Diwali: A Brief History

Diwali is the ‘festival of lights,’ and is celebrated by Sikhs, Hindus and Jains. Although the date of the festival changes every year, it usually falls in October or November and lasts for five days. Many celebrate the festival in honour of the goddess Lakshmi, the wife of Vishnu and the goddess of wealth. It is common for families to open windows and doors in their home on Diwali to allow Lakshmi to enter their house and bless them with wealth and riches. The word ‘Diwali’ itself originates from the Sanskrit word ‘deepavali,’ meaning ‘rows of lighted lamps.’ The image of lamps links to the idea of good triumphing over evil, a prevalent theme in the stories that surround the festival. It is the light of the candle, good, that keeps away the darkness, evil. On the night of Diwali, families light tea lights and lamps and place them around their home to replicate this idea. Fireworks are also set off to celebrate the festival.  

For Hindus, Diwali celebrates the day that Lord Rama returned home with his wife Sita, following her kidnapping by the ten headed demon, Ravana. At this point Rama and Sita were living in exile, and upon discovering that Sita had been kidnapped, Rama despaired that he and his younger brother Lakshmana did not have the resources to to save her. However, this did not deter them from trying. While captured, Sita constantly resisted Ravana’s advances and refused to become his queen. After travelling to find help, they gained the support of an army of monkeys who were commanded by Hanuman. After a confrontation, Rama killed Ravana and took his wife Sita back home to Ayodhya. This story supports Diwali’s central theme: the triumph of good over evil. 

Rama and Sita - Vishnu's Bedtime Stories
Rama and Sita

While this version is regularly taught in schools, the ending of the story is usually omitted. Rama is crowned king upon his return to Ayodhya, but rumours begin to spread that Sita may have willingly eloped with Ravana. When Sita’s moral purity is called into question, Rama’s faith in her wavers. In one version of the story, Rama asks Sita to prove her innocence by undergoing a test before ‘Agni,’ fire. She passes the test, lives happily with Rama thereafter and gives birth to twins, Luv and Kush. In another version of the story, Rama’s mistrust of Sita leads to her banishment, and she gives birth to her sons in the woods. In their adolescence, Luv and Kush persuade their father that he was wrong to banish her. When Rama asks for forgiveness however, Sita rejects him, and effectively commits suicide by allowing her mother, the Earth, to swallow her up. Another slightly different version sees Sita dying of sorrow, thus solidifying her as a tragic, and moral heroine who was spurned by an intolerant society. In other versions of the story, Sita’s death leads Rama to drown himself, and they reunite happily in the afterlife. Despite Sita’s suicide in several versions of the story, she is revered in Hindu tradition, and is seen as the ideal of womanly virtue. The story of Rama and Sita is told in the Hindu epic the ‘Ramayana,’ of which Rama is the central character.  

For Sikhs, Diwali makes the escape of their sixth Guru’s, Guru Hargobind’s escape from jail in 1619. Guru Hargobind took 52 other princes with him when he escaped. When originally asking if this was possible, the prison guard said that Guru Hargobind could only take those who could hold onto his cloak. This cloak was made with 52 pieces of string, allowing Guru Hargobind to lead the 52 princes to safety. This particular event is known to Siikhs as Bandi Chhor Divas, or the ‘Day of Liberation.’ To celebrate Guru Hargobind’s safe return, the Golden Temple was illuminated with candles, a tradition that still occurs today. The foundations of the temple itself were also laid on Diwali in 1577. 

Guru Hargobind Singh escaping from jail with the 52 princes

Diwali is also important to Jains. The founder of Jainism is Lord Mahavira, and it was during the festival of Diwali that he reached Moksha, meaning eternal peace. 

Mahavira - Wikipedia
Lord Mahavira

Happy Diwali!

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Halloween: A Brief History

Everybody knows that Halloween falls on the 31st of October every year… but not everyone knows how the modern traditions surrounding the spooky day came about. Historians believe that Halloween’s prequel came in the form of the Celtic festival Samhain. 

During this festival, Celts would light bonfires and wear frightening costumes to ward off spirits. The festival marked the end of the Harvest season and led to the beginning of winter. Nowadays it is held on November 1, but festivities begin on the 31st of October. Sometimes people would light torches and from the bonfire and carry it into their homes. Although not all divination involved fire, the bonfire was used to try and read the future, as were several games played on the day of the festival. 

Apples and hazelnuts were used by the Celts to divine the future, and so were frequently used in the games. A common game played was apple bobbing, a tradition that has lasted until today. Another game involved hanging a wooden rod from the ceiling, with an apple hanging from one end and a lit candle on the other. The rod was spun round, and everyone took it in turns to catch the apple with their teeth. When the apple was peeled, it was done so in one long strip, and the peel was then tossed over the persons shoulder. It was believed that the apple peel would fall into the shape of the first letter of the persons’ future spouses name. 

Samhain was seen as an important time of year – it marked the point at which the boundary between this world and the ‘Otherworld’ was significant weakened. This meant that ghosts could more easily cross into our world, hence the bonfires and the dressing up. 

Mumming and Guising was also an integral part of Samhain from the sixteenth century onwards, and describes people going from house to house in costume, and reciting songs in exchange for food. The practice can now be seen as a version of trick or treating. Some believe that the tradition stemmed from people impersonating the souls of the dead, and asking for offerings on their behalf. By impersonating a spirit, one believed that they also were protected from them. Trick or treating also may have come from the tradition of going to peoples house to collect food for Samhain feasts, or fuel for bonfires. 

Whereas nowadays pumpkins are more popular, for the Celts, turnips were the chosen vegetable that was hollowed out and used to ward off evil spirits. Jack-o’-lanterns were popular in Ireland and Scotland before they spread throughout England. 

Let’s jump back a bit further. The Romans conquered the Celts in 43 AD, and it appears that some Roman traditions may have become combined with the celebration of Samhain. One was Feralia, a day in late October in which the Romas commemorated the dead. The second festival honoured Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruit and trees. Pomona’s symbol is the apple, which made frequent appearances at Samhain in the form of apple bobbing. 

