Posts Tagged Feminist Fiction
Title The Breadwinner
Starring Saara Chaudry, Soma Chhaya, and Noorin Gulamgaus
Director Nora Twomey
Writer(s) Anita Doron (screenplay), Deborah Ellis (screen story), and Deborah Ellis (book)
Genre Animation | Drama | Family
Release Date November 17, 2017
Filming Location Ireland | Canada | Luxembourg
Parental Guidance PG-13 for thematic elements including some violent images
IMDB Rating 7.6
Synopsis: It’s 2001 and the Taliban is at the height of its power in Afghanistan. Eleven-year-old Parvana’s (Saara Chaudry) father Nurullah Alisai (Ali Badshah), a former schoolmaster and now an amputee, makes ends meet for their small family by selling their possessions in the market and offering to read and write for the generally illiterate populace. Since Parvana is still considered a child at her age, she is able to assist Nurullah at the market while her mother, elder sister, and baby brother must stay at home and out of public sight. During these excursions, Nurullah tries to teach Parvana their people’s tradition of storytelling to help preserve the true history of their land. One day, Nurullah gets into an argument with a young hotheaded Taliban recruit Idrees (Noorin Gulamgaus) when the boy visits their kiosk and claims that Parvana is “drawing too much attention to herself”. Idrees was once Nurullah’s student when schools still operated in Afghanistan and Nurullah takes offense at Idrees’s, indeed, lascivious attention towards Parvana. Though Idrees’s supervisor Razaq (Kawa Ada) – rather a mild-mannered and sympathetic man by Taliban standards – settles the situation at the market, later that day, Idrees brings a gang of militia to the Alisais’ home and has Nurullah arrested. With the sole provider now removed, the family is on the verge of going hungry. However, Parvana takes matters into her own hands when she cuts her hair short and dons her deceased elder brother’s clothes to disguise herself as a boy and continue Nurullah’s work to become the breadwinner. Though not always successful, her spirit weathers each hurdle and, enjoying the newfound freedom and privileges the change of appearance gains her, she decides she will rescue Nurullah from prison – along the way making a few friends and encountering old enemies.
Experience: This story was right up my alley. Not only does it have a girl realizing victory over the verdict of an extremist regime, it places a central emphasis on storytelling.
I have already mentioned how I loved the way the father Nurullah explains the importance of storytelling that reaches beyond entertainment and self-gratification in my last week’s post. The movie in itself captures the story Deborah Ellis wrote with wonderful artistic expressions. I truly enjoyed how the animators created the visuals of the hustle and bustle of the marketplace, the dilapidation of the hovel in which the Alisai family lived, the barren landscape that poignantly reflected the dystopian nature of regime, and the charm of the industry of handmade and gloriously colorful candies that is bound to hold so much attraction to children even amidst such a hard life. In contrast, the portrayal of the imaginings of the story that Parvana tells her brother each night is full of mystery and sharp edges just as it should be. Action is insightfully weaved in with hardship. The movie does not aim at humor at any given point and is a drama through and through but it is inspiring to see how these people learned to adapt and find their own forms of joy in family and in childhood.
And while Parvana is the central character significant for her choice and effort to disguise herself as a boy to provide for her family as well as save for the bribe that might help rescue her father, she is not alone in this adventure. She quickly finds an ally, her old schoolmate Shauzia. Yet, while the two girls have chosen the same lot in life, their personalities differ night and day. Both are brave girls with indomitable spirits and a dare-to-dream attitude but while Parvana dreams for her family, Shauzia dreams for herself. It is such a minor detail that she carries a beachscape postcard in hopes of one day escaping her abusive father and see the ocean – she longs and saves to claim her independence. But she doesn’t understand Parvana’s desperation to save her father and reunite her family. Instead, she sees it as a possibility of losing her friend. Yet, she helps her friend despite her self-interest. I thought while Parvana’s character was selfless and rash, Shauzia’s was out of the ordinary and showed greater depths of heroics.
Thematically, the entire movie greatly captures the element of secrecy. Other than the obvious secrets that Parvana and Shauzia keep, I liked how the story plays on the idea that not everything is always as it seems. For one, the Taliban supervisor Razaq first helps maintain peace when Idrees picks a fight with Nurullah in the market and then again builds a bond with Parvana-the-boy and advises her on how to get her father out of prison. Idrees is self-serving and vindictive through-and-through and has that natural evil that some people demonstrate even in childhood. But even he, when being transported for war, shows fear towards his future. While the story had a generous plot, it truly is a character-driven narrative that manages to bring many sides of patriarchal extremism.
