Archive for March, 2015

Pale Eternity

In this class, we have read quite a few depressing books, but never one that began so ominously. The Pale Horse and its Pale Rider could not have been mistaken for anything other than a reference to death. Indeed, in the Bible, he is one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse who ride when the world ends – or in 1918 during the bleak hopelessness of the First World War. Death is an underlying theme that lurks throughout the story. It is in the newspapers and the words that people say; it is across the ocean where young men are the “sacrificial lambs” sent to their own demise; it is on the streets in the shape of endless funeral processions and the ever-spreading influenza; and it pervades Miranda’s dreams and intrudes upon her reality when it takes her loved ones away in succession.

The novel depicts a warping of Miranda’s dreams, her reality and her imagination. She constantly drifts in and out of sleep. The text begins with a dream about the “lank, greenish” stranger (presumably the Pale Rider) riding on a horse beside her. This play between fantasy and reality is crucial to the understanding of the text. She is clearly upset and reconciles with herself that the cause of this “uneasiness is not all imagination.”

She is lonely, stating that “the worst thing in the war for the stay-at-homes is that there isn’t anyone to talk to any more”. She explains her loneliness through her description of human eyes and her inability to empathize with other eyes. “The worst of war is the fear and suspicion and the awful expression in the eyes you meet.” It is morbid that she cannot empathize with anyone, even those she agrees with, like the girl in the car who also believed visiting the soldiers was pointless. Imagine a scenario where you cannot connect with anyone, when you are so distanced from the rest of humanity that it is like they are suffering from a contagion and you are the only survivor, the only one with “sanity”. Or is it you who is wrong, who cannot join the giggly girls who visit the soldiers?


She tries to escape this feeling of being isolated, first by trying to run away from her physical surroundings with Adam and later in the digressions in her thoughts, when she vividly describes Adam and their shared interests and experiences. This helps to illustrate a duality between the physical and the mental effects of the plague. She says “what it does to [the mind and the heart] is worse than what it does to the body.” While she does have “pains in [her] chest and [her] head,” her dreams and nightmares always feature the more painful thoughts of violence and death. However, she seamlessly transitions into descriptions of beautiful sunlight and calming ocean waves. This reflects her inability to reconcile the phenomenon of death in her mind. On the one hand she accepts death to be an “eternity” and describes it as a phenomenon where the senses are diminished, or reduced, where there is “silence” and everything is “white” and is devoid of colour. On the other hand, she is “no longer aware of the members of her own body, entirely withdrawn from all human concerns, yet alive with a peculiar lucidity and coherence.” The acceptance of death versus the “stubborn will to live” is an aspect that is central to all victims and patients, whether dying of depression influenza or World War 1. Thus, death is really the eternity that unifies the contagion, the war, and terminates everything.

Even in life, Adam and Miranda feel a sense of eternity they know is not actually possible. “Seems to me I’ve been in the army all my life,” commented Adam once. We as humans do have a tendency to adapt, becoming accustomed even to having death constantly hanging over our heads. Porter’s dreamlike, stream-of-consciousness technique of writing warps and almost extends the time over which the story takes place. Indeed, what we have seen is only the slightest sliver of the war and of Miranda’s life. It is easy to forget that “[s]he had seen him first ten days ago,” when it felt like an eternity packed with dancing, dull theatres, mountain climbing and geological museums. We are faced with this abrupt finality to an eternity only at the end:


 “No more war, no more plague, only the dazed silence that follows the ceasing of the heavy guns; noiseless houses with the shades drawn, empty streets, the dead cold light of tomorrow. Now there would be time for everything.”


But what does it mean that there is time for everything? Is Miranda dead when she narrates her account of the hospital towards the end of the book? Is she dead when she sees Adam and says that he was “a ghost but more alive than she was”? There is no more war and no more plague and there is time for everything. But since death is the eternity, has she transcended the war and the plague and moved on into this eternity?

