Thursday, June 30, 2016

Wednesday Addams, 21st Century Feminist

Wednesday Addams is a feminist for our times, a brainy, insightful paragon who never betrays her own needs and desires, least of all for a boy, unites the marginalized in an act of protest against conformism, classism, racism, ableism, and sexism, and makes use of her considerable intellect to preserve her family. She couldn't care less about looking conventionally beautiful, she couldn't care less about looking conventionally feminine, and she coolly dismisses all attempts on the part of others to change her appearance, attitudes, and goals. She's not going to smile unless she has a damn good reason to do so.

Wednesday is a rare character that bridges the demands of pop culture feminism - she's smart and still attractive, her rebellion is consciously intersectional - and more academic feminist critique - she is highly logical and adept at both research and making sense of psychology (also, she cross-dresses and plays Hamlet for her school play; Wednesday thinks nothing of gender-swapping). For example, in The Addams Family, Wednesday excels in school, but her teacher is concerned because Wednesday's hero, according to her essay, is Calpurnia Addams, burned as a witch for having "danced naked in the streets" and who also "enslaved a minister" - but not to worry, Morticia assures the blonde teacher, "we've told Wednesday, college first." Wednesday's hero, or rather heroine, is a woman who chose to throw off all social conventions and inverted gendered power dynamics, subjugating a man. That being said, those ambitions won't get in the way of attaining a B.A., preferably majoring in Spells and Hexes.

The brilliant Thanksgiving pageant in Addams Family Values is a cathartic and subversive revolt against white, upper-class American values, values that exclude oddballs like Wednesday and Pugsley, but also Jews, like Wednesday's crush Joel Glicker, Hispanics, African-Americans, the disabled, and the overweight. The pageant is intended to depict a white-washed version of Thanksgiving in which the white Pilgrim hosts are the condescending, passive-aggressive hosts and the Native Americans (played by the campers who are Addamses, not white, disabled, and overweight), led by Pocahontas, compliment the very blonde, very blue-eyed, milk-complexioned Sarah Miller as they smile and accept their status as savages. Wednesday is having none of it. Her speech is worth quoting in its entirety:

Wait, we cannot break bread with you. You have taken the land which is rightfully ours. Years from now my people will be forced to live in mobile homes on reservations. Your people will wear cardigans, and drink highballs. We will sell our bracelets by the road sides, and you will play golf. My people will have pain and degradation. Your people will have stick shifts. The gods of my tribe have spoken. They said do not trust the pilgrims. And especially do not trust Sarah Miller. For all these reasons I have decided to scalp you and burn your village to the ground.

"White meat and dark meat, take it away" indeed. Wednesday unequivocally rejects the simplistic version of American history that views colonialist interaction with Native Americans as essentially benevolent and paternalistic. Her critique is rooted in an anti-materialist and anti-capitalist discourse, owing something to Marx, but also couched in a language that recalls Malcolm X. This is vengeance delivered against the powers of the rich, vengeance for a long history of greed, marginalization, disenfranchisement, and oppression. Wednesday's attack is also cleverly staged; she pretends to agree to play the insipid Pocahontas as written for the pageant, quietly making her arrangements and taking both personal and political revenge.

Wednesday is also independently-minded when it comes to dating. She takes full control of the budding romance with Joel. It is she who initiates physical closeness. She asks him to go with her to Uncle Fester's wedding (though, granted, she won't refer to it as a date) before Joel has the guts to ask her out. Finally, her first relationship is a misandrist triumph, when, informing Joel that Uncle Fester's Black Widow lover wasn't sick but sloppy, she proceeds to demonstrate how she would get rid of a husband: she would scare him to death. This subversively dark quality opposes the simplicity of the sunny, have-it-all feminism of Lean In, the relentlessly positive feminism that neutralizes anger as purely an expression of trauma, to be overcome with a personal essay.

Wednesday stays true to herself through it all, without ever giving into the slightest bit of insincerity or yielding to the exigencies of social conformity or familial expectation. She's successful largely because of this quality, because she simply won't fit into the crowd that doesn't fit her, or second-guess her own gut instinct, or give up when a wee trick or two might always change the tide in her favor. Forget the Disney princesses - the feminist role model every little girl needs is Wednesday Addams.

