Third Blog Post: Ackland Visit

Before our tour of the Ackland Art Museum it wasn’t clear to me what an english class could learn from looking at artwork. However, my group had a wonderful tour guide who provided insight into how the concept of adaptation can be applied to paintings. The two most memorable paintings for me were Looking at the Sea and Eve and the Serpent.

Looking at the Sea is an abstract painting, and initially I did not realize that it could be depicting the ocean. When I first saw this painting I thought it looked like someone had tossed a stone into a pond. I also thought the streaks of tan and orange in the upper corner was a reflection of objects on the pond’s shore. Once our tour guide explained that the artist’s title indicates it could be seen as the unruly sea I saw the painting in a different light. Suddenly the swirls of blue at the bottom of the canvas looked like waves in the ocean, and my mind was immediately taken back to the story of Robinson Crusoe attempting to sail in the storm. This experience caused me to reflect on the term adaptation in regards to abstract paintings. Since abstract art does not directly depict an image the meaning of the work can be interpreted by the viewer. If I was viewing this painting alone I might have never considered the painting to look like the sea if I didn’t read the title Looking at the Sea. If an adaptation reframes a work would different interpretations of what is shown in abstract art be considered the beginnings of adaptation?

Our group looked at Eve and the Serpent after viewing another painting that depicted the story of Adam and Eve. I thought this painting was an intriguing adaptation of the biblical story and the bright colors captured my attention. At first I was unsure about the author’s motivation for choosing to paint Eve as an African American, but our tour guide addressed this concept by explaining that the painting’s title references the slave song “Dem Bones”. Once I knew about the slave spiritual I could see that this adaption reframed the story of Adam and Eve to reference the ideals of social injustice and slavery. Perhaps Rose Piper’s choice of not including Adam in this painting also represents a message about oppression, but instead focuses on the oppression of women, not just African Americans. Adam’s absence could represent the strong independence of women from the oppression of men. Overall I thought the trip to the Ackland was very insightful and helped me realize how a painting, without the supplementary details movies and books provide, can be an adaptation that sends a unique and detailed message from its creator about the source referenced or societal ideals.

Blog Post #2 Wilson Library

Initially, before our class went to Wilson library I did not think that I was going to be as intrigued by this visit as I ended up being. The first book that I observed in the collection was the paperback version of Frankenstein published in 1983. What drew me to this particular book was the brightly colored cover that showed a large graphic of a women lying on a bed and the creature standing in the background. The striking use of yellows and reds in this image quickly draws a reader’s eyes to this edition of Frankenstein as opposed to the more neutral colored editions also present in the collection. However, the image on the cover of this book confused me because I feel as though it doesn’t represent the story of Frankenstein very well.

The main focus in the cover is of a woman lying on a bed with a lot of her chest exposed. If this was the first image I saw to represent the story of Frankenstein I would expect the story to be a romantic one.The Mary Shelly’s 1818 version of Frankenstein was definitely not a romance. The most prominent relationship shown in this book was that of Elizabeth and Victor, but the story focused much more on the creature’s feelings rather than those between Elizabeth and Victor. Therefore, it would make more sense if the creature was the main focus on the cover, rather than in the background of image on the book. Elizabeth and Victor’s relationship was also not very romantic. In the beginning of the book when Elizabeth enters Victor’s family there is always an expectation from Victor’s mother that they will marry, but once Victor goes to school and begins his work on the monster he completely ignores Elizabeth as well as all the other people in his life. It comes to the point that Elizabeth has to send letters to Victor practically begging him to write the family back and update her on his sickness. When Victor falls ill again towards the end of the book Elizabeth asks him if he is in love with another woman, and Victor has to assure her that he is not.