The plot thickens. In the eighth century, Pope Gregory III stated that All Saints Day should be held on November 1st. This day commemorated saints and martyrs throughout Christian history. This day falls on the day after Samhain, but overtime the two festivals became incorporated. All Souls’ Day follows, on November 2nd. This day remembers the dead, especially those that lounge in purgatory. All Souls’ Day was also celebrated in a similar fashion to Samhain. All Souls’ Day is also known as All Hallows Eve, which later became Halloween. Together, these days form the observance of Allhallowtide, a collection of days that remembers the departed. The three days blur together into this period of observance, with Halloween falling on All Saints’ Eve.

Allhallowtide is a Christian idea, not a Celtic one, however. So how did this work, I hear you ask. Well, It is believed that the Christians Christianised the Celtic observance of Samhain in order to reform them, and encourage their conversion. However, this is subject to some debate. So to make things clear, the time of Allhallowtide encompassed the three days of All Saints Eve (Halloween), All Saints’ Day, and All Souls’ Day. 

Halloween is known for being popular in America, and although in New England the practice was condemned by Puritans, its popularity picked up after with the influx of various ethnic groups brought new ideas about the festival to America. Celebrations included parties, and events to celebrate the harvest, and neighbours would come together to hold street parties. New immigrants that came to America in the second half of the 19th century also helped to bolster Halloween’s popularity. Now, Halloween is America’s largest commercial holiday after Christmas. 

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‘In what ways is the world of ‘1984’ a totalitarian state? How does Big Brother organise society?’

A totalitarian state is one that has a centralised government. The dictator leading the state requires all those within it to be subservient to the state. This dictator can also be seen to be an autocratic figure, as they are a ruler who has absolute power. An example in our history of a totalitarian state can be seen in Stalin’s Russia, which collapsed in the early nineties. This form of harsh dictatorship can be seen in the world of ‘1984,’ as the Party demands total commitment from all those living within the state, of which “Big Brother” is the “guardian” and unanimous “leader.” Big Brother’s thick “moustache” is also reminiscent of that of Stalin’s, as is the policies and rules of Oceania. Big Brother maintains control over society, and organises it by effectively using propaganda to unite the population. Their ability to create and “vaporise” people also helps Big Brother organise society, with help from O’Brien. The Party’s response to emotion and feelings coupled with Newspeak also helps Big Brother organise society, as rebellion seems to appear even more impossible. 

Big Brother uses the tactic of propaganda, much like in World War one and two, to organise society and unite those within the totalitarian state of Oceania. Orwell himself understood the affects of propaganda as during the Second World War he worked on propaganda for the BBC. It is already established, with the opening of the “diary,” that Winston is not like all the other people in Oceania, and that he is a sentient being. He can see through the regime enough to rebel against the Party, making him appear daring and heroic. However, Big Brother’s deployment of propaganda during the “Two Minute Hate” proves to ensnare everyone, even Winston, which makes him appear fickle, even though the audience knows that he is not. The fact that Winston finds it “impossible” not to get up in the hate demonstrates how effective this simple use of propaganda is, as it allows Big Brother to organise society by uniting it against a common enemy, “Emmanuel Goldstein.” The power of propaganda is demonstrated here, as everyone and anyone, even those like Winston who are sentient, are caught up in the surge of “hatred.” Like Offred in ‘The Handmaid’s Tale,’ in this instance Winston appears numbed by the common regime, and appears to be just another member of the mob. Big Brother effectively organises society by uniting the people of Oceania against one common enemy, which helps to bolster camaraderie, and a sense of general understanding among the people. While directing their hate at Goldstein, their “adoration” is absorbed by Big Brother, thus ensuring that the despotic figure on the posters is still regarded as the saviour of the nation.  The war with Eurasia is also the stimulus for much propaganda in Oceania, as demonstrated by Winston’s own job, and his creation of “Comrade Ogilvy.” Winston creates the perfect Party member, who served on the front line and has a “devotion to duty.” This is another effective use of propaganda, as Big Brother uses Winston to create the perfect Party member, and someone who all other people can aspire to, even though he had just been brought “into existence” by Winston. Given that the propaganda, the Hate and Ogilvy, aims to unite the people and provide them with figures to detest and aspire to, proves that the despotic Big Brother needs all people within the state to be subservient to him, leading one to believe that Oceania is governed in a totalitarian fashion, by which Big Brother maintains control. 

Big Brother also maintains control by creating and destroying different figures to affect the population. By controlling individual people, Big Brother can control the subsequent affects their actions will have on the rest of the state, and ensure that he benefits from it. O’Brien notes that who “controls the past controls the future,” and this can be seen in the example of “Aaronson, Rutherford and Jones.” Winston himself deduces that their “confessions were lies,” for the benefit of the Party. By making an example of these people, those within the state were clearly told that if they dared to rebel, they would be found out and tortured, then made an example of. By constantly making an example of others, the state ensures that this acts as a deterrent for others with “vague plotting’s against the Party,” such as Julia and Winston. To Big Brother, and the Party’s advantage, the past remains “alterable,” and by changing the past, the Party ensures that people know how to behave for the future, and can learn from the mistakes made by others, be them real or not. “The Chestnut Tree Café” also adds to this idea, as those who go there are labeled by other Party members as traitors. This places all traitors in one specific area, giving efficient Party members a place to avoid, and they understand why. By changing the past, and creating and destroying people, Big Brother ensures that people know how to behave, and also ensures that they understand the consequences if they defy “Party doctrine.”

O’Brien, along with the “Thoughtpolice” ensure that Oceania is well organised on behalf of Big Brother as they actively seek out those who intend to “rebel.” The group in the novel appear to allude to the Gestapo, the Nazi secret police, or Stalin’s’ NKVD, who arrested and tortured those who spoke out against the authority in secret. In the novel, O’Brien causes Winston to incriminate himself, by fooling him into believing that he is a fellow rebel. Winston was convinced that O’Brien always thought the “same thing as himself.” In his trusting nature, Winston fell for O’Brien’s tricks, which is ironic, as Winston seemed to forget his own firm belief that the Thought police will “always get you in the end.” By using a secret group to infiltrate those rebelling against the Party, Big Brother ensures that rebellion is not common knowledge, thus restricting it as well as mass panic. As the group is a “secret organisation,” Big Brother ensures that all those within the state are solely focused on the Party and himself, and are not distracted by rebellious action, which allows him to maintain order.

