Course Syllabus: Queer Young Adult Literature

Hello readers! So, I’m finally teaching one of my dream courses, and it’s one that I’ve been anxious to teach for quite some time! Click here to access the syllabus that I’ve designed for an intermediate seminar that I’m currently teaching at Bowdoin College. The seminar is entitled Queer Young Adult Literature, and it is currently offered under Bowdoin’s English Department and the Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies program.  The course description is as follows:

How do literary texts communicate ideas that are supposed to be unspeakable, especially to a younger audience? In this course, we will explore contemporary young adult literature that represents the experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer adolescents. We will not only scrutinize the complex relationship that exists between narrative, sexuality, gender, and audience, but we will also determine how certain genres and narrative modes enable or limit representations of queerness. Drawing from temporal and affective approaches to queer studies, we will examine the genre’s attempt to encapsulate an enduring change in terms of how queer adolescence is (or can be) represented, perceived, and experienced.

This course is my opportunity to teach and discuss ideas that I’ve developed while writing my dissertation, especially when it comes to the analysis of youth literature with queer content using the critical lenses of queer, affect, and narrative theories. Although this course has various goals and objectives, there are three main things that I want students to explore throughout the course:

  1. The way in which young adult novels make use of non-conventional narrative forms and structures in their explorations of queer content, and the formalistic/structural strategies implemented by queer youth narratives.
  2. The ways in which queer young adult literature complicates or reaffirms ideas regarding queer childhood and queer adolescence.
  3. The affective and political potential of the young adult genre, and the ways in which youth literature uses emotion to help its readership develop historical awareness and resilience towards violence and queerphobia.

In all honesty, this was one of the most difficult courses that I’ve ever designed, particularly since I had to limit the amount of novels that students and I would read and discuss throughout the semester. There were various criteria that I considered when making the final text selection. First and foremost, I wanted the course novels to reflect the spectrum of sexual and gender identities (i.e. lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, etc.). Secondly, I wanted to include novels that represent the intersection between gender, sexuality and race, and that are written by authors of color–an issue, especially since youth literature with queer content is notorious for sidelining the experiences of queer characters of color (this has been changing, but ever so slowly). Last but not least, I wanted to include novels that implemented innovations of structure, form, and narrative mode, which wasn’t difficult to find given the propensity for queer narratives to implement nonlinear narratives and postmodern aesthetic techniques.

When you look at the course schedule that is located in the final two pages of the syllabus, you’ll notice that each of the course novels is paired with an important piece of theory or criticism focused on affective, temporal, and age studies approaches to queer theory. It is my hope that these difficult, theoretical texts will provide students with the means to conduct both reparative and paranoid readings of the young adult novels that I’ve selected. Furthermore, I hope that these difficult texts will help illuminate the intricacies and complexities of the young adult genre–a genre that is oftentimes viewed as simplistic and not worthy of critical attention.

As always, I appreciate any and all feedback! If you were to design a course on queer young adult literature, what novels would you include? What readings would you pair with your selected novels? What issues or topics would you focus on? If you have designed or taught a course on queer young adult literature, I would love for you to share your syllabus in the comments section below.

Just in case you missed the link above, you can access my syllabus by clicking here. I really hope you enjoy it!

Course Syllabus: Young Adult Speculative Fiction

Hello readers! As promised, here is the syllabus for a seminar that I’m currently teaching at Bowdoin College. The seminar is entitled (Im)Possible Lives: Young Adult Speculative Fiction, and it is currently offered under Bowdoin’s English Department and the Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies program. The course description is as follows:

How do wizards, monsters, cyborgs, and dystopias shed light on precarious issues such as sexism, homophobia, racism, poverty, and illness? This seminar examines representations of identity and difference in young adult speculative fiction—texts created for younger audiences that include elements from genres such as fantasy, horror, science fiction, and magical realism. Students not only analyze the approaches that writers implement to construct hypothetical settings and characters, but also examine how speculative young adult novels depict different possibilities for existing and mattering in the world.

There are many goals that I have for this course. For the most part, I want students to realize the ways in which the content and structure of contemporary YA speculative fiction is symptomatic of many of the political, environmental, and sociopolitical crises that we face today in American society. In literature, film, and media, many have been exploring the issue of who matters, or who doesn’t matter. Particularly in social media discourse, we have seen a rise in attitudes such as homophobia, xenophobia, transphobia, sexism, elitism, and so on and so on. We are also developing greater awareness of the violence experienced by people of color, LGBTQ+ communities, and immigrants. It’s becoming increasingly difficult for us to ignore violence (and violent discourse), and recent events have been pushing many of us to question the value and future of human life. Through these acts of hate and violence, however, many of us are recognizing the need for community, highlighting the importance of self-care, and developing a desire for safer, more collective ways of being and knowing.

I think that YA speculative fiction offers readers a unique opportunity to think through the aforementioned precarious issues, and I believe works in this genre will push my students and I to ask difficult questions and explore complex issues. Teaching this seminar is not going to be easy. It will involve difficult and tedious emotional and intellectual labor. But I think that my students and I will grow both as people and thinkers by the time the semester is through.

Part of what I find valuable about works categorized as YA speculative fiction is that they are often crafted with a Utopian bent, and they often envision alternatives to the suffocating and violent conditions of the present. Books in this genre are often exercises in positive affect, and they push readers to imagine, desire, and work for better ways of living in the world. Students and I will explore both the perks and the pitfalls of the ethical frameworks discussed in a selection of YA speculative novels that overtly include themes of gender, sexuality, race, and class. It is my hope that through this seminar, my students will not only learn more about themselves and their place in society, but they will also recognize the value and importance of narratives that deviate from normative paradigms. Furthermore, I hope that students will be able to recognize and discuss current and emerging trends in the genre of YA speculative fiction, especially the genre’s increasing penchant for non-traditional narrative forms and genre-blending.

Just in case you missed the link above, you can access my course syllabus by clicking here. I hope you enjoy it!

Developing a Course on Metafictional Young Adult Literature

During the past couple of weeks, I’ve been working on developing various literature courses, including a course on the metafictional turn in contemporary young adult literature. As of now, I have entitled the course Book-Ception: The Metafictional Turn in Young Adult Literature. For those of you who are confused about the title, -Ception is a suffix (slang) popularized by the 2010 film Inception, and it is usually attached to a noun in order to indicate that this noun is multifaceted, multi-layered, or contains parallel objects embedded within it (i.e. a dream within a dream, a text within a text, a play within a play, and so on, and so on).

