Kaerleikshvetjandi blogg

fimmtudagur, júní 22, 2006

Second World War Literature
Professor Júlían M. D’Arcy

The Women

Nína Rúna Kvaran
Vorönn 2004

World War II was, as is common knowledge, an abominable affair, which amazingly affected almost every corner of the world and completely overturned the existence of millions of families and individuals. It was perhaps the first really modern war and its blatant use of weapons of mass destruction has caused it to be not only a war of soldiers and officers but that of the civilian as well. Civilian men, women, and children suffered greatly and were killed by the millions during this shameful period in human history. The desperation and poverty that were an inescapable side effect of this war, led many a person to seek desperate measures. Women’s traditional roles as homemakers were completely altered as many of them filled in the gaps created in the employment market and even in sports, as a result of military drafts. Many have even claimed that World War II was actually a break-through in the battle for women’s rights as it created these above-mentioned opportunities. Doubtless this is true but obviously it would have been preferable that society could have peacefully accepted women’s rights to work, under other circumstances than because all the men were at war. Regardless, women were not to be pushed out of the work place after the war as is evident by the progress in women’s liberation that was to follow shortly after.
The literature which has sprouted from the war experience is needless to say, predominantly a male oriented genre, at least when it comes to events of actual combat and warfare. But it must not be forgotten that women served their role in the war, both as enlisted nurses, office workers, spies, or (sometimes sadly) entertainment for soldiers away from home.
In Joseph Heller’s novel Catch-22 women serve an important role and Heller’s portrayal of them is interesting as a subject to say the least. In this essay, the intention is to very briefly examine the role and nature of women as seen in the above-mentioned novel.