Party members within the state must be focused on the Party in all that they do. For example, the state sees that the only purpose of sex is to “beget” children. To ensure all thought is related to the state, the Party aim to eradicate emotions and feelings. In relation to sex, the Party means to remove the orgasm, to ensure that lust and desire do not cloud the judgement of Party members, and distract them from Big Brother. It is this action that Winston and Julia indulge in and use to satisfy their desire for love and “political” rebellion, which will inevitably lead to their downfall. Winston and Julia are both intelligent, and understand the Party enough to realise what the Party wish to deprive them of, making them a significant threat. They are able to think and to feel, and accept that they are “the dead” upon their promise that “only feelings matter.” They both realise that being caught is inevitable, but also appreciate that while they feel for each other and “love” each other, the Party has no control over them, and in this respect, they will always triumph over Big Brother. It is this attitude that worries the Party and O’Brien, leading them to try and “stamp” their emotion out. By ensuring that these feelings are eradicated, Big Brother ensures everyone’s focus remains on the Party, and nothing else. When torturing Winston with “rats” in “Room 101,” O’Brien has the soul objective of removing Winston’s love for Julia, and replacing it with love for Big Brother. O’Brien is successful, with Winston’s outcry of “Do It to Julia!” which is seen as the ultimate act of betrayal, by the reader and Winston and Julia themselves. In the play at the London Playhouse Theatre, excessive strobe lighting and loud noises, mark the moment in which Winston betrays Julia. It is perhaps the most distressing and disorientating moment of the play to emphasise the epic betrayal that has just occurred. It marks the end of Winston’s heroic arc, and leaves him with nothing by the end of the novel, and only the thought that he “loved Big Brother.” Winston has essentially been pacified, as his love for Julia, and therefore rebellious feelings, have been suppressed into nothing. This emphasises how threatening the idea of love and emotion is for the Party, as Winston and Julia are sentient beings, which do not think of the Party as the most important thing in their lives. 

Another focus for O’Brien, while torturing Winston is his memory, as he seeks to change it. Before Winston is tortured, he is seen in the novel, with O’Brien, to be drinking to “the past.” Winston was born in a time before the “revolution,” and can “remember” the past, much like Offred in ‘The Handmaid’s Tale.’ It is this quality that makes the protagonists in each novel unique, as they have a cause to rebel against their respective regimes, as they wish to return to the days in which “they used to live,” as this time was associated with freedom. Winston becomes closer to gaining this freedom throughout the novel, as he actively rebels with Julia. O’Brien claims that, by manipulating the memory of Winston, he will become “perfect,” as he will cease to question Big Brother. By weakening his memory, O’Brien makes him pliable, and Winston becomes an empty Party member who will believe anything that he is told by the Party. If Winston is not sure of anything, he is unable to question the Party, as he will not know what truth truly is. This is clearly demonstrated in Winston’s turmoil over the answer of the simple mathematical sum, “2+2=4.” Mathematics is a fixed concept, and there is only one correct answer to the question. However, O’Brien tortures Winston so much that he becomes devoid of sense, and confesses that he doesn’t “know” the answer to this simple question. This proves to Winston that nothing is fixed, and that everything is “alterable,” as has been discovered throughout the novel. The destruction of Winston’s memory and emotions are described by O’Brien as the death of the “last man,” as no other Party member was like Winston. Winston and Julia appeared to be unique members of the state, as they understood the Party enough to rebel against them. In this respect, they can be seen as the last remnants of Human kind before the revolution, due to their sentient nature, but they too have been quashed by the Party and Big Brother. By altering people’s memory and making them pliable, Big Brother ensures that all those in Oceania will accept the facts of the Party and their doctrine, creating a totalitarian state in which the people are subservient to their dictatorial leader, Big Brother. 

The Party also uses a much simpler way to control people, by integrating “Newspeak” into society. Syme excitedly tells Winston that with the “destruction of words,” people won’t even be able to think about rebellion, as they will not have the vocabulary. Those in Oceania won’t notice this more passive form of control, as it is subtle. People such as Syme will be more excited about the new language and dictionary, but they will not notice that their freedom of speech is being taken away from them, for the benefit of Big Brother. By organising and creating the language in this way, Big Brother makes it difficult for those within the state to think about rebellion, and commit “Thoughtcrime,” thus maintaining peace within the state. Although Winston believes that “nothing was your own except the few cubic centimetres inside your skull,” this is not true as, with the growing use of Newspeak, the Party alter peoples’ thoughts with the language that is available to them. Without the words to fully express themselves, Big Brother ensures that they also do not have the thoughts to do so. Big Brother organises the state in this way, and ensures that he stops the thought of rebellion, and by extension the action of rebellion.

By using Newspeak, propaganda, the past and many other tactics, Big Brother organises the state in such a way that benefits him. People are reduced to robotic figures, whose emotion and focus is entirely directed onto Big Brother. They do not even realise that their autonomy is being destroyed by the state, as they are brainwashed by the Party to ensure that no thoughts diverge from the savior that is Big Brother. As Big Brother requires all people to be subservient to him, the state of Oceania can be seen to be a totalitarian state, organised to ensure that nobody has the capacity to think anything that goes against “the principles of INGSOC” or Big Brother himself. 

Was the growth of towns the main cause of poverty in the Tudor period, 1558 – 1588?

Throughout the reign of Elizabeth I, the issue of poverty and vagrancy was a prescient one. The social situation of the country led to a great deal of government action and laws being implemented, in an attempt to reduce the number of vagrants within England. The growth of population within towns can be seen to be the most important cause of poverty in the Tudor period, as the growth of people within these towns led to a significant strain on local resources. Other important reasons for the growth of poverty could be enclosure, which forced people to move to towns, and growing urbanization.

