November 2009 Archives

There is No Place Like Home

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EL 266

The Scarecrow listened carefully, and said, "I cannot understand why you should wish to leave this beautiful country and go back to the dry, gray place you call Kansas."

"That is because you have no brains" answered the girl. "No matter how dreary and gray our homes are, we people of flesh and blood would rather live there than in any other country, be it ever so beautiful. There is no place like home."

- The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum

Well, I think that pretty much sums up the feeling toward America during late 1800's and early 1900's. No matter how gray or dismal the American landscape was, there was freedom! I think that is what Baum was making comparisons toward throughout the Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

In the late 1800's, tensions were high. While World War  I actually started in 1914, many events preceded the violence. Starting in the 1880's, European countries were making treaties and allegiances with one another. Now, does that sound a little like the four witches from Oz? The two from the North and South are considered "good" while the East and West witches were the "wicked" ones.

American patriotism during WWI soared and this was the first war we fought as a united nation after the Civil War. Many teachers infused the curriculum with American ideals, having their students learn patriotic songs such as, "Yankee Doodle," "The Star Spangled Banner" and "America."

Even though this work was published in 1900, fourteen years before the war, I can still see the beginning of Patriotism and unrest in the storyline.

Creative Critical Response

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For those of you who would like a preview for tonight's class, here is an original tune by yours truly. Enjoy!

American Literature

Praise? I think not.

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EL 266

"It startled and won the applause of the South, it interested and won the admiration of the North; and after a confused murmur of protest, it silenced if it did not convert the Negroes themselves" (Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk, chapter 3, para 2)

Wow. I am so surprised to hear these words coming from W.E.B. Du Bois. The first parts of this chapter are nothing but praise for Booker T. Washington and his struggles to get the African American population onto its feet.

I guess I had always thought of Du Bois and Washington as enemies because of their difference in opinions. Du Bois was a well educated northern man, while Booker T. Washington came from a slave family in the south. Both men were free and making great advances for the African American community, but differed in opinions about how to educate their peers. Du Bois lobbied for a professional education and as his Wikipedia article suggests, Du Bois was the "father of Pan-Africanism."

This praise was short lived, as Du Bois later goes on to say:

Washington distinctly asks that black people give up, at least for the present, three things,--
        First, political power,
        Second, insistence on civil rights,
        Third, higher education of Negro youth,--
and concentrate all their energies on industrial education, the accumulation of wealth, and the conciliation of the South. This policy has been courageously and insistently advocated for over fifteen years, and has been triumphant for perhaps ten years. As a result of this tender of the palm-branch, what has been the return? In these years there have occurred:
  1. The disfranchisement of the Negro.
  2. The legal creation of a distinct status of civil inferiority for the Negro.
  3. The steady withdrawal of aid from institutions for the higher training of the Negro

 Wow..... What a transformation from his earlier praise. W.E.B. Du Bois took his argument full force by first complimenting Washington and then by breaking down his achievements.

Structurally Equal

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"In design, beauty, and general finish the Negro Building was equal to the others on the grounds" (Washington, Two Thousand Miles for a Five Minute Speech para. 24)

   This was said by Booker T. Washington, after the Atlanta Exposition was passed and the Negro monument building was built. 

  I just find it a little funny that he chose to say that the building was equal in  design, beauty and finish to other buildings around it. It almost sounds as if he was surprised that the building was equal because it was built by "Negro mechanics." 

   Also, taking it to a more figurative sense, if the building represented the Negro community, Booker T. Washington's words are even more resounding. Of course he would point out that the building was equal, because his ideals of education and hard work went hand in hand. Now that African Americans were becoming educated, their work was seen as equal to that of White Americans. Washington even goes on to say that, "The people who seemed to be the most surprised, as well as pleased, at what they saw in the Negro Building were the Southern white people" (para. 25). 

    All of his traveling, speeches and lobbying were finally paying off. I believe Washington said these words not in surprise, but in realization that his community was actually beginning to be seen as equal, even if it was simply in the structure of a building.

Oh John Henry.

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Dr Jerz asked: In what ways is the John Henry story a tall-tale? How is it social commentary? Is it primarily a story about technology, or about race? Is it too simplistic to say "both"?

   Of course John Henry is a "tall-tale" because no one knows who the real person was. A Wikipedia article on John Henry suggests three possible John Henry figures, but none seem to have enough evidence to prove that John Henry actually existed. 
     John Henry's story was one of hope. Not only of hope against technology, but also hope for the African American community. So many folk and bluegrass songs pay tribute to John Henry, and his influence is undeniable. NPR has a great article on many songs idealized John Henry, but unfortunalely I had a lot of trouble getting the sound to work. I went onto Youtube and found some of the folk songs listed on the site. One such song, "John Henry" by Henry Thomas is so upbeat that the lyrics hardly matter. This version (1927) was one of the very first sung by an African American performer. I think this definitely suggests that the African American community held on to John Henry as an icon of strength and perseverance in the face of adversity. He was paid for his work and not just treated like a slave.
     Another recording,  "Spike Driver Blues" by Mississippi John Hurt also by an African American performer, is quite sad. This song talks about how John Henry, "left his hammer/ All over in red" meaning that John Henry worked himself to death. He tried so hard, and even thought he beat the steam drill, but later fell to his death. The sadness is definitely present to lament the rise of technology.
     I do believe it is way too simplistic to say that the legend of John Henry is simply just about race or technology. There are a lot of individual pieces that made up the legend. Songs and stories mention John Henry's wife, children, owners, the society he lived in, and much more. To simply sum it up as a story of race and technology would be to undermine his legend.

