Wednesday, February 4, 2009

E is for Equality

Equality is something I often take for granted. When I was younger, particularly in high school, I always thought I was born in the wrong year. I loved old movies (still do) and the styles and perceived glamour of the 30's and 40's. I even used to wear my grandma's old skirt suits from that era. To school. The pillbox hats, too (although pillbox hats were more from the 50's, right?). I know - I'm a geek.

Now that I'm older, I see that I'm certainly born in the era I needed. And the country. I don't think I could've stood for someone telling me I couldn't do/say/wear something just because I was female. I also realize that if I was born in another time/place, not being able to do what I wanted wouldn't have occurred to me as being wrong. It just was the way it was.

Years ago, I read A Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood. Still one of my all-time favorite books! I remember it scared the crap out of me. It's the story of how women in America have their rights taken from them. All their rights. And it's done slowly and subtly until before the women realize it, it's too late. They are relegated into very specific roles and some escape to Canada for freedom. I remember thinking how it was scary because it was so plausible. The main character in the book was angry with her man (and others) for letting this happen but she was also very angry with herself (and all women) for letting this happen.

It's a fantastic book. Don't waste your time with the movie, it sucked and didn't do the book any justice. At all. I lent that book out 4 years ago and never got it back. I need to buy a new one and read it again.

A couple of years ago, I read Reading Lolita in Tehran. A friend of mine who's actually from Tehran gave me a copy and confirmed that everything the author wrote about was dead on true. When I read RLIT, I remember thinking, "Holy shit! It's Handmaid's Tale... but for real!" Another fine book, RLIT is a bit dry here and there (nonfiction always tends to seem that way for me) but what struck me most was the fact that the women were so angry. At their men for letting these civil rights atrocities to occur and at themselves for the same reason. Tehran struck me as the mafia. The mafia says, "You have to pay us for protection." but what they mean is "You have to pay us for protection. Protection from US." It strikes the same sad ironic chord in me when I read about how the women in Tehran are treated. The men are saying, "We are just protecting you, for your own good." But the only thing the women need protection from is the way the men are treating them. If you ever want to read RLIT, I highly suggest reading Handmaid's Tale first.

So I ended 2008 with Roots. Blogged about it here. Fantastic, outstanding, stellar book!

I started 2009 with Queen. It, like that atrocity of a sequel to Gone With the Wind, was written by another author using the original authors notes. Fortunately, this author, David Stevens, did a fairly good sequel. In the afterword, Stevens, says he's often asked how much was written by him and how much by Roots author, Alex Haley. Stevens says he spent years working with Haley to create Queen. He mentions Haley's outline of what he wanted for Queen... it was a 700 page outline! The book Queen is only 670 pages!

As to the book Queen. It's pretty good. Not nearly as compelling as Roots. Roots focused on the characters, their families, the interaction of the families and what happened in their lives. Haley threw in some history here and there, things heard through the slave grapevine. The American history going on around them was entirely secondary to what was actually happening with the characters in the book and was salted in here and there more as a timeline perspective then anything else.

Queen went a different direction. Roots was the story of Haley's family on his father's side, Queen chronicled the story of the family on his mother's side. It wasn't nearly as compelling a read as Roots but still good enough that I finished 670 pages with a week of January to spare. Stevens, in his Afterword, acknowledges that Queen as it was published was not the story as Alex Haley would've written it and Stevens focused more on the American history side of the story.

It was fascinating, albeit a bit dry here and there. I often realize that I know so much more about history before I was born then the history I've lived through. Then I read a book like Queen and realize I don't know jack.

I can't believe how awful people can be. Throughout Roots and Queen, I keep thinking of how lucky I am to be born and live in this era. And to be born to the family I was, crazy as they are. Sadly, it never ceases to amaze me the capacity of cruelty that humans have. Even the "good Massas" were heartless bastards. I don't care what lies they convince themselves with, there's no getting around the fact that they are dealing with actual humans. Lies like Blacks have no souls; Blacks are livestock; Blacks aren't smart enough to learn. Truth is in actions. The slave holders often treated their livestock better then their slaves, refused to teach blacks anything and, in fact punished any slave known to be able to read or write.

I read these books mostly with my head shaking and my mouth agape at the way the plantation owners justified things to themselves and their peers. It was and is one of the biggest embarrassments in our nation's history.

This is truly an historic time we are living in. Our first Black president - how far we've come as a nation. And yet, how far we still have to go. Should be an interesting trip!

Freedom is so sweet, Ruth!


Yarnhog said...

Check out a book called "Sultana" (I think). It's about the life of a woman in Saudi Arabia, and if I recall correctly, it's also a true story. Stunningly horrifying.

Nell said...

Yeah- I definitely wouldn't have done too well with those kinds of restrictions.

ellipsisknits said...

Thank you for the summary of A Handmaid's Tale. I had heard people mention (gush over) it before, but given the title, I always assumed it was a historical piece, and thought 'meh'.

What you describe sounds significantly more interesting, and I may actually try to seek it out now.