The growth of towns can be seen to be the main cause of poverty within the Tudor period when looking at the issue of population growth. This dramatic population growth could not be sustained within the towns, especially after several decreases. The Black Death killed off a third of the population in the 14th century. There was only a steady increase in the population throughout the 15th century, due to the threat of disease, and due to a lack of money, people married when they were older, so less children were born. During Elizabeth’s reign, however, the marriage age began to fall again and people began to get married at a younger age, as they could afford to, so people began to have more children, which led to an increase in population within the towns. This caused a dramatic increase in population in towns and especially London, and eventually led to a food shortage, as more people were demanding food that was not available to them, as there was not enough of it. Supply and demand was not met within the towns, and the little food that remained was over priced due to its rarity. Whilst the prices of food began to rise dramatically, people’s wages began to decrease. Economically this led to inflation, and also led to more people going hungry. As less and less people were able to afford food, poverty began to increase, as people did not have the sufficient amount of money to live. Several acts were passed to deal with vagrancy, illustrating the seriousness of the dramatic population growth, which was the main reason for growth of poverty within towns. The 1563 Act of the Artificiers forced people to donate money to aid the poor, with the threat of imprisonment if they refused. This demonstrates how serious the problem of vagrancy was, due to overpopulation within the towns. The Poor Law Act of 1576 also stated that there should be one ‘house of correction’ per county, which were run on poor relief funds. These houses were set up to reduce the numbers of vagrants on the street, and also put them to work. The severe issue of over population within towns can be realised when examining these acts, making growth in population the main cause of poverty within Elizabeth’s reign. Depopulation was also a factor that contributed to the population growth within London, as people relocated from their towns to London, as it was a greater industrial area. This can also be seen before Elizabeth’s reign, in the early 1500s, in which the population of Coventry fell by 2000. At the time, 30 percent of the population couldn’t afford to pay their taxes, illustrating the dire circumstances caused by the population growth in towns. This supports the idea that the growth of towns was the main cause of poverty, as it presented a direct strain on resources. As more and more people could not afford to pay the high prices more people found themselves slipping into poverty. The growth in towns is the main reason for the increase in poverty during this period, as the growth in population within the towns led to a direct strain on resources, which then led to a financial and economic crisis in the form of inflation. Debasement of coinage also added to the issue of inflation, as more metal was melted to create coins, as a solution to overcome the economic crisis. However, as there was more money available, prices still increased, which did not help the already serious situation within towns. It is the original problems within the towns that can be seen as the main cause of poverty, as the resources that the towns provided could not support its growing population, which by the 1590s, had reached 3.89 million.

Another important cause for the growth of poverty within the towns during the reign of Elizabeth is enclosure. Before the implementation of enclosure by the local landlords, all those within the town had access to common land where their animals could graze. However, landlords forced people off their land, as they realised that sheep farming needed little manpower, and that enclosure allowed for greater profits as landlords saw the opportunities that rearing sheep brought in terms of the cloth trade. As those living in rural areas lost their land, and had nowhere to go, they began to wander into towns looking for work, which further increased the levels of poverty within the towns, as the towns could not sustain the influx of people from the countryside, who had left rural areas as they had lost their land. Enclosure also affected copyhold tenants, as their leases were open to challenge, meaning that their landlord could evict them at any time. This also led to many more people travelling to towns looking for work. Although enclosure is an important reason for the growth of poverty, as many people were displaced, it cannot be seen as the main reason for its development, as this was the population growth within the towns itself. If the population of the towns did not increase or develop so quickly, it is more likely that people coming into towns from rural areas could’ve been accommodated. The situation originally stemmed from the issue of population growth within towns, and enclosure merely contributed to that, further draining the resources and increasing levels of poverty, without being a direct cause of it. 

It could also be argued that the growing urbanization of England can be seen as a principal cause of the growth of poverty within towns during the reign of Elizabeth I. During the reign of Elizabeth, England had become further industrialised due to the developments in the cloth trade, and although this was seen to have a positive affect on the economy, it did contribute the levels of poverty within towns. Cloth makers began subcontracting work, and instead of having a group of people ‘putting out’ wool to make cloth, they decided to pay one person to complete the task. This led to a great deal of unemployment, and again, resulted in people moving to towns to look for work, as they had been displaced from their old jobs in the rural areas. Cloth makers realised, that by having one person working for them, they would save money, as they would not have to pay multiple workers. As a result of urban decline within towns such as Bristol and Coventry, the population increased in London as a result of depopulation within the towns. As London became an important point for trade during the period, due to the River Thames, peoples’ migration from smaller towns to London appears logical, as London was a highly industrialised area. This relocation, however, contributed to the growth of poverty within the towns, as the towns could not sustain the vast numbers of people. For example, the population of Coventry decreased by 2000 in the early 1500’s, due to depopulation. This can be seen to lead to the growth of poverty in the latter half of the Tudor period, as it caused people living in rural areas, to move to the towns looking for work. These towns were already overpopulated and couldn’t sustain the people already within them, making the issue of growing urbanization only a contributing factor to the issue, and not a main reason for it. Like those displaced by enclosure, those who lost their jobs in the cloth industry merely added to the already severe situation of poverty within the towns, and don’t act as a main reason for the poverty within them, unlike the population growth within the towns. 

Although the issue of enclosure and urbanization can be seen to be important reasons for the growth of poverty within the towns, the growth of population within the towns themselves is the most important one. It is this issue that originally caused increase in poverty within the towns, due to the dramatic increase of population within them, which led to a significant drain on resources, which then developed into an economic and financial crisis. If the population growth had remained steady, then the impact of those coming from rural areas to towns would’ve been more manageable. However, the additional rural population that migrated to the towns only added to a problem that was already fully developed, and had already increased the levels of poverty within the towns. 

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Is ‘Legally Blonde’ a Feminist Film?

‘Legally Blonde’ is one of the popular teen flicks, and tells the story of Elle Woods’ journey to Harvard and beyond. While many young women appreciate the feminist qualities of the film, does it stand up to scrutiny? When situating the film in a broader feminist context, the film seems to comment on first wave feminism. This hit in the 60s, and focused on women’s role in society, and their political power. For example first wave feminism, focused on what jobs women should be allowed to hold.