Friday, June 17, 2016

"Der Fuehrer's Face": The Donald Duck as a Nazi Cartoon You Didn't Know You Needed

Released in 1943, "Der Fuehrer's Face" (originally titled "Donald Duck in Nutzi Land") was produced explicitly as propaganda, its purpose to contrast the misery of Nazi Germany with the freedom enjoyed in the United States. It was not the first Donald Duck cartoon that the Disney studio had produced for the war effort, but it proved especially popular, in no small part due to the title song, sung by Spike Jones, that parodies the "Horst Wessel Song." The cartoon has typically garnered positive comments online, though many of these same commenters admit that they like the idea of it and haven't actually seen it.

Squeezed into an eight-minute short, the action is frenetic, but the plot essentially simple. Donald Duck is woken by a marching Nazi band. He consumes a miserable breakfast of "aroma of bacon and eggs" (in an atomizer), contraband coffee, and bread that has to be sawed like a log of wood. He is then bounced out of his house with a bayonet, all the while being told he is lucky to live in the Fuehrer's Germany, and goes to work in a munitions factory. The scene is strongly reminiscent of Charlie Chaplin's Modern Times, with Donald having to work ever faster, screwing shut artillery shells. At one point, a painted banner of the Alps drops behind him and the intercom informs him that he is on vacation, thanks to the Fuehrer. The banner is then yanked up and the intercom bellows that Donald has been chosen, and with great good fortune, to work overtime. At this point, Donald loses his mind, and a hair-raising, hallucinogenic sequence in which anthropomorphized artillery shells praise the Fuehrer and swallow each other and Donald bursts onto the screen. These brightly, unnaturally colored frames, which push the madness of Dumbo's "Pink Elephants" sequence to a new extreme, are a testament to the Disney animators, and a welcome bit of avant-garde cinema in an otherwise unimaginatively drawn cartoon.

In the end, it turns out that Donald was having a nightmare. He's not a Nazi, but an American citizen, sleeping in American flag pajamas and bedsheets, with a miniature Statue of Liberty, which he kisses in gratitude, planted on his windowsill. Nazism, the film tells us, is a literal nightmare.

It's no great surprise that the film was out of circulation for a while. The caricatures of Hitler, Mussolini, and Hirohito are broad to say the least, and while in the first two cases, most viewers are unlikely to be bothered, the last is a bit problematic. Hirohito is buck-toothed, his eyes mere slits, and his skin is virulently, synthetically yellow. Though the title song was a major hit in the 1940s, today, it too strikes the listener as rather too obvious. The satire is so on the nose that it can hardly be considered satire. For example: "Everyone of foreign race/Will love der Fuehrer's face/When we bring to the world disorder." It's not terrible, but it's not exactly clever either. Even so, the cartoon has a certain shock value, if only because Donald Duck shrieks "Heil Hitler" about once every five seconds.

Disney produced better war cartoons than "Der Fuehrer's Face," but none of them were as distinctly driven by the exigencies of painting Hitler and the Nazi government as buffoons. There is an equal anxiety to depict the United States as a bastion of freedom, this despite the fact that by 1943 Americans, including citizens, of Japanese, Italian, and German descent were being interned and stripped of their basic rights, including their rights to certain properties (such as boats) and the vote.

My favorite Donald Duck cartoon from this period is "The Vanishing Private" - it is both a funnier and a more subtle film. In it, Donald, a troublesome private in the American Army, is ordered to camouflage a cannon, which he does using invisible paint. His superior, Sergeant Pete, goes bananas when he thinks the cannon has been stolen on Donald's watch and accidentally tumbles the short-tempered duck into the vat of paint. Invisible Donald has a field day, quacking "Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush" and leading the increasingly confused Sergeant Pete right around it. "The Vanishing Private" was released in 1942 and despite its focus on the Army and its clearly positive stance towards the war effort, the cartoon is far more wrapped up in the madcap fun of Donald's antics than in assigning those antics an obviously ideological significance. As such, it's a better film, but it tells us far less about wartime attitudes than "Der Fuehrer's Face," which won the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film and was both popular and critically acclaimed.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

9 Great Coming-of-Age Films

What constitutes coming of age has ranged enormously over time and across cultures. In Medieval Europe, a person's coming of age was primarily a story of spiritual revelation; one need only think of Saint Augustine. In the Victorian period, the coming of age narrative was primarily focused on moral development, while in the post-Freudian era, a coming of age story almost always signifies a story about sexuality and first sexual experiences. Psychoanalysis and cinema were born almost simultaneously and have informed each other since the very beginning; as such it's no great surprise that coming of age on film, in most cases, explicitly deals with romantic and sexual aspirations and experience, the primary focus, along with death, of Freud's understanding of the psyche. The films listed here range from bubbly, charming comedies to one of the single most disturbing movies I've ever seen, but each one portrays the confusions, ecstasies, despairs, and disappointments of coming of age. 

