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Linda Rader Overman is so proud of her former student Natalie Grill who was a winner of the Oliver W. Evans Writing Prize in Fall 2023--Well done!!

A Comparative Analysis of Spiegelman’s Maus II and Oster’s The Stable Boy of Auschwitz It has been nearly eighty years since that decis...

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Linda Rader Overman is very proud of her student Vanessa Lopez congratulations for winning CSUN English Dept writing award Spring 2018

Congratulations are due for Vanessa Lopez who received
 (from educator Michael Van Slooten --award is in honor of his late father a former professor at CSUN)
The Henry Van Slooten Scholarship in English
A prize of $500  awarded to a student whose essay in ENGL 258, 259, 275, or 355 best demonstrates a passion for the English language.
This was for her essay "The Effect of an Unconventional Narrative"
when she compared Henry Oster's memoir The Kindness of the Hangman with Art Speigelman's Maus II.


The Effect of an Unconventional Narrative
 by Vanessa Lopez

 Too often, when the Holocaust is covered in school curriculum, teachers emphasize the historical impact, focusing on the events prior and during World War II.  While the atrocities and genocide are covered, there is a failure to delve deeply into the human experience and understand the impact on the survivors.  It is important to do this in order to fully appreciate the way survivors overcame and triumphed over such adversity.  Two books that effectively do so are The Kindness of the Hangman by Henry Oster and Dexter Ford and Maus II: A Survivor’s Tale: And Here My Troubles Began by Art Spiegelman.  Though they are different genres, the books work well together, sharing some similarities.  Both Vladek and Henry are imprisoned in Auschwitz and describe the atrocities endured in the camps.  They are, nevertheless, written in different styles; one being a memoir and the other a graphic novel.  Both stories provide extensive background into the daily life in the camps.  The key difference between the stories, however, is Spiegelman’s incorporation of the metanarrative which creates a more emotional tone than Dr. Oster’s story and the fact that the anthropomorphized animals in the graphic novel soften the subject matter in ways that Dr. Oster’s narrative cannot.
            Dr. Oster’s memoir delivers a style that is straightforward and informational.  His co-writer Dexter Ford interweaves much historical background into the narrative as a means of enhancing and contextualizing Henry’s experience.  A key example early in the book states that “Hitler believed that Jews had formed an international conspiracy.  Allied with the Communists who had come to power in Russia, they were, he fantasized, plotting to dominate the world’s political and financial institutions and, eventually, the world itself.  He also believed that some Jews allied with the Communists, had caused Germany to lose World War I by fomenting labor strikes, political subversion and revolutions­­…a myth known as Dolchstoßlegend: the Stab In The Back” (Oster and Ford 15).  Here, the creators inform the reader of the ideological propaganda fueling the Holocaust.  It is important to understand the historical underpinnings of the genocide which consumed so many victims.  Readers are forced to acknowledge the fact that the Jewish people were scapegoated, villainized and cast into the category of “the other.”  Reader’s see no such contextualization in Spiegelman’s graphic novel.
            The beginning of Maus II delves immediately into Spiegelman’s pathos instead of historical facts of the Holocaust, setting up the metanarrative structure of the story.  After Vladek’s wife abandons him, Art and his wife François are compelled to visit him.  Their conversation en route establishes his internal conflict regarding his work and his family. When François asks Art if he is feeling depressed,  he replies ‘Just thinking about my book… it’s so presumptuous of me. I mean, I can’t even make any sense out of my relationship with my father.   How am I supposed to make any sense out of Auschwitz?...Of the Holocaust?...” (Spiegelman 14.3A-3B).  Graphic novels use visual rhetoric in conjunction with the actual text.  When Art asserts that he is presumptuous, readers see the outside of the car as they drive to Vladek’s house.  The next frame, 3B, cuts to the car’s interior.  The shift from outside to inside indicates a deeper understanding of Art’s emotional state.  Once the focus shifts to the car’s interior, readers understand the root his self-contempt.  This panel helps to establish, early on, the fact that Art faces multiple layers of conflict; both as an artist and the son of a Holocaust survivor.  Though conflicted about documenting his father’s experience in the form of a graphic novel, doing so allows the story to reach a wider audience.  Additionally, the fact that people are represented as animals makes the horror more bearable.
