Tag Archives: irony

To Kill a Mockingbird

By Harper Lee.

It’s very difficult to review this book because I’ve had to read it for professional purposes. That means that I’ve already read what other people have said about it, and have often found myself agreeing with them. For example, To Kill a Mockingbird has been described as episodic. I have to agree. The book begins with Scout, Jem and Dill trying to entice the mysterious Boo Radley from his house or fabricate games around the Radleys. Then comes “Scout at School” in which Lee satirises the education system. Even when Tom Robinson’s trial first appears on the horizon, it’s interrupted by other episodes.

Other critics thought the book had one eye on Hollywood, and there are certainly episodes such as Scout hearing Atticus cough while Jem is out recovering his trousers; or the tension when Scout manages to nobble a lynch mob by bursting into their midst and babbling on about Walter Cunningham’s entailment, which are designed for Hollywood.

I don’t know who the audience for this book is meant to be. Its moralising seems a little heavy-handed and naive for the modern world, although Atticus’ message of understanding does not lack relevance even if his talk about walking around in other people’s skins makes him sound like Hannibal Lector. The book’s frequently allusive style is not, I imagine, to the taste of modern children. The hagiographical interpretation of the text, which can be seen in guides such as Sparknotes or Cliffnotes, must test the patience of school children who have been cajoled into enjoying this.

What of the characters? As I’ve said in the past, characters work well if you can relate to them. While I admire Atticus as an improbably consistent paragon, he would almost certainly love all those uplifting, inspirational maxims which appear on G+. Miss Maudie is a decent old stick even if she isn’t as old as the book portrays her. The rest of the town seems to be divided into the good and the bad (although Atticus would probably not think that way). As Scout learns at the end of the book, most people are nice when you finally see them. Thus the characters all play their required parts.

What of Scout, Jem and Boo Radley? Scout seems to be used as a vehicle for moral stories such as Atticus’ injunction about trying to understand others. Her perception of her father as a rather weak, passive sort of man is overthrown in the same chapter when she discovers he had a reputation as a marksman in his younger days (even if there’s another moral lesson to be learnt). Jem understands more than Scout and is more sensitive than she is. She also frequently undermines his pretensions to bravery. Boo Radley is a largely mysterious character who remains in the shadows even after he comes out into the open at the end of the book. Where Atticus is like some high-level religious figure, Boo is a kind of guardian angel, who can only interact with the children indirectly, and comes down from heaven to save them from Bob Ewell.

I found the dialogue a little stilted at times when Lee needed a character to say something to move the action on and it didn’t matter how odd it sounded. To some extent I think Lee, like other adult writers, just can’t write authentic dialogue for children (although the reader is spared the kind of overly clever one-liners which Hollywood children are always firing off). I believe it was Scout who said that Uncle Jack didn’t understand children because she had none. I wonder whether the same observation could be levelled at Lee.

In the end, I don’t know what to think about the book. It’s not a volume which has me saying to myself that I’m glad I read it; nor do I regret having read it. Perhaps it’s like Kerouac’s On the Road about which I concluded that it was a product of its age which might appeal to a certain kind of audience, but had no appeal for me. (I assume that Catcher in the Rye probably also falls into this group.) I have come to the book rather late, having missed out on reading it when I was at high school. (I was in the wrong class.) I’m not sure, though, that I would’ve been any more taken by it thirty years ago than I was today.

Appendix

A.

I see that I’ve had visitors looking for irony in To Kill a Mockingbird. I would not have thought that that would be too hard to find. It’s ironic that

  • Scout is looking forward to going to school, but doesn’t like it.
  • Scout and Jem think their father’s a bit useless when, in fact, he’s an excellent marksman.
  • Miss Maudie doesn’t seem too bothered about the loss of her house.
  • Atticus can still chat to Mrs Dubose without rancour in spite of her pro­nounce­ments about him which led to Jem massacring her camellias.
  • Boo Radley is the children’s guardian angel when their assumption is that he’s a monster
  • Atticus effectively demolishes the case against Tom Robinson, but loses it anyway.
  • Miss Gates decries Hitler for the persecution of the Jews, but is revealed to be a racist herself.

But remember, kids, you should be doing your own work and not relying on me to find the answers for you.

B.

I read somewhere that To Kill a Mockingbird was originally a series of short stories, which may explain why the book feels disjointed.

C.

I find myself liking Atticus less, even although he is meant to be admirable because of the nature of his character and his consistency. I think I prefer my paragons to be a little more human. It’s tempting to write some fanfic in which Atticus is placed in a position where he must act in a fashion contradictory to his nature.

Gentleman with visual impairment leaves embassy

BBC News – China activist Chen Guangcheng leaves US embassy.

