I’ve chosen to cut how I came to this train of thought, but here is the basic observation where it starts: there exists a genre of popular media in America that spends two hours critiquing systems of oppression within it only to end on a note of sudden optimism, a well-we’re-all-Americans-and-we’ll-figure-it-out-at-the-end sort of hope.
Which… is very context-dependent, and maybe not always inherently bad? But it brings me to how quite often, throughout our class, we have focused on the question of hope (and concepts connected to it, even if they can’t be fully quantified as such), and whether our endings have any. The hopeful ending of No-No Boy rang true in a way that resonated with me; I found hope very sparse at the end of When the Emperor Was Divine; I think The Hungry Tide is meant to have something like a happy ending, at least moreso than many of our other novels, but I didn’t find it there either.
An argument I’ve made a few times is that ‘hope’ isn’t a fair thing to look for in most of these novels. There’s a gray area between pure misery and genuine hope, and a lot of that comes down to a specific and painful portrayal of the human experience, one which can’t always be defined around “do I feel hope” but sometimes around “I exist, and that’s what matters.”
Still, I feel like talking about hope (and related concepts) matters too, especially in the context of … feel-good political art as opposed to don’t-feel-good political art? The question of lifting one up over the other, or of different kinds of hope, of hope for a system as opposed to an individual. And the question (as always, I guess) of who is telling whose story, and for what kind of audience?
Also, a thought I had while writing this: I identified No-No Boy as our most successful ending, but I feel like that’s also the most pro-America book we’ve read? There’s a thought, one I’m not quite sure what to do with.