Author: Jacqueline

The Linguistics of Murder and How Words Shape Reality

When Offred thinks about how Luke killed the cat, she explains his ability to coldly kill the cat with linguistics: “I’ll take care of it, Luke said. And because he said it instead of her, I knew he meant kill. That is what you have to do before you kill, I thought. You have to create an it, where none was before. You do that first, in your head, and then you make it real” (192 – 193).  I thought this was a really interesting and subtle way to talk about objectification, especially since there is so much clear objectification throughout The Handmaid’s Tale. The handmaid’s are bodies, vessels, or wombs rather than people. The cat is a problem to be fixed rather than a beloved pet. The way people talk about things changes the reality and therefore the possibilities. If the cat is an “it” then she can be killed. If the handmaids are vessels, then only their physical health matters. The idea of the importance of how we talk about things seems especially poignant today when people complain about “politically correct” culture. This discourse of free speech being mutually exclusive with respectful knowledgeable speech ignores the ways in which language can be used to shape reality. This simple example in The Handmaid’s Tale shows just how dangerous that potential can be.


We briefly mentioned power as one of the main themes in the book today, but as feminism was the topic of the day we didn’t really go into it. One passage that talked about power explicitly was in chapter 23 before we learn about Offred’s unusual relationship with the Commander: “But remember that forgiveness too is a power. To beg for it is a power, and to withhold or bestow it is a power, perhaps the greatest” (134 – 135). I thought this was really interesting, especially after learning that the Commander wants to make her life more comfortable, likely to ease his own guilt about the situation. She has a sense of power over him because she can either withhold or bestow her acceptance/forgiveness of his guilt. However I do not think that this fully covers what power means, in general or in this relationship. Especially since when she talks about that relationship she mentions that she can’t forget that he is the one with the power.

After the passage about forgiveness she says “Maybe none of this is about control. Maybe it isn’t really about who can own whom, who can do what to whom and get away with it, even as far as death. Maybe it isn’t about who can sit and who has to kneel or stand or lie down, legs spread open. Maybe it’s about who can do what to whom and be forgiven for it. Never tell me it amounts to the same thing” (135). I agree that getting away with something and being forgiven for it are not always the same. And I can see why forgiveness would be a higher degree of power than just getting away with something – getting forgiveness seems to imply a degree of control over the moral code and when exceptions are made. But that still seems to be about control to a degree. Or at least how has the freedom from control.

Bad Dreams and Nightmares

I thought Rainie’s reflection on dreams in “Facade” was really interesting for several reasons. She says “I hate making faces. They give me dreams.” “I only have two kinds of dreams. The bad and the terrible.” “Bad dreams I can cope with. They’re just nightmares, and they end eventually.” “I wake up.” “The terrible dreams are the good dreams.”

The connection of dreams to the faces seems to reveal a link of humanity, relationships, imagination, and identity between the two. Both the dreams and the making of faces are unpleasant for Rainie because she has to confront her identity. She puts on the faces to talk to people, and the most concrete part of the terrible good dreams is her relationships. (“Sometimes I’m married. Once I even had kids.”) Imagining a new face for herself but knowing it’s fake is horrible for her because she can’t have the life she imagines in the good dreams.

The idea of bad dreams as nightmares but terrible dreams as good dreams brings a really intriguing play on what is considered good or bad. A nightmare is unpleasant to be in, but has a sense of ending according to Rainie. The worse dreams for her are the ones that are good in the moment but terrible to live with. She doesn’t see any hope of improving her life so the good dreams only point out how sad she is in her real life. It was odd to see such a negative portrayal of good dreams. I think an actual good dream for Rainie might be one in which she finds a way to reconcile with her identity and make new connections to people. But this seems to be totally impossible for her to even imagine. It was so tragic when she spoke with her old friend and the friend said “What if my baby’s a freak?” It just re-affirmed Rainie’s notion that she could never have a normal life. She is what people are afraid that their children might someday be. I wonder if her friend had been nicer if anything would have changed.

