During the pandemic days when who could take a shelter stayed home, the notion of home changed.
It might be early to understand the direction of the change, however, I find it meaningful to talk to academicians and artists alike, who worked with this concept before, to have a different perspective.
Therefore, along with the little investigation I started on "home", author of The Wizard of Oz as American Myth and academician Alissa Burger at a video call.
She joined me from Canton, Missouri along with her seventeen year old cat Buddy on her lap.
From "There is no place like home," to gothic houses, our interview is translated to Turkish by Nazlı Çiğdem Sağdıç Pilcz .
S: Wizard of Oz. It is a classical story, where the character goes for an adventure and returns home. How does Dorothy find home upon her return?
A: In one hand she is back in Kansas, she is back in that same place and happy to be there. But on this other level home is more internalized. She realizes who she is and where she belongs and that is part of what makes her happier to be back in Kansas. One is the actual physical place and that internalized realizations of what home means and who she is.
S: How about the actual physical home?
A: Obviously the tornado has come through but when she comes back things are mostly the same. Aunt Em and Uncle Henry are there. We have this belief, upon our return, nothing should have changed. Everything should be exactly the same. Everything should wait for us. But of course that is not like that in the real life.
Home Can Be Defined Anywhere Where You didn’t Start
S: In the most recent book of Turkish literary criticİkinci Hayat (The Second Life)she says “it is a conservative dream to find home unchanged” which applies to here, too. And Dorothy says “There is no place like home”. Do you think that kind of a home idea is relevant today?
A: Yes and no. I think everyone is looking for some place to call home, some place to belong. Because we’re so globalized now, we travel quite a lot. Salman Rushdie wrote a really great BFI (British Film Institute) film classicbook on the Wizad of Oz. Where he said, home can be defined anywhere where you didn’t start.
Wherever you go, you make your own meaning, you make your own identity and that can be home.
The phrase “There is no place like home” gives us that nostalgia, that physical sense of home. But for so many people home is not a safe place. It is somewhere they escape from. It sort of explodes this idea of home in the years since Baum wrote the Wizard of Oz and since the film.
S: I heard you quoting Rushdie before and this idea really gives me a lot of feelings: “‘There's no place like home,’ but rather that there is no longer such a place as home”. And you worked on how this story helped shape the American myth. How did it, in means of the notion of home?
A: I think it goes back to what you were saying about that conservative idea of home. There should be a place where there is home, there is this more or less traditional family -Dorothy’s is not particularly traditional because she is raised by her aunt and uncle not her biological parents- but there should be a family that is kind of traditional and structured. That it should be fairly domestic, where certain gender and family ideals should be upheld. And of course that is something we’ve moved on from.
S: One of the first interviews was with Burhan Sönmez. During this interview he said “Back in the old days, a book would start with an adventure where the character travels the world and returns. And nowadays, you do not really need to go anywhere but being in a room with a mirror to look inside yourself is enough.” Do you think this is true for the days we self isolate during the pandemic? How do you think the notion of home will chance as we survive it?
A: I think it works both ways. I think self reflection is a really important part of home and identity and discovery but of course when you travel you get different perspectives, you grow and change as a person. I think we’ll have both this new appreciation of home and this wider range of what home means.
Because right now it basically is what everything is happening, it is where we work, where people with kids are homeschooling them.
It become office, school and gym as all the gyms are closed. We’re watching more movies at home so it become our theaters. It comes as all these different things.
But it is also a useful moment of critique for domestic violence victims, child abuse. It is again that double edged sword. Home is not the same for everybody. Or when you have no food. It does not have that idyllic meaning as there is no place like home.
S: Talking about darker house I also want to ask you about horror houses as you teach horror fiction. Why is the gothic house haunted?
A: All this haunted houses in gothic literature and horror film, there is a really powerful tie between the past and the present. There is something that happened there that does not leave the house. It does not move on. But also we sometimes have that traditional hauntings, where it is this echoes of the past but then sometimes we have teenage children in the center. Teenage children, stuck in a house, that seems like a horror story on its own, teenagers who want to be anywhere else but stuck at home.
It really is about both the history and the tensions within the family. Tensions within the individual and how they respond to this family’s situations.
I actually just re-read Steven King’s IT which has of course all this different layers of home. When the adults are called back to their hometown, they sort of nearly forgotten and have to sort or re-live this repressed trauma. When they were children, a lot of scary things were happening outside the home and they were in home they had these parents who were abusive or controlling or neglectful.
All these levels of home, whether it is haunted houses or abuse it is lots of stuff going on there.
A lot of gothic scholars would say it is a reflection of that internal psychology of people who live there. The haunted house is this externalization of exploring these dark personalities.
S: Home has so many layers to dig into. Thank you Alissa for this lovely interview.