A Polluted Future- The Documentary

There are many problems in China but this is one that has a direct impact on all of us. Beijing has been struggling with the problem of air pollution since 2008, when the Olympics were held. This issue greatly affects developmental health in children. The good news is that the government along with the rest of the world is trying hard to eliminate this problem. The documentary explains this issue and its impact on health in an interview that I conducted with a doctor working at the New Century Children’s Hospital.

The Value of Life

The idea for my multimedia post is partially from Edward Munch’s art. Jonas described his works as confused when he added extra lines with his palette knife. As he uses lines that does not typically blend into most of his works, I was inspired to do that. The messy lines on the page that isolates the words from the pictures is supposed to show loneliness as Lina is constantly separated from her loved ones, and her fear of further separations. My idea for this multimedia post is to focus on the value of human life and connections. At first, I focused on items that the Lithuanians in the labor camps might have traded to spy on their own labor groups. It is also about how Jonas was essentially “bought” with the pocket watch. As the Russians treated the Lithuanians like cattle, they removed all human attachments to them, and had prices for everything. The latter part of the poem focuses on Lina and her connections and how she was finally able to emphasize with Kretskey over the loss of their mothers. Human lives and the relationships that are formed between us should always remain priceless.

 

Watercolor

In 1939, Russia invaded and occupied the small country of Lithuania. During this brutal campaign, many were forced to leave their home in Lithuania for Germany. Yet more were left to suffer under the terrors of Stalinized Russia. This is where the story Between Shades of Gray written by Ruta Sepetys begin. Throughout the story, different circumstance tried to break the Arvydas family apart. Yet every single time, somehow, they had pulled through. The book values human life greatly and without a doubt, one of the greatest lessons that should be learned in this book is to cherish the time one has on the planet and move on. Each character has an unique influence on Lina, which I will write about more below.

“Pathetic, and yet I survive. Surely, my survival is my punishment. This woman closes her eyes and she is gone. I wished for death since the first day, and yet I survive. Can it really be so hard to die?” (Sepetys, 318) Throughout the book, the bald man is shown as the pessimist of the group. He constantly begs for others to end him, or tell them that the Russians would kill them. Yet he survived until the end of the story. As time goes on, the bald man began to reluctantly help their group in trying to survive through the winter. When he reveals the truth of his betrayal to Lina and Jonas and the guilt he felt over the truth, he expected hate from the siblings. Yet his failures only gave Lina and Jonas newfound hope and determination to survive. “The bald man’s questions kept me awake in though. Was it harder to die, or harder to be the one who survived? I was sixteen, an orphan in Siberia, but I knew… I wanted to live.” (319)

Janina, or the girl with the dolly, is another orphan trapped within the labor camp in Trofimovsk. After the soldiers took and destroyed her doll, she claimed that her doll was in the afterlife, and from time to time, would hold conversations with her. Many people, including Lina, was slightly disturbed by her actions. Yet Janina was the one who, through her innocence, was the one who discovered the owl, which helped feed her group during their first winter “’Liale showed me something,’ she said… “What is it?” I ask, my eyes scanning the snow. “Shh…” She pulled me closer and pointed. I saw it. A huge owl lay in the snow.” (305) Her dead dolly was trying to help her live for the ones who have already passed on.

Other side characters have also contributed in the much needed warmth of their new found family. The man who wound his watch provided comfort for the younger children. The repeater could not offer anything but foolish sentiments, yet even he clung onto the, albeit unrealistic, hope of someday reaching America. Yet few characters offer more hope than Andrius. Andrius started as a stereotypical popular guy that Lina found annoying. Yet his character changed dramatically when Lina accused him of working with the NKVD for better food and a place to sleep. “’Because they threatened to kill me unless she slept with them. And if they get tired of her, they still might kill me. So how would you feel, Lina, if your mother felt she had to prostitute herself to save your life?’… ‘No, you have no idea… Poor you, digging all day long. You’re just a spoiled kid’” (159) After this ordeal, Lina felt as though she had wrong Andrius, and swallowed down her pride to apologize. He too, noticed his own mistakes through Lina and warmed up to her and her brother. He played a vital role in saving her brother from scurvy and gifted her the book Dombey and Son as an apology for smoking her first book. As they finally parted ways, Andrius gifted Lina a stone for good luck, and a promise to meet again someday. This gave her something constant in her unknown future, giving her else other than returning to her home to look forward to.

