Text: The Epic of Gilgamesh
Author: (ancient Mesopotamians)
In The Epic of Gilgamesh, Gilgamesh, who is the king of Uruk, is also 2/3 god and 1/3 man. He is a cruel, arrogant king. He treated his subjects terribly, and they prayed for the gods to help them. The gods decide that either Gilgamesh or his best friend, Enkidu, has to die. They end up making Enkidu very ill, and right before he dies, he has a dream of the underworld that he tells Gilgamesh about. He dies, and Gilgamesh can’t stop grieving for his friend and thinking about his own eventual death. He sets off on a journey, determined to find Utnapishtim, the Mesopotamian version of Noah from Noah and the Flood. After the flood, the gods granted Utnapishtim eternal life, and Gilgamesh hopes that Utnapishtim can tell him how he might avoid death too. A ferryman named Urshanabi takes Gilgamesh on the boat journey across the sea and through the Waters of Death to Utnapishtim. Utnapishtim gives him a test where he has to stay awake for a week if he wants to live forever. Gilgamesh fails the test. Utnapishtim’s wife feels bad for Gilgamesh and has him tell Gilgamesh about a plant that restores a person’s youth. A snake (serpent) steals the plant. Gilgamesh heads back home, defeated, and realizes that he can’t live forever, but mankind in general can.
A terrible curse and plague is destroying Thebes, where Oedipus is King. Oedipus finds out the curse will go away if the murderer of the previous king, Laius, is found and prosecuted. In his journey, Oedipus is told by Tiresias, a blind prophet, that Oedipus himself killed Lauis. He’s upset and bothered so his wife, Queen Jocasta tells him not to believe prophets, that they’re not always right. She tells him how a prophet said that her and Laius’ son would grow up to kill Laius and sleep with his mother. This makes Oedipus feel worse since he was told as a kid by a drunk old man that he was adopted and that he’d one day kill his biological father and sleep with his biological mother. He also once killed a man at a crossroads, and the man he killed sounds a lot like Laius. All of this comes together, and Oedipus realizes that he killed his biological father, Laius, and married—and had children with—his mother, Jocasta. Jocasta hangs herself, and Oedipus gouges his eyes out and is exiled from Thebes.
Text: A Doll’s House
Author: Henrik Ibsen
Nora and Torvald Helmer are a married couple. Years ago, Torvald was very sick and a vacation to the warm south of Italy was the only way to save his life. Nora secretly took out a loan for 4800 crowns years ago from a man named Krogstad. As a woman, she was not legally allowed to take out a loan on her own so she forged her dying father’s signature, accidentally dating it for 3 days after his death. Years later, Krogstad, who now works for Nora’s husband, is blackmailing Nora. If she doesn’t save him from being fired, Krogstad will tell Torvald about the loan. Nora goes to great lengths to try to hide her secret. She only tells her friend, Mrs. Linde, about the loan. When Krogstad is fired, he mails a letter to Torvald, telling him about everything. Mrs. Linde tries to convince Krogstad to not blackmail Nora, and she succeeds, but it is too late. (Mrs. Linde and Krogstad also rekindle an old romance.) At Nora’s house, Torvald reads the letter and is furious. He is ready to isolate and disown Nora, except when they’re in public, when he receives a 2nd letter from Krogstad saying that everything was just a terrible misunderstanding. He forgives Nora, but Nora ends up leaving her husband and children.
Othello (the Moor) is a dark-skinned Venetian army general who is in love with his wife, Desdemona. Desdemona’s dad is pissed because he doesn’t like Othello. Othello promotes Cassio in the army because he has extensive training in strategy. Iago, Othello’s right hand man, is pissed because he wanted to be promoted. He’s been in the army longer than Cassio. Iago gets together with his friend, Roderigo, who is in love with Desdemona, and launches this whole big scheme and convinces Othello that Desdemona is cheating on him with Cassio. (She’s not.) In the end, Iago kills Roderigo. Othello kills Desdemona. Iago then kills his wife, Emelia, who was Desdemona’s friend and blew his cover. Othello realized he was wrong and attempts to kill Iago before killing himself.
Text: The Things They Carried
Author: Tim O’Brien
Lieut. Jimmy Cross
Tim O’Brien (narrator)
In this collection of vignettes, Tim O’Brien recollects his experiences in the Vietnam war through his memories of his experiences, his friends, and their stories.