Joseph Heller served as a bombardier in the Second World War and it is therefore probably safe to assume that it is not a coincidence that the main character of Catch-22, Yossarian, has the same occupation. Of course, whether the experience of Yossarian is in any way based on Heller’s own experience in the air force, is a matter of question and perhaps it is irrelevant, especially when considering the rather humorous and exaggerated behaviour and events portrayed in the book. At least, one should hope that the depiction of women in Catch-22 is not based on reality since it is not exactly flattering.
Unlike many books on war, there are women to be found in the plentiful in Catch-22 and in fact, despite not being the main characters, they are so numerous that I will only mention a few of the most memorable females and look a little closer at how Heller presents their roles within the story.
Unfortunately, in times of war, prostitution and even rape is a common side effect to the unnatural situation afflicted upon society in such circumstances. Most of the women in Catch-22 are prostitutes and therefore it is not appropriate to reflect on their moral behaviour and really it might even be naive to criticize the disrespectful attitude that Heller has the men show towards these women, since that is sadly in reality a common attitude that prostitutes have to live with, even today. What might strike the reader, as an unfair portrayal of women is how Heller’s other female characters that are not prostitutes, are almost without exception completely morally corrupt.
Lieutenant’s Scheisskopf’s wife is one of these above-mentioned women. She shamelessly has sex with every single man in her husband’s squadron and seems to have no remorse about it whatsoever. In her defence, her husband is not a very enthusiastic spouse; being almost morbidly obsessed with parades and fame, but that hardly justifies her blatantly immoral escapades. This is evident in the description of how every weekend, she put on a Wac uniform that she “[. . .] took off every weekend for every cadet in her husband’s squadron who wanted to creep into her” (Heller 80). This comment is obviously a horrible reflection on Mrs. Scheisskopf’s moral character, but to create an immoral female character is of course not necessarily proof of male chauvinism. It is the way Heller chooses the words “ to creep into her” (Heller 80) that somehow is nasty and offensive, at least to the feminist reader. As if she was some kind of “thing” to be used, or “crept” into.
Lieutenant Scheisskopf’s concept of his own wife is furthermore not exactly flattering to her moral character as is clear in his outrage at her hopeful suggestion of parading naked in front of him:
It was the despair of Lieutenant Scheisskopf’s life to be chained to a woman who was incapable of looking beyond her own, dirty sexual desires to the titanic struggles for the unattainable in which noble man could become heroically engaged (Heller 83).
As if it is not enough that Mrs. Scheisskopf seems to be a nymphomaniac, she also seems to have some kind of inclination to sado-masochism as perceived by her casual question to her husband about why he never whips her. What kind of point it might serve to keep Mrs. Scheisskopf’s character so firmly rooted in sexual crudeness is beyond my personal understanding except perhaps if the intention is to let her live up to the meaning of the name she has adopted from her husband.
The second woman worth mentioning in this context is Doctor Daneeka’s wife. She is informed by the War Department that her husband has been killed in action. Seemingly grief-stricken, she laments his death and her own future alone with their children, but as the money starts rolling in from life insurance policies, a GI insurance policy and donations from her husband’s fraternities, she quickly learns to appreciate widowhood. In fact, she values being a widow so greatly, that when she actually discovers that her husband is very much alive, she quietly moves herself and the children away without leaving a forwarding address. She is also noted to be “simply delighted with the way things were turning out” (Heller 394), especially when her husband’s friends start flirting with her. In other words, Mrs. Daneeka is not only greedy enough to dismiss the fact that her husband is not dead, she also evidently finds it delightful that his so-called friends are flirting with her. Again, sexual impropriety is implied although it is not as blatantly obvious as in Mrs. Scheisskopf’s case.
Nurse Duckett is yet another example of the bizarre nature of females in this novel. As she is introduced to the story, her physical features are described in great detail with an emphasis on her sexual features such as her “well-rounded ass” and “small breasts” (Heller 337). Nurse Duckett attracts the unwanted attention of Yossarian as he lies in the hospital. He sexually harasses her in a very crude and physical manner, causing her to jump away, straight in to the groping hands of Dunbar. They play around with her as she screams and tries to escape:
Nurse Duckett let out another scream and twisted away, fleeing far enough from Dunbar for Yossarian to grab her by the snatch again. Nurse Duckett bounced out across the aisle once more like a ping-pong ball with legs (Heller 337).
This description is disturbing in more ways then one. Firstly, Yossarian and Dunbar seem to be having the time of their lives literarily tormenting a frightened woman whose job it is to take care of them. As a consequence, Dunbar falls on the floor and cracks his scull, (an event greatly deserved perhaps?), and Yossarian ends up comforting Nurse Duckett as she is reduced to tears. This incident is of course a depiction of the bad behaviour of two male characters and obviously, in real life people do behave badly so perhaps it is again, not the incident itself which gives cause to outrage but the language, and that is my second point.
The word “snatch” is a degrading slang for female genitalia. For the author to repeatedly choose to use words like that when they are not being either spoken by a character or clearly being thought of by a character, can be interpreted as chauvinism from his part. Again, it somehow illuminates not a simply underlying contempt towards women, but rather clearly expresses disrespect towards them.
Unbelievably, Nurse Duckett seemingly traumatic sexual harassment experience does not have a lasting effect on her since she not much later becomes romantically involved with her attacker, Yossarian. She even deliberately flirts with Hungry Joe “just to keep him in heat” (Heller 385) and her eyes “glimmered with mischief” (Heller 385) each time Yossarian “rapped her sharply with his elbow or fist (!) to make her stop” (Heller 385). She strangely seems to share Mrs. Scheisskopf’s masochistic tendencies as is made furthermore evident when she deliberately bothers the men as they play cards on the beach, so she can revel in delight as they physically reprimand her on the arms and legs for interrupting their game. Her enjoyment in this obviously (in her mind) semi-sexual conduct with a group of men can be seen in this paragraph:
Nurse Duckett reveled in such attention and ducked her short chestnut bangs with joy when Yossarian and the others focused upon her. It gave her a peculiar feeling of warm and expectant well-being to know that so many naked boys and men were idling close by on the other side of the sand dunes (Heller 385).
Her conduct is frankly, bizarre and very unrealistic. What woman in her right mind would become romantically involved with a man who has humiliated her in such a way that Yossarian has with Nurse Duckett? Her first seemingly terrified reaction to the attack in the hospital and then, obvious delight in the above-mentioned circumstances just do not make any sense. It almost feels as if women are being made fun of by this. But then again, the entire nature of this novel is perhaps not the best example of a very realistic story, with people contradicting themselves frequently in words and behaviour.
There are of course, numerous other female characters in Catch-22 whose fates could certainly be examined more closely although it will not be done here. As mentioned above, the very few women who are not prostitutes by profession, might as well be for all their moral standards seem to be worth. The only women that seem to be more or less decent are either only a memory, such as the chaplain’s wife, she never actually is present in the story outside of his head, and the hapless and unattractive maid Michaela. But even she does not escape sexualization and degradation as she ends up being raped and murdered by Aarfy.
Few if any of the female characters in the novel, escape being described physically in direct context to their sexual appeal or lack there of. I quickly lost track of all the ripe bosoms and bottoms that parade around in Catch-22 and it is more than obvious that although the men are also physically described, the physical descriptions of the women always carry a heavy emphasis on sex appeal. Whether this extremely heterosexual male view is supposed to serve some special purpose such as getting some point across about women and their position in times of war, I am not sure of, since I obviously missed that point and found the endless descriptions of female body parts to be repetitive and offensive.