I’ve noticed how many young adult novels published during the last fifteen years have demonstrated an increased interest in exploring matters of form, readership, authorship, and literariness. Some YA novels published during the last five years in particular have rivaled some novels published during the peak of postmodernity in terms of their exploration of the nature and purpose of narrative, the relationship between fiction and reality, and the intimate connection between text and audience.

I thought it would be interesting to develop a course in which students explore how metafictional elements and metanarratives affect how we interpret, analyze, and understand the imagined lives of teenagers in contemporary fiction. This course, ideally, will attract students interested in young adult literature, students interested in the literary remnants of the postmodern movement in contemporary fiction, and students interested in exploring the role of narratology in the creation, distribution, and consumption of literature.

The description for this course is as follows:

What do young adult novels have to say about the status of literature and narrative in contemporary society? Can a book be self-aware of its existence as a literary object? Can young adult novels challenge or thwart the relationship between a reader and a text? Recently, novels written for adolescents have been interested in addressing these questions—thus leading to a boom in young adult metafiction: books that explore the nature and function of literature, that question the parallels between reality and fiction, and that overtly scrutinize the relationship between audience and text. In this course, we will investigate how contemporary young adult novels use metafictional techniques in order to deliberate the importance and value of literature, narrative, and language in the imagined lives of teenagers. Furthermore, we will assess the role of metanarrative and form in disrupting the divide between “low” and “high” literature. We will read novels written by authors such as Lemony Snicket, John Green, and Andrew Smith.

I wanted to select texts from different genres, including realism, fantasy, and speculative/science fiction. The novels that I selected for this course also make use of different metafictional and metanarrative techniques. Cornelia Funke’s Inkheart, for instance, explores the possibility of bringing words to life through literary consumption, and the overall role of books in the development of one’s imagination. Others such as Andrew Smith’s Winger and Patrick Ness’ More Than This explore the role of narrative and storytelling in helping one cope with traumatic and unprecedented events. Novels such as John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars explore notions such as the ‘death of the author,’ narrative endings, and the imagined lives of literary characters.

Here is the current version of the syllabus that I’ve developed:

What do you think of this course? Do you have any comments or suggestions regarding the course’s content or design? Are there any other texts that you would recommend for this course? Any and all feedback will be great appreciated!

Course Syllabus for “The Young Adult Novel” – University of Notre Dame

Here is the syllabus for a course that I designed on the Young Adult Novel. I will teach this course during the fall 2014 semester at the University of Notre Dame. I’m very excited about this course for various reasons–mostly because I finally get to teach the texts that I work with and that I love. This course is offered as an English 20XXX requirement, which is an English course for non-majors. I also managed to get the course cross-listed with the gender studies department–especially since class discussions will focus heavily on notions of sexuality and the body that are looming in YA fiction. As of now, 18 of my 19 students are seniors, and they all come from different concentrations such as marketing, biology, English, gender studies, American studies, and education

The most difficult thing about designing this course was the choice of novels to be discussed in class. I wanted to strive for a balance between male and female authors, and I also wanted students to familiarize themselves with books that either they haven’t encountered before, or books that blur the line between young adult literature and literature marketed to adults. Because of this, I feel that there is a lack of novels focused on issues of race and class, but I will certainly make sure to cover these issues during the semester.

As always, all comments and suggestions are more than welcome. You are welcome to draw inspiration from this syllabus, but please make sure to give me credit if you do so–and be sure to share your syllabus with me so I can see what you did similarly or differently! I hope you enjoy the course I’ve designed, and I will keep you posted with how everything is going as the semester unfolds.

Ellen Wittlinger’s [Parrotfish]: A Transgender Coming-Out Novel

Front cover of Ellen Wittlinger's Parrotfish

Front cover of the paperback version of Ellen Wittlinger’s Parrotfish

What made a person male or female, anyway? The way they looked? The way they acted? The way they thought? Their hormones? Their genitals? What if some of those attributes pointed in one direction and some in the other?

– Ellen Wittlinger, Parrotfish (p. 131)

Although Julie Anne Peters’ Luna was the first young adult text to tackle the issue of transgenderism, Ellen Wittlinger’s Parrotfish offers us a very direct and personal perspective of what it means to born in the wrong body. Unlike Luna (read my analysis of this novel by clicking here), Wittlinger’s novel is  told from the first-person perspective of the character undergoing a transition from one gender to another, and it is also centered on a female-to-male (FTM) rather than a male-to-female transition. Although the novel lacks a certain degree of credibility due to its almost cartoonish and one-dimensional portrayal of certain secondary characters, it is ultimately a text full of heart, and it complies with its goal of giving the reader insight into what it means for trans youth to come-out within contemporary society. Although the coming-out genre may be deemed tiring and overwrought by some readers, Wittlinger’s novel demonstrates how the genre needs to explore alternate coming-out narratives that are not focused solely on white gay/lesbian upper/middle class characters. I loved Luna‘s initial attempt to do this, but ability to establish a strong rapport with the trans character was limited, due to the fact that the trans character’s story was distilled through her sister’s perspective.

Parrotfish begins at the moment when Angela Katz-McNair–the novel’s protagonist–decides to become Grady. Grady chooses this name not only because of its gender neutrality, but also because it contains the word gray within it: “you know, not black, not white. Somewhere in the middle” (6). He initially comes out as a lesbian because he deemed it to be a closer and easier step toward revealing his queer self within his community. He decides to unleash Grady soon after by declaring himself a boy to his family and friends, and by performing masculinity rather than suppressing it: he cuts his own hair very short, he begins to bind his breasts with a bandage, and he begins to wear traditional male attire. The main tension with the novel is Grady’s fear of losing touch with his past self. By assuming his true gender identity, he fears that he would have to sever his relationship with his past entirely. This is an interesting contrast to Peters’ Luna, for running away from the past is not presented as an option for Grady. He wants to embody his true gender, but in doing so, he does not want to lose a connection to everything that has shaped him.