Recommendation: I highly recommend this movie, whether you have read the book or not. This insightful narrative resonates all the sad truths of what happens under extremist regimes without being wasteful with any diversions from its central objective.
And now for a little public announcement: I will not be writing for a while now; I’m taking time for some personal growth. But I do need a lot of prayers from anyone who is willing to put in a good word for me upstairs. Thank you in advance, all you good people! Love!
Author Elizabeth Gaskell
Genre English Literature, Classic
Publisher Heritage Illustrated Publishing
Publication Date March 17, 2014
Format eBook via Project Gutenberg
Setting Regency England, Industrial Revolution
Synopsis: Cranford, sometimes referred to as Chronicles of Cranford, was originally published between 1851 and 1853 as a series of vignettes belonging to a larger body of work by Elizabeth Gaskell in the magazine Household Words, as edited by Charles Dickens. The novel follows the lives of spinster sisters Misses Deborah and Matilda (Matty) Jenkynses and their bevy of matronly comrades who oversee the genteel standards of living for the society of this titular town. The narrative accounts are related by Miss Mary Smith who spends the larger share of each year living with the Misses Jenkynses given her unwavering attachment to the townspeople – though her family moved to and officially resides in the nearby city of Drumble for the benefit of her father’s growing business. Mr. Smith, an industrious man preoccupied with his work, rarely feels Mary’s absence, much to the satisfaction of all principal characters in the story. Mary, in turn, especially benefits from the female society Cranford affords since her mother passed away some years ago, upon whence, she has been left mostly to her own devices in her household. Meanwhile, the women of Cranford take great care to uphold all appearances of dignified living despite any pecuniary shortcomings. What unfolds is a witty commentary of a community that strives to retain the “old ways” despite any modernity the industrial revolution brings to their small town and a heartwarming portrayal of feminine friendship that enlists infallible assistance even in the face of irreparable tragedies.
Experience (some necessary spoilers): Honestly, I did not procure this book until I saw the 2007 BBC adaptation starring Judy Dench and Eileen Atkins last month. I never even listed it among my TBRs. The TV mini-series, however, was very enjoyable and so, as I never deny myself a comparative assessment once I have seen the adaptation of a classic literature, I began reading.
When, in the Making of Cranford, creator and writer Sue Birtwistle (one of the geniuses behind the 1995 BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice) confessed that the crew had taken many liberties while writing the script for Cranford, I did not imagine the extent to which this admission was accurate. If one reads the novel and then seeks any accuracy of narrative or characters in the adaptation, they will feel the discrepancies. However, if the heart of the novel were to be determined, they will discover that the adaptation has amplified Gaskell’s intentions. In essence, while the adaptation made unscrupulous changes to the original story(s), it made up for the one gross limitation of the novel, i.e. a structured plot.
Indeed, it was not until I reached Chapter 12 that I began to see a plot formation. Upon a bit of research into the work, I learned that Gaskell, due to her commitment to writing another novel, was quite irregular with the installments for this one, which must account for why the first half of the book chiefly details individual events in the lives of the various Cranford ladies without amounting to any particular direction in which the overall the story headed. However, the adaptation more than provides for a plot even though the scriptwriters often resorted to omitting certain characters by merging them with others, killing off some characters early in the series while keeping alive throughout the program others who were meant to have died as per the novel, and generally attributing the events of some characters to the roles of others. To wit, there was a lot of shuffling around; however, not always at a deficit. I wouldn’t go as far as to say that the adaptation was better than the book but Birtwistle and her team edited Gaskell’s story whereas the original author had not.
Having provided you with a fair warning on book vs. adaptation, allow me to proceed to tell you how I felt about the novel itself. Despite the lack of structure in the storyline, both the subject of the narrative and the writing voice had me vested from the first page. In fact, it boasts one of the better opening sentences I have ever read:
In the first place, Cranford is in possession of the Amazons; all the holders of houses above a certain rent are women.”
For a feminist, this line would be of guaranteed interest and I can imagine the popularity the series would have garnered with its very first installation among bluestockings. Indeed, as Household Words aspired to raise the “affection of both sexes”, Cranford was ideal literature towards that objective.
