The Simplicity of the Past

I noticed a recurring theme of the romantic ideal throughout our four readings for the week. Each piece deals with the narrator’s attempt to return to a simpler time, similar to The Sound of Silence.

I started with The Happiness Metric. The opening paragraph sets up the differences between past and present Bhutan, which will come to be detailed by Drexler. The first few lines are as phonologically smooth as the dances themselves, thanks in large part to the author’s use of the “s” sound: “…slow dance. Swaggering teenage boys, arms slung over each other’s shoulders, speak in surprisingly gentle voices. Stray dogs assertively cohabit the city. One often hears singing” (Drexler 95). There is a gentle flow present throughout the given paragraph, highlighting the blissful quality of the region. As Drexler explains the concept of Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness, she mentions the intent of his travel is to uncover how exactly GNH policy “plays out in real life” (95). Has Drexler fallen victim to Western culture in that she doesn’t believe such a policy can possibly reach success, or have any real impact, in “real life”? The Declaration of Independence states all citizens have the right to “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” Yet it seems our search for liberty has become of the upmost importance. We’re so busy fighting for our rights (such as the right to bear arms, to use a current example), we’ve almost forgotten to just be happy. The people of Bhutan possess their own sense of nationalism, but religion appears to override politics. Drexler asks, “Will the country’s traditional foundations of happiness erode, to be replaced by a surfeit of stuff?” (96). The question pertains just as much to the West as it does to Bhutan, which I believe is Drexler’s overall purpose. The U.S., and Western nations in general, are typically viewed in a dominant light. But, have we sacrificed our essential human right to be happy? Have we really “become modern without losing [our] soul?” (98). There are several features which encompass GNH, with two being a citizen’s right to “meaningful work” and “how people perceive the quality of their natural surroundings” (99). This is very much a romantic notion, as well as a transcendental attribute. Throughout Walden, Henry David Thoreau discusses the need to remove oneself from labor which does not heightened one’s spirituality. Thoreau found work for profit to be a greedy pursuit. Bhutan aligns with Thoreau’s thinking, and in my opinion, the inclusion of such principles within GNH is a thing to be applauded.

Moving from The Happiness Metric to Land of the Lost, I was overwhelmed by the narrator’s dark tone. The beginning paragraph uses phrases such as “dark stairwell” and “shadowy crows” (Benz 57). The narrator is “plundering” into darkness on his way to work, just as Moldova has undergone a social and economic downfall since gaining independence (Benz 57). Benz periodically comments on the guards stationed throughout Moldova, with one at the school and one at the park. The people of Moldova are guarding the last semblance of past society they have left and “[celebrating] anything and everything with enthusiasm and aggression” (Benz 64). Land of the Lost relates to A Tale of a Tub, as Marx brings up her childhood and emphasizes how the ultimate sense of imagination experienced in youth is lost upon today’s adult. Marx consistently alludes to how little the ship has in regards to entertainment. There’s not even “Netflix streaming” (Marx 155). But, in Marx’s listing of all the items she’s brought along for the trip, I’m wondering how necessary such products are in general. Can we go without “two Kindles” and “a USB drive with more movies than are watchable in a year”? (Marx 154-155).

Escaping Modern Life

Each of the readings for the week comment on modern life, whether the author is escaping some aspect of society or finding comfort in new traditions.

The presence of the train at the beginning of The Sound of Silence relates to the overall theme of the reading. Trains have become an old form of travel, yet the narrator is experiencing incredibly modern annoyances while on her ride. She claims she’s searching for silence. But, it seems she’s attempting more so to break free from modern pressures. Travel today has become a burden. Either you’re in the car for far too long (and everyone’s complaining there’s no wifi) or you’re stopped by security at the airport–no matter the hinderance, everyone’s ready to just arrive. I think the train ride, though supposedly the narrator’s only mode of transportation, is Abend’s first move towards simplicity. She characterizes the event as almost a mere road bump on the way to a greater destination. However, I find the train ride essential to her journey. When she finally succumbs to the silence, she’s not ready for this stark difference from reality: “a quiet fell with the abruptness of a tsunami” (Abend 2). This is foreshadowing to her eventual realization. She wasn’t necessarily looking for silence, but rather she was hoping to uncover a certain kind of conversation. Abend’s language is quite telling of her emotions and clarifies her characterization of the woods versus city life. Once on her own on the trail, she begins using words such as “adorable,” “spectacular,” and “simplest.” Her words are more positive and give off a graceful appeal (as if her getting lost later on is intentional) and lighten the tone of the previously annoyed narrator.

There are similar examples of the correlation between word choice and theme within Hail Dayton. The opening paragraph is two sentences, with the latter taking up eight lines. The ongoing sentence structure mimics the “vast ribbons of peat [which] came to rest under what became the foothills of Tennessee’s Cumberland Plateau” (Maddux 146). The narrator shortly after repeats the statement, “It was here” (Maddux 146). In my opinion, this is a paradoxical representation of pride. Citizens of Dayton are happy to call the town home, but would rather distance themselves from the circus that’s become the Scopes trial. The history discussed reminds me of Theroux. One instance continues to plague this Southern community. However, the narrator’s brief mention of climate change as a second topic tip-toed around in the school setting hints at Dayton’s lack of progression.