In my opinion, the most interesting parts of this novel were those that explored not only the emotional difficulties of transitioning from a female to a male gender, but also the physical difficulties of said transition. Peter’s Luna, for instance, focuses more on the emotional torment that its transgender character faces. Luna does express physical torment, especially during the scene in which the trans character, as a child, tries to cut off his penis (as shown through the protagonist’s flashback); these physical accounts, however, are rare. Given that Wittlinger’s novel is told through the perspective of the FTM transgender protagonist, I was expecting a more nuanced understanding of the physical pains of transitioning–and the novel delivers in this aspect. For instance, Grady constantly remarks on how painful it is to breathe and to engage in physical activity when his breasts are bound with tight bandages (even though he is fortunate enough to have small breasts). Grady also expresses the difficulty of determining what bathroom to use in his high school, ultimately avoiding the decision because his understanding gym teacher allows him to use her private bathroom and shower. A particularly insightful scene in the novel in terms of the physical pains of transitioning takes place when Grady explains how he feels towards menstruation while experiencing it:

now I was a boy who had just started his period and was probably bleeding all over his jockey shorts. Yeah, that was normal. Even my own body betrayed me on a regular basis. What was I supposed to do now? Crap. I could feel the cramps advancing. The gym and Ms. Unger’s bathroom were half a mile away from my locker. By the time I ran down there I’d be a mess. (59-60)

Menstruation highlights the tension that exists between Grady’s mind and his body. It also becomes an experience of active struggle for Grady, for although he is trying to be a boy, menstruation coerces his masculinity to clash vis-a-vis the femininity he is trying to suppress. For instance, when Grady is suffering from menstrual cramps, he refuses to acknowledge to them to his mother because it “seemed like an argument against what I’d been trying to prove to her” (61). Thus, even when embodying his true gender, Grady realizes that performativity is still necessary when it comes to expressing truth.

Going back to the fact that this novel is a bit unrealistic, I want to focus on Grady’s fear of not losing his entire past by embodying a different gender (prepare for major spoilers). Towards the end of the novel, most of the tensions that Grady had with other characters vanish entirely. He mends his relationship with his best friend, Eve, after she helps him avoid a cruel prank that other students were planning against him. His family, most of which showed apprehension towards his transition, rapidly become entirely accepting of him. Even the novel’s bully, the nefarious queen bee Danya, faces suspension from Grady’s high school and is ultimately humiliated by other students at the winter dance. The message is clear: to thine own self be true, and not only will everyone accept you, but your bullies will face karmic consequences for their insidious actions.

Not only does Grady’s past relationships stay intact, but his life improves in almost every aspect imaginable. This outcome may be approached my some as misguided, because it undermines the difficulties and the non-teleological struggles of being transgender. Unlike the LGB side of the spectrum, trans youths not only have to come out, but their coming-out entails performative and physical changes that inevitably invoke a contrast between the before and the after. Although I absolutely adore the positive and optimistic message that the novel presents, I can’t help but wonder if the novel is too optimistic and naive when it comes to the issues that transgender teens face. Not all transgender teens are going to be lucky enough to be accepted by every single member of their immediate family. Not all transgender teens will find love and support as easily as Grady does. Peters’ Luna, on the other hand, shows both sides of the spectrum in terms of the consequences of coming out as transgender to one’s family: some quietly accept, some have no issue with it whatsoever, and others react with outrage and at times violence.

I reiterate that I completely understand Wittlinger’s utopian depiction of a transgender future–but I question whether the novel should’ve been more realistic when considering the outcomes of this distinctive coming-out process. I’m especially anxious to know how transgender readers feel about the general approach and conclusions that this novel presents. Regardless of its shortcomings, Parrotfish is well worth a read, and it provides some excellent food for thought. I particularly recommend the novel to readers who are not really aware of the nuances of gender, especially when it comes to matters such as performativity and gender construction. Those who are aware of these nuances might find the novel a bit too obvious and didactic, despite its warm, humorous, and fast-paced nature.

You can purchase a copy of Wittlinger’s novel here.

Work Cited

Wittlinger, Ellen. Parrotfish. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2007. Print (Hardcover edition).

On Asexuality and Kinship: Ellen Wittlinger’s [Hard Love]

Front cover of Ellen Wittlinger's Hard Love

Front cover of Ellen Wittlinger’s Hard Love

Ellen Wittlinger’s Hard Love is at its core a novel about love, but it is quite different from other young adult novels on the subject that were written in the late 1990s. The narrative is centered on John Galardi (known by some as Gio), a junior in a high school who is still haunted by the ghosts of his parents’ divorce. On one hand, his father abandoned John and his mother because they did not comply with his self-image as an elitist literary publisher and playboy; on the other hand, because of John’s resemblance to his father, his mother has avoided physical contact with her son for over six years (no hugs, no physical proximity, nada). Because of this, John not only has difficulties expressing his emotions, but he also prevents other people from reaching out to him in order to avoid being hurt. He he poingnantly expresses this notion in a letter to his mother:

So I took all of the sadness of the divorce, and all the love I’d once had for both of you [his parents], and all the fear I had of being alone, and turned it into a stone wall to hide behind. To protect myself. I’m so protected now, dear mother, sometimes I feel like I’m barely alive. I am immune to emotion. And I hate you for it. (139)

John’s thoughts and feelings are shared with others anonymously through a zine he writes and publishes titled Bananafishwhich he writes after being inspired by a series of zines he read at a record store. He is particularly drawn to a zine titled Escape Velocitywritten by someone named Marisol, who is a self-proclaimed “Puerto Rican Cuban Yankee Cambridge, Massachusetts, rich spoiled lesbian private-school gifted-and-talented writer virgin looking for love” (9). Drawn to the rawness and honesty of Escape Velocity, John devises a way to meet Marisol at the record store the day she delivers her publication for distribution. Tethered by their emptiness, confusion, and lack of experience, John and Marisol become quick friends–and seeing as Marisol is the first person that John was able to connect to, he falls in love with her. The main tension within this novel arises through this love–John truly believes that their connection transcends labels of sexuality and sexual orientation, whereas Marisol is certain that she’s a lesbian and she can never envision herself dating a man. The narrative then explores whether their friendship can survive the incongruity that exists in terms of their love for each other.

Excerpt from page 93 of Ellen Wittlinger's Hard Love. The novel is mostly told through the protagonist's perspective, and this perspective is enhanced with the novel's zine-like structure. Text is written in different fonts, images and text are combined in unique ways, and the pages sometimes give the impression that they are collages of letters, newspaper clips, and clip art.

Excerpt from page 93 of Ellen Wittlinger’s Hard Love, illustrating one of the many zines that John reads throughout the narrative. The novel is mostly told through the protagonist’s perspective, and this perspective is enhanced with the novel’s zine-like structure. Text is written in different fonts, images and text are juxtaposed in unique ways, and the pages sometimes give the impression that they are collages of letters, newspaper clips, and clip art.

