The Issues of Class and Gender in Cadeny’s Journal for Jordan and Sega’s Ressonance of Fate
As part of their argumentation course, my students will have to write an argumentative paper on a book selected by the institution – Journal for Jordan. The approach that I will have them take is a comparative one where they place Journal for Jordan in conversation with another text in order to decipher which one more closely follows a certain ‘theoretical framework’. One example would be using the reading of “what makes a good war story”, compare Journal for Jordan to another text, and argue that one or the other more closely resembles a “true” war story. This same approach can be taken to any of the cluster topics (war, peace, male aesthetics, female aesthetics, gender, race, class, grief, or narrative style (life writing) – to mention a few). Below you fill find an example OneBook Essay that I tried to write at an undergraduate level. It argues that despite the fantastic nature of the narrative, Ressonance of Fate – a videogame – portrays a more realistic imagery of contemporary social structure than that portrayed in Journal for Jordan. If you are one of my students, feel free to use it as an example in addition to the brilliant OneBook essay that we covered in class.
* Due to page restrictions on my part the argument isn’t as elaborate as I would’ve liked it to be, but I felt it would be a bit extreme on my part to have my students read a 20 page paper when they had to write a 5 – 6 page one. If I am going to give an example it should be limited by the same constraints as they will have, possibly making my paper have the same limitations as theirs will – too superficial of an analysis due to page limit. *
At any rate, enjoy the read.
The Issues of Class and Gender in
Cadeny’s Journal for Jordan and SEGA’s Resonance of Fate
The issue of gender and societal roles is deeply controversial issues that is, nonetheless, discussed daily in the mainstream media, American politics, and academia. Phillis Schafley, Rush Limbaugh, Sarah Palin, Michel Foccault, and Louis Althusser, for example, are some of the prominent figures in media, politics, and academia who have commented extensively on this issue. Even eighteenth century lexicographer, biographer, and literary critic, Samuel Johnson, had his own opinions, which he prominently expressed in Rasselas, regarding gender roles. Indeed, this topic of gender is an issue deeply rooted in cultures and societies around the world, and even more so in the American society. With America trying to devise a single discourse regarding gender roles from several distinct and conflicting discourses, it should come as no surprise, then, that modern writers would have strong statements to make in this regard, and being one of those contemporary writers, Dana Canedy, a journalist for The Ney York Times and published author, gives her opinion on the debate regarding gender roles in her book A Journal for Jordan.
On a surface level, Journal for Jordan is simply a love story where a slightly liberal, successful career woman falls in love with a traditional values conservative hero who dies in war, causing her tremendous emotional pain but also teaching her a lesson that love is powerful and that in Christ everything is possible. Throughout the novel Canedy finds herself questioning the fast-paced New York journalistic lifestyle she has chosen, thrived in, and succeeded in, to contemplate a calm lifestyle of passive domesticity. By glorifying the majority of the traditionally conservative characters and demonizing the majority of the less conservative ones, and furthermore in choosing to forego her dreams of traveling abroad and breaking international stories in order to stay in one place and raise a child, Cadeny successfully manages to turn the persona of strong female independence into “the bad guy” and the calm, loving wife and mother “the good guy”. However, this story is far more than a morality play where traditional family values and love for God and country are juxtaposed against the success of a liberated woman. This story tries to make powerful statements on what is right and wrong in gender roles while advocating that if one tries hard enough one can achieve whatever they want. When all of this is taken into account, it could be stated that in Journal for Jordan, a book that seems to closely resemble the tradition of the French Romances, Dana Cadeny seems to be making the argument that America is a perfect meritocracy and that following traditional gender roles will lead to an ideal life, while not conforming to these gender roles will result in a number of problems sometime in life.