L'auberge espagnole (2002)
This likable French-Spanish co-production stars the ever rakishly charming Romain Duris as Xavier, a confused guy following the plan laid out for him by his mentors. Through the ERASMUS program, he goes to Barcelona to study and while there he shares an apartment with other students from Belgium, England, Spain, Italy, Denmark, and Germany. The apartment is the locus of multicultural chaos, with the various roommates struggling to communicate across multiple language barriers. The film, written and directed by Cédric Klapisch, has a certain bouncy sweetness and the friendships, unlike the romantic affairs Xavier pursues with puppyish tenacity, are ultimately quite moving. The film spawned two sequels; the second, Russian Dolls, had a bitter aftertaste that I very much disliked and as a result I did not see the third.

The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer (1947)
Only Cary Grant could get away with playing Richard Nugent, a womanizing artist who finds himself the object of a schoolgirl crush and is ordered by the teenager's sister, the judge overseeing his charges of disorderly conduct, to indulge her infatuation and actually date her. Any other actor in the role would be creepy, but Grant carries it off with stylish panache and a delicacy that both preserves his sex appeal and convinces the viewer he wouldn't touch 17-year-old Shirley Temple with a ten-foot pole. In the end, sparks fly between Grant and the judge holding his feet to the fire, played by a ravishing Myrna Loy. The screenplay by Sidney Sheldon is a masterclass in the art of the screwball comedy. Though this film could never be made today, given how sensitive (and for good reason) we have become towards the idea of teenage girls in any sort of romantic situation with a grown man, it successfully captures, with an innocent, wide-eyed joy in the sheer messiness of living and loving, the strange seesawing emotional roller coaster of a teenager's life, swinging between childish joys and adult pleasures.

C.R.A.Z.Y. (2005)
This French-Canadian film is a masterpiece, a poignant and affecting drama that is much more than the coming-of-age tale it purports to be. Directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, the film follows Zac (a drop-dead gorgeous Marc-André Grondin), a gay teenager growing up in the 60s and 70s with a ball-busting father (Michel Côté) who obsesses over Patsy Cline and croons Charles Aznavour songs at family gatherings. Indeed, one of the great pleasures of the movie is the soundtrack, which includes David Bowie, the Rolling Stones, and Elvis; the music, along with the fabulously evocative costumes, designs, and hairstyles, make this perhaps the best ever period piece set in the 70s. Though the movie's protagonist is gay and the struggles he has to undergo in order to be accepted by both his family and himself are directly tied to his identity, it would be a mistake to marginalize this movie as a gay coming-of-age story. It is that, but its emotional depths are compassionately inclusive without being either sugar-coated or anodyne. Zac doesn't just come out of the closet; he finds both understanding and compassion for himself and for his father, mother, and brothers.

Fat Girl (2001)
Catherine Breillat's notorious film is difficult and only recommended for those with a strong stomach and a steely tolerance for unrelentingly distressing subject matter. No other filmmaker has the guts to examine on film with the same cold-blooded, surgically exact scrutiny the themes that Breillat explores over and over: female sexuality, virginity, teenage sexuality, jealousy, female friendship, sexual violence, body image, and how all these already confusing things intersect. Anaïs Reboux is the fat girl of the title, a cynical teenager who gorges on banana splits and watches with a resentful glare as her thin, Lolita-like sister (Roxane Mesquida) is seduced by an older Italian student (Libero De Rienzo). Breillat's imaginary is ruthlessly unsentimental; teenage girls are tangled up in the impossible mess of desperately desiring, desperately wanting to be desired, being desired in the wrong way, and being vulnerable to the violence perpetrated by men. The lines between sex and rape, consent and coercion, jealousy and protectiveness, desire and disgust, are never, ever clear in a Catherine Breillat film and for that reason she is perhaps one of the most scrupulously honest filmmakers when it comes to depicting teenagers and teenage sexuality.

