Friday, January 29, 2010

The Witch Is Not To Be Blamed

So for my Rhetoric of Grammar class read a piece by the Ancient Greek sophist Gorgias in which he defended Helen (of Troy) and claimed that she wasn't at all to blame for the bad things that she is usually associated with. Well my Professor assigned us to try and copy his style, in all of its florid grandeur, to do the same with a persona of our choosing. The person we were to defend was supposed to be someone who is traditionally looked down upon for some seemingly unforgivable crime or flaw. My classmates all chose actual figures from history or pop culture such as Britney Spears, Napoleon, and Michael Jackson. I took a somewhat different route, I chose to defend the witch from Grimm's Hansel and Gretel. Here follows a copy of that defense. (Bear in mind this was written late at night/early in the morning and, at some points, lacks clarity. I apologize for this.)...(Also I realize some of the rhetorical tropes such as alliteration are very over top. Such was Gorgias' style.)

Encomium of the Witch from Grimm’s Hansel and Gretel


[1] Perhaps the clearest of all evils that we have been taught to avoid is the old woman living alone in the woods. These old women have, western cultural and artistic expression, been treated with a harshness that is hardly deserved. From Aesop to Anderson, Mother Goose to Grimm, Disney to Dreamworks these poor women, who merely strive to live their lives as best they know, are vilified and demonized, denigrated and victimized time and again. Ultimately they are denounced, denunciated and damned to the life (if they are lucky) or death (if they are luckier) of those unlucky enough to be labeled with that most hideous title, witch. While many share this sad fate, the kindly old grandmotherly “witch” from Grimm’s Hansel and Gretel stands out for the unfair denouncement she receives at the hands of society in being labeled a witch and being forced to suffer the consequences thereof, namely death by fire. My wish with this piece, though I have but little time to bring this wish to full fruition, is to set forth the innocence of Grimm’s witch with respect to the charge of maliciously cooking and eating children and show her to be as free from guilt as the innocents she purports to have born ill will.


[2] We know not anything about this witch. Her hopes, her fears, that which she enjoys and that which brings her tears all remain a mystery to us. We but know the overly biased and propagandistic viewpoint perpetuated unashamedly by the fairy tale teller. We know only that she lives in a home constructed of all the good foods that could possibly be imagined, she has, in the past, been known to consume children, and that she has threatened to do the same with Hansel and Gretel. But as for her character, the woman inside, she could have been anyone. We can’t know with certainty who she is. However, in Grimm’s writing there is still evidence enough to exonerate the witch, and show that she deserved not the fiery end to which she was condemned. While her actions are known well the world around, it is the motives driving her actions that tell the true story. While motives can only be inferred, there is evidence of those motives, which I will present, that prove conclusively that she is worthy of vindication.


[3] The eating of children is a heinous offense which is not easily overlooked, but the witch of the tale cannot be held responsible without first accounting for her circumstances and motives. Whether it was result of the economic hard time, that she was aged far past her prime, or that she had a fantastic recipe featuring children and a hint of thyme, clearly, she was not guilty of any crime.


[4] Hard times bring out the savage inner beast in all of mankind. When food is scarce and the little that there is doesn’t come close to making it all the way around the table, the world, as with one common consent, divides up into two parties, the strong and the weak. The strong make a show of looking out for the weak, but in the end, the weak fall victim to the strong. It’s survival of the fittest. Lamentable though the fact may be, children are not the fittest and often do not survive. Hansel and Gretel had been abandoned to the mercy of the barbarian beasts of the forest by their parents. The children, having little chance of survival, were actually shown mercy by the old witch, for she adopted these young abandoned and gave them all they could eat. It matters not that she was just taking care that that fresh "meat" not go to waste. In such hungry times, she could hardly be blamed. In the end, the witch was merely doing that which was necessary for her to ensure her place among the fittest. She is far from the first to take to this course of action. The Jews during the Roman’s siege of Jerusalem resorted to a resembling course of action. The Irish were instigated to the same by Swift. If, then, the witch was but ensuring prolongation of her life, and in doing so following a previously established pattern for life in hard times, she must surely be acquitted of these supposed crimes.

[5] But if it was age that had driven the witch to be a bit touched in the head, she surely should not be shamed by facing the fate of a fiend blessed with all Earthly faculties. We dedicate great buildings and give much monetary support to institutions that immure the elderly so as to prevent them from being a danger to themselves and the community. If the witch was such a hazard to children, why was she left on her own? Clearly, then, the fault for the near death by baking of Hansel and Gretel lies directly with the witch’s own children. They faulted in allowing her to live alone and on her own at such an advanced age. Therefore, if unaware of what she’d done due to an aged lack of rational thought, the witch’s guilt ought clearly be set at naught.

