Bag Girl Reviews: Farewell My Queen

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Since I’ve been on kind of a Marie Antoinette kick this summer, I decided to revisit a film I’ve heard a good deal about and first watched about a year ago. What inspired me to check it out was that Frock Flicks did a review of it this week and talked about the “creative liberties” taken with its costumes and plot.

Based on a novel of the same name by Chantal Thomas, Farewell My Queen follows Sidonie Laborde (Léa Seydoux) on the eve of the French Revolution and the final days of life at the Palace of Versailles. Sidonie works as a reader to Queen Marie Antoinette (Diane Kruger), to whom she is fanatically devoted. The Queen enlists Sidonie in a plot to help her hated favorite, the Duchess de Polignac (Virginie Ledoyen), flee the country.

Farewell My Queen is wonderfully atmospheric and goes into depth about the intricacies of life at Versailles. As a reader or lectrice, Sidonie is pretty much a servant who works behind the scenes and does not live in the luxury we associate with the fabled palace. She is an unimportant bit player in court life and her purpose as character is to provide a point of view for the plot’s events and the trials faced by Marie Antoinette. This is what is known as an Ishmael, a Watson, or a p.o.v. character, a character through whose eyes we see a more compelling central figure.

One of the film’s most controversial additions is the relationship between Marie Antoinette and the Duchess de Polignac, who are shown to have a romantic, if not sexual, bond. Historians have long speculated about the nature of the intense connection between Marie Antoinette and her close friends the Duchess de Polignac and the Princess de Lamballe. Jean-Jacques Rousseau set the fashion for passionate, quasi-romantic friendships between women with his novel Julie ou La Nouvelle Heloise and the queen, princess, and duchess may have been simply following this trend, or so suggests Antonia Fraser. Frock Flicks criticized how in one scene, Marie Antoinette frankly tells Sidonie that she is “attracted” to de Polignac, saying that it was simply too frank for a person living in the 18th century, when homosexual and lesbian intercourse was illegal and modern notions of sexual orientation did not exist. Marie Antoinette often compliments Sidonie’s youthful beauty and is implied to be attracted to her as well. Unfortunately, cinema tends to use female same sex relationships simply for the purpose of male titillation. Farewell My Queen uses girl on girl sexual tension but does not go all the way with it. 

I would recommend watching Farewell My Queen, if only to get a different perspective on the well-known Marie Antoinette story.

 

 

Bag Girl Reviews: Clarissa: Book 1 by Samuel Richardson or In Defense of the Good Girl

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At around 1,431 pages, Clarissa or The History of a Young Lady beats out Les Miserables by Victor Hugo (826 pages), Bleak House by Charles Dickens (813 pages) and War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy (955 pages) for the title of longest book I have ever read. Such a tome seems like an overwhelming task to get through but fortunately they are often divided up into a number of sections, each a mini book in themselves. How I got through War and Peace was that I would read a section and then take a break for a few week and repeat until the book was finished. I am going to do the same for Clarissa.

After her grandfather dies and leaves her a large fortune, Clarissa Harlowe, a young woman of great beauty, intelligence, and virtue, is uninterested in marrying; being independently wealthy, she lacks the economic incentive to do so. She has already refused several suitors and her nouveau riche family is frustrated with her. They insist that she marry the rich but repulsive Mr. Solmes, which is partially a revenge plot by Clarissa’s greedy and envious brother and sister. Her refusal to marry the man picked out for her by her family causes them to become increasingly controlling and hostile. Clarissa’s beauty and virtue attract the notice of  Robert Lovelace, a notorious rake, who sets out to win her with offers of protection should she wish to flee her impossible situation. 

Passive and virtuous Clarissa is a heroine who would be hard for modern audiences to get behind. We like our period heroines to be rebels who stick it to the patriarchy but this does not do justice to the reality of what life was like for women in centuries past. Clarissa’s plight is an extreme example of what many women in the 18th century went through. They were considered the property of either their father or their husband and were constantly reminded that they had to be obedient. By refusing to marry Solmes, Clarissa is posing a threat to the social structure. Her parents do not relent because doing so would compromise their authority; they are pretty much a parody of the “because I said so” style of parenting. Trying to buck the system backfires on Clarissa as doing so causes her to be stripped of whatever freedom she has: walking in the garden, sending letters, and even leaving her room. The point is that Clarissa is a goody-goody who is used to playing by the rules but is conflicted when duty means sacrificing her own happiness. A genteelly brought up girl like Clarissa would be ill equipped to handle life on her own and she would be dependent on a man, which is where Lovelace comes in, who we get the feeling cannot be trusted.  

