In Will Eisner’s A Life Force, the reader encounters numerous characters living in a tenement in the Bronx in the 1930’s. The characters span from a newly poor young man to a Rabbi with a wife who isn’t quite well in the head.
A character I really liked in the graphic novel was Elton who was a victim of the Crash of 1929. He grew up in a wealthy family and was accustomed to money so he decided to venture out of the family business and find his own path. As soon as his father passed, Elton got rid of the family business and lived just on the stocks until the market crash where he lost his job, money, friends, basically everything in his life. From there he had to move to the Bronx to Dropsie Avenue in a tenement. Elton met Rebecca there, his soon to be wife, and her Jewish Family. Eventually, with support from Rebecca, Elton got a new job, moved up in the ranks, and got Rebecca’s father a business of his own and managed to make good money.
The Great Depression affected everyone and their jobs, economic status. Elton, for example was left without a penny after the business was gone, his neighbor had no jobs to do or was getting paid very little and split the pay with his other neighbor, and other neighbors were getting into communism after being failed by the democracy they trusted.
What I learned from Elton’s relationships with all the other people in the tenement is that they all stick together and help each other out. Living in such close quarters, everyone was always in everyone’s business but that never kept anyone from lending a helping hand when the time came.
In Unterzakhn, the two main characters are twin immigrants Fanya and Esther. The two are brought up in the Lower East Side of Manhattan in the early 1900s and their story is told in a back and forth fashion between the different lifestyles that they are each living and headed towards. Their choices mirror that of many young immigrant girls growing up in tenements and the same part of town by the lack of education they have and all that is kept from them.
What truly started each of the girls off in the paths that they ended up in was their mother. Since most immigrants are traditional, the twins’ mother oc culted a lot from them and in turn they never learned a lot about being a woman so they were left to try to figure that out on their own. Fanya was left to figure out the mysteries of sex and babies through her job with an abortion doctor while Esther was left to figure out sex as a job through her job at a brothel. Their mother didn’t want them to be educated and I could only imagine that that was the case for most immigrant’s growing up in the Lower East Side, so they were left to fend for themselves and discover things in not so good places. Most girls probably took the paths that these twins did just out of lack of knowledge or money and the graphic novel portrays the two lifestyles perfectly when juxtaposing them.
In the beginning of the graphic novel you get a sense of a mystery or tragedy that will unfold as you read along. I was enticed to say the least with this comic since I really love the idea of starting at the end or the middle then making your way back to piece everything together, so I knew I’d really enjoy this book.
One of the major aspects portrayed in the book was life on a steamboat and the Hudson. We met the crew members and got a sense of most of their pasts. Sailor Twain prides himself on being a good captain and Lafayette just followed in his family’s footsteps. Twain seems to let his title as captain rule his life since he constantly leaves his wife Pearl for long periods of time and seems to have no remorse. Lafayette as well doesn’t like to leave the boat and it just shows how life on the Hudson takes some people over completely. The passengers are also illustrated well in the beginning of the graphic novel. Life on the Hudson was portrayed well through the passengers and how rich they all were. Overall life on the Hudson and steamboats alike was portrayed mainly through the lifestyles and choices of the characters within the novel. Choices as leaving their loved ones behind, not leaving the ship at all, and getting on board as a crew member or passenger in the first ship just shows you what type of people those mentioned really are.
There is a huge theme of duality in Sailor Twain, Or The Mermaid In The Hudson and the readers most note it toward the end of the graphic novel.
All the characters in the comic have a dual image of themselves, the good and the bad side. For some, it might be literal (meaning they’re split in half) and for others their other half is a completely different character.
Take Pearl, Twain’s lovely wife, and the Mermaid. Pearl is the good side, she’s the light that is Twain’s genuine love, she’s caring and patient and the love of his life. The Mermaid on the other hand is his temptation, she has a certain darkness, and is completely selfish. While Pearl genuinely cares for Twain’s well being, the Mermaid just uses him and everyone else she encounters to get what she wants, a curse taken off her.
Captain Twain serves as Lafayette’s counterpart in many ways. Captain Twain is the responsible and bland captain that keeps to himself. He prides himself on being a better boss than Lafayette since all Lafayette seems to do is mess around with women on the boat. Lafayette is cheeky and all over the place and serves as what Twain wants to be and what all his temptation is leading him to while Twain is what Lafayette used to be and truly is beneath all his inner conflict.
Beaverton and Lafayette are also counterparts to one another, but not like the previous pair. Twain and Lafayette mirror each other in their ethics and way of life while Beaverton and Lafayette mirror each other as soul mates. Beaverton represents the life that Lafayette wants to lead, but he can’t since he’s bound to the sea. Lafayette is a marvel in Beaverton’s eyes since he’s living the life she writes so much about but doesn’t dare dwell in.
In the end of the book, the dualities of characters takes a literal turn and it is explained how half of a person is taken by the Mermaid to the sea if they hear her sing while the other half remains above. The theme is evident throughout all of the graphic novel and many characters act as another’s mirror, but the three pairs mentioned represent some of the deepest reflections of the characters and their morals.
This past Monday I visited the National Museum of the American Indian all the way downtown by Whitehall Street and it was a great learning experience.
The entrance to the museum was free and I saw many beautiful things before I even got to the exhibits, there was one room where the ceiling was absolutely stunning and it was very impressive to think everything was done by hand. When I actually got to the exhibits I tried to keep an eye on things that related to the last comic book I had read, Journey into Mohawk Country, which was about the Iroquois in New York State and the journey of three Dutch men meeting some of the tribes. The two photos above were found in the Plains section, far from New York but I could’ve imagined the Iroquois tribes having maps and clothing of the same type. The artwork/map on the animal skin above were used to tell stories and travel in the tribes that corresponded to them. It made me think that the Native American’s in Upstate New York used similar maps since throughout the whole story the Dutch never noted any of the Native American’s using maps and they seemed to just track past travelers or they just knew where to go and having those types of maps seems to explain how they managed to do so. The clothing in the other photo seems like the type of clothing shown in the comic book when they traveled, not when they stayed at home, and it was interesting to see such clothing in person rather than just on the colorful pages of the graphic novel I read. All in all, the trip was beyond interesting and informative on the lives of the Native American’s that inhabited this land far before the Europeans that came after.