“Mother gave Ulyushka a potato… I hated that Mother shared with Ulyushka. She had tried to throw Jonas out into the snow when he was sick. She didn’t think twice about stealing from us. She never shared her food… Yet Mother insisted on sharing with her.” Elena, in the novel is a heavily inspiring character as she was polite and even kind to many of the Russians in the story, yet even then remains very proud and dignified. She is also deeply caring for her children s she sometimes gives part of her rations to her children. I think she embodies the theme of moving on the best out of every character. I even believe that she embodies the mindset of Lithuanians after they were freed from Russia’s control. “To this day, many Russians deny they ever deported a single person. But most Baltic people harbor not grudge, resentment, or ill will. They are grateful to the Soviets who showed compassion. Their freedom is precious and they are learning to live within it.” (Sepetys, Author’s Notes) She bore no ill will to Nikolai Kretzkey who hurt her daughter. Instead, she is grateful for the small human acts done by Kretzkey. She actively defends his honor in front of her children and in her lasts moments, remembered the small kindness that Ulyushka showed to her. After her death, it was discovered that she had a clean set of clothes waiting in her suitcase to prepare for her return to Lithuania.

Elena’s incredible determination and once again, hope, allowed Lina to see beyond the darkness in front of her and start seeing the world as not good or evil, but a blur of grays like the watercolor and charcoal that she used so much. People around her that she knew have done terrible things, yet the guard who kept them in the labor camps showed genuine kindness. Lina realizes that, if she wanted to survive, she has to keep on hoping her future would change, and that she would meet Andrius again. As her mother had before her, she started to think with a clear head and much optimism, something the bald man lacked. In the end, as long as our Earth, floating in space, still spins, we must keep living.

 

Who Would Want to be Pretty?

When does beauty start to become too much? “Is it not good to make society full of beautiful people?” (Yang Yuan, quoted in the New York Times) Yet the price of beauty for Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies is that everyone looked, thought and acted the same. Tally Youngblood, the protagonist of the story just wants to turn “pretty” when she turns sixteen. Yet she meets Shay, a teenager around her age who doesn’t want to turn “pretty”. Instead, she leaves for Smoke, a city of people who has never turned “pretty”, but not before leaving Tally coded instructions as to how to get there.

The character who represented the theme that I am working on the best is Shay. Shay was introduced as a fun loving friend from the same city as Tally. From teaching Tally hoverboarding to helping her get into trouble, Shay just seemed like any other ugly, being mischievous and daring. Yet she knew a secret that the society of pretties were trying to suppress, she knew a way to get to Smoke. This is the first time where we see a character who actively goes against the idea of being pretty. After that, she just seemed like a loyal friend, determined to go to Smoke, and to take Tally with her. “She and I… Shay changes her mind pretty quickly, you know” (Westerfeld, p237) Shay is not loyal nor does she want stubbornly stay in Smoke. She just wanted to be wherever her friends are.

The main theme of the story is definitely that even a perfect society has its flaws. If you looked hard enough, nothing is ever perfect. The pretty’s society was presented as a perfect society that has moved on from our own after a near apocalyptic event somewhere in the future. The society is virtually flawless, relying entirely on renewable resources. The people are happy, “new pretties”, or teenagers who had recently got their surgery, enjoys a life full of partying for almost every second of their lives. “We exist in equilibrium with the environment, Tally, purifying the water that we put back into the river, recycling the biomass, and using only power drawn from our own solar footprint.” (p103) Yet as Tally learns from David, Az and Maddie, the idealistic world that Shay and herself had grown up in and has been conditioned to trust hides many secrets. To keep the pretties placated, most of the ones who goes through the operation also has a lesion planted into their brain, making them unable to react to situations quickly, among other things. And the Special Circumstances would do anything to keep it that way, even if it means killing to silence those who knows the truth. “He lay on his back, his head turned at an angle that Tally instantly knew was utterly wrong… She remembered what the Special Circumstances had said to her more than once: We don’t want to hurt you, but we will if we have to. (p316)

Although mocked in the story as being a terrible practice, the world of the pretties probably started with a desire to be the same as models or idols. It also represents the theme well as idols and models are supposed to be beautiful and great. Whatever brands they promote will always sell out within the first few days, especially if the idol was really popular. Yet the lifestyle that they lead is not always the healthiest. There is fierce competition in the industry as more and more young people tries to be idols. Even after that, the idol’s lives are almost entirely controlled by their companies. Uglies probably represents the youths who longs to become the idols that they looked up to, without considering the pain they had to go through. The Uglies were taught from a young age to want to become pretty, thinking that it is only normal and anyone who wasn’t pretty was a freak. This could possibly compare to children who compares themselves to others, admiring the ones prettier then themselves. “Tally stared at the picture and shivered. Why go back to this? “Spooky, huh?” Shay turned away. “(p 191)