Remember that fellow, Comical Ali, from Iraq? I think he’s working for the Empire. The BBC report says

The spokesman said Beijing did not accept the “interference”, and re­minded the US to obey international and Chinese law.

Since the Chinese don’t obey Chinese law, I think the rest of us are off the hook. As for international law, the imperial government probably thinks it only applies to foreigners.

Here endeth May

Grey, dull and unchanging.

What has happened to spring this year? Here we are at the end of May after a month which has largely been characterised by autumnal greyness. In addition to today’s livid sky, we have had smoke from somewhere, which has enveloped the city in a medium dense haze. I don’t know if the peasants are burning stubble, but unlike the usual grey miasma, this can be smelt. Since I started writing this entry, the smoke has got thick enough to start hiding the 红豆 Building, and it’s been raining.

It’s ironic because when I went to Baidu to see what the weather was meant to be doing today, I found that the doodle (an original idea; not copying Google at all) was celebrating, er, No Smoking Day. But it’ll be like those considerate people [Considerate people? Oh, I get it, Sarcasm again. –ed.] in this building who get into a lift with a lit cigarette and think this is sufficient adherence to the prohibition on smoking in lifts. There was probably smoking at the editorial meeting which decided on the doodle.

Your foreign EFL teacher will know or have been told that IELTS and TOEFL classes are boring. They will not be impressed when you complain that the classes are boring. Your foreign EFL teacher may even know that a whole term of such classes is no substitute for learning English, and that exam prep classes are pretty much a complete and utter waste of time anything more than a month ahead of the exam. Your foreign EFL teacher probably suspects that you’re off at New Oriental or English First, where you’re also doing prep for IELTS and TOEFL, and guesses that this is why you treat your classes with a certain degree of disdain.

“My blessings upon thee, qq” said Irony smiling kindly on the child

And qq smiled back ironically.

When I’m chatting to Linda from school, I use the international version of qq, which is the local answer to various IM programs. You’d think that even the international version of qq would adhere to the usual paranoid strictures on the Internet which irk and annoy me so intensely, but it seems that that’s not so.

When I start qq, a box with news and other information eventually pops up, which I normally ignore, but today I noticed that the first advert was encouraging users to join qq international’s Facebook page. “How de­light­fully ironic,” I thought, because Facebook is blocked. I wasn’t thinking ironically enough because the next advert was for a VPN service spec­ifically aimed at those of us in China who are stoutly defended by the state from the colossal amounts of social trivia on Facebook, the colossal amounts of video silliness on YouTube and vimeo, and the colossal amounts of gossipy trivia that gets vomited across Twitter every second.

What next? Join Φάλυν Γόγγ and have the State Harvest your Internal Organs for Free[1]. Or, Buy a Δαλάι Λάμα T-shirt. (All profits go to the Popular People’s Front of Τιβέτ.[2]) Or, Choose Δεμόκρασy, and Vote for the Tyrant of your Choice.

I thought I was a master of such arts as irony and sarcasm, but I see I have so much more to learn.

Notes
1. This offer is only available to HK-based recruits. See the displays at the Star Ferry Terminal, Causeway Bay and other locations for details.
2. Not to be confused with the People’s Popular Front.

The poster boy for irony

Or, as we know it, China.

wuxi_ironyI wasn’t going to mention the outcome of the climate change talks in Copenhagen or my utter lack of surprise that it was sabotaged or the identity of the saboteur. What was the rest of the world expecting? But when I got back from lunch this afternoon, I decided to re-enter the building through the lifts from the lower ground floor. As I was passing the notice board just near the outside door, I noticed this poster, which I couldn’t resist snapping for its irony value. There’s some double irony because the English is real English and not Chinglish as I’d expect. 

Of course, the poster is ambiguous because it could be a call to combat change for the better; and after what happened in Copenhagen, I’m inclined to suspect that’s its actual intention.

Meanwhile, it seems to be painting week in Wuxi. The local council is having 江尖桥 painted, and the posts on the outside of the walkway on the island. There were some council workers repainting the road markings at the intersection last week. In fact, the work at school, which currently seems to be the upgrading of the piping at the front and the renovation or demolition of buildings on the north side, may be part of all this. Scaffolding went up around the lighthouse on the island a couple of days ago, and there are now some people on it who appear to be cleaning the rust (?) off the metallic bands that run around the circumference between each set of glass panels.

I guess that the redecoration is early preparation for the Spring Festival, although that’s about six weeks away. As for the work at school, there’s no sign that we’re about to be moved yet. That should really be done during the holiday or after the final exams when it’s going to cause the least disruption. I did wonder why anyone would have us moving this month.

Meanwhile, the sun continues to shine and the weather continues to be as cold as charity. Perhaps we’re in for an early spring next year.

