February 2009 Archives

My Learning Curve

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American Literature 1915 - present's requriement to blog was initially frustrating and extremely intimidating. We are reading a novel every one to two weeks and responding online before our weekly class to prepare for class discussions. I had never blogged before in a class situation or otherwise. It is evidenced through my timeliness that I always made an effort, but it took time for me to become comfortable writing in depth entries. A transformation from being timid and unsure of both my interpretation and bloggings skills to being confident in my ability to perform a close-reading and convey my opinions through my blog is obvious as the time stamp on my blogs tracks the passing of time - and growth.

Coverage and Timeliness - Initially all my blogs were simply "coverage" because I was uncomfortable blogging and putting my opinion out there.

"Time Machine"

"The Chicken or the Egg"

For the following four blogs (the first blogs) I did not know we had to include a link back to the class website so I added the link later on. They were, however, completed on time and constitute "coverage."

"Putting Idealism in its Place"

"Slow Surrender"

"Reality Check"

"Fake it Till Ya Make it"


Timeliness - I am proud to say I blogged and commented on time every week. This links to some of my comments. My blogs above were on time as were all those listed in "depth" and "interaction."

"The Great Gatsby" - Alicia Campbell

"To everything, turn, turn, turn, there is a season, turn, turn, turn" - Matt Henderson

"Rose Knows All" - Jennifer Prex

"Gone Mad" - Chelsie Bitner


Interaction - Interacting with peers in an online format is new experience for me. It was difficult to adjust to, but I think I finally managed to bee able to interact through blog entries.

"Buried Brilliance"

"Murderess or Victim?"


Depth - As my comfort level with blogging and interpreting the literature increased, my blog entries grew in length and depth.

"Buried Brilliance"

"Murderess or Victim"

"Why Leave Geography in the History Classroom?"

"The Choice of a Lifetime - Literally"

"Dirty, Ignorant, Sexual Maniacs Who Remain Optimistic"



"Always on the Go" - Jennifer Prex

"Offstage importance" - Julianne Banda

"Prison Walls and Scrap Piles" - Christopher Dufalla





Dirty, Ignorant, Sexual Maniacs who Remain Optimistic

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Steinbeck introduces the Grapes of Wrath with foreshadowing of the hardships to come. The actual losses and difficulties that the Joads must face are both awe-inspiring and depressing. No matter how many times the Joads hear that there really aren't any jobs in California, "'Goin' back home. We can't make no livin' out there,'" (Steinbeck 204) they continue to travel westward and muster some hope that they will be the lucky ones who can achieve this dream of land, higher wages, and a nice house that has attracted thousands of displaced farmers. Faced with the losses of both grandparents, Connie, Noah, and Casy because he is protecting Tom, the family unit remains strong. It isn't even a shock to the reader when Tom kills another man. Steinbeck has created Tom as a character who simply cannot control his temper, "'Ma - I got to get away from 'em. I'm scairt I'll kill one'" (Steinbeck 280). Eventually, Tom is lost to the family because his loyalty still lies with them and they are hiding criminal if he stays; Al, however, remains with the family, but is no longer loyal to them. Instead, his fiancé's family is his main priority. He makes this clear in a dialogue with his father "'Pa, if they go, I'm a-goin' too'" (Steinbeck 437).

The struggles of the Joad family are not based entirely on erosion from within the family. The community that develops in California and along the road is one of division and judgment. As the Joads are packing up their belongings, the only thing of real value they can take is the family, which eventually disintegrates. Along the road, however, kin relationships develop with the other displaced migrant farmers. They are in the same situation without land, money, or jobs; their struggles "welded them, united them" (Steinbeck 282). Californians, however, saw the Midwestern families as a threat, and they looked down on them. In their poverty, filth, and inability to alter their standard of living, the displaced agricultural families became no better than animals in the eyes of Californians. This attitude was especially prevalent among those who owned land, ran shops, or enforced the law. "These goddamned Okies are dirty and ignorant. They're degenerate, sexual maniacs. These goddamned Okies are thieves" (Steinbeck 283). Steinbeck has created a novel in which forces of nature, a drought and a flood, societal discrimination, and familial abandonment create a strong group of people who are not only willing to face any situation, but they remain unrealistically hopeful for the future.



The Choice of a Lifetime - Literally

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Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath embodies the hardship and suffering that epitomized life in the American Dust Bowl through broad descriptions of what many Americans faced as well as the specific hardships of the Joads. Steinbeck uses alternating chapters of general depictions of poverty and homelessness, "In the little houses the tenant people sifted their belongings and the belongings of their fathers and of their grandfathers. Picked over their possessions for the journey to the west," (Steinbeck 86) with chapters that focus entirely on the Joads' struggle to survive in this period of change and migration, "'Well, they been choppin' cotton, all of 'em, even the kids an' your grampa. Gettin' money together so they can shove on west" (Steinbeck 46). His descriptions offer both details of the harsh weather and heat as well as the emotional stress that results from deserting land that has been a part of each family for generations. It is through these poignant moments that the reader is able to connect on a personal level with the adversity facing Steinbeck's characters. Tommy Joad's mother burns her box of memories containing "letters, clippings, photographs, a pair of earrings, a little gold signet ring, and a watch chain braided with hair and tipped with gold swivels" (Steinbeck 108) while Tommy Joad's grandfather refuses to abandon his past and must be drugged in order to get him in the truck.

