Monday, April 03, 2006

The Outcast

    I have a liking for pioneers, for experimenters, for people who do not follow the crowd. I always admired the first ones, the early ones, the beginners, the originators. Even in my derashot, I prefer to speak about Abraham, Joseph, or Moses. They were the early ones, the biblical figures who defied public opinion. They disregarded mockery and ridicule, and blazed new trails in the historical jungle of pagan antiquity.

    ~Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, The Rav: The World of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, Volume 2, Page 65

The role of the outcast (which is often synonymous with the role of the leader or creator) is a difficult one to describe, but a common one throughout literature and the Bible. I think one of the reasons I love literature so much is because of my ability to relate my entire life to it, to find characters I identify with, and to realize that in some ways I am not alone.

I've been an outcast for most of my life. At first this was a terrible thing that haunted me and made me unhappy- elementary school can be very hard for someone without friends. I was always irritated by the teachers' assumption that we could "take a friend" and go someplace. I will admit that I was somewhat of an intellectual snob during my elementary years, but I was a well-meaning and cheerful one. The problem was, people didn't see me the same way I saw myself.

As I grew older I became more upset about my status. People were not cruel to me, exactly; it was just that we did not share common interests. There was one point in time where I was part of the Popular group because of my ability to tell stories. However, when I saw the girl in the vanguard brandishing a large stick and warding off all those who tried to join us when we went in to daven mincha, I was disgusted and refused my status as a member of the elite, going back to my fellow outcasts, both of whom had been much perturbed by my sudden switchover.

I remember saving swings for my good friend in Kindergarten, and making up stories/ acting out stories through grades three or four with three other girls. However, when we were separated (the classes were divided) we drifted apart, and I was left drifting on my own unhappily. This was made worse by the fact that there was one girl in the class who really had it in for me. She bullied me, picked on me, her tongue acerbic and acidic, a mercenary for hire when it came to upsetting Chana. She made jokes about me and she frightened me. She was the bane of my existence.

She was also shorter, slighter and less physically adept than I was.

So how could she scare me so much? How could this girl have me in tears day in and day out?

It was her words, her remarks, that cut me. Mean, cruel remarks that I could not stop. I told my parents, and they tried talking to her parents and the principal. Of course neither of those attempts worked. When we were called to the principal, he just told us to try to get along. And I wasn't going to be the one to tattle-tale on her; I was far too scared of her to do so.

A brilliant book that I found in the library one day and that helped me very much is called Sticks and Stones: When Words are Used as Weapons. I highly recommend it to anyone who is ever bullied, put down, or hurt by other peoples' comments.

How did I deal with my status as outcast? In elementary school, it was through my favorite movie, Beauty and the Beast. From a very young age I used to dance and sing, and I would always sing Belle's song, which you can view and see here: (Obviously, this is licensed to Disney and I do not claim it in any way, shape or form)

The clip is here (it won't load when I embed it on the page) so please go watch it.

My favorite words from this song and from the reprise were, "I want much more than this provincial life."

This was always my feeling. I identified with Belle; she and I were alike in every way. We liked books and stories, we were somehow "different from the rest" in ways that others thought strange, we didn't seem to fit within our immediate communities, and we both wanted so much more than we were given.

What I found special about Belle was her ability to see the beauty in everyone, even in a Beast. This led me to my fascination with Beauty and the Beast type stories, such as The Phantom of the Opera (the book, the movie and the musical, although I prefer the book) and The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

My second-favorite Disney movie is The Hunchback of Notre Dame. I don't know how many of you pay attention to the themes and lyrics of the songs in Disney movies, but I have always found the opening to the Disney Hunchback movie to be brilliant. The question, "Who is the monster and who is the man?" is one that has intrigued me throughout my life. I also felt (and still feel) vindicated by the fact that it is a supposedly holy and religious man, Judge Claude Frollo, who is the true monster. After my experience at Templars the words of the opening song struck me even more. Here is the piece I am referring to- please pay close attention to the words and imagery:

Judge Claude Frollo longed
To purge the world
Of vice and sin

Kyrie Eleison (Lord have mercy)

And he saw corruption
Except within

Isn't this what happened to me? I am thinking of this in light of my Templars experience, but this song is written for so many people. This was exactly the problem with my teachers- they "longed to purge the world of vice and sin" but did not see the innate corruption and or hypocrisy in their approach. Notice that later on Frollo feels a "twinge of fear for his immortal soul" but even then he cannot release the power and control he has seized. The irony in Frollo bringing prisoners to the "Palace of Justice" is also wonderful.

