Author Archives: Michael Murray

Kite Runner

“The Kite Runner” by Khaled Hosseini is about a man named Amir who recalls important times in his life. Most of the events that Amir describes take place in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The story begins with Amir receiving a call from Rahim Khan, who tells Amir to come visit him in Pakistan. This phone call immediately launches the book into its main story. Amir mentions kites and kite flying after he gets off the phone. He specifically mentions an old friend, Hassan, who he labels a kite runner. It seems like a safe assumption that a kite will be a recurring metaphor throughout the novel.

 

Amir begins his story by fully introducing the readers to Hassan. Amir talks about how Hassan and him used to play together in Kabul, a city in Afghanistan. Right away we are able to see that there is a power imbalance in their friendship: Hassan and his father work as servants for Amir and his father. Added on top of this is the fact that Hassan is a Hazara, which is a minority ethnic group. This imbalance seems to foreshadow how certain events between Hassan and Amir could play out.

 

As the book progress to Chapter 3 we meet Baba, Amir’s father. Amir describes Baba as the manliest man you’ll ever find. Amir recounts the many stories that he has heard about Baba, specifically one regarding Baba tackling a bear to the ground. Amir seems to idolize his father, but also slightly fear him. Amir continually tries to please his father by following in his footsteps. Here is yet another relationship where power is not shared equally. This pattern of imbalanced relationships suggests to me that the author may have an underlying message about relationships.

 

Amir goes on to mention a story that he and Hassan used to read together: Rostam and Sohrab. The story centers around Rostam killing Sohrab during a battle and then Rostam going on to realize that Sohrab was his son. This seems like quite the spoiler and metaphor for the story. Based on the already known imbalance in Amir and Hassan’s relationship, I would guess that Amir is Rostam and Hassan is Sohrab. What does this mean for the future. Does Amir literally kill Hassan or metaphorically? The first instance of tension between Amir and Hassan appears later in Chapter 4. Inspired by Rostam and Sohrab, Amir writes his own short story. When he reads it to Hassan, Hassan ries to make a suggestion to Amir. This angers Amir. Amir recounts that he had derogatory and harsh thoughts about Hassan after he made the correction.  Even though Amir and Hassan seem to be friends, Amir still appears to strongly believe in his superiority over Hassan.

 

This tension eventually resides and Amir shows goes on to show that he is Hassan’s friend. Amir and Hassan are ambushed by Assef, a known neighborhood bully. Assef believes in ethnic purity for Afghanistan, specifically killing Hazaras. Amir is presented with an opportunity here to allow Assef to beat up Hasson so that he can get away, but he doesn’t. Amir stands by Hasson, which causes Assef to attack Amir. Hasson stops Assef with his slingshot, a symbol that he is reciprocating Amir’s sign of friendship.

 

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“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” By Ken Kesey

“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” by Ken Kesey is narrated by Chief Bromden who is a patient at a psychiatric hospital. The novel mostly centers around Randle McMurphy, a new patient that Bromden meets. Bromden starts the novel by describing how he pretends to be “deaf and dumb.” All of the orderlies and patients in the hospital speak freely around Bromden since they believe he can’t understand them. Bromden is able obtain information from overhearing these conversations. If Bromden did not overhear these conversations then neither would the reader. Kesey purposefully makes Bromden pretend to be “deaf and dumb” so that he can expose the reader to more information without directly telling it to them. Kesey is quite simply showing and not telling, which adds to the value of the novel.

Kesey also sets up the hospital as if it were a shrunken civilization. There are obvious comparisons between the hospital and a normal community such as how there are different groups within the hospital. All of the patients are either Acutes (curable) or Chronic (incurable). From these two groups there are three subgroups: the “Wheelers and Walkers and Vegetables” At one point, Bromden notes that some patients came in as “Acutes” but then were transformed into “Chronics” because of the hospital’s “intensive” care. It is very ironic that a hospital, a place where the sick are meant to be healed, actually does more harm than good to its patients. This adds to the notion that the community, or hospital in this case, is what keeps the social classes in place since the hospital is responsible for forcing some of the patients into different classes. 

 Nurse Ratched, or “the Big Nurse,” has strict control over the hospital. Bromden often observes her share embarrassing and humiliating confidential information about patients to small groups. Other members of the group then proceed to criticize and verbally attack the patient that Ratched decided to pick on. Bromden says, “The flock gets sight of a spot of blood on some chicken and they all go to peckin’ at it, see, till they rip the chicken to shreds, blood and bones and feathers.” This process allows Ratched to keep her control over the hospital. She does not have to keep the patients afraid and submissive; the patients do it to each other. Ratched does not have to directly interact with the patients to keep them in line. Her orders and wishes trickle down through the patients. The patients keep themselves oppressed within the hospital. During the time period the novel is set in women did not receive respect or authority. That is why it is odd that a group of grown men would obey a women. After examining the novel more closely, one realizes that Ratched is not the face of the oppression. She has implemented a system in which she can keep control while hiding behind the curtains.

Kesey also foreshadows during the first several chapters. McMurphy introduces himself as a “gambling fool” to the patients at the hospital. This seems to suggest that McMurphy is willing to take risks and make bold moves. McMurphy’s description lays the groundwork for tension and conflict in later chapters of the novel.