Richardson explores the helplessness of women in his society. From the time she was a child, Clarissa would have little say in own life. She would be subject to the authority of her parents and later her husband, an authority which could easily turn tyrannical and abusive. Clarissa starts off as a beloved and indulged daughter of privilege but the absolute rule of parents slowly turns her into a prisoner in their own home when she opposes them. A contemporary reader may ask why she does not stick up for herself? The answer is: she does. Clarissa finds a number of ways to snark at and rebel against her oppressors but this only serves to make life worse for her. 

The Jo Marches and Arya Starks of the world will always chaff against what society expects of them and be admired when they rebel against these expectations. But for the majority of women throughout history, this would be merely wish fulfilment fantasy. The Clarissa Harlowes of the world try their best to find their way within the system and later end being screwed over, then criticized for being weak.

Jasmine’s Trip To Gloucester

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One of the events that I’ve book looking forward to all summer is the weeklong visit of my roommate and best friend, Jasmine. I’ve been plotting for weeks what we were going to do, where I would like to take her, and how we were going to cope with a minimal budget. 

Jasmine lives all the way in Worcester, so it took a bit of finagling to get her here. She arrived here in Gloucester around 10:30 on Monday and we started watching an episode of General Hospital. At noon, I made us some lunch and we ate out on the porch. We finished watching General Hospital after lunch and then watched the latest episode of Still Star Crossed. Until my mom came home around 4:30, we read each other’s stories on Wattpad. 

We spent the evening in Rockport. Mom dropped us off at the Rockport House of Pizza, where we had dinner. After Jasmine and I ate, we went to look in a shop called The Wicked Peacock for a birthday present for Jasmine’s mother; she ended up buying a pair of earrings shaped like anchors. I looked through a bunch of different shops to find a pair of chinese slippers, like the pair belonging  to my brother’s girlfriend Gaby, which I admired, but I could not seem to to find any. Since I could not find the slippers I was looking for, I thought I could go to Toad Hall Bookstore to buy a copy of The Handmaid’s Tale, but we missed Toad Hall’s closing time by twenty minutes. We had a hard time thinking of things to do, since most of the shops were closing down at this time. I promised Jasmine ice cream, so we went to an ice cream parlor in a building where my grandparents once had a shop. While we were in line, Jasmine and I started talking to the couple in front of us because I compliment the guy on the patches on his backpack, one of which was about Jim Morrison, whose grave I saw when I was in Paris. The guy said that we almost saw the grave and that the girl with him was French. When we got our ice cream, I took Jasmine to a dock near Motif Number 1, where we sat for a while.

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After we finished our ice cream, we watched up Bearskin Neck to the breakwall. I’ve been going to Bearskin Neck all of my life but I have never walked across the breakwall. This time, I decided to change that. Jasmine did not want to come with me because she was afraid of dropping her shopping bag. It was interesting to finally walk across the breakwall because I got to see Rockport from a different perspective. 

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By this point, we had run out of things to do, so I called my mom to come get us. When we got home, we watched the 1990 film version of The Handmaid’s Tale. 

We had planned on going out to breakfast at Charlie’s Place on tuesday morning and then walking to the nearby Good Harbor Beach but the weather was terrible, so we decided to attend the seven o’clock showing of  Spider-Man: Homecoming at the Gloucester Cinema. Not much was done during the rest of the day: we watched the latest episodes of General Hospital and the movie Moana and I made pizza for lunch.

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At quarter to seven, we went to the Gloucester Cinema. Spider-Man: Homecoming is a film that I have been considering seeing since I grew up with the original Spider-Man films starring Tobey Maguire and Spider-Man is one of my favorite superheros. Jasmine was interested in seeing because she is a fan of the Disney Channel star Zendaya, who has a small but crucial role in the movie.

