“The Black Box” By Jennifer Egan

A Review of a Unique Literary Piece

Jennifer Egan is famous for her notable novels. “The Invisible Circus”, which was published in 1995 (Leggett, “The Invisible Circus by Jennifer Egan”), became a movie starring Cameron Diaz in 2001. Also, her most recent novel, published in 2010, “A Visit from A Goon Squad”, has received the Pulitzer Prize in 2011 (“Jennifer Egan”). Aside from all of Egan’s essentially successful novels, there is one particular story where she has incorporated a whole new format of literature. She has completely disregarded the traditional literary structure and created her own Twitter Fiction story called “The Black Box”.  

“The Black Box” is a story that revolves around the narrator, who is an American volunteer spy. Her duties include obtaining important data from a terrorist, even if it means risking her life. The usage of technology hints that the story takes place in the future. She uses advanced materials, such as a hidden microphone and a microchip, which are crucial to her mission. In addition to her gadgets, the narrator has the most effective weapon of all, herself (Egan. “Jennifer Egan’s Black Box”).

This patriotic spy uses herself as an advantage against terrorists. She strategically uses a combination of seduction and innocence. “The Black Box” shows how women are portrayed as objects who are valued according to their appearance. Women in the story compete against each other to become a man’s ‘beauty’ using their looks (Egan. “Jennifer Egan’s Black Box”). I strongly believe that this story evidently compares the expected role of a woman to the reality of a woman’s dominance.   

I have confidence that this story deeply connects to the modern culture and the changing views of women. Because of stereotypes, women are perceived as innocent, weak, and most importantly, inferior to men. However, the narrator illustrates heroism throughout the story by using society’s portrayal of women to complete her mission. Apparently, the essential ‘ingredients’ for a woman to create a successful impression to males are “giggles; bare legs; shyness” (Egan. “Jennifer Egan’s Black Box”). With that being said, I also find it offensive because in order to save a country, a woman must sexualize herself to manipulate and gain the enemy’s trust.  I admire how the story is about a woman who is willing to sacrifice her life to save her country, but I dislike how she did so. A woman can be a hero without having to sexualize herself. I have respect for the narrator because her job is really difficult and completely voluntary. However, a woman should not feel the need to sexualize herself just to complete a mission. Overall, it is important to me how this story can strengthen the confidence of women of all ages by showing that they can be heroic figures as well. Nevertheless, women of all ages should also know that they do not need to sexualize themselves, in order to become a hero.

“The Black Box” has been written in a unique format that is rarely used by novelists. In my opinion, if the story was written as a novel rather than a set of tweets, it would not have made the same, powerful impact. I found it interesting how each part of the story was written relatively similar to a quote. Most of the tweets were broad, so it was easier for the audience to relate to the story, portion by portion. Although it was difficult for me to adapt to the format at first, I thought it was a brilliant way for readers to interact with the story. The story was written in a “you” narration, which I felt that I was being placed in the narrator’s shoes.  Also, people have the option to engage with the most relatable tweets. They can either ‘like’ it, re-tweet it, or even comment on it! I would definitely recommend this empowering story to a teenage girl or an adult who may be more familiarized with Twitter. To me, this story is a five-star read.

REFERENCES

CBC Books. “Jennifer Egan’s Black Box.” Storify, CBC Books, 2012, https://storify.com/cbcbooks/jennifer-egan-s-black-box. Accessed 05 Feb. 2017.

“Jennifer Egan.” Jennifer Egan, http://jenniferegan.com/photosbio/. Accessed 05 Feb. 2017.

Leggett, Robin. “The Invisible Circus by Jennifer Egan.” The Book Bag, http://www.thebookbag.co.uk/reviews/index.php?title=The_Invisible_Circus_by_Jennifer_Egan. Accessed 05 Feb. 2017.

 

 

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My Interpretation of “The Black Box”

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SOURCES OF THE IMAGES: Images found on Google images

I was ecstatic to create a mood board for the Twitter fiction story, “The Black Box” by Jennifer Egan because there were so many different elements of the story that stood out to me, that may not be significant to anybody else.

At the beginning of the story, I first thought “is this woman a prostitute?!” as she was explaining her intimacy with her new designated mate while thinking of her husband, a Kenyan man. However, I was confused about why she constantly reminded herself that she is not get getting paid, that volunteering was a form of patriotism. The text “patriotism” overlapping a picture of a woman in bed with another man and a picture of American flags symbolized that constant reminder to herself. It did not occur to me until the end that the narrator was a spy, so it was also a reminder to myself while I was reading the story. Therefore, the text “patriotism” was a key word that lead me to connect the two pictures together. The narrator was using her seductive advantage as a woman, to serve her country.

Moving on to the text, “beauties”. Becoming an alpha beauty is crucial because in order to complete the mission, the narrator had to gain her designated mate’s trust. I have used several pictures to portray the seductive side of women, which was often the weakness of men in the story. According to the narrator, there are crucial ingredients to a “successful projection” (Egan. “Black Box”). A shy girl with her head down and her hair partially covering her face and her wide smile, indicated innocence. Additionally, another picture with a woman showing her bare legs, was also mentioned as a necessary ingredient.  A girl in a nice white summer dress is “widely viewed as attractive” (Egan. “Black Box”).  These are necessary to become a designated mate’s beauty.

The word “imagine” on top of two pictures of a couple embracing each other and a tomato harvest referred to two of a few things that the narrator said to imagine, while she was wounded. It was interesting that she said to not reflect earlier in the story because “too much reflection is pointless”(Egan. “Black Box”) because after each mission, one cannot be the same. I have used a small picture of a woman looking at her reflection to demonstrate that thought. Although these were small parts of the story, I found that it had more of a deeper meaning to me; to sometimes imagine about what could happen, rather than reflecting, or over thinking on things that cannot change or things that constantly and uncontrollably change.

I personally loved the story and the way that it was originally formatted because I loved how most of the tweets were so broad and it can be related to anything, like quotes. Although reading it as a story was sort of frustrating, each tweet had its own personal meaning to me and I enjoyed that!

Citation: Egan, Jennifer. “Black Box.” The New Yorker. The New Yorker, 26 May 2016. Web. 29 Jan. 2017.

Reconstructed version of “The Black Box”

Twitter version of “The Black Box”