A busy day for irony

You’re reading one text when four turn up at once.
This afternoon, I was reading another extract from Lysias’ oration On the murder of Eratosthenes from an exam paper that I found on the St Andrew’s website. It was a section that I hadn’t read before and one in which the maid has spilt the beans to Euphiletus. That was when I had a phone call from Linda to say that the books I ordered from Amazon had arrived. These are the volumes in the Greek Prose Reading Course for Post-Beginners. The first unit is the very text I was reading and all four were edited by Malcolm Campbell, who is a Reader in Greek at St Andrew’s. See, I told you there was irony.
Anyway, their arrival means that I’m no longer wholly dependent on the computer and can watch a DVD while translating some Greek. All right, ignore a DVD while translating some Greek.
Another miserable grey day today. Rained about mid afternoon and has remained damp. Last day of my unofficial holiday. Haven’t quite done as much as I’d been hoping, but I’ve managed to translate some text each day.

Christmas is banned until further notice

That is all.
decorations I got back to the office after class this morning to find that Linda had left a note about Christmas on my desk. All celebrations and decorations have been banned, which, I assume, is a continuation of the order about not praying in class earlier this term. I had thought that this was aimed primarily at me and Glen, but on my way home I saw the rubbish in the picture sitting outside the main building. These decorations must’ve been up in other classrooms. The order doesn’t come from the school, but from somewhere higher up the food chain, and may be another instance of puerile, hypocritical, overzealous nationalism.
I’d be lying if I said I was that bothered about it. The only decorations I had in my classroom were ones that hadn’t been taken down since last year. I’ve looked at them occasionally and thought I should remove them. The irony is that the school’s taking us out on Wednesday evening to celebrate Christ­mas.
Less ironic has been the behaviour of the little darlings. Class 6 keep nag­ging me about DVDs. I don’t respond well to nagging or overlook that they forget their place. They have no right to see DVDs; I’m not obliged to show them. I also get thoroughly sick to death of hearing them say, “Movie”, which makes them sound as retarded as they really are, or “DVD”, which I consider to be rather discourteous. Class 7 followed Class 6 with a bout of doing nothing. It was one of those lessons where I could just leave them to it, though, and I did. Class 5 took their usual pre-lunchtime approach to the lesson. If they did anything, it was done with minimal effort to produce a minimal answer.
The speaking exams are almost done. One more pair tomorrow, and that’s it. Hurrah!

Double irony

Pole position.

Danwei’s top story this morning is Pole dancing: for fitness, not about sex. Pole dancing has come to China as a means of exercise. Danwei is re­port­ing on an article from China Daily which was pinched from Reuters.

Oddly enough, I was browsing through the lists on Britblog a couple of days ago, when I stumbled across a blog by a woman who teaches pole dancing in London (The Pole Affair). As she said, it’s an excellent way to keep fit.

Since you’ve all been so good, here’s an extra few doses of irony for you: in China, pole dancing will definitely be about sex as well. I’m sure when the “attractive young female teachers” (the words of a pupil) at my old school in Beijing did a sexy dance routine at a school concert, it was actually a display of synchronised callisthenics. The following year (I think) we had a solo performance along similar lines from an attractive young female teach­er. At the recent concert here, a PE teacher led a group of girls in yet an­other sexy dance, and I observed some of the senior (male) members of the school hierarchy having a good perv through the hall doors at traditional ethnic dance by some of the female pupils.

Such displays are, I’d aver, another manifestation of the deep vein sexual self-repression in this country. Among girls, it seems to manifest itself as a form of display (short shorts and all that). Among boys, it manifests itself as behaviour which, in Western eyes, is homosexual, even although most of the boys won’t actually be gay. Neither sex is really aware of any of this, but what would arouse comment in the West passes unnoticed here.

I’m Dreaming of a Red Mansion

Is that the studio ending or the director’s cut?

Danwei reports that A Dream of Red Mansions rides again with the publication of an edition by Zhou Ruchang which cuts out the studio ending by Gao E. Liu Xinwu, who’s another Redologist, has his own ideas about the structure of DRM and is being touted as the man to finish the job the way it was meant to be done.

Green Bamboo certainly isn’t going to pass up this opportunity to propose its own ending to this literary classic.


I don’t know No. 9.

This actually came to me last night. Yesterday, Glen asked me what “irony” meant. Row happened to come into the office at that moment and said they were trying to find out whether there’s anything I don’t know. I think the answer is pretty obvious; just so long as they don’t ask me about 得, 的, or 地.


A random thought.

Is library porn when a copy of Fanny Hill ends up face down on Lady Chatterley’s Lover? I think the public has the right to be prurient about it.