The Graduate (1967)
This classic film starring an impossibly young Dustin Hoffman, Anne Bancroft, and Katherine Ross probably needs little introduction, its iconic imagery (the young Dustin framed by Bancroft's nylon-clad leg), dialogue ("You're trying to seduce me, Mrs. Robinson" and "Plastics"), and the songs by Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel having left an indelible mark on the memory of 60s culture. Though undoubtedly a zeitgeisty film, The Graduate still feels painfully relevant, perhaps even more intensely so in the wake of 2008 recession that left so many millenials adrift and grasping for secure lifelines that had simply disappeared. The film ends ambiguously; the optimist is likely to see a victory and a hopeful beginning, while the pessimist sees a sad effort to grasp the last possibility of a belief in comfortable, sentimental middle-class values, doomed to fail. 

The Trouble with Angels (1966)
Ida Lupino's fabulous coming-of-age film set in a Catholic boarding school has been noticed by some feminists, who have recognized its quietly radical politics, but not enough. Hayley Mills and June Harding star as two trouble-making students who render the nuns' lives diabolically unsettled with their antics, while Rosalind Russell plays Mother Superior, their chief adversary. Few films have depicted nuns with such sensitivity and respect; the sisters are complex people with flaws and foibles and their religious vocation is portrayed healthfully and full-bloodedly. None of these women was coerced, or driven to seclusion by romantic disappointment. The film's focus on adolescent girls is equally respectful and complex and it's miraculously free of men and boys. The major relationships are all between women, the major questions raised are squarely focused on friendship, the development of one's character and spiritual beliefs, and religious vocation. The movie is also hysterically funny and improves with multiple viewings.

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964) 
Though more obviously a romance, Jacques Demy's musical in gorgeous, brightly candy-toned Eastman color is also a coming-of-age story for its protagonists, the young lovers Geneviève (Catherine Deneuve) and Guy (Nino Castelnuovo). Their profoundly utopian romance is marred by familial disapproval, but the real blow to their relationship comes when Guy is drafted and sent to Algeria, while unbeknownst to him, Geneviève discovers that she is pregnant. The film is heartrending, depicting the fracturing of the youthful idealism of a young love when confronted with the thorny adult problems of warfare, social stigma, and the simple need to survive. Not merely a musical, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg is really a pop opera, with all the dialogue sung, accompanied by a lush orchestral score by Michel Legrand.

The World of Henry Orient (1964)
Inexplicably obscure, this film can prove difficult to track down, but it is well worth it. Tippy Walker and Merrie Spaeth give incandescent performances as teenage best friends who decide to devotedly trail their crush, arrogant and ill-prepared pianist Henry Orient (Peter Sellers, fabulous as always). The film is a comedy, but it leaves space for genuine pain, as the girls come to understand that adults, whether Henry Orient or their own parents, don't live up to the ideals they imagined. Described thus, The World of Henry Orient might sound hokey, but it's not; the movie is bittersweet in the best sense of the word, an espresso rather than a whipped cream-soused hot chocolate. It also has a delicious parody of contemporary classical music, an especial treat.

Y Tu Mamá También (2001)
Alfonso Cuarón's film achieved a certain degree of notoriety when it was released because of its explicit sex scenes, which was really all to the good, as it focused attention on a film that probably otherwise would have struggled, like all foreign language titles in the United States, for an audience. Starring Maribel Verdú (who was also in Guillermo del Toro's phantasmagoric Pan's Labyrinth), Gael García Bernal, and Diego Luna, Y Tu Mamá También is about two young men who on a whim - and considering themselves free to explore whatever possibilities may arise while their girlfriends are in Europe - invite an older woman on a road trip to an obscure beach. The personal stories of the characters are set like cameos in a kaleidoscopic and highly charged portrait of Mexico in 1999, when the Institutional Revolutionary Party got knocked out of power after over seventy years of control. The performances are sterling, the sun-dappled cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki is stunning, and Cuarón was never better. 