As tenant farmers are kicked off their land and replaced by "easy and efficient" (Steinbeck 115) tractors, they must forsake not only their own memories and past experiences, but a legacy of generations of farmers who have "touched the seed, or lusted for the growth" (Steinbeck 36). Muley, Steinbeck's character who refuses to move west, is reduced to sleeping in caves and living like a savage. Tommy remarks that Muley "wasn't never no run-an'-hide fella" (Steinbeck 57), but now Muley refuses to confront the man and car sent to investigate the cooking fire. In many ways, Muley is Steinbeck's "black sheep" who refuses to abide by the social and economic expectations in which tenant farmers in the mid-west find themselves. His family moves to California, he either refuses to or fails to find work in a town, and he wanders the country-side alone and forgotten. Muley's most pathetic trait is that he realizes he is "'jus' wanderin' aroun' like a damn ol' graveyard ghos'" (Steinbeck 51). He has nothing to live for but his memories, and even those have left him hollow. Steinbeck, therefore, leaves his audience with the harsh reality that during the 1930's families could either remain on their land becoming helpless and lifeless or leave behind generations of memories and hopes for a chance, however slim, at creating a new life for themselves.



Why Leave Geography in the History Classroom?

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Foster has again left his audience with helpful insights that somehow seem both obvious and yet extremely insightful. When Foster tackles the idea of the importance of geography in literature, for example, his statements seem like common sense, but I have never considered them before. "Literary geography is typically about human inhabiting spaces, and at the same time the spaces that inhabit humans...Geography is setting, but it's also (or can be) psychology, attitude, finance, industry - anything that place can forge in the people who live there" (Foster 166). Mentally reviewing past literature in both high school and college level classes, I am surprised that this was neither pointed out nor simply occurred to me. The same idea holds true for Foster's statements about baptism. A fictional character's submersion in water, according to Foster, "may...signify birth, a new start"...usually associated with baptism (Foster 159). It may be the casual tone with which Foster writes or his never-ending lists of examples, but his statements rarely lead to further confusion or frustration. It seems as if he's slowly giving his readers the keys to unlock the "real meaning" behind literature.

As I read Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath, Foster's ideas of literary geography seemed an obvious connection, one I would not have previously made. If nothing it else, it is the geography of the American Dust Bowl, influencing the changes that must be made economically and socially. The dry weather, the failure of crops, and the unrelenting heat have created the situation in which banks, landowners, and tenant farmers are all losers. It seems as if the few people to survive without fear or frustration are those who drive the tractors; even then, they are treated like traitors. It is also the geography of the west that draws the mass migration of impoverished farmers; they dream of orange trees and grape vines. Mostly, they dream of the work and wages that are result of such an environment. Literary geography in Steinbeck's novel acts as an invisible hand creating adversity and opportunity simultaneously.



Buried Brilliance

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      The previous chapters of Foster's How to Read Literature Like a Professor to which I have been subjected have left me frustrated and confused. It is not the content that I find confusing, but why I am required to read it! Today, however, I was finally able to set my bias aside and appreciate his advice and teaching, "Violence in real life just is. If someone punches you in the nose in a supermarket parking lot, it's simply aggression. It doesn't contain meaning beyond the act itself. Violence in literature, though, while it is literal, is usually also something else" (Foster 88). I had never considered this before, and it struck me as universally true. As Foster explains, "Anna Karenina throws herself under a train, Emma Bovary solves her problem with poison...and Wile E. Coyote holds up his little 'Yikes' sign before he plunges into the void as his latest gambit to catch the Road Runner fails" (Foster 89).

      In previous chapters, Foster's attempt to create an "absolute literature rule that's always true," was annoying, but I see the validity of his argument in this case. For some readers who are reading for the plot, the violence remains literal, but for those who wish to interpret the novel or play, the violence is a symbol. Any violent act can, however, have different meanings to different readers because, as Foster reminds us, "Symbols...generally don't work so neatly. The thing referred to is likely not reducible to a single statement but will more probably involve a range of possible meanings and interpretations" (Foster 98). To return to Foster's previous example of a fight in a parking lot, the altercation would not only have a literal and symbolic meaning, but those meanings would differ from reader to reader. This is an absolute rule I can accept and appreciate.



Murderess or Victim?