Text: In the Time of the Butterflies
Author: Julia Alvarez
Mama & Papa Mirabal
Minerva (m. Manolo)
Patria (m. Pedrito)
Dedé (m. Jaimito)
María Teresa/ Mate (m. Leandro)
In the Time of the Butterflies is the fictional story of four real persons, the Mirabal sisters of the Dominican Republic. In 1960, three of the sisters, members of the underground movement opposing the regime of the dictator Rafael Trujillo, were ambushed on a lonely mountain road and assassinated. Alvarez’s novel, made up of three sections and an epilogue, intersperses chapters for each sister. All except Dedé’s are first-person narrations; Dedé does narrate the epilogue, however.
Section 1 of the novel (“1928 to 1946”) opens in 1994 with a woman interviewing Dedé about her martyred sisters. The section then describes how youthful Minerva, María Teresa, and Patria awoke to political awareness. Minerva learned of the dictator’s brutality from her schoolmate Sinita, whose family lost all of its men to Trujillo. Minerva educates young María Teresa (Mate). Patria begins to quest on her faith in God and Trujillo as a young wife plunged into a religious crisis after a stillbirth. Minerva is the first to act on her political convictions. Won over to Sinita’s hatred of Trujillo, she performs in a play covertly celebrating pre-Trujillo freedom. Near its end, Sinita, playing Liberty, suddenly walks up to Trujillo with her toy bow and aims an imaginary arrow at him. She is quickly subdued, and the tense moment passes, but Minerva has come to Trujillo’s notice.
Section 2, “1948 to 1959,” covers the years of the Mirabals’ resistance activity. Minerva meets activist Virgilio (Lío) Morales and continues in his path when he is forced to flee the country. One day, she discovers her father’s mistress and four illegitimate daughters living in poverty. She also finds letters from Lío that her father has kept from her. Shortly thereafter, Trujillo summons her to attend a dance; when he tries to hold her vulgarly close, she slaps him. Her family quickly whisks her away, but she leaves behind her purse, containing Lío’s letters. Her father is soon detained for interrogation, and the experience breaks his health. Over the next months, Mate joins Minerva in the underground; both marry fellow revolutionaries and have daughters. Eventually, Patria’s son Nelson yearns to join too, and Patria is herself converted when she witnesses a massacre of young rebels by Trujillo forces.
Section 3 relates events leading up to the death of the three sisters, now known nationwide as “La Mariposas” or “The Butterflies.” Trujillo attacks the underground, and Minerva, Mate, the three husbands, and Nelson are arrested. Mate and Minerva keep up the spirit of resistance in their crowded cell, and a solidarity grows between the political and nonpolitical prisoners there. Mate is eventually subjected to electric shock torture. Meanwhile, though, the political tide has begun to turn. The Organization of American States comes to investigate prison conditions, and Mate manages to slip their representative a statement by her cellmates. Soon afterward, Trujillo releases the Butterflies. When Minerva tries to track down information on the state of the underground, she learns that they have become national symbols of resistance. In fact, Trujillo claims his biggest problems are the church and the Mirabal sisters. Before long, Minerva’s and Mate’s husbands are moved to a remote prison. On November 25, 1960, the two wives and Patria set out with Rufino, their driver, to visit the men, despite Dedé’s warning that it is dangerous for them to travel together. They make it to the prison safely, but midway home the narrative breaks off abruptly. In the epilogue, Dedé recalls that for weeks afterward, people brought her information about her sisters’ last hours. They were strangled and clubbed, then returned to the Jeep and pushed off the cliffside. Dedé, enmeshed in grief, barely noted events of the next few years: Trujillo’s assassination, the murderers’ trial, the country’s first free elections in thirty-one years, a coup followed by civil war, and finally peace. The Mirabal sisters, meanwhile, become legends, and Dedé the conservator of their memory.
Alvarez’s postscript explains that her father was a member of the same resistance movement as the Mirabals and fled the Dominican Republic shortly before their deaths. Alvarez grew up hearing about the sisters and decided to write their story. When she began researching their lives, however, she uncovered a wealth of legends and anecdotes about them, but few verifiable facts. She thus turned to fiction to discover who they were. She began this project to answer the question, “What gave them that special courage?” She ends by noting that the anniversary of their deaths, November 25, is now, appropriately, the International Day Against Violence Toward Women.
Ms. Barbour is an 11th grade English and Poetry teacher at Franklin High School.