Monday, February 25, 2013

Tess of the D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy

My latest read is Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy. The book’s description said that it dealt with breaking social norms and uncovering the hypocrisy/double standards in Victorian England, so the sociologist in me couldn’t resist picking up this book. Goodreads link is here:

This book follows the life of a girl, Tess, from birth to death and this book has been divided into seven parts, each part assigned to an important phase of Tess’ life. I will review each part separately as I won’t be doing the book justice if I just do one overall review of the book due to the diversity of each part. Each part teaches us about a new aspect of Victorian society.

The first part of the book (or phases, as they have been called) is called “The Maiden”.  In this phase, Tess is running an errand for her dad, in the process of which the horse gets injured and dies. Tess’ dad has discovered that their family is related to a well to do high class family, the D’Urbervilles. Tess’ dad wants her to go visit them and claim relations to them so that they can be financially helped out. Tess reluctantly agrees after the horse dies. But there the gentleman, Alec, takes an unfair advantage of her, while giving her the impression that she is protected by calling her “cousin”.  

The second part is Maiden No More. Tess moves back in with her parents, has a kid who dies a few weeks later after he was born.

The third part is The Rally. Tess’ family is experiencing difficulties because of what happened to her. According to society it is all her fault and only she is to blame, so she must pay the price. So in order to exonerate (for the lack of a better word) her family she finds a job as a milkmaid at a dairy farm where she falls in love with a colleague and becomes friends with her female colleagues.

The fourth part is The Consequence. Here we begin to get a good picture of the double standards of Victorian society. Angel, the colleague Tess is in love with, has proposed marriage to her. She is very reluctant to agree because Angel doesn’t know her past. So she is confused what to do about it so she asks her mother what to do. The mother says to keep the past a secret. On their wedding night Angel tells Tess about an affair he had so Tess thinks that it is safe to tell her story too so she tells her husband. Here we really see the double standard as when Angel and Tess went into town, many people passed remarks/comments to them regarding her past and why is a person like Angel with her.

The fifth part is The Woman Pays. Our lesson in the double standard of Victorian society continues. When Angel discovers Tess’ past, they get estranged. Angel says he will move away, Tess decides to move back with her parents. However, her parents are not very happy once they discover the truth of the matter and the reasoning behind it. Tess finds life at home tough, so she gets work at a farm. She even tries to visit Angel’s family by visiting Angel’s dad’s church, but that turned out to be a bad attempt because she overhears people bad-taking her and she is forced to come face-to-face with Alec. The double standard is shown as Angel can willingly do something and it is perfectly alright, and if something happens to Tess against her will (due to her innocence and lack of knowledge), she has to pay a very heavy price.

The sixth part is The Convert. Alec asks Tess to marry him and says he will help Tess out with her family’s problems (her father has died) by letting them live on the estate. Again we see the double standard as Alec thinks he is Tess’ husband because of the incident so she should marry him and accept help from him. Also, Angel is regretting his actions.

The seventh and final part is Fulfilment. Tess marries Alec but then Angel comes back and finds her. Tess throws Angel out of the house, goes back, kills Alec and runs after Tess. As Alec, the person responsible for all is dead, Angel forgives her. They run to Stonehenge where Tess is apprehended by the police and later executed. Angel and Tess’ sister Liza-Lu see the black flag signalling her execution.

So, in conclusion this book is quite slow and in some places some incidents and scenes are dragged on way too much. Like at times you really need to exhibit a lot of patience due to the slowness factor. Personally I think the slowness factor goes without saying when it comes to most classical books, but that is just me. But it is a good read as it really teaches you a lot about the double standards Victorian society possess. It even shows the theme of men dominating women in the way Tess has been dominated by the men in her life. We even learn about class divide, how people passed comments at Tess due to the differences in social class between her and both Alec and Angel.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

The Human Emotion of Lonliness

Nowadays the leading cause of death is heart problems. Heart attack, heart failure, stuff like that. But they say that by the year 2020, the leading cause of depression will no longer be heart issues. Depression. An emotion. How can an emotion become a leading cause of death? Hell, how can an emotion cause a single death in the first place?  Surprising, eh? Well, emotions can affect our physical health like if you are having a bad day you get headaches and stress can cause lots of illnesses to occur also.

This got me thinking. What is it that has changed in our lifestyles or living patterns that has resulted in such a huge increase in the level and incidence of depression that is resulting it in being the next leading cause of death? Well one day I was lurking and scrolling down my Facebook newsfeed and the answer suddenly hit me. Loneliness. Our patterns of living and changes in the nature of social relationships have changed which means that now we have like become so individualistic that we no longer care about other people but ourself.
How did Facebook bring about this realization? Well I saw a quote there which I would like to share:
“Loneliness doesn’t come from not having people around you, it comes from not having people around you to share those things that seem important to you”.