Saturday, June 4, 2016

When It's "Better Never to Have Been": A Reading List

Few books can be deemed invariably explosive in their impact. South African philosopher David Benatar's Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming Into Existence is one such book. It argues for a voluntary and global policy of antinatalism, contending that existence itself is a serious harm and that therefore the continued reproduction of humans is a moral wrong (as well as an environmental one). The book thus cuts right to the core of any human being's life precisely because life is, without question, truly universal - if you are, then you live or have lived. Reading Better Never to Have Been is thus a major challenge, and embracing its conclusions an even greater one, but one that human beings may be forced to embrace if we do not soon alter the behavior that is fast destroying the only home that we have. The following selections are books that might further illuminate, complicate, confront, or mitigate Benatar's concept of benevolent antinatalism and I recommend them as companions to a demanding, unsparing book.

The Sense of an Ending - Julian Barnes
Probably the most hopeful book on this list, Barnes's Man Booker Prize-winning novel is a meditation on memory, time, and the ways that we alter our understandings of our pasts and ourselves. Tony, now middle-aged, tries to make sense of his friendship with the enigmatic and brilliant Adrian, who died a suicide, ostensibly to make a philosophical point. Julian Barnes excels at writing exquisite prose that, despite its lofty subject matter, somehow never comes off as pretentious or dense, though it is quite lyrical, its tonal quality unostentatious and rich, something like the work of the great English composer Benjamin Britten. If I have a quibble with the book, it is its length; I would have preferred a meatier, and longer-lasting, volume.

Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy 
Hardy's Jude the Obscure is an absolute masterpiece and one of the greatest novels I've ever read, but it's also one of the most deeply upsetting books of all time. Set in the fictional county of Wessex, the novel follows Jude Fawley, a stonemason who desires above all else to study at university and become a respected scholar. A vortex of dark social forces conspire against him: a rigid class system, poverty, a misguided shotgun marriage, a painful and desperate love for a virginal cousin, and a tragedy of such overwhelming significance that one would be hard-pressed to think of something worse. The novel posits that Jude's reality, the reality of England in the 1890s when the book was written, doesn't allow the poor, the disenfranchised, the foolish, the repentant, the orphaned, the bereaved, any hope at all. Though it could be argued that Hardy makes a case for a number of necessary reforms, such as divorce, universal education, meritocratic admissions to university, and abortion, in the end it is difficult to believe that Jude, living today, could any more easily overcome the brutal forces of an overpowering society.

Nothing That Meets the Eye - Patricia Highsmith
This collection of twenty eight stories, most of them previously unpublished, span decades of Highsmith's career and range quite widely in subject and tone, including the thrilling suspense tales one would expect, such as "In the Plaza" and "Things Had Gone Badly," as well as a number of stories centered around animals, my favorite being "Man's Best Friend," and a few surprisingly hopeful fable-like tales. Generally however, the author of The Talented Mr. Ripley displays a bravura sense of the humor one can glean from even the very darkest and most disturbing facets of human nature and these stories are generally focused on the violent, cruel, uncanny, shocking facts of being alive, whether they explicitly deal with the criminal or not.

Lust - Elfriede Jelinek
This controversial and militantly feminist novel by the Austrian Nobel Prize-winning authoress leaves no scope whatsoever for a charitable view of the human condition. Jelinek claimed that initially she had wanted to write a work of erotica that privileged women's sexual desires and drives, but that she found she could not because the available pornographic language is too deeply tainted with misogyny. Instead, the result is a brief, searing, menacingly steely novel about a woman, Gerti, trapped in a marriage in which she is used to sate the sexual and alimentary demands of her husband and son. Gerti's longing for sexual fulfillment and escape from the miseries of her home drive her to enact in real life scenarios that could be deemed erotic only in the twisted perversion of the patriarchal sexual imaginarium. Jelinek's novels coolly demand that we feast on the vile, repulsive banquet of life that we ourselves have prepared.

Obasan - Joy Kogawa 
Japanese-Canadian author Kogawa is primarily a poet and the exquisite prose in this autobiographical novel often belies the bleakness of its subject matter. As a young girl, Naomi's family is torn apart by the deportation, internment, and forced separation of Japanese-Canadians during World War II (the same policy was pursued with Italian-Canadians, as in the United States). The book confronts trauma obliquely, as Naomi resists examining the painful reality of her past and of what happened to her parents, exhausted at the prospect of having to understand what cannot be understood. Though the victors of World War II usually liken the war to a conflict between the forces of good and evil, such a simplistic, comfortable version of history has no place in this book, reminding us that winning cannot erase wrongs committed, whether wrongful imprisonment, outright stealing of citizens' property and the stripping of their rights, including the vote, or - at the most extreme - the dropping of the atomic bomb.