     I also wanted to share one more Youtube video I found while searching for John Henry songs. These two took an old Bluegrass song and turned it into a fast-paced guitar and banjo duo. Here is "John Henry" by Will Poe and Andrew Minor.

So blind, so arrogant, so bigoted

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EL 266

"How could someone so talented be so blind, so arrogant, so bigoted?" (Foster 233)

Yes, I agree. But are they really being blind, arrogant and bigoted? Maybe we are not looking at the work in full context.

I fell like, as I was reading literary criticism of the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn people were saying this about Mark Twain. Some people who did not recognize the satire in his story took him as being racist. I think this is a bunch of crap.

Seriously? I mean, the guy made some great jokes on society. Lighten up, take a second look.

Can this person be saved?

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"And this leads to the point of the last chance for change story... can this person be saved?" (Foster 230)

No. The answer is no. That is all I can think of as I read this passage. Honestly, I don't believe in "last chance for change" because there is truly never a last chance when it comes to change. People are continually changing. Sometimes that change comes to late, but there is never a last chance.

Another part of me wants to say that some people just don't change. Foster referenced a story which the narrator's brother served time for drugs and has since changed his life to become a jazz musician. The narrator  only  reconnected with his brother after the death of his daughter. While this sounds nice and wonderful, this is not real life. I hate that people always talk about the "last chance for change" stories when they speak about drug culture. That is how lives get ruined.

Talk to any relative of a drug user and they still refer the previous drug user as an addict. Once an addict, always an addict. Believing in the last chance for change will only hurt you more. I used to be one of those people who was always looking for the happy ending. It took many years to realize that sometimes there just aren't happy endings. You can't waste your life on someone who cannot help them self.  "Last chance for change" stories simply add to the addicts plea for sympathy. When they say they are doing better,  that they have  changed, you can never truly be sure.

I'm not sure why I decided to take this into a rant, but I guess I have a hatred for "last chance for change" stories.

Not what it seems

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EL 266

"Racial discourse maintains that the 'Negro' exterior is all that a Negro really has" (Smith 365)

Which is exactly why Jim goes against the idea of a "negro." By including Jim in the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Mark Twian shows that Jim is more than simply a "nigger." Jim has a family that he cares for, intelligence to question Tom Sawyer's foolish plot and the compassion to take care of Huck Finn. Jim has much more than the "Negro exterior."

However it is important to note that, "Jim is not Uncle Tom" (Smith 367). Yes, he patiently endures the afflictions placed upon him by Tom Sawyer, but he is not being portrayed as a figurehead for Chirst. On the contrary, Jim has hs own faults. I think Twain's representation of Jim was a very "middle of the road" type. Jim is not a saint, but he is certainly not just a slave.

Many schools ban the work because it uses the word, "nigger," but I think this is a fantastic time to bring up the discussion of racism. If teachers would include the study of Jim as a person, and the actual contextual use of the word, they would be able to discuss the satire of Twain's language. On the other hand, that may be too tough for a high school class....

Tom Sawyer: Brave or Baloney?

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"Even Richard Hill, the most enthusiastic defender of the ending, moderates his description of Tom as "brilliant" and "brave" by adding that he "becomes drunk on romanticism and endangers Huck and Jim unnecessarily" (505)" (Scott 188).

I say, baloney! Really now people? Read the sentence again. Being "brilliant" and "brave" does not endanger anyone unnecessarily. That makes absolutely no sense. If you were brilliant you would not do anything unnecessarily. Also, while Kevin Michael Scott makes some great points in his essay, I still am not convinced that Tom was brought in to do good.

I think Twain included Tom Sawyer to demonstrate how much Huckleberry Finn had changed throughout the novel. Huck had become more grown up than Tom who was still stuck in his boyish phase. Huck could not see the point in any of Tom's endeavors, but simply went along with it because that was just his nature. 

William Cole mentions that, "every character is, by nature of the creative process, born stereotypical." Each character in the novel is introduced with a specific purpose and mindset. Tom was introduced into the story simply because Mark Twain wanted poke fun at the "romanticized southern society" (Scott 187). 

Recent Comments

Dave on 'That wuz him': I definitely agree that he doe
Kayla Lesko on Oh John Henry.: This is a VERY late comment...
Jamie Grace on There is No Place Like Home: I really like how you blogged
Jeremy Barrick on There is No Place Like Home: War is a great connection. I t
Michelle Siard on So blind, so arrogant, so bigoted: I agree that people tend to ta
Jennifer Prex on Oh John Henry.: I agree that it would be too s
Jamie Grace on Oh John Henry.: "but none seem to have enough
Kayla Lesko on Praise? I think not.: He was just pros and cons I gu
Heather Mourick on Tom Sawyer: Brave or Baloney?: "If you were brilliant you wou
Jessica Apitsch on Tom Sawyer: Brave or Baloney?: I too was having a hard time a