Thursday, April 25, 2013

Kenyan Folktales

           The lecture about Kenyan folktales by Dr. Ochieng was very interesting and informative.  It was much more interactive than any other guest speakers we’ve had previously.  We all had to stand and sing and dance to a song.  This makes sense as many African folktales are told in a communal setting, probably similar to the circular layout of our classroom.  I really enjoyed the way that Dr. Ochieng told the various tales within his presentation.  He seemed to just know them and exactly the right tone and intonation to rely on to convey the stories and their meanings.  He also told us that most Kenyan folktales were told in the evening.  I found this very interesting, because the voice of the storyteller would become the most important aspect of a tale told at night if that sound is all a listener has to rely on. The storyteller must learn to paint a picture and convey a message just with the sound of his voice.    


            He also discussed the various aspects of Kenyan folktales.  Called orature, meaning oral literature, the tales have evolved and been passed down over time through being spoken.  This is different from almost every other folk or fairy tale we have discussed so far.  Most of those have been written down, but African culture differs from Western culture in that it is much more orally based. 

            Some of the things that these oral tales do for a community include describing or explaining the origin of some event or occurrence, enforcing social foundation, telling the meaning behind present beliefs, or affirming who the people are as a culture or group.  Many of the tales focus on the celebration of wit and other quick thinking characters.  Some African examples include the spider and the hare.  This seems to parallel the idea of trickster characters in various Western tales we have looked at before.  These tales also help parents to teach their children the values, beliefs, rules, and taboos of their people. 


            We sang a song in an African language at the beginning of the lecture.  Song is important to these folktales because it helps to emphasize certain elements and ties the whole story together.  This also makes the story telling experience more participatory and involved for all the listeners. 
           African cultures have been sustained by their oral story traditions.  People have to pass on tales and other knowledge if they want to educate the next generation.  In using these stories as a tool to educate children, it is essential in ensuring a common understanding of certain phenomena.  This parallels nearly every other culture in which parents must creatively devise answers to the questions that their children pose.  And like many other tales we have studied, sometimes African tales are told simply for their entertainment value.  This seems to be the case with many European tales today.  Their morals and messages can be a bit outdated in modern society, but they remain timeless and are told and retold for many generations.      

            In conclusion, this lecture was very good at providing me with information on a topic and culture that I am very unfamiliar with. 


Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Jewish Folktale Traditions

            Jewish folktales are unlike all the tales formed in the Western tradition.  Although Judaism is monotheistic like the basis of Christianity, the common religion in most of Europe, the influence of the tales is different.  The Rabbi is the central figure that teaches people what they need to know from the Torah, the Jewish holy book.  This interpretation from the Rabbi is called the Talmud.  This is an obvious difference from the start, as the Torah is also known as the Old Testament of the Christian Bible.  To Jews, it is complete and finished.  Rabbis take the stories and laws contained within it and interpret them in a way that their community of followers will understand.  Nearly all of these tales have a Rabbi as a central or important character.  They preserved these tales to pass down important information to future generations.  Many local legends from Eastern European countries (today Romania, Ukraine, Russia, etc.) become mixed with the Torah.  These tales are also primarily religiously based, and although God or other higher powers may be mentioned in other Western European tales, it is typically not the focus of any story. 


            A unique aspect of these tales is their often teaching purpose.  Many times these stories end with a question that causes listeners or readers to think deeper and attempt to gain a better understanding of the meaning.  They also tend to display Jews as clever or smart characters.  For instance, in “The Rabbi and the Inquisitor” the idea of a trickster is displayed in the actions of the Rabbi as he swallows the other piece of paper.  There are also morals sometimes stated or displayed through the brief plot of the tales.  These tend to be more helpful than their Western counterparts that are fraught with gender bias and unusual wordings.  “It Could Always be Worse” is a tale that focuses on the simple message of valuing one’s own blessings and realizing that there is always somebody out there that has worse problems that you do. 

            Overall, Jewish folktales are pretty unique from any other type of tale we have read thus far.  The emphasis is on teaching and promoting the laws of the Torah.    

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Pretty Woman and Cinderella

            Pretty Woman is a modern film that tells a Cinderella story.  Many motifs from the original story are seen repeated in the movie.  Vivian Ward and Edward Lewis are the main characters in the film.  Vivian is a prostitute in Los Angeles and Edward is a wealthy businessman. 


            From the start of the film, Edward sees Vivian on the street and he hires her to be his escort for the week as he attends several important business meetings.  This is the start of his ‘saving’ her from her life of degradation.  With his help throughout the film she transforms and become a ‘princess’.  This supports the ‘rags to riches’ storyline.  Vivian is very insecure and vulnerable at the beginning.  She wants to come, be paid for, and perform and then leave as quickly as she can.  One of the first things Vivian tells him after they arrive at his penthouse suite is “When people put you down enough, you start to believe it”.  She feels degraded and worthless in her work, since she is merely paid for her sexual services.  As she becomes more friendly and comfortable with Edward, she begins to tell him what her mother thinks of her chasing after “bums” and how she feels working as a hooker.

            Like the Cinderella character, Vivian is kind and pretty, when she is not trying too hard in her hooker clothes and makeup.  She wears a blond wig at the beginning, probably to boost her clientele; however after discovering that Edward doesn’t want to sleep with her the first night, she returns to her natural and long red hair.  When she visits the clothing stores, she clearly stands out both in her attire and her physical appearance.  This is why the saleswomen judge her and refuse to help her when she comes alone.  She later tells Edward they were “mean” to her, thus likening them to the ugly stepsisters in the story and Disney film versions.  The hotel manager and Edward both help Vivian to find suitable clothes for all the meetings.  This likens them to the fairy godmother (godfather, in this case) and prince, respectively.


            Her kind and bubbly personality is able to break through Edward’s seemingly rough exterior.  She gets him to face his own problems and work through them too.  She teaches him about kindness and eventually he decides to not overtake Morse’s company, as he had originally planned.  He also mentions his fear of heights to her as they are talking the first night.  By the end of the film when he goes to rescue her and profess his love, he conquers that fear by climbing the fire escape to get up to her apartment. 


            The ending is romantic and typical of a fairytale, but it is also slightly different from the original Cinderella tale.  The prince (Edward) does not seek out Cinderella (Vivian) by a lost shoe; rather their relationship develops from time spent together.  This is actually much more plausible than the Cinderella tale where they spent one evening together dancing and they know they are destined to be together.  That seems typical of a fairy tale, but the story in Pretty Woman is much better developed.  Overall, Pretty Woman is a re-telling of the quintessential fairy tale.