People, Carleigh and I were talking a bit this morning and it prompted me to make a brief post about something Amber’s questions had raised. I think we did a good job in class yesterday of articulating what the ghosts represent, what they correspond to, and what social/cultural work they do. But also, I think they are ghosts. Americans can be resistant to the supernatural outside of films or books, or can see belief in it as fringe, in conflict with intellectualism or rationality. But of course that’s not true of all cultures– being smart, practical, well educated, as Brave Orchid is, and battling or engaging with ghosts are not necessarily incongruous if ghosts/supernatural beings simply do inhabit the same space or are, as we might say, “real.” That can be challenge for us when we read literatures that draw on or represent non-EuroAmerican cultures, and ditto for magical realist texts. Thoughts?

The supernatural

5 thoughts on “The supernatural

  • September 17, 2019 at 10:31 pm

    Yes!! The whole time there was a literary analysis going on over the use of ghosts I was super confused because I genuinely just read them as entirely literal. I’ve really been wondering if by analyzing it we’re explaining away another culture’s form of thinking or if Kingston was attempting to extend something real into a metaphor.
    I’m also confused about whether or not we’re supposed to know the historical context of ‘ghost’ in reference to white people. The fact it was mostly brought up in reference to childhood made it seem more like a cute nickname than anything else. As far as I know it was never really unpacked beyond that?

  • September 18, 2019 at 10:24 am

    I am really glad people are sharing their opinions because one of the first things that came to my mind when thinking about the chapter was whether or not people were reading it as if the ghosts were actually real. Because I found myself doing so as the easiest way to account for this thing that I couldn’t understand. The fact that Brave Orchid was presented as a rational and eductated individual helped me see them as real as well

  • September 19, 2019 at 3:30 am

    I was actually reading them as both literal and literary, to be honest, and I think it’s important to the conversation we had about them to understand that we can read into the literary meaning of the ghosts as metaphors without dismissing them as metaphors only. I think, especially in the context of the story, the ghosts are very real, just as real as any of the other events or characters. To dismiss them as merely metaphors kind of feels like it would come as a result of assuming they can ONLY be metaphors, that they are unreal, and that anyone who believes in them is foolish and superstitious, painting Brave Orchid and the entire Chinese culture that way – a kind of colonialist trap which is a slippery slope to all sorts of atrocities justified by the idea that these “foolish people” who believe in ghosts need to be guided by more “rational” Western society. I absolutely agree that it is vital to recognize the ghosts as either real – or at least rational, if you choose not to believe in ghosts yourself but still recognize the belief as rational and not foolish or superstitious – at least within the context of the story. However, they are at the same time far too significant to ignore their metaphorical purposes either. Kind of like drawing parallels I guess? Like if you have a coming of age story with a hurricane happening in the background throughout the story, the hurricane can act as a metaphor for the tempestuous time in the character’s life, enforce the sense of change, of displacement, et cetera, but no one doubts the reality of the hurricane just because it also serves as a metaphor. I think the ways we can interpret the feelings and messages the story contains, such as white people and the way the world is different for them as it is for literal ghosts, or the way the narrator has this sense of being followed, almost haunted, by the weight of the culture passed down to her, act in the same way as a parallel for the real ghosts in the story.

  • September 19, 2019 at 5:48 am

    While I appreciated and agreed with much of the discussion we had about what the ghosts in this book represent, I also saw the ghosts as literal ghosts. Maybe that’s because there’s a significant part of me that believes in the supernatural. I also know a lot of really intelligent people who have ghost stories and truly believe that they have seen them or come into contact with them. I think when we look back at the history of other cultures, we repeatedly see a pattern of peoples who truly believed in ghosts or spirits, and stories of interactions with ghosts that are very real to them. “The sitting ghost” reminded me of an ancient (italian?) demon/ghost called an incubus. They were said to sit on women’s chests and sometimes rape them, and those women were thought to go on to give birth to supernatural beings such as witches and wizards. The concept of a “sitting ghost” is pretty consistent with other culture’s folklore (such as the ones about incubi and succubi, succubi being the female version), and it is also consistent with the phenomenons of sleep paralysis, night terrors, and fever dreams. I think we have to be careful with criticizing the ghosts in the story. While I don’t doubt that they do hold some sort of metaphorical meaning, I do think that there’s fun and meaning in considering them simply as ghosts.

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