As can be seen in the image above, Hard Love is structurally interesting because it is presented as a collage-like collection of letters, narrative, images, newspaper clippings, poems, autobiographical pieces, and general musings that attempt to replicate the feel of an actual zine. All of these mediums work together to give us a snapshot of John’s mind. The fragmented feel of the novel does an exemplary job of concretely depicting John’s anger, confusion, and truth while at the same time leaving enough room for the protagonist to be ambiguous and difficult to understand.  John’s characterization was very intriguing to me, not only because of the novel’s structure, but also because of his gender identity and sexuality. For instance, early on in the novel, John expresses his inability to find women attractive, and he often expresses his disdain towards his friend Brian because of the latter’s overly enthusiastic attraction to women that he has never spoken with. As a matter of fact, for a while I was convinced that John was asexual, which would’ve been amazing given that as of yet,  I’ve not encountered an explicitly asexual character in a young adult novel. I got this sense in passages such as the following:

I can’t stand it anymore, the constant talk about girls and sex. I just don’t feel like thinking about that stuff. Waybe it’s weird, but I’m not interested in it. I mean, it worries me a little sometimes, because I guess guys my age are supposed to be like Brian, lusting after pouty lips and big boobs. But to me, the mystery of female body parts is one I’d just as soon not solve. Not that I’m interested in boys either–I’m just not interested in the whole idea of locked lips or proclamations of love. (19)

John’s sexual ambiguity and his inability to discern his sexual inclinations becomes a prominent issue in the early chapters of Hard Love, and there are instances in which John is unable to deduce whether he can potentially be attracted to any sex at all. At one point, John admits to Marisol that he possible could be gay, but he hasn’t taken a moment to contemplate this possibility. My initial reading of John as potentially asexual was further evidenced by Marisol’s attempt to fix up John with her gay friend, Birdie. This fix up fails, however, because Birdie thinks John is heterosexual based on his behavior and attitudes. Let me turn my attention to the following exchange between Birdie and John after the latter is accused of not being gay:

“What do you mean? I’m not  even sure myself if I’m gay or not. I mean, I’ve been thinking maybe I am.”

You have? Are you attracted to men?” Birdie asked.

“Well, no. But I’m not attracted to women either.”

“Oh, well, that’s just dysfunctional, not gay,” Birdie announced confidently. I was lost for a comeback. (52-53)

Marisol then asks whether John was disappointed to find out that he is not gay, to which he responds “It’s just Birdie’s opinion” (53). Now, there are obvious issues of asexual representation in the exchange between Birdie and John, because asexuaity is viewed as a dysfunction rather than an alternative way of being. It is possible to perceive a tension between John’s attempt to define his sexuality while at the same time having it defined by others. John’s non-normative sexual behavior and attitudes certainly make him queer to some extent, but this queerness is somewhat subdued when John “discovers” his heterosexuality through his attraction to Marisol. Although he confesses his love to Marisol, she does not reciprocate his feelings. She admits she loves him, but only “as much as [she] can” (223). Although he is attracted to Marisol, who is a woman, John suggests that his love is not a matter of genitalia and sex, but rather, who is capable of seeing one for who they truly are:

To tell the truth it couldn’t matter less

who wears the pants or the dress, but only

who becomes visible to whom.

You saw me truly, and I saw all you let me;

I’m not lying now, and I hope I never will. (205)

What makes this novel unique is that it is a love story that focuses on a protagonist who views love as a matter of connection rather than of sex or sexual orientation–although this in turn is problematic, mostly because at times it seems like John hopes that his love for Marisol could provoke her to overcome her lesbianism. This does not happen, and thus, this novel is anything but a young adult version of Kevin Smith’s Chasing Amy. The novel also attempts to reconfigure the reader’s perceptions of friendship and family, ultimately presenting alternative ways of kinship that are not necessarily sexual or heteronormative in nature. Although it seems that John is in due course heterosexual and not asexual, there is an ambiguity and openness about him that is both refreshing, intriguing, and queer. Now, my question is: when will we have a great young adult novel with an asexual protagonist? Does anyone know about one?

You can purchase a copy of Hard Love here.

Work Cited

Wittlinger, Ellen. Hard Love. Simon Pulse, 2001. Print. (Paperback edition)

Structure and Development in Mark Haddon’s [The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time]

Front cover of Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

Front cover of Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

The publication history of Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the God in the Night-Time (2003) is indeed very curious, mostly because it was deliberately marketed as both a children’s book and an adult novel. This leads me to invoke a pressing issue among scholars and readers who are concerned with narratives of youth: is it possible, nowadays, to have a text (novel, film, etc.) with a child or teenage protagonist and not have it classified as a children’s or young adult work? The answer to this question is beyond the scope of this blog post, but it is a useful question to keep in mind when approaching Haddon’s novel. The novel portrays themes that both teens and adults can appreciate, and the prose is direct and simple due to the narrator’s direct and no-nonsense approach to the world. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is in essence a fictional story intended to be perceived as the non-fictional narrative of Christopher Boone, a fifteen year-old teenager with autism. The narrative style and structure of this novel is interesting for many reasons:

  1. The text itself is intended to be approached a mystery novel written by the protagonist, initially focused on his attempt to figure out who murdered his neighbor’s poodle.
  2. Although Christopher acknowledges his role as an author, his teacher/therapist, Siobhan, plays the role of the enigmatic editor. Not only does she offer Christopher suggestions in terms of content, but she also scans his writing to assure that the prose is grammatically correct.
  3. Due to Christopher’s autism, he is incapable of lying (due primarily to his inability and discomfort with imagining scenarios and ideas that are not tethered to reality).
  4. The prose within the novel is accompanied by a series of diagrams and illustrations that facilitate Christopher’s ability to explain key (and at times mundane) aspects of the novel’s plot (see image below).
  5. The novel is a work in progress, and it can be considered epistolary in nature (to some extent).
  6. Christopher uses footnotes to add further explanatory valance to his claims.
Sample of the combination of text and image in The Curious Case of the Dog in the Night-Time. In this diagram, Christopher explains the arbitrary nature of constellations, and how they can potentially represent anything to anyone.

Sample of the combination of text and image in The Curious Case of the Dog in the Night-Time. In this diagram, Christopher explains the arbitrary nature of constellations, and how they can potentially represent anything to anyone.

The structure of the novel mirrors Christopher’s approach to the world, which is based on logic, deduction, truth, and objectivity. Christopher doesn’t express his emotions easily, and he has a difficult time reading the feelings of others. Christopher avidly hates being touched, he has a penchant for animals and dark enclosed spaces, he is a genius when it comes to math and puzzles, and as suggested previously, he has difficulty in envisioning scenarios that have not occurred in his actual life. Something that surprised me (and that surprises other characters in the novel) is that despite his logical approach of the world, he partakes in actions and thoughts that might be considered whimsical or downright superstitious, such as his immense hatred of the colors yellow and brown, and how he believes that certain color patterns of cars that drive by him are able to predict how good or bad a day will be: “In the bus on the way to school next morning we passed 4 red cars in a row, which meant that it was a Good Day, so I decided not to be sad about Wellington [the neighbor’s dog that was killed]” (24). Despite the fact that this may seem illogical, this seemingly arbitrary influence is actually a way for Christopher to give order to the chaos that surrounds him–and later on, he points out that other people’s days frequently become good or bad due to arbitrary circumstances (such as weather).