The “Invincible” MaoZeDong

Pursuit of true equality and communism was chairman Mao’s ultimate goal for the revolution. Yet things don’t always turn out the way people wanted it to. Starting from 1966 to 1976, the Chinese Cultural Revolution saw its fair share of pointless grief and bloodshed. This video explains important points throughout the revolution and how it impacted China and its citizens.

An Open Book

In The Distance Between Us by Reyna Grande, her life and experiences as an immigrant in America, the importance of her family and not losing hope were persistent themes within the memoir. Unfortunately, Grande’s childhood was far from peaceful and loving, instead being one full of traumatizing experiences and events. Still, as of now, it is my favorite non-fiction book. Yet because I misplaced my copy of this book, I cannot cite direct evidence to support some of my ideas, however, I will be trying to give an honest impression of this book as it had a very lasting impact on me, which means all quotes are taken from articles that Reyna Grande has written or posted on her website. Finally, there are some minor to major spoilers to the book in this blog post.

A controversial subject that is very relevant in the theme of the book is the problem of illegal immigration. Children from Central and South America are often separated from their parents when they leave their homes for work in the United States, often through illegal means. In The Distance Between Us, Reyna suffered from her family being split apart by immigration. As young kids, she and her siblings didn’t understand why her parents are leaving them and feels abandoned when they learned that their mother was pregnant with their baby sister Betty. This was caused mainly by the time and distance that separated her and her parents, a problem that Grande really tried to emphasize, instead of the more global issues that immigration pose to a country.

But an immigration to America meant she would face many forms of discrimination. At the start of the story, Reyna was strictly punished because she used her left hand, or the “devil’s” hand. She was not able to afford lunch like much of the other kids, and when one of the students dropped a mango on a stick, she and her sister argue about who would pick it up, both embarrassed and afraid that their classmates would judge them for it. This is further shown when in America, she faced further discrimination from her teachers. For example, when she got into the writing competition in fifth grade, Reyna noticed that her teacher put her story which she wrote in Spanish directly into the pile of rejected works. This continued into her college life. ““You have a wild imagination,” my teacher would say of my autobiographical stories of Mexican poverty, immigration, and broken homes. I wanted to tell her that her job was to critique my craft, not my cultural experiences—but my shame kept me silent.”(Grande, Article)

Even through all the tough times and events that she has endured, Reyna continues to strive to be her best for her family. Growing up, she never really had her family as her father immigrated to America when she was very young. After her mother left, Reyna felt truly alone, even if she stayed optimistic, she was still unsure if her parents would ever come back to Mexico. Therefore, when she was told that her mother had given birth to her little sister Betty, she was very distressed, thinking that her parents were finally abandoning her. But the ray of hope came from her sister, Mago, when she told Reyna that “It doesn’t matter that there’s a distance between us now. That cord is there forever.” Yet when her family is reunited, it is not quite the same as it was before, despite how much they wanted it to be. “The man behind the glass” was not the father she had wanted. He had divorced her mother and married a new woman named Mila. Furthermore, he was abusive towards his children and later his wife.

Tough family circumstances lead her own sister to abandon her in a time where she needed someone the most. Her father constantly tried to put her down, trying to discourage her from going to university. Yet Grande never gave up hope for a better future. Her turning point was when her college professor Diana Savas gave her a purpose. Under Diana’s tutoring, she turned out to be an excellent writer and in turn, Diana let Reyna know about authors who had similar experiences as her, giving her lives and characters she could finally relate to. But, because of her father’s deteriorating health, she still chose to stay by his side. In the end however, her father must have realized his fault, and at least tried to make it up to Reyna by letting her go and allowing her to follow her dreams.

Reyna Grande made it very clear in the story that she was not promoting illegal immigration in any way. She showed the trauma and neglect she faced as a kid due to her family immigrating to the United States. But she also made it clear, that even in the hellish conditions she was in before and after she immigrated, she did not stop striving for a better future, no matter the struggles she faces along the way. At the very end of the epilogue, Reyna described her last moments with her dying father, how she tried to forget about all the pain he has caused her, instead focused on the moments where she was truly happy, and she realized that without her father, she would never have had the courage to move to the United States, nor the encouragement needed to stay in school and become who she is today. Her point in writing this memoir was to prove that, not matter where you come from, with whatever family background, equal opportunities should be given.