What would happen is that in the past, family sizes were bigger plus there was strong social cohesion. People would interact closely with each other and everyone had someone they can call their “friend”. Because there was like so many people to choose from, everyone was easily able to find someone to hang out with and someone of their type also. But then as societies expanded and became more complex, our nature of social relationships changed. You would think that as family size declined (which personally I think is a good thing that this happened), families have fewer members so they’d be more close-knit and more attached to each other? But unfortunately that is not the case as the nature of social relationships have changed. They are too individualistic. They only care about themselves. They simply do not want to, or unable to, take out the time to hang out with family members or friends and let them share what is important to them and take an interest in it. 

What is the end result of all of this? Loneliness. And what does loneliness cause? Sadness. And what does sadness result in? Depression. And we all know the consequences of depression. It is a fact of the world that people need people. Even the world’s most introverted person, the world’s most shy person, the world’s biggest schizoid, needs people. All people need people. But no people have people.

I have spent the past ten years of my life interacting with individuals online. The stereotype is that the internet is a place for lonely people with no friends. When I first joined the internet, this was not even close to being the case. But just over the course of ten years, I have been seeing this stereotype slowly come true. People’s families have moved away or they don’t get along and people with whom they were friends with have moved away or due to whatever reason the friendships have dissolved. So, as people need people, many have began to flock to the internet.

This all concludes with the quote that I posted towards the beginning of this passage. It is the little things that count. You want to share those little things that are important to you. It can be an achievement, a tough time, an incident that happened to you. Sometimes you just want to talk, you just want to share things. And due to the current nature of social relationships this is not a possibility for many people. Which results in the cycle. Loneliness to sadness. Sadness to depression. Depression to many other issues. Many other issues to death.
Solution? In my eyes the only solution  is changing the nature of social relationships and taking the time to listen to those around us.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Why are We So Quick to Judge People?

Judgement. How do we define this word? Not very easy to define, is it? When I think of the word “judgement” the first thing that comes to my mind is court cases where a judge passes judgement after listening to the case and then whatever the judge declares is legally binding on both parties. Well, I asked Google to shed some light on how it defines judgement, I was only shown the legal and court definition of the word. This made me ask myself, why is it that we, as human beings, think that we have the right to hold our own amateur courts all the time against our fellow human beings and behave as if our judgement is legally binding or something on the person we so quickly passed judgement on?

How many times it has happened that we have learnt about a difficulty in a person’s personal or professional life and we’ve, without having the slightest clue about the inside story, passed comment or passed judgement on them? Put forward our own theories about the reasons behind their difficulty and our own solutions about how to solve it and our own judgements about all the people involved. Why do we think that we need to interfere and act as if we are right in our lame judgements when clearly we don’t know what the inside story is. It is a fact that a lot goes behind closed doors, after all.

Other than that, we are passing judgement on people’s preferences and appearances too. Like for example, “You like green, you must be a nature lover” or “You like to wear a lot of black, you must be a very emotional person”. What sense does that make on any level? Why do we have any business passing those judgements? Or judging people on their taste in music, like “If you like Metallica you are a rebel” or “If you like Linkin Park then you are depressed.” Appearances too. I myself have heard people say stuff like, “She is good looking so why did she get divorced” or “He is looking like that, yet he expects to achieve this?” This is not just mere stereotyping that is going on here. This is something else. That this person is definitely like this simply because they possess this particular trait or that particular type of appearance.

Why are we so quick to pass judgement like this on other people? Don’t people realize the consequences of their actions? What impact their judgements will have on other people? Or don’t people ever think how they would feel like if they were judged like that?

I myself, personally, have been a source of judgement for other people. People have constantly passed judgement on me for various reasons. To my appearance, to my grades, to being a shy person. You name it, it has been judged upon. The consequences for judgement are quite dire. Those of us who have been at the receiving end of judgement know the consequences all too well. The consequences of judgement are all too real and hiding in plain sight, so no need to go into those details here.

This all brings me back to my original question, “Why are we so quick to judge people?” and even after writing those several paragraphs on the topic, I still have like absolutely no answer for this question. However, I have managed to develop several theories on this topic. First, I think it is simply because they can. The attitude of, “I can say this to you, so I will because I can”. Like I have noticed that in several Indian plays, they have a character whose sole purpose is to pass judgement and she (I am yet to see that character as male) behaves exactly like this. Second theory is ego. Just to show that I am so much better than you and I am above you, people pass judgements. Or maybe people pass judgements because they have like gotten too much time on their hands.