Joseph Heller’s novel Catch-22 is a very interesting and entertaining piece of reading but it is nevertheless, whether intentionally or not, a male chauvinist book. There is a variety of different male characters that possess very different and distinct personality traits, while the female characters are mainly (and stereotypically) seen as sexual objects. The female characters are therefore very one-sided and do not offer the same range of complexities the male characters do.
Women in general in the book seem to serve only two purposes: sexual and comic relief for the men. They are fucked (to use Heller’s own choice of words) and mocked throughout the book. The fun that is so frequently being made of them is also very often when they are in a sexually degrading situation, as for example with Nately’s whore, when the men play a cruel word game with her, all of them naked (Heller 404).
Obviously all things are a matter of interpretation and the nature and role of women in Catch-22 are no exceptions from that. Perhaps Heller’s depiction of women is something based on his own experience as a bombardier during the war or maybe he wanted to show how war has a negative effect on men and women, causing them to resort to measures mostly unheard of at times of peace. Maybe he was just a male chauvinist pig that had no respect whatsoever for women and the demeaning treatment of them in his novel is a reflection on that. If that were the truth though, it is ironic that his mother and daughter are amongst the people he dedicated this book to. Since I do not know the facts about his true intentions in this regard, my own feelings and emotions as a reader are all that stand left in the end. I found the first descriptions of women in the book to be amusing and even funny at times, but as the book progressed and there seemed to be no end to the portrayal of women as ridiculous but sexy clowns, I just felt angry and offended. All in all, this book is does not leave the feminist reader a happy camper!

miðvikudagur, júní 21, 2006


Most of us resent being the victims of so-called harassment. All harassment is unpleasant because behind the behaviour and conduct of the harassers there is usually some kind of defect which could be described as the lack of understanding the needs and attitudes of other people.
When we are being harassed in some way it can be tough to defend ourselves. We cannot see the point of the behaviour of the harasser and that is why it can be difficult to fend ourselves against the discomfort that can arise in our lives when insensitive people are making us miserable with harassment and wrong and annoying conduct. Experience has shown that an irritating presence which is negative and indecent can be inappropriate and discomforting.
There are often no obvious explanations as to why some people choose to harass us. It often seems as if harassers lack the sensors to understand how normal communication between people should be. If we try to find out why we become the victims of pranks and annoyance of others it can be difficult for us to realize just what motives lie behind the harassment. It does seem as if some of us practically need to pester others in order to enjoy ourselves and seem to take immense pleasure out of doing so even though such behaviour is awful and wrong.
The fact is that it is abnormal to constantly bother other people and all of us should know that. We should always try for positive communication with other people so that we can be a part of a milder and more humane society. We should not make it unbearable for others to thrive. It is a known fact that by unnecessarily harassing others we can promote their mental breakdown.
A lack of understanding is one of the factors which make harassers so unpleasant, because their immaturity and ignorance makes them irritate others for no good reason. If we find ourselves in the situation of not fully understanding the views and will of others, that does not give us a permit to behave anyway we want with them.
Communication built on us being unable to feel free because imperfect people are constantly harassing us, is wrong and needs to be changed. To pester each other at any given opportunity is of course a very bad communication tactic and therefore it is important to eliminate the unfortunate and burdening behaviour of harassers and all others who promote negative relations.
We must avoid pretending that it is alright to make others miserable with disrespect and indecent harassment that serves no purpose. Many people do this unfortunately, and it is a shame. We should reject all nasty pranks and not persecute others for no good reason. Harassers are uninteresting people that do nothing but bother others and make a nuisance of themselves.

