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)

Who is Waverly?

Characters and certainly people in real life often aren’t defined by one specific character trait. For example, I will act politely and respectfully in front of adults or strangers but in front of my friends… not so much. So it isn’t surprising that even if she is very mature, patient and calculating in chess, she is very demanding with the mindset of “everything is mine and will go my way” in real life.

 

                                            

In Chess, Waverly is witty and strategic. Waverly proved this point when she was able to beat people older and have more experience with chess than her. “I was a national chess champion. I was still some 429 points away from grand-master status, but I was touted as the Great American Hope, a child prodigy and a girl to boot. They ran a photo of me in Life magazine next to a quote in which Bobby Fischer said, “There will never be a woman grand master.” “Your move, Bobby,” said the caption,” (Tan, p.4). She is very talented good at analyzing the situation.

 

 

However, in real life she is very demanding of those around her. For example, take a look at this excerpt from the beginning of the story. “”Let me! Let me!” I begged between games when one brother or the other would sit back with a deep sigh of relief and victory, the other annoyed, unable to let go of the outcome. “(P2). This got worse due to her mother spoiling her too much after she discovers Waverly’s potential for chess. Sure, Waverly had to attend a lot of classes but outside of that, she is able to make demands without limit, just because it bothers her.

 

 

To conclude, Waverly is a complex character. To say that she is not smart is invalid but at the same time, she is very childish and demanding. Ultimately, these personalities caused her dearly as she was unable to hold back her tongue and said something she never meant to say to her mother. In the end, whether or not Waverly is a good or bad person does not matter. She is a logical and smart kid that had made many bad decisions.