The reasons as to why and how Elle gets into Harvard are somewhat dubious. She decides that she want to go to Harvard to follow Warner, her boyfriend who has just dumped her. To look at this simply, which the film does, she goes to Harvard solely for this reason. This is where the films feminism falters slightly. Interestingly, it is Elle’s application video that slightly turns this around, as in any normal situation, her application would have been refused. The film notes that it is the lechery of the application panel that lets her in, as well as Elle’s intellectual capabilities. This particular scene comments on how men are failing women, and how they are underestimating Elle. This is a theme that originates with Warner, and continues throughout the film. 

One thing that the film succeeds in is the representation of Elle’s friends. They are nothing but supportive, and although they do not understand why Elle wants to go to Harvard, they still help her with the LSATs and her application. They also turn up at the end of the film to support her in her first case. Elle’s teacher is the same, and although she is somewhat perplexed at Elle’s decision to go to Harvard, she supports her.

When Elle first bumps into Warner, her epic putdown of ‘what like it’s hard?’ Encapsulates the idea that if one puts their mind to it, one can do anything. This is a testament to Elle’s character, and although still at this point, she is at Harvard for Warner, we do see glimpses of her strength and determination. 

Warner’s rejection of Elle at Harvard is a significant turning point for the better. It is at this point that Elle does not just stay at Harvard for a boy, but she stays at Harvard for herself. She wants to learn, and believes she is capable. Vivienne’s snappiness and Elle’s shambolic first class also do not stop her, and Elle again exhibits motivation and strength – both of which are positive qualities. 

Elle’s kindness is also showcased in her relationship with Paulette. Elle supports Paulette in her divorce, and specifically in her fight to get her dog back. Elle seems to cover all bases, she has brains, empathy and beauty. Elle takes another hit when Callahan acts inappropriately with her, but again, instead of letting a man stand in her way, she trusts in her abilities and convictions, and fights to win her case. But again, this moment shows Elle in a positive light, and shows that it is in fact men who are holding, and have been holding her back. This particular scene does not scream feminism at the audience, but instead screams that Elle has to constantly fight to be taken seriously and survive this male dominated profession. The scene highlights a social problem which is still prevalent today.

Elle also single handedly busts female stereotypes. Elle’s girlishness and entire look cold easily be associated with Regina George. Elle could have been portrayed as shallow and villainous, but she bucks that trend by having heart and depth. She beats down the dumb blonde stereotype, and proves that you do not need to change yourself to be successful. 

In the end, Elle wins the case because of all the qualities that Warner left her for. Her Cosmo girl knowledge, the very knowledge that makes her a stereotypical ‘bimbo’ is what saves her. What the film says is that it is ok to be feminine and strong and intelligent, and that more often than not, those who are feminine are not be overlooked. Like Elle should not be overlooked. This again reinforces the idea that girlishness and femininity are not negative traits, in certain situations, they are helpful and even powerful. Elle’s win, and criticism of Chutney’s perm proves that it is ok for Elle to be herself, and although she now loves the law, she did not need it to make her a ‘better’ person who should be taken seriously. 

This is what Elle says in her closing speech. She reaffirms that you should always have ‘faith in yourself.’ This is where the film succeeds in its feminist aims, but not by shoving feminism specifically down your throat. Here we have a woman, who was judged by all, assumed to be stupid, standing up and addressing the Harvard class of 2004. How did she succeed? By having faith in her own character, the character that basically got mocked throughout her first few weeks at law school, even though it was this character that actually won her her first case. Elle’s enduring message, really can be applied to man or woman, but it adds extra emotional weight that it comes from a woman, as it is a male dominated world that Elle has continuously been battling throughout the film, something that she did with strength and courage.

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The Pencil Case: A Brief History

One of my favourite parts of going back to school was buying some brand new stationary… I’m a humanities graduate, what can I say?

Pencils

Back in ancient Rome, the equivalent of a pencil was called a stylus, which was a thin metal rod. This was used to leave marks on papyrus, or wax tablets. Pieces of wood were also used. As early as the 8th century, lead was used to write and draw images. The monk who wrote the Lindisfarne Gospels, who is believed to be called Eadfrith, used lead paint to illustrate and create the work. This took approximately ten years. Although there is some debate about what ink was used, if it was lead based, then Eadfrith’s work would predate the modern pencil by several centuries. It was not until the mid 1500s that graphite was discovered, and due to the properties of the material, it was easily applicable to paper and left much darker marks. However, graphite is also delicate and brittle, so in order to fashion the pencil, it was encased in wood. Germany began mass producing pencils in the 17th century. In the 18th century, Nicolas-Jacques Conté began to blend graphite and clay into pencil lead, and with that the modern day pencil was born. The word ‘pencil’ itself comes from the Old French pincel, meaning little tail. This referred to camel hair, which artists originally used for their paint brushes. It should also be noted that, until the mid 20th century, paint used to cover the wood of the pencil contained a high amount of lead, which could have become dangerous when the pencil was chewed, as lead is poisonous. 

Pencil Sharpener

Of course, you could not have a pencil without a sharpener. Before these came about, pencils were sharpened by whittling with a knife. The development of pencil sharpeners began in France, when Mr C. A. Boucher reported in an 1822 book that he had created a device that sharpened pencils. Inventors in Germany also recognised his ideas. Boucher however did not patent his sharpener, perhaps explaining why many people have been linked to its invention. 

French mathematician Bernard Lassimonne patented the sharpener in 1828, and these sharpeners were sold at a shop in Paris. A version of the sharpener was patented by Cooper and Eckstein in 1833, and was called the Styloxynon. The device consisted of two blades set at right angles to each other, in a block of rosewood. Another person linked to the invention of the sharpener is African American inventor John Lee Love. He was a carpenter in Massachusetts where he developed a version of the pencil sharpener, which he operated with a hand crank. He gained a patent in 1897. Electric sharpeners came onto the scene in the 1900s, with the oldest recorded one being introduced in 1936.