Hunchback as a Disney movie focuses very much upon outcasts (obviously, it veers greatly from the sexual relationships and the recluse that are the firm focuspoint of Victor Hugo's masterpiece). Quasimodo is an outcast because of his ugliness. Esmeralda is an outcast because she is a gypsy. She even sings a song, "God Help the Outcasts."

The third most powerful influence on my life as an outsider is the famed musical Wicked. This time, it is Elphaba, a woman, who has the "Beast" status, not the male figures of the Phantom, the Hunchback or the Beast. Elphaba is a rebel who practices that which is good and true but who faces a false and slanderous campaign by higher authority figures in order to malign and blacken her name. Elphaba in the musical (and not Elphaba of the book, who is an entirely different character) is brilliant.

The following is the very famous sequence, Defying Gravity. Everything about this song appeals to me (though it is my second-favorite, with No Good Deed being my first). The fact that Elphaba hears herself being slandered and falsely accused, her expression when she states, "The Wizard should be afraid of me," her statement that she is through "playing by someone else's rules" and her desperate avowal that Galinda "had nothing to do with it" allow us to see her as someone whose strength matches her idealism ("but until I try, I'll never know.") Here it is:

In truth there is no need for me to discuss what happened at Templars- everything is modeled in media that we see; the story is an old one that is constantly and sadly renewed. Belle, the bookish girl who finds herself in a world where Judge Claude Frollo reigns triumphant, and finally decides that she must react to the false accusations made about her, the fact that she has been termed a "Wicked Witch" when in truth she is the only one doing what is good and correct, flees in an attempt to fulfill her idealistic goals. Of course, the details make the difference in my case, but the story is the same...I am Belle, I am Elphaba, and I am living in the world of Judge Claude Frollo and Madame Morrible.

At first I was assigned the label "outcast," now it is more of my choice. It is not necessarily a desirable role but I have accustomed myself to it. I am confident that one day I shall meet more people whom I can easily interact with. Perhaps this will be soon! Even if not, I am very blessed to know the people who are my friends today. In many ways, they are all the friends I will ever need.


Jewish Atheist said...

Beautiful post, as always. I know that a lot of us bloggers identify with you. My young years were a lot like that, but I was lucky enough to have a group of like-minded people in high school. Also, in middle school, I got bigger than the bullies and that pretty much ended the being picked on. (These things are a little simpler with boys.)

I hope you find a crowd (or at least a couple good friends) at wherever you find yourself after high school. In the meantime, as you know, books and movies can be a great help. As Vonnegut said to explain why he writes, "Many people need desperately to receive this message: 'I feel and think much as you do, care about many of the things you care about, although most people don't care about them. You are not alone.'"

Nicole said...

Just wanted to say that the world that you live in is not necessarily restricted to the Templars world. Its a big world and even in the jewish and even the orthodox community, you will find like minded people with similar sensibilities and sensitivities. So you don't have to live in the world of Judge Claude Frollo and Madame Morrible. I think you understand that and I know you'll find a place for yourself.

And tip o the hat to jewish atheist for the Vonnegut quote. Chana, I can't suggest Vonnegut to you highly enough... My favorite is the "long walk to forever" in his collection of short stories entitled Welcome to the Monkey House. This book definitely covers alot of the philosophical issues you raise, and in a thoughtful, profound, and down-to-earth but somewhat fantastical way.

Masmida said...

Does anyone still believe that she's not seventeen?

The first line of your post is the one I find fascinating:

>The role of the outcast (which is often synonymous with the role of the leader or creator)

It is difficult to be more precocious and sophisticated than your peers, more for the very loneliness than anything else.

But an intresting question is when is this status of outcast genuine or self-imposed.

So here's a line from "Far from the Madding Crowd:
His eyes were more meditative, and his expression was more sad. He had passed through an ordeal of wretchedness which had given him more than it had taken away. He had sunk from his modest elevation as pastoral king into the very slime-pits of Siddim; but there was left to him a dignified calm he had never before known, and that indifference to fate which, though it often makes a villain of a man, is the basis of his sublimity when it does not. And thus the abasement had been exaltation, and the loss gain.

Shlomo said...

There are 3 stages to being an outcast:

1)You try to fit in and can't. You don't get it yet.

2)You finally get it, but you still can't fit in.

3)You get it and could care less about fitting in.

Halfnutcase said...

another outcast here. people fear what is diffrent and unknown, they always have.

belle, lilo and stitch, so many; its a pitty that those with the kindest hearts get hurt the worst.

and on a related note, sometimes i wonder if being labled a weirdo isn't a good thing when it comes to things like friends, shidduchim etc, it helps to keep those whom you want nothing to do with out of your life. (and certainly increases your chances of finding friends who are like you... if only outcasts wherent so far and few inbetween.)