The text, formatted as a mixture of an autobiographical epistolary text and journal excerpts, opens with a description of Charles King, Dana’s beloved and champion of conservative traditions. He is described as “a highly decorated soldier who was killed in combat […] when a bomb exploded beneath his armored vehicle” (Cadeny, 3). He is immediately positioned as a likable character whose traits of kind gentleness and professionalism are complimented with conservative values, which he wanted to show his son, of “how to pick up the check on a date, pay the bills on time, and have a strong work ethic” (Cadeny, 4). Even though he is described as “introverted and a procrastinator” who “got his news from TV” (Cadeny, 5), his stalwart family values persona is never shown through a negative lens. It is, in fact, with the loquacious, assertive, and impatient reporter with whom the reader often looses his patience. The fact that Cadeny is purposefully making Charles into a perfect model of what a man should be while making herself seem as an indecisive woman full of regrets makes it obvious that she is advocating for the traditional conservative values she lived against throughout most of her life.
Cadeny’s father, a military man, is portrayed with disdain throughout the novel. Although he does have a certain dedication to his country as shown through the military, an aspect that is highlighted as a positive trait even in Mr. Cadeny, he is mostly depicted as a violent, irrational adulterous man who is all too happy to openly cheat on his wife. His wife, however, is portrayed as being worthy of reverence, as she did not challenge Mr. Cadeny, cooked, cleaned, and raised the children. On page 17, Cadeny writes that even on the worst days her mother “contributed more to our household than my father acknowledged. She made the best Halloween costumes […] she helped us raise baby rabbits, [and] I loved the feel of her hands rubbing Vicks on my chest when I was home from school with the Flu” (Cadeny, 17). Certainly, the contributions of this PTA President / Girl Scout leader to the household were invaluable. However, Dana seems to be glorifying the role of a mother and completely neglecting the fact that had it not been for her father, her mother would have, likely, had to stay in a poor inner-city project in Indianapolis raising Dana herself. Once again, the accomplishments of a non-conservative character are being downplayed when compared to those of a conservative one.
Dana glorifies this sort of extremely conservative worldview throughout the entire text by focusing on the greatness of the characters who do them while downplaying the importance of not so conservative characters and their contribution to Dana’s life. Even her ex boss / former mentor / ex boyfriend is portrayed as a minor character whose only role in Dana’s life was to hire her, become her lover, dump her, and get a model with an MBA from Harvard for a lover afterwards. Furthermore, when she writes about giving birth Dana seems to be making the argument that should one not follow deeply conservative values one might hit some bumps later in life.
When writing about giving birth, Dana writes of her trouble with the child’s birth certificate. Originally she was not allowed to put Charles’ name on the birth certificate because, even though he was in war, he was not married to Dana. This caused stress and mental anguish both in Dana and Charles. This anguish becomes tenfold when, because of her lack of a marriage status, she could not receive the entirety of her widow entitlement. It becomes further amplified when, as she describes, the soldiers insult her by suggesting that she just wants the money and was nervous rather than trying to follow protocol while grieving. In emphasizing that she should have married five years previous, Dana is not making a statement on the systematic flaws of society or the inhumanity of large organizations like the military, but suggesting that the inherent flaw is in herself for not having followed society’s rules. It is in this sense that Cadeny is making an argument for the validity of traditional gender roles in the American meritocracy. However, her argument is inherently flawed.
The first flaw in Dana’s argument is that modern America is not a meritocracy. Scott and Leonhardt, professors of English and literary critics, agree that “class is still a powerful force in American life” (Scott and Leonhardt, 3). William Deresiewicz, former associate professor of English at Yale University, further elaborates on how the latest trends on class mobility research has demonstrated that there is less class mobility now than twenty years ago. Harlon L. Dalton, Professor Emeritus of Law at Yale Law School, states that the meritocracy myth which Dana proposes in her work is, in fact, impossible under our current social, political, and economic systems because of several factors. In admitting that the modern America is not the same America where her parents rose from being a poor family to a middle-class family one is putting into perspective the claim for Dana’s main argument: that traditional gender roles are more real and acceptable than non-traditional gender roles.