[6] But the blame may reside in the fact that the witch owned a particularly tasty recipe for baked children. If this be true, then fault for her homicidally cannibalistic tendencies is surely not her own, but nature’s, for making her subject to her own appetites. While the capable cook is a tender young child’s best friend, a tender young child is a capable cook’s main course. A good dish is, in the best of times, hard to pass up. Passing up a great one, at times such as these, would be nigh unto impossible, especially if the main ingredient happened to wander to your house and take up residence with little to no persuasion.


[7] Clearly the Grimm’s witch of Hansel and Gretel fame has been undeservedly on the receiving end of much bad press. I have shown unequivocally that she was not at fault for her misdeeds. I have achieved what I set out to do and derive much pleasure in having done so.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Social Stigmas and Fruit Snacks

Last year around this time I often joked that I was going to give up social inhibitions for Lent. This came about because our culture deems unacceptable many activities with no obvious rational. Take skipping for example. Skipping is an activity that is considered thoroughly unmasculine and unacceptable for anyone over the age of 8. The only exception being if you find yourself in a field with daisies stretching out as far as the eye can see with a rainbow overhead and a jovial-faced sun looking on with a twinkle in its eye. I disagree with this social stigma. Anyone who has actually ever used skipping as a means of getting from here to there will tell you that it is quite physically demanding once you get past the first 7 or 8 skips. While on the topic of skipping I'd like to take this opportunity to challenge any and all interested to a skip race. Just know that I will dominate you. Skipping is just an example of many societal stigmas that are completely unfounded. While there are some such unjustified social norms, there are others that are, in fact, well-founded and are completely understandable. I submit the screaming of obscenities in public as an example. However, there is yet another category of social faux pas, those that aren't quite unacceptable, but not quite justifiable. I was recently brought face to face with one such enigma.This social stigma is one whose rationale I understand, but I'm not quite sure I accept as valid.
The societal standard in question? One must not eat food off of the ground.
To better understand the following events it must be understood that I, Samuel James Dunn, Esq., love fruit snacks. No matter the flavor, the brand, or the form they take I love them all. If ever I decide to treat myself and buy a box of fruit snack pouches, there is little chance of their lasting more than 48 hours. With that in mind, I present the following situation.
It was Monday afternoon. I had gotten up early that morning to go running before I had to be at work at 7:30 am. Having somewhat mismanaged my time in the morning I didn't eat breakfast nor pack a lunch for myself before leaving. (I was distracted by watching three of my roommates do P90X, two of whom nearly threw up from the physical exertion required of them. With some shame I admit that I found the situation somewhat humorous.) What with working for two hours, class for three hours and having returned again to work it was 3:00 pm and I had eaten naught but an apple that day. I guess what I'm trying to say is I was hungry. Quite hungry. As I was making my rounds through the art galleries, watching closely for anything out of place, my eyes lit upon a small green object on the ground up ahead. As I got closer my eyes grew larger as I saw what it was. It was a fruit snack. A small green candified portrayal of Goofy's face. It being a part of our job to pick up that which has been carelessly strewn aside by patrons I bent down to retrieve the offending object with the intent of tossing it in the rubbish bin. But as I held it in my hand and I gazed down at it, my stomach churned quietly and my famished condition was brought sharply to my recollection. I turned the fruit snack over in my hand and saw that it was clean and free from any obvious evidence of previous attempted consumption. However, as I was about to pop it in my mouth and think nothing more of it I remembered the famed 10 second rule and the fact that I had no idea how long that fruit snack had been sitting there on the gallery floor. As I thought about this, I thought about the numerous conversations I've had over the years about the validity of that same rule. I pondered the various health "risks" that might be associated with consuming this fruity piece of heaven. I decided to take it up to the info desk and ascertain my co-workers' thoughts on the subject. Kaitie was vehemently opposed to my eating it while Garrett was ambivalent and thought it'd be funny if I did. So basically they canceled each other out and I was left to decide for myself. I struggled with this dilemma for a couple of seconds and decided that the pleasure and satisfaction that is derived from eating fruit snacks far outweighed any possible risks. And I ate it.
Now before you go off judging and condemning me for this action I ask you to consider the following. I found the fruit snack in front of two different paintings of Christ, I have been vaccinated against the swine, and it was delicious. Was I in the wrong? Frankly my know the rest.