What intrigued me the most about this book is how Haddon is masterfully able to depict a voice that deviates from the norm without having Christopher lament his own pathology–an effect that is achieved by writing the story in a first-person point-of-view. He does not view himself as disabled, but rather, he views normalcy as incongruous, contradictory, and illogical. Christopher portrays himself as a beacon of light within a world of stupidity. I will be honest by saying that I don’t know many autistic people, so it is impossible to tell whether Haddon is able to accurately capture the thought-processes, attitudes, and feelings of an autistic person. According to an article posted in Huff Post Books, many people, especially those have autism or who know autistic people, believe that the book is an inaccurate and irresponsible portrayal of Asperger syndrome or autism due to its overemphasis on Christopher’s “strangeness” and his inability to cope with society at large.  Haddon himself claims that the central topic of the novel is not autism, but rather, the trials of a young genius with behavioral issues.  I do know, however, that autism varies in terms of degree and in terms of expression, so it is obvious that the case presented in the book will not necessarily match the case or the experience of every autistic person out there.

While I do believe that there are major issues of representation in this novel, I do not think that this should hinder one from focusing on the emancipatory potential this novel possesses, especially when it comes to highlighting the clash between essentialist and constructivist views of disability. While at times the novel does present autism as a neurological condition that presents symptoms that are beyond Christopher’s control, there are also many instances where people in his environment tend to pathologize him in excess. This is evidenced by how the father approaches the sudden absence of Christopher’s mother: rather than acknowledging the fact that the mother ran away with another man, Christopher’s father decides to tell him that his mother died of a heart attack, wrongfully assuming that Christopher would be unable to understand why his mother abandoned him. Although Christopher does exhibit seemingly “strange” habits and approaches to his surroundings, I think the novel pushes us to question whether this “strangeness” is something inherent within him or something that we project onto him.

What we have here is a coming-of-age novel that challenges what it means to develop, and what it means to come-of-age in the first place. We encounter a protagonist discovering who he is, what he wants, and what he desires. However, he also becomes aware of the limitations he has, the limitations that society imposes on him, and how to transgress said limitations. The novel is not about assimilating to society, but rather, it is about challenging it. We usually think of development as a linear and standard process with normative goals in mind, yet what we witness in Haddon’s novel is a protagonist trying to identify alternative modes of growing in a society that only expects so much growth from this person in the first place. This growth is achieved not through conventional behavior and not through an embrace of love and virtue, but rather, through the art of writing, through mystery solving, through travel, and through logic.

You can purchase a copy of Haddon’s novel here.

Work Cited:

Haddon, Mark. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. New York: Doubleday, 2003. Print.

Queer Times: An Analysis of David Levithan’s [Two Boys Kissing]

Front cover of David Levithan's Two Boys Kissing

Front cover of David Levithan’s Two Boys Kissing (2013)

In the notes and acknowledgments section written at the end of Two Boys Kissing, author David Levithan states that “This isn’t a book I could have written ten years ago” (199). Levithan is absolutely right. Back in 2003, when I was still a sophomore in high school, I could never fathom the possibility of finding a book that so openly and proudly embraces gay themes. Could you imagine walking through a bookstore in 2003 and identifying a single book written for a young reader with two boys kissing on the cover? Absolutely not. Levithan rightfully acknowledges that his book is symptomatic of the major events, challenges, and changes that the LGBT community has been facing for decades. However, Two Boys Kissing is much more than a focal point of gay and lesbian history. As I was approaching the end of this novel, I could sense that this book will trigger (or already has triggered) a major paradigm shift in the realm of gay (young adult) fiction. This is the book that we’ve been waiting for; this is the book that will change the game.

The heart of this novel’s plot is a narrative focused on two teenage boys named Craig and Harry, who are attempting to break the record for the world’s longest kiss in order to challenge heteronormative attitudes and ideologies present in their lives. But in addition to this central narrative, Levithan weaves the stories of other queer youths that are somehow connected to this record-breaking kiss: Neil and Peter,  who are in a relationship that would’ve been deemed impossible a couple of years ago; Avery, a pink-haired FTM transgender teen, and Ryan, a blue-haired boy Avery meets at an LGBT prom; Tariq Johnson, a teen who was gay-bashed–an event that inspires Craig and Harry to give a shot at breaking a world record; and Cooper Riggs, a gay teen who “could be outside his room, surrounded by people, and it would still feel like nowhere” (5). All of these narratives weave a complex web that attempts to illustrate the state of gay youth today, focusing not only on the progress that has been made throughout the decades, but also the issues that still need to be challenged in order for a progressive politics to take place.

There are two things that I find absolutely ground-breaking in terms of this novel: first and foremost, the novel is an overt attack on the lack of futurity that supposedly haunts queer lives. Rather than viewing queerness as limiting and as a domain of identity that embraces the “death drive” (think Lee Edelman), Levithan constructs a narrative that tries to disrupt these limits by constructing the future as a space that lacks precise definition but that is full of possibility. As the narrators of the novel eloquently put it:

What a powerful word, future. Of all the abstractions we can articulate to ourselves, of all the concepts we have that other animals do not, how extraordinary the ability to consider a time that’s never been experienced. And how tragic not to consider it. It galls us, we with such a limited future, to see someone brush it aside as meaningless, when it has an endless capacity for meaning, and an endless number of meanings that can be found within it. (155)

The second thing that I find groundbreaking comes into perspective when focusing on the passage above. Who are the narrators of this novel? Who are these subjects with such a limited future? The novel is narrated by the collective voice (i.e. Greek chorus) that consists of “your shadow uncles, your angel godfathers, your mother’s or your grandmother’s best friend from college, […]. We are characters in a Tony Kushner play, or names on a quilt that rarely gets taken out anymore. We are the ghosts of the remaining older generation” (3). Indeed, the novel is narrated by a generation of gay men who succumbed to AIDS during the advent and rise of disease. What we have then is a web of the present, weaved by the voices of the past, in order to enable a future. It can be argued that Levithan’s novel queers time to the extent that the boundaries of the past and present are no longer valid, turning the present into a state that can be perceived, scrutinized, and observed by voices from the past.