For Miranda, there is also no more Adam. Is it a hopeful note that Miranda and America will recover, or is it more of a bitter, ironic statement? It is more likely the latter, when in the silence all that is left are the snapshots of Adam “looking very free and windblown,” but fixed forever. It is interesting to note that this is a quality even the living Adam had: he “raised his hand” instead of waving goodbye, “his brows fixed in a straight frown”; or “set in blind melancholy” seen through a dingy window. He always stood “fixed,” as though it was always his destiny to become a snapshot memory.


Adam is a very significant character in this novel, not only as Miranda’s lover, but also as one of the sacrificial lambs of America. Although Miranda is highly obsessed with Adam and carefully observes and describes Adam’s characteristics and behaviors, the figure of Adam is still vague for us. Perhaps it is because he is already distant as a doomed man, but perhaps be

cause it isn’t clear how he feels about the war. On one hand, his joke about the “average life expectation of a sapping party” being just nine minutes can speak of underlying resentment. On the other hand, when he defends the Liberty Bonds salesman, “[h]is pride in his youth, his forbearance and tolerance and contempt for that unlucky breathed out of his very pores. As Miranda sees it, “[t]here is no resentment or revolt in him. Pure, she thought, all the way through, flawless, complete, as the sacrificial lamb must be”.

Why did Miranda fall in love with Adam so quickly? Does she fall in love with Adam or her image of him? Can we assume that Miranda embraces him because of his purity and his adoption of the “American values” that she lacks? From this perspective, Adam is the lighthouse among all of her depressed imaginations and she heaps all her remaining hopes on him. Miranda’s love towards Adam, therefore, can be interpreted as her quest for social virtues or goodness. But again, we also want to ask that if Adam is really as innocently accepting of his fate as Miranda perceives? Since she is the narrator of this novel, does she in fact manipulate or beautify Adam’s figure? As we said before, already he is hazy and far away. Now that the war is over, will Miranda’s depression be alleviated or will the loss of Adam be too catastrophic to allow that?

We hope we have raised some thoughtful questions for this week’s discussion!

Happy(?) Reading!

Abhi, Rosy, and Yan.

The fallen woman

This post shall serve as a two in one. The first purpose of this post is to direct you guys to an awesome performance of Ghosts which although I got the chance to see bits and pieces from it I believe is magnificent.

If you have extra two hours to spare I highly encourage you to click the link below


As for the second and most important purpose of this post is to discuss a concept that may have have not been discussed thoroughly in class which is the “fallen woman.” What does it mean to be a fallen woman in 1881? Well the most straight forward answer I can get was

“The fallen woman relentlessly troubled the Victorian world. In a period obsessed with the idealisation of female virginity, the consequences of sexual experience outside wedlock often resulted in ruin”

However as I have intensified my research I figured out the answer is not as simple as it looks.Firstly the origin of fallen comes from the phrase “falling out of God’s and society’s favour” Or in another version “fallen from the grace of God.” The term fallen woman is not constrained in a woman losing her virginity or getting involved in an  extra-marital sex. Woman who have been raped or subjected to the crime of male aggression also fell under the umbrella of a fallen woman. There’s is a reason such a term disappeared from our lives and it is of the over generalization brought by it. It disappoints me to learn this conception has not changed much in our current days.

Although the labels changed a huge sum of people still categorize rape and extra-marital affairs as the same thing. In fact according to a survey carried out by Mail Online 50% of woman think that rape is the victims fault. This generalization I believe holds a higher figure in this region and I though it is worth our time to look at our readings differently and use it to explore issues that we are familiar with.

Mrs Alving has brought up a rather unfamiliar term which is “fallen man”, while this term was not used back then I challenge you my dear colleagues to come up with a the definition of a fallen man. Does it necessarily mean a man who was just involved in a pre-marital or extra-marital affair. Or does it have a larger more socially inclined meaning?

