Posted at 10.27.2018
In this essay I wish to examine how postmodernism is used throughout Don Delillo's White Noise and Caryl Churchill's Top Girls. Although each of the texts are extremely dissimilar they both focus on restrictions in society, yet open up a complete new perspective from what these oppressive values really do represent. Postmodern novels are known to be published after the Second World War. It had been following the 19th century that modernism was introduced, where the constraints from society's values were rebelled against. However, within the last few decades, there is an evident change that had occurred. Modernism focuses upon values that are oppressing in society, such as class, politics, race and gender. Yet, postmodernism doesn't concentrate on these aspects in a manner that is challenging them; it focuses more on the utopian idea of the world. It is where these constraints are not merely acknowledged, but disregarded as they shouldn't appear to matter simply because boundaries in society shouldn't be a concern. Don Delillo's White Noise, was first published in 1984 and it looks into the way the world is changing through the medium of popular culture, the media and most importantly, technology. The reader is exposed to this through the eyes of the protagonist, Jack Gladney who is a professor of Hitler studies in a university. A significant theme that occurs throughout the novel is the subject of death. We see that Jack has a great concern with death. However, in one of Jacks lectures he unexpectedly confronts this fear by saying, 'All plots have a tendency to move deathward. ' Here we can use postmodernism to comprehend the underlying meanings of the quote. In nearly all literary works, a plot is thought as a chain of events when a character experiences to move to towards a final resolution or not in some cases, but it will lead with an ending. Yet, the reader discovers that Jack has a distorted view of the traditional plotline, and that everything will most definitely lead him to death, that death is the best ending. It could be fair to say that this is excatly why a plotline almost seems to be absent in the last chapters of the novel; that there isn't the usual chronological order of your beginning, a climax and a resolution. There's a sense that that Jack, instead of continuing forward in his life, is being held back by the mere considered death. He often considers 'who will die first?', between him and Babette, his wife, and about enough time of his own death. By using an anachronistic narrative technique, it goes contrary to the conformities of society and may be thought among the many characteristics of postmodernism. The novel will drift back and forth creating a world of disillusion, demolishing any sense of direction. Another aspect on which Delillo specializes in throughout the first five chapters of White Noise is how advertising, consumerism and popular culture have major influences on the characters. At the college where Jack is a lecturer, they have a department that is dedicated to popular culture. Within the novel, Jack's colleague Murray, discusses how he'd prefer to launch a course that is all about Elvis Presley, nearly the same as the existing subject Jack teaches about Hitler. Here it shows how something as trivial as these studies seem to be to be, they still matter to the professors at the faculty, even if other deem these subjects to be insignificant. Additionally it is evident to the reader that Jack feels self image is important and necessary to ones aura. When Jack was appointed as chair in the department of Hitler studies, he was told to improve his image. Jack then starts to refer to himself at the college as J. A. K Gladney and wears dark glasses to create a more academic look. This change to look at holds an utmost significance when considering Jacks character. Yet, as the reader sees, Jack becomes rather uncomfortable with the new identity that he previously created and becomes somewhat taken off it, revealing that Jack possesses ontological uncertainty. 'I am the false character that follows the name around'. When the novel progresses, a tragedy happens, where a toxic gas is released in the environment. When confronted with the truth of death, Jack then longs to get his professional attire with him, almost to safeguard him from the reality. It really is noticeable that the imagery is powerful here for the protagonist. When Jack is wearing his glasses and gown, his sense of security is heightened, in comparison to when he is casually dressed, his vulnerability is visible. Furthermore, simulacra is also present here because, the image that Jack tries to impose then becomes more important than his real self and in turn the representation of the image posses more importance than the image itself. When Jack is subjected to the toxic chemical, we see a plotline line needs to emerge as Jack uncovers his vulnerability when he's faced with the notion of death. Inside the novel, Jack is given a gift idea from his wife's father. The present is a gun. The gun is a robust symbol, that Jack may be handed the thought of death to him at the concluding area of the novel. This then ends in him shooting Willie Mink and him staring death in the face. Another technique Dilillo often uses in White Noise is irony which is a fundamental component when considering postmodernism. A good example of this might be the humorous proceedings that happen before Willie Mink is shot. Additionally, when Jack repeats the name of Hitler's dog again and again during his lecture, it brings a light sense of humour to a topic that should not be studied lightly. Thus, giving the misconception that the novels plot had not been going to conclude in inevitable death and destruction.