The attempt to bridge the past to the present creates a lot of tension within the novel, not only because the narrators seem to inhabit a space where time has no control, but also because these voices are unable to alter or change anything happening in the present. The voices are given the gift of knowledge, but they are unable to do anything with this knowledge other than observe, or give advice to the reader rather than to the characters of the novel itself (this is done several times when the narrators break the fourth wall to address the audience). Despite this tension, I think that the novel is novel in terms of altering the typical discourse of gay fiction. This discourse is altered by working towards a futuristic and emancipatory queer politics, while still keeping hold of the past–a past that triggered the need for a queer politics in the first place. Many gay works that perpetuate a sense of futurity do so by sacrificing the pain and torment found in the past. Levithan’s novel, on the other hand, embraces and highlights the pains and joys of the past-but also depicts this embrace as one that is willing to loosen its hold on queer subjects so they can continue moving forward. The past, in this case, becomes a launchpad to futurity rather than the binds that prevent any forward movement.

I think this novel greatly addresses questions pushed forth by Heather Love in her book Feeling Backwards: Loss and the Politics of Queer HistoryIn her book, Love constantly asks the reader to assess whether or not it is possible to have an awareness of the past without being consumed by it. Furthermore, Love ultimately wonders if it is possible to look back while still moving forward, or in other words, whether it is possible to work toward an emancipatory future without forgetting the past that necessitated this work in the first place. I don’t know if Levithan is familiar with Love’s work, but his novel seems to be a response, and perhaps, a solution towards the temporal issues found in queer lives. If he is not familiar with Love’s work, I think that Two Boys Kissing is the product of the same cultural demands that drove the creation of Love’s book in 2004.

Given that the genre of gay literature is usually saturated with perspectives that are driven by temporal extremes (i.e. the past and the future), it is frankly amazing to encounter an author that has been able to channel both the past and the present in order to envision a queer future. Thank you, David Levithan, for writing this book. Although you are right to establish that this book is a product of many past and current events, you are ultimately the agent that channeled a progressive queer history that still pays its homage to the past (and for young readers, nonetheless). I am more than certain that Two Boys Kissing will shift the paradigm of young adult and LGBT literature. The novel has already been nominated for the 2013 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, and I’m sure that this is only the first of many nominations and accolades to come.

You can purchase a copy of Levithan’s novel by clicking here.

Works Cited and Consulted

Levithan, David. Two Boys Kissing. New York: Knopf, 2013. Print.

Love, Heather. Feeling Backward: Loss and the Politics of Queer History. Harvard University Press, 2007. Print

Listening to the “Unheard Lyric”: Amplifying Faint Discourses in Oscar Wilde’s Fairy Tales

It’s interesting how easy it is for me to forget songs and stories that I heard last year, yet at the same time, it’s so easy for me to recall songs and stories that I heard as a child. Ask me something about the plot of Thackeray’s Vanity Fair, and I might need a few minutes to collect my thoughts and remember what the novel is even about. However, ask me a question about Maurice Sendack’s Where the Wild Things Are, Frank L. Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, or J.M. Barrie’s Peter and Wendy, and the act of recalling and remembering is instantaneous. There is something about the apparent simplicity of Children’s literature that makes it not only easy to remember, but ostensibly easy to understand and deconstruct. However, underneath this aura of simplicity is a complex struggle of ideas, aims, and goals: Children’s literature is anything but simple, and I think Oscar Wilde’s fairy tales attest to this notion.

Notice how the name of the genre implies possession: children’s literature. But a question that surfaces simply by looking at the label of the genre is: does this literature, as the name implies, truly belong to children? After all, how many children’s books have we seen out there written by actual children? What does this imply? How is the notion of children’s literature complicated as we realize that the genre has become a fad, and virtually anyone with influence or social status can write and publish a children’s book? Everyone from Madonna, to Bill Cosby, to Billy Crystal, to Whoopi Goldberg, to Queen Latifah, to Brooke Shields, to Ray Romano has published a children’s book. Is it because they’re easily marketable or easy to write? This, of course, greatly affects the perception of the genre within academia. However, what mostly makes children’s literature an ignored area within literary criticism is not only its apparent simplicity and its marketability, but also to its didactic nature. In his book Sticks and Stones, Jack Zipes brings most of these problems to the surface, offering a somewhat fatalistic and negative view of children’s literature as a hot commodity, which leads to the production of formulaic books that follow the same patterns and that serve to mold and construct how a child should be—his attack on the Harry Potter series is well-known amongst those who study children’s and young adult texts. But his tirade against children’s literature, interestingly, is interpreted through the lens of an adult ideology. How do children perceive the literature that is designed for them? Do notions such as formulas and patterns truly bother them? What do we do if our children love Harry Potter? Tell them that their tastes are horrible and that they should be embarrassed to embrace such a redundant and formulaic text? In due course, Zipes’ assertions attack children’s literature by ignoring the very values and the audience that defines the genre.

Debates on the usefulness of art aside, and whether or not children’s literature is or isn’t art, or even if the genre overuses patterns or formulas, one thing is absolutely clear: children’s literature is deemed to be inherently useful and instructive. Not only is it meant to entertain, but it also serves as a heuristic aid that feeds children a set of ideas, or better said, dogmas. Whether or not the text constructs the child or aids the child in his or her own identity construction is open to debate, but nonetheless, we must realize that the lessons in the genre are looming, and the sense of didacticism that they possess is absolutely real. Recalling the children’s works I mentioned earlier, notice that each and every one of them instills an important lesson that children carry with them for the rest of their lives, and notice how this lesson is extremely reliant on what the author thinks a child should know. I mentioned these three books because they were some of my favorites as a child; however, it was after I reflected on this choice that I realized that in essence, all of these works tell the same story: Where the Wild Things Are, Peter and Wendy, and The Wizard of Oz emphasize on the idea that there IS no place like home. It’s strange that now that I look back, the notion of home was a central concern to me: after moving from New Jersey to Puerto Rico at the age of 8, there was always a desire to return home. But Peter Pan never arrived at my window to whisk me away, clicking my heels three time never brought me back to New Jersey, and I metaphorically never escaped the island where the “wild things” were found.