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Novice superhero, Peter Parker (Tom Holland) struggles to prove himself to his mentor Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and deal with the typical trials of high school and adolescence. The film successfully combines the awkwardness of being a teenager and both the reality and wish fulfilment of being a superhero. Peter Parker wants desperately to join the Avengers but is still trying to figure out his super powers and who is as a person and the kind of hero he wants to be. The film’s message is pretty much “nowhere man, don’t worry; take your time, don’t hurry.”  Jasmine said it was good and she liked seeing Zendaya.

If I was a superhero, I would probably a mixture of Spiderman and Captain America, my two favorites. They are my favorites because I can relate to them; Captain America started off as the stout hearted weakling Steve Rogers and Spiderman started off as the geeky underdog Peter Parker. Jasmine told me that her favorites are Wonder Woman and Supergirl, because they are the best known female superheroes.

My brother offered to take Jasmine and I to the beach on Wednesday but would not be able to do so until noon. I declined the offer because I was concerned about getting home in time to shower before I had to go to work at four in the evening. Wednesday was sunny but humid and only a brief respite in the bad weather we have been getting this week. Jasmine and I took a walk down the street to see my old elementary school, West Parish. The building I went to school in no longer exists, as it was completely rebuilt within the past few years.

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Our walk to West Parish was the only thing of note that we did on Wednesday. After we got back, I made lunch and we watched General Hospital at two o’clock. At four, I went to work and my shift lasted until nine. Mom and Jasmine picked me up and we got McDonald’s on our way home. Jasmine and I watched clips from One Life to Live until eleven.

Thursday was another low key day. The weather again was bad and we pretty much stayed in my room and worked on our writing. At noon, while we ate lunch, we watched a documentary about Mary, Queen of Scots, and at two o’clock, we watched General Hospital. I had work from four until nine and from ten to eleven, Jasmine and I watched One Life to Live. 

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My old baby-sitter, Ruthie, died a few months ago and her funeral was on Friday. My mom and I went to the mass at 9:30, and then to the cemetery. It was a beautiful funeral and Mom and I were touched. Mom brought me home and then went to the reception. She had to be back at work by one o’clock, so she picked Jasmine and I up at home around 12:30 and dropped us off at a restaurant called Leonardo’s. I stupidly left my money at home so I had to walk up the street to the courthouse, where my mom works, to get money from her so Jasmine and I could get lunch.

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The Cape Ann Historical Society was open for free on Friday, so I decided to take Jasmine there after lunch, since it is a good introduction to Gloucester’s culture and history. I have gone there a number of times throughout my life, and I showed Jasmine some of my favorite items in the collection. My best loved painting is one entitled “Lady-Chain” by Charles Hopkinson, which features his daughters playing in a garden. I think I liked it best because it has pretty dresses. At two o’clock, there was a reading of a children’s book called The Serpent Came to Gloucester, which is about a sea serpent which has been sighted near Gloucester over the centuries. After the book reading, we looked at the two galleries on the second floor which has artifacts from Gloucester’s sea going past and the galleries on the top floor. One of them is dedicated to the Folly Cove Designers. Of course, Jasmine and I stopped in the gift shop before leaving; I got a bookmark of nautical knotted rope and she got a pair of candles. 

When we were finished with the Historical Society, I brought Jasmine to the Pleasant Street Cafe for some hot chocolate. We then walked down Main Street and looked in a couple of shops. There is a historical house from the 18th century on Main Street called the Sargent House which I have never been inside and I thought Jasmine and I could check it out, but we had to pay twelve dollars to get in, which we did not have. At four o’clock, we walked back to the courthouse and waited for my mom to get out of work.

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Jasmine specifically said that she wished to got to Friendly’s while she was down here, so Mom took us there for dinner. Again, we watched One Life to Live from ten to eleven. 

