March 2009 Archives

This Concept has Staying Power...Unfortunately.

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"I was the irresponsible one; for I should have used my knife to protect the higher interests of society. Some day that kind of foolishness will cause us some tragic trouble."

In this quote in the prologue, the protagonist is suggesting that he should have used the knife to murder the man to meet society's expectations. There is a saying that people only notice things when they aren't as they should be. For instance, the child seated quietly in the backseat of the car will go unnoticed, but the kid who is kicking the back of the driver's seat and rolling the window up and down will attract attention. I believe this is the kind of effect about which Ellison is speaking. Minorities are expected to be powerless and weak, but as soon as an individual acts out, the act gains attention, and serves only to confirm the attitudes of society. I think this is the very thing the protagonist's grandfather was talking about on his deathbed. Perhaps he was a traitor because he did not conform to society's expectations. But it is likely that he also failed to meet the expectations of the members of his race, the majority of which would want him to act out in anger and resentment, and to be noticed.  It is a vicious cycle, which is definitely still in place today. The reigns of society continue to halt the development of an entire people, and are difficult to shake loose. African Americans are underrepresented in terms of taking advantage of the opportunities that are now available. I think the power of expectations, or the lack thereof, is tragically underestimated. It's as if an entire people has the condition known as "failure to thrive" from chronic dehumanization and lack of stimulation, and the result is an entire race of untapped resources of knowledge, creativity, and the like.

When Myths go Awry.

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"The Joads' saga offers a fictional version of the consequences of this myth of the garden and the accompanying myth of the American Frontier. Both were driven by a perceived superabundance of resources, a national fantasy that prodded the Joads towards Oklahoma and then later to California."

- "Turning Wine into Water..." by David Cassuto

I may have heard of this myths, and notice the implications of them throughout the work, but I was not really concious of them while reading. I did not realize that both the unwillingness to move from Oklahoma and the eagerness to get to California involved the belief of excess or "superabundance" as Cassuto says. Despite economic and ecological laws at work, there was a pervading belief that the land would continue to yield abundant crops despite the failure to rrotate crops, for example. The tenant families made the mistake of believing that as long as they were able to work there would be work to be done. Similarly, in California, the tenants suffered from an unshakable belief in the same kind of system. The tenants thought there woud be plenty of work for everybody, especially Pa who clung to the message of the orange handbill. Pa and the other tenants did not even consider the problems they may, and did encounter: too many workers, not enough work, minimal pay, no respect. It was no longer enough to believe that God or that technology would take care of things. The nation had to begin to accept that the myths were false, and take responsibility for what was done, and what needed to be done to "modernize the American dream", which was turning into a nightmare.

Fatal Attraction

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"But they pulled me out of the sack,/And they stuck me together like glue./And then I knew what to do./I made a model of you"

- "Daddy" by Sylvia Plath

I chose to examine this quote because of its familiarity. So many of us, men or women, choose partners that remind us of our parent. And this can be a good thing or, as in this case, a bad thing. In the stanza immediately before the one quoted above, Plath speaks of trying to die at twenty to get back to her father. After this attempt proved unsuccessful, Plath did what she thought was the next best thing: she married a man that reminded her of her father. Perhaps Plath thought she could receive the attention she craved from her father from this man. I did not gather that the issue with her father was inattention from this poem, but from another one of Plath's poems: "For a Fatherless Son". In this poem, Plath writes, "You will be aware of an absence, presently,/Growing beside you, like a tree" and "an utter lack of attention." Plath goes on to describe the boy as being dumb and stupid, and to say that she finds no face but her own in the boy's face. This can be compared to Plath saying that she could hardly speak in "Daddy". Immediately following this stanza, Plath describes her husband as a vampire resembling her father who sucked her blood during their marriage. In other words, her father and husband literally sucked the life out of her. At the end of the poem, Plath speaks of being through, but I think Plath could only relieve herself of her troubles by taking her own life, which she did at the tender age of 30. Perhaps if we were to read a poem featuring the small boy from "My Papa's Waltz" at a later stage in life, we could find similarities when compared with this poem. In fact, the hanging on like death. I would say, is a feeling evident in both poems as they are despite the age differences. Both characters also have distorted ideas concerning their relationships with their father, and others as is the case with Plath and her husband. 

No Dance I Want to Try...

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"The hand that held my wrist/Was battered on one knuckle;/At every step you missed/My right ear scraped a buckle."