Perhaps the first break that we make from the realm of children’s literature occurs at that moment when we realize that their lessons, aims, and methods fail to sustain in our own lives. This does not mean, however, that these lessons have no value. We have to admit that children’s literature predominates in our own lives in a time when innocence presumably reigns supreme: it is a time in which we are empty canvases. We are open to the world, and we approach the content and message of children’s literature in an unpretentious fashion: we are usually unaware of the possibility of embedded subversion peppered throughout a text, we definitely don’t think about how useful or useless a text is, and our perceptions are not influenced nor bound by critical and ideological lenses. In other words, we could care less if The Wizard of Oz represents a struggle of classes as exemplified by the dynamic between the wicked witch and her henchmen, we are ostensibly oblivious to the struggles of humanity and animality in Where the Wild Things Are, and we certainly don’t give a damn in terms of the implications of space and place in Peter and Wendy. Perhaps this is the greatest challenge when approaching children’s literature from a scholarly perspective: keeping in mind that the audience for a children’s text is a child, how are we able to approach these texts from a critical and scholarly perspective without ignoring the genre’s target audience, and the assumed ignorance and innocence laced the ideal child? In other words, how do we learn to listen to that child-like voice inside of us, while still complying with our adult desire to analyze, deconstruct, and understand?

I think Oscar Wilde’s fairy tales provide a lot of food for thought when it comes to these questions. After all, the notion of Oscar Wilde writing children’s literature seems to be bewildering in every sense of the word. How can an advocate of the uselessness of art devote his precious time towards crafting a text that is essentially instructive and pragmatic? How does Oscar Wilde view his target audience? Even more so, keeping in mind Wilde’s affinity for subversion and refusal to be confined within conceptual boundaries, how does Wilde attempt to transform and challenge the notion of a children’s literature via his unique take on fairy tales? First of all, perhaps it is important to know why Oscar Wilde wrote children’s tales in the first place. In a letter that he sent to G.H. Kersley on the reason why he wrote the short story The Happy Prince, Wilde presents the fairy tale as a genre capable up reaching the deepest trenches of the imagination, those trenches that are inaccessible to most people in society. He writes that The Happy Prince

is an attempt to treat a magic modern problem in a form that aims at delicacy and imaginative treatment: it is a reaction against the purely imitative character of modern art – and now that literature has taken to blowing loud trumpets I cannot but be pleased that some ear has cared to listen to the low music of a little reed.” – Letter to G.h. Kersley on the Happy Prince. (Kohl 51)

Notice that the actual short story definitely complies with this aim. What is so surprising about The Happy Prince is that at first, we are given the impression that we are about to delve in a very realistic story. Rich description is provided in terms of the prominence of the statue located above a tall column, and conversation is focused on the fact that children shouldn’t cry because the happy prince, a statue, doesn’t cry. This sense of realism suddenly takes a turn as the focus of the story shifts towards a Swallow and his infatuation with a reed. Notice that the reed, although personified, has no concrete method of expressing its desires in a way that a human or living creature can. The swallow is constantly mocked by its peers, seeing as the reed is unable to communicate with the bird, and seeing as it is presumed that the reed has nothing valuable to offer. The swallow, however, is able to look beyond what is expected from a typical communicative relationship, and learns how to approach the reed in a different fashion. The bird focuses on the rhetoric of the reed’s movements, as guided by the influence of the wind. The reed bows down to the bird as if accepting its courtship and the swallow keeps the reed company for a while. The swallow even goes as far as to describe the reed as flirty or as a coquette, interpreting its subtle swaying as an act of seduction. What is clear here is that the swallow is open to a language that is not directly interpretable by the other birds that surround him, which in due course not only demonstrates the sensitivity that the bird possesses, but also its openness to listen to the voices of those who cannot speak.

This obviously resonates with ideals that Wilde was trying to promote at the time; indeed, with his active experimentation with homosexuality during the crafting of the Happy Prince and Other Fairy Tales, many of the messages within these stories seem to give voice to the Other, while in turn, attuning people’s ears to the sound that the metaphorical reed makes. But it is also uncanny that the story alludes to the voice of the child: one of the most ignored and snubbed voices within culture and society. Indeed, there is definitely a resemblance between the Swallow and the child, seeing as both are able to hear and see things that are disregarded by adults due to their experience and their embracing of cultural restraints. Children definitely embrace imaginative treatment while adults, especially within Victorian times, tended to reject it. The correlation between the child and the animal is indeed a common parallel within children’s literature. As Sue Walsh points out in her essay “Child/Animal: It’s the Real Thing,” both the child and the animal allow one to frame and express ideas about human identity more than any other idea, and this is because both concepts engage in a similar discourse that avoids any sense of mastery. In other words, although one can presumably write about children and animals, one could never fully master what the concept of animal or child means. This makes the use of these concepts especially useful for infusing one’s own ideologies and beliefs within a text.

It is obvious that both children and animals are central figures within Wilde’s tales. Not only is an animal one of the central figures within The Happy Prince, but they are also central in his tale known as The Star-Child, in which animals are first mistreated and ignored by the beautiful child, but then they become key towards the star-child’s salvation (recall that it is the rabbit that helps him find the different colored pieces of gold). This sense of leveling between the adult, the child, and the animal seems to portray a utopian ideal within Wilde’s tales, an ideal that may even be deemed socialist or Marxist, especially when taking into account Wilde’s values and ideas—recall that Wilde is, after all, the author of a 1891 essay titled “The Soul of Man under Socialism,” which approaches capitalism as a disease that suppresses the soul and prevents individuals from discovering their true talents. It would be unwise to ignore how influential egalitarianism is in all of the tales that we have read for today’s class: The Star-Child ultimately roots for a sense of cohesion between beggars and royals, implying that inherently, there is no essential difference between the two. The story, as I already mentioned, also strives to smooth the differences between humans and animals. The Selfish Giant invokes the values of compassion to demonstrate that those with property should be willing to share said property with individuals who do not possess the same amount of power or ownership. Even in The Happy Prince, we observe that wealth is being distributed to those who are in need of capital in order for their talents to thrive. The Marxist undertones of the stories seem to be blatantly obvious to the experienced adult reader, but we must question whether this notion of capital inequality would be apparent to a child. Norbert Kohl, in his discussion of selfishness and selflessness in his book titled Oscar Wilde: The Works of a Conformist Rebel, points out that in due course, reading the fairy tales alongside to Marxist theory might be a bit far-fetched, seeing as

the socialism inherent in his gentle fairy-tale seems far more geared to aesthetic effect than to political propaganda. If these tales are indeed ‘wry pieces of social and moral commentary’, as one critic suggests, then it must be said that the commentary contains little insight into or analysis of the social causes and effects of poverty. (54)

When it comes down to it, we must admit that even when writing in one of the most didactic and pragmatic genres within the literary realm, Wilde could still find a way to ensure that his textual creations would aspire to be not only instructive, but above all, artistic. The four fairy tales that we read for today’s class, for instance, use a high style of language that exceeds the very basic vocabulary that usually predominates in children’s texts. Notice, for instance, how the giant in Wilde’s tale, The Selfish Giant, expresses sorrow and regret when he realizes that Spring has not arrived due to his self-centeredness: “How selfish I have been!” he said; “now I know why the Spring would not come here. I will put that poor little boy on the top of the tree, and then I will knock down the wall, and my garden shall be the children’s playground for ever and ever.” An adult reader would clearly see that the giant felt regret for his actions, as is implied by his desire to help the young boy up the tree as a retribution for the wrongs he committed.