þriðjudagur, júní 20, 2006

Eins og við vitum er eðli okkar mannanna mismunandi og eitt af því sem prýðir einstaka mann er manngæska. Það er vitanlega enginn vandi að vera slæmur og neilægur en það getur verið flókið og fyrirhafnarmikið að vera góðgjarn og réttsýnn.
Hjartagæska kemur meðal annars fram í því að vilja öðrum vel við allar aðstæður. Gæska í öllum myndum telst uppbyggilegur, andlegur aflvaki og ætti því að efla járæn og heilbrigð samskipti. Það er mikilvægt að vera öðrum góður. Ekkert launungarmál er að við sem erum þannig innstillt andlega finnum fyrir vellíðan og friði í samskiptum við aðra. Líknarlundin er mannkær og óeigingjörn atferlisstefna sem finnur venjulega sinn vitjunartíma. Hún verður þeim sem njóta hennar venjulega til blessunar og ávinnings. Veglyndi getur verið margs konar en telst þó fyrst og fremst tengjast kærleikshvetjandi, jágjörnum lífsviðhorfum.
Við verðum sjálf að rækta upp og hlúa að þeim eðlisþáttum í innra lífi okkar sem okkur þykja eftirsóknarverðir og heppilegir til að göfga og fága. Góðsemi verður ekki til fyrir tilviljun eða af sjálfu sér. Það þarf að rækta hana og efla eins og annað. Hún fær þó frekar líf í hugskoti okkar og athöfnum ef við skiljum mögulegan tilgang hennar og teljum hana eftirsóknarverðan aflvaka og mikilvægan í samskiptum. Það verður enginn veraldlega ríkur af því einu að ausa aðra kærleika en viðkomandi eignast þess í stað hugþýðan og hamingjuríkan innri auð sem hvorki ryð né mölur fær grandað.
Ágætt er, ef við erum ósátt við aðra, að reyna eftir megni að hugsa fremur jákvætt en neikvætt til viðkomandi. Hyggilegt er að við mildum vísvitandi neigjarna afstöðu til þeirra sem við eigum í erjum við og þá helst með heppilegu, góðgjörnu hugarþeli. Ástúð getur aldrei misst marks þótt að skilyrði einstaka fólks til að meðtaka hana séu óviðunandi. Það að verða mannkær og jágjarn hlýtur að vera eftirsóknanlegt keppikefli fyrir þá sem vilja efla gæskuna í sjálfum sér og öðrum. Við vitum að það er enginn vandi að vera góður við þann sem er elskulegur og viðmótsþýður. Við vitum líka að það þarf heilbrigða, andlega lífssýn til að sætta sig við og hlúa að þeim sem eru óbilgjarnir og neikærir. Göfgi og manngæska ættu að auka líkur á fullkomnari samskiptum vegna þess að þannig afstaða til lífsins og annarra ýta undir það besta sem innra með okkur býr.
Best er að byggja upp og rækta af kostgæfni það andlega atferli í samskiptum sem er gæskuríkt og göfugt en ekki það sem tengist andlegum nöturleika og annarri álíka ógerð. Manngæskan tengist hugfáguðum og hamingjuhvetjandi lífsstíl. Hún eflir okkur sem góðar manneskjur og þess vegna er vel þess virði að rækta hana upp í innra lífi okkar, sé hún af skornum skammti. Það er mikilvægt að vera mannkær og jásýnn; vera þess megnugur að ylja öðrum og þurfandi, af mannúðlegri mýkt og andlegri reisn.

sunnudagur, júní 18, 2006

A Thought

The enticing presence
of unknown entities
calls for unity
with the primal force.
Alas, matter
embraces the longing
and smothers the spirit
in the gardens of memories.
And the years go by
in the rustle of time.
þýtt af NRK