Rubbers

Old school rubbers included wax, which was used to remove spelling errors. Pumice stones were used to make corrections on papyrus, and crustless bread was also used rub away pencil markings. It was not until Edward Nairne began experimenting with rubber in 1770 that the rubbers we have today began to come into fashion. Nairne accidentally picked up a piece of India gum, which was rubber but not called it at the time, and realised how effective it was by accident. He had intended to pick up some breadcrumbs. Raw rubber though, was perishable. Philosopher Joseph Priestly also knew that India gum was effective, and it was he that named the material as ‘rubber’ because of its skill at ‘rubbing out.’ We have Charles Goodyear to thank for the modern rubber, as he developed the process of vulcanisation in 1839. This made rubber harder and more durable. This process also aided the creation of rubber tubing. 

The Biro

Ideas about the biro began to surface in 1888, and came from American man John J Loud. Although his ball point design worked, his design was not compatible with paper. In the 1930s,  Hungarian journalist László Bíró and his brother György did further work on the idea, and developed a quick drying ink that could be used for it. Their plans for the pen were disrupted by World War Two, and after fleeing to Argentina from the Nazi threat, the brothers were Jewish, they released the ‘birome’ pen in 1943. The USA based company Reynolds International Pen Company released their own version of the pen, and tweaked it enough so that it would not integer with the Bíró’s biro. All of these versions required frequent refills however, and it was not until Marcel Bic from France began manufacturing Bic pens that cheap biros came onto the market.

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Religious Allegory in ‘Harry Potter’

The ‘Harry Potter’ series has been subjected to much critical analysis over the years, and many critics have noted the religious allusions present in the books.

Harry himself can be likened to Jesus, especially going off from his death in the seventh book. Critic Ernie Rea notes that Harry sacrifices himself for the sake of all those that are threatened by Voldermort. In a similar fashion, Jesus sacrifices himself for humanity. Both reject the help of others, and both feel betrayed by their superiors. Jesus tries to reason with God in the Garden of Gethsemane, Harry feels betrayed by the late Albus Dumbledore. In the last novel Harry realises that Snape had always been protecting him on Dumbledore’s orders, so that Voldermort himself could kill him. The idea of Harry being ‘The Chosen One’ also echoes the role of Christ, as the one saviour of humanity. 

If we rewind to the ‘Chamber of Secrets,’ the Basilisk itself as a snake has strong allusions to Satan, and the form He took in the Garden of Eden. Harry goes down to the Chamber of Secrets to rescue Ginny from Tom Riddle, an equally Satanic figure. Harry is aided by a Phoenix, who can be compared to Christ. The Phoenix is sent by Dumbledore, who takes the role of God, as it was God who sent Jesus amongst mankind to save them. This links to the general theme of good triumphing over evil, which really features in all of the series. 

Vanessa Zoltan even goes so far as comparing Hagrid to the Virgin Mary. Hagrid provides a maternal influence to Harry throughout the series, and literally carries him at the start of the series to Privet Drive, and out of the Forbidden Forest at the end. This image of unadulterated love and protection is similar to that of Michelangelo’s Pietà, which depicts the Virgin Mary carrying the dead Jesus Christ.

In an issue of the Vatican newspaper in 2008, the Harry Potter series was praised, as they taught the audience lessons about loving, and selflessness. The paper argued that the line between good and evil is clearly defined, and that this is communicated strongly to the audience. 

As well as this, the series has been met with strong opposition by religious scholars. Former official exorcist of Rome, Gabriele Amorth, declared that the novels were the work of the Devil… extreme I know. This probably stems from some peoples’ belief that the novel encourages people to believe in witchcraft and the supernatural, ideas which are generally condemned within scripture. Some critics, such as Professor Edoardo Rialti have gone so far as to say that the series itself praises witchcraft and the occult. He explained that, just because the protagonists have possession of these powers, and they use them for good, it does not actually make the characters good people. 

The series has also been publicly burned, as recently as 2019. In Poland, priests from the northern city of Koszalin set fire to the novel series, as well as the ‘Twilight’ series, in fear that the novels promoted magic and sorcery. The ‘Harry Potter’ books were also banned in a school in Tennessee, as Reverend Dan Reehil argued that the spells used in the series were real ones, that could be used to conjure up ‘evil spirits.’

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D. H. Lawrence: A Brief Biography

On D. H. Lawrence’s birthday week, I take a quick look at his eventful life. David Herbert Lawrence is most well known for his erotic novel, ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ but people often forget that he was also a poet and painter. ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ probably gets the most attention because of the 1960 obscenity trial that it precipitated. Penguin Books were taken to court over the publication of the novel and won the case. The novel then promptly sold three million copies. But what led Lawrence to write this novel, and how did his life and upbringing affect its subject matter?

Lawrence was born on September 11th 1885 into the mining community of Nottingham. He had three older siblings. He was deeply close to his mother, Lydia Beardsall, but had a tempestuous relationship with his father, Arthur John Lawrence. It is through his father however that Lawrence developed a deep love of nature. His mother hailed from a higher class than his father, who was known in the local area for his drinking.

Throughout his life Lawrence had poor health, and a bout of pneumonia aged nineteen plagued him for the rest of his life. Lawrence never properly settled in one place either, and for several years after school, he worked as a clerk, and then as a teacher. He developed a close bond with fellow bookworm Jessie Chambers, and their bond became so close that his family encouraged him to marry her, or break contact with her completely. He chose the latter in 1910. It was that year that his mother also died from abdominal cancer.

After his brief teaching career, Lawrence decided to become a lecturer in Germany. He enlisted the help of a former professor, Ernest Weekley to help him do this. When arriving to discuss the matter with Weekley at his home, Lawrence instead was welcome by his wife Frieda. Frieda had just engaged in a love affair with Otto Grosse, a Freudian analyst. It was here that Lawrence and Frieda discussed the love and sex, deciding that all desires should be freely expressed and enjoyed. Frieda was to have a profound impact on Lawrence, as he persuaded her to leave her husband and three children and elope with him.