            In The Kindness of the Hangman, Oster and Ford make no such attempt at softening the book’s tone and subject matter.  Dr. Oster accounts one of the most painful memories as imprisoned youth; a memory long withheld from anyone.  He recalls a dance with death.  Henry was selected for execution along with four other stable boys and many older men from other barracks.  Of that night, he describes “two machine gun crews that had been concealed in the trucks started firing, their muzzles flashing in the darkness, spitting bullets right into the crowd of prisoners.  Right at me” (Oster and Ford 96).  He continues with the elaborate details explaining for the reader that “I had a fairly tall guy in front of me who was hit in the first blast from the guns.  He fell back on top of me, and I felt a pain in my knee, and then I was under a pile of thrashing, heavy, dying men…I could see that there were two German officers now, with heir pistols out, going through the pile of dead and dying men.  They were going one by one, shooting the wounded lying helpless on the ground in the backs of their heads” (Oster and Ford 96).   Dr. Oster’s description is blunt.  He admits later the terror he felt, but describes that only briefly. Instead, his interest is in transmitting the information, the tragedies sustained in camp life.  He does not place a heavy emphasis on his own emotional state.  Reading those words forces the reader to picture the atrocities and try and imagine what it might be like.  Ironically, the sharp, direct writing style appeals to the reader’s pathos, inevitably evoking an emotional reaction, though the words are not heavily infused with sentimentality.
            Spiegelman’s retelling of Vladek’s life in the camp also covers the cruelty and abominations sustained.  A particularly powerful moment was after Vladek tells Art about the wave of Hungarian Jews that arrived at the camps; so many that prisoners were forced to dig cremation pits.  Vladek is pictured in page 72.2A, describing the scene.  In 2B, Spiegelman draws prisoners in their uniforms, toiling as they drag dead, naked bodies.  In the back, there is smoke and a prisoner spraying liquid, presumably gasoline.  The caption above reads, “And those what finished in the gas chambers before they got pushed in these graves, it was the lucky ones.  The others had to jump in the graves while still they were alive…” (Spiegelman 72.3B).     The combination of word and image limits the reader’s ability imagine much more than what is described.  Spiegelman’s drawings create for the reader their sense of reality.  They can stomach such images only because they are caricatures of animals.  Were they real images, it would be unbearable, especially considering the following image.  Vladek tells that “Prisoners what worked there poured gasoline over the live ones and the dead ones.  And the fat from the burning bodies they scooped and poured again so everyone could burn better” (Spiegelman 72.3A).  This caption is coupled by the image of many mice, writhing in agony as they burned alive.  Spiegelman effectively draws the reader in with his impressive artwork.  He conveys the severity without causing fright, making the story more enjoyable despite the horror.
            For these reasons, Maus II, is a more accessible text.   It focuses on the generational impact of the Holocaust, broadening the issue from simply one man’s perspective, as seen in The Kindness of the Hangman.  The metanarrative structure throughout the story provides a kind of depth lacking from Oster’s book.  Maus II  highlights Spiegelman’s own insecurities apart from his father’s issues.  He draws himself looking miserable at his desk.  One change is particularly significant: He is no longer a mouse.  Instead, he is a man, wearing a mouse mask.  We see then another level of detachment from the story he created.  He feels like a fraud.   On page 41.3A he reflects on the fact that “at least fifteen foreign editions are coming out.  I’ve gotten 4 serious offers to turn my book into a T.V. special or movie. (I don’t wanna.)  In May 1968, my mother killed herself.  (She left no note.)  Lately I’ve been feeling depressed.”  He sits, head hanging down at his desk.  It is atop a mass of decomposing corpses piled high.  Clearly, he is dealing with guilt, feeling that he exploited the agonies of others.  The fact that he wears a mask indicates a need to hide, a sense of insecurity, and an element of fear that defines his position as an individual with this backstory.  He struggles in a very pure sense, with multiple generations of survivor’s guilt.
            The visual rhetoric and semiotics within Art Spiegelman’s  Maus II: A Survivor’s Tale: And Here My Troubles Began, are appropriate and perfect for this generation.  Through a new sort of lens, the graphic narrative, these stories continue to be told over seventy years after the Holocaust.  The shift away from a conventional narrative style could attract an audience that might otherwise be disinterested in literature, something that would not have been possible years ago.  Ultimately both conventional and unconventional Holocaust narratives are an essential part of education.  Especially in a political climate infused with bigotry, racism and hatred, understanding these atrocities––however the stories are told––are essential for the emotional growth of society.  These stories demonstrate for the audience that ignorance and fear of others can spawn hatred, war, and genocide.  For younger readers, Spiegelman’s work is an ideal way to introduce these ideas to them.

Works Cited
Oster, Henry and Decter Ford. The Kindness of the Hangman. Higgins Bay Press, 2014.
Spiegelman, Art.  Maus II: A Survivor’s Tale: And Here My Troubles Began. Pantheon Books,
     1986 – 1991.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Linda Rader Overman is humbled by her Excellence in Teaching award nomination

Thanks to my CSUN English 495
Multi Genre Literacy in a Global Context Fall 2017 students for this award.  I am humbled by it because it is always an honor to teach future secondary school teachers of English. I learn so much from you all and know that you shall inspire your own students similarly.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Linda Rader Overman thanks THE KINDNESS OF THE HANGMAN authors: Henry Oster & Dexter Ford for speaking @CSUN

Listening to Holocaust survivor, Dr. Henry Oster, and his co-author Dexter Ford is a new experience every single time they do me the honor of speaking to my students in the CSUN English Dept.