- "My Papa's Waltz" by Theodore Roethke

This waltz definitely portrays an abusive relationship to me. I chose to examine this quote because it contains several words the scream abuse, although such words can be seen throughout the entire, relatively short poem. The first stanza introduces the smell of whiskey, the sensation of being dizzy, and hanging on like death. It would be no surprise if the alcohol and abuse coincide here. and I suspect the dizziness is not from the smell of whiskey alone. The second stanza involves romping, which is not a term I would think to use to describe dancing, "until the pans slid from the kitchen shelf" Again, these words scream abuse. Mother, who is probably powerless to intervene since she is only mentioned once, is wearing a perpetual frown in this scene. The third stanza, which is the one I quoted above, involves a hand with a battered knuckle holding a wrist. What dancing partner would lead you by holding your wrist??? An abusive one! And finally, the belt buckle, and belts have a bad reputation as being weapons of beatings. The final stanza involves the father beating time on the boy's head and putting him to bed, still clinging. Although this poem tells of an abusive relationship, it also tells of a boy who loves his father; hence, the hanging on and clinging. Love is not supposed to hurt, but this love is all the poor boy knows, and so he calls his abuser "papa". Or perhaps the boy knew this since he recognized that "such waltzing was not easy" , but was hopeful that his father would change. What do you think???

Chivalry is Dead.

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"When automobiles went by,/the dust hid the people's faces,/but we shouted 'Good day! Good day!/Fine day!' at the top of our voices."

- "Manners" by Elizabeth Bishop

I saw a few themes at work in the poem, "Manners". First of all, I think Bishop is trying to employ a man vs. nature theme. From the wagon, the passengers can not only interact with people, but also with nature, which can be seen when Willy climbs into the wagon with his big pet crow. The crow flies off, and the speaker is worried: "How would he know where to go?" But the crow answers when Willy whistles, and grandfather says the crow is a fine bird because he answers nicely when he is spoken to. However, in the next stanza, we are told what happens when automobiles go by: the dust hides the people's faces, and the passengers of the wagon shout to greet them. I get the impression that the passengers of the automobile are unable to interact with those of the wagon seat; thus, they cannot use their manners and answer at all, let alone nicely when spoken to. Not only can the automobile passengers not interact with people, but they cannot interact with nature. It is as if Bishop is attempting to tell us that with the advancement of technology will come the end of chivalry and the strain of nature. This can be seen in such trends as decreasing human interaction due to increased communication via text messaging and email, for example. Similarly, man continues to encroach on forests and other natural  habitats to meet his ever increasing needs. No wonder the speaker worries where the crow will go.

Shall I Compare Thee to Rihanna???

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"How could someone so talented be so blind, so arrogant, so bigoted?" Foster, How to Read Literature Like a Professor; Chapter 25, page 233.

Foster made this statement in regard to Ezra Pound. According to Foster, Pound's work, The Cantos, includes "...some very ugly views of Jewish culture and Jewish people (233)." Foster used the extreme Anti-semitism of this work to suggest that while the reader should not read with his or her own eyes, the work can ask too much of the reader at times. In addition to the quote I chose to examine, Foster went on to say, "the more time I spend with [Ezra Pound], the more I am astonished by his capacity for folly. It's unfortunate that genius was harnessed to someone who may not have worn it well (233)." Upon reading this passage, I was immediately reminded of the unfortunate circumstances that have befallen Rihanna. I am sure everyone is aware of the incident that occurred between Rihanna and Chris Brown, so I will not include the details here. But the point of similarity in this case is the view of Rihanna's response to the situation. Because Rihanna is famous, society and the media expected her to leave Brown and be a role model to women worldwide. According to current statistics, 1 in 3 young women have experienced violence in a relationship ( But what society and the media need to remember is that Rihanna is merely famous for being a talented singer, but beyond that she is just like any other young girl. Such is the case with Foster being shocked at Ezra Pound's folly; we may not agree with his views, but we should not hold him to higher standards than any other human being because he is a talented writer. And what human being does not exhibit folly in some sense or manner? Similar to Rihanna, Pound is very talented, but beyond that talent he is just like you and I.

Do you think Pound's talent is inconsistent with these views? Do you agree that society's view of Rihanna's response is similar to Foster's view of Pound's beliefs? Or should a talented writer not invest in such ideas, and be a role model to readers? Sould writers be held to higher standards when it comes to folly?

Back at Square One...

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"I shall continue fighting you until my last breath as long as you mix up your idea of liberty with your idea of hogging everything for yourself...You and I want the same thing; but until you think of it as something that everyone has a right to, you are my deadly enemy and I will destroy you." (Wilder, Act III; page 111).