Something else that needs to be taken into account when looking at White Noise is, it seems to be satirical of the pursuit to find the meaning of life. Murray is a prime exemplory case of this as he questions and analyses every commonplace thing, especially when discussing any form of technology that surrounds him. In his basket in the supermarket, there may be 'generic food and drink, non-branded items in plain white packages. ' This shows that Murray does not comply with the consumerism that surrounds him, but challenges it. Another example is how Murray perceives the television to be always a powerful thing within society. Paranoia within this text also specifies that this is postmodern literature. Linking to the obsessions with the idea of death, many questions like 'Who will die first?' or 'When will we die?', indicate that paranoia is present in almost every chapter. The final postmodern idea that is laced throughout the novel is the concept of the technological culture and the occurrence of hyper-reality within the consumer society, a society in which Jack is a part of. The title itself is discussing the continuous drone of the technological world that surrounds Jack, which is something he hears frequently and links it to the idea of death. It is because of budding technology that the artificial world and reality become merged and it is unclear to see where reality stops and fantasy begins. This is evident in chapter, when the simulated evacuation occurs. What happens this is a real-life emergency is treated as a preparation for the real thing. So, the simulation has replaced the real event. Therefore, the representation of the simulation has become more important that the true event itself. Noel King states in the article 'Reading White Noise: Floating Remarks' that the novel is postmodern since it shows how 'we inhabit a historical moment where in fact the "ficto-critical" replaces the binary opposition of the "fictional" and the "critical"'. Delillo also uses the image of the supermarket as you of your secure nature. In the fifth chapter, Jack feels somewhat complete after shopping there. It could be said that the supermarket is the central place that allows a person to feel a sense of completeness in a consumer society. However, we see that this is false for all the people that go to the supermarket. The older generations, like the Treadwells, are intimidated by the supermarket. So, due to this inconsistency, this suggests that the supermarket is only the illusion of security rather than actually being truly a safe place. Within the last chapter of White Noise, the reader learns that customers become disrupted when supermarket is rearranged which it puts them in circumstances of agitation and panic. . . ' It could be said that the consumers here, are being consumed themselves since they are consumers. The characters relationship with technology also plays a huge part when considering postmodernism in this novel. It, like the supermarket, has an artificial impression of what security is. For example when Jack is watching television set with Babette on the Friday night, he feels that this is a kind of bonding for the family. Also, after withdrawing money from an ATM machine, Jack feels in charge. The last exemplory case of that's where Babette begins to have medication, which is supposed to ease her fear of death. However, it has quite contrary effect and she becomes inward and subsequently is unfaithful to Jack. Jack is then bought out with revenge against the manufacturer of the medication, Willie Mink. Yet, when he feels he's ready to kill Willie Mink, Mink begins to lose his sanity. He finds himself dependent on watching the tv and commercials while taking the medication. He almost becomes one with the television, being unable to distinguish between your advertisements and what they are a symbol of. Again, here reality becomes intertwined with the artificial world. It could be said that Mink is the largest victim of the consumer society in this novel. However, in Top Girls, the postmodern ideas emerged through a completely different medium. Caryl Churchill uses gender roles as a means of confronting these issues in the play. The play adopts the concerns that society posses about modern feminism. It concentrates on the conformities that today's society struggles with such as: class divisions, gender stereotyping, ageism and many more. The events that occur throughout the play highlight these concerns through just how they can be depicted on stage and exactly how they are simply performed. The protagonist in Top Girls is Marlene. She represents the stereotypical myth of your career woman as being an uptight female who lacks maternal instinct. Here, Churchill uses this stereotype to challenge this myth, in order to mislead the audience into being critical of the feminist hero and it can this unconsciously. The opening scene in Top Girls is set in a restaurant. There is a celebration happening as Marlene has got a promotion to be always a managing director for the employment agency 'Top Girls'. You can find five ghost characters that join Marlene that happen to be drawn from paintings, history and fiction. There's a 13th century courtesan, however now a nun, Lady Nijo; Isabella Bird, a Scotish 19th century traveller; Dull Gret; Patient Griselda, who ironically arrives late; and finally, Pope Joan who was the top of the church in the 9th century and is also disguised as a man.