My message would be that before someone holds their own court and passes their own judgement, they should think, “Do I even have any business saying this?” And they should look at the consequences. Words are powerful, use them wisely. Your judgement, which took you only like five minutes to pass, may harm and stick to a person for a lifetime. Your judgement may haunt a person forever. Your judgement may hurt a person. Your judgement may make a person rejected by the world like they have no place in this society. Your judgement may harm the behaviour of a person. And the list goes on. So please think twice before you judge someone.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Glee.. The TV Show

Okay so the television show that I just finished is Glee. I thought, as I keep on writing about the books that I read here, along with other random topics, why not write about the television shows that I watch? Generally I am very slow when it comes to watching television shows as I watch only one episode per day and I usually choose series that have been cancelled/concluded/ended because I get really wrapped in the story hence I just have to know how it ended. But Glee was an exception as it is currently been aired. I have only seen the first three seasons as the fourth one is being filmed, so got to wait for that.

So this is one show that I found that I can relate to. To the overall basic theme, I mean. This show revolves around a high school’s glee club which is basically a singing and dancing club. There are around twelve students in the club, and there is a lot of diversity amongst the people in the club. Diversity in the sense that all of the members of the club come from all walks of life, in the high school sense. It had the most popular kid to the rejected kid, to the top athlete to the physically impaired kid, to the racial majority to the racial minority, strictly straight people to people who strictly identify with the LGBT community.

This show has some really awesome song and dance routines in every episode. If you are a music lover and you like watching dances then you should watch it. Because the characters like break into music at random times with a song related to what is currently going on in the story.

The show has addressed many key issues that high school students face. Like acceptance. How being different and not fitting in can be very tough on students and how it can mentally take its toll on them and how it can affect grades. So this group of outcasts find acceptance in the glee club and it shows the benefit of acceptance. This is the main recurring issue as the main theme of Glee is that acceptance is something everyone deserves and should get. It is okay to be yourself and in fact, you must always be yourself. You will be accepted just the way you are.

I would definitely recommend the show!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (Spoiler Alert)

I am one who avoids book series like the plague. I am like a HUGE Harry Potter fan, but that is like the only book series that I have ever bothered with. My hatred or dislike (for the lack of a better word) occurs because I am the kind of person who, even though I get super absorbed in any book that I read, I want to see new characters and a new story every time I pick up a different book, not a continuation of a book that I read in the past. I just had to make exception to that rule for The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. Goodreads link is here: I had heard so much praise for this book that I was curious to find out what the big deal is. So I got myself a copy of the first book of this three part book series and read it.

Honestly speaking, even before I started reading the book, I had convinced myself that I am not going to like it. Because I didn’t want to get involved in another series. But I got hooked on this book from the very first page. This is one of those books where the author manages to capture and hold the reader’s attention and imagination from the very first word and then manages to keep it until the very end. This is one of those books where the pages just keep on turning themselves and you simply can not put the book down until it is finished.

If you are into dystopian stuff like I am, then this is the book for you. I don’t know why, but for some reason this really reminded me about the book 1984 by George Orwell. I think maybe because there was a similar theme going on in this book. I guess one can actually make a lot of parallels between George Orwell’s 1984 and The Hunger Games.

So what happens in the Hunger Games is that the whole continent of North America has turned into a whole country called Panem (I am not sure if I got the spelling correctly here) and this nation has been divided into 12 Districts. The Districts are divided on the basis of industry, like District 12 deals with coal mining and District 11 deals with agriculture. And then there is the Capitol which is the ruler of them all. However, one fine day there was a rebellion against the system however the rebellion was a failure. Now in order to keep the population “in check”, so to speak, the Capitol makes the population participate in the annual Hunger Games. Every District has to supply one girl and one boy who is selected through a draw where they join an arena to a fight to the death. All the contestants are killed, except one of them.

The reason why I draw parallel between The Hunger Games and George Orwell’s 1984 is two fold. Firstly, Big Brother. In both of the books, the entire population is being brainwashed by the government and being told by the government what exactly they should think and the flow of information is strictly controlled. Dissent is dealt with very harshly. Big Brother/Capitol is constantly watching you, your every single word being recorded. People are wanting to escape but if they do they are doomed. Secondly, the system can not be broken. It appears as if this is how it always was and this is how it always will be. The ability to think is gone. Asking a question is like the biggest possible rebellion. Use your brain and you are dead.

In this book, we also learn about team work and how alliances are formed in order to fight a common enemy after which the alliance is broken and all the members of the former alliance turn against each other. This book deals with the dynamics of that very well. Kind of reminded me of the age old saying, “Enemy of my enemy is my friend”.

So, overall I would say that if dystopian things appeal to you, and especially if you are a fan of the book 1984 by George Orwell, this is the book for you as The Hunger Games and 1984 have sharp overlappings. Its a very interesting book that grips you from the very beginning and then afterwards it is impossible to put down in the very end. The characters are well developed and interesting. It is a must-read book.