior do you think was spurred by her reluctance to let go of her relationship with Maxine or just because of her pure awkwardness?

Confidence and Motives of Sex

An aspect of Giovanni’s Room that is of particular interest to me was the characters that Baldwin introduces to highlight particular aspects of David’s character. One such character is Sue, seen in part 2 chapter 2, with whom David has sex and acts as a foil for how David deals with his sexuality. They share the attribute of gender norm deviance, specifically David’s homosexual relationships and Sue’s less feminine gender expression.  Where they most significantly differ though is how they express their gender deviance. David reacts mostly with shame, while Sue proudly displays her differences by her appearance of “hair cut very short,” “always wore tight blue jeans,” all “in order … to indicate how little she cared for appearance or sensuality” (95). Even in their discussion of personal discovery, she urges David that he “can’t just go on being a brick stone wall forever” (97).

However, despite her confidence in her sexual expression, they both perform sex out of spite for a lover (either past or present). David does it to discredit the homosexuality in himself, based on his shame of his relation with Giovanni, while Sue does it “giving herself, not to [David], but to that lover who would never come” (99). The motives of these characters also interesting contrast with Molly of Rubyfruit Jungle. Molly would often have sex to defy the norms of heterosexuality and her upbringings; David however regrets of same-sex relations because of the deviance from the norm. Additionally, Molly feels power from sex, while David feels weak from giving into lust.

 

Discussion Questions:

  • What other ways does David defy gender norms, outside of his homosexual relationships?
  • In terms of relationships and sex, what other differences do David and Molly show? Any similarities?

English is really gay.

Seriously, why is English so gay? Even our queer author Rita Mae Brown talks about her love of the language and her desire to live “in a cathedral of English,” in the introduction to her lesbian coming-of-age novel Rubyfruit Jungle.

Throughout this novel, Molly encounters several queer characters, and in them I noticed a peculiar trend that several of these queer characters greatly enjoy the English language. These bibliophiles include Joel Center, the stereotypically-gay classmate of Leroy who “likes English class best of all,” Dix, the lesbian English student whom Molly and Faye meet at a gay bar, and Miss Stile, the English professor whom Molly accuses of being in a homosexual relationship with Miss Marne. So I ask, why do queers love language, but hate words?

Besides the literary sense of English, the language plays another important role in the way of labels. A trend in Rita’s queer characters is their tendency to stereotype their fellow queers. From Leroy’s first accusation of Molly, “’You know, I think you’re a queer,’” to Carolyn’s attempt at discrediting their sexual acts as homosexual by saying “’Lesbians look like men and are ugly. We’re not like that,’” the queers of Rubyfruit Jungle are constantly trying to either associate or disassociate themselves with these labels of being queer.

While the queers seem to love English, they really hate these labels (i.e. queer and lesbian), which ironically are just words in the language they love.

Discussion Questions:

  • What other roles does language play in this novel? (Either in a literary sense, or in specific cases like labels)
  • Is it just coincidence that a quarter of the queers introduced in parts 1 & 2 love English, or is there a greater connection that queers have to language that Brown is trying to show through these characters (Joel Centers, Dix, and Miss Stile)?