This group are likely to represent women who are courageous and successful. However, due to topics of conversation, it is evident that the overlapping narrative monologues, suggest that each have different independent ideologies. This scene is the most exceptional throughout the play as it is the only scene where all the characters can be found at one time and that it is an unrealistic occurrence. Looking at the whole play, it displays many devices that happen to be significant. Just like the supermarket in White Noise, in Top Girls, the central image of the play is the employment agency, a firm that finds profitable work for its clientele. Some of the state of employment is also a central theme to the play. Each one of the characters involved when assessing their own work. For example, Angie's is unsuitable to work, Joyce's work is unpaid as a mother and wife and Marlene's promotion. All these areas of work (money, labour, success) crop up in conversation between your characters throughout the play. The audience observe that real change for women within the existing work system is not actually possible when the three interviews are completed by Marlene, Win and Nell. We see in Act One which the secretary, Jeanine, wants better prospects, however, Marlene is merely in a position to recommend other positions of the same work. Yet, Jeanine wants better money and an increased status, but Marlene advises her to lessen her aspirations. The most significant and apparent technique Churchill uses in the play is that all the actors are women. Theatre analyst and playwright Micheline Wandor states that the 'single-gendered play may be 'unrealistic' in the sense that people all inhabit a global which contains men and women, but it can provide an imaginative possibility to explore the nature of the gendered perspective (male or female) with no complexities and displacements of the 'mixed' play. ' So, by excluding the utilization of male characters, ironically, this allows the play to break away from the sexist conventions. Thus, 'tricking' the audience into thinking the class struggle is actually a battle of the sexes, which is the mistake that Marlene, Nell, Mrs Kidd, Win and Angie make. This shows that the feminine perspective is also competent of examining class divisions, and implementing a matriarchy that is similar to patriarchy predicated on these divisions. This is where feminism materializes in the play. It is also important to look at the different natures of women in the play. First, there are the real actresses, performing the roles that are also female characters - fictions and dramatis personae. It might be fair to say that Top Girls can be known as a women's play simply because all of the actors and characters are female, and initially, the central focal point seem to be to be gender. However, this idea is taken off being the main concern in this play, almost when it begins. As explained previously, the 1st scene we see numerous women from separate historical times and cultures come together in celebration for Marlene's promotion. Each of the six women represents the diversity of cultures and attitudes within the societies of their own time about gender, class, religion, thus proving this is a postmodern text. This then dramatises absence of unity between folks of the same gender, who are damaged by the lack of ideological unity. Through the entire course of the play, we see that Marlene's bourgeois design of feminism is culturally conditions. This means that her promotional success does not challenge the patriarchal society, but conforms to the prevailing hierarchy. The argument between Marlene and Joyce in ending scene highlights this aspect:
'Marlene: As well as for the united states, come compared to that. Receive the economy back on its feet and whoosh. She's a hardcore lady, Maggie. I'd give her employment. / She just must hang in there. This country
Joyce: You voted for these people, did you?
Marlene: must stop whining. / Monetarism is not stupid.
Joyce: Drink your tea and shut up, pet.
Marlene: It takes time, determination. Forget about slop. / And
Joyce: Well I think they're filthy bastards.
Marlene: who's surely got to drive it on? First woman prime minister. Terrifico. Aces.
Right on. / You need to admit. Certainly gets my vote.
Joyce: What good's first woman if it's her? I suppose you'd have liked Hitler if he was a female. Ms Hitler. Got a lot done, Hitlerina. / Great adventures.
Marlene: Bosses still walking on the workers' faces? Still Dadda's little parrot?
Haven't you learned to believe for yourself? I really believe in the average person. Check out me.
Joyce: I am taking a look at you. '
By the use of Marlene's dialogue, the play shifts the audience's perception of the obvious separation between male and female, to the underlying theme of the separation between your oppressed and the oppressive. Even though in the society of the play only has ladies in it, domination is still present throughout as there are ladies in the play that assume better roles than others. So, it would be fair to state that the title 'top girls' is therefore ironic because if there are 'top girls' there also must be 'middle' and 'bottom girls' revealing that there is apparent class oppression and hierarchy. Thus, making it evident that this is a postmodern novel. So, to conclude, postmodernism is an enormous and loose term that can be applied to many various things, such as literature, art and history. Whereas Don Delillo is fascinated with the continuing escalation of modern tools and the strong influences of the media, Caryl Churchill focuses more on the gender and class oppressions that are faced in life. After examining both texts, postmodern literature homes in on the relationships, conformities and values that exist in everyday society and it is enthralled by the oppressions of modern day bourgeois culture.
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