I chose to look at this quote because it reminded me of a conversation that took place in my philosophy class, and it embodied, at least for me, the central message of this play. The main idea of the discussion was that in order for anyone of us to be free requires that everyone else be free. If I want to be free, I need you to be free. It seems like humanity is always fighting for peace, and that war affects every generation, whether it be in progress, or the aftermath, or a relationship that was forged or ruined. The idea of this continuity, to me, is the very essence of the play. In this quote, Antrobus states that he will fight until his last breath to achieve his goal, and that is all any of us can do. In other words, we are limited and can only attempt to achieve our goals in our short existence, and we cannot depend on those who come after to realize our goals. Humanity is one long line of generations, but perhaps the lives of the individuals are so relatively short so as not to outlive the desire to begin anew. One generation ceases to exist, and a new one with the instinct and eagerness to continue evolves. We see this pattern of similar downfalls and familiar goals because we, as human beings, all instintively desire the same things, but we are only human so we enounter similar obstacles. When one generation ceases to exist, the next one is faced with a similar roller coaster of events. It's as if what happens only matters at that particular time and is bound to happen again. The end of the play is not written and this is where we come in because we will continue to add to what is the fate of humanity: to endure, to survive, to start again. 

Average does not Equal Interesting

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"Sameness doesn't present us with metaphorical possibilities, whereas difference - from the average, the typical, the expected - is always rich with possibility." (Foster, Chapter 21;page 194) 

I chose to take a look at this quote because not only did it strike me as very true in terms of the literary world, but also in terms of the real world. I know we are always cautioned when comparing the literary world to the real world, but we are obsessed with anomalies in both realms. I immediately thought of the success of reality TV. Most of these shows feature unusual circumstances: Jon and Kate plus Eight, The 1,000 Pound Man, Little People: Big World. We are also captivated by individuals who are exceptionally talented, whether it be in learning, sports, or the arts. Society is fascinated by the abnormal. One of my friends who is an avid viewer of Jon and Kate plus eight reveals that part of the reason she enjoys watching the show is to see how the parents approach ordinary activities with eight children, which is considered a high number today. Perhaps, people even look to this show for encouragement: if they can manage eight children, I can handle three. So part of the popularity is also being able to identify with the abnormal. Any case that is atypical is appealing in some manner; in other words, no one wants to read a story about average characters with no mystery, exitement, or drama; nothing that sets them apart. Even if a character merely has a scar, the reader is immediately drawn in by the curiosity of wanting to know where it came from, and why it is significant. Other than reality TV, can you think of other instances where anomalies or differences are all the rage???                   

Developing an Unexpected Skill...

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In the course, American Literature 1915 - present, students are expected to blog outside of class time to initiate a discussion about a literary work to be continued during class time. Before this course, I had a vague idea of what blogging was, and I never imagined that I would become a "blogger". However, I find blogging to be a very effective exercise. I not only get to express my ideas, but I also get to learn from my coursemates' ideas. By anticipating the creation of my own blog with each reading assignment, I am encouraged to look more deeply into the work; furthermore, by reading my coursemates' blogs and the comments they leave in reaction to my blog, I gain different perspectives of interpreting literature. While I do not consider myself a "deep" blogger in comparison to some of my peers, I have made substantial progress in terms of my own growth and depth of understanding literature.


All of my blogs examine a direct quote from the assigned reading; however, I did not learn how to include a link back to the course web page devoted to the reading until a few weeks into the course. Here are my blog entries that satisfy both of these requirements:

You're Having a Girl...Congratulations???

Out of Options...That Were Never There...

More Options, but Still Limited...

Flipping the bird...



I am proud to report that all of my blog entries were submitted on time. To be thorough, I will merely list here the blog entries that I did not list under any of the other categories.

After Apple Picking (Robert Frost)

The Great Gatsby (F. Scott Fitzgerald)

How to Read Lit Like a Prof

The Road Not Taken (Robert Frost)

Oh, to be young again...


Early in the course, I failed to respond to the comments posted in reaction to my blog entries. However, as the course progressed, I not only continued to react to my coursemates' blog entries, but I also replied to the comments that were left on my blog entires by my peers.

You're Having a Girl...Congratulations???

More Options, but Still Limited...

Rebecca on The Great Gatsby

Christopher on Machinal

Rosalind on The Grapes of Wrath


I demonstrated depth in my blog entries by comparing ideas in one literary work to other works being covered in the course, works that I read for enjoyment, and personal experience.

Sealed with a Twist.

You're having a Girl...Congratulations???

Chelsie on How to Read Literature Like a Professor


Rebecca on The Great Gatsby

Jennifer on How to Read Literature Like a Professor

Christopher on Machinal

Christopher on The Grapes of Wrath

My Coursemates' Portfolios

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