"Henry Oster has told his compelling, inspiring life story, battling prejudice and the politics of fear, at the Los Angeles Museum of Tolerance once a month, on Sundays, since 1977" and in his raw memoir The Kindness of the Hangman he details how he "hid his mother from the SS in an attic in the Lodz, Poland Ghetto. He escaped a firing squad in Auschwitz. Endured a death march through the Polish winter. Formed a life-long friendship in the nightmare barracks of the Buchenwald concentration camp. Saw his friends killed by a British fighter-bomber. And came within hours of starving to death before his liberation by General Patton's 3rd Army."

This collaboration of oral history and organic narrative I-feel-like-I-am-there-with-you-Henry work of pain, agony, loss, salvation, success, and memory remains profound no matter how often I assign the book to my literature students.  Whenever these fascinating men come to discuss the genesis of their gut wrenching text, its writing process, and the outcome of such a poignant work--my students are all the better for it.
With the utmost gratitude I thank you again, Dexter and Henry.  I am forever humbled by the gift you give. We all are.
Holocaust survivors who tell their stories so that we shall never forget are disappearing all too quickly.  There are still many who have not told them, but Henry Oster has and continues to SPEAK.  His words are a gift to history and posterity--a gift we must never take for granted. In November he will turn 90. As long as the universe enables us to listen, we always will.  We better!!!!!

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Linda Rader Overman is very proud of her student's critical film review of Mustang by director, Deniz Gamze Ergüven