Perhaps in the America of the 1920s the hard working military conservative hero married to the black southern belle would have made for a perfect life, but in the America of 2010, an America where successful, outspoken women comment daily on the unfairness in treatment to women, where gender roles are slowly becoming blurred, and where, as of last Monday, things that would have previously been considered as completely unacceptable are legal [on Friday 6th, 2010 a 9th Circuit judge ruled that gay marriage is not a separate entity from marriage, and as marriage is a constitutional right homosexuals have the right to marry; the law came in effect on Monday 9th, 2010] it may just be better, even if just for survival reasons, to adopt more unorthodox and non-traditional roles.
The issue of survival is an extremely important key element on whether to adapt into a non-traditional lifestyle or remain traditional. Before looking at what other texts have to say regarding this issue, it might be worthwhile to consider what could have gone differently in Dana’s life had things been different. Had Dana decided to be a “good daughter” throughout all her life, she likely would not have asked Charles on a date, as that would not have been considered prudent. It is likely she wouldn’t have studied journalism, or anything at all, and remained at home, eventually becoming a housewife. Furthermore, had Charles been a bit less of a hero during his war carreer, he likely would be alive today. Certainly, had Dana married when she first thought she should her child’s original birth certificate would have the father’s name and she would not have been treated with disrespect in the army base when talking to the officers, but this is an issue where it is better to ask “what is wrong with a society who will discriminate based on marital status / conservative values / faith / gender roles / class?” This question is the one asked in Resonance of Fate.
A new game published by Sega for the X-Box 360, Resonance of Fate touches on topics such as suicide, love, lust, and abuse of power; however, the main topics dealt with in the game are class and gender roles. Resonance of Fate is set in a society where people live in different sectors of a tower. Since the air has become polluted with dust that settles on the lower levels, those who live on the higher levels lead a privileged life, while those who live on the lower sectors are doomed to a short life of constant power outages that will likely end due to air pollution. This game portrays how societal structure is built better than Dana’s text. In the game the wealthy can spend money to “buy their dreams” (Resonance of Fate, Chapter 2), and the only way to become wealthy is to be born wealthy. Even though those from the lower class can access places one level above them, they are discriminated against by the Cardinals, much like people from the working class strive to be part of the middle class but are discriminated against by the wealthy. Furthermore, their “access” is only temporary, as they are expected to go back to their level. Certainly, the class statements made in the game are powerful, but they play second role to the more powerful statements made on gender roles. Resonance of Fate argues for women in power and women who take action. In casting Leanne, a strong lead female, as the main heroine, in contrast to most other games where the heroine is someone who gets rescued, the game is asserting the female potential to change the world. The fact that the position of the “Prilate”, the ruler of the world and the only individual above the Cardinals, is a female also accomplishes this task. Certainly, there are more examples from the game that could be used, as well as other arguments and powerful commentary that it makes regarding society, but due to space those will have to be looked at elsewhere.
In the end, it can be argued that class and gender are important issues to contemporary America. In her French Romance written in English, Dana Cadeny argues that living as a stereotype of traditional roles will allow one upwards mobility in the American meritocracy. However, America is not entirely a meritocracy, as people no longer change social classes due to merit, but stay in their social classes due to acquaintances. Resonance of Fate, a game by Sega, seems to portray a more realistic picture of contemporary issues of class and gender in its surreal setting. By showing a clear social divide that can be overcome only briefly, and by showing a strong female lead and world leader, it manages to go against the traditional roles set by previous narratives. Certainly, there is no doubt that Cadeny’s intentions were noble. In trying to write a memoir for her son that portrays his father as the ideal black man she is trying to make a tribute to his memory. However, when that tribute is flawed one would have to wonder if it’s a tribute at all.
Canedy, Dana. A Journal for Jordan. New York, NY: Three Rivers Press, 2010.
Dalton, Harold. Horatio Alger. In Reading America. New York, NY: Bedford/St. Martin, 2004.
Derescewichz, William. The Disposed. In Seeing and Writing 4. New York, NY: Bedford/St. Martin, n.d.
Scott, Janny and Leonhardt, David. Shadowy Lines that Still Divide. In Class Matters. New York, NY: Times Books, 2005.
Tri-Ace (2010). Resonance of Fate. SEGA.