However, true to the fashion of the fairy tale genre, Wilde peppers his prose with overt and obvious statements that reinforce the lesson inherent within the text. The giant’s proclamation, for instance, is followed by a declaration stating that “He was really very sorry for what he had done.” But the complexity of language in Wilde’s fairy tales does not stop there. Kohl, for instance, remarks that Wilde’s fairy tales are adorned with everything from archaic and biblical phrases, personifications, and elaborate descriptions, all which enhance the artistic value within the tales (56). Elizabeth Goodenough, in her discussion titled “Oscar Wilde, Victorian Fairy Tales, and the Meanings of Atonement,” posits that this use of various stylistic registers within his fairy tales are actually employed to destabilize the “Victorian pathos of broken hearts and the cult of dying children,” focusing on miserable and illustrative “portrayals of expiation and renunciation, failure and death” (340). And while I personally agree that the medley of voices, registers, and allusions serve to cement the validity of the values present within the tales, let us not forget that Wilde was overly sensitive to issues of audience and the reception of his work, as evidenced by the lengthy responses he would write when receiving critical backlash. When it comes down to it, fairy tales are usually written with a child audience in mind, but it is usually an adult who ultimately serves as the decoder of the written word. Fairy tales are notorious for being dubbed as bed-time stories, and the fairy tale itself comes from an extremely oral tradition. Although the stories are written for children, Wilde definitely wanted to entertain and perhaps allude to the aesthetic sensibilities of the adult who reads the text out loud to the child. I would undoubtedly argue that Wilde was a vivid precursor to what I will dub, thanks in part to a conversation I had with Ana Jimenez, the Shrek effect—alluding to the 2001 Dreamworks film that is in essence a children’s movie that subtly but constantly portrays content that only a person with an adult mindset would and could appreciate. This is turn allows adults to take part with, and fully enjoy, a discourse primarily targeted towards a younger audience.

Indeed, this notion of using a children’s text to allude to the sensibilities of an adult may be approached as another way in which multiple or unheard voices are amplified, but let us not forget the subversive nature of this sense of duality. During the time Wilde was writing fairy tales, this genre was undergoing radical transformations in terms of its aims and purpose. As Jack Zipes points out in his book Fairy Tales and the Art of Subversion:

No longer was the fairy tale to be like the mirror, mirror on the wall reflecting the cosmetic bourgeois standards of beauty and virtue that appeared to be unadulterated and pure. The fairy tale and the mirror cracked into sharp-edged, radical parts by the end of the nineteenth century. (107)

We can arguably say that with his fairy tales, Wilde not only cracked the mirror, but he ultimately shattered it. Wilde refused to fully embrace the concept of “happily ever after” with his tales, and he clearly twisted and contorted the tale in order to not only challenge his readers, but in order to highlight ideas and discourses that are marginalized and ignored. The Happy Prince portrays the death of a swallow that gave its life for a greater good. Although we may view the swallow as a scapegoat that sacrificed itself to subdue the tensions that permeated its environment, and although the swallow and the prince’s heart were chosen as the most precious things in the city, notice that the social problem was not entirely fixed: the statue of the prince will simply be replaced by another icon. In The Star-Child, the protagonist finds atonement and redemption and becomes a ruler that governs his land with the values of kindness and charity in mind, but his hardships lead him to die within three years, and he is replaced by an evil ruler. As a matter of fact, The Star-Child is even more subversive than we may initially deem, because as Zipes brilliantly pointed out, this tale is a deliberate subversion of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Ugly Duckling, where the theme of beauty is inversed in order to challenge its value in contemporary society. As Zipes points out:

Whereas Andersen sees beauty as connected to the duckling’s outward grace as a swan and subservience to the aristocracy of the swans, Wilde’s ideological position implicitly mocked Andersen while presenting a more complex notion of beauty. (125)

But rather than being subversive for the sake of simply being subversive, Wilde’s twists and turns not only highlight the hypocrisies of his society, but they also aim to shed light on figures, people, and ideas that are shadowed by powers such as capitalism, greed, and corruption—and both the powered and the powerless have a say in Wilde’s tales. The beautiful and the ugly have a voice. The poor and the rich have a voice. Even the big and the small can be heard.

Throughout my reading on Wilde’s tales, I encountered an argument posited by the aforementioned Elizabeth Goodenough that not only sparked emotion and insight, but it ultimately influenced the title and focus of this presentation:

The poignant and satiric tonalities of the tales […] sound a dual audience. They invert the logic of [the] premature little adults and the Victorian morbidity of gazing on childish pain by registering a childlike responsiveness to the feelings of others, a compelling lyric to which adults are tone deaf. (349)

A childlike responsiveness to feeling that adults ultimately cannot hear… it’s clearly there. I guess the question is: when are we going to start listening? When it comes down to it, Oscar Wilde’s tales, and ostensibly children’s literature in general, are no different to the melody of the reed. Indeed, they emit lyricism, a language, and arguably, a discourse, but it is quite easy for all of these to go by unperceived by the metaphorical, and at times literal adult ear. Ultimately, Wilde’s tales are in essence pleas towards hearing the subtle whispers of culture and society… of giving voice to the mute and the unspeakable. Wilde’s tales even served the purpose of giving a voice to the side of his personality that people were unwilling to perceive at the time, as argued by Kohl: “In the tales, Wilde was unburdened by the role the public expected him to play, and also by his own need to represent himself as a wit and a clever but moral outsider, and so he was quite free to tell his stories and to reveal another side of his character, that is, his conventional morality” (61). Through amplification as facilitated through subversion, through language, through art, and yes, believe it or not, through pragmatics, Wilde’s fairy tales transform the faint whispers of the burdened, the poor, the animal, the child, the homosexual, the ugly, the marginalized, the dreamer, and the artist into a piercing scream. He transcends children’s literature into everyone’s literature. And like most of the children’s texts that I’ve encountered, Wilde’s screams are ones that are simply unforgettable.

Now that’s what I call art.

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The following post was a paper presentation that I prepared for a doctoral course that I am taking this semester titled “Wilde and Synge: Art as Subversion.” I am planning to continue developing this paper into a publishable article, so any and all feedback is definitely welcome!