Religion, Men & the Virginity Fetish by Abigail Mazenod

It is hard, almost impossible, to watch Deniz Gamze Ergüven’s film Mustang, and not feel pure emotional distress for the female characters involved in such a misogynistic social structure. With the experiences shown of five sisters being held captive in their own home, reminiscent of the five Lisbon sisters in The Virgin Suicides, also between the ages of 12 and 17 and being married off one by one, reminiscent of Tevya and his five daughters in Fiddler on the Roof, this film shows the distress, depression, frustration and abuse that can go hand in hand with enforcing such a strictly rigid observation of religious customs. All of these extremely religious and strict social constructs seem to only do harm to the women involved, while only giving more power to the men involved. These young women live in an environment within a culture, which restricts them from being the people that they innately are; they are forced into isolation and for most of them an unwanted marriage.  One consistent idea that is expressed and almost overemphasized in both the movie and the conservative religious culture involved, is the fetishized idea of the importance of virginity concerning the value of women. Mustang critiques the almost obsessive importance of virginity with the use of costumes, settings, and the examples of the religious Turkish customs shown in the film.
 One of the first ways that the film shows the cultural importance of virginity is through the costumes used. In the first scene, all five girls are shown wearing school uniforms. These uniforms not only express a lack of identity for young people in Turkey, but they also present an idea of innocence to the viewer. Young women who wear school uniforms are generally in a religious or strict school environment, with an association of purity. This schoolgirl virgin is also an image that is commonly fetishized by the western world, and in the context of this film, is possibly an acknowledgement of that tainted image, both from the point of view of the director, and that of the girls within the film, showing that they have been influenced by the western world. When these daughters are locked up in their home, any attire that could make them look in any way not virtuous is confiscated, and they are given unflattering new uniforms, lumpy sack dresses and head scarves. These new uniforms strip them of their physical identity in an effort to staunch any voice that they might have, and ensure that no man, except for their future husband, will see too much of their bodies. Though this is a cultural norm in this rural setting in Turkey, the girls still feel a need to rebel by wearing revealing negligee and casual attire whenever possible. When they escape for the day to go to a professional football match, the young women wear casual attire that any westerner can identify with. This choice of outfits is a visual example that they are just young teenage girls who want to have a good time. Though they are going against their grandmother and uncle’s wishes, they still seem like they are pure innocent girls. At their weddings, the girls who get married wear a white dress, representing their purity, and a red veil, representing their still in tact hymen. This color scheme expresses all of the importance and value that this culture sees in women in a very visual way. A woman is first a virgin, then a wife, then a mother and a homemaker; her only importance and worth in this society is how she is associated with a man, and a woman who has no man is worthless.
Another way that the unnecessary emphasis on virginity in this culture is expressed in this film is through the setting. An early scene in the film shows young girls and boys playing in the waves at the beach. This beach is the perfect symbol of purity and innocence because it is beautiful and clean. The young people are roughhousing in the waves, and playing chicken. A viewer of this scene might be concerned with the safety of these girls, understanding that this is in a conservative setting and the characters haven’t been fully presented in a multidimensional way yet. It is quickly understood though, that these young women can take very good care of themselves when it comes to peers of the opposite sex. The girls are confident and have no problem fighting back in a playful way. This scene shows that they are assertive girls who just enjoy having a good time. Next, the scene changes showing the young people have left the beach and are picking apples from a garden: the forbidden fruit. This garden is symbolic of the Garden of Eden, another religious tale, cautiously told to warn men of the evil and manipulative temptation of women. This extreme religious visual shows the girls the last time they were sinless and free, before they plucked the forbidden fruit of worldliness and embraced what their elders saw as loose morality. The picking of the ripe fruit is a foreshadowing of the manipulative temptress that these young women will be in the eyes of their community.  This scene marks the beginning of the girls being locked up in their prison of a home, the last time they felt freedom, in order to enforce their kept virginity.
The cultural norms shown in this film are shocking to many of the modern western world. Living in a country where many basic rights are taken for granted, seeing that Turkish men “marry off a girl child at an early age contravenes human rights and children’s rights; it is one of the forms of discrimination and violence against women” (Yüksel-Kaptanoğlu 1708). The film shows the forced marriages and the common practice of virginity examinations before the wedding. Because these “virginity examinations are conducted at the request of individuals or state officials for social reasons, such as suspicions of behavior deemed immoral, premarital intercourse, adultery, and prostitution”(Frank 485), taking the eldest sister, Selma, to the doctor to make sure she actually was a virgin on her wedding night was not outside of the realm of realistic possibility. The scene before shows the newlywed couple consummating their “holy union,” and his parents checking the sheets to see the blood, evidence of a broken hymen. Not only is this practice a complete invasion of privacy, it is practically medieval. Without the broken hymen on her wedding night, the bride is considered less than worthless, she is worthy of disgust. This need for a virgin is so fetishized, that the reward for a well lived religious life in this culture is seventy virgins in the afterlife. It is explained in Al-Itqan Fi `Ulum Al-Quran (translated: The Perfect Guide to the Sciences of the Qu'ran), that as a reward for the good Muslim man in the afterlife, “each time we sleep with a Houri (a virgin companion of Paradise) we find her virgin. Besides, the penis of the Elected never softens. The erection is eternal; the sensation that you feel each time you make love is utterly delicious and out of this world and were you to experience it in this world you would faint. Each chosen one will marry seventy Houris, besides the women he married on earth, and all will have appetizing vaginas”( Al-Suyuti 351). There is no reward expressed for the virtuous Muslim woman in the afterlife with the exception of her joyful reunion with her husband. This misogynistic idea that a man’s sexual appetite is to be satiated with countless virgins and an eternal erection, and that the woman’s only prize is her husband’s satisfaction, is such a disturbing and domineering idea for Muslims to anticipate, that it’s no wonder that the young women in this film need to be physically imprisoned to be kept within their community.
Mustang shows a sad piece of a beautifully rich and vibrant culture. The young women it follows are effervescent, glowing beings, with life and opportunities awaiting their discovery. It shows their journeys and struggles in an oppressive household within an oppressive culture while also showing the powerful strength of women, and the human ability to heal, change, adapt and survive. This film gives some perspective on the restrictive reality that many Muslim women experience in their daily life, and the mental, physical and emotional strain that this specific cultural norm has prescribed to the women within it. Throughout the film the fetishized idea of the importance of virginity concerning the value of a woman is expressed and criticized in many ways. Mustang sheds light on the almost obsessive importance of virginity within the Muslim culture in Turkey with the use of costumes, settings, and the examples of the religious customs shown in the film. The characters in this film exemplify that, like the phoenix rises from the ashes, an oppressed woman can rise above and escape her community of oppression.
Works Cited
Ergüven, Deniz Gamze, director. Mustang. Ad Vitam, 2015.
Frank, Martina W, et al. “Virginity Examinations in Turkey: Role of Forensic Physicians  in Controlling Female Sexuality.” JAMA, vol. 282, no. 5, 1999, pp. 485–490.
Al-Suyuti, Imam Jalal-Al-Din. The Perfect Guide to the Sciences of the Qu'ran: Al-Itqan
               Fi 'Ulum Al-Qur'an (Great Books of Islamic Civilization). Edited by Osman A.
               Al-Bili. Translated by Michael Schub and Ayman Abdel Haleem, Garnet
               Publishing, 2011.
Yüksel-Kaptanoğlu, Ilknur, and Banu Akadli Ergöçmen. “Early Marriage: Trends in  Turkey, 1978-2008.” Journal of Family Issues, vol. 35, no. 12, Mar. 2014, pp.  1707–1724.