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For the past couple of years, I have gone to an event called Abbadia Mare at Hammond Castle here in Gloucester. It was something that I thought Jasmine would enjoy, so it was lucky that her trip here coincided with it. We arrived at Stage Fort Park a little after eleven and took a shuttle to Hammond Castle. At 11:30, we went to watch a performance of trio of women called Ladies of Integrity, Aristocracy, Repute, and Society or “L.I.A.R.S” at the castle’s drawbridge. We arrive in time to catch the tail end of a performance by a group known as Misfits of Avalon. The L.I.A.R.S  sang several songs about being a free spirited lady with a taste for drink and an eye for men and I enjoyed them greatly. Jasmine and I left a little bit early to listen to a singing group called Myschyffe Managed in the great hall of the castle.  Myschyffe Managed is one of my favorite parts of the Abbadia Mare and I am thinking of buying their cds.

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After listening to Myschyffe Managed, Jasmine and I had a tarot card reading. The card I picked was called the Ace of Coins, which depicted a dragon leaving its cave. It signifies a change or a new phase in life, a leap of faith into the unknown. There is a white rose growing behind the dragon which signifies that you will not be able to see that this change is a good thing until it has happened. Jasmine picked the high priestess, which signifies that she is a leader full of creativity and good judgement. We then got lunch, mozzarella sticks, and ate outside.

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At 1:30, we returned to the drawbridge to listen to Kate the Storyteller, who told the tale behind the song Molly Malone and the legend of the Selkie Wife. Jasmine stayed to watch an act called Tom Foolery, while I went to the front lawn to do some shopping. I bought a rose, whose petals I’m going to dry for a sache, some soaps, body scrub, and bath salts, and a hat. Jasmine and I met back up again for 2:30 to watch The Brotherhood of Arrow and Sword. My dad was interested in this group, so I decided to film the fights for him.

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A Bag Girl Triple Feature: The Handmaid’s Tale (1990), and Moana

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Part of my preparation for Jasmine’s visit was picking out movies for us to watch while she was down here. The three I chose were the 1990 film adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale, since we both watched the recent Hulu series, and Moana, which we saw together in theaters on my last birthday. 

I learned that there was also a film adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale when I was researching the Hulu series. It follows pretty much the same story line, except it begins with the heroine’s backstory, which is told through flashbacks in the Hulu series. A young woman named Kate (Natasha Richardson) is captured trying to flee the repressive Republic of Gilead with her family and is forced to become a handmaid and bear a child for the Commander (Robert Duvall) and his wife Serena Joy (Faye Dunaway). She is stripped of her bodily autonomy and given the name Offred. After falling in love with the Commander’s chauffeur, Nick (Aidan Quinn), Kate, now Offred, tries to find away to escape.

The first difference of note between the Hulu series is that the heroine’s name is Kate, whereas in the series, she is called June. There is also an implication that Kate’s husband died while they were trying to flee from Gilead, while in the series, he is shown to have escaped. Much is cut out of the source material to give the film an under two hour runtime which you could fit into a two season series with ten episodes a season. The second season has not aired yet on Hulu, so I got a taste of what is to come later on. The Commander and Serena Joy are shown to be older in the 1990 version than they are in 2017 version, as I have heard they are in the source material. Faye Dunaway is an inspired to choice to play Serena Joy.

If you enjoyed the Hulu series and or the original novel by Margaret Atwell, I would recommend checking this movie out. 

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Moana was a film that I was excited to see, mostly because the music was written by Lin Manuel Miranda, the creator and star of Hamilton. I decided to see it on my birthday, which usually is soon after Thanksgiving, Moana’s release date, at Salem Cinema with Jasmine.

Moana of Motunui (Auli’i Cravalho), a young Polynesian islander, is destined to succeed her father as Motunui’s chief but finds herself drawn to outside ocean surrounding her tiny, isolated island. When famine strikes Motunui, Moana discovers the missing heart of the goddess Te Fiti, the cause of the famine, and sets out to return it, teaming up with the demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson) to save her island.