Daughters of the Spring, in telling a history, recounts a town myth. We are abruptly taken aback by Groff’s description of manatee fate: “Homosassa is famous for being one of the best places in Florida to view West Indian manatees, those gentle thousand-pound sea cows that are routinely torn up by Jet Skis and motorboats” (115). Though disturbing, the statement symbolizes the diminishing fantasy of the mermaid. It was a common thought. People obsessed over the mermaid because of the power she holds. The mermaid can control, or defy, fate: “the sea creatures are the ones who get to decide if people who fall overboard will swim or sink” (Groff 116). I think Groff is questioning that which we deem “good enough” in modern life (126). The mermaid is an unrealistic image, so is she worth the fascination? Groff tells us to find the balance between reality and fantasy by “[floating] on the surface of things” (127).

Western vs. Foreign Lands 

Our travel readings for the coming week each share a theme concerning “the other.” We learn how Western perception, and the growing sense of dominance which accompanies such a perception, affects the structure of foreign lands and their peoples.

Though I’m set to discuss Mr. Nhem’s Genocide Camera, I enjoyed Ashes to Ashes the most. The introduction paragraphs for the four readings are attention-grabbing and telling of the stories to come. (more…)

An End to the Blue Highways 

Beginning our new section, the narrator conveys a growing sense of uneasiness and anxiety. Just driving along is no longer satisfying. He’s looking to connect with nature and the landscapes he views from his driver’s window. It’s almost as if he is refusing to become a passerby, but rather, he hopes to become involved in nature’s process. This is immediately noticeable as he drives into New York, stating, “I wasn’t tired of traveling, and I had no reason to go home, but I wanted to put the wheel aside, to get off striped pavement for a few days” (Heat-Moon 304). He then decides to go visit his friend at his “log cabin in the woods” (Heat-Moon 304). But, I find this to be a decision not solely based on Heat-Moon’s need to step out of his car and stretch. (more…)

A Desert View Along the Blue Highways

Heat-Moon has quite an obsession with the desert landscape. He has a way of depicting such a seemingly desolate space as a naturally beautiful portal into the Sublime. He writes on page 160, “There’s something about the desert that doesn’t like man, something that mocks his nesting instinct and makes his constructions look feeble and temporary” (Heat-Moon). The narrator romanticizes the desert’s ability to withstand time and resist man’s outside influence. Heat-Moon is “looking for its disciplines,” in that he hopes to live a poignant life beyond that of society’s modern standards. (more…)

Blue Highways

The beginning of Blue Highways reminds me of Wild. Heat-Moon gives the impression of needing to get away. He’s lost his job, he’s divorced, and thus essentially he has nothing holding him to his everyday routine. The very first paragraph of the travelogue opens with a common feeling, one in which readers can relate. He was laid off “because of declining enrollment at the college” (Heat-Moon 3). We all know the moment in which, whether we’re fired or lose something which constitutes our daily being, we are overcome by a sense of inadequacy and confusion. What am I going to do now? Similar to Strayed, he’s looking to redefine that which he’s come to consider normal. (more…)

Completing the PCT

I’m so glad I hadn’t watched Wild prior to reading its text. Though I assumed Strayed would complete her journey (because why else would she be writing this travelogue), I wasn’t expecting myself to become so emotionally invested in her success. The final two pages of the memoir are beautiful. As a fellow English major, I’m in awe of the poetic language used to portray her lessons learned. Our final section of reading seems to encompass a theme of spiritual rebirth. (more…)

Strayed’s Sense of Self Along the PCT

I’m now starting to truly understand the essence of Strayed’s journey. I believe she’s already made immense strides in her emotional journey. I take this to be her ultimate prize. However, she also appears to be setting herself back. Strayed has become close with those she’s come across on the PCT. Her friends represent the new chapter of her life. Yet she doesn’t view her companions as permanent. She seems perfectly at peace as she says goodbye to Doug and Tom, not knowing if the farewell is “forever or for fifteen minutes” (Strayed 119). It appears as if she’s still quick to distance herself from others. On the one hand, her ability to let go is remarkable. She’s still her own person outside of her small, developing hiking group. This feeling completely contrasts the earlier Strayed we were introduced to in the beginning of the book. (more…)

Women on the PCT

We’ve finally entered into the essence of Strayed’s journey. She appears more vulnerable now than ever, not only as a woman but as a narrator. Strayed has to hitch a ride to the Pacific Crest Trail. As readers, our obvious assumption turns to her safety. She is a young woman alone in the woods—it’s a conventional picture for victimization. Prior to her actually embarking upon this journey, even her ex-husband questioned her physical and mental ability to compete the hike. Within her first few chapters, Strayed recounts her sorrow upon losing her mother. Though we understand her sorrow, she does in fact appear weak. Strayed’s sex shouldn’t come into play when defining her character. Yet her being a woman unfortunately places her within the fragile and delicate category. (more…)

Wild: An Initial Reaction

I’m already enjoying Wild. Yet I cannot help but compare Cheryl Strayed’s writing style to that of Paul Theroux. The two travel authors are embarking upon completely separate and distinct journeys. Theroux is writing for others, whereas Strayed seems to be writing for herself. However, there is obvious bias in both travelogues. We have noted Theroux’s subjectivity when it comes to his describing the South numerous times over. On the other hand, Strayed presents a unique bias. She will clearly discuss nature and her surroundings soon, as she is on the verge of beginning her month’s long hike. However, she took the time to inform readers on her reasoning behind the hike and all in which her adventure truly encompasses. (more…)