The Leopard - Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa 
Lampedusa's masterwork depicts the decaying fortunes of the Prince di Salina, a Sicilian nobleman fatalistically watching the youthful zeal and enthusiasm for the fomenting Garibaldian revolution, knowing that power is not to be so easily wrested away from those who cling to it. No other book written about Italian history has dramatized to such devastating effect the phenomenon of trasformismo - meaning that sociopolitical revolution, rather than transferring power to new holders and upending the class systems already in place, fails, so that power remains squarely in the hands of those who had it prior to the upheaval. Such was Antonio Gramsci's view of the unification of Italy (1860-70); the radical changes had terrible consequences for individual people, while Garibaldi's populist fervor and Giuseppe Mazzini's glorious idealism were shunted aside, having played their role, in favor of Cavour's foxy diplomacy. 

The Fifth Child - Doris Lessing
This novella could be read as a work of horror, though to label it so diminishes the actual impact of its central ambiguity. Harriet and David Lovatt find their perfect match in each other, both yearning for a large, loving family. They get married, buy their dream home, a rambling old Victorian, and have four children whom they adore. And then Harriet gets pregnant with their fifth child, Ben, and his sinister influence tears their lives apart. What makes Ben such a disturbing presence is undefinable; he is both all too human and somehow not human enough, a demanding, insatiable presence that renders their idyllic family life a travesty of the traditional values to which Harriet and David had hitherto clung. Lessing's novel will give pause to those who wish to become parents and deeply unsettle those who have already had children, for she reminds us that the children we have are not necessarily going to be people who we love or tolerate, let alone the children we idealistically imagine.

The Problem of Pain - C. S. Lewis
Christian apologist C. S. Lewis squarely addresses the punishingly difficult question of why we suffer if God truly loves us in this, one of his best works of theology. One need not subscribe to Christian beliefs in order to appreciate the razor-sharp, deeply compassionate reasoning that allows Lewis to insist that God does love us, God does allow us to suffer, and still we do not merit this suffering, even as we will, irrevocably, undergo it. Though Benatar's philosophy is strictly secular, explicitly rejecting religious support for natalist policy, Lewis offers a number of counterpoints that may not meet the rigorous bar set outside of religious context but that do, at least for all but the most rabid atheists, complicate antinatalist conclusions. 

Higglety Pigglety Pop!: Or There Must Be More to Life - Maurice Sendak
This illustrated children's book is a weirdly uplifting story about the hopelessness of being alive. The story is about Jennie, a dog who wishes to become a star actress with The World Mother Goose Theater, but whose dream somehow constantly eludes her. The story, told in a gentle, ironic tone that belies the occasional violence of the narrative (for example, a child is swallowed by a lion), critiques materialism, ambition, and the inability to philosophically cope with the often sad or frustrating exigencies of being alive. I've been surprised by how many people have read the book as an affirmation of there actual being "more to life," as I interpret it rather more pessimistically, the "more" not necessarily having a positive connotation. That being said, the darkness of the book's themes make it sound like a slog and yet it's a whimsical delight to read, especially for those who may subscribe to less optimistic philosophies of life.

Mrs. Dalloway - Virginia Woolf
This masterpiece of modernist writing bursts apart the narrative seams of the nineteenth century novel, shattering chronology and a psychology rooted in explicable cause and effect. The ensuing novel fits together a kaleidoscope of jagged shards of perception, leaping from one mind to another, moving through London with the sinuous grace of George MacDonald's North Wind and little of its whimsy. Set in the immediate aftermath of World War I, Mrs. Dalloway is at the most superficial level the story of a wealthy middle-aged woman planning a party at which she will meet a beloved friend for the first time in many years. The narrative, however, is irresistibly drawn into the mind of Septimus, a shell-shocked veteran who constantly relives the death of a fellow soldier and believes that he can no longer feel any emotion. It is this character that pries open the narrative to let in the traumatic aftershocks of World War I, aftershocks of such power that they unsettle the lives even of such contentedly situated upper-class ladies as Clarissa Dalloway.