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Slaughterhouse V

Slaughterhouse-Five is a novel by Kurt Vonnegut that follows Billy Pilgrim’s experiences during World War II and afterwards. According to many literary critics, the book is semi-autobiographical since Vonnegut himself lived through the firebombing of Dresden, a major event that occurs in the book.  

The novel centers around the horrific events that Pilgrim suffered through during the war, but Vonnegut also uses comic relief to offset this negative tone. Vonnegut famously uses the line “so it goes” everytime someone dies in the book. This line demonstrates the author’s lighthearted approach to the death of a character, regardless of the role that character played. This line also contributes to Vonnegut’s examination of the randomness of death. One of Vonnegut’s earliest uses of the phrase is when he is describing a plane crash, “Early in 1986, a group of optometrists, with Billy among them, chartered an airplane to fly them from Ilium to an international convention of optometrists in Montreal. The plane crashed on top of the Sugarbush Mountain, in Vermont. Everybody was killed but Billy. So it goes” (31). This example shows that death is unsystematic and unplanned; people are killed indiscriminately and randomly. Vonnegut finds humor in other ways as well. For example, Billy describes the Tralfamadore, an alien species that supposedly abducts him, as small, “green” aliens with heads that are “shaped like plumber’s friends.” Billy’s description is funny and amusing, but still the Tralfamadorians serve a purpose in the novel, specifically when it comes to Billy’s perception of time.

Time plays a key role in the first half of the book, and I predict it will continue to do so. The Tralfamadorians introduce Billy to a new view on time. The Tralfamadorians can see things in the fourth dimension and believe that when someone dies, they are only dead in that moment. In a different point in time that person is still alive. Billy struggles to understand time, and Vonnegut even writes that “Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time” (29). Vonnegut brings this line to life by the way he chooses to structure the flow of the novel. The novel continually jumps around in time, touching on different parts in Billy’s life. The reader becomes “unstuck” with time alongside Billy. Vonnegut could also be using Billy’s struggle with time as proof of the negative effects of PTSD. Vonnegut was part of the army during World War II and his experience during the war could be affecting his choice of how to craft the novel.

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“Go Set a Watchman” by Harper Lee

As soon as the book starts it becomes very clear to the audience that there is a huge difference between Jean Louise’s life in New York City and her former life in Maycomb. Lee demonstrates this especially when describing the reasons why Jean Louise won’t marry Hank, it is because she doesn’t want to have the “white picket fence” life in Maycomb. Soon after Hank and Jean Louise make it back to the the Finch household, we start to see the difference between the “To Kill a Mockingbird” Atticus and the “Go Set a Watchman” Atticus. The novel is notorious for featuring a different, less likable side of Atticus. There are small examples of this in the first few chapters. For example, Aunt Alexandra tells Jean Louise about the very tragic loss of one of their relatives, but Atticus provides his own narrative. Atticus goes on to state that relative died from his own foolishness. This moment is the first of many where “Go Set a Watchman” Atticus defies his original character in “To Kill a Mockingbird. One thing that does remain constant in both books is Aunt Alexandra. No matter which book you pick up, it seems her not so charming personality is always present. Pheraps, Lee did this on purpose, to show that there no matter what, there will be a person whose need for family dignity shines through. 

Though Atticus seems to have taken a drastic change in his personality, some of his most common traits still appear throughout the first quarter of the novel. Much of the book is not only about Jean Louise coming home, but also her remembering various memories from her childhood. One of her first memories is when she is describing when Jem tried to “baptize” her in a local pond. Soon they are caught and sent home where they are faced by a preacher. Jean Louise feared that Atticus would be mad, but instead he was filled with laughter. Though Atticus seems like a rough character in the beginning, we soon see that he has more than that one dimension. It could be that as Atticus grew older he became more cynical and only sees the worse in people and their actions.

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Nigh by Elie Wiesel 9/10

Night by Elie Wiesel is a terrific autobiography that recounts Wiesel horrific times inside concentration camps during World War II. This book is not like any other Holocaust autobiography written before, Wiesel provides more in depth looks at the mental toll the concentration had on the prisoners. He centers the book primarily on the death of his God and how the Nazi’s stripped away his ability to ever see good in the world. Wiesel is taken away with his father in the Spring of 1944. He spends part of the book in a train car being transported across the German countryside until he reaches Auschwitz. Wiesel quickly learns that life will change rapidly for himself and his father as they enter the gates of the concentration camp. He is then transferred to Buchenwald where he is ultimately liberated in the end of the novel. Throughout the book Wiesel continuously shows the deterioration of humanity in himself and others as he recounts his time at these concentration camps. Wiesel studies the dramatic changes that occur in the parent-child relationship inside of concentration camps. I recommend this book to anyone who wishes to see a new and scarier look at life inside of concentration camps. Wiesel’s novel will leave you pandering different life long questions for weeks to come. I suggest to anyone who reads this to read it twice, you will discover different connections in the book that will open new doors to different thoughts. With a combination of his amazing choice of words and the incredible metaphors, this book is one you will never forget.

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