MUST Gum Addict said...

Lovely post Chana. I'm surprised you didn't quote Steve Jobs though :)

Here's the full text of Apple's original Think Different ad which was entitled "Here's to the crazy ones"...

Here’s to the crazy ones.
The misfits.
The rebels.
The troublemakers.

The round pegs in the square holes.
The ones who see things differently.

They’re not fond of rules.
And they have no respect for the status quo.

You can praise them, disagree with them, quote them, disbelieve them, glorify or vilify them.

About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them.

Because they change things.

They invent.
They imagine.
They heal.
They explore.
They create.
They inspire.

They push the human race forward.

Maybe they have to be crazy.

How else can you stare at an empty canvas and see a work of art?

Or sit in silence and hear a song that’s never been written?

Or gaze at a red planet and see a laboratory on wheels?

We make tools for these kinds of people.

While some see them as the crazy ones, we see genius.

Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.

lightseeker said...

Thanks Chana, your post triggered some illuminating introspection. Most poignantly, I see that even within the orthodox setting, (which from the outside seems to be the epitome of a tight knit community) one can feel as much the outsider as when one is alone. Being an outcast is first and foremost a state of mind. For me, it’s more about a sense of not belonging then being an outcast (since I quickly adopted a romantically glorified view of the misfit as thinker, artist, revolutionary, inventor etc.). Although I have close friends that I feel deeply connected to, I feel isolated when I am in a larger group – whatever the affiliation may be. I always attributed this sense of being an outsider to my immigrant parents who lost their parents and raised me without the benefit of a structured community, religious or otherwise. However a couple of years ago, when my daughter changed schools, I had the opportunity to become engaged with this new community (which I like and respect) and I consciously choose to stay on the fringe of it. Upon real reflection, the “goodies” of belonging, socializing, and contributing to the community didn’t outweigh the negatives of responsibility, time, energy etc. I finally had to recognize that I am quite attached to my “outsider” status and that that is OK.

Pragmatician said...

Interesting post.
Being an outcast is hard, but can also be very rewarding, It's so refreshing to read about someone who didn't give in just to belong.
I love Disney's movies and I find it a great idea to take inspiration from it's heroines and protagonists.

dbs said...

Dear The Curious Jew,

Thank you for submitting your application for membership in the Outcast Club™. As you know, membership in our club is very exclusive, and we receive many fine applications each year. While we were impressed by your extensive grasp of the required qualifications, and have agreed that you are unique, iconoclastic, idealistic, and certainly defy categorization, we must regretfully inform you that we can not offer you membership at this time.

Our bylaws clearly provide that members are prohibited from “joining, participating in, identifying with, or applying to, any group, club or organization.” Upon reviewing your application, we determined that application to the Outcast Club ™, disqualifies you from being considered an outcast.

Thank you again for your non-refundable application fee. We wish you well in your future endeavors.


Outcast Club

dbs said...

Here is my serious point.

It is one thing to end up an outsider and make peace with it, it is another thing to celebrate it as an ends in itself.

I’m reminded in a scene from “That Thing You Do!” in which Lenny chides Jimmy “There he goes to write his hit song ‘Alone With My Ideals’”.

Sometimes, when life has made you the outsider for a long time, being different becomes a reflex, and fitting seems like it must be a sell-out. Just fitting in isn’t a crime, nor is being different always an ideal.

Otherwise. Yeah, I can relate.

twilight770 said...

Why do all Walt Disney animations have to involve a romance?

~ Sarah ~ said...

interesting post.

it took me a few years out of school to find a group of like minded people, as I got older and chose what i wanted to do (study etc) and became more comfortable with being who i am. only now do i look back and realise that i felt a bit out of place at school. i was never part of the popular group (i didn't feel the need) and i generally did what i wanted, tried not to be a follower. i don't regret that!

but i think school is an interesting social situation. from my experience, it seems that you are obliged to spend all day with a group of people who just happen to be going to the same school. you may not have much in common yet you must spend a lot of time with them. maybe it is just easier to fit in, follow the popular ones, give into peer pressure to avoid feeling left out or avoid bullying. perhaps! but for a strong character (like i think you are) you will make the most of your years at school, get as much out of it as you can and remember that things will change once you leave there. there are similar people out there... as i'm sure you can see from the huge variety of bloggers out there!

keep up the great blogging :)

(must gum: mr jobs and apple have it sooo right!!!)

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