The first thing that struck me about this movie is that the animation is drop dead gorgeous, especially on the ocean, which is an anthropomorphized character in itself. The music is also brilliant; Lin Manuel Miranda definitely brings his A-game. Christopher Jackson, who originated the role of George Washington in Hamilton, is the singing voice of Moana’s father, Chief Tui. I thought that Phillipa Soo, who was the original Eliza, was the voice of Moana’s mother, but it turned out to be Nicole Scherzinger, former front woman of the Pussycat Dolls. Dwayne Johnson brings all of his charm and charisma to the role of Maui and works well with Auli’i Cravalho, a newcomer who I hope to see more of.

The was a bit of an uproar on the internet when the song City of Stars from the film La La Land beat Moana’s How Far I’ll Go for best song at the 2017 Oscars. I saw La La Land and enjoyed it but thought it was somewhat overrated and perhaps did not deserve to sweep the Oscars the way it did. Its music was good but nothing phenomenal. In my opinion, Moana, and its soundtrack by Lin Manuel Miranda was among the best of 2016.

A Bag Girl Double Feature: The Beguiled (2017) and Baby Driver

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The Beguiled is a remake of a 1971 film of the same name starring Clint Eastwood, in turn based on A Painted Devil, a 1966 novel by Thomas P. Cullinan. My dad rented the original film when he read that a remake was in the works. I enjoyed the movie and its 2017 update was on my list of must watch movies of the summer  especially because it had a great cast and I was sold on the idea of blond haired southern belles in pretty, pastel dresses tormenting a helpless man. I was originally hoping to do a double feature of The Beguiled with My Cousin Rachel, as they are both atmospheric period pieces dealing with suspicion and sexual tension.

Corporal John McBurney ( Colin Farrell), a wounded union deserter, finds himself taken in by an isolated girl’s school in Virginia. The smooth talking McBurney proceeds to charm all of the school’s inmates, who are starved for male company, specifically Martha (Nicole Kidman), the school’s tough and icy headmistress, Edwina (Kirsten Dunst), a lonely and lovelorn teacher, and Alicia (Elle Fanning), a sexually curious student. Tensions and suspicions rise as McBurney begins to wear out his welcome. 

Colin Farrell as McBurney is both sleazy and sympathetic; by no means an honorable man but did not intend to cause as much trouble as he did. Nicole Kidman was great as Martha, the strong woman who had been strong for too long.  I was concerned about the casting of Kirsten Dunst as Edwina, believing she was too old (in the original film, Edwina is said to be in her early twenties) but she did well in the part. Elle Fanning is an actress I enjoy but I could not get behind her character Alicia, who is a total little shit. I adored the production design for this movie. All of the women are dressed in pale pastels and the sets are illuminated using mostly natural light or candles  to give the film an eerie, ethereal, gothic feel, which is at the same time sweet and feminine. The Beguiled was written, directed, and produced by Sofia Coppola and I think some of Marie Antoinette’s sugary prettiness made it into this movie.  I would recommend The Beguiled  solely on its production design alone.

The 1971 film version deals in both male fantasy (being the rooster in a hen house) and male nightmare (when said hens turn against you). But Sofia Coppola’s take on the story is firmly on the side of the women; you are rooting for them as they close ranks to protect themselves against a male interloper. This feminist subversion sits well in a summer film reason defined by Wonder Woman.

I started hearing a lot of positive hype about Baby Driver, which is considered one of the best films of the summer. After hearing the details about the movie, I became interested and anxious to see it, since I enjoy gangster flicks. 

Partially deaf after a car accident which killed his parents, Baby (Ansel Elgort) drowns out the world around him with a pair of earbuds and a quiet, stoical demeanor. To pay off a debt, Baby works as a getaway driver for a gang of criminals headed by Doc (Kevin Spacey) but wishes to leave that life for good and run off with a pretty and free spirited waitress, Debora (Lily James). But this proves to be the hardest getaway of Baby’s career. 

Music plays a large role in the movie, as Baby uses his playlists are used to drown out the ringing in his ears due to his partial deafness and as a sort of soundtrack to his life; he is often seen dancing and singing along to whatever song he is listening to and the cuts and choreography of the film are set to the beat of the music. It has often bean said that the film works as a sort of quasi jukebox musical. An interesting detail in the sound design is that a ringing noise is heard whenever music is not playing.

