Comments on a paragraph: Ch 17, lines 189-198

Although I’m just beginning this section of reading, I found a paragraph that I have a lot to say about, so I’m posting now for Friday without actually knowing what I’ll be reading in the next 80 pages. 

This first full paragraph on p. 134 (in the edition with the black cover) is very interesting to me for a number of reasons:

  1. The word “martyr” has begun to be used very frequently to describe Billy. The more it is used, the more I think about its meanings and implications. Obviously, it’s clear why Jane wants to believe that Billy is a martyr (it gives reason for his death), and it’s clear why she thinks he is one (she assumes he died for their cause, rather than as a result of his sadness), and it’s clear to us that he doesn’t seem to be one (in that sense of the word). But in class we discussed the tendency of this book to divorce words from their definitions and reassign them (such as with geographical locations). Maybe that’s what the text is doing with the word martyr. So, if Billy is actually a martyr in this text, what’s the definition of martyr.  
    This is also interesting to me because eventually, as I read “martyr” over and over again, it occurred to me that one piece of information that came to be “common knowledge” shortly after 9/11 was that the people flying the airplanes considered themselves to be martyrs. We didn’t consider them to be martyrs. We considered them terrorists. So is Billy a martyr, a terrorist, or something else? And who decides?
  2. The paragraph begins “They blew up one more building” and then mentions Oklahoma three lines later. The juxtaposition of these two elements (“Oklahoma” and “blew up one more building”) triggered “Oklahoma City bombing” in my mind. And I wondered if this was an intentional reference. Then I googled Oklahoma City bombing and the second sentence of the wikipedia article says, “It would remain the most destructive act of terrorism in the United States until the September 11 attacks of 2001, six years later.” So, is it safe to say that the two events are commonly connected in the minds of Americans? Is it legitimate to question whether Novy chose “Oklahoma” as a location name in his text for this reason?
  3. Then: “…the sun had started rising, like a fire in the sky unleashed by Jane, in Billy’s name, a martyr. RedBlacks scrambled through the smoky light of dawn, they were unprepared and frantic, for war had found them decadent and ready to be vanquished, inadequate to Jane, who watched from a rooftop.”  So much of this screams 9/11 to me, which is noteworthy because it’s the first time in the text where I have seen it to this extent. Here are my thoughts: In this passage it’s morning, just like it was when things began on 9/11. There’s a fire in the sky, like the buildings burning high above. The fire was unleashed by Jane, who (in this sentence – based on the construction of the commas) is the martyr, acting on behalf of Billy (another martyr, as the text has determined). RedBlacks are the victims; they’re unsuspecting and running frantically through smoke because war had found them: that is the U.S. in New York city on the morning of 9/11. Finally, Jane –  the martyr-terrorist – is watching from a rooftop. Following 9/11, weren’t there videos of the relevant martyr-terrorists watching the happenings in NYC and laughing? In this passage, Jane is the martyr-terrorist and the RedBlacks are the citizens of NYC (at least that’s one way to read it, I think). Finally, I’d like to point out that this gives reason to Sam’s (I believe it was Sam) point about not really feeling as though we can sympathize with Morgan (even though he seems to be the protagonist). Maybe it’s because to us (Americans in a post-9/11 world), Morgan is part of the terrorist group, not the victim group, so we can’t naturally sympathize with him. Maybe that’s what the text was leading us to up to this point. 

 

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