Cat Eyes

We briefly mentioned eyes in our class discussion of “Calliope” today, but I thought that eyes were even more prominent in “A Dream of a Thousand Cats.” On the first page both panels on the right side of the page feature the kitten protagonist looking up with big eyes. The first of these panels seems to show the kitten’s innocence. The second shows the kitten looking towards the outside before the start of the journey. When the cat-prophet is speaking her big blue eyes often feature prominently in or fill entire panels. I think the focus on her eyes really helps the reader/viewer to connect with her sad story and her message, or to at least get the feeling of being in her audience. In the panel of the journey when the cat is “in the emptiness of pure nothing” that is reflected by a black panel with just her blue eyes which seem to transcend physicality. The Cat of Dreams also has very prominent eyes. They seem to be yellow stars against the black of the rest of Dream Cat both in the close ups of his eyes and in other images of him were light seems to shine from his eyes. Then after the vision of the past in which cats were in charge (in which the lead human has black spots rather than eyes) the prophet cat says “All this I saw, when I looked into the Dream Cat’s eyes” on a panel with just the prophet cat’s eyes against a black panel. While the prophet cat finishes her sermon the panel is also focused on her eyes. This connects her experience with Dream Cat to her speech for the other cats and to the reader/viewer’s experience. You look into the prophet cat’s eyes and then see the vision of the other past.

Interestingly, this story ends on a panel of the protagonist kitten sleeping with closed eyes. The people who cannot look into the kitten’s eyes cannot see this vision and thus incorrectly assume they know what the cat dreams of. There’s a connection here between knowledge, vision, dreams, and eyes. It reminds me of the saying that ‘eyes are the windows to the soul.’ But I don’t think that quite encompasses what is being shared here through eye contact.

Consciousness and Personhood

The fugitive talks about Morel’s illusions as a kind of immortality in which the soul relives that one segment of their life. There’s an assumption here that the images have souls and count as life, and I’m not sure that I buy that assumption. The fugitive gives Morel’s argument for the souls of the images on page 71 saying: “If we grant consciousness, and all that distinguishes us from objects, to the persons who surround us, we shall have no valid reason to deny it to the persons created by my machinery. When all the senses are synchronized, the soul emerges” (Casares 71). The latter part of that explanation is very similar to one of the class definitions of reality that we came up with at the beginning of the semester (reality is what you perceive with your senses according to this definition). For Morel the soul seems to be composed of one’s sensory perceptions. (This potentially runs into issues when talking about people who don’t experience all of the sense such as blind or deaf people, but that’s not what I’m looking at right here). The first part connects consciousness to personhood, and establishes consciousness as something that one attributes to other people. On the one hand one can never truly know what other people think and feel, or to put it more extremely whether or not other people really exist and have thoughts and feelings. This problem comes up a lot in discussions of artificial intelligence. How can you tell if a robot can think? Morel does not attribute any importance to this question. For him, the robot just needs to experience the senses to be a person. If a robot or illusion is life-like enough that people think it’s a real person, then for Morel it is a real person. But I disagree with the idea that consciousness is something one grants to other people. If a person sees someone else and thinks they are awake and conscious when they are really asleep, that person’s perception will not change the reality of the sleeper. If the recorded actions of Morel’s illusions make them real people who think and feel, then why would characters on film be real? Because they are two-dimensional? Considering AI as people is fine with me, but I do not think the illusions fall into this category.

The issue then becomes how one defines personhood and consciousness. I do not believe that one grants other people consciousness, though one’s perception of consciousness will affect how they go about in the world. For me, I think personhood lies more in the mind, in the thoughts and feelings. I also think it has to do with interaction with other people. Although I’m not sure how to explain that in a way that excludes the illusions even though I do not think they should be included. They do interact with each other, and there are real people who will never interact with each other even though those people all exist simultaneously. Perhaps a better definition with would have to do with creativity. The illusions are incapable of new reactions, experiences, or active interactions. Perhaps life is the potential for a future. If anyone else has thoughts on how this could be better defined, I’d love to hear your takes on this.