I am interested in hearing your definition, for whom of you who uses twitter can use the


(dont forget to use contagion15 hashtag too)



Ali Tarek Talaat Abdallah Hassan Hussein Abouelatta AbouIsmail,



Late Stages of Neurosyphilis

Dear all,

               I wanted to clarify Oswald’s condition in Ghosts (1881) by Henrik Ibsen as it was not explicitly stated in the play. I also included a few questions for thought at the end.

               Oswald Alving is suffering from Neurosyphilis, a sexually transmitted disease, which is an infection of either the brain or the spinal cord. This usually occurs with people who have had untreated syphilis for years. This is plausible because Oswald had been sent away from his family for years and, as a result, his parents wouldn’t have known otherwise. Moreover, Oswald seemed to be in denial of his condition for quite some time and only at the very end of the play did he reveal his condition to his mother.

               The symptoms of Neurosyphilis that match up to Oswald’s behavior are listed below. Although, it is necessary to mention that our knowledge is limited because most of the play consists of dialogue. The symptoms are as follows: dementia (loss of brain function which affects one’s thinking, language, memory, behavior, and judgment), depression, headaches, irritability, poor concentration, and weakness. There can also be no symptoms which could have been why Oswald did not mention it to his parents because he wouldn’t have noticed it in the earlier stages. These symptoms can slowly get worse which was evident with Oswald throughout the play. At the beginning, there were no signs of his condition but, gradually, we saw him in distress. This is especially evident when he was asking his mother to be by his side and the words he was uttering (“The sun….The sun” – Page 164) at the end of the play when he sounded like he had permanent brain damage.

               Do you think that if Oswald’s mother, Mrs. Alving, had told him about his father’s condition (as he also had the same condition), then Oswald could have taken safety precautions and gotten suitable health care? If Mrs. Alving knew about her son’s condition but was in denial of his strange behavior (and maybe justifying it by the fact that Oswald is not attached to her as a mother since he was away for so long), could she have had the impression that this disease was a punishment from God for the sins of his father and that is why it wouldn’t make a difference if she was silent? Does public opinion come into play in this scenario?

Thank you for reading,

Mahra Al Suwaidi



Ibsen’s Play in Contemporary Culture

WARNING!!-This post contains spoilers!!

In Ibsen’s play, Ghosts, the characters are surrounded by built-up lies and secrets that originate from attempts to hide one’s shameless choices from public judgment. Mrs. Alving decides not to leave her husband despite his intolerable behavior to prevent suspicion and criticism, forcing her to live her life in deception. This play demonstrates how individuals in a society fear public opinion and are very protective when it comes to their image or reputation, especially for people like the Alving family, those that are widely respected in their community. The nature of the plot in this 19th century play is definitely one that has become popular in recent culture. The simple idea of keeping secrets, which possibly starts off for good intentions but then others build up uncontrollably that they begin to “haunt you” in everything you encounter in the future, has formed the basis of various contemporary narratives.

One that I was at once reminded of when I read this play was a TV series called Revenge, which started in 2011. What I noticed to be strikingly similar between Ibsen’s play and Revenge is that both stories’ protagonists come from prosperous positions and so have a kind of “social anxiety” that rules over them. Victoria Grayson, one of Revenge’s protagonists, is a mother of two children and a wife of a silent criminal, who was involved in a terrorist attack but blamed an innocent man for it. Although Victoria was in love with the innocent man who was framed, she did not defend him or tell the truth about her husband to protect her family’s reputation (like Mrs. Alving). Years have gone by and a guiltless man was punished for their lies and others that gathered as a result of her husband’s cruel plan. All these secrets, or “ghosts”, have eventually ruined Victoria’s life, especially her children as they did not know the truth until it was too late. Another similarity to Ibsen’s play is that Victoria’s son actually starts to act in a similar attitude as his father (like Oswald) and her daughter, which turns out to be the framed man’s daughter, ends up being the real victim of all the secrets (like Regine).

I apologize for the spoilers, I tried to say as less as I could! 😛