Lawrence published ‘Sons and Lovers’ in 1913. The book is almost semi autobiographical, and chronicles the life and losses of Paul Morel. The novel focuses on his relationship with his mother, and his relationships with two women, Miriam Levers and Clara Dawes. The novel almost tries to analyse what went wrong with Jessie Chambers. In the novel, Paul has sex with Miriam, and then sex with Clara. He notes that sex with Clara is physical, not spiritual, whereas sex with Miriam is the reverse. Paul cannot integrate a sexual relationship with a spiritual one, and it would appear that this is what Lawrence was seeking in his life. Frieda helped him write the novel, and told him how it would be seen through Freudian eyes. Her notes are present in his manuscripts. It is conceivable to think that Freud would have picked up on Paul’s closeness with his mother, and would have made further comment on this. Her death in the novel marks a major turning point for Paul.

Lawrence’s next novel ‘The Rainbow’ was much broader than ‘Sons and Lovers,’ and covered several generations of the same family. The material again was controversial, and as was his reputation. Ezra Pound even described Lawrence as a ‘detestable person.’ Frieda and Lawrence married in 1914, and their neighbours noted that, although they would literally tear each other’s hair out in rage, they were deeply attached to each other. Lawrence once recounted to a friend that he wanted a woman who challenged him. During this time, as Lawrence struggled to get his work published, Frieda and Lawrence were so poor that they relied on charity to live.

Lawrence finally decided to leave England after the war. Although not a pacifist, he detested the war so much that he became alienated from his own homeland. For the rest of his life, he would continue to travel.

Lawrence began his ‘savage pilgrimage’ in 1919, and his travels took him to Sri Lanka and America. He eventually settled in New Mexico. It was in 1925 that Lawrence received his tuberculosis diagnosis. His rapidly declining health affected his ability to work, and wit much effort, ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ was published privately in 1928. While Frieda had several affairs during their marriage, Lawrence only had one with Rosalyn Banes. Scholars think that this one night of passion in 1920 partly inspired the novel, as did Frieda’s liberal feelings about sexuality. Rosalyn herself may have been a model for Constance, as both had similar upbringings. The novel may have also been inspired by Frieda’s affair with Angelo Ravagli, the couple’s landlord. ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ might have been Lawrence’s way of telling Frieda that she needed to explore her sexuality.

In 1929, an exhibition of Lawrence’s paintings ended in a police raid, and thirteen of his paintings were confiscated for obscenity. Lawrence succumbed to his tuberculosis on 2nd March 1930, and he died in France in the presence of Frieda and novelist Aldous Huxley. Frieda would go on to marry Angelo in 1950. Angelo was tasked with bringing Lawrence’s ashes to be interred at Lawrence’s former ranch in New Mexico, at a shrine Frieda had built for him. However, on discovering that Angelo had to pay a tax to take Lawrence’s ashes on the boat, he decided that the Mediterranean sea would be a better resting place for him. The urn was then filled with dust and dirt, and interred in a concrete block in the chapel in New Mexico that Frieda had erected.

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‘Bates Motel’ TV Series: An Analysis

‘Bates Motel’ ran for five seasons from 2013 to 2017, and centred around the trials and tribulations of Norma and Norman Bates. Both characters appear in Robert Bloch’s 1959 novel ‘Psycho,’ and Hitchock’s acclaimed horror film of the same name the following year. The series starts with Norma and Norman moving to White Pine Bay, and buying their infamous hotel. Throughout the fifty episodes the two become embroiled in the politics of the Bay, and leave a string of corpses behind them.

It is clear from the beginning of the show that Norma (Vera Farmiga) and Norman (Freddie Highmore) are very close. His name is literally an extension of hers, as he is a physical extension of her, as her son. She does not act like a mature woman in the opening scenes, as she runs around the new motel, and jumps on the bed. She wears pretty clothes, mainly dresses with floral prints. The flowers emphasise her femininity, as does her girlish behaviour. Her blonde bob and pretty face, which is usually done up, make her appear more like a pretty dolly than a human woman. This of course foreshadows Norman’s cross dressing as his mother, and his digging up of her corpse in the fourth season. His preservation of her body is also flagged by his unnerving interest in taxidermy.

In the first episode, he witnesses her being raped by an intruder. After breaking free, Norma straddles him and repeatedly stabs him. This scenario already creates an unhealthy relationship between sex, violence and death, a trio that Norman carries with him. Bodies with multiple stab wounds are usually suggestive of a ‘crime of passion,’ and it is this passion that is simulated when Norma kills her assailant. Her repeated stabbing, and the spurting of blood, acts as some kind of release and carries sexual undertones. Although Norman is not physically involved in this act, seeing his mother kill somebody, and witnessing the act of sex for the first time in this way effectively ends his innocent childhood, and forces him into the reality of adulthood… suffice to say, this is no normal adulthood. It is here where he enters Norma’s world – she had to cover up Norman’s father’s death, and also suffered abuse at his hand. This is Norman’s first glimpse into his mother’s world and it is this world, specifically his mother’s persona, that he will totally adopt.

Throughout the series, the lines between sex and authority are regularly blurred. Although Norma tries to stop Norman having sex with other girls, and describes other women as whores, she has several sexual relationships throughout the series. One of these is with Sheriff Romero, which blurs the lines between sex and authority. Blaire Watson only complicates Norma and Norman’s relationship. She acts as a pseudo-mother to him, but also tries to seduce him. This blurs the relationship between sex and authority, and only intensifies Norman’s attraction to his mother. Norman adopts the mother personality and kills the women that Norman is sexually attracted to. Because of this, Norman is continually abandoned by women who he likes and who he thinks care for him, like teacher Blaire Watson and schoolmates Bradley Martin and Emma Decody. Norma is the only woman that does not reject Norman, which only intensifies their bond.

Norma and Norman also act like a couple. They share intimate moments, he zips up her dress, they sleep in the same bed. They have numerous shared experiences. In the fourth season, Norman remembers Norma being raped as a child. Norman hides under the bed, and takes Norma’s hand. He jolts as she does, making her rape by her husband an almost shared experience. This idea of shared experience goes further, as Norman later becomes Norma and dresses up in her clothes.