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HUSBAND. Your garter! Your garter! Say did I tell you the one about -

            YOUNG WOMAN. Yes! Yes!

            HUSBAND (with dignity). How do you know which one I meant?

            YOUNG WOMAN. You told me them all!

HUSBAND (pulling her back to his knee). No, I didn't! Not by jugful! I got a lot of 'em  up my sleeve yet - that's part of what I owe my success to - my ability to spring a good story - You know - you got to relax, little girl - haven't you?

(Treadwell 23-24)


            Treadwell's Machinal addresses many social issues that plagued American society during the late 1920's. The foremost would be the position of women during this period; it was a time inflamed with the suffragette movement, with women demanding equality. In Machinal the husband is referred to in the script as "HUSBAND" while the man's wife is referred to as "YOUNG WOMAN," not "WIFE." The age difference between the husband and wife in this play is evidenced in his description of her as a "little girl" (Treadwell 24). The way he addresses his wife also reflects his disregard for her as a potentially independent and intelligent young woman; he is older, smarter, and worldlier, and he sees her as possessing none of those characteristics. Throughout the drama YOUNG WOMAN seems to yield to the wishes of the men in her life. It is not until her impending death that she vocalizes this frustration, "Submit! Submit! Is nothing mine?" (Treadwell 79).

Treadwell utilizes dialogue that is disjointed and choppy throughout the novel. This is present even when HUSBAND makes an extended speech, "- that's part of what I owe my success to - my ability to spring a good story - You know - you got to relax, little girl - haven't you?" (Treadwell 24). Even more disjointed are the few passages in which YOUNG WOMAN is left alone with her thoughts. It is in these soliloquies that YOUNG WOMAN expresses her frustration and confusion. It is in these passages that she seems insane, "- I want to rest - no rest - earn - got to earn - married - earn - no - yes - earn - all girls - most girls - ma - pa - ma - all women - most women - I can't - must - maybe..." (Treadwell 12). There is a similar rant during her post - pregnancy stay at the hospital. The annoying way in which HUSBAND is portrayed in both his condescension towards his wife and the way he communicates in the play, "Well hurry up then! I thought you women didn't wear much of anything these days - huh? Huh? I'm coming in!....All right. Just a minute....13-14-I'm counting the seconds on you -"(Treadwell 25) combined with the young woman's pitiable position and obvious unhappiness makes the murder almost understandable to the audience.

Unlike Daisy in Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby who is portrayed as having much power over the men in her life, YOUNG WOMAN in Treadwell's Machinal seems helpless. Daisy is beautiful and holds the attention of many men which she uses and manipulates; it's "said that Daisy's murmur was only to make people lean toward her" (Fitzgerald 9). Treadwell's main character, on the other hand, does not have the ability to control her own destiny, much less that of others. Daisy, then, becomes an unsympathetic character who is at the root of the problems with which Fitzgerald's characters are faced. Despite her obvious crimes of adultery and murder, it is easy to see Treadwell's female character as a victim of society and empathize with her plight. This, however, may work against Treadwell's ultimate attempt to discuss and insight a change in the position of women in society. Creating a female victim does not show the strength of women to overcome obstacles but instead represents them as vulnerable and dependent.



The Chicken or the Egg?

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"Here it is: there is only one story! There, I said it and I can't very well take it back. There is only one story. Ever. One. It's always been going on and it's everywhere around and every story you've ever read or heard or watched is part of it" (Foster 32).

This declaration stopped me in my tracks. I was suprised and confused that Foster could make such a claim. In the early reading I noticed that he stated things absolutely like "whenever people eat or drink together, it's communion" (Foster 8). His claim that only one story exists, however, is ambigous. To which "story" is Foster referring? Is he saying that history is the only story? He does remind the readers, "History is story, too" (Foster 32). Or is he referring to the "orginial story" thta brought about and influenced all later stories? Reminiscent of the idea of the origin of the chicken and the egg, this passage stumped me. Foster, I believe, is refering to history because it has the potential to influence all future or current stories. Foster's vagueness, however, is uncharacteristic.



Time Machine

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"'Can't repeat the past?' he cried incredulouly. 'Why of course you can!'" (110)

When Gatsby made this claim he had no idea how right he was! No only did this statement open a window into Gatsby's true motivation for buying such a nice house, throwing lavish parties, and become involved once again in Daisy's life, it acted as foreshadowing for the rest of Nick's story. Gatsby wanted to travel back to the time when Daisy and he were in love before the war and before her marriage to Tom. In addition to being so revealing, Gatsby's claim that repeating the past is possible radiates with irony. He does not know how right he is! Once again, Gatsby will lose Daisy to Tom. She will not even be present  at his funeral. Nick realizes this when he says we live our lives "...borne back ceaselessly into the past" (180). Though Gatsby's goal was to change the past, he merely succeeded at, as he said earlier in the novel, repeating it.