Another reason that the book cover focusing on the woman doesn’t make sense to me is because women were not represented well in Frankenstein. Elizabeth is the woman that gets the most detail written about her in the book, but it is a very small selection of the book compared to the vast amount on Victor and the creature. The way women are treated by the other characters in Frankenstein also leads to their poor representation. Aside from Victor’s lack of attention for Elizabeth, it is also shown through the trial scene that the rest of the town does not give women much validation. When Justine is falsely accused of murdering William she attempts to defend herself, but, realizing her voice is useless, she simply gives up and confesses to the crime. Elizabeth is also helpless in her ability to convince the town to stop Justine’s execution. The male, Victor, is the only person with the power to stop Justine’s execution since he would be believed if he chose to explain the situation. This scene exemplifies the passive role women play in the novel, so choosing a male on the cover of the book would make more sense.

A Comparison Between Defoe and Coetzee’s Robinson Crusoe – Jennifer Hower

“I would gladly now recount to you the history of the singular Cruso, as I heard it from his own lips. But the stories he told me were so various, and so hard to reconcile one with another… age and isolation had taken their toll on his memory, and he no longer knew for sure what was truth” (Coetzee, 11-12)

This quote from Coetzee’s Foe is the readers first introduction to any aspect of Cruso’s character in the book. The beginning of Foe is told from the first-person point of view of Susan Barton, and because of this, the reader is aware of Susan’s inner thoughts as she arrives on the island. When Susan first lands on the island she has her first encounter with Friday. Susan first refers to Friday as “the Negro”, but then just one page later she references, to the reader, that his name is Friday. Since Friday is mute, Susan cannot know of his name unless she had previous knowledge of who he is, or the author assumes the reader knows who Friday is. This is when I first begin viewing Foe as an adaptation of Robinson Crusoe.

While Friday retains the same name in Foe as in Robinson Crusoe, Robinson Crusoe’s name is changed to “Cruso” which marks the first in a series of differences between the character of Cruso(e) in Foe and Robinson Crusoe. The Cruso that Susan describes in the quote is one who is completely disconnected from reality and confused about his own past. When Susan questions Cruso about his history on the island the details in his stories vary wildly each time they are told. When asked if Friday was a child when he came to the island Cruso would sometimes exclaim, “Aye, a child, a mere child” (Coetzee, 12), but other times Cruso would say, “Friday was a cannibal whom he had saved from being roasted” (Coetzee, 12). This uncertainty about events could stem from the fact that in Foe, Cruso is very against keeping written documentation of his days on the island; proclaiming, “Nothing I have forgotten is worth remembering” (Coetzee, 17).

Cruso’s lack of journaling is a stark contrast to Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe. Robinson Crusoe is much less passive and senile in regards to his own development on the island. Crusoe kept a painfully detailed account of every action he does on the island in a journal he updates daily. In this journal, Crusoe meticulously records every step for all of the tools he crafts, and he writes about his own progress with his newly acquitted relationship with religion. This Robinson Crusoe is much more in tune with his own reality and interested in his own accomplishments than Foe’s Cruso. This is also evident in the number of tools and objects that Robinson Crusoe makes in comparison to Cruso. Robinson Crusoe fills his multiple homes with various types of pots, tables, chairs, fences, and even a canoe. All of these items Crusoe builds are to improve and aide in his growth on the island, and he must be mentally sharp in order to build these items. Cruso in Foe has not put any effort towards building tools, as he only has a bed when Susan arrives at the island, and from the quote, it seems like he may not have the mental capacity to build these tools. Although Cruso does builds many terraces, he exclaims that they are for the future generations and not himself.

One explanation for the difference in mindset and mental stability in the two Robinson Crusoe’s may be that in Robinson Crusoe, Crusoe felt that his island life had more value than Cruso did. Before becoming stranded on the island, religion wasn’t a focus in Robinson Crusoe’s life, and he frequently sinned; such as when he disobeyed his father. After becoming stranded on the island, Crusoe began to read the bible and incorporate God into his daily thoughts and actions. Crusoe expressed deep regret for his sinful past, and often attributed hardships to a lesson from God. This newfound life style gave significant meaning to Crusoe’s daily actions as they represented growth in his faith, and a positive change in character. For Cruso, the island did not lead him to make any significant changes in his character or ideals. Therefore, his daily actions had less significance to him, and when his reality and sense of self began to slip away from him he was not concerned.