Gaskell, herself, wrote of her characters with much affection, even though she was not impervious to listing their many deficiencies where soundness of logic is concerned, which may have been engineered to recommend the material to the male readers – or, at least, it prevented the reading from becoming wholly unpalatable to her opposite sex given how self-sufficient the characters were. Before the first paragraph is over, we learn that the men manage to find themselves out of Cranford one way or another (“In short, whatever does become of the gentlemen, they are not in Cranford”) because the autonomy with which the womenfolk conduct themselves renders any male presence redundant. As if to exemplify, early in the book, the one man who manages to infiltrate this community and endear himself with his unassuming and obliging ways, manages to get himself killed in an act of heroics.
The Misses Jenkynses, who are themselves daughters of the former rector of the parish, act as the moral compass for the community as well as regulators of the general decorum of their society. The women adhere to certain rules, which would not always make sense to outsiders but manage to ensure that everyone knows exactly what is expected of them and lives in harmony with one another. And while the older Miss Deborah Jenkyns passes away early in the novel, her guidelines are continued to be followed by her peers. So much so that the surviving Miss Matty cannot make most of her decisions without in some way counseling with her conscience as to what her sister might have done. In fact, it is one of the distinguishing traits of Miss Matty to second-guess herself and always reflect upon the inferiority of her mental capabilities in comparison to others because she was so determinedly steered by her sister in all things while the elder still lived. It is not until later in the novel, when Miss Matty begins to demonstrate a bit more independence in decision-making – albeit with temerity – that we begin to realize that she is the central character of Mary’s narrative even though so much of their lives is presided over by the spirit of the long-deceased Deborah Jenkyns.
Yet, the women are not without their individualities, from fashion sense to personal peculiarities. For example, Miss Matty always saves on household expenditures by burning only one candle at a time but would alternately burn two candles every day to ensure they are of the same height in a sense of “elegant economy” (since having two candles lit was the due riggeur) for the benefit of witness should they have visitors. While another character Mrs. Forrester regularly washed her prized lace in milk to obtain that fine creamy hue and once, when her cat swallowed the unattended lace with the cream, had even fed the animal current-jelly before stuffing it in a farmer’s boot so it could “return” the favored item, for such fine lace could no longer be procured given the nuns from the continent who used to produce it had stopped. And such was the friendship between the women in the community that such eccentrics were not laughed at nor even found wanting. In fact, I thought for a feminist herself who wished to demonstrate how well women could get on on their own, Gaskell was rather harsh towards her characters, ridiculing them more often than they did one another though there was plenty of inducement. However, such indiscretions on Gaskell’s part could easily be overlooked when considering how honest and consistent her portrayal of each character was.
Nonetheless, as the story progresses, the true intent of the author becomes more visible and the reader may realize that amidst all the satire, Gaskell’s message from the town of Cranford is related by how Miss Matty continues to remain a paragon of goodness and kindliness even in the face of adversity, which without fail manages to bring about the best qualities in others. We see, in an hour of need, the devotion with which other characters come to her aid, self-sacrificing without hesitation, simply founded on an assurance that, if situations were reversed, Miss Matty would have happily ransomed every single one of her comfort to benefit another. Even individuals outside their immediate social circle is fully aware of Miss Matty’s eternally benevolent heart and childlike expectation of others to do only good, ensuring that they mirror the same qualities – at least in their deeds towards her. As Mary’s father, upon learning how Miss Matty’s friends rally around her, aptly explains:
See, Mary, how a good, innocent life makes friends all around. Confound it! I could make a good lesson out of it if I were a person; but, as it is, I can’t get a tail to my sentences–only I’m sure you feel what I want to say.”
And Mary, who grows into a woman under the unconscious counsel of this woman, too emulates to think of others before herself, particularly resourcing ways to make Miss Matty happy one of her priorities, faithfully concludes:
We all love Miss Matty, and I somehow think we are all of us better when she is near us.”
Recommendation: There is nothing I love more than a story that depicts the wholesome traits of humanity and this book had this in many folds. I recommend the read to anyone who feels the need to restore their faith in the goodness of mankind and a reminder that kindness begets kindness.
My novella Bad Daughter will be available for FREE DOWNLOAD all day Friday, June 30, 2017 (Pacific Standard Time)! Just follow the link on the title.
I thought I would drop in a line with fellow bloggers to see if I could tempt any of you to read a bit of South Asian Feminist Fiction with a little of dystopia and a little of romance.
Be warned, it does allude to the harsh and unfortunate reality of child sexual abuse and the burden placed on victims from the taboo on disclosure imposed by conservative societies.