 

My multimedia blog post

In my multimedia post, I created a map of all of the places that were mention or is important in The Rose Society by Marie Lu. This shows the setting of the story through the descriptions of locations in the story. I also tried to incorporate some bias on some of the places on the map, showing that it was probably wrote by the Kennetrans. I did this to show that the setting of this story is based off Renaissance Europe.

Give and Take

As a part of one of my favorite series, it is basically impossible for me to not try to analyze the theme for The Rose Society written by Marie Lu. Adelina’s story is one of many chaos and dark moments, yet it is also filled with determination or a certain amount of bullheadedness. Therefore, it is not surprising that there are multiple themes throughout the second book of the Young Elites series. Betrayal, kindness and the idea of an identity are amongst the most important lessons that is taught in The Rose Society.

The worst betrayal in the second book is surprisingly similar to the one the the first book. In both scenarios, Adelina was the one to first hurt the people around her. This creates an uncomfortable barrier between her and the people who cares for her and her doubt of their intentions always lead to her downfall. In this story, your actions and inactions lead to your downfall. She refused Violetta’s advice to not feed her powers by killing again and again, making her sister feel disrespected, hurt and fearful, and when Violetta forcefully takes away her powers, she lashes out at her sister, causing her to flee. She leads to her own downfall in 2 different versions of events, except this time, she doesn’t have her sister. as she betrayed her, and not matter how much comfort Magiano will give to her, her own actions will lead to her downfall again and again until she learns that not everyone has evil intentions behind their actions.

Which lead me to another important theme, to trust people who are giving you kindness. But given her past history with betrayal, I doubt that she will trust anyone anytime soon. As well as the whispers in her head that increases in volume every time she kills someone, an effect of her powers rebounding onto herself.  “None of it was your fault, the whispers in my head argue. You didn’t kill him, after all — it was not your blade that ended his life. So why are you the one cast out? You didn’t have to return to the Daggers — you didn’t need to help them rescue Raffaele. And still they turned on you. Why does everyone forget your good intentions, Adelina?” (Lu, p4). In this case, Raffaele is also making wrong choices as all of the kindness that he gives comes with a price. If he is not willing to give kindness without any strings attached, then she will never trust him enough to help him to try to find a cure for the elite powers that are affecting everyone. So if Adelina wants kindness, she needs to trust and if Raffaele wants trust from Adelina or anyone else, he needs to give true kindness.

The third and final theme that revolves around all of the characters is discovering an identity that is beneficial to yourself as much as others. “The irony of life is that those who wear masks often tell us more truths than those with open faces.” (p19) This quote often confuses me as it never made sense in the context of the story. Throughout the book, Raffaele is forced to carry the heavy burden of becoming the leader of the malfettos and sharing their personal pains. Then, queen Maeve forced a new “mask” onto him and he was once again burdened with a duty, this time to seduce Giulietta and hopefully separate her and Teren. He is essentially a painted dummy, each person painting their ideas and hopes onto him. And he lets them get away with it, not because he is willing, but because he feels as if he has not purpose other than to sacrifice his own happiness and peace for another’s. He learns this twisted lesson at a young age, when he sacrificed himself just to get his family enough food so they would not starve. He wasn’t even allowed time to grieve for the person he loved, and ultimately his plans failed when Adelina replicated what was left of his person and became bonded to Enzo, securing her place on the throne. “Hiding it makes you more beautiful,” Magiano says. Then he takes his hand away, exposing my scar again. “But revealing it makes you you.” He nods at me. “So wear it proudly.”  But Adelina does not need to know that. She is very well defined and her boundaries are set and will not budge for just anyone. But unfortunately for her, because of her rigid ideals, she ultimately refused help and closed in onto herself.

As I’ve said before, there are many other themes throughout the series. But the one that resonated with me the most are all listed here. Firstly, every action has a consequence and if you have broken your trust with a person, don’t blame them for your betrayal. Second, kindness and trust are two sides of the same coin and both needs to be built over a period of time and sacrifice. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, don’t let what everyone else thinks you should be define you. Set up some boundaries, but don’t be unnecessarily stubborn about it. Everything is connected like a scale. To not hit the ground, or be raised up too high, there should be a balance of give and take.