Unity and tinkercad

Unity seems really cool, and I’m excited to use it more. Tinkercad felt a bit limiting because most of the objects were very geometrical. It was more difficult to make organic shapes. It will be fun to look at the different prefabs for the final project. I also think there’s a big difference between just looking at an object in VR and going into a scene in VR. Of course the second requires more work and is a larger project, but that aside the ability to add in movement, interaction, and lighting goes a long way towards creating an immersive space. Creating an object felt more like “Leopoldina’s Dreams” when she brought back an object from a dream. The object is a fragment from somewhere else while you remain in the mundane, everyday space. Going into a scene in VR feels much closer to stepping through the looking glass or entering Oz because the world is all around you. I’m sure all the 3D objects will be cool, but I’m more excited for the VR scenes.

Power Transitions in Oz

The North and the South are pretty stable under the good witches. But everywhere else in Oz seems to undergo a change of power within the story.

In the East and the West, Dorothy kills the bad witch who was running things. It’s ambiguous who runs Munchkin Land after the death of the witch of the East, but it seems to be the Munchkins. All the other locations are run by near strangers after their transitions. The witch of the West, for instance, is replaced by the Tin Woodman who is chosen by the Winkies briefly after meeting him.

In the forest to the south, the previous leaders of the beasts are killed by the giant spider. The Lion says that he will kill the spider if the beasts will make him their king in return.

In the Emerald City, Oz the humbug decides he’s bored and that he’ll leave with Dorothy. He puts the Scarecrow in charge because he seems smart enough, then he leaves without Dorothy.

The changes in power here mainly center around death. Only Oz leaves his position of power unharmed.

The new people in power are all men, and at least approved of (if not chosen by) the people of the region. Oz chooses the Scarecrow but the people like him. The Winkies choose the Tin Woodman. The Lion sort of negotiates with the beasts. This makes sense with the Populist idea, but I’m not sure how it would fit in with a feminist reading of the text, especially since we don’t learn how the witches came to power.

Perhaps the main characters becoming the rulers of the places they visited is part of the fairy tale aspect of the story. But it does seem a little odd to me that the people of Oz wouldn’t choose someone they know or who is local. This is also interesting in the context of the comment early in the book that Oz has never been civilized (thus explaining the presence of witches and wizards). I think part of what is typically considered civilization is peaceful power transitions. In Oz the power transitions start with a death.

Believing Impossible Things

Both Alice and Dorothy are young girls who go to strange lands very different from their own, but they react very differently. Although Alice entered Wonderland more intentionally than Dorothy entered Oz, Alice is much less willing to accept the strange things around her than Dorothy. For example when Alice talks about time and age with the Red Queen: ” ‘I ca’n’t believe that!’ said Alice.     ‘Ca’n’t you?’ the Queen said in a pitying tone. ‘Try again: draw a long breath, and shut your eyes.’         Alice laughed. ‘There’s no use trying,’ she said: ‘one ca’n’t believe impossible things’ ” (Carroll 174). She draws the line and won’t believe the Queen. Dorothy, on the other hand, tends to accept what people tell her (with the exception of being told that she herself is a sorceress). For instance, when Dorothy talks to the Scarecrow about food: ” ‘I am never hungry,’ he said; ‘and it is a lucky thing that I am not. For my mouth is only painted, and if I should cut a hole in it so I could eat, the straw I am stuffed with would come out, and that would spoil the shape of my head,’     Dorothy saw at once that this was true, so she only nodded and went on eating her bread” (Baum 44, early chapter 4). Dorothy seems more willing to believe the impossible. In a very dream-like manner she does not consider the world of Oz to be especially strange, just a little different from her own. Perhaps Dorothy’s sense of reality is more based in current experience while Alice’s is more based on past knowledge. Another idea that could account for this is who’s talking and what authority the protagonist (and/or author) considers them to have. The Scarecrow represents farmers and is working with Dorothy and is trustworthy. The Red Queen, who is literally on the other team, is more ambiguous. She’s an authority because she’s a queen, but she’s also a little chess piece and a bit of a troublemaker in her conversations with Alice (although I’m sure she would blame Alice). Alice is typically talking to royalty and people who have their own agendas while Dorothy befriends people about as quickly as she meets them. Perhaps Oz is an easier reality to accept than Wonderland?