Ansel Elgort as Baby is effortlessly cool and I would not be surprised if young men over the coming decades start copying the character’s style of dress and mannerisms. Kevin Spacey is both funny and intimidating as Doc and armed with a number of hilarious quips. Doc’s gang is filled with a number of colorful characters: Buddy (Jon Hamm), a banker turned bank robber, Darling (Eiza Gonzalez), the Bonnie to his Clyde, and Bats (Jamie Foxx), the gang’s loose canon, who all give stand out performances. Lily James seems to be the go for girl whenever they need someone to be delightfully ditzy, and Debora’s romance with baby is sweet and believable. Another character of note is Joe, Baby’s foster father, who is deaf and in a wheelchair, with whom Baby communicates through sign language. Joe is played by deaf actor CJ Jones.  I appreciate the inclusion of deaf and other differently abled actors and of sign language, which I would like to learn some day.

I am not big on action movies but I enjoyed Baby Driver, and its action sequences are heart pounding. Add in interesting characters, a sweet romance, and a killer soundtrack, and Baby Driver is a great movie.

Bag Girl Fourth of July Special: A Review of Common Sense by Thomas Paine

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If anyone asks me what I’ve been doing to get in the spirit of the Fourth of July, I will respond, in the words of Angelica Schuyler, “I’ve been reading Common Sense by Thomas Paine…” I read excerpts from Common Sense in my American Literature class last semester and I bought a copy of the full work in the gift shop of the Concord Bridge battlefield site and thought it would be a good idea to read it in honor of Independence Day.

In Common Sense, Thomas Paine paints the Americas as a place of refuge from the tyranny of Europe and the American character as independent and freedom loving:

“This new world hath been the asylum of for the persecuted lovers of civil and religious liberty from every part of Europe. Hither have they fled, not from the tender embraces of the mother, but from the cruelty of the monster; and it is so far true of England, that the same tyranny which from the first emigrants from home, pursues their descendants still.”  

One of Paine’s major points is that England needs the Americas more than the Americas need England; that the American colonies would be better off without England and are economically self-sufficient enough to survive the break, “Our corn will fetch its price in any market in Europe, and our imported goods must be paid for buy them where we will.”  Paine also suggests that it makes economic sense to break from England, because if they are not involved in England’s conflicts with other European countries, then they will have more foreign markets in which to trade, “As Europe is our market for trade, we ought to form no partial connection with any part of it…whenever a war breaks out between England and any other foreign power, the trade of American foes into ruin because of the connection with Britain.”  If England goes to war with France, then the French will not trade with America, because it is a British colony; The British Crown has so mistreated it’s North American Colonies, Paine argues, that it would be immoral and cowardly for a North American to wish to continue being a British subject, “But if you have, and can still shake hands with the murderers, then you are unworthy of the name of husband, father, friend, or lover, and whatever your rank or title in life, you have the heart of a coward, and the spirit of a sycophant.” 

In Paine’s brief pamphlet, we see the seeds of America’s sense of itself in relation to the rest of the world; it’s fierce independence, sense of exceptionalism, and distrust of large and intrusive governments. Paine argues that governments are at best a necessary evil and only necessary and useful inasfar as they can keep order. It is in human nature to form communities for companionship and survival, but centralized government, in the form of a king, is unnatural and destructive. Common Sense ends with Paine’s position on the church vs. state argument. He chastises members of the Quaker community, who are supposed to be passive and apolitical, for meddling in politics. America was partially colonized by those seeking asylum from the religious persecution of Europe and founding fathers were in favor of a separation between church and state to prevent religious persecution, something which is often forgotten. Economics is also a large consideration in American independence. The spit from Britain makes economic sense according to Paine. Jamestown, the first American colony, was founded as part of a money making venture and now 170 years later, the Americas have become self sufficient enough to no longer need the so called mother country. Once separated from England, the thirteen colonies will no longer have to pay high taxes and tariffs and have their commerce threatened by England’s constant wars. By appealing to the interests of religion and money, Paine is evoking two of the greatest forces which have shaped American politics.

Common Sense is a seminal piece of American history and in understanding American politics. Part of the reason why I read it is because I am taking a class on the American Revolution next semester in school. I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in American history, specifically the revolutionary era.