On the night of Norma’s death, weirdly their roles switch. Norman sings Norma a lullaby as she drifts to sleep, which ultimately infantilises her. She is infantilised just like she has infantilised Norman, and it is this that kills her. Norma’s death has a tragic element, as Norman is now alone in the world. His plan has massively backfired. Norma had to die in season four, to ensure that season five could sufficiently delve deep into Norman’s downward spiral.

The following events have a ‘Wuthering Heights’ vibe, as he begs his mother not to stay in ‘the abyss where I cannot find you.’ Heathcliff says a similar thing when Cathy dies, and at one point digs up her corpse just to feel close to her. Norman does this same, meaning that the writers are intentionally, or unintentionally, comparing the mother and son to Heathcliff and Catherine. Both couples have a doomed, destructive love, and both couples never enter into a sexual relationship. It is more a relationship of the mind. Heathcliff and Catherine speak as if they are two halves of the same soul, and Norman and Norma are the same. Like Norman, Heathcliff dreams that Catherine is still alive.

When Norman dreams about Norma, he dreams that she stays at home and does the housework, while he goes out as the breadwinner. The two sound like a traditional 50s couple. Norman seeks to recreate his mother by dressing up as her, and then by having Madeleine Loomis dress up on her. It saddens him that her dresses will go ‘unanimated.’ The use of the term is strange. He does not say that he does not want the dresses to be wasted, he is saying that he does not want them to be stationary. He wants to see them inhabited and moving, and wants the dresses to be inhabited in front of him – by Madeleine. He wants the dresses to come alive again, because he wants his mother to be alive again.

One of the bigger shocks of the series is seeing Rihanna rock up to the motel as Marion Crane. Her characterization, and survival, allows the show to remake Hitchcock’s ‘Psycho’ with a feminist lens. Marion is trying to survive in a male dominated world, and finds herself belittled by her male peers at work and manipulated by Sam Loomis, who has not told her that he is married. Norma manipulates Norman into killing Sam Loomis in the shower, instead of Marion. Norma tells Norman that Sam was like his father, blaming him for their misfortune.

Norman and Marion’s story converges at this point, as in killing Sam, Norman is killing someone who is representative of his own father, who was abusive to his mother, Norma. It is from his father that Norma and Norman’s problems both started, as he was abusive towards Norma. Norman was subjected to the effects of this trauma. Sam dies for the sins of man, and effectively, Norman is taking a stab at the corrupt patriarchy that abused his mother and abused Marion. Sam’s death is Norman’s attempt to retcon his previous trauma, and undo his and Norma’s crimes. Unfortunately, it is too late for that.

It is here that Norman finally realises what HE has done. The killing of Sam Loomis is the first killing committed by Norman, not Norma. While Norman is questioned about the death of Sam, in place of Norman we see Norma. Several shots show Norman staring at his reflection, that reflection being his mother. Norman has now stopped dressing up as his mother, or in other words, stopped pretending to be her. He now IS her. By having them both in shot as the same person, the idea is reinforced that they are two halves of the same person, like Heathcliff and Cathy. They both are fully amalgamated, and therefore cannot escape each other. It is here that the five year story arc reaches its completion. Norman and Norma cannot be separated. If you put their two names together it is ‘Norman’ they both converge inside Norman’s physical body, where Norman and Norma both reside. This is why Norman has to die, as he cannot survive any longer without Norma. Norman’s death affords him some sort of redemption, as he realises that what he has done is wrong.

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Raksha Bandhan: A Brief History

Raksha Bandhan is a Hindu festival that takes place every year. Although the date changes each year, traditionally the festival falls in August. This is because the festival occurs on the last day of the Hindu lunar calendar month of Shraavana. Although traditionally Hindu, the festival has been absorbed in the culture of India and is celebrated by many different faiths of the country, including Sikhism. On this day, sisters tie a decorative thread around their brother’s wrist, which is supposed to protect them. These threads are called ‘rakhis.’ The thread itself literally represents ‘the bond of protection, obligation, or care’ which actually is the meaning of the Sanksrit phrase ‘Raksha Bandhan.’ In return, brothers would give a gift to their sisters, sometimes in the form of money. The ceremony does not take place only for direct brothers and sisters, but cousin-brothers and cousin-sisters also. Some people take this one step further, and form voluntary kin relations by partaking in the festival along with those who are not blood relatives.

The relationship between brother and sister is at the heart of the festival. This is integral to the culture of India, as, for example, when young women get married and move out of the family home, the brother is supposed to act as the intermediary between their family and the in laws.

The festival itself is inspired by many different stories in Hindu scripture, but a popular one revolves around the god Vishnu. Vishnu had left his wife Lakshmi to live with King Bali. She travelled to King Bali to tie a rakhi on him, and when asked what she wanted in return, she asked for her husband to come home. This is meant to communicate the generosity of Hindus.

Another potential source for the festival is the Mahabharata. In the ancient Hindu epic, heroine Draupadi tears her sari and ties it around Krishna’s wrists to stop them bleeding. Krishna was so touched by this that in return, he vowed to protect her. Although this story is an example, there are many other religious myths that surround the festival, which causes debate amongst historians.

Another important moment in the history of Raksha Bandhan happened in the 1500s. Widowed queen Rani Karnavati sent a rakhi to the Mughal emperor asking for help defending her city. Although not explicitly brother and sister, the idea of asking for protection is still an important part of the festival.

In 1905, Rabindranath Tagore started a mass Raksha Bandhan festival to combat the Partition of Bengal. He encouraged Hindu and Muslim women to tie rakhis on Hindu and Muslim men, and take them as brothers. This was supposed to heal the divide between Hindus and Muslims that the British were encouraging. Different regions in India celebrate Raksha Bandhan in different ways. In North India, kites are often flown. Some puja and prayers are also performed. While rituals vary, the core focus of the festival remains the same: the bond between brother and sister.

Happy Raksha Bandhan!

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