Friday, March 7, 2008

Final project - Patchwork Girl

A powerpoint is attached to explain the story!

I chose to read Shelley Jackson’s Patchwork Girl, which is a hypertext that uses images, stories and details to tell part of a story. Patchwork Girl was inspired by The Patchwork Girl of Oz, by L. Frank Baum in 1913, and also by Frankenstein, written by Mary Shelley in 1818. One issue that arose for me while reading was whether I believed that Patchwork Girl was a real human, or if she was indeed a monster. Some people may give her the benefit of the doubt and consider her human. I, on the other hand, consider her a monster.

First thing’s first; explaining what a hypertext is. A hypertext contains links that can take you to an array of images, texts, music, or whatever else the author wishes to include. A hypertext is not like your typical novel. It incorporates links and connections that spiderweb throughout the novel. The title page of Patchwork Girl, Jackson includes links to specific parts of the novel. Just by clicking on a word, you are transferred to another part of the story. The links on the title page include a graveyard, a journal, a quilt, a story, and broken accents. In all, Patchwork Girl contains 323 lexias and 462 links. Needless to say, it is hard to keep track of what you have and have not read. One reason I found it so difficult to read was because there was no right or wrong way of reading the story. You have to piece parts of the story together as you read. Just to show how confusing it can be, I found Shelley Jackson explaining it herself. She said, “You're not where you think you are. In hypertext, everything is there at once and equally weighted. It is a body whose brain is dispersed throughout the cells, fraught with potential, fragile with indecision, or rather strong in foregoing decisions, the way a vine will bend but a tree can fall down. It is always at its end and always at its beginning, the birth and the death are simultaneous and reflect each other harmoniously, it is like living in the cemetery and the hospital at once…”(Jackson). She is saying that you never really know what part of the hypertext you are reading because there is no designated beginning or end to it.

The next task is to give a background description of Patchwork Girl. An understanding of the story is essential. Shelley Jackson actually incorporates parts of Frankenstein and The Patchwork Girl of Oz. In actuality, Patchwork Girl was supposed to be Frankenstein’s female companion. While being made, she was destroyed, but Mary Shelley finished her in secrecy. In Baum’s novel, Patchwork Girl is made of cloth, buttons, pearls, etc. She is brought to life by a magician that sprinkles magical powders into her head that constitute as a brain. Jackson depicts patchwork girl as being made of human parts. This is how Mary Shelley depicts her as well. This is explained when you use the link that takes you to “a graveyard.” You are taken through the creation of Patchwork Girl piece by piece. You learn who her body parts came from and a short description of each person is included. Patchwork Girl is lost throughout the whole story and searching for her true identity, for the only memories she has are the memories of her creator, Mary Shelley. She is described as a “monster” for the most part with no sense of self. One specific memory she recalls is how she got the scar on her leg. She received a piece of skin from Mary Shelley so that they would always be a part of each other. As the story progresses, so does Patchwork Girl; mostly mentally. She eventually travels to the United States to find her original creator, Mary Shelley.

One question that has been nagging me throughout the whole story is, “Can Patchwork Girl be considered human?” Some people would consider PWG to be human because she looks, and acts human. She functions as a human and is made of human parts, but I see her to be more of a monster. As defined by Merriam-Webster a human is “a bipedal primate mammal.” Now you might say that PWG fits this definition. She walks upright just as any other human, and she is a mammal. In my opinion, PWG fits Merriam-Webster’s definition of a monster better. They define a monster as “one who deviates from normal or acceptable behavior or character; a person of unnatural or extreme ugliness, deformity, wickedness, or cruelty.” A criminal also fits into the definition of a monster. But the type of monster I am defining PWG to be is the type of monster who lives in your closet or under your bed. A criminal also has all of the characteristics of a human being. I believe that a human being is not just stitched together like a quilt. Patchwork Girl’s characteristics vary greatly from human beings.

Humans possess identities. PWG has no identity of her own. She is made of so many parts of different people that she could not possibly identify with one. Now, you may make the argument that children or people with severe handicaps have no identity. I will make the argument that they do. Merriam-Webster defines identity as, “the distinguishing character or personality of an individual; the condition of being the same with something described or asserted.” A child still has the ability of identifying with other children and people with severe mental handicaps are identified with other humans with the same handicap. All the while, they still have the characteristics of humans. Who can Patchwork Girl identify with? She could not possibly possess a sense of “self” because she is not just one person, she is many.

Another defining characteristic of a human is that they are born, not made. Humans are not just sewn together; they are physically born, expelled if you may, from another human being. People don’t go around digging up body parts from cemeteries to make a child. They use a little thing called sexual reproduction. Human also grow and physically develop. PWG does not, she always stays the same.

Humans also have memories from childhood. Patchwork Girl has no memories from childhood, because she was never really a child. Although people that suffer from retrograde amnesia cannot remember events or information preceding their trauma, they once had these memories. PWG has not been through this trauma and still has no memories of the past other than what her creator, Mary Shelley, has told her.

Another characteristic of a human is that they are physically made up of their own body parts. Patchwork Girl is a jumbled mess of female and male body parts dug up from a graveyard. This takes us to the section of Patchwork Girl labeled “a graveyard.” Jackson writes, “I am buried here. You can resurrect me, but only piecemeal. If you want to see the whole, you will have to sew me together yourself.” Every single piece of PWG belonged to someone or something else. She possesses nothing of her own. She has the leg of one person, the heart of another, the liver of a man, etc. The argument may arise that some amputees who surgically attach other people’s body parts and transplant patients are still looked at as humans even though they have another person’s body parts. This may be true, but they also still have many of their own body parts They have those other body parts because they are essential to their survival and everyday life. One part of the story that is a little strange is when PWG gets in an accident with a horse and cab. She is run over and her leg is torn off. Jackson writes, “I saw my leg an impossible distance from me.” PWG got up and hopped off of the road on one leg. This just does not happen. No real human would ever just get up after their leg had been ripped off. Another awful thing happened to PWG, her stitches tore and she completely fell apart. Jackson writes, “…My separated parts had grace: my torso fell like a cat, turning; my arms made broad vague gestures that embraced the landscape; my blood beautifully sprigged the sky, a clear red against the blue…”

Now a question that may arise is, “Why do we care if Patchwork Girl is a human or not?” Patchwork Girl is called a monster many times throughout the story, but she is given a human-like appearance. There may be confusion as to what she really is. What if some people really did consider things like this? If PWG was real, would it be ok to stitch up others just like her? This could sort of be like the problems with androids in “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep.” Androids look and sometimes act like real humans, but they eventually become a problem and are killed. Maybe Patchwork People will be created like this and just have to be killed off. I know it is a far-fetched idea, but it could happen.

Even though Patchwork Girl has human body parts and acts like a human, I would label her as a monster. She has no identity, no childhood memories, no parts that belong to her, and she was not born as real humans are. She possesses all of the characteristics of a monster. I do not feel that it is possible to be both a human and a monster at the same time.

"Dictionary and Thesaurus - Merriam-Webster Online." Dictionary and Thesaurus - Merriam-Webster Online. 7 Mar. 2008

Jackson, Shelly. Patchwork Girl. Watertown: Eastgate Systems Inc, 1995.

"Stitch Bitch: the patchwork girl." MIT. 5 Mar. 2008

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